Category: Christian Social Thought

Samuel Gregg, director of research at Acton Institute, was recently interviewed by Carl E. Olson of Catholic World Report about his new book For God and Profit.  Gregg is a frequent contributor to CWR on the topics of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory.

The first question asked of Gregg was “Is it fair to say that Church teaching about money and economics is widely misunderstood and often misrepresented? If so, what are some of the reasons?” His response:

Catholic social teaching outlines clear principles for people who want to addresses issues surrounding finance and economic life in a way that takes human flourishing seriously. These include the principles of the dignity of the person, solidarity, subsidiarity, the preferential option for the poor, the principle of common use, the principal of private property, to name just a few. These principles are drawn from Revelation and the natural law. But they are not well understood by some Catholics. One reason for this is that they tend to be buried—including, I must say, in the social encyclicals—amidst a range of historically-contingent reflections and the offering of prudential judgements on present-day affairs.

The English language version of Rerum Novarum (1891) is about 14,000 words. Laudato Si’ (2015) is approximately 40,000 words. More than one person has suggested that this partly reflects the magisterium entering into the details of far too many economic subjects, the vast majority of which Catholics are free to disagree about among themselves. If we’re interested in equipping lay Catholics to think through economic issues, more time should be invested in explaining principles of Catholic social teaching and how they relate to each other. Less time, I’d argue, should be spent addressing questions upon which Catholics may legitimately hold a variety, even sometimes quite different views.

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Clive Staples LewisC.S. Lewis wrote much about the tension between self-interest and selfishness, offering renewed clarity on these topics, says Art Lindsley. To Lewis, there is a huge difference between self-interest and selfishness, and there is a proper place for self-interest in our lives:

When Lewis first came to faith, he did not think about eternal life, but focused on enjoying God in this life. Lewis later said that the years he spent without the focus on heavenly rewards “always seem to me to have been of great value” because they taught delight in God above any prospect or reward. It would be wrong to desire from God solely what he could give you, without delighting in God himself.

Lewis never disparaged the place of heavenly rewards, but he saw that the paradox of reward might be a stumbling block for some. On the one hand, the purest faith in God believes in him for “nothing” and is not primarily interested in any benefits to follow. On the other hand, the concept that we are rewarded for what we do is taught in numerous biblical passages and presumably is a positive motivation for doing what is good.

Read more . . .

PrincipleMany Christians assume that the Bible has nothing at all to say about economics, says Albert Mohler. But a biblical worldview actually has a great deal to teach us about economic matters. Mohler notes that while the Christian worldview does not demand or promote a particular economic system, there are several principles that should guide our thinking:

6. A Christian economic understanding rewards initiative, industry and investment.

Initiative, industry and investment are three crucial words for the Christian’s economic and theological vocabulary. Initiative goes beyond action. It is the kind of action that makes a difference. Industry is human work done corporately. Investment is part of the respect for private property found in Scripture.

Investment, as it turns out, is as old as the Garden of Eden. That which accrues value is honorable, and the impulse to accrue that value is honorable. Thus, a Christian economic theory indicts anyone who will not work, not respect private property and not reward investment.

7. A Christian economic understanding seeks to reward and incentivize thrift.

In a fallen world, money and investments can quickly be distorted to idolatrous ends. For that reason, thrift is an important issue in the Christian worldview. In a fallen world, abundance one day can turn into scarcity the next. Thrift may be what provides survival in times of poverty.

Read more . . .

6cdb603ec737f3efb860aedefd6e4b88In the newly translated Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King, Volume 1, Abraham Kuyper reminds us that Christ is not only prophet and priest, but also king, challenging us to reflect on what it means to live under that kingship in a fallen world.

Written with the aim of “removing the separation between our life inside the church and our life outside the church,” Kuyper reminds us that “Christ’s being Savior does not exclude his being Lord,” and that this reality transforms our responses in every corner of cultural engagement, both inside the church walls in across business, educations, the arts, and so on.

Kuyper was writing to the church in the Netherlands over 100 years ago, but over at Gentle Reformation, Barry York helpfully connects the dots to the American context, particularly as it relates to the current debates over religious liberty and our lopsided emphasis on worship within the church.

“You can sing whatever you want in church, but you can’t come out of church and act on those beliefs—at least not with any special protection from the law,” York writes, pointing to a recent doctrine from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “That legal viewpoint—already put into action in recent court and regulatory rulings—threatens public funding and tax breaks that now support Christian colleges, K-12 schools, poverty-fighting organizations and other charities.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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These Russian Orthodox cosmonauts get it. Click photo for source.

… Or does religion need Mars? So argues social commentator James Poulos at Foreign Affairs:

What’s clear is that Earth no longer invites us to contemplate, much less renew, our deepest spiritual needs. It has filled up so much with people, discoveries, information, and sheer stuff that it’s maddening to find what F. Scott Fitzgerald called a fresh green breast of a new world — the experience of truly open horizons and an open but specific future. That’s a problem that does suggest a terrible calamity, if not exactly an imminent apocalypse. But by making a fresh pilgrimage to a literally new world — say, red-breasted Mars — we could mark our pilgrims’ progress from the shadows of ignorance and apartness from God.

I’m sympathetic to Poulos’s general point that Mars — and those, like Elon Musk, who want to colonize it — needs religion. (Perhaps even Calvinism in particular!) However, I’m not so sure that Earth has lost its ability to evoke spiritual renewal. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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Athenebrunnen-Stuttgart Athene+ZeusOver at the Gospel Coalition last week I reviewed Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. As I conclude, “The story he tells is true, but at some points only half-true. The half-truth is still valuable, though, if for no other reason than that it runs so counter to much contemporary self-understanding. Siedentop’s interpretation helpfully casts doubt on the dominant narrative of secularism’s emergence from the oppressive claims of God and religion.”

One way of understanding the half-truth of Siedentop’s narrative is that he is right to point out the Christian roots of liberty and liberalism in the modern West, but incorrect in his understanding of Christianity and Christian liberalism. There is more than one kind of liberalism, and some of them end up in not liberty but tyranny.

Confusions abound, and much of our understanding turns on proper definitions. Take, for instance, the word liberalism. For many, this conjures up images of secular, progressive politicians and ideologues. While this may be the dominant contemporary political identification, there is also a classical understanding of liberalism that is worthy of engagement. And in the religious realm, liberalism has yet different meanings, such that J. Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity and Liberalism would identify in the following way: “the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted innaturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”

In this way our understanding of the relationship between Christianity and liberty, whether in historical or normative terms, will depend upon our definitions. And as Machen would have it, proper definitions are a laudable, if controversial, place to start: “Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding.”

For more on the relationship between Christianity and liberty, see Sam Gregg’s review essay, “How Christianity Created the Free Society.”

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
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In an Acton Commentary two years ago, I wrote about the significance of toil:

In the midst of the now-common Christian affirmation of all forms of work as God-given vocations, the image of Sisyphus, vainly pushing his boulder up a hill in Hades, only to watch it roll back down again, might serve to remind us of the reality of toil, the other side of the coin. While human labor does have a divine calling, we do not labor apart from “thorns and thistles” and “in the sweat of [our] face” (Genesis 3:18-19).

As for the good side of work in general, I can’t think of a better illustration than this clip from For the Life of the World:

This shows the amazing reality of how everything we interact with is the fruit of the labor of others. It connects us to them and ought to inspire a deep gratitude for that fellowship.

But then there’s Sisyphus. (more…)