Category: Christian Social Thought

katrina-superdomeThis week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the Gulf Coast. As always happens when remembering such ignominious events, we look back in hindsight to attempt to learn what could have been done differently. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we conservatives will admit that we share some of the blame for the disaster—just not in the way many of us realize.

The colossal failures in leadership in the wake of Hurricane Katrina proved once again that, as historian Richard Weaver famously claimed, “ideas have consequences.” In the aftermath of a natural disaster, abstract theories about public policy and governance were tested in the laboratory of reality. Bad ideas, naturally, can have catastrophic consequences. But as we saw, even good ideas, when poorly implemented, can be calamitous.

A primary example is the principle of subsidiarity, an idea found in both Catholic and Reformed social thought, and which is often embraced by conservatives. Almost twenty years ago in an issue of Religion and Liberty, David A. Bosnich explained,

This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom.

While limited government, personal freedom, and other such goods are worthy reasons to support such an ideal, there is an even more primary justification: it saves lives. The evacuation of New Orleans provided a useful example of how this works out in a real-world context.

missionary1Over the past 500 years, some countries have proven to be more receptive to democracy than others. What accounts for the disparity? What causes some countries to be more likely to embrace democratic forms of governance?

As empirical evidence shows, one strong predictor is the presence of Protestant missionaries.

“Protestant missionaries played an integral role in spreading democracy throughout the world,” says Greg Scandlen. “We could preserve our own if we learn from their ways.”

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996)

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996)

At The Catholic World Report, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines the use of the expression “a consistent ethic of life” — a phrase which has been used by Roman Catholic bishops as far back as a 1971 speech delivered by then-Archbishop Humberto Medeiros of Boston. More recently, Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich used the phrase in a Chicago Tribune article about the scandal of Planned Parenthood selling body-parts from aborted children. Elaborating, Cupich said “we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.”

The phrase “a consistent ethic of life” — also known as the “seamless garment” approach to ethics — won widespread currency during the episcopate of another Chicago archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Gregg observes that in approximately 15 addresses delivered between 1983 and 1986, Bernardin “called for the development of such an ethic and outlined how it might inform the way in which Catholics—lay and clerical—approached public policy issues.” Gregg goes on to outline the theological framework for this approach and how it has been applied, or misapplied, in recent decades: (more…)

Last week, I was pleased to attend the ERLC’s 2015 National Conference on Gospel and Politics, of which the Acton Institute was a proud co-sponsor. The speaker line-up was strikingly rich and diverse, ranging from pastors to writers to politicos to professors, but among them all, Russell Moore’s morning address was the clear stand-out.

Moore began by asking, “How do we as Christians engage in issues that sometimes are political without becoming co-opted by politics and losing the gospel and the mission at the same time?”

Starting from the story of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16:25-40), and continuing with a rich perspective on Christian exile and a needed critique of American civil religion, Moore reminds us of how the Gospel has the power to cultivate a community that is equipped to “naturally and organically” bear witness to the outside world — through love, conscience, word, and action.

You can watch and listen here:

I encourage you to watch the whole thing, but for those without the time or in need of a teaser, I’ve highlighted some key excerpts below.

(Also, for those paying attention, Moore’s perspective serves as a fine complement to Acton’s latest film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, particularly the episodes on Exile and the Economy of Order. He also has a new book on cultural engagement that is quite good.) (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, August 13, 2015

S. L. Frank

Today at The Imaginative Conservative, I offer a brief look into the social though of the Russian philosopher S. L. Frank:

In his 1930 book, The Spiritual Foundations of Society, Frank offers a refreshing vision of a conservatism that cannot survive apart from creativity.

The book is a remarkable tour de force of intelligent, nuanced, and in some ways even prescient Christian social thought. One can find references—some explicit, some in Frank’s own words—to personalism, natural law, solidarity, subsidiarity, sphere sovereignty, organicism, and ordered liberty, among others. These are all tied together through the uniquely Russian Orthodox concept of sobornost’ and its counterpart obshchestvennost’, the inner, supratemporal spiritual unity of society and its outer, temporal and mechanical form, respectively. Through these two lenses, he examines the perennial questions of social life: individualism and collectivism, morality and law, hierarchy and equality, the state and civil society, inter alia.

In one sense, we might say that Frank advocates a sort of “Third Way” between these pairs, but that wouldn’t really be accurate. Instead, he insists on the fundamental duality of life, not a terium quid but a both/and, tempered by actual historical experience. (more…)

Mock-01 (2)_Front OnlyCreation and the Heart of Man, the first volume of Acton’s Orthodox Christian Social Thought monograph series, is now available for pre-order on Logos Bible Software. Those who pre-order can get the book at a discounted price.

In addition, the Logos edition is able to offer some unique features:

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

Sign up for Creation and the Heart of Man on Logos here.

"In the Beginning" artist Mako Fujimura

“In the Beginning”
artist Mako Fujimura

The hubby and I were watching TV when a commercial for Fiji Water came on. The voiceover expounded all the wonderful features of this water, and then said something about it being “untouched by man.”

I turned to my husband and said, “Did I hear that right? ‘Untouched by man?'” He nodded.

Indeed, that’s the selling point for this water:

On a remote Pacific island 1600 miles from the nearest continent, equatorial trade winds purify the clouds that begin FIJI’s Water journey through one of the world’s last virgin ecosystems. As the tropical rains fall on a pristine rain forest, it filters through layers of volcanic rock, slowly gathering the natural minerals and electrolytes that give FIJI Water its soft, smooth taste. The water collects in a natural artesian aquifer,  deep below the earth’s surface, shielded from external elements by confining layers of rock. Natural pressure forces the water towards the earth’s surface, where it’s bottled at the source, untouched by man until you unscrew the cap. [emphasis mine]

First, let’s all agree that this is heavy-handed prose for water. Second, the folks at Fiji seem to think they are doing something not only extraordinary, but revolutionary. Sorry to tell you, folks: you’re doing something people have been doing since, well, as long as people have been around: getting water out of a well.

Now back to the “untouched by man” thing. Why is this a selling point? Why is something touched by a human being bad? (more…)