Category: Christian Social Thought

AmericanDream1The concept of the American Dream can cause a fair amount of tension within the church, says Drew Cleveland. Some have gone as far as to make the American Dream a concept against which the church ought to be opposed:

The concern that this dream can be misused is not wholly invalid. Even Smith acknowledges that “this dream easily slides towards idolatry,” and yes, it is often true that a good thing can become an object of worship if not enjoyed in moderation. For many affluent and educated Americans, including some Christians, the American Dream is a materialistic desire for not only a job, a family, and a house with the white picket fence, but also a beach house, two SUVS, exotic vacations, big-screen TVs, the latest fashions, $5 lattes, etc. It is easy to see why other Christians oppose this perversion of the American Dream, which simply promotes the acquisition of treasures on earth or social privilege solely for self-glorification. But many of those who still long for the best of the American Dream are the marginal, the poor, the working class – those for whom education, steady work, and home ownership are life-long goals.

Read more . . .

Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
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A recent story from Catholic News Service highlights an interesting encounter between markets and monasticism, a subject that I have commented on before, this time centered around the Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia:

The monks in Norcia initially were known for their liturgical ministry, particularly sharing their chanted prayers in Latin online – http://osbnorcia.org/blog – with people around the world.

But following the Rule of St. Benedict means both prayer and manual labor, with a strong emphasis on the monks earning their own keep.

After just a year of brewing and selling their beer in the monastery gift shop and through restaurants in Norcia, financial self-sufficiency seems within reach, and the monks are talking expansion.

“We didn’t expect it to be so enormously successful,” said Fr. Cassian Folsom, the U.S. Benedictine who founded the community in 1998 and serves as its prior. “There’s been a huge response, and our production can’t keep up with the demand and the demand continues to grow.”

Beer brewing has been a traditional ministry of the Church for ages, going back to a time when water was unsafe to drink without first boiling it. The brewing process, as well as the alcohol, happens to purify the water from any harmful bacteria. This led St. Arnold of Metz (d. 640) to proclaim, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world!” I’ll drink to that.

While prayer and liturgy still come first at St. Benedict’s, the brothers have also found that the division labor — once referred to as “economic cooperation” — can also be a spiritual good:

Fr. Basil Nixen, the novice [brew]master, said the beer enterprise has raised the morale of the monks and reinforces their sense of community because all the monks are called on to help with some aspect of producing, bottling, distributing and selling the beer.

In addition to financial sustainability and koinonia, the brewing also has the goal of introducing more people to the life of faith:

“Here in Norcia, we’re at a very important place for evangelization” because so many tourists and pilgrims come through the town, he said. “We’re continually sharing with others our life, above all the liturgy.

“People come to the monastery for the beer,” he said, but they leave realizing God brought them to Norcia to meet him.

Read more . . . .

That’s the conclusion Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, has come to. The surrogacy business in India is booming. While statistics are hard to come by, according to one estimate, surrogacy brings in more than $2 surrogate-mother-uk-media-3billion a year to India.  That does not translate to much money for the surrogate mothers, however. Women are paid about $8,000 for their medical expenses and having a baby. However, since it is typically poor women, many of whom are illiterate, that are targeted for surrogacy, many sign contracts they do not understand. India has few laws governing surrogacy, so the women have little or no rights. It is a situation ripe for abuse. (more…)

St. Basil the Great

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine a few rules of prudent stewardship that follow from the teachings of the Cappadocian fathers on poverty, almsgiving, and fasting. One of the great challenges in this area today is how best to live out in our present context the statement of St. Basil the Great that “the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.”

In particular, I highlight these three guidelines to help guide prudent practices:

[W]e must be wary of simplistic, one-sided policy proposals when life itself is, in reality, far more varied and complex.

[…]

It is not enough to have the right principles or the best intentions; we must also take the time to wade through the mess of conflicting studies and statistics, as well as the lessons of history, to discern what truly “works” — what makes compassion both effective and dignifying rather than mere moralizing sentiment, ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.

[…]

The standard for determining what is “overabundance,” especially given a context where we enjoy great wealth but also face a high cost of living, is the conscience … and our sensitivity to it often depends upon our degree of spiritual formation.

The whole article can be found here.

Also, for a fuller treatment of the principles upon which these guidelines rely, be sure to read Fr. Philip LeMasters’ article “The Cappadocian Fathers on Almsgiving and Fasting” here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
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welfareIn eleven states in the union, welfare pays more than the average pretax first-year wage for a teacher. In thirty-nines states, it pays more than the starting wage for a secretary. And, in the three most generous states a person on welfare can take home more money than an entry-level computer programmer.

Those are just some of the eye-opening and distressing findings in a new study by Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes of the Cato Institute on the “work versus welfare tradeoff.”

“Welfare benefits continue to outpace the income that most recipients can expect to earn from an entry-level job, and the balance between welfare and work may actually have grown worse in recent years,” say Tanner and Hughes. “The current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work. Welfare currently pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states, even after accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and in 13 states it pays more than $15 per hour.”

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kuyper-kellerWhat do Doug Wilson, William Evans, and I have in common? We’re all puzzled by the intramural attention D.G. Hart and Carl Trueman are paying to Tim Keller, Abraham Kuyper, and the “problem” of “transformationalism.” Trueman links Hart while raising concerns:

I was struck by [Hart’s] account of Abraham Kuyper. Here was a (probable) genius and (definite) workaholic who had at his personal disposal a university, a newspaper and a denomination, and also held the highest political office in his land. We might also throw in to the mix that he did this at a time when European culture was far more sympathetic to broadly Christian concerns than that of the USA today. And Kuyper failed to affect any lasting transformation of society. Just visit Amsterdam today, if you can bear the pornographic filth even in those areas where the lights are not all red.

Trueman referencing the failure of Kuyper having a lasting “transforming” influence in contemporary Amsterdam seems to ignore the profound cultural and religious shifts in the Netherlands during and following World War II. Purdue University’s Jennifer L. Foray helps us understand some of these shifts in her recent article, “An Old Empire In A New Order: The Global Designs Of The Dutch Nazi Party, 1931–1942″ in the journal European History Quarterly. One would be hard pressed to assume that Kuyper’s influence could neutralize or supercede the effects of World War II in Dutch society in light of how the war affected Christianity in Western Europe in general. The University of Utah’s John G. Francis is also helpful in the 1992 article, “The Evolving Regulatory Structure Of European Church-State Relationships” published in the Journal of Church and State in understanding those shifts. There’s simply more to the story than Kuyper circa 1905 and Amsterdam in 2013.
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St. Ignatius of Antioch was martyred at the jaws of wild beasts in the Roman colosseum sometime around 110 AD.

In her historical study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, Helen Rhee offers the following interesting historical tidbit with regards to how early Christians were able to minister to their imprisoned brothers and sisters who awaited martyrdom:

Bribing the prison guards, which must have cost a certain amount, features frequently enough in the Christian texts. The impressive visiting privileges and hospitality Ignatius [d. 110] enjoyed at Philadelphia and Smyrna with the local Christians and the delegations from three other churches were likely gained by bribery as well…. It apparently did not raise any moral qualms among Christians; rather, it constituted a necessary part of supporting the prisoners since it enabled the churches to maintain contact with them (and thus to tend to their needs) and allowed the guards to be more favorably disposed to the Christians. Thus the Didascalia (19) … ordered the community members to spare no efforts to procure both nourishment for the condemned Christian prisoner and bribes for the guards so that everything possible might be done for his or her relief.

For those who are curious, the text from the Didascalia, a third century Christian community manual, reads as follows:

You shall not turn away your eyes from a Christian who for the name of God and for His faith and love is condemned to the games, or to the beasts, or to the mines; but of your labour and of the sweat of your face do you send to him for nourishment, and for a payment to the soldiers that guard him, that he may have relief and that care may be taken of him, so that your blessed brother be not utterly afflicted. [italics mine]

While Rhee notes that bribery “apparently did not raise any moral qualms among Christians” in the early Church, no doubt readers today may not so easily approve of the above direction to make provision for bribing guards. How might we better understand this anomaly? What measure of prudence guided this practice? (more…)

Pope-Ecumenical-Patriarch-Bartholomew-2013-03-20-620x320In Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg discusses how Pope Francis and the Catholic Church engage other religions and philosophies:

“Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.”

That, according to Pope Francis, is the response he gives when leaders ask him for advice about how to resolve their societies’ internal differences. It is, he recently told a gathering of prominent Brazilians, the only way for societies to avoid the dead-ends of what Francis called “selfish indifference” and “violent protest.”

Throughout the twentieth century, the Church provided powerful examples of how to proceed along this path. A case in point was the manner in which the Catholic Church in Poland in the face of constant—and, at times, extreme—provocation never ceased talking to the Communist regime, despite the fact that the conversation was with people who were generally of ill-will and who supported an evil political system.

Read more . . .

jobless-menRecent news reports on unemployment, underemployment, and the high level of dissatisfaction among those with full-time work are an opportunity for the church, says Michael Jahr. People are looking for meaning, fulfillment, opportunity – and the church has answers that no one else can provide.

At a 2013 Oikonomia Network seminary faulty retreat, Pastor Dan Scott, author of “The Emerging American Church,” said, “American workers are having an increasingly difficult time competing with their Polish, English, Spanish, Russian, Indian, Korean, and Brazilian counterparts in a globalized economy. … The solution is a spiritual one, although at present few of our churches are offering it because too many of them are focused on lesser things.”

A dualism that neglects to address the workplace – where most Christians spend the bulk of their waking hours – is at odds with the theology of vocation. As British theologian and author Lesslie Newbigin wrote, “The congregation has to be a place where its members are trained, supported, and nourished in the exercise of their parts of the priestly ministry in the world. The preaching and teaching of the local church has to be such that it enables members to think out the problems that face them in their secular work in light of their Christian faith.”

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
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Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, David J. Bobb examines the way in which Howard Zinn has been elevated by Hollywood and the academic left to make “the late Marxist historian more influential than ever.” Bobb, the director of the Hillsdale College Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, begins with the campus furor that erupted among Zinn supporters when former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, criticized Zinn after the historian died in 2010. Bobb writes that “90 faculty members hailed Zinn as a strong scholarly voice for the powerless and cast the former governor as an enemy of free thought.” Yes, predictable but difficult to see how these charges have any substance when you consider that Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (described aptly by Daniels as “execrable”) has sold 2.2 million copies to date and most in the past decade. A healthy share of these copies, I’d wager, were purchased by secondary schools and colleges.

Bobb describes in “Howard Zinn and the Art of Anti-Americanism” how his ideas are spreading throughout the educational system: (more…)