Category: Christian Social Thought

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Finding solutions for feeding the world’s poorest is about as non-controversial a mission as you could imagine for someone pursuing a religious vocation. Yet, the investors belonging to the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility put politicized science ahead of that mission in their opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The ICCR’s approach to GMOs leans more toward anti-business political activism than any concern for producing plentiful crops that are resilient against pests, diseases and extreme weather events such as drought or excessive precipitation, which, in turn, would benefit those endeavoring to provide inexpensive foodstuffs to the economically and ecologically disadvantaged.

Judging from ICCR proxy shareholder literature, feeding more people less expensively is secondary to a politicized agenda. This from the ICCR’s “The Right Solutions to Hunger:”

“In recent years, several weeds have built up resistance to the herbicides used on GE [genetically engineered] crops, driving the use of more, and multiple industrialized herbicides to kill them. Who is looking long-term, for the protection of the consumer and the food system and who will bear the risk?” asked Margaret Weber of the Congregation of St. Basil. “These issues are critical and it is apparent that the regulatory system is not adequately addressing them,” she continued.

And this: (more…)

This past weekend, I had the privilege to attend and present a paper at the 2013 Kuyper Center for Public Theology conference at Princeton Seminary. The conference was on the subject of “Church and Academy” and focused not only on the relationship between the institutions of the Church and the university, but also on questions such as whether theology still has a place in the academy and what place that might be. The discussion raised a number of important questions that I would like to reflect on briefly here.

In the first place, I was impressed by Dr. Gordon Graham’s lecture on the idea of the Christian scholar. He began by exploring a distinction made by Abraham Kuyper in his work Wisdom & Wonder. Kuyper writes (in 1905),
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Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters makes some comments about my book Becoming Europe based on a review he had read by Fr. C.J. McCloskey. Here are the most pertinent of his observations:

I know that American exceptionalism lives on both the left and the right, but when did the right become so Europhobic? And why? National Catholic Register has a review of a new book by the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg entitled Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, & How America Can Avoid a European Future. I confess, come August, when Europeans sensibly take the month off and head to the beach or the mountains for time with their families, I am envious of them, not scornful. When I look at Europe’s lower rates of income inequality, I am envious, not scornful. When I look at the creative ways Germany minimized unemployment during the recent economic downturn, I was deeply envious.

Of course, given the fact that Gregg works for the libertarian Acton Institute, where the false god of the market is worshipped day in and day out, it should not surprise that he misses the Catholic and Christian roots of the modern social welfare state as it exists in Europe.  And the fact that Rev. C. John McCloskey misunderstands the Christian roots of the modern social welfare state shows the degree to which some members of the Catholic clergy have bought into what can best be described as the Glenn Beck narrative of the relationship of faith and culture.

Alas, Mr. Winters apparently hasn’t actually read the book. Because if he had, he would know that Becoming Europe (1) notes several good economic things happening in Europe (such as in Germany and Sweden) and (2) addresses at considerable length the various Catholic and Christian contributions to the development of European welfare states and the European social model more generally. In the case of the latter, I’d direct his attention to Chapters 2 and 3 of Becoming Europe where these matters are discussed extensively. The point is that it is always prudent to perhaps read a book before venturing criticisms of its arguments.

Then there is the label of “libertarian.” Again, if Mr. Winters took a moment to read a few of my writings, he’d know that, in books such as On Ordered Liberty, I‘ve articulated critiques of libertarian thought, especially with regard to the way that libertarian thinkers approach, for instance, moral questions. Figures such as Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman have many interesting economic insights. But I have always viewed their philosophical positions (which include, among others, commitments to nominalism, epicurism, utilitarianism, social-evolutionism, and social contractarianism) to be less-than-adequate. In many ways, their conceptions of the human person are virtually indistinguishable from modern liberals such as John Rawls. (more…)

Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at Acton, discusses Blessed John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) in a new article in Crisis Magazine. Entitled, ‘Veritatis Splendor: The Encyclical That Mattered’, Gregg makes the claim that this encyclical may become one of the greatest in history. Why?

For one thing, Veritatis Splendor was the first encyclical to spell out the Catholic Church’s fundamental moral teaching. Catholicism had of course always articulated the moral dimension of Christ’s message. Never before, however, had a pope provided a formal systematic outline of Catholic moral doctrine. That alone makes the encyclical a perennial reference-point for Catholic reflection.

Second, Veritatis Splendor provided what’s now widely recognized as a powerful response to the crisis into which Catholic moral theology fell after Vatican II. In many respects this crisis was precipitated by the debates surrounding Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. But more deeply, Veritatis Splendor was a rejoinder to many Catholic theologians’ attempt to do three things.

Gregg goes on to state that this encyclical reminds the world of the truth that will set us free:

Herein lies Veritatis Splendor’s importance for anyone who wants to preserve and promote civilization. Not only does it insist that particular acts are eternally unworthy of man. It also affirms that human reason can identify what the encyclical calls certain “fundamental goods” that transcend the particularities of the here-and-now.

In that sense the encyclical reminds us that avoiding evil isn’t enough. As Veritatis Splendor’s unfolding of Christ’s encounter with the rich young man illustrates, the prohibitions contained in God’s moral law are supposed to be a spring-board toward human flourishing. 

Read Veritatis Splendor – The Encyclical That Mattered’ at Crisis Magazine.

Over at the IFWE blog, Elise Amyx takes a look at Brian Fikkert’s argument about the origins of the modern American welfare state:

According to Fikkert, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation between 1900 and 1930 encouraged the welfare state to grow to its size today. Church historians refer to this era as the “Great Reversal” because the evangelical church’s shift away from the poor was so dramatic.

In Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster make a similar case. They argue that “the church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” They also cast the hopeful vision that another reversal might occur: “The church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems if enough believers caught the vision.”

While Fikkert is largely drawing on the early twentieth century in America for his argument, Berghoef and DeKoster examine more broadly the Christian perspective on the relationship between faith and works of charity. This dynamic is, after all, is a perennial challenge for Christian social engagement, and the interaction between the Social Gospel and evangelicalism in America is just one example. Another is the reversal over the last century or so in the Netherlands, where there has been a move from Abraham Kuyper’s claim that “all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior” to the church’s plea “for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government.”
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Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, April 12, 2013

James Kim was sentenced to death by North Korea in 1998. He was accused of being an American spy for the CIA and spent 40 days in jail. His crime? He was arrested for taking food to children. Kim was tortured and ordered to write out his will to the government. “I love the North Korean people. I always have,” he wrote. Kim told the North Korean government that they could have his body and harvest it for research. He offered to donate all his organs to the regime. Amazingly, his actions moved upon the government to set him free and he regularly returns to North Korea today. The government apologized to him for his treatment while in prison. “Christ like patience and love is the only thing that can touch North Korea,” declared Kim.

More of Kim’s amazing story can be found here and here. His work and witness has allowed him to hold citizenship in South Korea, China, the United States, and North Korea. He was last night’s speaker at a C.S. Lewis Institute dinner.

He also addressed an economic matter saying the North Korean people love the U.S. currency. He noted the great thing about our system and money is that does not just hold material value, but the imprint of “In God We Trust” is influential and noticed around the world.

In the book The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, Victor Cha notes,

North Korean school children learn grammatical conjugations of past, present, and future by reciting “We killed Americans,” “We are killing Americans,” “We will kill Americans.” They learn learn elementary school math with word problems that subtract or divide the number of dead American soldiers to get the solution.

North Korea’s past and present is one of horrific suffering for its people. In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush included the nation as one of the three amongst the axis of evil. Kim notes that through Christian suffering “peace comes at a price.” Last night, he showed that even in one of the world’s darkest, hostile, and most oppressive regimes, there is reason for hope.

As keystroke was committed to screen in the writing of this post, J.C. Penney honcho Ron Johnson received his walking papers. This after it was announced last week that the ousted CEO had his pay cut 90 percent– tanking his 2012 salary to a mere $1.9 million from a sum north of $50 million in 2011.

With numbers like that, Johnson more than likely won’t apply for unemployment benefits anytime soon. But his compensation unfortunately will add more fuel to the fire of those proxy shareholders advocating for “say on pay” rules for upper management.

For example, The Nathan Cummings Foundation submitted a proxy shareholder resolution to Caterpillar Inc. that reads: “The shareholders … ask the board of directors to adopt a policy that incentive compensation for senior executives should include a range of non-financial measures based on sustainability principles and reducing any negative environmental impacts related to Company operations.”

According to its website, NCF “is rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community. We seek to build a socially and economically just society that values nature and protects the ecological balance for future generations; promotes humane health care; and fosters arts and culture that enriches communities.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, April 4, 2013

db_file_img_930_160xautoIn case you missed it when it came out, I thought it’d be worth posting a reminder that the Acton Institute recently partnered with the Christian History Institute to produce an issue of Christian History magazine. The issue (which you can download as a free PDF) examines the impact of automation on Europe and America and the varying responses of the church to the problems that developed. Topics examined are mission work, the rise of the Social Gospel, the impact of papal pronouncements, the Methodist phenomenon, Christian capitalists, attempts at communal living and much more.

Check out these feature articles:
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Anthony Bradley revisits the thought of Abraham Kuyper as a way of understanding the relationship between creation, Christ, and culture.

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster follows up on a series of ruminations about the gospel described as both a “pearl” and a “leaven.”

He proceeds to focus on the reality that so many place the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate in conflict by highlighting a couple of scriptural passages: Colossians 3:23-24 and Romans 12:2:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As Greg notes, here are two places where “we might find these two imperatives stated more clearly in the form of ethical commands, rather than in parables.”

To take another approach that riffs off of musings on the idea of “hanging together,” I’d like to highlight another verse, Colossians 1:17, which says of Christ, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

One way of understanding the verb appearing as “hold together” in this verse is the act “to bring together or hold together something in its proper or appropriate place or relationship” (Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). This verb, I think, captures the dynamic between our orientation of the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate and their orientation and subordination to Christ. The key question is how we properly relate each one of “all things,” including structures like family, work, church, and government, to Christ.

For the implications of what it might mean for cultural production, engagement, and transformation from the perspective of things “holding,” or even with a bit of license, “hanging,” together in Christ, I submit this from Anthony Bradley, who relates what Abraham Kuyper’s vision of Christ’s sovereignty means for the church today. As Bradley says in light of the doctrine of creation and in specific reference to Colossians 1:17, “Now sin destroyed this shalom, but Christ’s sovereignty over creation and culture did not end.”

Today at Ethika Politika, Fr. Gregory Jensen, a contributor to the PowerBlog as well as other Acton publications, explores the potential of the Orthodox Christian ascetic tradition as a response to the paradox of American individualism:

We come to know each other in our uniqueness “only within the framework of direct personal relationships and communion…. Love is the supreme road to knowledge of the person, because it is an acceptance of the other person as a whole.” Unlike the more theoretical approaches we alluded to above, to say nothing of our own neurotic strivings, love doesn’t “project on the other person” our own “preferences, demands or desires.” Rather love accepts the other as he or she is, “in the fullness of [his or her] uniqueness.” This is also why our highly individualistic culture struggles with a whole range of problems related to sexuality. It is “in the self-transcendence and offering of self that is sexual love” where husband and wife learn to live in mutual acceptance of each other’s uniqueness (Yannaras, p. 23).

For the theological anthropology of the Orthodox Church, “‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning. The individual is the denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person” (p. 22). Christian asceticism has as its goal the liberation of the truly personal from the merely individualistic. In the full and proper sense, moreover, the liberty that ascetical struggle offers is not simply an absence of constraints (a “freedom from” if you will) but a “[p]erfection and sanctification” that makes possible the person’s “restoration to the fullness of [his or her] existential possibilities” and so to be what he or she “is called to be — the image and glory of God” (p. 109).

Read more . . .