Category: Christian Social Thought

Many thanks to Ancient Faith Radio for graciously sharing its podcasts of the Conference on Poverty at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. The May 31-June 1 event was co-hosted by the Acton Institute. The conference was offered as a tribute to Deacon John Zarras, a 2006 alumnus of the seminary who earned his M.Div. degree over a period of several years as a late–vocations student. Deacon John, who fell asleep in the Lord last year, also served as a member of the Board of Trustees and the president of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Foundation.

VoicesFromSVSWhat follows are four separate audio feeds, including Q&A follow up, from the Poverty Conference. Ancient Faith is broadcasting these as part of its regular podcasts by the Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s. But first listen to Fr. Chad’s May 24 broadcast, in which he addresses negative reaction to Acton’s participation in the conference by some associated with the seminary. He reminds listeners that Acton, on the issue of poverty, can provide a fresh and different approach that’s effective.

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From Ancient Faith: (more…)

Jordan Ballor wrote a provocative post about fusionism today, titled “Libertarians in Black,” modifying Jonah Goldberg’s suggestion that there should always be a libertarian in the room during political discussions with a little help from Johnny Cash:

I think we might be able to bring Jonah Goldberg and Johnny Cash together on this point, to say that there always ought to be a “libertarian in black” in the room, asking the right questions about what government policies do for the people, particularly the poor.

Yet I wonder, might there be room for another man (or woman) in black as well? Might we also benefit from having a monk in the room? (No offense intended to any Trappists, who traditionally wear white, but honestly, what are they going to say?) (more…)

MonksInkWhat do markets have to do with monasticism? Quite a lot to the Benedictine monks of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Southern California, according to a recent press release. Their prior Fr. Joseph Brennan describes MonksInk, the monks’ business selling ink and toner cartridges:

Every monastery has something unique about them. For example, a monastery in Louisiana makes soap. Some make jellies and jams. The Camaldolese make amazing fruitcake. But we never developed anything like that. Until now, we only produced ceramics, and even these were designed by a brother monk in Belgium. We really needed to do something different. MonksInk was a good fit.

The article goes on to detail their offerings:

Product selection meets or exceeds what one could find at any big box office supply store — including ink and toner options for every make and model of printer, fax and copy machine, from HP and Epson to Xerox, and every brand in between. Buyers also have their choice of original manufacturer products, alternative cost-saving brands, or re-manufactured items. And, the monks are quick to point out, anyone can always add a prayer request or two as well! (more…)

Pope Francis has made interesting comments on poverty, some of which have been misconstrued by the media and in the Church itself. Samuel Gregg, Director of Research for the Acton Institute, discusses both the meaning of poverty within Church teaching and what Pope Francis is truly referring to when he addresses poverty in our world today. In Crisis Magazine, Gregg points out that Christians are never to be forgetful of economic disparities, but that “poverty” has a richer and far more important meaning that just the economic one. (more…)

We live in a society that really wants us to feel good. We have weight-loss programs, 24-hour gyms, hair color for men and women, and scads of “self-help” books. We laugh at videos on the internet of people doing dumb stuff, just so we know we are better than that. If we’ve got a job, a reasonably well-trained dog and no parking tickets to pay, we are good. Right?tea party catholic

John Zmirak begs to differ. He takes us to an imaginary land to prove his point:

Imagine a small country in Central Asia – call it Soregonadistan – where prospectors discovered an otherwise rare and extremely precious metal, contrafactium. The country sells the right to mine contrafactium to the U.K.-based Leviathan, LLP., which duly pays the country $100,000 per year for every native, and contracts that it will do so for at least the next 70 years. The once-impoverished citizens of this camel-blighted republic vote in a populist government, which declares that it will divvy up the money every year among the people. And how do the citizens decide to spend it? They legalize heroin, and contract with their southern neighbor, Lotusland, for a cornucopian supply of its precious poppies. Then the Soregonadis hire Lotuslanders as servants to make them dinner and keep them healthy, while each Soregonadi enjoys a lifetime of opiate ecstasy. No one is coerced into taking the stuff, but that blissed-out look on people’s faces proves mighty contagious – and soon 90% of the adult population consists of opium eaters. (What kids they still manage to have are farmed out to dutiful, sober nannies from Lotusland.) (more…)

Back in January, I was interviewed for the podcast Conversations On Orthodoxy. After some wonderful editing, the interview has recently been posted.

In particular, the focus of the interview is mostly on how I went from an American Evangelical upbringing to becoming a convert to the Orthodox Church. However, I wanted to link to it here because it concludes with some thoughts about my work at Acton. In particular, I talk about Acton’s vision for a free and virtuous society, its approach to ecumenism, and where I see my own research as an Orthodox Christian in the context of my work here and elsewhere.

You can listen to the podcast here.

As a small disclaimer, I would like to say that at one point it appears that I attribute dispensational eschatology to my alma mater Kuyper College, a school in the Reformed tradition (and therefore decidedly not dispensationalist). The sound bite in question actually is about my childhood church, but I did not make that clear enough during the interview, contributing to the mix up. Other than that, though, I think it turned out great and extend my thanks to Conversations On Orthodoxy.

300px-MotherTeresa_0902Forbes‘ Ralph Benko explains what a chance encounter with Mother Teresa taught him about good economic policy:

I had walked by a homeless man (or, as then was called, bum) sleeping on the 41st Street sidewalk. People sleeping on the sidewalk were a familiar sight in the New York City of that era. I hadn’t even noticed him.

But Mother Teresa had noticed him. And she had stopped to get him to his feet.

As I approached the group, Mother Teresa was glaring up at this wobbly fellow — someone nearly two feet taller than her. She had her forefinger pointed right in his face. A cop, who had wandered over, echoed her lecture to him:

“Now you listen to the little lady. Unless you help yourself there ain’t nothin’ we can do for you.”

Macroeconomics in a nutshell. This presented an axiom apparently lost on both major political parties today.

Read more . . .

thomas-aquinasaugustine-of-hippoAs I noted previously, I’ve been involved this month in a panel discussion over at Cato Unbound on the issue of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

My two most recent contributions to the discussion phase focus on possible resources for the question that can be gleaned from Augustine and Aquinas.

Augustine inaugurated a tradition of Christian reflection on the saeculum, the age of this world in which the wheat and the tares grow up together, and the implications of this for common life together. On the relevance of Augustine for modern considerations of political order, I recommend a recent lecture from Eric Gregory of Princeton University.

Aquinas in many respects, and as Gregory points out, should be read as a constructive interlocutor with Augustine rather than in opposition with him. Indeed, Augustine wrote in his Enchiridion that “although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime.” Likewise in his treatise on free choice, he observed, “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence.”

In this vein, Aquinas treats in systematic fashion the question, “Whether it belongs to human law to repress all vices?” As I contend over at Cato Unbound, Aquinas follows Augustine in answering negatively, and his discussion has some serious implications for how both conservatives and libertarians ought to think about the limits of the law: “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.”

catholic-university-bschoolEarlier this year, the Catholic University of America announced the creation of a School of Business and Economics that will be “distinctively Catholic.” The new school offers a model based on Catholic social doctrine and the natural law that is unlike theories prevalent at most leading business schools. “Business schools focus on teaching commercial skills and rules of ethics, but they neglect the importance of character,” says Andrew Abela, the school’s dean and Acton’s 2009 Novak Award Recipient. “Our distinctive idea is to bring the rich resources of the Catholic intellectual tradition and the natural law to bear upon business and economics.

I recently spoke with Dr. Abela about the new program, what makes a Catholic approach different, and what it means for business and economics to be “people-centered”:

Why is it so rare for Catholic colleges and universities to take a “distinctively Catholic” approach on subjects like business and economics?

I think there are several possible reasons for this. First, the business and economics education at many Catholic universities tends to mirror that of non-religious universities in that it focuses on knowledge, not on will. But this is not enough. We have to cultivate our students in virtue, which needs the formation of both the intellect and the will. It’s not enough for students to know the good, they have to do the good, and even to love the good. Second, as you know much of higher education suffers from political correctness, and faculty are thus reluctant to commit to any one approach to ethics. Students end up being taught several (frequently conflicting) theories of ethics, with the result that they graduate as sophisticated relativists. Finally, faculty are committed to existing business and economics theories, and it is hard to reconcile these theories, which claim to be morally neutral, with the Catholic intellectual tradition, which holds that all human action has a moral dimension.

Why are you creating a new School of Business & Economics now – does the world really need another business school? And why a School of Business and Economics?
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At Aletetia, John Zmirak gives an interesting treatment of “solidarity”, a word we don’t talk about too much, either in government, philosophy or theology. However, as Zmirak points out, without solidarity, “tyranny creeps in.”

The central principle of solidarity in practice is simple and timeless – the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This ethical maxim, which Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, exists in some form in every culture on earth – as C. S. Lewis documented in The Abolition of Man, where he called it the Tao. It is so ubiquitous that it’s easy for us to assume that it’s universally accepted – at least in theory – while far too rarely practiced.

But in fact, things are darker than that. We have another maxim, which crept into Western souls via “worldly philosophers” such as Machiavelli and Hobbes – the principle of the “consenting adult.” Any time someone uses this phrase, he is saying (under his breath) that none of us is the least bit responsible for each other. If folks make stupid choices, that’s not our problem. Even if we are the ones who tempted them to make such a choice – if we have exploited them personally, economically, or sexually – we are still scot-free: “She was a consenting adult;” “That schmuck should have known better,” we tell ourselves, and smirk.

Instead of an ethic that rests on reciprocity, on admitting the unique value of every person because he’s a fellow human, we treasure a heartless, pragmatic ethos that shrugs at suffering and confusion, a Darwinian willingness to pounce on our neighbor’s mistakes. So “consenting adults” work in sweatshops overseas making our iPads, or sweat before cameras enacting our porn, or wake up alone in the bed where we’ve left them when we were finished with our desires. No individual rights were violated, no crime was committed or contract broken – so the modern secular conscience has nothing meaningful to say.

Solidarity is not a power relationship, but one based on justice and love, Zmirak says. It is certainly not socialism, either; it is, rather, a term borrowed from Catholic Social Teaching that allows a community of people to bond, to live together with concern for each other’s needs, regardless of what the government is up to.

Read “The Deadly Myth of the ‘Consenting Adult’ ” at Aleteia.org.