Category: Christian Social Thought

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Tuesday, May 21, 2013

There is no doubt that higher education is costly. Textbooks alone can run $1000 a semester for some undergraduates. Waiting tables and flipping burgers won’t cover those costs. With many parents just as strapped for cash as their children, how does one pay for a college diploma?

For some young women, the answer is to sell themselves. There are websites that offer “matching” services for “mutually beneficial relationships”; that is, a young woman signs up for a “sugar daddy”. He pays for college and she has her money problems solved. One website does offer helpful information, such as “keep your emotions in check” and “sugaring is not welfare”. All just business, plain and simple. Although young men sign up for this type of arrangement, the vast majority are young women. (more…)

In a May 16 address to four new Vatican ambassadors, Pope Francis denounced the “cult of money” in today’s culture, stating that we are now living in a disposable society, where even human beings are cast aside.

Phil Lawler, at CatholicCulture.org asks if this means the pope is a socialist. Not so:

Socialists make their arguments in moral terms, because if the argument is stated purely in practical terms, the socialists will lose. By the same logic, capitalists prefer to state their arguments in practical economic terms. Unfortunately, in doing so, they cede the moral high ground to their opponents. With rare exceptions—one thinks immediately of Michael Novak and of the Acton Institute–defenders of capitalism have not taken the trouble to state their case primarily in moral terms. And that’s unfortunate, because a powerful argument can be made that capitalism, tempered by a Christian moral framework, is the best available solution to the problem of poverty.

Nothing that Pope Francis said—nothing that any Pope has said—would rule out that approach. (Pope John Paul II opened the door to a Christian defense of capitalism in Laborem Exercens, then pushed it wide open in Centisimus Annus.) To be sure, the teaching magisterium has been critical of the excesses of capitalism, and of capitalism raised to an all-encompassing ideology. Pope Francis today repeated that condemnation of “ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” Hard-core libertarians will be uncomfortable with that language, certainly. But then hard-core libertarians are often uncomfortable with the Ten Commandments.

Read “What capitalists should learn from the Pope’s critique” at CatholicCulture.org.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, May 13, 2013

Michael J. Gerson’s encomium to Jim Wallis’ book on the common good includes this curious paragraph:

Nearly every Christian tradition of social ethics encompasses two sorts of justice. The first is procedural justice: giving people what they deserve under contracts and the law. The second is distributive justice: meeting some needs just because human beings are human beings. This is not the same thing as egalitarianism; confiscation is not compassion. But distributive justice requires a decent provision for the vulnerable and destitute. And this is not just a matter of personal charity. Social justice is more than crumbs from the table; it depends on the existence of social and economic conditions that allow people to live, work and thrive.

Gerson should be applauded for grappling with such substantive doctrines as the common good and social justice. It is certainly brave to do so within the confines of a short opinion piece.

But his treatment of these in the context of this short op-ed illustrate the difficulty of doing so in a responsible fashion. For one thing, the common good is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to get a handle on in the history of Christian moral reflection. In the end, Gerson summarizes it as “the set of social circumstances that allows everyone to flourish.” We might quibble with this description as not quite getting at the common good as a telos rather than a process, but given that he quotes John Paul II in the previous line, this isn’t that large of a quibble.

We might also note that even though it is commonly associated with modern Roman Catholic social thought, as Gerson notes, the idea of the common good is much more of a catholic legacy of Christianity shared by a variety of Christian traditions. See, for instance, Gerson’s claim that Wallis’ invocation of the common good is “further evidence of the intellectual advance of Catholic social teaching across Christian confessions.” I think this is probably true in the case of Wallis and many evangelicals, and in this Roman Catholic social thought has done a great service in preserving this inheritance and serving as a reminder and inspiration for those who have forgotten the place of the common good in their own tradition’s moral reflection.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, May 9, 2013

wilhelm-ropkeSome Christian free market enthusiasts mistakenly believe we have to make a choice between socialism and Randianism. But as Joel Miller points out, there are far better intellectual leaders than Ayn Rand. Wilhelm Röpke is a prime example:

Capitalism has had many defenders. Some, rather than being anti-religious like Rand, are self-consciously Christian. Rand’s contemporary, Wilhelm Röpke, is one such example.

Looking back at the tremendous upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century, many responded by embracing socialism, both in Europe and even America. Not Röpke. A professional economist, he lectured, wrote several books, and was partly responsible for engineering Germany’s post-WWII recovery. One of his books, published one year after Atlas Shrugged hit the market, remains essential reading today.

[. . .]

Socialism is a dead end, one that represses human freedom. But I don’t need Rand to tell me that. Rand’s critique is unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful because it is undergirded by an atheistic, anti-Christian philosophy. Our choice isn’t between socialism and Rand. We would be far better served by giving more space to people like Wilhelm Röpke.

Read more . . .

Blog author: sstanley
posted by on Thursday, May 9, 2013

Yahoo! Sports recently posted this interesting video about the Angola Prison Rodeo. In the Volume 22, Number 3 issue of Religion & Liberty,  Ray Nothstine had a chance to go to Angola and interview Burl Cain, the longest serving warden. During the interview Cain says:

I cannot change our reputation because it still makes people shudder, “Angola.” Life magazine called it the bloodiest prison in America. And we can’t shirk the reputation because the people who come here are so violent. People don’t realize how much they can change.

And that’s why we really built the Rodeo up and have so many tours in this riverboat tour. When they stop here in Baton Rouge or St. Francisville, they get in a bus and they come here, because I’m trying to get people to see that this place is not like they thought, and that people can truly change.

Nothstine also discussed Angola in his commentary, Angola Prison, Moral Rehabilitation, and the Things Ahead.

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Wednesday, May 8, 2013

“Let us not forget: we are a pilgrim church, subject to misunderstanding, to persecution, but a church that walks serene, because it bears the force of love.” ― Oscar A. Romero, The Violence of Love

It is no secret to Christians that being one is not easy. However, the public practice of Christianity is becoming more and more difficult world-wide. The recent kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops in Syria is but one story of the on-going violence towards Christians in that country. Nigeria was recently cited for its attacks on Christians and Christian churches. Cadida Moss, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, is questioning the existence of Christian martyrs in the early Church. Rather than dying for their faith, she asserts, the stories of martyrs are myths created by a young church eager to establish itself as something worth dying for. Now, John Blake of CNN reports on American Christians as a “hated minority.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, May 8, 2013

As commencement ceremonies once again are being celebrated around the country, I was reminded again of the moral crisis of US education.

Elise Hilton recently surveyed the dismal employment rate among young adults in the US, writing that we have moved in twelve years from having the best rate in the developed world to being among the worst, following the path of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.

She highlights two possible solutions. The better one is from Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg:

Gregg says we must rely on free markets rather than redistribution of wealth, economic liberty, rule of law, entrepreneurship and the ability to take risks economically – all things that have made America great in the past.

The second comes from David Leonhardt, who, among other ideas, suggests, “Long term, nothing is likely to matter more than improving educational attainment, from preschool through college.”

Notice the language he uses? Not educational quality, nor even job-training, but “educational attainment.” With no intended disrespect to Mr. Leonhardt, it is precisely this well-meaning, widespread, but ill-informed mentality that has led, in large part, to our current educational crisis. (more…)

Silicon Valley certainly has a reputation for innovation and risk. But Christianity? Businesses designed not only to innovate but to pursuing business as an “intimate” adventure with God? That seems unlikely.

Christianity Today tells the story of several entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who are grounded in faith, but are shrewd business people. Take, for example, Sonny Vu. (more…)

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the sale of the “morning-after pill” (such as Plan B) for teens as young as 15, with no need for parental consent, and mandated that the drug no longer can be kept behind the pharmacy counter. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, believes there are “daunting and sometimes insurmountable hoops women are forced to jump through” when faced with a crisis pregnancy and that this measure is a step forward for women’s health. While there are conflicting opinions as to whether or not these medications cause abortions, there is no doubt that the side effects for the female taking the medication can be harsh, including hypertension, depression and ovarian cysts. morning after

What is disturbing to many is the fact that this move by the FDA now gives human traffickers a way to stop or end pregnancies in young girls being trafficked, with no medical care or follow-up. For instance, LiveAction did several “sting” operations at Planned Parenthood facilities around the country to see if workers in those facilities would follow mandated laws to report suspected sexual abuse of a minor. Over and over, workers were complicit in covering up what was presented as minor girls acknowledging having sex with much older men. In 2008, MSNBC reported that sex trafficking victims were “compelled to perform sex acts 12 hours a day and were subjected to beatings, rape and forced abortions.” With now-easy access to “morning-after” pills, sex traffickers won’t even have to visit a clinic; they can simply send a girl into the local pharmacy for the drug. No fuss, no muss…no medical follow-up, no chance for a medical professional to question the teen for her safety, her health, her well-being. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Monday, April 29, 2013

Salman Rushdie, the British Indian novelist, has a piece in The New York Times entitled “Wither Moral Courage?” He is saddened that we have “no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore” and that those who do stand up to the “abuses of power and dogma” are quickly imprisoned or vilified.

While it’s true that it is increasingly difficult to speak freely or practice one’s religious faith without fear of retribution, Rushdie confuses moral courage with shock. He cites the members of the Russian Pussy Riot as courageous, yet they refused to use their real names and disguised themselves in their protests against the Russian Orthodox Church. He also touts the “highly-effective” Occupy Wall Street movement here in the US as those with the courage to stand up against the establishment.

Pussy-Riot_2339711bThe problem here is that Rushdie isn’t really talking about moral courage. He’s talking about shock value. Courage, classically  understood, is a virtue; Cicero (106-43 BC) said, “Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind in harmony with reason and the order of nature.” While we can find many acts of courage around us every day (the fireman who rushes into a burning building to save a child, the soldier who holds his ground under enemy fire), moral courage is more than just this. (more…)