Category: Christian Social Thought

Lehner_CatholicActon Research Director Samuel Gregg reviews a new book at the Library of Law and Liberty that demolishes the canard that religious figure were “somehow opposed holus bolus to Enlightenment ideas is one that has been steadily discredited over the last 50 years.” In his review of The Catholic Enlightenment: The Forgotten History of a Global Movement by by Ulrich L. Lehner, Gregg points out that the new book shows how “the Enlightenment argument for freedom was embraced by many Catholic Enlighteners.”

One of Lehner’s central themes is that the roots of Catholic Enlightenment thought are to be found in that most reforming of Church councils: the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Trent’s impact in terms of clarifying church dogmas and doctrines, curbing laxity among the clergy, implementing an extensive seminary and university reform program, and propelling the rise of dynamic religious orders (to name just a few changes) is hard to underestimate. Trent facilitated the development of a thoroughly orthodox, intellectually rigorous, and disciplined clergy; a renewed emphasis upon addressing social and economic problems; a repudiation of superstitious customs; and, perhaps most significantly, an emphasis that lay people were also called to holiness. This idea pervades, for instance, Saint Francis de Sales’ immensely influential Introduction to the Devout Life (1609).

Trent was therefore about improvement. And comprehensive efforts to better the human condition was a central leitmotif of the various Enlightenments and one to which, Lehner shows, many Catholics were naturally well-disposed. In some areas, such as enhancing women’s legal status and education, it turns out that Catholic reformers were well ahead of their Protestant and more secular-minded counterparts. (more…)

il_fullxfull.352217606“If Jesus were alive today, do you think he would be comfortable with the Communist Party government in China?”

That’s a question BBC reporter John Sudworth asked Pastor Wu Weiqing, a Beijing based priest, who serves in an official, state-sanctioned church. The pastor replies without hesitation: “Absolutely. I think so.”

Oh my.

First of all, as the Easter holiday reminds us, Jesus is alive today. Second, Jesus would most definitely not be comfortable with the Communist Party government in China. And the Communist Party government in China would not be comfortable with Jesus.

To understand why we merely have to look at the stated views of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which are outlined in the Constitution of Communist Party of China. That document explicitly states the philosophical and political guides that motivates and drives the CPC:

socialism-0916Since its development as a political movement in the 1700s, socialism has spread to numerous nations, especially in Asia and Africa. Yet even when the U.S. government began adopting socialist policies (see: the New Deal), Americans tended to reject any direct connections to socialism. Why is that?

One possible answer may be that America is simply too religious. As Andrew R. Lewis and Paul A. Djupe of FiveThirtyEight explain:

To understand the relationship between socialist values and religion, we used the 2013 Public Religion Research Institute’s “Economic Values Study.” As part of the survey, respondents were asked how much they agreed with a battery of statements regarding economic values, including “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” The government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor” and “The government should guarantee health insurance for all citizens.” We combined these into a “socialism scale,” the results of which suggest the average American is just left of center.

The conventional wisdom is that the individualist, evangelical style of American religion is a strong antidote to socialism. If faith alone can lead you to salvation, then efforts to reshape society are beside the point. But the animosity between them has been more pointed, especially regarding so called “Godless communists” who portrayed religion as the “opiate of the masses.” In these data, those who agreed that social problems would be resolved if enough people had a personal relationship with God were 20 percent less socialist than those who disagreed. A worldview that pits faith directly against collective action explains clearly why collectivist efforts have traditionally foundered in the U.S.

Based on this data, it’s not surprising that the Americans who are most supportive of socialism are the “nones.” As Lewis and Djupe note, “Nones are 10 percent more socialist, on average, than religious Americans.”

19893712-mmmainAbout twenty years ago I made some terrible choices and found myself in a serious financial bind. The amount I needed wasn’t much — about $200 — but without it I wouldn’t have been able to pay my rent. I took out a payday loan that cost me $30 every two weeks. It took about eight weeks to get clear of the loan, resulting in a cost of $120 to borrow $200 for two months.

Was I fooling myself thinking the loan could be paid in two week? Not at all. In fact, I knew quite well that there was likely no way possible for me to pay it off in that timeframe. I knew precisely how much money I was going to be able to earn and how much my expenses would be during that two-week period. I had, roughly speaking, about $40 a week that I could apply toward the loan.

But $40 was not sufficient to cover the balloon payment of $200 that was due at the end of two weeks. So I had to roll over the loan, applying $15 a week to the new fees and saving $25 a week to be paid toward the principal. That is why it took me eight weeks to pay off the original loan: $25 a week for principal + $15 a week for fees = $40 x 8 weeks = $320 ($200 for principal + $120 for fees.

If you’re middle class and think of it in terms of interest rate, that repayment cost sounds appalling usurious. And it is. But as the poor will tell you, man does not live on APR alone. Having to pay an extra $120 was cheaper than having to find a new place to live. Yes, it was a bad deal. But it was better than all my other choices. I didn’t agree to the loan because I was bad at a math; I did it because I was desperate. And the payday lending company was more than willing to take advantage of my desperation.

How then do we solve the problem of rollover fee that take advantage of the poor when they are in dire straits? As I’ve argued before, I believe a helpful first step is to get churches and other faith-based organizations involved in providing alternatives to commercial lending agencies. The Worship Center Christian Church in Birmingham, Alabama seems to be providing a wonderful example of how Christians can help.

This past Sunday the church announced it will pay off the payday loans of 48 people — a combined total of more than $41,000 on high interest rates of 36 percent or higher.


person-pewDespite the widespread complaints about the attitudes, ethics, and attention spans of millennials, it can be easy to forget the failures of generations gone by.

Not unlike the baby boomers of yore, we millennials were raised in a world of unparalleled prosperity and opportunity. This has its blessings, to be sure, but it also brings with it new temptations to view our lives in grandiose terms, punctuated by blinking lights and marked by the vocabulary of “world change” and “social transformation.” Behold, we are the justice seekers, sent to “make the world a better place” and put society to rights.

But how does real transformation actually take place?

In an article for Providence, Walter Russell Mead offers some lessons from the boomers, noting how the next generation might learn from their fruits…or lack thereof:

Most of us [boomers] (at least of that part of the generation that was interested in public service) ended up putting our energy into anti-poverty programs, human rights NGOs, environmental organizations, and so on. All of these are much stronger now than when my generation first got involved with them. The enormous growth of the NGO sector both in the United States and abroad has been one of the hallmarks of the Boomers’ engagement with the world.

Looking back, I think we got it wrong. In our eagerness to change the world, and to embrace the tumult and challenge of our times, we overlooked the most important NGO of all: the Church of Christ.

Alas, for as important as various programs and policies may be, the church provides the spiritual and cultural lifeblood that connects the dots between the individual and society. The church coordinates the contours of man’s efforts and institutions, conducting them toward the mysterious harmony we sometimes call “flourishing.” (more…)

What if there was an easy-to-implement government policy that would hardly affect ordinary people but would make it substantially more difficult for criminals — from drug dealers to terrorists to human traffickers — to carry out their illicit trade? What if the policy simply required inaction from several Western governments, for them to stop doing what they’ve been doing? Does that sound like a crime-fighting policy Christians should support?

The proposal is rather simple: Eliminate high denomination, high value currency notes, such as the $100 bill (U.S.), the £50 note (UK), the €500 note (EU), and the CHF1,000 note (Switzerland).

“Such notes are the preferred payment mechanism of those pursuing illicit activities, given the anonymity and lack of transaction record they offer, and the relative ease with which they can be transported and moved,” says Peter Sands, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government:

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, February 18, 2016

True justice begins with seeing and believing in the dignity of every human person. It begins with recognizing God’s image in each of our neighbors, and it proceeds with service that corresponds with that transcendent truth. When distortions manifest, the destruction varies. But it always begins with a failure to rightly relate to this simple reality.

Thus, transformation often begins with a basic shift in our perceptions about others; how we see transforms how we serve. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this can begin with something as simple as a haircut.

Last Christmas, Ogden Rescue Mission offered an interesting holiday gift to the homeless community, welcoming local hair stylists from the surrounding area to donate their gifts by offering free haircuts.

It was a simple gesture, and it’s one that doesn’t fill a belly or meet what we might call an “immediate need.” A haircut is, in so many ways, “superficial.” Yet the response from these recipients demonstrates the importance of remembering our divine personhood, and how easy it can be to forget.

“It makes me feel like I’m respectable again,” says one man. “I look like, you know, an average person.” (more…)