Category: Christian Social Thought

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the longstanding claim of the Roman Catholic Church that the universal character of the common good in our present era necessitates a world political authority. The problem, I argue, lies in the tradition’s too closely identifying the good of political communities with the common good.

The recently canonized Pope John XXIII, for example, states that “[p]ublic authority” is “the means of promoting the common good in civil society” (Pacem in Terris, 136, emphasis mine). And Pope Benedict XVI continued the call made by John XXIII for a “world political authority” in Caritas in Veritate, specifically recommending that the U.N. be “vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights” (57, emphasis mine). The problem with the U.N., to the popes, is that it is not powerful enough.

In response, I write,

I would worry about a U.N. or any other global political authority endowed with such great power and means. If nation states have failed to ensure the global common good, as the pope admits, why should we expect a global government to be free from error in this regard? The only difference would be that the mistakes of such politicians would necessarily have global consequences. I like my U.N. nearly ineffective and mostly powerless, thank you very much. If anything, to ensure subsidiarity, the larger the political authority, the less power and means it should have. (more…)

innovation educationIt is not often that Sojourners president Jim Wallis puts forth ideas that align with those of the Acton Institute. However, in a recent interview, Wallis (touting his new book, Uncommon Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided) said that he recognizes that there are three keys to ending poverty: work and economic activity, innovation, education. He also says his hometown of Detroit has a big lesson to teach us:

Detroit shows that the government isn’t enough,” said Wallis. “The book talks about how we’ve got to talk about the common good as societal ethic which means our congregations, our neighborhood organizations, our non-profits, the private sector … and government.”

What Wallis is talking about, of course, is subsidiarity: the tenet of Catholic social teaching that says the smallest and closest entity to a problem should be the one to take care of the situation. A family raises a child, not the state. A school board decides curriculum, not the national government. Wallis wants to split issues and ideas into “conservative” and “liberal” camps, but really there are only good ideas and bad ones. For instance, he says personal responsibility is a “conservative” fix for poverty, and “social responsibility: taking care of not just ourselves but taking care of each other” is a “liberal” idea. Yet both of these are part of subsidiarity: we take care of ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our communities. (more…)

Unaccompanied minors being held in Texas by Border Security

Unaccompanied minors being held in Texas by Border Security

It has long been apparent that U.S. borders are far from secure. Border patrol agents are stretched thin, especially along the southern states, dealing with illegal immigrants, human traffickers and smugglers, and the drug cartels. Now, there is a new problem with no easy solution: children teeming into the U.S., many under the age of 12. According to The Washington Times,

The flood of young children pouring across the southwestern border is worse than the administration has previously acknowledged, and efforts to deal with unaccompanied minors are overwhelming the Border Patrol, distracting it from going after smugglers and other illegal immigrants, according to an internal draft memo from the agency.

The four-page memo, authored by Deputy Border Patrol Chief Ronald D. Vitiello and dated May 30, contradicts the administration’s argument that the border is secure enough to begin legalizing current illegal aliens already in the U.S.

According to estimates in the memo, about 90,000 children have been apprehended by law enforcement so far in 2014, up from 40,000 in 2013. Of course, these numbers are only the children that were apprehended; there were no estimates for how many unaccompanied minors actually crossed the border. The children are coming from Mexico and Central America and cite poverty and violence as the reason they are seeking life in the U.S. The journey is exceedingly dangerous, especially for girls, who face sexual assault at a much higher rate than boys. (more…)

Evan Koons just posted the first video blog, or “vlog,” in support of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a new educational video series from the Acton Institute.

The series, which follows Koons on a creative journey to discover “God’s Economy of All Things,” begins by laying the framework that Koons alludes to here.

As he wrote in a recent article for Q Ideas:

We are being called by God to spend the remainder of our days serving our captors, working with them (not fighting them or conforming to them or fleeing from them—but serving them) and compromising nothing. It’s rooted in the belief that all of our vocations (family, work, public service, education, art, and more) matter.

For new vlogs and other resources from Koons & Company, check out the FLOW blog (add it via RSS), subscribe to the YouTube page, and follow FLOW on Facebook and Twitter.

View the trailer and pre-order your own copy here, discounted at 50% off for a limited time, until June 15.

Visit the Acton Book Shop to find related books and media

Kevin Allen, host of a weekly call-in show on Ancient Faith Radio, interviewed Fr. Michael Butler over the weekend “about how we might address the environmental issues that confront us today by appealing to the authentic Orthodox Tradition.” Fr. Michael is the author, with Prof. Andrew Morriss, of the 2013 Acton monograph Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism.

In their April 23 commentary “Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism” the authors note:

The ascetical tradition of the Orthodox Church includes many practices: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, keeping vigil, inter alia. They are the active part of the spiritual life, our voluntary cooperation with the grace of God. As such, it is important that we not be tempted to use the ascetical practices of the Church for ends they were not designed to serve. Thus, we need to be careful of “environmental consciousness” masquerading as authentic spiritual practice. Moreover, we must keep in mind that it is the believer’s practice of asceticism, not asceticism qua asceticism, that is important. (more…)

kuyper12In Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government, a translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program, Kuyper sets forth an outline for his Anti-Revolutionary Party.

Founded by Kuyper in 1879, the party had the goal of offering a “broad alternative to the secular, rationalist worldview,” as translator Harry Van Dyke explains it. “To be “antirevolutionary” for Kuyper, Van Dyke continues, is to be “uncompromisingly opposed to ‘modernity’ — that is, to the ideology of the French Revolution and the public philosophy we have since come to know as secular humanism.”

Greg Forster has compared the work to Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution, calling it “equally profound and equally consequential.” And indeed, though written nearly a century later and set within a different national context, Kuyper’s philosophy aligns remarkably close with that of Burke’s.

The similarities are most notable, perhaps, in the area of social order. Kuyper expounds on the subject throughout the book, but in his section titled “Decentralization,” his views on what we now call “sphere sovereignty” sound particularly close to Burke’s, though rather uniquely, with a bit more “Christian-historical” backbone.

Kuyper observes a “tendency toward centralization” among the revolutionaries, wherein “whatever can be dealt with centrally must be dealt with centrally,” and “administration at the lower levels” is but a “necessary evil.” Such a tendency, he concludes, “impels to ever greater centralization as soon as the possibility for it arises.” (more…)

helping-hand-610gr“The Bible does say a lot of justice and the poor,” notes Kevin DeYoung, “but if we are to be convicted and motivated by truth, we must pay more careful attention to what the Bible actually does and does not say.”

An example is a concept that DeYoung says can be derived from the Bible, the principle of moral proximity:

(more…)

On Exchange and Usury, Cajetan, ThomasChristian’s Library Press has released a new translation of two treatises on exchange and usury by Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534), a Dominican theologian, philosopher, and cardinal.

Although best known for his commentaries on the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, Cajetan also wrote dozens of other works, including short treatises on socioeconomic problems.

Published under the name On Exchange and Usury, these treatises reflect on the banking industry of the early modern era in the context of the Church’s usury doctrine, examining which transactions were licit, and which involved usury, among other things. The book is part of CLP’s growing series, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

In the introduction, Raymond de Roover summarizes some of the historical context, as well as Cajetan’s contribution therein:

Because of the Church’s usury doctrine, bankers were not supposed to charge interest and, consequently, had to look for some other way of lending money at a profit, with the result that banking became tied to exchange: local banking to manual exchange (cambium minutum), and foreign banking to real exchange or exchange by bills (cambium per litteras). Since the discounting of commercial paper was ruled out by the usury prohibition, bankers bought bills of exchange at a price that was determined by the foreign exchange rates… (more…)

sale of peopleRani Hong was a very young girl in rural India when her life was snatched away from her by human trafficking. In desperation, her mother allowed her to be taken away by a woman she thought she could trust, a woman who promised to care for Rami. And she did, for a while. However, the lure of money was too great and Rami was sold into human trafficking at age seven.

I was taken to an area where I did not know the language, where everyone was a stranger,” Hong recalls. “I cried for my mom to come and get me – that’s all a seven-year-old mind can understand.” Traumatized, she stopped eating and became physically and mentally ill. “My captors labeled me ‘destitute and dying,’ meaning that I had no value in the forced child labor market.” The only way the traffickers could profit from her, Hong explains, was to put her up for illegal international adoption. Trafficked into Canada, she was beaten, starved, and caged – “seasoned for submission,” in the parlance of her captors. A photo of her at age eight shows an emaciated little girl with prominent bruises on her arms and legs, whose eyes are swollen nearly shut. “I couldn’t even talk,” she says. “I had completely shut down.”

(more…)

RussellDMoore-lowRussell Moore talks and writes about a lot of topics as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He even writes about the legendary Johnny Cash. “Cash always seems to connect,” says Moore. When it comes to leading and speaking about religious liberty, the same can be said for Moore. There are few as engaging and persuasive as Moore in the public square today. He’s interviewed on this important topic in the issue of Religion & Liberty . In the editor’s notes, I speak a little bit on the impact of Moore’s character and integrity.

“Shades of Solzhenitsyn” is the feature essay and Kevin Duffy offers a critical analysis on some of the similarities between Pope Francis and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A world starved by a lack of moral clarity is in desperate need of the best thoughts from both men.

Dylan Pahman reviews Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by well-known Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann. I review Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets by Peter Schweizer. We all are or should be aware that our leadership in Washington is a disaster and a cesspool of corruption. But it’s even worse than that according to Schweizer. The system is best understood by comparing it to organized crime. Schweizer was interviewed in the Winter 2013 issue of Religion & Liberty.

“Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism”
by Fr. Michael Butler and Andrew P. Morriss is an excerpt from Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism . That work is invaluable for a more responsible environmental framework with God at the center of creation.

It may be surprising, especially to many of our Reformed readers, that Richard Baxter has never been profiled for “In the Liberal Tradition.” Max Weber called Baxter the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic and Baxter’s thought and prolific writings are still widely utilized and studied. We’d all be better off if we took the time to read How to Do Good to Many.

If you’d like to read our executive director’s thoughts on Acton’s battle with the city over our property tax exemption, there is no better statement on this issue than Kris Mauren’s frequently asked questions segment.