Category: Publications

Today at Public Discourse, I examine recent data that strongly suggests that “freedom from government restrictions on religion often paves the way for economic liberty.”

I write,

Thus, we can say that if someone wishes to promote economic liberty worldwide, one should not neglect to encourage religious liberty at the same time. This requires facing the challenges of any given country’s religious context and history, while underscoring the importance of interreligious studies for international economic development efforts.

These findings also ought to affirm a tempered realism among international development organizations and advocates who hope to encourage free economies in countries with high government restrictions on religion. Such liberalization is not impossible, as Singapore, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain demonstrate. However, the strong correlation clearly favors those countries with moderate to low government restrictions on religion and preferably with moderate to low social hostility toward religion as well. A country that values and protects religious liberty offers fertile soil for economic liberty to flourish.

Exploring the connection between religious and economic liberty is one of the central focuses of the Acton Institute. For more on this subject, check out Michael Novak’s recent Acton Commentary, “Economic Tyranny Trumps Religious Liberty,” and be sure to look into our Religious and Economic Freedom Conference Series (here).

You can read the rest of my article, “Connecting Religious and Economic Liberty” at Public Discourse here.

Niels Hemmingsen 2At the conclusion of the English translation of Niels Hemmingsen’s The Way of Life (1578) (Latin: Via Vitae) is a series of short prayers. The selection includes one “for the aid of God in the needful businesses of our vocation.” The (modernized) text reads:

“Give me understanding, O Lord, and assist my endeavors, that I may faithfully and diligently perform the works of my vocation, to the glory of your name, the edification of your church, and the commodity of my neighbor.”

Hemmingsen was a significant Danish theologian in the sixteenth century, and a selection of his work on natural law is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Fall issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality. Subscribe today to get your copy when it becomes available.

R&LSpring2014coverIn a 2013 commencement address at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Makoto Fujimura told the graduating class, “We are to rise above the darkened realities, the confounding problems of our time.” A tall order for any age, but one God has decisively overcome in Jesus Christ. Fujimura uses his talent to connect beauty with the truth of the Gospel in a culture that has largely forgotten its religious tradition and history. He makes those things fresh and visible again. With works like “Walking on Water,” and the “Four Holy Gospels,” Fujimura is illuminating God’s Word to a culture that is mostly inward looking and mired in the self. Our interview with Fujimura leads this new issue of Religion & Liberty.

Also in this issue, I contribute a column on the dangers of state religion. Secularism, now thriving as the state religion, has the potential to unleash a new kind of religious persecution in America. (more…)

Contrary to current policy, this is not reality.

Last Saturday The Imaginative Conservative published my essay, “Let’s Get Back to Robbing Peter: The Welfare State and Demographic Decline.”

To add to what I say there, it should be a far more pressing concern to conscientious citizens that the US national debt has risen from $13 trillion in 2010 to nearly $18 trillion today. That is an increase of $5 trillion in just four years, or a nearly 40 percent increase. It is becoming more and more clear that, at our current rate, our nation’s entitlement programs represent the injustice that people today feel entitled to spend the tax dollars of tomorrow on benefits that we cannot realistically continue to afford. John Barnes wrote in 2010 that “the total value of all debt and unfunded promises made by the U.S. government is $61.9 trillion over the next 75 years.” I don’t know how much that figure has changed in the last four years, but I doubt it has shrunk, to put it lightly.

As any student of the Old Testament should know, God is very concerned about each generation leaving a proper inheritance to the next (cf. Numbers 27:8-11). No doubt many readers in their private lives have made provisions for their children after they pass. But as a nation, we are doing the reverse: paying for our provision today with the resources of tomorrow.

I write,

The German economist Wilhelm Röpke, commenting on the expansion of European welfare states in 1958, wrote, “To let someone else foot the bill is, in fact, the general characteristic of the welfare state and, on closer inspection, its very essence.” While he did not argue that, therefore, such state assistance should in all cases be stopped, he put the question in sober terms: “[T]he welfare state is an evil the same as each and every restriction of freedom. The only question on which opinions may still differ is whether and to what extent it is a necessary evil.”

In the interest of carrying on that same sobriety of analysis, I believe the picture is far bleaker today. Röpke, in the title to the essay quoted, characterized the welfare state as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” But Sts. Peter and Paul were contemporaries. If only we would simply rob our peers! Then we could have a lively discussion regarding “whether and to what extent” such robbery is “a necessary evil.” Instead, it is our children and grandchildren who must “foot the bill.” Yet on our current course, when the time comes to pay up there will be much less welfare available to them.

Read more . . . .

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
By

TriangleIn a remarkable letter last week, noted by Joseph Sunde, Mike Rowe inveighed against the sloganeering that passes for vocational discernment in today’s popular culture.

Mike singled out Hollywood as a particularly egregious offender:

Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”

Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

Mike’s a great breaker of idols, whether they’re “Follow your passion,” “Do what you love,” or “Work smarter, not harder.” And while I generally concur with the thrust of Mike’s commentary here, I have noted in the past a Hollywood exception that proves the rule. Ashton Kutcher’s acceptance speech at last year’s Teen Choice Awards was remarkable in this regard. In Get Your Hands Dirty, I explore the wisdom in Mike’s approach, and I’ve also written about the fundamental coherence of perspective shared by Mike Rowe and Chris Ashton Kutcher (a coherence Mike himself recognized).

Like most slogans, “Follow your passion!” can lead to extremes. As I’ve argued along these lines elsewhere, true vocational discernment requires a bit of triangulation. It’s not just about you and your passion, and it’s not just about others and their wants. It is also about God and his plans for you.

And although I missed the premiere, I’m looking forward to checking out Mike’s latest effort, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”

exile-supply-pack-how-god-makes-(2)The Acton Institute’s new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, was released earlier this year, and in the months since, has garnered heaps of praise from a variety of corners, most recently in Christianity Today, where Andy Crouch described it as “Christian popular culture that embodies theological and spiritual maturity—and childlike humility.”

Now, in addition to the DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack (which is on sale for only $35), you can expand your FLOW experience with a new Exile Supply Pack, which includes a host of additional resources, books, and tools for hosting or exploring the series with your friends, church, or organization.

The series itself does a fine job of setting up and kicking off a discussion about our role as Christians in the “the now and not yet,” but with these resources, you’ll be equipped with discussion and study guides, additional books on the topic of stewardship and discipleship, and other tools that will serve to promote and enrich that discussion on into the future.

You can order your Exile Supply Pack here. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
By

City Summer 2014In the most recent issue of The City, I have an essay on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty. I argue that Orthodox theological anthropology, which distinguishes between the image and likeness of God and two forms of freedom corresponding to them, fits well with the classical understanding of ordered liberty.

In particular, I examine these freedoms with regards to the family, religious liberty, political liberty, and economic liberty, arguing that the Orthodox ascetic tradition has much to offer to modern Christian social thought with regards to how best to order the freedom we have by virtue of being created after the image of God toward that freedom from passion and sin that finds its fulfillment in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Of interest to our readers here, with regards to economic liberty, I write,

We are created with a capacity for freedom, autexousio, to be used for the purpose of the moral freedom of theosis: eleutheria. Thus, just as we ought to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to God (cf. Romans 12:1), so also we are to offer up God’s creation to him through our labor. God has given us the earth in order “to tend and keep it” in a paradis[ai]cal state (Genesis 2:15). Thus, acknowledging … our propensity for failure, we nevertheless have a duty to make of God’s creation what we can, imitating the creativity of God and exercising the dominion he gave us (Genesis 1:26).

We must, then, have liberty in society to freely cultivate the resources of the earth for the sake of the higher good of self-sacrificing love. Helen Rhee affirms in Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, her study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, the consistent patristic teaching of both the affirmation of private property rights and our moral duties to use our property for the good of others (what is known in the West as the “universal destination of goods”)….

You can read the full article online here.

And while you’re at it, take the time to subscribe to The City. It’s free and published in print and online three times a year. Subscribe here.

get-your-hands-dirtyIn a review by Micah Watson of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) earlier this year at The Gospel Coalition, Watson described the book as “akin to a social event with heavy hors d’oevres served throughout the evening.”

There were, however, some offerings in this tapestry of tapas, so to speak, that Watson thought deserved an entree presentation. For instance, Watson wonders about distinguishing principle from prudence, a framework that runs throughout the book and broader Christian social thought. What distinguishes, for instance, the biblical view of marriage, abortion, and poverty and the various ways to respect these teachings in practice?

Thus, argues Watson,

Christians must often determine what the genuinely Christian position is in a given context, taking stands on particular issues and even legislation—as they did during the struggle to end racial segregation in the American civil rights movement or in affirming the Barmen Declaration in 1930s Germany. Exercising such discernment may or may not require identifying who is in and out of the tent, but it surely requires determining what moral stands constitute authentic Christian witness.

He goes on to observe that “a season of uncomfortable but necessary clarification will be necessary” in today’s world.

I’m happy to add a bit here to that season of clarification, or what might better be called a season of suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14), a season of searing away the dross from our life and witness, which is just another name for sanctification.

How might this distinction between principle and prudence work out in particular cases?
(more…)

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)

Uwe Siemon-Netto during the Battle of Huế (1968).

Uwe Siemon-Netto during the Battle of Huế (1968).

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and the end of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Uwe Siemon-Netto, a German, and former journalist for United Press International, covered much of the conflict in Vietnam. He has a new and excellent book titled, Triumph of the Absurd: A Reporter’s Love for the Abandoned People of Vietnam. Siemon-Netto is a Lutheran theologian and his extensive background in journalism and theology gives him tremendous credibility in discussing today’s media and culture, a big part of this R&L interview. I admire him for the relative ease in which he stands for truth, and in my opinion I believe students of Luther’s teachings will see a lot of Luther’s best qualities in Siemon-Netto.

David Urban, an English professor at Calvin College, authored a piece on John Milton, liberty, and virtue for Religion & Liberty. It was of course Milton who stressed the notion that true liberty stems “from real virtue.” A longer version of this article appears in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Mark S. Latkovic reviews The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray and Matthea Brandenburg reviews The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk. The book by Munk, which has received considerable attention, is a thorough examination of the problems with aid and high minded theories for ending poverty in Africa. Writing in Barron’s, William Easterly titled his review “The Arrogance of Good Intentions.”

The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Lebanese diplomat Charles Malik [1906-1986]. Malik drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and served as the president of the thirteenth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Rev. Robert Sirico offers us his thoughts on the need to lighten our burdens and Kris Mauren, our executive director, gives us an update on the Acton capital campaign.