The Houston- based Prison Entrepreneurship Program looks at convicted criminals as if they were “raw metal in the hands of a blacksmith – crude, formless, and totally moldable.” PEP puts prisoners through a rigorous character training and business skills regimen to prepare them for a productive, even flourishing, re-entry to life after incarceration. Ray Nothstine took part in PEP’s “pitch day” presentations where prisoners test their start-up dreams before a panel of business people and investors. He describes his day at Cleveland Correctional Facility near Houston in the main feature in the Spring 2015 issue of Religion & Liberty and contributes an interview with Bert Smith, PEP chief executive.
Also in this issue, Rev. Gregory Jensen reviews Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation, a new book by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal. Rev. Jensen reminds us to pay attention to policy decisions that can help or hinder “our pursuit of the ethical goals that so many of our religious leaders recommend.”
“In the Liberal Tradition” profiles Isabel Paterson (1886-1961) a journalist, philosopher, and literary critic who is credited with being “one of the three women (along with Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand) who launched the libertarian movement in America.” Not enough people remember her today even though her 1943 book, The God of the Machine, was highly influential on its publication. You’ll want to read this profile, and learn why Paterson had a major falling out with Rand. (more…)
In the fall of 2014, business people, scholars, and theologians converged on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the Symposium on Common Grace in Business. The event was conceived and co-sponsored by the Calvin business department and the Acton Institute as a way of highlighting Abraham Kuyper’s theological work on common grace – the grace God extends to everyone that enables him or her to do good – to the business world. The gathering was also a celebration of Acton’s translation and publication in English of volume one of Kuyper’s seminal three-volume work on common grace (De Gemeene Gratie).
We’re leading this Winter 2015 issue of Religion & Liberty with a roundtable discussion by three prominent business people who discuss how common grace has a direct, and transformative, application in their workaday lives.
Also in this issue, Ray Nothstine reviews Thomas C. Oden’s autobiography A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. The book chronicles how one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated liberals made a dramatic turn away from pacifism, ecumenism and psychotherapy toward the great minds of ancient Christianity.
Critics of the market economy often say it inevitably leads to Black Friday stampedes and gross materialism. We counter with an excerpt from Rev. Gregory Jensen’s forthcoming Acton monograph The Cure for Consumerism. (more…)
Today is the last day you can get a free copy of Acton’s latest monograph, “A Vulnerable World: The High Price of Human Trafficking” by Elise Hilton. Visit Amazon before midnight to download. For more information about the monograph and human trafficking, visit Vulnerable.World.
Pope Francis has called human trafficking “an open wound on the body of contemporary society.” This monograph discusses both the economic and moral fall-out of modern-day slavery.
Christian’s Library Press has now released Psalms I, the fourth primer in its Opening the Scriptures series, and the first in a two-part release on the book of Psalms.
Written by Dutch Reformed minister Frans van Deursen, and newly translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman, the volume provides an introduction to Psalms, a book which serves as “the oldest songbook that God’s people possess,” as well as the “oldest breviary or prayer book,” the author writes.
Like other volumes in the series, Psalms I is neither a technical commentary nor a collection of sermons, but rather an accessible primer for the average churchgoer. In this case, the author hopes we learn lessons on both theory on practice when it comes to the great tasks of honor and worship, prayer and praise.
The book includes a good deal of theological and historical set-up on how we are to understand the Psalms as a whole, proceeding to provide more detailed summaries and analyses on the deeper meaning and Biblical context of the individual psalms themselves. (more…)
Graeme Wood’s excellent piece in The Atlantic has justly been making the rounds for the past week or so. It is well worth reading with a number of insights and points that strike at the heart of the contemporary conflict between modernity and religious violence. I commend “What ISIS Really Wants” to your reading. (Rasha al Aqeedi’s “Caliphatalism,” which looks more closely at the situation in Mosul, makes a great companion read.) (more…)
Molina (1535–1600) was one of the most eminent theologians of the Jesuit order in the sixteenth century. Known widely for developing a theory of human freedom of action (and in turn, a new religious doctrine now known as Molinism), Molina was also the first Jesuit to make major contributions to economic thought through a major treatise (On Justice and Right).
In the book’s introduction, Rudolf Schuessler offers more on the historical context and Molina’s contribution therein. As Schuessler explains, Molina’s views on freedom impacted his entire approach to economics and helped “set the pace for Jesuit economic thought.”
Jesuit economic thought in the seventeenth century gravitated toward individual freedom and displayed a keen appreciation of the market economy while upholding moral restrictions for market activities in a flexible and low-profile form. These features of Jesuit economic thought are of great—although not universally recognized—importance because the Jesuits were the teaching order par excellence in early modernity. Almost all early modern economic thinkers in Catholic countries were taught by the Jesuits, and Molina had the privilege to set the agenda for his order’s economic thought…
…By summarizing and discussing the state of the art of his time, Molina sets the pace for Jesuit economic thought. After the demise of the scholastic tradition and the temporary abolition of the Jesuit order in the eighteenth century, the respective doctrines traveled on back roads into the nineteenth century where they influenced the Austrian school and the marginalist revolution in economics. Molina and his contemporaries were the first to apply the laws of supply and demand systematically to money markets, and as a result conceived the quantity theory of inflation. They began to understand the role of risk, of liquidity, and of time preference in economic contexts, as well as the institutional role of property rights. For this they still deserve our attention.
A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.
“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.
Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.
For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.
Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.
It is clearly evident that petty exchange is useful to the republic, as it is often that men need coins of a lesser value in order to buy the things they need daily, or to give alms, or for other such things in which the coinage of a higher value is of no use.
Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.
Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.