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.
The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, volume 17, no. 2, has been published. The full content is available online now to subscribers and will be in the mail in the next few weeks. This issue features another fine slate of scholarship on the morality of the marketplace and Christian social thought more broadly.
As is our custom, this issue’s editorial by executive editor Jordan Ballor is open access (here), as are the first two installments of our Controversy section (here and here). This issue’s controversy centers on the role of labor unions in a free and flourishing society.
Our Reviews section features reviews of 16 books in the categories of Christian Social Thought, Ethics and Economics, and History and Philosophy of Economics.
This issue also features a Scholia translation of a selection from the Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Hemmingsen, “On the Law of Nature in the Three States of Life,” including an important introduction by E. J. Hutchinson and Korey D. Maas on Hemmingsen’s influence on the development of the Lutheran natural law tradition.
Lastly, for those looking to peruse the past year of scholarship in the Journal of Markets & Morality, this issue also includes the volume 17 index, which is also open access (here).
For those of you interested in an individual or institutional subscription, detailed instructions explaining how to subscribe through our website can be found here.
I want to thank Bradley Birzer, a Hillsdale College prof who is currently Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado Boulder, for offering Religion & Liberty an advance look at his forthcoming book on Kirk. A special thanks also to Annette Y. Kirk for her gracious help locating photos of her late husband in the archives of The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in Mecosta, Michigan, and sharing these with our readers. Be sure to check out the website of the Kirk Center for news about its academic programs and publications.
Kirk was a long time advisor to the Acton Institute. Here is the audio from his last public lecture, hosted by Acton in 1994, on “Lord Acton and Revolution.”
In this issue of Religion & Liberty, we review two new books. Economist David Hebert tells us that Russ Roberts’ How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life – An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness is a helpful reminder about the “limits of pure economics.” Even though the books and film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythic fantasies are phenomenally popular today, John Zmirak points out that his “bourgeois virtues were widely sneered at” by his contemporaries. He reviews The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and the West Forgot by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards. (more…)
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.
At 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.
In 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…)