Greece is, economically, a mess. With a youth unemployment rate exceeding 65 percent, leaving two-thirds of the nation’s young people unable to find a job, there is not much to celebrate in a country where family life – like many cultures – revolves around meals. Greece is also facing a sharp decline in population. Here is a story of what happens when people who love to cook, but have no one to cook for, meet people who love to eat, but have little money for food. (more…)
In The Mystical as Political, Aristotle Papanikolaou seeks to construct a political theology rooted in the Orthodox Christian conviction that all of creation, and humanity in particular, was created for communion with God. He begins by offering a helpful survey of political theory in the Orthodox tradition, focusing especially on Eusebius of Caesarea, Saint John Chrysostom, the Emperor Justinian, Vladimir Soloviev, and Sergius Bulgakov, inter alia (chapter 1). In the following chapters, he addresses the relationship between church and state (chapter 2); personhood and human rights (chapter 3); divine-human communion and the common good (chapter 4); and honesty, forgiveness, and free speech (chapter 5). In the process, and refreshingly for an Orthodox writer, he also engages Western theologians and philosophers — including William Cavanaugh, Jacques Maritain, Stanley Hauerwas, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, to highlight only some of the more prominently featured — acknowledging their genuine insights while, nevertheless, criticizing what he sees to be various shortcomings. The Mystical as Political represents a careful and irenic, though not uncritical, Orthodox Christian approach to political theology, ultimately offering a positive appraisal of liberal democracy and human rights. Although essential reading on the subject with much to commend it, it has several shortcomings of its own.
In particular, I hone in on “an overemphasis on the particular over against the general, the dynamic and the uniqueness of persons over against the static and the common nature of humanity.” As this is a continuing interest of mine and a subject I have explored in the past here on the PowerBlog, as well as elsewhere, my review is offered as open access to anyone who may be interested in the subject here.
I previously explored the subject of Orthodoxy and natural law here.
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., in an essay for The Catholic World Report, offers some points worth pondering regarding Christianity and poverty. Entitled “Do Christians Love Poverty,” Schall insists that we must make the distinction between loving the poor – actual people – and loving “poverty” in some abstract way. For that to happen, we have to be holistic, realistic and concrete in our intentions and actions.
It would seem that our love of the poor, in some basic sense, ought to include not just our helping the poor in his immediate needs but mainly inciting his capacity to help himself. We want him not to need us to help him except in the sense that we all need an economic and social system that works for everyone. We want this system to be growing; we do not want a stagnant system which always produces the same or lesser amounts of available goods. We want and need people who do not think solely or mainly in terms of distributing existing goods, which they often conceive to have been ill-gotten simply because someone has more than others.
Charitable giving, for the most part, involves money. But not always. The auto manufacturer, Toyota, donates efficiency. The car company’s model of kaizen (Japanese for “continuous improvement”) was one their employees believed could be beneficial beyond the manufacturing business.
Toyota offered to help The Food Bank of New York, which reluctantly accepted their plan. The charity was used to receiving corporate financial donations to feed their patrons, not time from engineers. But the non-profit quickly saw results.
Toyota’s engineers helped reduce the wait time for dinner from 90 minutes to 18.
Instead of having clients stream into the cafeteria 10 people at a time, the company recommended that diners take a seat just as soon as one becomes available. Toyota also set up a waiting room where diners could pick up trays and designated one employee whose job is to scour the dining room for an available space.
Toyota has ‘revolutionized the way we serve our community,’ Margarette Purvis, the chief executive and president of the Food Bank…
Toyota also worked with the Food Bank in their outreach distribution services following Hurricane Sandy, as the video below shows.
Gerard Berghoef & Lester DeKoster, in their book Faithful in All’s God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, say this about work:
It is of the nature of work to serve the community. Whether work is done in the home, on the land, or in the countless forms of enterprise developed across the centuries, work is doubly blessed: (1) it provides for the family of man, and (2) it matures the worker.
National Catholic Reporter writer Michael Sean Winters has a message for the United States Catholic Bishops: become complicit with evil or toll the death knell for the Church in the U.S. Unlike the Amish, who choose to live in a manner outside of modern culture, Winters exhorts the bishops to not only engage the world, but realize that being part of evil is simply part and parcel of that engagement:
I bring up the Amish for a reason. They are lovely people and their commitment to living a Christ-like life challenges us all. But their model is not our Catholic tradition. We do not shut out the world; we engage it. And it seems to me that the approach of many bishops in recent years has been to mimic the Amish, to construct walls around a ‘faithful remnant’ of Catholics, close the doors in the face of those who evidence ambivalence, and denounce the culture for its moral turpitude. Setting aside the fact that those denunciations tend to be ideologically one-sided, this dour, pessimistic, denunciatory stance toward the culture is a death sentence for the church…
Étienne Cabet, a French philosopher and founder of a utopian socialist movement, once said: “Communism is Christianity.” The concept of property has existed longer than Western Civilization; trying to understand what property is and who can claim it has been an important issue for centuries. But, what is the Christian view of private property and ownership?
Cabet, and others who believe that Christianity supports the concept of communism or socialism, base their opinion on one particular passage of Scripture. In Acts: 32-37, Luke tells us that no believer:
Claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. NIV
One interpretation of this passage says that the Church does not support private property, but the Christian perspective on the institution of property is not so simple. Wolfgang Grassl, professor of business administration at St. Norbert College (De Pere, Wis.), addresses this complicated and controversial issue in Property, the latest in the Christian Social Thought series from the Acton Institute.
Grassl points out that the issue of property is absolutely central to Western civilization and Christian social thought. He goes as far to say that understanding property is essential in order to understand the human person. Grassl quotes Pope John Paul II, who addressed the complexity of this issue in Centesimus Annus. He said: (more…)
On Oct. 4, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, spoke about social justice at the 2012 Hillsdale College Free Market Forum in Houston. The theme of the Forum, which encourages the study of free enterprise by bringing scholars together for dynamic exchanges of ideas on topics related to free market economics, was “Markets, Government, and the Common Good.” Rev. Sirico spoke about the evolved meaning of the phrase “social justice,” explaining the current usage of the phrase as well as its literal meaning. He also warned that if words and phrases lose their meaning then “chaos can result.” (more…)
Subsidiarity, the idea that those closest to a problem should be the ones to solve it, plays a particular role in development. However, it can be an idea that is a bit “slippery”: who does what and when? What is the role of faith-based organizations? What is the role of government? Susan Stabile, Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law, has written “Subsidiarity and the Use of Faith-Based Organizations in the Fight Against Poverty” at Mirror of Justice blog and has a succinct view of subsidiarity:
Faith-based organizations have tremendous advantages over the provision of direct benefits by the federal or state governments, being capable of steering a course between welfare as an entitlement for all and state based determinations as to what general criteria make one worthy of receiving governmental assistance. The fact that they are closer to the problem allows them to better tailor aid and solutions to the situations of those they serve. The fact that they are community-based allows them to better facilitate the full development of the human personality of those who they touch. The fact that they are faith-based allows them to capture benefits of attempting to address some of the behavioral contributors to the difficulty of improving the lives of those they serve.
However, subsidiarity emphasizes action at the level most suited to address a problem, not merely action at the lowest level. It is thus important that subsidiarity not be used as an excuse to merely devolve responsibility downward without assurance of effectiveness, that it not be used as an excuse for the federal government to abdicate responsibility to provide for the social welfare of its citizens, viewing social welfare as the responsibility of states and localities, aided by private actors. Doing so would be inconsistent both with the concerns underlying the principle of subsidiarity and with subsidiarity’s context within the broader body of Catholic social teaching, and would be little more than merely a ruse for simply reducing federal expenditures. It is thus important to recognize that the effective provision of social services requires multiple actors. While it is desirable that faith-based organizations play a significant role, the federal government must also retain a significant role both in enabling faith-based organizations to do their job and in doing those things that can not be done effectively by such organizations. Ultimately, the government must remain the ultimate backup to ensure that no one is left behind.
Ms. Stabile goes on to say that, “…addressing people’s spiritual needs, helping change their lives rather then just providing for their material needs, empowers them.” By focusing on the empowerment of people on the local level, both those in poverty and those trying to alleviate poverty, we remain centered on the human person, created in God’s image and likeness, with creative power to serve and solve.
This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.
Ismael Hernandez, founder and executive director of the Freedom & Virtue Institute and Acton University lecturer, has written a piece in Crisis Magazine detailing why the Church should cut purse strings with the federal government. Noting that we cannot be both religious ministers to the poor and government-paid social workers, Hernandez bolsters his view by looking to the very foundation of America:
James Madison, known as the father of our Constitution, supported religious liberty. He is most surely quoted because he inspired much of what is authentic liberty in our Founding. Heeding his words is a great idea. When in 1794 Congress used Federal funds for relief of French refugees escaping from war in Santo Domingo, Madison opposed the appropriation stating, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents” (James Madison, 4 Annals of Congress 179 ).
Madison understood that right order precedes right doing and that, in the American experiment of freedom, the Constitution offers the Federal government no space for relief interventions or nationalized solutions to social problems. Unfortunately, and contrary to both Madison and subsidiarity, religious and political leaders apparently assume that if one says the Federal government should not do X, then X should not, or cannot, be done. A renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2) is needed to dispel these pernicious assumptions. As the Federal government emboldens and grows, all under the cover of helping the needy, our memory has forgotten the need for an order that facilitates right doing.
You can download Mr. Hernandez’s Acton University lecture, “Subsidiarity and Serving the Poor” here, under “Day 3″.