Homicide and acts of personal violence kill more people than wars and are the third-leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 44, according to a new report by the United Nations.
Usury is the practice of making immoral monetary loans intended to unfairly enrich the lender. But what, for Christians, counts as an immoral loan?
For much of church history, any interest was considered immoral. The 12th canon of the First Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th canon of the Council of Aix (789) declared it to be reprehensible even for anyone to make money by lending at interest. But that view eventually changed, and today even the Vatican participates in modern banking.
In a piece today for the NYT Magazine, economics reporter Binyamin Appelbaum examines David Brat’s fusion of faith and free-market economics. Appelbaum finds that mixture problematic, to say the least, but it’s hard to sort out whether it is the religious faith or the free-market sympathies that Appelbaum finds more troubling.
In the opening paragraph, Appelbaum asserts that before Brat’s rise to prominence “there was plenty of skepticism about whether he merited the label of academic economist.” Who these skeptics are, who knew so much about Brat “even before” his “out-of-nowhere” victory, we are simply left to ponder. It seems some of his colleagues at Randolph-Macon College now harbor such skepticism. (Brat is running against a Randolph-Macon sociologist, Jack Trammell. Brat once wrote that “Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful.”)
Brat’s academic record is a wortwhile question to take up, and one that there has been a great deal of interest in following his primary victory. I, like many others, wanted to find out more, and went in search of Brat’s publications (with the help of one of our interns). I’ve had a chance to look at a few, and even turned up the paper on Ayn Rand that had gained such notice. The Rand paper turned out to be a co-authored piece with a student, and something which barely qualified as a poorly-edited introduction to a conference presentation. It is certainly not a smoking gun for tracking down Randian sympathies.
The problem with Appelbaum’s piece isn’t that he is asking questions about Brat’s academic record. These questions should be asked. The problem is the tone of Appelbaum’s inquisition and his presumption against the coherence of Brat’s position. The sarcasm oozes from Appelbaum’s prose: Brat “is certainly not in danger of winning a Nobel Prize.” Likewise Brat has written “discursive papers devoid of math,” “cited Wikipedia as a source,” and “never been published in a significant journal.”
Christian’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…)
Christian’s Library Press has released a new translation of Wolfgang Musculus’ commentary on Psalm 15, which includes two related appendices on the topics of oaths and usury. Released at the end of 2013, On Righteousness, Oaths, and Usury comes on the 450th anniversary of Musculus’ passing. The book is part of CLP’s growing series, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.
Musculus (1497–1563) was a second-generation reformer in the cities of Strasbourg, Augsburg, and Bern, and produced a variety of works, including an influential collection of theological topics, the Loci communes, or Common Places.
The contents of this new translation come from his commentary on the Psalms, his largest exegetical work and one of his most popular. Portions of the commentary were originally published in German, Dutch, French, and English throughout the sixteenth century. Although Musculus has been somewhat overlooked among the likes of Luther and Calvin, particularly this side of the Atlantic, his works had a significant impact on the Reformation and post-Reformation eras.
Today marks the 54th year since the passing of one of the world’s most influential international human rights lawyers. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘genocide’, made the crime illegal under international law, and possessed an almost prophetic sense of the atrocities that would occur under Nazi tyranny in World War II, died a largely unnoticed man. Only seven people attended his funeral, and to this day, many have not heard of Lemkin or the great contributions credited to his name.
The following account of Lemkin’s life and work is largely drawn from “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, the 2002 book by Samantha Power. Power was named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on August 2nd.
Born in 1900 to a large Jewish family in the village of Bezwodene, Poland (now near Volkovysk, Belarus), Lemkin became conscious of crimes against religious and minority groups at a young age. At the age of 12, he read the book, Quo Vadis, which recounts the Roman Emperor Nero’s massacres of Christian converts in the first century.
Lemkin learned about the Ottoman Empire’s extermination of its Armenian minority in 1915, and the 1920 assassination of Mehmet Talaat, the architect of the genocide. While studying linguistics at the University of Lvov, he asked one of his professors why the Armenians did not arrest Talaat instead. The professor said there was no law under which he could be arrested. “Consider the case of the farmer who owns a flock of chickens,” he said. “He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.” Lemkin was deeply troubled by this response and the idea that “state sovereignty” effectively permitted leaders to exterminate entire minority groups. (more…)
The state of religious liberty around the world is poor, according a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion. Doug Bandow breaks down the report over at The American Spectator—his piece is titled “A World Spinning Backward.”
Two years ago, Pew reported that 70 percent of humanity suffered from either government persecution of or social hostility to religion.
That trend is growing. According to Pew’s new study, “more than 2.2 billion people—about a third of the world’s population—live in countries where government restrictions or social hostilities involving religion are increasing. About 1% live in countries where government restrictions or social hostilities are decreasing.”
And in a finding that reminds one of Old Testament and Roman persecutions,
Pew noted that “restrictions on religion are particularly common in countries that prohibit blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion. While such laws are sometimes promoted as a way to protect religion, in practice they more often serve to punish religious minorities whose beliefs are deemed unorthodox or heretical.”
Blasphemy prosecutions have become notorious in Pakistan. These laws began with the British, were strengthened by a military dictator seeking religious support, and now are disproportionately used against Christians, often to settle property or other disputes. Muslims who urge reform of the laws are at risk. Punjab governor Salman Taseer was vocal in his criticism of the blasphemy statute and was murdered in January.
So Bandow asks, “What is responsible for this alarming trend?”
One finding suggests an unusual form of global polarization. Authoritarian states are growing more repressive while liberal nations are growing freer.
But while the America remains the most religiously free region in the world, social oppression is breaking out even in Western democratic nations…. Pew found that “Europe had the largest proportion of countries in which social hostilities related to religion were on the rise from mid-2006 to mid-2009.
Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia (where religious-oriented terrorism is on the rise), Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Italy are all guilty of backsliding. Bandow’s conclusion ought to be taken seriously:
Only one thing is certain: liberty is both rare and precious. Unfortunately, people in much of the world are free in neither their personal nor their political lives…. History obviously has more than its share of surprises left for us.
The First Amendment must never be taken for granted.
Immigration is never a light topic to discuss, and even the proposition of a solution to the effects caused by immigration might well be considered radical. The idea of a harmonious multicultural society is idealistic, but in reality, is very difficult to achieve.
When looking at the advantages and disadvantages of immigration, relative to the nation receiving immigrants, the economy is a concern that often comes up. In a recent IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs) paper, Nobel Prize winner Professor Gary Becker proposes a way in which the economy and the government of the country receiving immigrants could benefit. He believes that governments should sell the right to immigrate. Becker says, “The government should set a price each year and anyone would be accepted, aside from obvious cases such as potential terrorists, criminals and people who are very sick and who would be immediately a big burden to the health system.”
Becker uses the United States as a model for how the solution might play out. The U.S. has been admitting about one million legal immigrants a year. He says, “At a price of $50,000 per immigrant, let’s suppose this would attract one million immigrants.” At a 5 per cent interest rate, it has a present value of roughly $1 trillion. Of course, different countries could charge different rates, and the option of offering loans to those who couldn’t pay the amount up-front is a possibility. Through this solution, Becker believes a country would get immigrants who are young, skilled, and have the greatest commitment to the country.
Becker’s use of the United States as an example seems to suggest it is experiencing a revenue problem. But in fact, the government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
Immigration is not a new concept; it has been taking place since the dawn of time. Since the early days of Christianity, the welcoming of others has been encouraged. In an interview with Thomas C. Oden in Religion & Liberty,” Oden notes, “Ancient Christian writers knew that all Christians were being called to receive strangers and travelers hospitably.” But this does not get to the question of whether the stranger is entering under lawful pretences. These two viewpoints often conflict. Oden goes on to say, “They conflict dramatically between those who would emphasize the hospitality in an absolute way, and those who would emphasize the moral requirement of following the law as a part of a just social order, including the duty to respect legal borders.” So even among late and present day Christians, there is great contrast in opinions regarding this issue.
But among Christians, policy makers, and all people for that matter, the key component to any decision should be based on human dignity. Becker’s proposal works to boost the revenue of countries, but seems to take lightly the rights of the immigrants themselves. Sure, they will be accepted into the country and may eventually enjoy the same benefits as a natural-born citizen, but under the proposal, they are treated more as a commodity than a human being.
Although Becker’s proposal would work to moderate the illegal immigration problem, by offering a viable option for immigrants to enter legally, it does not address the cultural differences and religious factors that often play a large role in the discontent surrounding immigration. Germany, for example, has expressed great concern over the large influx of Muslim immigrants (coming mainly from Turkey) entering its borders. The predominant religion in Germany has long been Christianity, although church attendance rates have experienced a rather steady decline. The Turkish immigrants have proven to be very devout in their Islamic faith, which has made Germany question how strongly it wants to hold onto its Christian roots. These religious differences have fueled much of the debate which still continues.
The topic of immigration raises many questions about how it should be handled. Not every country holds the same stake in each issue surrounding immigration (culture, religion, economics, etc.), but each decision made should be premised on the dignity of the human person first. Becker’s proposal seemingly focuses on a solution based solely on revenue concerns. By doing this he fails to recognize immigrants who immigrate for humanitarian reasons (lack of resources, economic oppression, etc.) For people yearning for freedom, having to pay a considerable amount to enter a county doesn’t exactly fit within the mantra of liberty. Use of the free market is in many cases a good thing, but when its use undermines the very freedom it attempts to foster, it is violating its own principles. This does not mean the immigration system should not be revised; restructuring the legal immigration system in the U.S. and other countries would help a great deal. But, in order for these changes to be truly positive, they should first and foremost be based on the dignity of the human person.
Yesterday I noted some items related to the question of punishment and restorative justice in the American criminal justice system. And in the past we’ve looked here at the PowerBlog of the issues surrounding political and social activism on prison rape.
Now today Joe Carter, web editor at First Things, considers the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the broader cultural attitudes toward prison rape:
While such laws are a useful beginning, what is needed more than any legislation is a change in attitude by the American public. While jokes about conventional rape are always considered in bad taste, humor about prison rape is common and broadly accepted.
Joe makes an important case, and it is worth serious consideration. Given his position on water boarding and torture more generally, I’m sure that Joe agrees with what I’ve written previously on this issue: “Inmates are still people, and therefore need to be treated as such, with all the challenges and potential that face all human persons.” One of the things it means to treat someone with the dignity they deserve as a human being is to not subject them to conditions where the threat of rape is rampant.
With regard to the relationship between humor and prison rape, Joe is right to point to the double standard. One commenter on one of my previous posts contended, however, that “I don’t think the vast majority of people who joke or threaten about prison rape are seriously indifferent to it when it comes to making real decisions about the penal system. Instead, I think they are simply pointing out one of the ugly realities of any penal system.” You can judge for yourself the accuracy of that claim.
But I wonder too whether one aspect of why prison rape humor is so relatively prevalent in our culture is that, as Joe has noted in his always worthwhile 33 Things, comedy has something to do with “making immoral behavior seem harmless.” In this sense, then, the danger isn’t that humor about making prison rape seem moral, but rather that it makes prison rape seem inconsequential or “benign.”