Posts tagged with: ethics

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 15, 2010

Longtime Acton friend John H. Armstrong notes the recent discussion of Rowan Williams’ pronouncements on ethics and the economy here at the PowerBlog, commenting that “The archbishop of Canterbury is an extremely likable Christian gentleman, a first-class Christian scholar. He is also a leader who often fails to address some of the more difficult issues in our time with a straight, clear answer.”

Armstrong’s description of Williams coheres well with the overall picture of theologians engaging economics presented by Susan Lee, who says, “The habit of picking and choosing means that many theological discussions of economics take place under a cloud of incoherence, or at least to economists, ignorance.”

In this brief piece from APM’s Marketplace, “Bridging the theology-economy gap.” Susan Lee, “an economist and a theologian based in New York City,” passes along her experience at a public appearance that included Rowan Williams. She gets of some real substantive observations, including the following:

…ethics are the common ground for theology and economics…

Both theologians and economists are interested in improving the lives of all humans. Both groups agree on policy goals like low unemployment and sustainable growth. In fact, these goals are in harmony with a definition offered by the archbishop. He said: “An ethical economy is one where we care for our neighbor by creating conditions so the most vulnerable aren’t abandoned.” Well, this is a description of capitalism in the U.S….

Economists are interested in how to make the pie larger. Theologians are interested in how to divide the pie. And so many theologians treat capitalism like a Chinese menu. They pick the wealth-distribution parts and discard the wealth-creation parts….

Her commentary is brief, but worth reading or listening to in full. Jeff Walton at the IRD also provides some background for the Trinity Institute event, and includes fuller observations from Lee (HT).

The other day I was tracking down a quotation I heard repeated at a local gathering and came across an interesting book published in 1834. On the title page of the “Googled” Oaths; Their Origin, Nature and History someone had scribbled “full of information… a superior work.” The introductory paragraph reads:

It is well observed by an ancient writer [Hilarius of Arles] that would men allow Christianity to carry its own designs into full effect; were all the world Christians, and were every Christian habitually under the influence of his Religion in principle and in conduct, no place on earth would be found for Oaths; every person would on all occasions, speak the very truth, and would be believed merely for his word’s sake; every promise would be made in good faith and no additional obligation would be required to ensure its performance.”

A few years ago I was asked to help organize a “business ethics conference” for a Catholic diocese. At the end of the day it was in fact a fundraising event, but the cause was good — supporting urban Catholic schools — and everybody knew what we were doing. Former Gonzaga University President Fr. Robert Spitzer was one of the speakers and I’ll never forget his “utility based ethics versus principle based ethics” talk. Enron was the whipping boy of those times and the example made by Fr. Spitzer was rather easy to understand. Enron’s accountants had spent too much time wondering how much they could hide rather than questioning whether hiding was the right thing to do. Lately, we’ve had Barney Frank and his famous “roll the dice” strategy with low income housing loans take Enron’s place, but the Massachusetts Congressman doesn’t seem to be reaching for a scourge. Not for that sin at least.

Speaking of Massachusetts, Harvard University’s Safra Foundation Center for Ethics had an interesting speaker on November 12th. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer [no relation -- you can be sure] spoke on the topic ”What Should Be the Rationale for Government Participation in the Market?” Since his resignation brought about by a prostitution scandal in March 2008, Mr. Spitzer has been teaching classes in Political Science to the kids at City College in New York and working at his daddy’s real estate firm. Kristin Davis, the former madam who supplied Spitzer’s needs and a reported Harvard alumnus wrote the Center’s Professor Lessig protesting the Spitzer apperance in which she described her former client as “a man without ethics.” The Spitzer appearance at Safra was characterized by some as the start of a “comeback.” We’ll see.

To sort this invitation out it’s probably worthwhile to read Safra Foundation Center’s mission statement:

Widespread ethical lapses of leaders in government, business and other professions prompt demands for more and better moral education. More fundamentally, the increasing complexity of public life – the scale and range of problems and the variety of knowledge required to deal with them – make ethical issues more difficult, even for men and women of good moral character.

But wait there’s more. Under the banner of one of the Center’s niches — Practical Ethics — we find the following:

“The diversity of the various methods and disciplines on which we draw and the range of the social and intellectual purposes we serve are too great to permit an orthodoxy to develop.”

For me, that leads to a version of I’m okay, you’re okay, it’s okay.

On the heels of Spitzer’s Harvard appearance The Wall Street Journal ran a story titled “Networking for Social Responsibility” in which they report on other business ethic efforts at some of the nation’s colleges. Creating an ecumenical balance to Harvard’s Safra Center is Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship organized because ”a growing number of companies are turning to business schools these days for help in redefining what it means to be socially responsible.” In North Carolina at yet another college, Gil McWilliam, an executive director at Duke Corporate Education says, “One reason for the heightened interest in social responsibility is that companies seeking to expand globally need to first understand what social issues matter most in their target countries.”

Speaking about expanding globally, several years ago some guys I knew in the real estate business got introduced to some rich Chinese from the mainland. They were looking for investors and opportunities but ran into this cultural roadblock everyone called Guanxi. That doesn’t sound like our word for it, but Guanxi translates as a payoff or bribe. “Everybody does it.” they told me.

Most of these ethics centers have “green” and “eco-friendly” in their brochures and promotional materials. Synonyns in the Thesaurus of social responsibility. But those words sound empty when one hears them from Maureen Kelly, founder of Tart Cosmetics who, during a video interview for The Wall Street Journal tossed them out unsparingly while touting her start up cosmetic company — she uses recycled products because her customers care about global warming — but was unashamed to tell us that her big break came when she lied to a potential customer about an order she had from one of their competitors in order to seal a deal. Maybe she can sign up with the folks at Harvard, or BC or Duke for some remedial work. Or not.

Because that brings us back to where we started — with oaths? How about “the truth and nothing but.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In the current issue of The City, a journal published by Houston Baptist University and just arrived in my mailbox, I review a book on the oft-maligned relationship between journalism and religion. In Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, the case is compellingly made for a deeper and more authentic integration of religion into every aspect of the news media.

The CityThe City, and this issue in particular, comes highly recommended from the likes of Russell Moore of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, James Grant at Between Two Worlds, and the enigmatic and insightful millinerd. This issue has been promised to appear online, but in the meantime be sure to sign up for a complimentary hardcopy subscription.

In my review I speculate that within the context of challenges brought about by new media, “perhaps a newfound emphasis on responsible religion reporting is a recipe for the revival, maybe even the redemption, of professional journalism.” I briefly mention the efforts of some religious groups to take steps in this direction, including the World Journalism Institute, which offers short-term sessions, what director Bob Case has called a kind of “boot camp for aspiring journalists of faith.”

I neglected to mention, however, the work of the Washington Journalism Center, an initiative of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Where the World Journalism Institute focuses on short-term training seminars, the Washington Journalism Center offers the “Best Semester” program, a full semester of education for full-time students to “receive academic credit for the program from their home institutions.”

Blind Spot contributor Terry Mattingly is the founder and director of the center, which he says has been around “in one form or another for 15 years.” Mattingly also founded the essential religion and journalism blog, GetReligion, and points us to the student blog of the Washington Journalism Center, Ink Tank. Other blogs of note include The Revealer and When Religion Meets New Media.

The question of journalism in the age of new media was the focus of a past series of PowerBlog Ramblings. But one concrete place to look to see how things play out might just be the city of San Diego, which is home to “a Web venture that gives writers a cut of the ad money created by their own stories; another whose nonprofit founders raise cash from readers to buy laptops for their reporters; and a third, which, in spite of the $10 million it nets each year, faces a very uncertain future.”

One other issue that I don’t think gets enough attention is the question of archival integrity as digital media becomes more ubiquitous. The question, “Do any newspapers have explicit archiving strategies for Web content?” is a hugely important one.

If newspapers do not have such a strategy, then on whom does the responsibility for long-term archiving and accessibility fall? Libraries? Researchers? Non-profits? Archive.org?

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, reflects on business ethics in his recent commentary.  Gregg explores the presence of business ethics courses in business schools; however, with the large presence of business ethics courses we still have a lack of ethics present in business.  The lack of ethics in business became a major factor in our current financial crisis.  Gregg further explains that business is not just about management or the business ethics that are taught, but businessmen and women need to also learn stewardship:

Business, however, is about more than management. It also involves stewardship (inasmuch as managers have moral and fiduciary responsibilities to their clients and investors) and entrepreneurship – the actual creation of wealth. Many business leaders would be shocked to discover that studying entrepreneurship remains optional in many business schools today.

This underlines another problem for some business schools. It’s not clear that all business professors are convinced of the morality of economies based on free enterprise, limited government, and rule of law. This ambivalence cannot help but be communicated to their students, which they take with them into the marketplace. It is very difficult for business schools to teach the moral habits associated with successful business when many business professors regard private enterprise and markets as, at best, useful but morally-insignificant phenomena.

Gregg also makes references it Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, to demonstrate the need for morality in business:

Hence, though Benedict speaks approvingly of the rise in ethics-consciousness in the worlds of finance and business, he cautions that simply attaching the label “ethical” to a given enterprise tells us nothing about the actual morality of its practices. What ultimately matters, the Pope affirms, is the precise vision of morality – and therefore the understanding of the human person – informing not simply a particular business, but the entire economy (CV 45).

The ius gentium, or law of nations, has an important place in legal history. Variously conceived, the law of nations often referred to the code of conduct for dealing with foreign peoples according to their own local, national, or regional standards. As a form of natural law, the ius gentium has often been appealed to as a basis for determining what has been believed everywhere, always, by everyone. It’s an approach used, for instance, with some qualification by C.S. Lewis in the appendix to his book, The Abolition of Man, “Illustrations of the Tao.”

It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek (it includes input from Brad Pitt on the question “Can I Answer My Cell at a Movie if It Seems Urgent?”) and risqué (to be generous), but the editors at Wired magazine have developed a set of rules for digital behavior, in conjunction with a group of social scientists who determine descriptively what the proper etiquette for life in the 21st century. In “How to Behave: New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans,” the feature takes a “scientific approach” in determining the “new rules.”

As NPR’s All Things Considered reports, Wired editors faced the problem of determining normativity. “There was a lot of subjective opinion on how to behave,” Wired editor Nancy Miller says. “We sort of decided that the best way to go about this was the Wired way, which is try to find a scientific approach … to explain why and how we behave like we do, and what makes sense in this new era of technology.”

What we have in this Wired magazine article is something like an attempt to articulate the ius digitus, the law of the digital world as gleaned from its own sources. Potentially, at least, such a method might prove helpful, if not comprehensive. Awhile back I sketched out a framework for ethical digital discourse, and interacting with the established or not-so-established norms of digital behavior seems to be an important line of development.

Joan Lewis, EWTN’s Rome bureau chief, covered Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience address on Wednesday, July 8 , during which the pontiff publicly commented on his landmark social encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” the day after it was officially released by the Vatican. Below is a summary of Benedict’s address to visitors in Rome, including Lewis’s own translation.

Yesterday, the Vatican released Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, “Caritas in veritate,” along with an official summary of the 144-page document that has six chapters and a conclusion. In addition, there was a very worthwhile two-hour press conference with summaries of the document’s salient points, as well as a Q&A session between reporters and Cardinals Martino and Cordes, Archbishop Crepaldi and Prof. Stefano Zampagni.

But surely the best summary of Pope Benedict’s just-released encyclical is the one he himself gave at today’s general audience, held in the Paul VI Hall and highlighting the moral criteria that must underpin economic choices.

In only 1,300 words (the encyclical has 30,466), the Pope explained the document’s contents and his intention in writing it. He began by explaining that Caritas in veritate was inspired by a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians where “the Apostle speaks of acting according to the truth in love: ‘Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ’.” Thus, said Benedict, “charity in truth is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. For this reason, the entire social doctrine of the Church revolves around the principle ‘Caritas in veritate’. Only with charity, illuminated by reason and by faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess more human and humanizing values.”

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Edmund Burke: ...in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.

Edmund Burke: "...in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all."

In today’s Acton Commentary, “The State of the Fourth Estate,” I argue that the profession of journalism must be separable from traditional print media.

My alma mater’s flagship student publication, The State News, where I broke into the ranks of op-ed columnists, celebrated its centennial anniversary earlier this month. The economics of news media increasingly make it seem as if the few kinds of print publications that will survive in the next 100 years will be those that are institutionally subsidized, whether more traditionally as student newspapers or more innovative “nonprofit” models.

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson writes in the Financial Times that one hopeful prospect for the continuation of traditional print media is “that charitable endowments may replace commercial business models.” I have to say that this I’m much more optimistic about this possibility rather than the idea that government should somehow bailout mainstream media. (While deregulation might be a good step, direct subsidy would most certainly undermine the “free” press.) But as Alan Mutter notes in Edgecliffe-Johnson’s extensive and worthy analysis, “The idea of charitable endowments is a bit of a red herring.”

“Two prominent US newspapers are supposedly sheltered by not-for-profit parents, he says, but The Christian Science Monitor has abandoned its print edition and the Poynter Institute is selling the Congressional Quarterly to support its St Petersburg Times flagship: ‘There’s nothing about that form of ownership that insulates you,’” says Mutter, “a veteran newspaper editor who writes the influential Reflections of a Newsosaur blog.”

What bodes even more poorly for traditional print or “old” media is the alarming decline in public trust. The General Social Survey, which has conducted “basic scientific research on the structure and development of American society” since 1972, announced this week that in 2008 only 9 percent of those surveyed express a “great deal” of confidence in the press, a decline from 28 percent in 1976. (HT: Between Two Worlds) This decline in trust in the press is no doubt a major reason why less than half (43%) of people surveyed in a recent Pew poll said that the loss of their local newspaper would “would hurt civic life in their community ‘a lot.’”

Edgecliffe-Johnson quotes a publishing consultant Anthea Stratigos, who says, “The core journalistic values have to be there for the product to perform.” This is essentially my argument in brief in this week’s ANC: these “core journalistic values” are essential irrespective of the medium used. As another study from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism (also noted by Edgecliff-Johnson) concludes rightly, “The old norms of traditional journalism continue to have value.”

Let me give one quick example of how this recognition has been lost. Last year I attended a RightOnline conference, which was aimed at harnessing new media among conservatives. In a presentation from representatives of the Media Research Center, I raised the issue of the importance of the ability of sources to speak “off the record.” When I asked this question, it was dismissed out-of-hand: the gist of the response was, “There’s no such thing as ‘off the record’ in today’s digital age.” In a world where personal video recorders can fit into your pocket, nothing anyone ever says is off limits.

This has the real potential to undermine and destroy public discourse. Politicians are already so guarded that it is rare to find one who is willing to tell the straight, unadulterated truth. This kind of caustic and corrosive “paparazzi” mentality among new media practitioners is a real threat to the common good. And the extent to which “old” media have been influenced by this has undoubtedly played a part in the decline of the public’s trust over the last 30 years.

The International Blogging and New Media Association is starting to consider issues surrounding the need for professionalism. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is an excellent place to start. The Ninth Commandment is another.

More reading on the state of the newspaper:

In the latest volume of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, host Ken Myers talks with J. Daryl Charles, author of Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things (Eerdmans, 2008). Charles is associate professor of Christian Studies at Union University, and spent the 2007-2008 year as William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Myers at this year’s GodblogCon and am quite impressed with the work that Mars Hill Audio does. The conversation with Charles is a good one, in part because it directly addresses the current revival of natural law within certain circles of Protestantism in North America. Within the past few years a number of books have come out that consider the positive role of the doctrine of natural law within the Protestant theological tradition, particularly that of the magisterial Reformation.

Early on in the discussion, Charles credits Acton research scholar Stephen Grabill with opening up this new scholarly interest in natural law. Charles calls Grabill’s book, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Eerdmans, 2006) “a very important…pathbreaking work.”

In a review of Grabill’s book published in First Things, Charles writes,

Grabill’s examination of theological ethics in the Protestant Reformed mainstream is utterly compelling, and it represents a shot across the bow of theological ethics, as it were. Protestants for the past 250 years have found practical as well as theological justification for ignoring or vehemently rejecting natural-law theory. And despite its bewildering diversity, there exists across Protestantism a broad consensus that rejects the natural law as a metaphysical notion rooted in divine revelation. This consensus is mirrored in the fact that one is hard-pressed to identify a single major contemporary figure in Protestant theological ethics who has developed and defended a theory of natural law.

Given the historical link between the magisterial Reformation and natural law and the contemporary dissolution of that link, it should be obvious that judging the doctrines of previous centuries by the twentieth-century aversion to natural law (as is done by the reference to Francis Schaeffer in this post) is a serious methodological error. One thing we learn from the work of scholars like Grabill and Charles is that there are varieties of natural-law traditions, and it is as important to identify how these differ and can be distinguished as how they share common features.

In addition to the books by Charles and Grabill, I should also mention two other recent works. The first is David VanDrunen’s short and accessible A Biblical Case for Natural Law. And the second is Craig A. Boyd’s A Shared Morality: A Narrative Defense of Natural-Law Ethics (Brazos, 2007), which VanDrunen reviews in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (Fall 2008).

Linked yesterday on the Drudge Report and picked up by news outlets all over the world is a brief Bloomberg report on a statement from the Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti. Tremonti attributed to Pope Benedict XVI a “prophecy” dating from over twenty years ago concerning the current global financial meltdown.

Again, the story is quite brief, and here’s the gist:

“The prediction that an undisciplined economy would collapse by its own rules can be found” in an article written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became pope in April 2005, Tremonti said yesterday at Milan’s Cattolica University.

Tremonti’s remarks were made at the inaugural academic year address at the university. It’s unclear to me what the context of Tremonti’s prophetic attribution is, and perhaps some of the colleagues in our Rome office can enlighten us as to Tremonti’s economic and religious perspective.

But if you want the original context of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s statements, avail yourself of the only readily-accessible English translation of the article cited by Tremonti: “Market economy and ethics,” given by Ratzinger in in 1985 at a symposium in Rome, “Church and Economy in Dialogue.”

Here’s the full quote from Ratzinger’s paper:

It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse. An economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group — indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state — but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength.

As you can see from this quote and the context of the larger paper, the import of Ratzinger’s warning is not simply about an “undisciplined economy,” but more specifically about an economy that lacks participants who act from the basis of a serious and committed moral foundation, one that is “sustained only by strong religious convictions.” It’s about a lack of religious discipline as much as economic discipline.

Reading Tremonti’s quote as it appears in the Bloomberg article (which admittedly might be quite different in its own original context) might lead one to think that Ratzinger was simply talking about the lack of material discipline, for which the “new frugality” would be an adequate cure. But as Ratzinger rightly observed then, the causes of poverty and economic distress are not simply material, but also spiritual.

The relationship of the Christian church and the broader culture has been a perennial question whose genesis antedates the life of the early Church.

In his Apology, the church father Tertullian defended Christians as citizens of the Roman empire in the truest and best sense. If all the Christians of the empire were to leave, he wrote, “you would be horror-struck at the solitude in which you would find yourselves, at such an all-prevailing silence, and that stupor as of a dead world. You would have to seek subjects to govern. You would have more enemies than citizens remaining. For now it is the immense number of Christians which makes your enemies so few,—almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ.”

In the post-industrial Information age, Christians remain at the forefront of social and cultural formation. In the context of the developments at the dawn of the third millennium, the engagement of church and culture has taken on a new form, focused most especially on new forms of technology and communication. The internet in particular, and related “new” media, have raised important issues for the ways in which Christians communicate with each other and with non-Christians.

The basic question has been raised in different ways arising from various concerns. The 2008 Evangelical Outpost/Wheatstone Symposium puts the question thusly: “If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?” (more…)