Posts tagged with: Peter Kreeft

economic decisionIf there’s one area of the faith-work conversation that’s lacking in exploration and introspection, it’s the role of spiritual discernment in the day-to-day decisions of economic life.

It’s one thing to orient one’s heart and mind around the big picture of vocation and stewardship — no small feat, to be sure — but if economics is about the intersection of knowledge and human action, what does it mean to serve a God whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts? Before and beyond our questions about ethics and meaning and vocation (“is my work moral?”; “does it have meaning?”; “what am I called to do?”) remains the basic question of obedience.

How does the Gospel transform our hearts and minds and how does that process transform our economic action? How do we make sure we’re putting obedience before sacrifice in all that we do? How do we hear the Holy Spirit minute-by-minute, day-by-day, and how does that impact the ideas we have, the products we conceive, the prices we set, the relationships we build, and the trades and investments we make?

I was reminded of this recently upon reading an essay on discernment by Peter Kreeft. Although he doesn’t speak directly to economic matters, Kreeft does a nice job of connecting the earthly with the transcendent, cautioning us against “emphasizing Christ’s divinity at the expense of his humanity or his humanity at the expense of his divinity,” or likewise, “his divine sovereignty at the expense of free will or free will at the expense of divine sovereignty.” Spiritual discernment ought not descend into some kind of peculiar escapism, but rather, it must engage with the natural world, leverage the gifts and the resources God has given us, and ultimately bear fruit for the good of the city and for the life of the world. (more…)

“This is useless. This is gratuitous. This is wonder.” –Evan Koons

When we consider the full realm of Christian stewardship, our minds immediately turn to areas like business, finance, ministry, the arts, education, and so on — the places where we “get things done.”

But while each of these is indeed an important area of focus, for the Christian, stewardship also involves creating the space to stop and simply behold our God. Yes, we are called to be active and diligent and fruitful in acts of service and discipleship, but at the core, what is driving the work of our hands? Do we take the time to simply delight in our God, to behold the beauty of his creation, to reflect on his goodness, to fear him deeply and profoundly, to open our hearts and eyes and ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit?

In For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, they call this space the Economy of Wonder, and over at the FLOW blog, Evan Koons has been leaning on heavyweights like Peter Kreeft and Hans Urs von Balthasar to remind us of its importance. In a society where everything is weighed and rewarded and justified according to its pragmatic use, how do we relish in God’s divine mystery? (more…)

In the latest video from For the Life of the World, Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft expounds on the Economy of Wonder and how it intersects with our stewardship of God’s house.

Hipster head-bobbing is permitted:

There’s beauty everywhere. We just don’t see it…Life is a mystery to be lived continuously, not a problem to be solved suddenly…

In this life, we are so full and foolish that we appreciate only a few of these things, since we have more and more slaves that we have to take care of, and therefore we have less and less time every generation — less and less leisure. Our slaves are not made of flesh and blood anymore, thank God, but they’re made of steel and plastic and computer chips. We are happiest when we play with endlessly fascinating simple things, like the sea or sticks and stones, instead of with expensive computer games that bore us so quickly that we require new ones every month. This is an image of the human condition.

…Everything that exists has some truth, some goodness, and some beauty. Everything is divine revelation. We are creators because we are created in the image of the Creator. We are artists because God is, and it’s because we dimly know this that we weep with both joy and sorrow when we meet someone pulls up the curtain an inch — the curtain that separates the heavenly vision from the earthly.

…How do we use this to save the world? How do you appreciate beauty? You just love it. How do you appreciate goodness? You just love it. How do you find the truth? You love it. Seek and you shall find. Truth, goodness, and beauty. You just do it. It’s like, “How do you love? How do you pray? How do you live?” Just do it.

(more…)

Over the last several years I find myself more and more being drawn into conversation about religion—specifically, Orthodox Christianity—and economics. Originally, my interest in the economic side of the conversation was minimal. Embarrassing though it is to say now, I only took one economics class in college and while I got a “B” I was an indifferent student of the subject.

Thanks to personal friendships I’ve discovered the work of economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Fredrich A. Hayek—two dominant voices in the Austrian School of Economics. Even here though my interests were, initially at least, not so much in policy as methodology; unlike the quantitative and empirical approach I studied in college, the Austrian school conceives of economics more along the lines of the qualitative approach at the center of human science movement. This qualitative approach to economics has resulted in some interesting, and to my mind extraordinarily helpful and insightful, research into religion by scholars such as Laurence Iannaccone and Rodney Stark.

Among other things, the economic study of religion helps us understand why pluralism is good for religion in general but to the disadvantage of some religions in particular. Ironically, the free market in religion harms those liberal religious communities who value cultural pluralism and economic liberalism (in the contemporary American sense) but are suspicious, and even overtly hostile, to economic capitalism. On the other hand, those religious traditions that resist cultural pluralism and contemporary liberalism—but who often, though not universally—favor a free market approach to economics are the main benefactors of the free for all that characterizes the American religious landscape (see for example, Iannaccone, 1994).

Through this, circuitous route, I have lately come to an interest in economic public policy. Unfortunately such an interest is usually greeted with something less than enthusiasm—at least when (as in my case) you are an Orthodox priest. At the risk of making a gross generalization, clergy are typically as ignorant of economics and business as economists and business people are of moral theology and the ascetical tradition of the Church. Since I’m trading in stereotypes already, I would say that discussions between theologians and economists break down quickly since—intentionally or not—theologians assume economists are wicked even as economists assume that theologians are ignorant. Representatives of the two disciplines rarely understand each other because they rarely have even a basic grasp of the other academic discipline and the kinds of questions and concerns that its scholars seek to address.

This is why three small books published by the American Enterprise Institute are so welcome. The books (P. Wehner & A. C. Brooks, Wealth & Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism; A. J. Pollock, Boom & Bust: Financial Cycles and Human Prosperity; S. F. Hayward, Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World) are part of AEI’s Common Sense Concepts series. They’re all short—each took just an afternoon to read—introductions to basic ideas in economics. What is especially important is that they do this in a way that takes seriously Christian moral concerns. Meant primarily for college students and written from a broadly Evangelical Christian perspective, singularly and together they offer a good ethical and practical defense of democratic capitalism.

That said though a defense of the American model of democracy and of the free market, these works do not allow either politics or economics to drive the conversation. Rather both are examined soberly in light of “merely Christianity.” I think the authors would all acknowledge, as Wehner and Brooks do explicitly in their book, that “capitalism, like American democracy itself, is hardly perfect or sufficient by itself” (p. 8). Both require “strong, vital, non-economic and non-political institutions—including the family, churches and other places of worship, civic associations, and schools—to complement,” sustain and (when needed) reform them.

But this symphonia is impossible without “an educated citizenry.” Such an education must be more than technical—essential though a sound technical foundation is. To fulfill the vision sketched out in these three books assumes that we possess personally what Peter Kreeft (1992) might call the “soft” virtues “such as sympathy, altruism, compassion” as well as the “hard” virtues of “self-discipline, perseverance, and honesty.” Like technological skill, personal virtue alone is insufficient. We need not only healthy, robust and vibrant families and churches, but also a political culture that supports and abides “by laws, contracts, and election results (regardless of their outcome). Without these virtues, capitalism [and democracy] can be eaten from within by venality and used for pernicious ends.”

Why are personal virtue and the rule of law essential? Because:

…capitalism, like democracy, is part of an intricate social web. Capitalism both depends on it and contributes mightily to it. Morality and capitalism, like morality and democracy, are intimately connected and mutually complimentary. They reinforce one another; they need one another; and they are terribly diminished without one another. They are links in a golden chain (p. 9).

As both an Orthodox Christian and a social scientist, seeing democratic capitalism in this way helps me understand how the ascetical and liturgical tradition of the Church can make a contribution to American civil society.

Especially for St Maximos the Confessor and St Gregory Palamas, the ascetical struggle does not extinguish desire (i.e., self-interest) as much as does purify it. As St Augustine argues, prayer, fasting and almsgiving teach me to order rightly the different elements of my life in light of the Gospel; asceticism points me beyond myself to Christ, helps me to love Christ, and in Christ to love my neighbor. Just as asceticism purifies my desires, the Church’s liturgical tradition provides me with a sense of the larger, eschatological context within which I live my life. Apart from such an eschatological experience, I will invariably and necessarily succumb to the temptation to take and make ultimate “the cares of this life” rather than to lay them aside as we hear in the Cherubic Hymn.

If Wehner and Brooks are correct, capitalism and democracy are “part of an intricate social web.” Understanding this social network requires not only personal virtue and just laws, but the eschatological vision that we receive in the sacraments and which we constantly accept and embody in the ascetical life.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Work Cited:

Iannaccone, L. R. (1994). “Why Strict Churches Are Strong.” American Journal of Sociology, 99(5), pp. 1180-1211.

Kreeft, P (1992). Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.