Posts tagged with: Religion/Belief

Beginning today, the conference “Religion and Liberty — A Match Made in Heaven?” gets underway in Jerusalem. Sponsored by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies (JIMS), the Acton Institute and others, the event asks questions such as, “Is capitalism not only efficient but also moral?” In conjunction with this May 20-24 conference, Acton is offering its two Jewish monographs through Amazon Kindle at no charge.

The two titles:

  • Judaism, Law & The Free Market: An Analysis by Joseph Lifshitz. [Kindle link]
  • Judaism, Markets, and Capitalism: Separating Myth from Reality by Corinne Sauer and Robert M. Sauer [Kindle link]

Also see the Sauers’ 2007 Acton commentary, “Jewish Theology and Economic Theory.”

In the conference description, JIMS notes that “several speakers will discuss why Israel — in fact no country — should grant special privileges to religious institutions, nor subsidize religious activities. While few would advocate this approach for our Jewish state, there will be compelling arguments made about why religious communities in Israel would flourish with less government support. On Tuesday we will discuss how free markets enable religious communities to conveniently observe their traditions. There also will several panels which will provide the philosophical foundation for freer markets in Israel. More importantly our speakers will explain why free market policies will break down Israel’s oligarchical institutions that impose high product prices on Israelis and limit economic opportunity.”

In addition to JIMS and Acton, the Jerusalem conference is sponsored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Atlas Network and Maarah Magazine.

Acton now has a dozen or so eBook offerings on social thought understood through a religious lens. For a listing of titles, please visit this page.

As part of his final address to the participants in the law and religion symposium last week, Rik Torfs, a Belgian senator and head of the faculty of canon law at KU Leuven, observed that some of the great things in public discourse occur in the context of vociferous initial backlash. After all, he said, if you posit something and everyone just accepts it as a matter of course, then it is merely a truism and of no benefit to anyone. You haven’t really said anything at all.

Forgive me for the personal detour, but Torfs’ observation reminded me of one of the responses to my book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness. In a lengthy “reply to Jordan J. Ballor,” Christopher Dorn essentially argues that “Ballor excludes himself from a discussion which can properly evaluate the claim that the use of ‘empire’ does in fact rest on a theological basis.” Dorn’s appeals to Karl Barth on this point for a “theological basis” may resonate with some, but do little to allay my fears about the particularly Reformed rationale for doing so, glosses to John Calvin notwithstanding.

Dorn does charitably contend that “there is always room for honest disagreement and divergence.” In a similar way Rev. Peter Borgdorff of the Christian Reformed Church has said that he prefers to call the Accra document a “conversation” rather than a “confession.” But I think that a plain reading of the Accra Confession, on its own terms qua confession, does little to validate the claim that there is “always room” in the ecumenical tent for “honest disagreement and divergence.” In fact, the concern that unity not be reduced to unanimity on these points was one of the major motivations behind my critical engagement.

It’s nice to be part of the conversation, I suppose, but I’d feel better if such “critical voices” were not, as Dorn puts it, “in the minority.”

Leonardus LessiusOne of the issues that arose during last week’s law and religion symposium (in the questions following Wim Decock’s thorough and engaging paper on Leonardus Lessius’ engagement of commercial affairs from the perspective of moral theology and philosophy) had to do with the understanding of the relationship between material pursuits and eternal salvation. In some way you might say that Lessius held to a view of commercial activity as a worthy expression of the stewardship responsibilities of human beings.

At the time I noted that one of the origins of this biblical idea is in a formulation found in Augustine, that temporal goods are given by God “under a most fair condition: that every mortal who makes right use of these goods suited to the peace of mortal men shall receive ampler and better goods, namely, the peace of immortality and the glory and honour appropriate to it, in an eternal life made fit for the enjoyment of God and of one’s neighbor in God.”

There is clearly a sense in which this could be taken in what the Reformed would consider a semi-Pelagian manner associated with Jesuits like Lessius. But I also note this passage from Augustine in my new book on Wolfgang Musculus, observing the continuities with it as understood by a variety of the early Reformers.
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The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature highlights religious freedom this week by asking the question: “Should Churches Get Tax Breaks?”

The contributors, who span the continuum of opinions on the issue, include Susan Jacoby, Christopher L. Eisgruber and Lawrence Sager, Winnie Varghese, Dan Barker, and Mark Rienzi.

Jacoby, who recently debated the merits of Christianity in American politics and Grand Rapids’ Fountain Street Church, is an advocate for secularism and author of The Age of American Unreason. Jacoby argues that if a church wants federal help, it must play by the government’s rules:

 In cases involving freedom of conscience, government policy—like the Bill of Rights—should always be on the side of the individual. If churches don’t like the strings attached to public money, they are free to refuse taxpayer subsidies. The First Amendment was not written for an America in which religion claimed the right to have it both ways.

Eisgruber and Sager, coauthors of Religious Freedom and the Constitution, argue for “exemptions for noble work, but no extra exemptions just because it was done in the name of God,” saying: (more…)

Blog author: aknot
Thursday, May 10, 2012
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Why the disconnect between work and worship? To reckon with this question, the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE) blog recently launched a series on “Work and the Church Today.”

In part one, Hugh Welchel, Executive Director of the IFWE, addresses the widening distance between the pew and the cubicle and, in response, prods the Church to invest itself in the lives of its businesspeople. Without any integration of faith and work, he says, professionals will continue to feel discord between their religious and working lives.

Welchel concludes with a widened definition of vocation. He cites Tim McConnell, formerly of the Center for Christian Study, to advocate a view of vocation that groups Sunday and Monday morning under the same umbrella of Christian service. According to McConnell, vocation should be “an element of Christian discipleship; a habit of the mind and heart of listening for and responding to the voice of the Lord.”

IFWE’s introduction to the topic is a helpful one. It is also worthwhile to check out parts two and three. And while on the topic, be sure to check out the work of Abraham Kuyper, who has written extensively on Christian engagement across spheres. His work is featured in Wisdom and Wonder, part of a Kuyper translation project with which the Acton Institute is affiliated.

You only have a few days left to visit the website and register for the 2012 Acton University conference – the registration deadline is next Friday, May 18. Guided by distinguished, international faculty, Acton University is a four day experience (June 12-15) held in Grand Rapids, Mich. During the conference, our goal is to offer you an opportunity to deepen your knowledge and integrate rigorous philosophy, Christian theology and sound economics. If you have ever had the opportunity to attend Acton University, I’m sure that you’ll agree that it is a life-changing experience. If you haven’t had the chance to attend in the past, make this the year that you do!

The 2012 conference is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever. We’ve packed the conference schedule with over 80 sessions given by top-notch daytime and evening speakers. But you don’t need to take my word for it; take a look at our faculty list and course list to see for yourself what all the hype is about.

Over on The American, Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London, argues that population change is reversing secularism and shifting the center of gravity of entire societies in a conservative religious direction:

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Dr. Kuypers zorg voor de kleine luyden

Albert Hahn: Dr. Kuyper's care for the little people (1905)

In yesterday’s post I highlighted a pair of articles that cover the transition over the last 120 years or so in the Netherlands from an emphasis on private charitable giving to reliance upon the welfare state. In some ways this story mirrors a similar transformation in American society as described by Marvin Olasky in his landmark book, The Tragedy of American Compassion.

Olasky’s work does double-duty, however, not only chronicling this transition but cogently arguing the superiority of voluntary aid and charity, which can effectively address both spiritual as well as material aspects of poverty.

In the special issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality on “Modern Christian Social Thought,” we also find a wonderful resource on this topic in the form of Abraham Kuyper’s reflection from 1895 on the relationship of Christ and the gospel to material concerns, “Christ and the Needy.”
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“Walter Hooper once said of C.S. Lewis that he was the most truly converted person he had ever met,” says Baptist theologian Timothy George. “The same thing can be justly said of Charles W. Colson, who came to faith in Christ through reading Lewis’ Mere Christianity.”

In an article for the National Catholic Register, George examines the legacy of his friend, a man who helped forge Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the ‘Manhattan Declaration.’:

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I recently came across an interesting academic journal, Diaconia: Journal for the Study of Christian Social Practice. One of the sample articles available is by Herman Noordegraaf of the Protestant Theological University in Leiden. His piece is titled, “Aid Under Protest? Churches in the Netherlands and Material Aid to the Poor” (PDF).

The latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality is a theme issue on “Modern Christian Social Thought,” and a series of pieces take up a line of recent history in the Netherlands. A significant article by Rolf van der Woude, senior researcher at the Historical Documentation Centre for Dutch Protestantism at the VU University Amsterdam, examines the changes in Reformed thought on the social question from the First Social Congress in 1891 to the Third Social Conference in 1952. As van der Woude concludes, in the post war era, “A new generation believed that the beast of the state, caged for so long, had now been tamed. At the end of the 1950s, Van den Heuvel’s generation retreated, the Netherlands entered a period of economic boom, and a generous welfare state was rapidly erected from the ground up wherein welfare was no longer a matter of charity but a matter of justice guaranteed by the government. The beast of the state had become an ally.”

Noordegraaf’s piece can be read as a companion article to van der Woude’s, tracing the development (or lack thereof) in Christian social thought in the Netherlands over the last half century. As Noordegraaf writes, the situation has largely remained the same, in that the church’s primary responsibility is understood not merely to have to provide material assistance to the poor, but rather advocate for reliance on the welfare state for such provision. As Noordegraaf writes, a declaration on the problem of poverty in 1987 codified the approach of “aid under protest,” in which the churches provide aid to the poor but only under protest that the government was not meeting welfare needs appropriately. The statement reads:

We reject the way people are once again made dependent on charity. We plead for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government. For this reason, financial aid given by churches in situations of need should be combined with protest against the causes of this need to government and society.

Noordegraaf’s observation is that the churches, both locally and denominationally, have been too concerned with meeting the momentary concrete needs of the poor and need to pay more attention to the mandate to lobby the government for more expansive social welfare programs. The point is that the need for Christian or church-based charity indicts the lack of justice under a modern constitutional state, where freedom from need and want ought to be simply guaranteed.

As Nordegraaf concludes concerning recent trends, “More and more, as the above mentioned reports show, churches have been involved in material aid: when people are in need and ask for help, you give it. It is a kind of safety net under the increasingly porous safety net of the state.” He continues, “The fact that the churches found this problematic reflects their belief that the principles of the welfare state are worth fighting for. This has to do with a vision of the task of the state to promote the general welfare and to secure the basic needs of people in society.” Noordegraaf concludes that “it is in harmony with the calvinist approach of the responsibility of the state that churches try to make clear to government and to society at large that they have helped with material aid. This signalizing can take many forms: in letters, reports, talks, discussions, programmes in the media, articles in newspapers and so on. In this way, individual aid is combined with advocacy in the public domain.”

I commend these two articles to your reading: Rolf van der Woude, “Taming the Beast: The Long and Hard Road to the Christian Social Conference of 1952,” and Herman Noordegraaf, “Aid Under Protest? Churches in the Netherlands and Material Aid to the Poor.”

They will make clear just how much things have changed over the last 120 years in the Netherlands, when Abraham Kuyper emphasized the priority of Christian giving in 1881, arguing that “the holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your savior.” Such emphasis on private Christian charity is now understood to be retrograde and obsolete.