bratI had a chance to talk with Michelle Boorstein yesterday about David Brat and a bit of his work that I’ve been able to become familiar with over the past few days. She included some of my comments in this piece for the Washington Post, “David Brat’s victory is part of broader rise of religion in economics.”

I stressed that Brat’s research program, which in many ways emphasizes the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, has at least two basic features. First, he’s focused on increasing theological awareness of economic realities: “I never saw a supply and demand curve in seminary. I should have.” This kind of increased economic sensibility would help the church to be a positive factor for social cultural change: “The church needs to regain its voice and offer up a coherent social vision of justice and rationality.”

But on the other hand, Brat has a message for economists as well. He challenges the mainstream assumption of economics as merely a positive, value-free science that can provide objective answers to questions without the trappings of morality or religion. A comment on Boorstein’s piece illustrates this important aspect of Brat’s work:

Dave helped me understand the essentiality of the links between capitalism (voluntary exchange that serves both parties’ interests) and theology (man’s obligation to serve God through work and use gain to carry out Jesus’ admonition to help the poor). At first, I thought he was joking. Surely one did not have to embrace a theological perspective to be a good capitalist. But he was not joking. I now have a much more nuanced and mature understanding of the “moral foundations of capitalism” than I did before I met Dave.

Brat’s faculty page includes portraits of John Calvin, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and John Maynard Keynes. Obviously there’s a lot to David Brat and I look forward to becoming more familiar with him and his work.

Amid all of the bad reportage out there on Brat, and there is so much that it is hard to keep up, here are a few other pieces that I have found to be helpful:

Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim is living under a death sentence. Shackled in a Sudanese prison, with her toddler son and newborn daughter with her, Ibrahim will likely be executed. Her crime: being Christian. A Sudanese high court delivered the sentence when Ibrahim refused to denounce her Christian faith.

This may seem like an aberration, an isolated throwback to more barbaric times, but according to Pew Research, one-quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy and apostasy laws.

A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that as of 2011 nearly half of the countries and territories in the world (47%) have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation (disparagement or criticism of particular religions or religion in general). Of the 198 countries studied, 32 (16%) have anti-blasphemy laws, 20 (10%) have laws penalizing apostasy and 87 (44%) have laws against the defamation of religion, including hate speech against members of religious groups.

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Blog author: jcarter
Friday, June 13, 2014
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The Future of Christianity in America
Joe Carter, Aleteia

The case for what might seem like an unusual spiritual indicator.

Anti-Catholicism: The Defining Religious Principle of Early America?
Thomas Kidd, The Anxious Bench

There’s nothing like war to fuel prejudice of all kinds, and the imperial conflicts of the first six decades of the eighteenth century fostered a particularly intense anti-Catholicism among many Americans.

A Way Out of the For-Profit Conundrum
Mark L. Movsesian, Cornerstone

Hobby Lobby could easily turn out to be the most important religious liberty decision in a quarter-century. The questions presented are technical ones about the construction of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which has been, until now, an entirely uncontroversial federal statute.

Four Defining Characteristics of Biblical Flourishing
Hugh Whelchel, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

How do you live the good life? How do you really, truly flourish? What’s more, how do we as Christians navigate the clash of cultural visions concerning “the good life” and what it means to flourish?

Well, how did I get here?

Well, how did I get here?

File under allegory: An Austin, Texas, resident whose property tax bill has her “at the breaking point.” As noted by Katherine Mary Ham at HotAir, the resident in question, Gretchen Gardner, deems the $8,500 bill for which she’s on the hook a wee tad cumbersome. “It’s not because I don’t like paying taxes,” she said. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here anymore. I’ll protest my appraisal notice, but that’s not enough. Someone needs to step in and address the big picture.”

According to Ham, Ms. Gardner purchased a 1930s bungalow more than 20 years ago, and the artist apparently can’t understand why her tax bill is so high. In this regard, Ms. Gardner resembles the Nuns on the Bus and other religious shareholder activists who submit proxy shareholder resolutions on a plethora of feel-good (but, in reality, harmful) agenda items through investment groups As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Similarly, voters in Acton’s Grand Rapids, Mich., front yard have approved a $10 million income tax increase, seemingly unaware of how this additional burden will impact the city and its residents negatively. Oh wait, did I forget to mention the $30 million parks millage approved by voters last year? While we’re at it, let’s toss in the 2011 mass transit millage approval, which will top out at $15.6 million annually. One day, however, Grand Rapids taxpayers may wake up like some allegorical David Byrne character, tapping their arm and asking, “Well, how did I get here?” as they ponder how much less money they take home, save or have available for philanthropic activities. (more…)

MoneyRoll

Note: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

The Term: Money

What it Means: In economics, money is a broad term that refers to any financial instrument that can fulfill the functions of money (more on that in a moment).

There are three basic ways to exchange goods and services: gifting (e.g., I give you a banana, expecting nothing in return); barter (e.g., I give you a banana, in exchange you give me an apple); by using money (e.g., I give you a banana, in exchange you give me $1). Money was invented (and reinvented in every culture) because it makes exchanges easier than the barter system.

What Money Is: Money is a shared belief system used to simplify exchanges of goods and services. To be used as money people have to share a belief that the item —whether paper, gold, rocks, etc. — can perform three main functions: be a store of value, be used as a unit of account, and serve as a medium of exchange.

In the next section we’ll examine these functions. For now, here are two examples of how money serves as a shared belief system:
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Acton Institute President and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico was recently interviewed on both Bloomberg TV as well as Fox & Friends’ Varney & Co. Sirico spoke with Trish Regan on Bloomberg’s “Street Smart” about financial reform in the Vatican:

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I met Naomi Schaefer, not yet Riley, while she was editor of “In Character” and just about to have her first book “God on the Quad” published. I invited her to be a speaker at a Catholic business conference that I was involved with in southern California. The following week she married Jason Riley. The writing career continues to produce good stuff. And there are three kids now and a house in the burbs. Good stuff all around.

Her latest book’s title “Got Religion – How Churches, Mosques and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back” made me think of the intermittently resurrected advertising campaign of a few years ago, “Got Milk.” The reference in that campaign was to make the point that everybody needs it and if you’re missing milk, you’re missing something important. Really important.

Well, that’s the same way Naomi feels about religion and this latest book informs us of how much things have slipped in our culture. And it informs the reader of what we and others can do and are doing about it.
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