Williamson_Free_Trade_SchoolOne of the benefits of a Christian theology of work is that it frees parents up to encourage their children to pursue various employment-related vocations that cultivate creation, rather than prod them to waste a life in the unfulfilling pursuit of the American Dream. Our obsession with the American Dream, as a means of achieving a life of comfort and ease, has distracted us from the fact that the world’s economy doesn’t need adults simply with college degrees so much as it needs people with skills. Real skills. Skills that contribute and facilitate human flourishing. Traditional college settings can serve as a wonderful opportunity for some to cultivate their minds, hearts, and souls, but it is important to remember that trade and technical schools do the same as well.

I was more than happy, then, to learn of The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Media, Pennsylvania, a wonderfully dynamic option to traditional university education that focuses not only on the formation of skills needed in the marketplace but also on the formation of moral virtue.

The school has a fantastic history. According to the school’s website, “on December 1, 1888, Isaiah Vansant Williamson, a Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist, founded The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades. His purpose in founding the School was to provide financially disadvantaged young men with the opportunity to become productive and respected members of society.” It was out of Williamson’s commitment to human dignity that he launched the school after seeing a generation of disadvantaged young men in danger of sabotaging their own futures and lacking a vision for how they could contribute to the common good. Here is the mission of the school:
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On Tuesday, April 29, the Acton Institute hosted the conference Faith, State, and the Economy: perspectives from East and West at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. This conference was the first in a five-part international conference series – One and Indivisible? The Relationship Between Religious and Economic Freedom.

The one-night event, moderated by Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico, featured four prominent speakers who offered deeper insight into the question of the relationship between religious freedom and economic liberty. The speakers represented a diversity of global perspectives on the relationship between religious and economic freedom.2014-04-29_0226_REV

Rev. Prof. Martin Rhonheimer of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, located in Rome, presented on Christianity and the Limits of State Power. Rhonheimer discussed the important and inherent link between limited government and a flourishing free market, the historical roots of the free market in Christian civilization, and the danger of Christians who fail to understand the link between Christianity and a free market economy.

Following Rhonheimer, Archbishop Maroun Elias Lahham of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Jordan offered his perspectives on Christians and the Challenge of Freedom in the Middle East. Samuel Gregg, the Director of Research at the Acton Institute, followed with an engaging analysis on contemporary issues in his presentation Religious Liberty and Economic Freedom: Intellectual and Practical Paradoxes. Gregg revealed some of the ways that greater economic freedom may lead to greater religious liberty, using the Chinese situation as a case study.

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In a video selected as the winner of a contest sponsored by The High Calling, Dylan Weston, a ranch hand and wrangler from Pennsylvania, shares how his work glorifies God and adds value to others.

This is a great example of how we as Christians might begin to view our role in the bigger picture, particularly as it applies to the economies of creative service and wonder. Dylan does not view his service as a mere means to personal fulfillment or material ends, and neither does he view it in conflict with his efforts to make time and space to simply behold God’s creation. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, May 1, 2014
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Global Poverty Is on the Decline, But Almost No One Believes It
Barna Group

Did you know that, in the past 30 years, the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty has decreased by more than half?

Clapham Spirituality: A Model for Contemporary Evangelicals
Nathan Finn , Canon & Culture

Clapham Spirituality acknowledged that conversion was not an end unto itself, but was the beginning of one’s Christian journey.

Why We Need ‘Dinosaurs’ Like C. S. Lewis
Art Lindsley, Christianity Today

Lewis had a healthy suspicion of easy words like “progress.”

Logic: What’s Missing from Public Discourse
Randall B. Smith, Crisis Magazine

What often passes for public discourse in contemporary society is really just a simulacrum, an imitation, of real “discourse” in the sense of a “reasoned exchange of ideas.”

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE“Inequality is the root of social evil,” tweeted Pope Francis earlier this week, raising eyebrows across the globe. Like many conservative Christians I expressed my disagreement on social media. “Um, no it’s not. Hate and apathy are the roots of social evil,” I said on Twitter. I also wondered whether Francis had “traded the writings of Peter and Paul for Piketty”—the French Marxist economist whose latest book on the evils of inequality has become a worldwide bestseller.

Some Catholics, such as Grant Gallicho at Commonweal pointed out that Pope Francis used that exact phrase in his first major document, Evangelii Gaudium. To be honest, while I had read that document, I didn’t make the connection. Perhaps @Pontifex should have thrown in a #EvangeliiGaudium hashtag to make that point clear.

Noting that the quote is from Evangelii Gaudium is helpful, though the context still doesn’t change the fact the claim about inequality being the root of social evil is simply not true. I’m generally a fan of Catholic social teaching (as enthusiastic as a Protestant can be), but Pope Francis’s claims in Evangelii Gaudium show a misunderstanding of economic reality. Take this claim, for instance:
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Over at Christianity Today Art Lindsley has a good piece on how C.S. Lewis’s support for true progress led him to oppose Progressivism:

Some of Lewis’s most pointed criticisms of “progress” came when he wrote on economics and politics, even though he did not often comment on these topics. When he was invited by the Observer in the late 1950’s to write an article on whether progress was even possible, he titled his contribution “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.”

In this essay Lewis makes it clear he is for progress, in the sense of “increasing the goodness and happiness of individual lives.” But he expresses deep concern about the tendencies in the United Kingdom during World Wars I and II to give up liberty for security. He says Britons had grown, “though apparently grudgingly, accustomed to our chains.” He warns that once government encroaches on our freedom, every concession makes it more difficult for us to “retrace our steps.” Perhaps the most striking moment in this essay is the one on the nature of the happiness that he would like to see. Lewis says: “I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind.’ But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs and asks nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer?”

The full article is here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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When does inequality become unjust? In this week’s Acton Commentary, Jordan Ballor considers that question in the context of Pope Francis’s teachings and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy:

Earlier this week, Pope Francis logged onto his @Pontifex Twitter account to declare that “inequality is the root of social evil.” This was of a piece with his November apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” in which he asserted that “inequality is the root of social ills.” Within the deeper context of his exhortation, it is evident that Francis is not advocating for equality in an absolute sense. He is, rather, discussing the kind of unjust inequality that results from structural evil. In this way, observes Francis, injustice carries within it the seeds of social unrest. This is as true for unjust inequality as it is for unjust equality. For as the formal principle of justice teaches, there is no greater injustice than to treat unequal things equally and equal things unequally. Or as Aristotle put it following Plato, we must “treat like cases as like.”

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.