One of the consistent themes in Christian social teaching is the recognition that this world has both material and spiritual realities. As such, it is not only important that we think about the moral, political, and economic structures that contribute to set the stage for human flourishing but that we also pray for those who are suffering that they would be free to live out their callings as human persons made in God’s image.
The stunning news that the United States may be the most surveilled society in human history has opened a fierce debate on security, privacy, and accountability, says Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School. He says religious believers should be particularly concerned:
Persons of faith should be deeply concerned about the current surveillance flap not because privacy is an absolute end in itself but rather because it points to and safeguards something else even more basic and fundamental, namely, human dignity. According to Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, real dignity requires that human beings “should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by sense of duty.” Such responsible freedom is the basis for both the establishment of friendships and the maintenance of family life. Without the possibility of non-coercive self-disclosure, which is vitiated by unfettered intrusion, such relationships are fatuous.
In the same way, conscientious religious commitment also requires a personal fiducial response to the divine. Thus religious freedom presupposes the recognition of privacy as an expression of human dignity. By no means is this a strictly Catholic or even Christian issue. The Southern Baptist Convention was right to pass a resolution at its annual meeting in Houston this month defining religious liberty as “the freedom of the individual to live in accordance with his or her religiously informed values and beliefs,” and citing in support Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was not able to complete his encyclical on faith during his pontificate, and Pope Francis chose to complete the work, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”.) Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg writes about the connection between these two men, made possible by their faith, at National Review:
[I]f there’s anything demonstrated by Pope Francis’s first encyclical letter Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), it’s a profound continuity between the two men: i.e., their love for and belief in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith. Right at this encyclical’s beginning, Francis states the text’s first draft was prepared by his predecessor and “as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own” (LF 7).
The point being made here isn’t just that Joseph Ratzinger is probably the greatest theologian to sit on Peter’s Chair and may one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. A more subliminal message is that Catholicism’s content doesn’t change when one pope succeeds another. As many people don’t (and sometimes don’t want to) understand, Catholicism isn’t just another political movement that distorts or abandons its core beliefs under the guidance of consultants to gain votes from fickle voters.
Catholics, Evangelicals, Others Join Forces for Religious Liberty
Kristin Rudolph, Juicy Ecumenism
Yesterday (July 2) a group of inter-religious leaders released a letter responding to the Obama Administration’s Health and Human Services (HHS) final version of its contraceptive insurance coverage mandate.
Faith in the Free Market
Josh Kwan and Dashell Laryea, Christianity Today
Wes Selke’s HUB Ventures invests in entrepreneurs whose products create a social good.
Freedom and Flourishing
Anne Bradley, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics
Americans, in rejecting the aristocracies of Europe and the belief in the divine right of kings, set forth a social, political, and economic experiment that has resulted in unprecedented opportunity. This chain of events has created a society of opportunity where individuals are encouraged, through markets, to use their creativity and gifts to exchange, trade, and create flourishing for themselves and others.
Most in U.S. Still Proud to Be an American
Frank Newport, Gallup
But 71% of Americans say the signers of the Declaration of Independence would be disappointed by the way the United States has turned out.
Yet if these associations and their societal benefit are in decline, how can we prevent that “soft despotism” Tocqueville so vividly and presciently described? He writes,
I see an innumerable crowd of similar and equal men who spin around restlessly, in order to gain small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others; his children and his particular friends form for him the entire human species; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he is next to them, but he does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if he still has a family, you can say that at least he no longer has a country.
While Tocqueville goes on to describe the “immense and tutelary power [i.e. the state] that alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyment and of looking after their fate,” it is worth noting that the atomization of society he describes is firstly a deterioration of culture by a common passion for “small and vulgar pleasures.”
The society he imagines, though it may know nothing of extreme want, also knows nothing of fasting and, by consequence, of true freedom in the sense described by Acton. It reflects the heart of a people that actually wants a government to “remove entirely from them the trouble to think and the difficulty of living.” And as Burke has said, external restraints of the state must multiply when inner restraints of the soul diminish. To the extent that we are on our way to Tocqueville’s dystopian democracy and civil society in the United States is in decline … we can assume, at least, an accompanying decline in the way of life that values self-restraint and virtue over “small and vulgar pleasures.”
The basic conviction is one I have expressed here before. Asceticism, understood as the self-limitation of oneself for the sake of self-discipline and virtue, is essential to self-government and therefore to a free society. In this article in particular, however, I focus especially on the possibility of a link between ascetic living and the rich associational life that Alexis de Tocqueville noted was so important a check upon the power of the state and the passions of a democratic people.
Read the full article, “Self-Limitation, Liberty, and Civil Society,” here.
We live in a country where many believe that business leaders are greedy while politicians are benevolent. This is why they put so much confidence in government to meet society’s needs instead of in the private sector. That is, business men and women look out for their own “selfish” interests where as politicians are generally good-natured people who look out for the interest of the other as an innate disposition.
Time and time again, however, we are confronted with the reality that if business people can be greedy, then so can politicians. Why? Because both roles are occupied by real people who are morally flawed and need accountability. The key difference between the two is that business people can be greedy with money that is earned by themselves or their employees whereas politicians are greedy with money that is taken from other people under threat of being thrown in jail. American taxpayers would be wise to remember, then, that politicians are morally flawed people who, when given the opportunity, will pursue their own financial self interests like anyone else. Why? Because they are human and power has a corrupting influence for those in national as well as local politics.
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, for example, reports that East Point, Georgia (an adjacent suburb to the city of Atlanta) cannot account for $200 million taken from taxpayers.
On June 27, 2013, Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, discussed his book Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future as part of the 2013 Acton Lecture Series. If you weren’t able to join us here at the Acton Building for the lecture, you can watch below: