C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that God wants “a child’s heart but a grown-up’s head.” Followers of Christ are charged, by the ethos of our calling, with a high standard of practical reason, fused with compassion. When we carry our faith to the political sphere, we must do so with grounded understanding, not idealistic, emotive or superficial thinking. This means that the abdication of our duty to educate ourselves in the unsightly “secular” forces of politics and economics is morally unacceptable.
To the detriment of our own effectiveness, the Church has largely overlooked the relevance of these studies to the Christian mission. Through political philosophy, we examine the relationship of power and protection, and the proper extent of the state. There are important implications here for those who believe the individual has a right to free will. But it is the economic sphere that seems to have caused a phobia in religious discourse, even though the central concern of economics is, in fact, human needs and how they are met through voluntary service—an arrangement far preferable to political coercion.
While many people—including religious leaders—have spoken against capitalism for its ability to amplify greed and materialism, a number of Christian scholars and organizations are helping to reverse that view and to make the case that economic liberty is not only efficient, but morally superior to any other known system. Tragically, the intellectual overlap of theology, economics and politics is near absent in Christian higher education, leaving society in the dark as it seeks ethical answers to practical problems.
“…the intellectual overlap of theology, economics and politics is near absent in Christian higher education, leaving society in the dark as it seeks ethical answers to practical problems.”
I visited two organizations over the last two weeks that are trying to fill this gap and alter the national dialogue. The Acton Institute has been building a case for the “moral foundations of a free society” for twenty years. Their “Acton University” conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan has become an ecumenical Mecca for Judeo-Christian thinkers who affirm the value of ordered liberty. The American Enterprise Institute is also beginning a new initiative on values and capitalism. Their “Purpose & Prosperity” conference brings evangelical undergraduate students to this established DC think tank to engage with scholars on the critical issues of our day, and learn how to evaluate them through sound principles.
Both groups are proclaiming the same, as I call it, freedom gospel: our Creator values the person and his/her talents, and desires hearts of humility, responsibility, service and stewardship. From this basic premise, the individual is the central decision-maker, not the state, and the dignity of responsible human creativity and work ethic replaces government mechanisms for the distribution of wealth and opportunity. The latter method is spiritually void, and robs the soul of social value. Our faith also has meaningful implications on the roles of the family, Rule of Law and personal accountability in a healthy economic society.
“Our Creator values the person and his/her talents, and desires hearts of humility, responsibility, service and stewardship. From this basic premise, the individual is the central decision-maker…”
Christians should resist state-run solutions characterized by imposed charity and resentful class warfare, where the vulnerable are cast as victims, incapable of achievement and disconnected from their own choices. We should instead advocate a system that rewards service and selflessness, minimizes political controls and increases well-being at all levels of society.
To apply the old adage, the Church has largely embraced the idea that if a man is hungry, a bureaucrat ought to transfer to him a fish from someone else’s catch. It seems more consistent with Christian virtue, however, to teach him how to catch fish himself, then ensure that he can keep the rewards of his labor, not only so that he can eat, but so that he can feed his family and perhaps open his own fish market, providing employment to his neighbors and prospering his community.
I encourage those interested in public policy issues to familiarize themselves with the Acton Institute (www.acton.org) and the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org). Surely other groups are doing similar things, but my personal experience working with these great organizations allows me to lend personal endorsement, which I am very eager to do.