At Acton University we heard many extraordinary presentations on ethics, faith, public affairs, and, of course, economics. Now, there is something especially interesting about the idea of economics lectures at a conference focused on religion. It’s not something people expect, but once exposed to it, they find the logic beautiful and its explanatory power overwhelming.
Jesus used economic examples in his parables, so it makes sense for us to come to understand the basis on which he spoke. We have to know something about money and interest to follow the meaning of the parable of the talents, for example. And many other parables speak of issues involving commercial concerns.
But the formal science of economics is itself rather modern. In the ancient world, commerce was considered an unseemly calling—nothing fit for a person of higher sensibilities. The basis of economics as a science was first elaborated in the middle ages and came into its own only in the eighteenth century. Today, it is regarded as the queen of the social sciences.
How and when are religious folks going to learn economics? It is no secret that it is badly taught in seminaries. And it is unlikely that most people will attend a seminar exclusively on the topic of economics. That gives the Acton Institute a unique role and opportunity to educate people of faith on a topic involving their daily lives to a huge extent. A world population of six billion needs the free market in order to survive and thrive. It would be inconceivable under socialism or feudalism.
Something else is bound up with economic understanding: freedom itself. If we cannot trade, contract, create, and accumulate without the overweening hand of the state, there cannot be such a thing as liberty. One need only imagine a parable such as the treasure in the field introducing a third-party bureaucrat who would need to approve, regulate, and tax the trade that takes place. It would completely change the dynamic of the story. Just as the truth that sets us free is the theological heart of faith, freedom itself is the underlying proposition of any society rooted in truth about the human person.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico,