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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

The Economics of Sin Taxes

“Sin Taxes” are so called because they are levied on those commodities, such as tobacco and alcohol, which are the objects of widespread disapproval. “Such taxes,” Paul Samuelson says, “are often tolerated because most people–including many cigarette smokers and moderate drinkers–feel that there is something vaguely immoral about tobacco and alcohol. They think these ”sin taxes“ stun two birds with one stone: the state gets revenue, and vice is made more expensive.”

“Sin Taxes” is not a technical term in economics. They are simply a form of excise tax. What, then, is an excise tax? It is a tax levied on some but not on all commodities. This is how it differs from the general sales tax, which is levied on all products (with certain minor exceptions). This...

Zoning as a Threat to Religious Liberty

If you take for granted your attendance at the church on the corner, it may be a good time to stop. You are about to be introduced to what many believe has become the worst threat to religious liberty in America: local zoning laws.

In theory, zoning laws sound reasonable and those who back zoning regulations often have good intentions. However, the reality is that zoning controls are turning property rights, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of religion into mere concepts that can only be exercised at the whim of government officials.

Fairfax County, Virginia, is a case in point. “Reasonable” sounding zoning regulations have gotten so out of control in Fairfax that many congregations cannot build new sanctuaries or expand old ones. Other churches which are granted...

An Honor Well Deserved: Michael Novak

It is sometimes said that capitalism lacks poets. In twenty-five books and a career of lecturing and teaching all over the world, Michael Novak, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, had devoted much of his life to poetically explaining the crucial role of private initiative in public life. In doing so, he has roused the moral imaginations of scholars around the world.

His service in defense of freedom has now been duly recognized. Mr. Novak has joined the pantheon of recipients of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, a list which includes Mother Teresa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Billy Graham and Charles Colson. Novak is a most deserving honoree–for his work has been remarkably influential in Christian social teaching on economics.

In 1991, when...

Francisco Suarez

Durante el siglo XVI irrumpió en la escena política una mezcla de ideas profanas y sagradas caracterizadas por la aparición de la doctrina del Derecho Divino de los Reyes. A lo largo del norte de Europa, particularmente en Francia, los monarcas demandaban para sí mismos soberanía divina del mismo modo que la iglesia lo había hecho respecto a su autoridad moral divina. El resultado fue una divinización del Estado que permitió al monarca proclamar que no era responsable ante la iglesia ni ante los individuos, sino solamente ante Dios.

Francisco Suarez, en contra de defensores de este derecho divino como Jaime I de Inglaterra, defendió las instituciones sagradas en contra de la perversión secular que amenazaba la integridad tanto de la iglesia como...

Francisco Suarez

During the sixteenth century, a mixing of the profane and the sacred took place in the political scene characterized by the appearance of the doctrine of Divine Right of Kings. Throughout mostly northern Europe, and particularly in France, monarchs were demanding for themselves divine sovereignty just as the church had claimed divine moral authority. What occurred was a divinization of the state in which the monarch claimed to be answerable to neither church nor his subjects but to God alone.

Against such defenders of Divine Right, like King James I of England, Francisco Suarez sought to defend the sacred institutions against a...

The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

In his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII condemned socialism as contrary to nature, liberty, natural justice, and common sense; predicted its failure; and upheld private property, personal initiative, and natural inequality. Forty years later, Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno established social justice as a central concept in Catholic social teaching. This evolution culminated in John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (1991), which condemns socialism and the “social assistance state” and endorses a morally conscious capitalism. An accomplished phenomenological philosopher, author of the treatise The Acting Person, John Paul had long been impressed by “the human being’s most arresting characteristic: his or her capacity to originate action; that is, to imagine and to conceive of new things and then...

Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World

Why should it have been so hard to understand a writer who expresses himself with so little ambiguity? Or is it possible that his ideas were understood quite clearly but clearly hated, leading to futile attempts to discredit him? Ericson maintains his professional courtesies, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that intellectual confusion alone cannot account for the hatchet jobs done on the expatriate Russian writer.

Ericson quotes the socialist economist Robert Heilbroner to the effect that only the right–Friedman, Hayek, von Mises, and others of that sort–predicted with any degree of accuracy the outcome of the struggle between capitalism and socialism. Even the center expected the former to have increasingly serious problems and the latter to be the emerging economic system of the...

John Gray's Demolition Derby

The title of John Gray’s book could mislead some readers in the United States of America since “liberal” in England and Europe means the more or less coherent school of political thought wherein what is most important is the freedom of persons to govern themselves (as distinct from being governed by other persons). Government is established in societies to protect the right to this freedom. It is this negative right to liberty that the liberalisms of Gray’s book focus upon. He offers reflections on what might be problematic about the idea and what different liberals mean by and how they support it.

In the United States “liberal” refers to systems of government designed to coercively enable, empower or make provisions so that citizens obtain what they need to get on and succeed with their lives...

Capitalism, Religion, and the Free Society

R&L: I understand that your political views have evolved as a result of your study of history.

Johnson: This is true. It’s difficult for me sometimes to separate in my own mind the influence of my historical studies and my observation of the contemporary scene because the two are often intermingled. However, I did become more critical of collectivism in the 60s and early 70s as a result of my study of the ancient world. I learned that although in theory it might be possible to separate political from economic freedom as I once believed, so that you could restrict economic freedom and leave political freedom intact, I came to the conclusion that in fact the two were inseparable. And if you limited economic freedom, sooner or later you are bound to restrict political...

The People We Need

Edmund Burke spoke a great and noble truth when he observed that the kind of society and government a nation has is an accurate reflection of the character and intellect of the people who inhabit it. A corrupt, careless, sluggish people will have a government to match their ill nature. A social order that contains a significant number of citizens of probity, intelligence, energy and imagination will be represented by statesmen like the fifty-five men who sat themselves down in Philadelphia over two centuries ago and produced some of the fundamental documents of our unique civilization. We get the government we deserve; and by the same token, we tend to get the churches we deserve and the schools we deserve; and I suppose the same might be said of music and art and entertainment.

A conquered people may...

Fisher Ames

Fisher Ames, of Dedham in Massachusetts, was one of the most eloquent Federalists at the time of America's birth. An ardent opponent of Jeffersonian democracy, Ames feared the worst for the new nation, predicting spiritual decay and social anarchy.

As a member of the Federalist contingent of American revolutionaries, he strongly supported property rights and looked with favor upon the aristocratic character of his party. He was, as John Quincy Adams remarked, a stern moralist-a result of his Calvinist upbringing. Some of his colleagues in the Federalist Party, among them Hamilton and Marshall, advocated economic and territorial...

No Longer Exiles

The book is actually a compilation of papers that were delivered at a conference held in November, 1990, at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Following a preface by editor Michael Cromartie, the book consists of four chapters. Each chapter contains a paper that was presented at the conference, followed by a formal response from another conference participant, which in turn is followed by more informal comments from other participants. The book concludes with an afterward by George Weigel, president of the Center.

If one is looking for a book that simply touts the virtues of the religious new right, then this book will not have much appeal. On the other hand, if one is looking for an objective analysis of the religious new right by a number of authorities from a variety of backgrounds...

John Wesley's Social Ethic

Marquardt begins by examining several areas of Wesley’s social praxis. They include slavery, economics and ethics, his work on aid to the poor, prison reform, and education. One of Wesley’s greatest strengths was his ability to organize. The Methodist Societies were established to provide forums in which the members could help one another in living the Christian life, and in which they could more effectively engage in social action.

It is important to note that the organizations developed by Wesley were not highly bureaucratic, but instead emphasized the role of the individual members. For example, aid to the poor was to be personally delivered by members rather than collected and delivered en masse. Marquardt notes, “Wesley...demand- ed that those active in the social work of his...

Public Morality: The Jewish Contribution

R&L: There is a recognition by Jewish religious writers that wealth can undermine one’s spiritual well-being. In what way does this occur?

Tamari: Since the need for the possession of wealth is an unlimited one, people will do things to earn that wealth; sometimes those actions are morally permissible and other times this great need for wealth, which can almost never be satisfied, will lead them to do things which are neither legal nor moral. In this way the need for this wealth destroys the moral being. People make war, nations make war, people quarrel with one another, people lie and steal and harm one another, primarily because this need for wealth is the most powerful, perhaps, of all human passions and lusts.

R&L:...

No One is Really a Moral Skeptic

Moral relativism is at first glance the easiest of all philosophical positions to defend. The defense consists of a single tactic, remorselessly and impartially applied to any and all ethical precepts: deny their truth and insist that the proponent show the logical contradiction that arises from that denial. The consistent skeptic does not have the unpleasant obligation of showing how one moral precept ties into another; nor does he face the difficult task of squaring moral principles that seem to be individually attractive but mutually repellent (i.e. a defense of individual autonomy with duties of benevolence for those in need). Instead the skeptic need respond only with a dismissive wave of the hand, and move on to other business capable of greater logical precision or empirical verification. Ethical discourse remains an empty vessel...