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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

Evangelical Political Activism: Faith and Prudence

The political resurgence of America’s evangelical community raises anew ever-important questions about religion and politics. In The Politics of Reason and Revelation, John West revisits some of those questions: “Does religion have a political role, and if so, what should it be? What are the advantages of religion in politics? What are the dangers? And how can people of faith bring their religious beliefs to bear on public issues without dividing citizens along religious lines and infringing on the liberty of conscience of those who do not share their religious views?” West addresses these questions by examining the American founding and nineteenth-century evangelical activism in a manner that sheds light on contemporary developments.

Recent evangelical political initiatives have been met...

Good Financial Stewardship Part of God's Economy

R&L: As a Christian financial advisor, how do you understand the connection between your faith and the world of economics and finances?

Burkett: I believe there is a direct link between faith and finances. In the New Testament, our Lord gives us, depending on how you count them, around thirty-four parables, two-thirds of which deal with the subject of money. I believe Jesus uses money as teaching tool to illustrate graphically this point: The way we handle financial matters is an indicator of the way we handle spiritual matters.

That is what Jesus meant when he said, “If you are not faithful with the smallest of things, you will not be faithful with larger things either.” Money is just one of those smaller things.

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The Reformation Roots of Social Contract

Contrary to much secular thought, the historic emergence of a social contract that guarantees human liberty stems from the seedbed of Geneva’s Reformation. To be sure, a different social contract, the humanist one, had its cradle in the secular thinking of the Enlightenment. The one I refer to as the social covenant (to distinguish) has resisted tyranny, totalitarianism, and authoritarianism with consistent and irrepressible force; the other has led to oppression, large-scale loss of life, and the general diminution of liberty, both economic and personal.

Following is a brief review of five leading tracts from the Reformation period that had wide and enduring political impact in support of liberty: The Right of Magistrates (1574) by Theodore Beza, The Rights of the Crown of Scotland...

Scholastic Economics: Thomistic Value Theory

It has been seventy years since historian Richard Henry Tawney concluded in his Religion and the Rise of Capitalism that, “the true descendant of the doctrines of Aquinas is the labor theory of value.” By this, he appears to mean that Saint Thomas Aquinas’ writings in value theory entail the proposition that the basis of value of an economic good is the amount of human labor expended in producing it. Thus, Tawney adds, “the last of the Schoolmen was Karl Marx.” Tawney was, of course, mistaken.

From Aquinas to Marx

Economics, as understood in the modern sense, occupied a subordinate place in relation to ethics and law in Catholic medieval doctrine. Within this framework, economic value was not regarded as an intrinsic quality but, rather, as the physical, mental, and moral...

Of Markets and Morality

The great mantra of this prevailing culture of self-absorption is tolerance: If only everyone, everywhere, and under all circumstances could only be tolerant, we are assured, what a wonderful and peaceful world it would be. This kind of illiberal faith, this chic toleration, is so intolerant as to assert the truth claims of orthodox Judaism and Christianity. The problem with this arrogance (which always fails to see its own arrogance) is that it presumes that the Jewish and Christian reliance on the use of faith to apprehend some truths diminishes the importance of the mind, and hence, man himself.

This modern, liberal mindset begins by rejecting revelation, but in the course of its intellectual trajectory it must undermine not merely Biblical truth-claims but any claim to know truth. It does so to...

Lyman Beecher

In the early 1800s, Presbyterian divine Lyman Beecher faced a culture in crisis: Alcoholism, poverty, illiteracy, and other social ills were on the rise, and church attendance was in decline. Furthermore, the policy of state-funded, state-established churches was fading. How, then, was the United States-with a republican form of government that requires a virtuous society and a strong private sector-to respond to these challenges?

Lyman Beecher is remembered today primarily through the accomplishments of his children, among whom was abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher, and author of ...

Renewing American Compassion

We hardly need another polemic about the failure of America’s “war on poverty.” After decades of bitter wrangling and torpid inaction, there is at last a broad consensus that the welfare system is a cure no less malignant than the disease it was intended to remedy. Liberals and conservatives, politicians and program administrators, social workers and taxpayers have all been forced to acknowledge that the poor are not best served by our current lumbering and impersonal entitlement bureaucracy. They never have been. They never will be. On this, we now all agree.

Thankfully, Marvin Olasky recognizes this remarkable fact and does not belabor the obvious. His book Renewing American Compassion is instead a survey and evaluation of contemporary poverty relief efforts—both privately...

Learning Charity from an Exemplar

In the past three years on visits to church-based urban ministries nationwide, I have interviewed dozens of down-and-outers who have become up-and-comers: ex-welfare recipients, victims of domestic violence, former drug addicts, ex-cons. When I asked them what helped them turn their lives around, almost all responded, “A friend who cared.” Effective ministries know that friendship is a powerful poverty-fighting tool. Tragically, though, many church benevolence programs emphasize commodities—cash, clothing, and groceries—over relationships. In today’s welfare reform climate, as greater responsibility for needy families shifts from the public to the private sector, churches need to reassess their own outreach strategy. They can learn much from a recently published collection of short essays by Octavia Hill, a...

Local Communities Are Charity's Resource of First Resort

R&L: What are your views on the nature of the welfare state and the need for its reform?

Santorum: What we have had with our public assistance programs over the past thirty or more years is a system that was very bureaucratic, very clinical. It did not require much, if any, responsibility—in fact, I would argue that it rewarded irresponsibility. And the system did not provide much incentive or opportunity for recipients to escape public assistance programs. In most cases the only contact recipients had with the kind of “help” we were providing was to receive a check—usually from some faceless government worker hiding behind bulletproof glass.

Seeing what these federally run programs have created was evidence enough for me to want to...

Healing Lives, One Person at a Time

Her name was Anna. Her mother was an alcoholic, and she and her live-in boyfriend were unemployed. Looking for an apartment and a job was overwhelming, because she had never done so before. She had no savings, no furniture, and few clothes. Anna was estranged from her older daughter and her husband. She was cynical and believed in nothing because she had seen little in life to trust. Truth was a matter of expediency to her—she did and said what she needed to, in order to get along, get a check, and keep her subsidized apartment. No, Anna is not an American welfare mother. She came from East Berlin just as the Berlin Wall fell, but she suffers from the same malady as her counterparts in the inner cities of Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles today. The victims of socialism have the same sickness as the victims of the welfare...

The New Challenge of Reform

The news from the front is encouraging. “Welfare reform working,” shouts one USA Today headline. “Welfare rolls falling,” another paper declares. The bold new course of reform charted by the 1996 welfare reform act appears to be on a path to success. In Arizona, there is a surge of married men looking for, and finding, jobs. In Florida, welfare rolls have fallen seventeen percent in just seven months. Nationwide, states are reveling in the additional 1.5 billion dollars in welfare money they have this year. Set against the declining rolls, states are having to work to figure out how to spend all the extra money they have, and all of this has occurred before the welfare laws are officially enacted. There is a temptation to look at facts and figures like these and say contentedly that our work is done. In...

The Only Hope for Civic Renewal

In the last few years, there has been a revival in interest in the role that private charity can play in the revitalization of civil society. This renewed interest is partly driven by an overwhelming sense that most of us have, regardless of political and ideological interests, that the modern welfare state has produced less-than-impressive results. I would take this analysis much further: The welfare state has been a complete disaster, in some instances creating, and in others enhancing, a myriad of problems—family disintegration, the loss of respect for the elderly, the moral nihilism of the youth, the loss of a clear sense of right and wrong, and the collapse of community at all levels in society.

But if we are really entering the post-statist age in which the welfare state is going to continue...

The Cross and the Rain Forest

The most fruitful and majestic tree in the history of the world was the one on which hung its Savior, Jesus Christ. Today there is a growing trend among some environmentalists to look past the incarnate expression of God's love and see only a violated and barren tree. This trend toward reinterpreting symbols and the created order is an outgrowth of a larger crisis in the belief that God is both Creator and Father.

Uncertainty about God also calls into question the human person. Consequently, those whose divine mission is to exercise dominion over the created order become interlopers, strangers, and, as several authors have called humans, “diseases” upon the earth. The next step toward deifying the earth is a short one, and rather than man judging how the goods of the earth might best give glory to God,...

Earthkeeping through Markets

In 1977-78, a group of scholars gathered at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to produce an interdisciplinary book on environmentalism from a Christian perspective. Earthkeeping in the Nineties was a serious attempt at integrating Christian faith and the insights from several disciplines. That volume was revised substantially and reissued in 1991. The revised edition builds on the scholarship of the first and represents an important contribution to the ongoing discussion of environmental issues. The book is particularly strong in articulating a well-reasoned Christian perspective that is nicely placed in a historical context. How we see and interact with God's creation is very much influenced by our worldview, and Earthkeeping traces numerous influences on that view. It is well-written, engaging, and nicely...

Free Markets Best Protect the Environment

R&L: Now that communism has been defeated and discredited, many see radical environmentalism as the next great threat to freedom. Do you agree with this analysis?

Hodel: Yes, and I define radical environmentalism as a mechanism for permitting the collectivist mentality to feed its impulse to control society. In other words, there are very valid environmental concerns we all care about; I've never run into anybody who isn't an environmentalist. No one wants dirty air and water or wants to pass on that condition to his or her grandchildren. But radical environmentalism seeks to alter the form of government and in the name of the environment imposes on individuals the kinds of controls we fought against in the name of economics, such as the collectivism of communism....