Religion & Liberty Article Listing

Challenges Facing the Culture

R&L: What did you mean when you subtitled your 1989 book Against the Night, “Living in the New Dark Ages.” Have the last four years changed your views?

Colson: When I wrote Against the Night, I was fearful that we were entering the new dark ages, that the barbarians were not only at the gates of our culture but coming over the walls. Looking over these past four years, I see no signs that we are awakening to the threat; in fact, almost every single cultural indicator reveals a deepening decline and further erosion of decency and civility in our society.

I believe, in fact, that we have crossed a major cultural divide–the barbarians are not just coming over the wall, they are inside running things. We can no longer say that America...

Effective Aid to the Poor

How would you like half a million dollars? There are only two conditions for you to receive it. The first is that you give it all away to the poor. That is disappointing, but on reflection still attractive: Quite nice to be able to give away $500,000 to those in need. The second condition is that you give it away efficiently. This means you must be able to show it went to those most in need, that they did not waste it, that it did not encourage them to become dependent on such generosity, and that it did not destroy incentives to work and independence. No, thank you.

Giving away money is easy, provided you’ve got enough in the first place. But giving away money efficiently is very difficult. And that remains true whether the donor is the state, a voluntary association, or an individual. In normal...

Morality, Duty, Responsibility, and Authentic Liberty

Among its many features, religion is primarily the worship of God. If the desire to worship God is genuine, then there naturally will arise a suitable code of morality as man’s expression in action of what is true and good. This is due to man’s innate need to satisfy God, that is, to do what is pleasing in his sight. By nature, man fears God; a fear born out of ignorance of God. Unless his fear overwhelms him in an inexhaustible grip of anxiety about his daily life on earth and his state after death, man attempts to satisfy and thereby appease God. In this way man wants by nature to know, to love, and to serve God. Moreover, God has created each man with an innate ability to do this: a conscience.

The conscience is that inner voice in every man’s own heart that speaks the truth about...

Isaac Backus

Isaac Backus era uno de los oradores principales del "púlpito de la Revolución Estadounidense." A menudo comparado con Roger Williams, John Leland, Thomas Jefferson y James Madison, Isaac Backus era una de las "figuras de relieve en el proceso de formación de un movimiento sobre la libertad de conciencia en los Estados Unidos." Su compromiso con la causa de los derechos civiles y de la libertad de conciencia se expresan claramente en su sermón publicado en 1773, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, Against the Oppressions of the Present Day”.

Nacido en Norwich,...

Isaac Backus

Queste sono le parole di Isaac Backus, uno degli oratori di punta del “pulpito della Rivoluzione Americana”. Spesso collegato a Roger Williams, John Leland, Thomas Jefferson e James Madison, Isaac Backus è una delle “ figure di spicco nel processo di formazione in America di un movimento sulla libertà di coscienza”. La sua dedizione alla causa dei diritti civili e della libertà di coscienza trova chiara espressione nel sermone che egli fece pubblicare nel 1773, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, Against the Oppressions of the Present Day”.

Nato nel Norwichin Connecticut, nel 1724,...

Isaac Backus

Isaac Backus was one of the leading orators of the “pulpit of the American Revolution.” Often ranked with Roger Williams, John Leland, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, Isaac Backus is one of the “preeminent figures in the establishing of freedom of conscience in America.” His commitment to liberty and freedom of conscience is best articulated in his published sermon of 1773, “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, Against the Oppressions of the Present Day.”

Born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1724, Backus was converted to Christianity in 1741. He attended a Separatist Congregationalist...

The Loss of Virtue

Several years ago the Philadelphia Inquirer published an editorial outlining the absence of moral direction in the public forum as a consequence of the current understanding of the separation of church and state. The author argued that it is as though the embrace of any moral standards implies the adoption of certain religious tenets or the dogma of a particular church.

The Founding Fathers were, of course, decidedly religious men; and it was precisely their desire to protect the free exercise of religion that led them to insist that the United States should never have a state church. It is regrettable that the modern interpretation of the separation of church and state, intended to protect religious liberty, should lead many today to the conclusion that religion and religious discourse should have no part...

Productivity and Potential

R&L: You have led an incredibly productive and active life, from the early civil rights movement to now working to strengthen the black family. What motivates you?

Perkins: I don’t like to see human potential wasted, and that’s what happens when people are left behind, either because the system excludes them or because they have failed to adopt solid values. I spent 22 years, from 1962 to 1980, in rural Mississippi, and prior to that I lived in California. But I had little basic moral training. I grew up with my grandmother, but her sons were bootleggers and gamblers. I would like to give people something I did not have.

R&L: What do you think it was in your own life that instilled values in you? ...

Natural Law and Economics

If we accept the fact that economics is a human discipline designed, in its original sense, to provide for the acquisition and management of household goods, we can perhaps admit that economics is not a wholly “autonomous” discipline that has no relation to other considerations about human life. The fact that economies are nation- and world-wide, themselves highly mathematicized, does not change the principle behind this observation.

Aristotle was quite sure that a household, as well as the polis, needs a certain amount of material goods if other ends like the practice of virtue were to be achieved. On the one hand, human life was not exclusively about such goods, but it still needed them and had to devote vast amounts of time and effort to produce them. On the other hand, there was a situation of too...

The Spirituality of Conflict

Sixteen years ago, Bill married Jennifer, his high school sweetheart, in a joyful ceremony at which I officiated. A few months ago, they stunned me with the news of their divorce plans. They had attempted to reconcile, but were now committed to ending the marriage. They informed me that since they were both rational people who respected one another, they were determined to divorce amicably.

Right now, however, Bill and Jennifer are embroiled in bitter divorce litigation. Legal fees have soared into the six-figure range and seriously threaten their estate. Their two families, who had been close for years, no longer speak; their friends have been forced to take sides. Jennifer has exchanged her beautiful home for a small apartment, and Bill has not seen his children for eight weeks.


Sir Henry Vane

Born into the English landed gentry, Sir Henry Vane early rejected the advantages of his class, becoming a Protestant Dissenter. This set him against the government of Charles I and Archbishop Laud and their desire for an absolutist state coupled with a government-sanctioned church based on the European model.

At age twenty two, Henry went out to live with his co-religionists in the newly-established American colonies. The Bostonians soon recognized his merits and elected him governor. But once again Vane saw himself at odds with the mainstream dissenters, who often saw freedom as no more than the right to belong to an approved...

Capitalism and Christians

The book jacket on Capitalism and Christians, the newest dispatch by Arthur Jones, assures us that this editor-at-large of the National Catholic Reporter is “an economist by training.” That fact makes the pervasive and remarkable confusions in this book all the more depressing.

Jones seeks to define the relationship between capitalism and Christianity but begins with an unfair description of capitalism. It is a system, he says, in which finding “new ways of making a buck” quickly “conditions the world around it so it can extract for itself the maximum for the minimum.” Seems there’s no room for the Gospel here.

If there’s a problem in modern American life, Jones blames it on capitalism. This includes “adulterated baby foods,” “any toxic-waste site...

Economic Imperialism

R&L: You are sometimes called an “economic imperialist.” What is meant by this?

Becker: That refers to my belief that economic analysis can be applied to many problems in social life, not just those conventionally called “economic.” The theme of my Nobel lecture, based on my life’s work, is that the horizons of economics need to be expanded. Economists can talk not only about the demand for cars, but also about matters such as the family, discrimination, and religion, and about prejudice, guilt, and love. Yet these areas have traditionally received little attention in economics. In that sense, it’s true: I am an economic imperialist. I believe good techniques have a wide application. Adam Smith and many others believed that as well.


The Manners of the Market

Sometime after watching that remarkable video clip of the Los Angeles police beating Rodney King, I found myself thinking of another run-in between the police and a wrong-doer. This other case involved a drunken, abusive trespasser onto the grounds of a private club having a party. The lout repeatedly pushed through the surrounding hedge and tried to approach the building to crash the party; two security guards repeatedly intercepted him and escorted him out the gate. I watched in uneasy anticipation as the guards’ embarrassment and anger visibly increased and the torrent of profanity rose. This will come to blows, I thought; I held my breath before the inevitable violence. But it never happened. With incredible restraint, the guards simply waited him out, pushing him back where necessary, saying steadily but firmly, “I’m...

Justice and Charity in Wages

Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Centesimus Annus, is a marvelous defense of capitalism and attack on socialism in its feudal, totalitarian, and welfare state forms. One is particularly impressed by Pope John Paul’s argument that the burdens that the welfare state places on the poor are immoral. Accordingly, this teaching does more than simply return the Catholic church to the position originally expressed by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, whose one-hundredth anniversary it celebrates.

In Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo argued that “as a rule, workman and employer should make free agreements.” This was very much part of Pope Leo’s defense of capitalism. However, he then went on to say that if, through necessity, a worker accepts a wage that provides less than “reasonable and frugal...