The Acton Institute: At the Intersection of Christianity, Capitalism, and Nihilism


Source: Pakistan Today

Source: Pakistan Today

The Acton Institute is a Christian organization that seeks to promote individual liberty based upon religious principles. Put another way, it’s a Christian organization that attempts to uphold individualism, so you can probably see where this is going.

While they do have many good things to say, overall – especially when it comes to their economic views – they tend to let conservative (Austrian) economics walk ahead of their Christian beliefs. While they do attempt to tie their beliefs back to Christianity, it’s often filtered heavily through a dedicated philosophical viewpoint; the end product is something that would appear foreign to the early Christians. Of course, the same can be said of Christian Marxists or Christian Communists who look at the book of Acts and go, “See, Communism!” But just as we think it silly to justify Communism via Scripture, it’s equally absurd to justify individualism (or laissez-faire capitalism) via Scripture.

Enter Joe Carter’s latest article, making an argument in defense of sweatshops. To give some background onto why he would do this, let me just quote him:

Liberal and conservative, right and left, red state and blue state—there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to divide political and economic lines. But one of the most helpful ways of understanding such differences is recognizing the divide between advocates of proximate justice and absolute justice…

The primary appeal of absolute justice is its purity. Why align with compromisers and those who are satisfied with “good enough” when you can fight for full justice? Being satisfied with proximate justice sounds more like an excuse to do less rather than a principled position.

The primary appeal of proximate justice is its realism. Since absolute justice is not attainable this side of the new heaven and new earth, settling for less is the best we can ever expect. When absolute justice is our standard we can even end up allowing injustice to continue and flourish.

 

With that understanding, he goes on to write:

But first I want introduce one of the most paradigmatic, and controversial, of proximate justice positions: the defense of sweatshops.

A sweatshop is the pejorative term for a workplace that has working conditions those of us in the West deem socially unacceptable. Because of Western laws and norms, sweatshops are now found mostly in developing countries…

The absolute justice advocate would say that the working conditions in sweatshops are unacceptable—and the proximate justice advocate would agree. But the proximate justice advocate would ask, “What are the alternatives?” Invariably, the absolute justice advocate’s preference is either unworkable, unrealistic, or would lead to worse living conditions for the sweatshop worker.

Proximate justice requires that we don’t improve people’s lives or bring them justice by making their lives worse. As Benjamin Powell says, “Because sweatshops are better than the available alternatives, any reforms aimed at improving the lives of workers in sweatshops must not jeopardize the jobs that they already have.”

To summarize Carter’s own words, the argument is essentially, “Yeah, sweatshops aren’t ideal, but they’re better than nothing, so it is what it is.” He points out that in places such as China, while we might find the conditions deplorable, the Chinese factory workers like it because it’s better than the alternative:

What Chang is saying is that whether we understand or agree, the Chinese workers believe accepting their current working conditions is better for them than their realistic alternatives and that the work will help them to life a better life. Many of us intuitively understand this point because it has to with meeting material needs (e.g., without the factory job the workers might not be able to feed their families). What we have a harder time understanding is when people endure less-than-optimal working conditions for other needs, such as self-actualization.

Thus, the argument boils down to that while things might not be ideal, they’re better than an alternative, or, it’s better to be a slave than to starve. Now Carter would certainly object to such a summary, but his objection would be without merit as it’s almost word-for-word what he says, only without the round-about way of saying it.  Continue reading

Advertisements

Existence as an Act of Love


IMG_0083

Act I

Once I wallowed in the darkness of the void

That darkness darker than the night

Ever searching, ever groping, ever longing

My hands clutching shadows that slipped through my fingers.

Lost in a maze without meaning, without purpose, without destination

I wandered in a dry and waterless land

My soul aching for something or someone to give me hope

An experience to justify this pitiful existence.

How I yearned to escape the absurdity

I clung to my individuality, my uniqueness, but in vain

Having rejected You I acknowledged that all was One – ever turning, all encompassing

And within this Monolith “I” was an illusion.

How I longed to communicate – to understand and to be understood

How I longed to reciprocate – to love and to be loved

How I longed to impose my will – to create and to be created

But how could I escape the Monolith?

Mindless forces, endlessly indifferent, from the dawn of time

Blindly marching on, from everlasting to everlasting

Laws of nature too powerful to escape

Leading me, guiding me, shaping me, informing me, fating me.

I was but a cog in the wheel

One piece of the machine

And even this wasn’t real

For everything was One and “I” was an aberration, a twisted trick of nature.

My thoughts were merely a chimera

Every doubt, every fear, every belief, every feeling, every passion was an inevitability

A destiny set in stone by the cold, irrational, unconscious, laws of physics and biology

Since the dawn of time.

Reason and rationality became but a farce

I groped aimlessly in the night

For “I” was but the dust in a star

Like grass, my puny body would deteriorate and die

My atoms scattered to and fro . . .


 

Intermission 

And so it was that I sank into the pit of despair and hopelessness

Where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 


Act II

But You, my Beloved, drew near in my distress

You who made blind eyes see, shattered through the night

Piercing the darkness with your unapproachable light

Illuminating my mind and reviving my heart of stone!

Through You, O Lord, we may see existence as an act of love

Ultimate reality as an intimacy shared between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

The eternal wellspring of personality, communication, and love

The perfect communion of three distinct personalities sharing one

nature, energy, and will.

For in You, O God, is perfect community, true intimacy, and pure holiness

It was out of this  love that You gave birth to the Universe

Speaking into existence something other – yet still reflecting Your incomparable beauty

A supreme act of Self-Giving.

And You imprinted Your image and likeness upon it

Creating other distinct personalities capable of communication and love

That they, too, though finite and limited, might share in the wonder of your eternal glory

and experience the delight of Your All-Holy Spirit

Even now You lovingly maintain the order and harmony of the Universe

Fixing the laws of nature, those models of elegance and simplicity

Maintaining regularity – the ebb and flow of matter and energy

That we may live and move and have our being.

Ever communicating Your love!

Ever revealing Your heart!

Ever beckoning us to abide!

That we may join the everlasting and harmonious community of the Blessed and most Holy Trinity

Come let us abide in You and You in us!  Amen.