Here is a summary of the events I attended today.
Session 1: Economic Thought before the Enlightenment
This Session was taught by Michael Miller, Director of Programs for the Acton Institute. Miller began his presentation noting that most people think economics began with Adam Smith. Not so. Miller demonstrated that Smith largely restated past ideas and popularized them for an Enlightenment audience. Many of the ideas Smith articulated went back to scholars as far back as Thomas Aquinas, and even to Augustine.
It is popular in theological circles to characterize economics and capitalism as products of the Enlightenment (a notion carefully cultivated by many Enlightenment protagonists and some anti-Catholic elements I might add.) During the Enlightenment economics became decoupled from moral philosophy and dominated by positivist frameworks. Many in the academy today are antagonistic toward capitalism and market economies precisely because they seem them as inventions of the Enlightenment. Ironically, these same people (often without awareness) turn to Marxist inspired collectivist analyses which truly are a product of the Enlightenment.
What we need is a return to both a rational and a moral analysis of economic questions. The scholastics, coming up to the period of the Enlightenment, were the ones who laid the groundwork for capitalism and it is deeply rooted in Christian anthropology and theology.
Session 2: Technology, Culture and the Market
Richards highlighted that we have both special and natural revelation; two books if you will. Technology is about how we interact with the “book” of nature. He suggests that two extremes present themselves. One is the Luddite view that tends to view technology and change as threats. The other is the techno-utopian view that virtually inserts technology in the place of God inside an eschatological narrative where we are ultimately saved and transformed by technological advancement.
Instead, we need to be sure we have developed an appropriate Christian anthropology. Richards used the phrase that “technology is a prosthesis of our creativity.” It is an extension of human action. Therefore, the technology is largely a neutral factor that directed by its users for ill or for good. Technology does not so much create alienation (that goes back to the fall) as rearrange how we encounter it. A balanced Christian perspective embraces the good of technology while standing against techno-utopianism.
Session 3: Wealth in Scripture
This session was taught by Peter Laird, Vice Rector and Professor of Moral Theology, St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Laird began with opening comments about exegesis, eisegesis, and hermeneutics. The two most destructive distortions today of interpreting passages relating to wealth are the prosperity gospel and liberation theology. Laird notes that both begin with “this world” concerns and end up there. They offer visions of creating a personal or collective utopia. We must have an appropriate anthropological and eschatological view before we can make sense of wealth as it is dealt with in scripture. Wealth itself is not condemned. On the contrary, wealth is a very real good, and it is precisely for that reason that we are tempted to convert it into an idol through which we can gain self-actualization.
It was also during this class that one of the students made what I thought was an astute observation about the emerging church. He said the emerging church has made a tremendous contribution to missiology but has done a horrible job with Christian anthropology. Many in the emerging church setting are coming out of mega-church environments where elements of the prosperity gospel have been significant but unfortunately their response has been to embrace an equally flawed collectivist neo-liberationist theology that isn’t sound either. Too little attention has been given to Christian anthropology.
We saw a screening of the hour long Acton produced film Call of the Entrepreneur. (Caution to some of my readers. People like Michael Novak and George Gilder appear in this clip. Have your cross and garlic on hand to protect yourself. *grin*) Jay Richards, Farther Sirico and Samuel Gregg acted as a panel for those who had questions about the film.
We heard the personal testimony of entrepreneur Jeff Sandefer and founder of the Acton MBA in Entrepreneurship. He is a very interesting man with a program I intend to learn more about.
On tap for tomorrow:
Session 4: Economics and Human Action
Session 5: Theology and the History of Globalization
Session 6: Economic Myths about the Market
Evening Event: “Wealth and Poverty Redux” by George Gilder