What if "Social Justice" Demands Small Government?: Interview with Robert Sirico, Part 3
The "social" of social justice did not translate for them into a vast impersonal welfare state; rather, it was primarily about people fulfilling their responsibilities in justice to their neighbor in the circumstances they found themselves, with the state playing a subsidiary role.
I want to talk now about the religious-cultural factors of a free economy. Is the success of a free economy only a 'Westernized,' 'Judeo-Christian' construct?
It is true that the free economy and all the moral habits and institutions that enable it generally arose in a Western context. But that does not mean it cannot take root elsewhere. The question is whether such cultures heavily influenced by other religious and cultural traditions can sustain a free economy in the absence of generally Western norms and expectation. Of course, if it is built on a broadly natural law foundation, then by definition the free economy should be able to thrive in any society that takes the idea of natural law seriously. By definition, natural law is not culturally specific. It is simply the truth about reality that is inscribed into human reason itself.
That said, Christianity is the religion that, in my view, takes the idea of natural law the most seriously, precisely because it has such respect for reason and indeed understands that God is, among other things, the Logos—Divine Reason itself. The moment any culture—Western or otherwise—loses sight of this basic insight, it is not only in deep civilizational trouble, but I wonder how long it can sustain or develop the institutions and freedoms that ground economic liberty and the free society.
Evangelical philosopher and theologian, Dallas Willard (University of Southern California) has spoken of "pastors as teachers of the nations." Why? Because, historically, pastors have led with a body of knowledge—moral and spiritual knowledge and wisdom, to be exact—that is relevant to a flourishing life and society. On the subject of your book, how has your authorship and perspective been shaped by virtue of being a priest, as one who seeks (among other things) to shepherd people with theological wisdom and care?
Christian theology and history is so encompassing and broad in its scope, points of reference, and experience that I think this gives pastors a depth of understanding of the human condition, both its failures and excellence, difficult to achieve in any other specific discipline.
What does this look like for you?
As a priest who has visited the sick, heard confessions, and accompanied people sometimes literally from the "cradle to the grave," I cannot look at human society through a narrow frame of reference. Though I too often fail at it, I am nevertheless required to hear people out and listen to their perspectives, even when they disagree with my own—yet, at the same time, make an effective case for my own position and lead them to the truth in Christ. All this comes from my experience as a priest, which I would like to underscore, is my vocation: not my work in the more narrow field of economics, which is at best an outgrowth of some insights I have gained.
But let me be clear that I am not advocating that pastors become economists. I simply think that their ministry, theology, and certainly their public pronouncements will be enriched by a grasp of fundamental economic concepts. Beyond that, I think it is very different to attain a solid theological formation without a basic understating of philosophy, which enables a student to identify flaws in an argument.
Joseph E. Gorra is the Managing Editor of Philosophia Christi, the peer-reviewed journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He has also interviewed other philosophers, theologians and other theorists on virtue, economics and the free society for EPSOCIETY.org. At Patheos.com, he recently interviewed Stanford anthropologist, Tanya Luhrmann, about her research regarding evangelical religious experiences. Follow him on Twitter @GorraResearch.