Christianity and Capital Markets

During the financial crisis of 2008, a cartoon appeared in a British newspaper showing two bankers earnestly puzzling over something. “I know what a ‘hazard’ is,” one says to the other, “but what does ‘moral’ mean?” The idea that capital markets are amoral — indeed, that they are immoral — is a standard critique. In a recent paper for a meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Seth Payne argues that capital markets are, in fact, a force for good that Christians and other people of faith should use “to amplify their moral, ecclesiastical, humanitarian, and pastoral duties.” The abstract follows. — MLM (Hat tip:

The financial turmoil of the past several years has caused many to question the integrity, stability, and very purpose of financial systems which, in today’s world, represent a unique blend of primarily capitalism but also aspects of socialism and collectivism as well. A key factor contributing to this sustained period of economic upheaval has been the uncertainty surrounding capital markets – the fuel that powers all modern economies. Capital markets have, in the minds of many, come to represent the embodiment of greed, unrestrained egoism, and exploitation of the vulnerable – conceptions at complete odds with the central values of social justice as set forth in both Christian and Jewish primary sources: caring for the poor, protecting the weak, and the promotion of justice.

In this paper I argue that capital markets, rather than being a means for the powerful to exploit the weak, have in fact become a force for social good in the aggregate. Indeed capital markets are, in fact, a social contract and as such must be governed by a set of normative ethical principles – both self imposed, and imposed by government regulation. I explore the ethical difficulties that have led to the systemic problems and market failures that lead to not only this current financial crisis, but literally all financial crises over the past eight hundred years. Capital markets, left to their own devices and without both self and governmental oversight, quickly become hotbeds of manipulation and exploitation. In order for markets to function properly, principles of basic fairness must become normative. It is when capital markets become unfair and unjust, that they fail. Thus, these markets must be structured in such a way as to 1) promote Rawl’s “Justice as Fairness” principle and 2) align the interests of market participants to produce universally beneficial market efficiency and stability.

Finally, I propose concrete ways in which the power of capital markets may be harnessed to promote the central moral values of Christian tradition and be used by people of faith to promote the ideals of social justice.

Faith and Resistance: The Catonsville Nine

Next year, Shawn Francis Peters will publish The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era (Oxford 2012).  The book chronicles the events surrounding a group of Catholic antiwar activists’—men and women, including Catholic priests—storming a Baltimore draft board and burning hundreds of selective service records in May, 1968.  These so-called “Catonsville Nine” were tried in federal court, receiving sentences of two- to three-years’ imprisonment for their actions.

Shawn Francis Peters has also studied the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (Univ. Press of Kansas 2000), which details the persecution by the United States’ government, and American citizens generally, of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. who refused to participate in World War II.  (Tellingly, the Nazis imprisoned 8000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and interned 2000 in concentration camps—where some 950 died—for their refusal to conform to the demands of the Third Reich.  See Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power 254–56 (2005).  Rudolf Hoess describes, with a disturbing mixture of admiration and disdain, the “fanatical” Jehovah’s Witnesses at Sachsenhausen in his memoir, Commandant of Auschwitz 88–91 (Constantine FitzGibbon trans., Phoenix 2000).)

For any male of my generation, whose eighteenth birthday was also marked by receiving his Selective Service registration card and a Gillette Mach III razor (replete with shaving gel) the book should provide an interesting perspective on religious protest against unjust war.  The publisher’s abstract follows the jump.

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Classic Revisited: Witte, “God’s Joust, God’s Justice”

Today’s classic revisited is not so old, but it is already worthy of being designated a classic: John Witte’s God’s Joust, God’s Justice: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition (Eerdmans 2006).  CLR Forum readers will greatly enjoy this learned historical treatment; indeed, I cannot think of a book more at the heart of the study of law and religion than Witte’s extraordinary book.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

There are three things that people will die for — their faith, their freedom, and their family. This volume focuses on all three, including the interactions among them, in the Western tradition and today. Retrieving and reconstructing a wealth of material from the earliest Hebrew and Greek texts of the West to the latest machinations of the Supreme Court, John Witte explores the legal and theological foundations of authority and liberty, equality and dignity, rights and duties, marriage and family, crime and punishment, and similar topics. God’s Joust, God’s Justice is a lucid scholarly introduction to the burgeoning field of law and religion and a learned historical inquiry into the weightier matters of the law.

Magarian on Justice Stevens’s Religion Clause Jurisprudence

Gregory P. Magarian (Wash. U. St. Louis, and a former law clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens) has posted Justice Stevens, Religion, and Civil Society.  The abstract follows.  — MOD

Did Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired from the Supreme Court last year, harbor a bias against religion? During his thirty-five years on the Court, Justice Stevens showed little favor for religious claimants. In Establishment Clause cases he advocated a strong doctrine of separation between church and state. In the most contentious Free Exercise Clause cases, he opposed exempting religious believers from laws that interfered with religious exercise. This combination of positions, unique among the Justices of the Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts Courts, has led commentators to charge Justice Stevens with hostility toward religion. This Article debunks that conventional analysis and offers a new explanation of Justice Stevens‘s religion jurisprudence. The Article shows that Justice Stevens took the same approach to constitutional cases about churches that he took to constitutional cases about other powerful institutions of civil society, including the major political parties and voluntary membership associations. Justice Stevens resisted these varied civil society institutions‘ demands for increased constitutional autonomy, based on two persistent concerns. First, Justice Stevens sought to constrain civil society institutions‘ coercive power over individuals. Second, he viewed civil society institutions‘ tendencies toward factionalism as a threat to national unity. Justice Stevens did not consider religion a special object of constitutional concern, let alone a special object of disdain. This descriptive insight permits a fresh normative assessment of Justice Stevens‘s religion jurisprudence. Justice Stevens‘s anti-coercion principle provided the driving force behind his Establishment Clause opinions. The Article finds the anti-coercion principle normatively compelling in the abstract and well adapted to Establishment Clause disputes. In contrast, Justice Stevens‘s anti-factionalism principle drove his opinions about free exercise accommodations. The Article finds the anti-factionalism principle normatively problematic in general and particularly ill-suited to the problem of free exercise accommodations.