Ideals into Practice: Reuniting Economics and Theology
by Kamran Mofid
Kamran Mofid, PhD (Econ) was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1952. In 1986 he was awarded a doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, U.K. He is Founder-Convenor of Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good. His many books and articles include: Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic (1987); The Economic Consequences of the Gulf War (1990); and Globalisation for the Common Good (2002). In 2002 he founded an annual international conference "An Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good." His email address is www.commongood.info. This article is Chapter 6 of Promoting the Common Good: Reuniting Economics & Theology Together Again by Marcus Braybrooke & Kamran Mofid, a dialogue between a theologian and an economist. Published by Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd., 2005. Used by Permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Like others promoting a dialogue between religion and economics (such as Lorna Gold in The Sharing Economy), I believe that there must be a place for religion in our quest to find solutions to the deepening crises of injustice and inequality in the globalized economy. The relationship between economics and theology is one that needs to be taken seriously as we search for alternative socio-economic models.
What has theology to do with the economy? From the standpoint of the average economics textbook of today (as D. Stephen Long observes in Divine Economy), the answer is absolutely nothing. As I have pointed out in Globalization for the Common Good, modern neo-liberal economics tolerates religion only when religion narrows its focus to questions of individual salvation; the wider social concerns which preoccupied Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and other prophets are not considered to be within its realm. For neo-liberal economists anything that interferes with their own god and religion, the marketplace, is blasphemous.
What has the economy to do with theology? Again as Long has observed, despite the economists’ neglect of theology, a number of theologians are now studying the relationship between theology and economics. In doing so, they continue in an ancient tradition which believes that faith and economic matters are inextricably linked. This is a significant movement because it runs contra to the development of modern economics, which has become increasingly anti-humanistic.
Political economists first divorced economics from theology at the end of the eighteenth century, and economists of the nineteenth century went on to free it from political theory. It was in the twentieth century that the subject of economics became increasingly abstract, dehumanized and mathematical.
All of us who care about both faith and economics are indebted to those theologians who are getting to grips with economics because the gravest temptation we face is the rending asunder of theology and economics -- if this process were to be completed an ancient tradition would disappear.
Peter Milward SJ eloquently observes that we are only just beginning to understand how intimately and profoundly the vitality of a society is bound up with its religion. The religious impulse unifies a society and culture. The great civilizations of the world do not produce the great religions as a kind of cultural by-product; in a very real sense, the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilizations rest. A society which has lost its religion and its spirituality becomes a society which has lost its culture, and sooner or later it will fail to exist, as have many civilizations in the past.
Vaclav Ravel came to the same conclusion during his years in prison before he was President of Czechoslovakia:
I am persuaded that [the present global crisis] . . . is directly related to thc spiritual condition of modern civilization. This condition is characterized by loss: the loss of metaphysical certainties, of an experience of the transcendental, of any super-personal moral authority, and of any kind of higher horizon. It is strange but ultimately quite logical: as soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension and man began to lose control of it.
In The Secularism of the West, Father Neuhaus observes:
The great question is whether modernity and liberal democracy can be secured in ways compatible with vibrant religious faith. That question is answered by remembering how, in historical fact, these achievements were secured. While modernity and democracy sometimes met with ecclesiastical resistance, they were generally inspired by religious conviction. From Magna Cart-a in 1215 through the Cromwellian revolution to the Declaration of Independence and its appeal to ‘Nature and Nature’s God,’ the champions of freedom have invoked transcendent truth in the vindication of their cause. Accurately told, it becomes evident that religion is not the enemy but the foundation of modernity and freedom.
Robert Wuthnow in Religion and Economic Life notes:
Whether there may be residues of ethical or value oriented reasoning in religious traditions capable of suggesting ways of restricting economic commitments is thus an additional cause for rethinking the relationship between religion and economic life.
In God and Mammon in America, Wuthnow explains:
Materialism . . . is a problem that connotes selfishness, an individualistic emphasis on self-interest that devalues the community and the need to care for others. Selfishness is a problem, in turn, because religious traditions champion love, compassion, reaching out to the community, caring for others. It is this, more than anything else about religion in contemporary society, that butts up against the pervasive materialism to which we are exposed.
As these inspiring quotations suggest, there should be a natural kinship between economics and theology and among economists and theologians. Lack of such a dialogue is clearly a great shortcoming on the part of all concerned and it has to be put right.
A Call for a Theological Economics
The difficulties created by the secularization of Western society, particularly in academia, have been analyzed by many. Theological reflection is particularly scarce within economics, and most of what there is is outside the professional mainstream. This is strange considering the roots of economics were in theology.
Understanding the interrelationship of economics and theology is not easy: it requires a deep understanding of both. While I do not pretend to have mastered the two disciplines, what I do know is that they need to be reunited so that they can work together for the common good.
On the first page of his Principles of Economics, Alfred Marshall wrote:
Man’s character has been molded by his every-day work, and the material resources which he thereby procures, more than by any other influence unless it be that of his religious ideals; and the two great forming agencies of the world’s history have been the religious and the economic.
Keynes in his introduction to his Essays in Persuasion expressed his conviction that:
. . . the Western World . . . [is] capable of reducing the economic problem, which now absorbs our moral and material energies, to a position of secondary importance . . . [T]he day is not far off when the Economic Problem will take the back seat where or belongs, and . . . the arena of the heart and head will he occupied, or re-occupied, by our real problems -- the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.
Thus it seems that, according to great economic minds, religion and economics are formative agencies that shape human society and the conduct of human affairs. My own argument for a theological economics weaves together several strands of thought inspired by many others before me. Above I quoted Marshall and Keynes, but the idea of a theological economics is much older.
As Waterman, for example, has observed, by far the most influential theodicy in the Christian West is that of St. Augustine of Hippo, whose voluminous and powerful writings set the theological agenda for more than a thousand years. Augustine began with the Pauline doctrine of original sin and the fall of man, and attributed all moral evil, and most if not all physical evil, to that. What, then, does God do about it? Augustine’s answer was complex, but his account of political society is very useful for the purpose of this study. The State and its institutions are seen as a self-inflicted punishment for human sin. Augustine had no illusions about the human cost of maintaining internal peace and external security, but without justice the State is an unmitigated evil: ‘Remota itaque justitia, quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?’
Because of human sin, true justice is never fully obtainable: ‘vera autem justitia non est nisi in en re publica cuius conditor rectorque Christus est’. Yet some degree of justice remains possible, so God allows the self-regarding acts of sinful human beings to bring the State into existence because its institutions -- especially those of private property, marriage and slavery -- are also a remedy for sin. By means of the State, the evil in human life may be constrained to that minimum that must result from freedom of the will in fallen humanity. Waterman suggests that there are parallels between this aspect of St Augustine’s theodicy and the account we may read in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, a point to which I shall return later.
As Paul Oslington notes, St Augustine spoke of the city of God which is entwined with the city of this world. For us the most relevant aspect of his work is not the political relationship between the two cities, but his comments on the relationship between theology and his classical Greek and Roman philosophical heritage. Augustine’s problem -- how to relate the claims of theology to a system of thought which had become his own after many years of training -- is in many ways similar to our problem of how to reconcile theology and economics. His solution, which commends itself to us, was that the classical heritage need not be discarded; it should be utilized, and in fact finds its full meaning in the light of Christian theology.
Many centuries later John Henry Newman, in part stimulated by the Tractarian controversies over the rival claims of the State and secular learning versus the claims of theology, came to a similar conclusion about the primacy of theology without having to reject secular learning. For Newman all knowledge is one, and the sciences, including theology, form a circle of knowledge. Theology and the other disciplines all suffer loss if any is removed from the circle, or if any tries to usurp the place that properly belongs to another. In The Idea of a University he views the new discipline of political economy as valuable in its proper place but showing dangerous tendencies towards usurping the domains of ethics and theology.
Oslington further remarks that, in our own century, Harry Blamires in 1963 exhorted us to seek a Christian mind which relativizes the claims of secular science. John Stott in 1983 attempted to establish the content of such a mind in more detail. Leslie Newbig a few years later, in his writings about the nature of a missionary encounter between the Gospels and Western culture, questioned the confinement of the claims of Christian theology to a private world and the trivialization of them as matters of opinion or personal taste.
Adam Smith is, as noted, the mentor of neo-classical economists: they love to be associated with him, claiming legitimacy for right-wing policies by stressing the importance of individual liberty. They have taken no time to understand Smith’s spirituality and how his theology might have influenced his own true values. Are the values of the neo-classicists and those of Smith really the same? They cannot be, given that the neo-liberals ignore Smith’s religious dimension.
It is worth repeating that economics, from the time of Plato through to Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill was as deeply concerned with issues of social justice, ethics and morality as with economic analysis itself However, economics students today are taught that Adam Smith was the ‘father of modern economics’ but not that he was also a moral philosopher. The theological aspects of Adam Smith’s economics have been discussed by Viner, Minowitz and Waterman, amongst others. Within the limitations of my present study, I will attempt to provide a summary only, based mainly on Waterman.
He remarks that, were we to re-read Smith’s ‘great book’, The Wealth of Nations, with proper attention, we could learn from his ‘interesting mind’ a lot more than ‘its owner wished to teach us’. Because the book may be read -- and conceivably was sometimes read -- as a work of ‘natural theology’, rather as Newton’s Principia was read by Cambridge undergraduates for most of the eighteenth century. In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith observes that ‘Commerce . . . ought naturally to be, among nations, as among individuals, a bond of union and friendship.’ But, because of ‘the capricious ambition of kings and ministers and the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufacturers’, it has become ‘the most fertile source of discord and animosity’. Neither the ‘violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind’ nor ‘the mean rapacity . . . of merchants and manufacturers’ can be ‘corrected’ (though the latter ‘may very easily be prevented from disturbing’ the tranquillity of others) because they are evils for which ‘the nature of human affairs can scarce admit of a remedy’.
In this passage, especially in the phrase ‘the nature of human affairs’, Smith comes close to the traditional doctrine of original sin. In describing its putative consequences, his language is more highly colored than usual. He assails the ‘savage injustice’ of European colonization of the New World. ‘All for ourselves and nothing for other people seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.’ Feudal proprietors were driven by ‘the most childish, the meanest and the most sordid of all vanities’. The ‘great lords’ beheld the growing prosperity of the burgesses -- their former serfs -- with a malignant and contemptuous indignation’.
The protective legislation ‘which the clamor of our merchants and manufacturers has extorted . . . may be said to have been all written in blood’. Even relatively minor vices -- profusion, prodigality and extravagance -- draw strong moral condemnation. The ‘prodigal’ perverts capital ‘from its proper destination’. ‘Like him who perverts the revenues of some pious foundation to profane purposes, he pays the wages of idleness with those funds which the frugality of his forefathers had, as it were, consecrated to the maintenance of industry.’ Such language makes sense only if we assume that ‘the original principles in human nature’ are seen to be good, that traces of a ‘common humanity’ remain, that humans have genuine free will, and that intentional deviation by individuals from what is natural is culpable.
Adam Smith shows great respect and affection for his church, praising ‘the equality which the Presbyterian form of church government establishes among the clergy’. For equality among the clergy supplies incentives that reward ‘learning’, ‘irreproachable regularity’ of life, and ‘diligent discharge’ of duty. Consequently, ‘There is scarce perhaps to be found anywhere in Europe a more learned, decent, independent, and respectable set of men, than the greater part of the Presbyterian clergy of Holland, Geneva, Switzerland. and Scotland.’
Smith concludes his remarkable Providentialist account of ‘the natural course of things’ (which by enlisting ‘interest’ can bring good our of evil in a manner impossible through ‘the feeble efforts of human reason’), with his ringing tribute to his national church:
The most opulent church in Christendom is no better at maintaining the uniformity of faith, the fervour of devotion, the spirit of order, regularity and austere morals in the great body of the people, than the poorly endowed Church of Scotland. All the good effects, both civil and religious, of an established Church are produced by it as much as any other.
One may construe The Wealth of Nations as containing, and possibly even as being shaped by, a quasi-Augustinian account of the way in which God responds to human sin by using the consequences of sin both as a punishment and as a remedy. It is evident that Smith’s theology is ‘natural theology’, a knowledge of God arrived at by the study of nature alone, without any reliance on ‘revelation’ as recorded in sacred scripture.
‘Nature’ is almost always viewed theologically in The Wealth of Nations. It has a purpose, and part of that purpose is human welfare. This implies either a transcendent Newtonian God of Nature or an immanent Leibnitzian God in Nature. Smith does not say which but, though his text is capable of either interpretation, it is easier to read it in the second of these ways. Even given the first interpretation, however, Smith’s putative God/Nature is not merely ‘the great machine’ the Deists believed Nature to be. She continues to act in various ways, but always wisely and well, making creative use of human folly and wickedness in ways that bring good out of evil.
Such redemptive activity, we may assume, is necessary only because humans have been endowed by God/Nature with the freedom to choose and, though intended to choose well, have a universal, perhaps primordial, failing that impels them often to choose ill. Natural theology is ecumenical: its truths are available to all who will read the ‘Book of Nature’, whatever their religious tradition. Yet it would be a mistake to imagine that, in eighteenth-century Britain, natural theology would have been regarded as in any way opposed to or inconsistent with Christianity.
Smith’s great exemplar was Newton, and the Newtonian character of The Wealth of Nations has been remarked from the first. Newton published his Principia in 1687 with an Eye upon such Principles as might work with considering Men for the belief of a Deity’. Throughout the eighteenth century, Newton was read by Cambridge men preparing for Holy Orders in the Church of England as part of their theological training. By the time of Malthus they did so with the help of Colin Maclaurin’s popularizing textbook. According to Maclaurin, we learn from Newton that ‘Our views of Nature . . . represent to us . . . that mighty power which prevails throughout, . . . wisdom which we see . . . displayed, . . . the perfect goodness by which they are evidently directed’.
Waterman remarks that much has been made by some authors of the fact that there is no mention in The Wealth of Nations of ‘Jesus’, ‘Christ’, or ‘the Son’. But neither is there any mention of that Person in the Principia, and it would never have occurred to any of Newton’s readers for that reason to describe his work as an ‘atheistic science’. The aim of natural theology is to show by means of a scrupulously positive (‘objective’, ‘secular’, ‘ecumenical’) inquiry that knowledge of God may be had without resort to revelation. It is clear from our knowledge of the theological training of the Christian clergy in eighteenth-century Scotland and England that natural theology formed an important prolegomenon to the more doubtful and controverted mysteries of revealed religion. Smith himself taught natural theology as Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow but, before doing so, publicly assented to the Calvinist Confession of Faith before the Presbytery of Glasgow.
After this brief, but I hope useful, reflection on the theological aspects of Adam Smith’s economics, I shall now attempt to provide a short summary of the various positions taken on the relationship between Christian theology and economics. People of other religious traditions have wrestled with issues similar to those concerning their Christian counterparts when confronting economics and theology. As examples concerns from the Muslim and Jewish traditions will be highlighted.
The literature on the relationship between Christianity and capitalism is, as noted by Gold, vast indeed. Much of it draws on the tradition of writers such as Max Weber, which underlines the ways in which Christianity has overcome the apparent tensions between religion and economic action in order to sustain the capitalist economic system. There has been much criticism of Weber’s analysis, based on his theory of the Protestant work ethic, of the impact of religion on the rise of capitalism. However, because of the influence of his thesis on subsequent research, I shall attempt to summarize it.
Weber was struck by the fact that the Protestant reformation seemed to give rise to a series of motivations which acted as catalysts in the rise of capitalism. Through emphasizing the ‘calling’ to work as a way of serving God, through warning against the pursuit of frivolous leisure-time activities, and through approving the abolition of laws against usury, the Calvinist work ethic facilitated the accumulation of wealth.
By breaking down the ethical disapproval of traditional capitalism and actively encouraging a methodical approach to economic affairs, Weber argued that proponents of the Protestant work ethic had played a critical role in shaping the economic and social history of Western Europe. According to him, religion determined the economic ethics of individuals. By carrying out their commercial activities in a particular way, people of specific faiths earned a ‘premium’ on what they were doing.
One of the most controversial aspects of Weber’s thesis is his emphasis on Protestantism at the expense of Catholicism. As Trevor-Roper and Little have noted, he used the distinction between Calvinism and Catholicism to explain the spread of capitalism in certain geographical regions, but failed to recognize that some of the earliest centers of capitalism were Catholic cities such as Liege, Lille and Turin. Many of the first capitalist families in Europe were Catholics, Jews and freethinkers -- or, in my opinion, the Muslims of Moorish Spain.
This is a good point at which to note what Catholicism has to say on the matter. I have explored the relationship between Catholicism and economics in great detail in Globalization for the Common Good so will only briefly revisit the topic here, then will shed some light on the works of Archbishop William Temple (demonstrating my ecumenism) and briefly summarize the contributions of Judaism and Islam (demonstrating my commitment to interfaith dialogue). I write with an awareness of the ecumenical nature of today’s religious dialogue, and the desire of all people of goodwill to learn how to build a society that is just, free and prosperous.
Catholic social teaching is perhaps the richest modern tradition in the field, built upon a century of papal pronouncements. By the late nineteenth century, momentous changes had been brought about as a result of the Industrial Revolution. in an attempt to bring the insights of transcendent faith to bear on worldly matters, Pope Leo XIII, whose papacy lasted from 1878 to 1903, penned an encyclical letter that became known as the Magna Carta of Catholic social teaching. The revolutionary changes he had witnessed had transformed the social and technological patterns of European life and were the immediate occasion for his Rerum Novarum (Of Revolutionary Change) in May 1891.
Catholic social teaching is dynamic -- always subject to development. In honor of the centenary of Leo XIII’s encyclical, Pope John Paul II declared 1991 a Year of Church Social Teaching and issued a ground-breaking new encyclical, Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year), which represented a dramatic development in the encyclical tradition, promoting a just, fair and free economy.
Encyclicals, papal letters circulated throughout the whole of the Catholic Church, have in more recent years been intended to reach beyond the Church to all people of goodwill. As encyclicals, Rerum Novarum and Centesimus Annus therefore enjoy a privileged position within the hierarchy of official Catholic reaching. The purpose of my brief outline is not to examine the function of Catholic dogmatic teaching but to explore these two instances of Church teaching on social issues.
It is the present pope, John Paul II, who offered a definition of the concept of the social teaching of the Church’ when, in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (Social Concern), published on 30th December, 1987, he stated that it is a ‘doctrinal corpus’ edited by the magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, beginning with Rerum Novarum. In paragraph 44 he explains:
The Church’s social doctrine is not a ‘third way’ between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another: rather, it constitutes a category of its own. Nor is it an ideology, but rather the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and of the Church’s tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching on man and his vocation, a vocation which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behavior. It therefore belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology.
He is following closely the definition given in Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) of ‘the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel’. As a permanent ‘learning process’, the social teaching of the Church should be considered the result of a dialogue between the magisterium of the pope, the bishops (whose views are expressed in general and regional synods and at bishops’ conferences), specialists in social ethics and social sciences, and the people of God. Paul VI, in Octogesimo Adveniens, expressed a methodological option to this ‘learning process’:
In the face of such widely varying situations it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. Such is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the gospel’s unalterable words and to draw principles of the church . . . It is up to these Christian communities, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in communion with the bishops who hold responsibility and in dialogue with other Christian brethren and all men of good will, to discern the options and commitments which are called for in order to bring about the social, political and economic changes seen in many cases to be urgently needed.
If we start our celebration of one hundred years of Catholic social thought with the publication of Rerum Novarum (in May 1891), we can pinpoint stages of development in the social reaching of the Church. The earlier pastoral metaphor of the flock and shepherd changed during the Leonine period (1878-1958) to a view of self and society not limited to the exigencies of life in a sheepfold but seen as part of universal nature, of natural law. This was the period of ‘social doctrine’ according to Leo XIII, Pius XL and Pius XII, all of it natural-law based: the Magisterium of the Pope provided the only legitimate interpretation. The method was deductive, emphasis being placed on the continuing importance of the principle of subsidiarity as enunciated in Quadragesimo Anno (1931).
With John XXIII and Vatican II a turning point was reached: the teaching became more personal, more concrete than in the time of the natural-law approach. An inductive method of see, judge and act was followed in scrutinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospels. More biblical elements entered into the social teaching of the Church. Drawing on the balanced rationalism of Thomism and Rerum Novarum, the Church sought to restore the social order and distributive justice.
Forty years later, the signs of the times were different. The optimism of the late nineteenth century died early in the new century: the First World War was its graveyard. Capitalism faltered and the great depression followed. Fascism and Communism both gained ground. So Quadragesimo Anno was radical: it called for reconstruction, not reform. Its keynote was social justice:
[Thus] the statements of the ecclesiastical magisterium furnish us with a precise description of the extent of social justice as the general norm of the life of the entire social body. It is not to be reduced to particular forms of justice, which have to do with the direct relationships between individuals, nor with those which concern the political activities of governors. It includes these different forms: it concerns the dealings of men with one another, inasmuch as they are related to the whole society and its common good, and also the dealings of rulers with ruled, inasmuch as the ruled receive from society their part of the common good. The concept of the common good is at the center of its definition, and the idea of a social body, of a social universal, really existing by itself, contrary to all nominalist or individualist theory, is implicit in the descriptions which the popes give of social justice.
Although Pius XII was influenced by the fundamental changes in economic theory initiated by Keynes, it was not until Pope John XXIII in 1961 published Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher) that a new methodology and the identification of the problem of ‘development’ emerged, requiring substantial changes in the social teaching of the Church which were expressed in Pacem in Terris (Peace throughout the World) in 1963.
The Second Vatican Council, with its Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), moved the Church away from a ‘liberal agenda’ towards third-world concerns. Its underlying anthropology of social personalism radicalized property ethics.
Paul VI continued these themes, making the transition from ‘development’ to ‘liberation.’ His encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967) shows the influence of new theories of liberation and sharply criticizes capitalism. Paragraph 31 spells out the problem of the justification for revolution:
We know, however, that a revolutionary uprising -- save where there is manifest, longstanding tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country -- produces new injustices, throws more elements out of balance and brings on new disasters. A real evil should nor be fought against at the cost of greater misery.
It hardly justifies capitalism as we know and experience it. Father Philip Land, SJ, lists nine axioms, drawn from the teachings, for judging any economy:
1 The economy is for people;
2 The economy is for being, not having;
3 The economic system ought to be needs-based;
4 The economy is an act of stewardship;
5 The economy must be a participatory society;
6 There must be fair sharing;
7 The system must permit self reliance;
8 The economy must be ecologically sustainable;
9 The economy must be productive.
As John Coleman has noted, Catholic social teaching, as far as it relates to the economy, adheres to the following seven principles:
1 The life and dignity of the human person;
2 The call to family, community and participation;
3 Right and responsibility;
4 The option for the poor and vulnerable
5 The dignity of work and the rights of workers;
7 Care for God’s creation.
I will now turn my attention to providing a brief summary of the Anglican position on economic issues. In the earlier part of the twentieth century the link between Church and State in England meant that there was a clear place for the social teachings and activities of the Church. The possibility of social transformation was seen to depend on finding God in each individual through the communal rituals of worship and service. A wide range of views about economics has been expressed by contemporary Anglicans.
One of the most influential was William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944. He was a philosopher of religion, an interpreter of Christianity for the general public, who argued from Christian principles and attempted to find solutions to contemporary socioeconomic problems He greatly influenced the Christian Church through his initiatives in interdenominational and international Church affairs. A man of world stature, Temple was a major influence on the formation of the British Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. His theology has been described as a Hegelian idealism, one that combines the interests of Church and State, empowering the Church to make pronouncements on social problems and economic policies.
His many published works include the philosophical essay ‘Mens Creatrix’ (‘The Creative Mind’, 1917) and the Gifford Lectures, Nature, Man and God (1934), Christianity and Social Order (1942) and The Church Looks Forward (1944). His strong sense of social responsibility led him to join the Labor Party (1918-25), and he was the first President of the Workers’ Educational Association (1908-24) and was also involved with the Student Christian Movement.
He was Chairman of an international interdenominational Conference on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship in L924. He was an Anglican delegate to the ecumenical Faith and Order Conference in L927, which sought the reunion of the Christian churches, and its chairman in 1937. Concerned with the political responsibilities of being a Christian, he helped organize the Malvern Conference on Church-State relations (1940-41) and used his influence in Parliament to support the Education Act of 1944. As Archbishop of Canterbury, he helped draft a statement to guide the settlement of World War II.
All of his writings reflected his interest in socio-economic issues, but particularly his book Christianity and the Social Order. Here he remarks that:
The claim of the Christian Church to make its voice heard in matters of politics and economics is very widely resented, even by those who are Christian in personal belief and in devotional practice. It is commonly assumed that Religion is one department t)f life, like Art or Science, and that it is playing the part of a busybody when it lays down principles for the guidance of other departments... This rapid survey of history shows that the claim of the Church to-day to be heard in relation to political and economic problems is no new usurpation, but a reassertion of a right once universally admitted and widely regarded. . . The approach to the problem in our own time is to be made along four distinct lines: (I) the claims of sympathy for those who suffer; (2) the educational influence of the social and economic system; (3) the challenge offered to our existing system in the name of justice; (4) the duty of conformity to the ‘Natural Order’ in which is to be found the purpose of God. . .
How should the Church interfere? . . . Nine-tenths of the work of the Church in the world is done by Christian people fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which in themselves are not part of the official system of the Church at all.
. . . It is of crucial importance that the Church acting corporately should not commit itself to any particular policy . . . This refusal to adopt a particular policy is partly a matter of prudence . . . still more is it a matter of justice, for even though a large majority of Christians hold a particular view, the dissentient minority may well be equally loyal re. Christ and equally entitled to be recognized as loyal members of His Church . . . The Church is committed to the everlasting Gospel and to the Creeds which formulate it; it must never commit itself to an ephemeral program of detailed action. But this repudiation of direct political action does not exhaust its political responsibility. It must explicitly call upon its members to exercise their citizenship in a Christian spirit... So we answer the question ‘How should the Church interfere?’ by saying: In three ways -- (1) its members must fulfil their moral responsibilities and functions in a Christian spirit; (2) its members must exercise their purely civic rights in a Christian spirit; (3) it must itself supply them with a systematic statement of principles to aid them in doing these two things, and this will carry with it a denunciation of customs or institutions in contemporary life and practice which offend against those principles. . .
The Church must announce Christian principles and point out where the existing social order at any time is in conflict with them. It must then pass on to Christian citizens, acting in their civic capacity, the task of re-shaping the existing order in closer conformity to the principles. . . It is sometimes supposed that what the Church has to do is to sketch a perfect social order and urge men to establish it. But it is very difficult to know what a ‘perfect social order’ means, Is it the order that would work best if we were all perfect? Or is it the order that would work best in a world of men and women such as we actually are?
If it is the former, it certainly ought not to be established; we should wreck it in a fortnight. If it is the latter there is no reason for expecting the Church to know what it is. . . . But this task of drawing all men to Himself the divine purpose to ‘sum up all things in Christ’, will not be effected till the end of history; and the fellowship of love which it is the divine plan to establish cannot come into being in its completeness within history at all, for it must be more than a fellowship of contemporaries.
The Kingdom of God is a reality here and now, but can be perfect only in the eternal order. . . The primary principle of Christian Ethics and Christian Politics must be respect for every person simply as a person. . . The person is primary, not the society; the State exists for the citizen, not the citizen for the State... freedom is the goal of politics. . . Freedom, Fellowship, Service -- these are the three principles of a Christian social order, derived from the more fundamental Christian postulates that Man is a child of God and is destined for a life of eternal fellowship with Him. . . Love . . . finds its primary expression through Justice -- which in the field of industrial disputes means in practice that each side should state its own case as strongly as possibly it can before the most impartial tribunal available . . .
These two great principles, then -- love and Justice -- must be rather regulative of our application of other principles than taken as immediate guides to social policy . . . It can all be summed up in a phrase: the aim of a Christian social order is the fullest possible development of individual personality in the widest and deepest possible fellowship.
I turn now to the Jewish and Islamic traditions and their relationship with economics. The Torah and the Talmud both present a vision of a just society and a just economy. The pages of the Torah resonate with a profound concern for the socially and economically vulnerable in society -- the poor, day laborers, orphans and widows, resident aliens, and even the Levites who, unlike members of other tribes, were assigned no parcels of land in Israel. Much of the contemporary appeal of Judaism derives from this high-minded ethical vision.
The words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in an interview given to Religion & Liberty ring true:
In Judaism, wealth is seen as both a blessing and as a responsibility. The wealthy are expected to share their blessings with others and to be personal role models of social and communal responsibility: richesse oblige. To a considerable extent, that is what happened in most Jewish communities at most times, and it is what saved Jews from the decadence associated with affluence. In Judaism, there is a difference between ownership and possession. What we have, we do not own; rather, we hold it as God’s trustees. One of the conditions of that trust is that we share what we possess with those in need. Wealth creation goes hand in hand with the alleviation of poverty -- just as, in biblical times, landowners were expected to share part of their harvest with the poor. Jewish teaching is best summarized in the famous aphorism of Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?’ Judaism is personal responsibility allied with social responsibility.
On stewardship, Dr Sacks remarks that:
Stewardship in Judaism means that we are guardians of the world for the sake of future generations. We must not do irreparable environmental damage. We must create civic amenities. We must ensure that every child has the best possible education. We must provide our own children with the vocational training to become self-sufficient, and so on. An ancient rabbinic tradition teaches that, at the dawn of human history, God said to humankind, ‘See the beauty of the universe which I have created -- and all that I created, I made for you. Be careful, therefore, that you do not harm what I have made, for if you do, there will be no one left to restore what you have destroyed.
In the sphere of economics, as Lawrence Bush and Jeffrey Dekro have commented, this assumption is underlined by the emphasis in Judaism on the stewardship rather than the ownership of wealth. ‘The Divine origin of wealth,’ writes Meir Tamari, former chief economist in the Office of the Governor of the Bank of Israel, ‘is the central principle of Jewish economic philosophy. Since Judaism is a community-oriented rather than an individual-oriented religion, this means that the group at all levels . . . is thereby made a partner in each individual’s wealth.’
According to Bush and Dekro, reinforcing this sense of stewardship are the Jewish cycles of work/acquisition and rest/restoration -- the weekly sabbath, the sabbatical year and the half-century Jubilee Release that are detailed in Leviticus 25:1-13. Stewardship is also the principle underlying the Jewish tradition of tzedakah or obligatory alms-giving, which acknowledges charity in its highest forms to be a process of social investment that benefits the donor, the recipient and the whole community. The Jewish holiday, prayer and study cycles likewise contain sources for the development of a Torah of Money:
• The Sh’ma, the best-known prayer of the Jewish liturgy, which asserts the unity of God and the cosmic significance of our deeds, can be read as a treatise on communally aware, environmentally responsible economics.
• The concepts of beracha and kedusha that demand that, before eating and performing other deeds, we must consciously affirm a sense of being blessed (‘Whoever enjoys the goods of this world without reciting a blessing is like a thief,’ declares the Talmud), offer valuable guidance about limiting wasteful consumption.
• The concept of s’yag l’Torah, making ‘a fence for the Torah’ -- that is, establishing practices that keep us from violating Torah teachings even unwittingly or under duress -- can be taken as a basis for banning nuclear weapons, the dangers of which threaten the very fabric of creation.
Jonathan Sacks has observed:
A sustainable market economy depends on certain values that are not created by the market -- among them, trust, integrity, honesty to customers, loyalty to employees, industry, reliability, and so on. Other values, no less important in the long run, are strong families, a passion for education, and a sense of responsibility to the community. The market encourages competition, but this needs to be balanced by habits of cooperation. As many writers have pointed our, in itself, the market tends to erode those values necessary to its own survival. The market is part, but not the whole, of a free society.
I now turn to the Islamic tradition. Islam offers a complete way of life; it provides rules and guidelines that cover every aspect of society. Naturally, a successful economic system is a vital part of a healthy society: the consumption of goods and services, and the facilitation of this by a common medium of exchange, is essential if people are to realize their material and other goals in life.
Islam sets standards, based on justice and practicality, for the establishment of such an economic system. The aim is to prevent the enmity that often divides different socioeconomic strata. While money is considered to be one of the most important elements in society, the accumulation of which concerns almost everyone who participates in transactions with others, its position is secondary to the real purpose of human existence, the worship of Allah.
Responding to the question, ‘What is the main message of Islamic Economics to humanity?’ Dr M. Umer Chapra, a former professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin, Kentucky and Lexington, and currently a senior advisor at the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia, remarked:
The main message is that the humanitarian goal of achieving the well-being of all members of the human family cannot be attained by concentrating primarily on the material constituents of well-being and making maximization of wealth the main objective of Economics. It is also necessary to raise the spiritual content of well-being and reduce all the symptoms of anomie, like family disintegration, conflict and tensions, crime, alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness, all indicating lack of inner happiness and contentment in the life of individuals. The marker system as well as central planning have both failed to lead mankind to such an overall well-being. It is therefore, necessary to lay down the contours of a new system which could help optimize human well-being. This is exactly what Islamic Economics is trying to do.
In a long article on Islamic economy, Ayatullah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri observes:
When we study the Islamic economy as a way which Islam prescribes for individual and social behavior in the economic field and examine Islam’s rules in this area, we can conclude that its most important attribute is social justice. In this respect, the Islamic economy resembles all other systems that claim to be serving the human being and realizing his social aspirations, but it differs from them in the details of its conception of social justice.
For justice to emerge, three requirements must be met. Firstly, there must be an understanding of the nature of both private and social property. Private property satisfies man’s natural desire to possess the results of his efforts and benefit from his business. Public property guarantees that social action enjoys a social product which may be used to satisfy certain needs and make good shortages.
Secondly, there must be a belief in individual economic freedom as a general, ongoing principle which stems from the nature of ownership, but also an acknowledgement of the limits at which this freedom must end. Thus the interests of the individual will be protected (for example a product may be banned because of the physical or moral damage it could do to someone).
Thirdly, the principle of mutual responsibility must be upheld. Islam guarantees a subsistence level for every individual in Islamic society -- that is the provision of his natural needs. Any government is obliged to provide this basic minimum for all its citizens; not a single needy person must be found in Islamic society. The State must of course be economically capable of doing this.
• It must oblige individuals to take responsibility and accept their duty to provide for the necessary needs of others. One of the responsibilities of government is in fact to compel its citizens to fulfil their obligations, even those which are individual.
• The legal right of waliy al-amr (the head of government) to determine the limits of the public domain (saddu mantaqat al-mubahat) through legislation gives the government the necessary power.
• Public property and anfal (property with no particular owner) designated public property by the government are used to achieve this goal.
• The necessary funds must come from fines and private mawqufat (endowments) taken into public ownership, as when the owners of land or goods die without heirs.
• The aim of Islamic legislation is, as Shahid al-Sadr put it, to strengthen the social structure for the realization of mutual responsibility.
Fourthly, the principle of social balance must be upheld and the class system repudiated in Islamic society. Our third point was the need for a required minimum subsistence provision for all individuals. As far as the maximum is concerned, the following are determining factors:
• The prohibition of tabdhir and israf [wasting and squandering] in all areas of life.
• The prohibition of actions leading to the misuse of particular properties, and of lahw [amusement] and mujun [impudence].
• The rejection of social and economic privileges which discriminate between different groups of people, which prevents the emergence of a class system.
If we scrutinize these points and relate them to human nature and conscience we will find that they contain principles in keeping with natural law. The two extremist social systems, capitalism and socialism, need to moderate their positions after colliding with opposing natural factors.
The natural basis for Islamic views is emphasized by authoritative texts or nusus. There are nusus, for example, that stress the inherent character of private and public property. The Exalted says: ‘And the man shall gain nothing but what he strives for.’ (53:39) -- which we can interpret as including worldly possessions. Amir al-Mu’minin says:
‘This property is indeed neither mine nor yours but it is a collective property of the Muslims . . . what is earned by their hands does not belong to any mouths other than, theirs.’ (Nahj al-Balaghah, sermon 232.)
Some nusus emphasize natural economic freedom. The clearest of these is the rule upon which all fuqaha’ (Islamic scholars) rely: people are in control of their property. Naturally there are limits to this freedom, but the restrictions are only for the benefit of individuals and society.
There are nusus that emphasize the need for mutual responsibility and co-operation: neglect of this principle is a rejection of din (the faith). The Exalted says: ‘Have you seen the person who rejects the religion? He is the one who treats the orphan with harshness, and does not urge (others) to feed the poor. (107:1-3)
Finally, there are nusus that stress the necessity for balance in a society by emphasizing the prohibition of israf (squandering) and the renunciation of poverty, thus providing subsistence for every individual. The Imam says, speaking of the duties of the waliy al-amr (leader) towards the needy subject: ‘He keeps giving him from zakah till he makes him needless.’
We can see that, in harmony with other religions, Islam teaches social justice. Allah will provide for every person whom He has brought into life. The competition for natural resources that is presumed to exist among the nations of the world is an illusion. While the earth has sufficient bounty to satisfy the needs of mankind, the challenge for us lies in discovering, extracting, processing and distributing these resources to all who need them.
Finally, I would like to draw the attention of the reader to an important but sadly neglected point. Many notable Western economists have in the past been inspired by Islamic scholarship but this has not always been acknowledged. One of the most notable Muslim scholars was Ibn-Khaldun, who gave us a multi-disciplinary, dynamic model of the economy, very different from the neo-classical model which relies primarily on economic variables.
Who was Ibn-Khaldun? His real name was Abd al-Rahman Ibn Mohammad, but he took the name of a remote ancestor. His parents, Yemenite Arabs, settled in Spain but, after the fall of Seville, migrated to Tunisia where he was born in 1332 CE. He received his early education there and, still in his teens, entered the service of the Egyptian ruler Sultan Barquq.
Ibn-Khaldun’s chief contribution lies in the philosophy of history and sociology. He sought to write a world history preambled by a first volume analyzing historical events. This volume, commonly known as Muqaddimah or Prolegomena, was based on Ibn-Khaldun’s unique approach and original contribution and is considered a masterpiece in its field. The chief aim of the monumental work was to identify psychological, economic, environmental and social factors that contribute to the progress of human civilization and the currents of history.
He analyzed the dynamics of group relationships and showed how al-’ Asabiyya (group-feelings) give rise to a new civilization and political power which, later on, becomes diffused into a more general civilization which nurtures fresh new ‘Asabiyya. He identified an almost rhythmic repetition of rise and fall in human civilizations, and analyzed the factors contributing to it.
Unlike most of the earlier writers who interpreted history largely in a political context, he emphasized the environmental, sociological, psychological and economic factors which governed events. This revolutionized the science of history and laid the foundation for umraniyat (sociology).
Ibn-Khaldun’s influence on history, sociology, political science and education is huge. His books have been translated into many languages, in both East and West, and continue to influence the development of these sciences. Dr Ibrahim Oweiss, professor of economics at Georgetown University, calls him the true ‘father of economics’:
His significant contributions to economics however should place him in the history of economic thought as a major forerunner, if not the ‘father,’ of economics, a title which has been given to Adam Smith, whose great works were published some three hundred and seventy years after Ibn-Khaldun’s death. Not only did Ibn-Khaldun plant the germinating seeds of classical economics, whether in production, supply, or cost, but he also pioneered in consumption, demand, and utility, the cornerstones of modern economic theory.
Oweiss notes that Ibn-Khaldun placed economics within a framework of laws based on religious and moral perceptions for the good of all humanity. All economic activities were to be undertaken in accordance with such laws.
The relationship between moral and religious principles on the one hand and good government on the other is explained in his discussion of the famous letter that Tahir Ibn al-Husayn (775-822) wrote to his son ‘Abdallah, who, with his descendants, ruled Khurasan until 872. From the rudimentary thoughts of Tahir he developed a theory of taxation which has influenced modern economic thought, even economic policies in the United States.
Oweiss observes that Ibn-Khaldun had given substance and depth to earlier elemental economic ideas and that centuries later these same ideas were developed by the Mercantilists, the commercial capitalists of the seventeenth century, and others, including Sir William Petty (1623-87), Adam Smith (1723-90), David Ricardo (1772-1823), Thomas R. Malthus (1766-1834), Karl Marx (1818-83) and John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), and also by contemporary economic theorists.
In conclusion Oweiss remarks:
Even if Adam Smith was not directly exposed to Ibn-Khaldun’s economic thoughts, the fact remains that they were the original seeds of classical economics and even modern economic theory. Ibn-Khaldun had not only been well established as the father of the field of sociology, but he had also been well recognized in the field of history, as the following passage from Arnold Toynbee indicates:
In his chosen field of intellectual activity [Ibn-Khaldun] appears to have been inspired by no predecessors . . . and yet, in the Prolegomena . . . to his Universal History he has conceived and formulated a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has yet been created by any mind in any time or place.
Through his great sense and knowledge of history, and his meticulous observation of men, times and places, Ibn-Khaldun produced an original system of economic thought. His was the first wide-ranging and organized contribution to the subject of economics. He touched on many aspects: value and its relationship to labor; capital accumulation and its effect on the rise and fall of dynasties; the dynamics of demand, supply, prices and profits; money and the role of governments; and expounded his remarkable theory of taxation. His contributions should indeed make Ibn-Khaldun the ‘father of economics’.
I hope that this brief summary of Islamic economics, and in particular Ibn-Khaldun, will help to promote the idea of interfaith dialogue, of mutual respect and understanding for other religions. For too long now since 9/11, the promoters of fear of a clash of civilizations have monopolized our thinking in their attempt to degrade, dishonor and dehumanize the Muslim people in general and the Islamic culture and heritage in particular.