Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley recently presented a Praxis Circle webinar titled, “People and Government: A Christian Perspective in the Modern World.” While it would have been easy to immediately start sharing her views about policies and political arrangements, she noted that these conversations are only fruitful if they begin with an understanding of God’s original created order.
In her provocative opening statement, Dr. Bradley challenged participants to consider why people were originally created by God. She asked this question because she believes that individuals can start to make inferences about how to unleash human potential and reduce the harm resulting from the sin of mankind only when they have an accurate view of human anthropology. In turn, this will lend itself to productive discussions on economics and, eventually, governance.
To gain an accurate view of the subject, Dr. Bradley encouraged people to refer to the Word, specifically, Genesis.
Human Anthropology: Why Are We Here?
In Genesis, God’s account of creation is explained in detail. Men and women were created in God’s image and given a specific mandate to use their creative abilities to cultivate, fill, and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). However, they also fell into sin by breaking God’s commandments (Gen. 3:1-17). As a result, the way men and women go about fulfilling that mandate will be broken and imperfect. However, even in that imperfection, their created purpose remains the same.
Dr. Bradley highlighted these important truths in Genesis and shared that people were made to work and create in a way that brings about the glory of God and the flourishing, or shalom, of other people. Shalom is typically associated with peace, but true shalom goes deeper than the absence of conflict. According to Dr. Bradley, it includes health, wholeness, strength, fertility, and longevity.
While shalom has not been the reality throughout most of human history, Dr. Bradley believes that it is on the rise in most places around the world, especially where strategic economic and governing principles are in place.
Economics: Shalom in a World of Scarcity
Dr. Bradley continued, saying that once people understand how the world has been broken by sin and that they have been impacted by it, they will realize that human beings have limitations. Men and women won’t live forever in this world; they will eventually die, and thus will only have only a small amount of time to live and work.
Additionally, she stated that people have scarce resources while on Earth and that there isn’t enough of what they often need (or if there is, it’s often expensive). The way they choose to respond to these realities often defines their views on economics.
Further, once people recognize that human beings respond to incentives, then they are going to be more likely to want to arrange ones that encourage positive outcomes for the most people possible. She discussed how individuals can either foster productive and cooperative relationships among their neighbors, or they can create incentives that lead to violence and poverty. The choice is up to them.
Dr. Bradley cited economists F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, who brought back the old term catallaxy. This is the idea that individuals can cultivate cooperation and friendship between strangers or, even, enemies. Dr. Bradley’s theory is that when people find cooperative ways to increase one another’s shalom through mutually beneficial trade, they are much less likely to be at odds. The same is true for nations, which suggests that free and open trade reduces conflict and promotes international peace.
Government: Promoting the True Public Good
Dr. Bradley asserted that the societies people live in are not exclusively, or even primarily, shaped by governments. Instead, they are a combination of the cultures and ideas that capture their collective values and esteem, the non-governmental institutions that exist in their communities, and the laws and formal institutions that provide critical protection.
Her belief is that a proper role for government is to remain within its sphere, protecting the core societal freedoms and institutions that promote and sustain flourishing. These freedoms are the freedoms of commerce and of conscience as well as a liberal (free) political economy. In other words, as Professor Jim Otteson said, people should have a right to say, “no thank you.”
Dr. Bradley indicated that when exercising these freedoms, private individuals have been solving social problems for centuries and longer. They continuously create civil society institutions, like nonprofit organizations, which address poverty and care for fellow human beings.
Freedom: An Environment that Brings Shalom
Overall, Dr. Bradley outlined a clear case, supported by Genesis and other Scripture, that describes a specific purpose for human beings and the created order they have been called to steward.
She poignantly shared that the creative order thrives best within the context of a limited government that promotes and protects private property rights and the ability of individual people. It is not out of benevolence but a self-interested desire for people to provide mutual benefit, to create, trade, and cooperate.
This limited role for government has meant the difference between the United States and Venezuela, and between North and South Korea.
Dr. Bradley concluded by saying that people don’t discuss political economy because it is academically interesting. They discuss it because it makes the difference in infant mortality rates, life expectancies, fertility rates, and any other factor that determines the quality of life for real people.
Her central thesis went back to God. She shared that for individuals who believe that God created everyone out of love and desired them to reflect and glorify his nature, they should be concerned with anything that can promote the order and flourishing he intends for them. In other words, political economy is a means through which all people can fulfill their purpose and love their neighbors.
Dr. Bradley certainly left her listeners with a lot of excellent considerations.
Editor’s Note: Watch the recording of the Praxis Circle webinar below.