(This is an adaptation of a speech given at the Institute of Economic Affairs – For more information about the event please click here)
Christianity, politics the poor and the planet – what should the Christian attitude and response to these issues be?
I want to reflect on two things; the Christian responsibility for the environment and the role of the market in proving a mechanism for an appropriate response.
First, then, an appropriate Christian framework for dealing with environmental issues. It is an area where there is frequent muddled thinking. The Papal encyclical Laudato Si exemplifies both the basic principles and the muddle.
The doctrine of creation is paramount. It is the doctrine of creation which endows the human person with dignity. However, this same doctrine, drawn from Genesis 1 and 2, also establishes the principle of wealth creation. Man was placed in the Garden of Eden, we are told, to both work it (with the raw materials provided) – the principle of wealth creation, and to care for it – the principle of stewardship. To understand a Christian response to the environment you need both of those aspects, not just one.
Now, at the risk of getting too theological; since we live between the fall (hence not a perfect world) and the ultimate end (when all will be restored) there are trade-offs; we are to live, to work, to produce, to educate, to enjoy, to worship and we are to care, steward, oversee and act responsibly. We are not called to asceticism; Lydia is an example of a wealthy Christian businesswoman in the Bible; we are called to innovation, creativity and enterprise; and to steward and care for the world created by God.
The muddled thinking comes about because the language of ‘common good’ sometimes subverts the idea of ‘mutual flourishing.’ The latter bakes the cake; the former reflects upon its distribution. This also leads to the unhelpful presumption that government or global authorities provide the solution to every problem and there is frequently a misunderstanding of the market, which fails to give proper perspective to the role of business and enterprise
Second, then, how can the market help in the environmental debates? Four points:
The market is best at pricing and allocation. Certainly the market needs moral boundaries and moral people as participants and players. However, the market mechanism can be harnessed in support of the environment in ways that governments cannot achieve; governments invariably misallocate resources and hence excessive expectations of government are likely to harm rather than assist the environment.
Any Christian viewpoint that fails to give proper weight to wealth creation, to enterprise and to the market is, in my view, misrepresenting God.
Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.