Religion & Liberty Online

Pahman to First Things: Markets are not inherently destructive to the soul

In “Origami of the Soul,” published recently by First Things, Timothy Reichert and Francis X. Maier argued that “hierarchical institutions” are needed to spiritually form the individual and that markets not only cannot form the individual, but also damage the institutions that would seek to. Institutions like marriage, the church, the military, take part in “folding” our souls into maturity, resulting in “varied, complex, and ultimately complementary shapes.”

Markets, they argue, are impersonal and the increasing temptation of greater wealth draws people away from these institutions.  For example, they say, “It is harder and harder for mothers to specialize in folding their children’s souls when the market value of their time in lost wages rises higher and higher. It is harder and harder for fathers to restrain their work activity when the returns on their labor rise apace.” Unfortunately, there are some holes in their arguments.  The same economic growth that might tempt one mother from her children is the same economic growth that might allow another mother to stay home.

Dylan Pahman, managing editor the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets and Morality, wrote another article responding to Reichert and Maier, and addressing some of the holes.  The mistake, Pahman argues, lies in their “disappointingly shallow grasp of the Christian tradition of spiritual formation.”  Authority, which Reichert and Maier “consider essential to spiritual formation,” Pahman argues “is only conditionally good at best.”

Pahman explores the rich tradition of independent spiritual formation in his article for The Public Discourse, “Happiness, Freedom, and Spiritual Formation: A Response to Reichert and Maier.”

Reichert and Maier have already published a response, which can be found here.

(Photo: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)