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Economics and religion from a youthful perspective


Borgman, D. (1990). Economics and religion from a youthful perspective. S. Hamilton: MA: Center for Youth Studies.


The word "economics" comes from a Greek word meaning the science of household management, and it is usually defined as "the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities." (Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary) Or, one can describe economics as dealing with the management of scarce resources, division of labor, the production of goods, and the distribution of material rewards among the people of a society, community, or business.

Here, we are interested in the relationship of economics and religion. How have religion and economics interacted in early tribal societies, in traditional religious societies, and finally in modern secular societies?

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Max Weber directed attention to the interaction of religion and economics. His thesis was that the Protestant Reformation had prepared the way psychosociologically for the rise of capitalism. He spoke of the "Protestant Work Ethic" in particular, which served as a psychological motivator for commercial entrepreneurs.

The work of Weber and those who followed him should make students, pastors and theologians realize that religion is not only a personal matter. Religion plays an important role in society. In this century, to be sure, religion has been pushed out of secular life-and often has abdicated its role as a determinant of social justice.

Today's youth indicate that economic matters are of primary concern to them. In the main, they are interested in their own financial futures. But they are also disturbed by the unfairness of economic life and are ready to discuss economic justice.

Human dignity demands the ability of individuals and families to work in order to provide their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, and education. Contemporary societies look for a balance between the incentives of a market economy and the security of public welfare.

Great religious figures have often challenged economic thinking in radical ways. Jesus taught his followers not to be anxious about material things, to give their surplus goods-even their second coat-to the poor, and to put spiritual priorities above wealth. The Christian Church must be clear about its theology of work and economics; it has a prophetic mandate to proclaim the biblical principles of an economy that preserves the dignity of all. The Church should also be clear about the fact that all Christians have callings-whether in ministry, education, government, or business. It must develop the clear principles for an ethic of the marketplace. Pastors and Christian leaders should be a constant encouragement to those who struggle with right and wrong under the pressures of the profit motive.


    • Can religion or Christian theology be judged by its ability to foster economic and social justice?
    • Can religion or Christian preaching judge the justice of socioeconomic development?
    • Can religion and economics, faith and business, be kept separate?



    • Youth and their leaders are continually expected to deal with these questions and issues in today's world.
    • It is possible to treat youth in such a way that their deeper questions are never expressed. Church and leaders should encourage youthful questions, listen to their opinions, and lead them in constructive thought and action.
    • Biblical and theological study, as well as knowledge of the behavioral sciences, are needed to serve justice to questions of youth and society.

Dean Borgman cCYS