“You have never encountered a mere mortal.” Men are either “immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” Even at the beginning of an Acton conference its always popular to quote C.S. Lewis. But its more than popular – the quote is true and it was this truth of the basic, intrinsic value of the human person with which Father Sirico opened a conference ranging in topic from entrepreneur work to globalization, from social justice to Christian love, from anthropology to economics.
If those last two seem odd bedfellows, you’re not alone. We tend to think of economics as the manipulation of numbers, the mathematics of the market place. I remember being horrified that economics was a core class in our heavily humanitarian curriculum in college. “I don’t care about numbers to being with,” I whined to myself, “why should I care about vast amounts of numbers or other people’s cash?”
But at Acton Institute economics is something more. “Economics is the study of the way human beings interact in the market place,” says Father Sirico. Economics and anthropology, it seems, are joined at the hip. Or rather, anthropology forms the foundation and economics builds itself on top.
And with this new union, the identification of the human person in anthropology becomes terribly significant. Is the human being primarily a consumer, stripping the natural world of its treasures with no thought of replacing them? Or is the human being made in the image of God, reflecting the divine capacity to reason, to relate and to create as an individual in community? Is he merely the stuff of matter, mechanically functioning and grasping in order to survive? Or does he possess the God-like quality of transcendence in a soul that yearns for meaning? “What is man,” the Psalmist asked, “that you are mindful of him?’
The answer to the question determines the shape of the market place. And what’s so important about the market place? It’s the sphere in which immortal horrors or everlasting splendors spend most of their time; in it they have the ability to reflect the divine image or toil away mechanically like so many robots.