The Remarkable Connections Between Catholicism and Charles Koch’s New Book
The Napa Institute is a long-time partner of Stand Together, a philanthropic community founded by business leader Charles Koch. With Stand Together CEO Brian Hooks, Charles has written a new book: Believe In People: Bottom-Up Solutions For A Top-Down World. While the book is not written by Catholics or representative of Catholic teaching in its entirety, it is still something that faithful Catholics may find enjoyable and useful as we strive to fulfill our vocations.
Charles and Brian wrote Believe In People for an audience of “Social Entrepreneurs,” which includes people of all beliefs and backgrounds who want to help overcome the many challenges facing America. This includes Catholics, who are called by Christ to promote peace, justice, and human flourishing. Pope Francis has called on Catholics to work with people whose views differ from our own, saying “we should be frightened if we are not doing the work of fraternity, of walking together in life.”
It is in that spirit that the Napa Institute is drawing attention to valuable and moral lessons of Believe In People. Tim Busch, the founder of the Napa Institute, has previously written about the connections between Catholicism and Charles Koch’s business framework, Market-Based Management®. Believe In People covers a much broader range of topics, including community, education, business, and government policy. While Catholic teaching is much more complex and richer than the contents of the book, there are still many areas of overlap, especially as regards Catholic Social Teaching.
This pamphlet will explore that overlap. The Napa Institute encourages faithful Catholics to read the book with a receptive but discerning eye, the better to discover its usefulness and apply it to our own work as followers of Christ.
About Charles Koch
Charles Koch is not a Catholic. He has devoted his life to discovering principles that enable people to live well together and create a society in which everyone can flourish, especially the least fortunate. His search for these principles has led him to read the Great Books and works by people from all disciplines and walks of life, from free-market thinkers to communists, from religious believers to radical atheists. He has encountered and strived to understand many Catholic works.
In a 2020 interview with Tim Busch, Charles explained how Christianity has shaped his own worldview. He reflected on his appreciation for many Christian principles, including the concept of the common good, subsidiarity (discussed later in this pamphlet), and the dignity of the human person. It was clear that Charles holds many Catholic teachings – and many faithful Catholics – in high regard.
Charles has combined the concepts he learned from Christianity with other concepts he gleaned from economics, philosophy, psychology, and other fields. While the resulting worldview is not a Catholic one, it nonetheless has many Catholic elements, though they should be carefully distinguished from others. Faithful Catholics will find much to agree with in the pages of Believe In People.
The Power Of Co-Creation
As Catholics, we are called to “co-create” with God – to use the talents He gave us to make the world a better place for all. By applying ourselves through the dignity of work, we draw closer to God and fulfill His purposes on Earth. We are able to co-create because we are made in the “image and likeness” of God. He fully intends for us to apply ourselves to the fullest extent, for His glory and humanity’s good.
Part of co-creation involves empowering others to use their God-given talents. Each of our gifts can help others unlock their own and enable them to co-create, as well. When we use our talents to co-create, we discover true joy. When do not use our talents in this way, or when we are blocked from doing so by the policies and programs of others (no matter how well-intended), we miss out on the joy and fulfillment that God wants for each of us.
This fundamental Catholic concept is closely linked to the message of Believe In People. At the core of the book is the recognition that every person has a gift. Moreover, every person can use that gift to improve the lives of others, improving their life in the process. Where the Catholic Church uses the phrase “co-create,” Charles Koch uses “bottom-up,” meaning the role that each of us can play in transforming the world for the better. From the Catholic perspective, humanity is wired to work from the bottom-up.
Catholicism envisions a society that reflects God’s love, achieved through the actions of faithful and committed believers. Similarly, Believe In People envisions a future that is “more just, inclusive, prosperous, and peaceful society than any yet seen,” driven by the contributions of everyday people who use their gifts and empower others to do the same.
Co-creation is the means by which we accomplish this noble goal. As Catholics use our God-given talents to serve others, we enable them to lead better and more fulfilling lives, and we do the same for ourselves. We serve others in this way because it is morally right – because we are called to do so. And in doing so, we not only conform ourselves to Christ, we bring society closer to Him as well.
Catholic Social Teaching
The Catholic Church has spent 2,000 years applying the teachings of Christ to build a better and more just society. The development of Catholic Social Teaching over the past 150 years has helped both the clergy and laity fulfill this mission in a rapidly changing world. In short, Catholic Social Teaching guides our efforts to improve the world.
Catholic Social Teaching is not contained in any one source. While it springs from both Scripture and tradition, it has been explained and expounded by many Popes and theologians in the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries.
Catholic Social Teaching is too full and rich to discuss in its entirety here. Fortunately, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has helpfully laid out seven key themes of Catholic Social Teaching. Each one finds some degree of expression in Believe In People, as the following section explores.
Life And Dignity Of The Human Person
The Catholic Church holds up the dignity of the human person at all times. As the Catechism teaches, “the dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude. It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment.” In these words, we see the truth that every human being has innate worth; that every life is special; and that every person deserves the chance to develop themselves and find fulfillment.
To see this concept play out in Believe In People, look no further than the title. The book beautifully expresses the idea that there’s a someone in everyone – that each person has something to offer and contribute. It even says that “the most important contributions often come from those who are overlooked or dismissed.” In these words, we hear echoes of the dignity of the human person – the truth that everyone has worth, and everyone is worthy of empowerment.
Call To Family, Community, And Participation
The USCCB reminds us that “the person is not only sacred but social.” The proper organization of our society, starting with the building block of the family, is key to people’s growth and goodness. As such, all Catholics are called to participate in society and lend our voices and values to the pursuit of the common good. The Church teaches that we all have a role to play in creating a society where human dignity is respected and everyone can flourish.
Believe In People recognizes this reality, too. Ones of its main focuses is the “core institutions of society” – community, education, business, and government. From the family to the federal government, the book lays out a roadmap to reform and rebuild the institutions so they enable every person to discover their gift and use it move society forward.
This is no small undertaking, requiring the work of millions of people across every facet of public and private life. As with the Church’s teaching, the point is that all of us have role, and all of us need to find it.
Rights And Responsibilities
God is the author of human liberty, but as every Catholic knows, liberty is not the same as license. Every right comes with a corresponding responsibility – a duty that ought to guide our heads, hearts, and hands. We have a responsibility “to one another, to our families, and to the larger society,” as the USCCB says. Believe In People advances this concept by calling on people to come alongside those in need and using our gifts to help those around us, as opposed to waiting for someone else to act.
This gets to another core concept of Catholic Social Teaching: Subsidiarity. This is the idea that problems should be solved at the lowest possible level. In the words of the Catechism, this “bears witness to [God’s] great regard for human freedom.” The alternative is for a small group of people to try and solve everyone’s problems, which typically does more harm than good, because it ignores the roles and responsibilities that all of us have in the pursuit of justice.
Believe In People never uses the word subsidiarity. But it does use the phrase “bottom-up” – see the book’s subtitle. It shows through dozens of examples that the best way to address the massive issues facing America is to empower everyone to be part of finding the solution. This includes the transformative idea that those who’ve experienced a problem, like poverty or addiction or homelessness, often know the best way to solve it.
Ultimately, subsidiarity teaches that problems should be solved, whenever possible, at the local level by the people closest to them. Thus, we should help people in tough situations to overcome their challenges themselves, before imposing top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions – an approach that often creates more problems than it solves.
Option For The Poor And Vulnerable
The Catechism tells us that “God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them.” As such, Catholics are expected to do everything in our power to help those who have little or who have fallen on hard times. Indeed, caring for the poor is essential to the Christian life. As the USCCB puts it, our faith “instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.”
Helping the least fortunate is a key theme in Believe In People. The book includes a detailed discussion of America’s slide toward a “two-tiered society,” in which those at the top pull further ahead while those at the bottom fall further behind. Reversing this trend is one of the book’s main goals, and accomplishing that requires enabling every person to rise.
The book provides a surprising and inspiring framework for how we can better help the poor. At root, it calls on us to recognize the potential in the poor and struggling – something many people are not inclined to do. From there, we need to work together to empower them to use their God-given gifts, while supporting them as they climb. The book has many powerful examples of people and groups who have taken this approach and are making real headway in the fight to end poverty and its many causes.
The Dignity Of Work And The Rights Of Workers
The USCCB makes clear: “the economy must serve people, not the other way around.” Work provides a dignity of its own through the act of co-creation. This means that every person deserves the chance to find productive and fulfilling employment, good wages, and more. Any barrier that prevents people from using their God-given gifts to build a better life is an injustice that needs to be ended.
This topic gets much attention in Believe In People. There is an entire chapter devoted to building an economy that works for everyone. Making this happen requires a complete rejection of “corporate welfare,” which includes the many ways that companies rig the economy in their favor – and against workers and entrepreneurs. The book vividly illustrates the damage caused by corporate welfare, while calling for “Principled Entrepreneurship” in the workplace to combat it.
By empowering workers and jobseekers and rejecting policies that pick winners and losers, we can achieve an economy that serves and uplifts people.
For Catholics, solidarity is defined as “friendship” or “social charity,” and it is a key part of our “effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled,” according to the Catechism. Put a different way, solidarity is the act of putting aside our differences to recognize and advance the common good. It is an essential and irreplaceable part of our calling as Christians.
Especially in its second half, Believe In People offers a credible path for people of all backgrounds to “unite to do right.” It sketches out what that looks like on a host of critical issues – from poverty to education to economic opportunity to much more.
The book makes the point that “those who look for common ground tend to find it,” and that despite the many differences in society, there are still plenty of places where agreement exists and action is possible. Finding those areas, in the spirit of solidarity, is key to progress on the most pressing issues of our time.
Care For God’s Creation
The Catechism says: “God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind.” The idea of stewardship is vitally important. As the USCCB puts it, “we are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation.” As Catholics, it is incumbent on all of us to conserve, respect, and protect our natural environment and resources.
What’s the best way to accomplish this? Believe In People makes the point that when people use their gifts to benefit others, they find new and better ways to improve lives. In business, this leads to innovative ways to use fewer resources and promote sustainability. As with all of society’s biggest challenges, the way to ensure stewardship of the earth is to empower people to help find solutions. The more that happens, the more progress is possible.
A Case Study: Uplifting The Poor And Suffering
Scripture tells us, “you always have the poor with you.” Serving the poor, and striving to uplift them, is one of the most important duties for the faithful Catholic. The question is how best to help those who need it most.
The typical approach of the past half-century has relied on government. Well-meaning politicians and bureaucrats have created innumerable policies and programs to ease the poor’s plight – an effort known as the “War on Poverty.” It is one of the most titanic undertakings in American history, costing more than $20 trillion and counting. Yet despite this massive investment of time and treasure, poverty in America remains stubbornly persistent. Today’s poverty rate is roughly the same as it was in the late 1960s.
A big part of the problem is that most anti-poverty work fails to empower people to use their talents to improve their lives and those of others. In other words, it fails to help them co-create – the key to fulfilling their God-given potential. While temporary and targeted financial assistance is key to helping people, it cannot be the only or even primary tool. That approach has yet to bear results.
It has also caused other serious problems. To start, it has cost trillions of dollars that people and companies could have used to create jobs, innovations, and other progress that would helped society at large. More fundamentally, it has convinced many people that helping the poor is “someone else’s job” – typically the government’s. As a result, fewer people ask how they can help the poor rise, and in many cases, they begin to see those who are poor as problems in themselves. Where this view arises, progress on poverty becomes much harder, if not impossible. That is the situation in which America finds itself today.
Clearly, something more is urgently needed to help people rise from poverty to plenty. What would a better approach look like? The dignity of the human person demands we look to the poor as people, and not merely problems to be solved. Instead of merely supporting them from afar, we need to come alongside them, individually, to help them find their own path to a better life. Our goal, as Catholics, should be to help them discover and use their gifts – to co-create.
This deeply Catholic approach finds a unique expression in Believe In People. It describes the well-intentioned War on Poverty as a case study in “top-down” and “one-size-fits-all.” Instead, it calls for a bottom-up approach where people come together to find the many solutions needed to solve poverty’s many causes. These solutions start by treating those who are struggling as people with inherent dignity – something the current system largely fails to do.
The book, leveraging the experience of Stand Together, provides many examples of this approach in action. The list draws on some of the nearly 200 incredibly effective anti-poverty groups Stand Together supports. They include:
– The Family Independence Initiative helps those in poverty build community. The result is much higher incomes, much higher savings, and far better educational outcomes for their kids.
– The Phoenix helps those struggling with addiction beat it through physical fitness in a communal environment. It’s twice as effective as traditional treatment programs and helps people see they aren’t controlled by addiction.
– Safe Families, an alternative to foster care, brings neighbors together to care for kids whose parents have fallen on hard times. It works far better than foster care, with nearly every family reunited.
– Café Momentum helps kids coming out of juvenile detention by giving them a job – something they might not otherwise get. It teaches them to believe in themselves, whereas most people reject them. Almost none of the kids go back to juvenile detention or prison, unlike most others in their situation.
There are many other examples in the book. Most of them were started by people who struggled the issues they’re now helping overcome, from poverty to addiction to gang violence. And all involve working much more closely with people to help them find a path upward. They help those who are struggling find their gifts and use them to improve their lives – to co-create, as God intended.
As Catholics, we should look for opportunities to start and support efforts like these. This involves going into communities that are especially hard hit and finding the changemakers who are ignored right now. They deserve our full attention and respect, because they too are made in the image and likeness of God. The fight against poverty really is a war. It’s long past time we adopted a strategy to win it.
Putting Principles Into Practice
The Napa Institute recommends Believe In People to all faithful Catholics. While it is not written from a Catholic perspective, it nonetheless accords with Catholic teaching in many respects, though there are naturally difference as well. Reading it may help us discover new ways to promote peace, justice, and the progress that benefits the least fortunate most of all.
Believe In People is available wherever books are sold. Learn more at www.believeinpeoplebook.com.
Faithful Catholics may also want to consider partnering with Stand Together, the philanthropic community founded by Charles Koch. Napa Institute founder Tim Busch is a member, as are many prominent Catholic business leaders and philanthropists. Catholics can easily find opportunities to partner with the organization to tackle issues like poverty, addiction, homelessness, foster care, educational choice, economic opportunity, and sound public policy. Stand Together partners with nearly 200 community groups that are making progress on these and many other pressing issues.
Learn more at www.StandTogether.org.
Finally, the Napa Institute offers many opportunities for faithful Catholics to work together to advance the faith, serve the least fortunate, and preserve the freedom that we have been given. Our annual conferences, ongoing web series, and other year-round events and trips bring Catholics together in community, formation, and liturgy. In all we do, we prepare Catholics to survive and thrive in the Next America.
Learn more at www.napa-institute.org.
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