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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Righteously Selfish

Few institutions represent what America is all about like the Free Market. The Free Market can be charitably described as an economic system that relies on man's self-interest alone to control his greed. In other words, we only need to think of what is good for us, this usually involves considering long term consequences, to keep us from going too far. Some might say that the Free Market teaches us that the ONLY way to fight fire is with fire.

The Free Market mentality has permeated much of American culture which puts the Christian in a dilemma. The dilemma is how a Christian controls greed by relying solely on self-interest. Though most Christians recognize the need to pull in the reigns on the wild horse called greed, using self-interest to do so is questionable because it has often been looked at with suspicion and rightfully so. But the Free Market, being an American Icon, gives self-interest a strong endorsement. Thus, the American part of the American Christian is saying let self interest be your guide. And many American Christians have concluded that while greed could destroy them, self-interest can protect and save them by telling them when to say no.

The self-preserving wisdom that comes from self-interest would have to be on guard for two problems caused by greed. The first problem is when what we want is ok, we just want too much. The second problem would be when we want what is bad for us.

No doubt there is a wisdom that comes from an enlightened self-interest. Such wisdom should not be dismissed. It can bring us a better life and thus, it could be beneficial. One could argue that Jesus used self-interest as a motivation for obeying his Word. For example, in Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus tells his followers to lay up treasures in heaven rather than earth because the vulnerability of earthy goods. A little later, Jesus assures his disciples that if they seek God's Kingdom first, God will provide for them.

Though the right self-interest can help, the problem is when we use it as our only guide. When that happens, we turn inward and look outside of ourselves less and less until, because of atrophy, we become blind to the world around us. At the same time, as we think that choosing out of self-interest leads us away from excess or choosing what is wrong, we begin to think of it as righteous. In the end, we have become righteously selfish. Righteous because of what we are not doing and selfish because of our focus.

But is being righteously selfish possible for the Christian? If we look back at Matthew 6:33, Jesus not only tells his followers of God's provision as motivation, he commands them to seek God's Kingdom rather than self-interests. And according to Jesus, all of God's commandments are fulfilled by obeying two of them: you are to love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). Paul fleshes out an implementation of the latter command when talking about doing things your conscience allows but offends a brother or sister. He basically says to let the welfare of your brother or sister be your guide because we are to live for the Lord (Romans 14).

It doesn't take much reading to realize that the Bible is completely at odds with the notion of letting our self-interest be our only guide. This puts the Bible at odds with America's Free Market mentality. That self-interest is sometimes appealed to does not imply that it can always be appealed to. Rather, love for others and, more importantly, love for God should trump self-interest. This is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when He died on the cross for us.

But what about society? Should people who live in a society that is based on religious freedom be required to using other criteria besides self-interests when making decisions? That is a tough question but it could also be the wrong question. The more important question is can a society survive where self-interest is the only guide for each person? Considering that there are many important occupations and vital needs where too much attention to self-interest by the participant is counterproductive to performance, a society where every member uses self-interest their only guide will turn against itself. Again, it is not that self-interest should never be a guide for every person; rather, the question is society livable if everyone used self-interest as their only guide. Such a society provides no logical basis for anyone who is discontent to respect the laws of that society. You would then have a messy anarchy where there is less incentive for the disgruntled to respect the rights and property of others.

Conservatives often complain that our country seems to be headed for the abyss because of the values it is abandoning. Perhaps that is not the entire story. When we look at the potential destructive power of a society where each person makes decisions based only on what is good for him or herself, then we might also want to say that America is going downhill because of the values it is holding on to. The values that we have embraced is a staple to the Conservative's diet. We can see how the embracing of the Free Market mentality pushes America downhill by looking at two groups.

One group whose adoption of the Free Market mentality is hurting America consists of those who are comfortably content. Too often, these people live in a bubble world where they remove themselves from the harsh life that the have-nots experience. Because they are not doing anything wrong, they feel quite justified in neglecting those who are in need. Another group who adopts the Free Market mentality that is hurting America are those who are discontent. Those who are not satisfied with what they have can consist of both the haves or the have-nots. People in this group show a lack of concern for the law and for the rights of others as they grab all they can for themselves.

It is time that American Christians look at all of the implications of the Free Market mentality instead of taking it for granted because the Free Market is an established American institution. Many of the ideas inherent in the Free Market mentality stand diametrically opposed to what God has said in the Bible. Therefore, to adopt the Free Market mentality is to have a mindset that leads us away from Jesus.

But even America's society that is based on religious freedom should also start questioning the Free Market mindset. That is not because of the mentioning of self-interests, but it is because a society whose members are only concerned with themselves will eventually destroy itself.

3 comments:

Vigilante said...

When we look at the potential destructive power of a society where each person makes decisions based only on what is good for him or herself, then we might also want to say that America is going downhill because of the values it is holding on to.

This quotable and linkable!

Vigilante said...

I am planning to quote your TOWNHALL post, The Road To A Corporate Republic: Are We There Yet Part 1 at length. Permission would be welcomed. But..... I would comment on it on TOWNHALL but they require my real name and address, and I'm not about that. Hope you understand....

Curt Day said...

no problem. Thank you