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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Living For Riches Is Waiting To Die

I will always remember April 25, 1984. My father was dying of  lung cancer caused by smoking. We tried to make him as comfortable as possible during the end. Right before he died, I and a very saintly nurse stood by his bed. She held his hand and right after he passed away, she kissed him on the forehead.

When I think of anyone who lives for riches, whether one is part of the one percent or one is comfortable in their middle class, I think of someone who has something in common with many who are about to die. That is they seek to be in a perpetual state of comfort. And their goal is to both avoid discomfort when possible and, when not possible, eliminate it as soon as possible.

It is certainly understandable, and a moral duty, to make those who are about to die as comfortable as possible. If we know them, doing so shows appreciation for what they done. If we do not know them, then we are showing respect as well as a recognition of how we would like to be treated when it is our turn, and it will be our turn. But the question becomes should we strive to live in a continual state of comfort before that time.  By a continual state of comfort, I do not just mean physical comfort, but I include maintaining a personal comfort too. So, in order to live in this pampered mental state, we surround ourselves with the entertaining, the positive and the inspiring while turning a deaf hear to the cries for help coming from those being hurt by others.

When we live for riches, we not only strive to live in constant comfort, we fail to think about the impact that our relaxed lifestyle can have on others--as we just said, we drown out the cries for help coming from others. First, we neglect to think about what we could do for others. And this does not apply just to the time we are enjoying ourselves, it also applies to any extra time we spend to earn the money needed to maintain our lifestyle. What we can do for others includes spending time to learn about today's issues and who needs help, participating in activism, volunteering to  help those in need, volunteering to help in the community, and being a good Samaritan. The more we live for riches, the more we care about our own inner world and the less we are involved in the world around us. This is because it takes time, effort and caring to be involved. It takes a willingness to be interrupted and be discomforted by others.

Second, we need to be aware of the fact that the more we consume, the less there is for others. Here, I like to tell a parable about a missionary who met a poor starving man in the village in which he was serving.  Remembering the saying, "if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime," he proceeded to teach the man to fish. The missionary left for other villages and when he returned, he found this man in the same state in which he left him. The missionary asked the man what happened. The man replied that while he now knew how to fish, it wasn't long after he began fishing that the pond became fished out because of the number of people fishing and there was no catch limit. He went on to say that while some could afford to go to another fishing hole, he was unable to.

We live in a world with both limited or diminishing resources and an increasing population. When we consume nonrenewable resources, not only are we taking away from those who live now, we take away from those who come after us. So the more we consume beyond our needs, the less we have to share with others and the less there is for others live on.

Finally, we must be aware of the costs others must pay for what we consume. For example, the following link lists the companies that do not employ child-slave labor in the production of cocoa (directory of ethical chocolate companies). In addition, you can read about the previous efforts of some in our government to help stop use of child slaves and trafficking that is involved in cocoa production as well as who resisted (efforts). The same goes for the production of goods like diamonds, to the making of clothing, carpets, and even sporting equipment (child slave labor). This means that, among others, children are often abused in the production of what we consume.

The reason such labor is used is to sell goods and services at low prices by cutting the cost of production. Using slaver,  sweatshop, and child labor are ways some major companies employ to reduce the costs and improve their own bottom line. And we enable this when we embrace the consumer version of maximizing profits by always buying our stuff at the lowest price which, in turn, enables us to consume more and more and enjoy more comfort.

Of course, there are costs that others pay besides suffering abuse at work. Another cost can be the efforts our government expends in raising up and maintaining proxy leaders in other countries. Our oil prices, for example, are due to fact that America has joined a few other countries in helping to control who becomes the head of state and who does not. The earliest example of this occurred in 1953 in Iran where the U.S. and the U.K. worked together to overthrow the democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, who wanted to nationalize Iran's oil resources, and replace him with a dictator.  Currently, we support the reign of the royal family in Saudi Arabia as well as the rulers of Bahrain, neither of whom support democracy. And we just participated in a bloody coup in Libya where we demonized a self-demonizing leader while ignoring the injustices those we sided with practiced. If we look back through history we could find other examples where our country overthrew governments, some of them democratically elected, to further the interests of some business which, in turn, often furthered the consumer power of Americans.

Whether we tolerate all of this goes back to why we live. Do we live for riches, to die with the most toys, to be made as comfortable as possible until the end? Will the measure of our lives be based on how much fun we experienced in life and how much we consumed? Or, do we enjoy riches from time to time but live to give to, serve, and help others, especially those who are being oppressed? Here, we could ask ourselves how would Jesus live. Or we should ask, how did Jesus live when He was with us.


TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
I strongly agree with you that consumerism, similar to the Biblical concept of gluttony, is wrong. However, being comfortable and wanting to be comfortable is not wrong in and of itself, but only if we give our ultimate allegiance to it: "You cannot serve both God and mammon."

You state: "the more we consume, the less there is for others." This idea is derived from a materialistic worldview, the idea that the physical universe is all there is or ever will be. In reality, wealth can be and is created, and so the total amount of wealth in the world goes up over time. In a free market society, wealth is used to create more wealth, so the total amount goes up exponentially. Thus, there is more for everybody. Whether the idea you call consuming is part of this system of wealth creation I am not sure.

You use the word 'slave' several times in the seventh and eighth paragraphs of your article. Are these people, children, really being FORCED to work in these places? Any other option counts, even if it is doing nothing and starving. If these children or anyone else are, out of their own choice, working for these businesses, than it stands to reason that they must be benefiting from them, and from us who support these businesses by buying from them. The fact that these people are not getting paid as much as we are is irrelevant.

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries. " - Winston Churchill

As a defense of my own position, modern consumerism stands in opposition to true capitalism, which requires things such as delayed gratification. This means saving money rather than spending it immediately and investing it wisely.

Curt Day said...

To my capitalist friend,
Regarding your first paragraph, I would refer you to Bonhoeffer's analysis of the monastery of Luther's day. He described them as creating a world they could love even though the Scriptures tell us not to love the world

Your second paragraph is simply a denial of the finiteness of the creation. We are given limited resources so that we can exercise wisdom in sharing these resources to the glory of God rather than live in denial of the finiteness of our earthly resources.

Third, yes they are. When the choices are to either work or starve, you are being coerced to be slaves. And your insensitivity here shows an ignorance of the plight of these workers. Please, don't assume to know more than you do. You are young. Others have studied these things for a longer time than you have lived. Don't act like you have all the answers.

BTW, quoting Winston Churchill, who was an imperialist, does not prove your views of capitalism and socialism of which there are many forms. And no, modern consumerism does not stand in opposition to capitalism. Rather, Capitalism always needs expansion so as not to collapse. THat is Marx's view and so me quoting Marx is as authoritative as you quoting Churchill.

Curt Day said...

To my capitalist friend,
I am going to add something to this comment. If you had fully checked the links I supplied, you would have read about children being kidnapped and trafficked as laborers for many of our corporations. But the trafficking doesn't end there. Here, illegal immigrant farmworkers, who became unemployed because, as farmers, they could not compete with subsidized American agribusiness whose products were brought into their country by NAFTA, are promised an economic way out of their poverty if they come to work in America, receive threats against their families at home and/or are beaten for trying to leave. Those who overlook them consider many of these farmworkers as indentured servants.

Now does all of that count as slavery?

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
The Scriptures do tell us not to love the world. But what is the meaning of the word 'world'? Is the Bible referring to the sinful, evil world of men, or to the entire physical world, which God himself created, and himself declared it to be "very good"? Your statements lead me to think that you believe the latter possibility. I believe the former. God created the world very good. Man's fall has corrupted it, and all creation has been groaning under the weight of that fall ever since. I believe that, when Christ returns, our broken world will be redeemed in the same way our glorified, yet still physical, bodies will be. It is a sin to love our world in this sense more than God, but it is not something to hate.

In your second paragraph, you claim I deny the finiteness of creation. The physical world has a limited amount of matter and energy, and as far as we know God is not making any more. However, it is materialistic to equate wealth with matter. Money is not made of matter, for it only has value as long as people say it does. Consider a common device, like a computer. A computer has a steel case, and various internal parts are made of other metals, such as aluminum, copper, and lesser amounts of gold, silver, tantalum, and other exotic materials. The PCBs and other parts are made of plastic. Perhaps the most valuable, and certainly the most essential, parts, the chips themselves, are made of beach sand. All of these materials are worth far less in their virgin form than in the computer. This addition of value has come through the work of thousands, millions, of human beings, all added together to produce something useful to humanity, something that people are willing to pay for. No matter has been lost, so probably all these materials will one day be recycled into something even more valuable. The creation of wealth goes on, even when the material resources are limited.

Imagine that you are in the place of the people you talk about in your third paragraph. Would you rather work or starve? Imagine further that the businesses you accuse of enslaving them did not exist. What would be left to them then? For most, one choice: starve. I agree that most of them live and work in horrible conditions, but the only plan for long-term recovery of the poor is the creation of wealth, described above.

You point out problems caused by subsidized American agribusiness. First, please realize that subsidies are not part of capitalism. They are the result of a welfare, borderline socialist state messing with a supposedly free market. Second, unsubsidized American farmers may still be able to produce food at lower prices than farmers in other places. If so, it would probably be wise for those farmers to seek a different job, closer to their "competitive advantage", where they can produce things cheaper than us.

Curt Day said...

To my capitalist friend,
John 2:15 describes what it means to love the world. We are not to love the things of the world: the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life. I believe that what you described does not encompass all that is described there. That is because what God has created as good can then be regarded as an idol.

But the Bible says more about our love for the world than what is stated in John 2:15. Jesus said something complementary to this when He commanded us not to store our treasures on earth. In Hebrews, it talks about how we have no dwelling place or home on earth.

All of this points back to Bonhoeffer's criticism of the monks of Luther's day. Not only are we not to love the world, we are not to try to create a world we could love. Rather, we are like the Hebrews when they traveled through the Wilderness.

This leads to the most significant difference between us and how we look at the Bible. You look at the Bible as a handbook telling us how paradise can be restored. I look at the Bible as a guide telling us how to survive the wilderness. Your principle leads to literalness and high expectations that are not supported by the New Testament.

But my biggest concern for you is that your principle has led you to go to the gospel of self-exaltation for significance. Please realize that all the ways of life that you regard as Biblical are deeply tied to Western Civilization. Yet, the fruit of Western Civilization has hardly been good.

I will address the latter part of your note later.

Curt Day said...

To my Capitalist Friend,
Now regarding the rest of your note. One does not have to tie wealth to material goods to call it limited. Wealth is a logical concept whose definition is in the context of an economic system. Since the system as well as the concept is defined by humans, and wealth is tied to either goods or services, one must realize that wealth is limited if one is to recognize the creator-creature distinction.

This is especially true with the Capitalist system that you hold so near and dear to your heart. Whether we rely on history or current events, capitalism, as a system, has always relied on the exploitation of others. Either we underpay them for either their labor, as seen in sweatshop and slave labor camps,or their resources. Violence is necessary to obtain and maintain the exploitation.

Now what is your Biblical response? At least they are not starving you reply. But how many Americans are homeless because of the outsourcing and how many current laborers are dying because of their work or living conditions.

Your loyalty to a preferred cultural system seems to have killed your compassion.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
The last paragraph of your first note has fundamental problems. My ideas of a biblical way of life are deeply tied to Western Civilization. The reason? Because Western Civilization was originally based on Christian principles. The fruit of Western Civilization has gone rotten because our ideas have gone rotten. The West has embraced atheism and pluralism, destroying the foundations of society. Thanks be to God that the full consequences of this have not destroyed our society yet, but they will soon.

What do you mean by the "creator-creature distinction"? Look at society 1000, 500, 100, even fifty years ago and it is apparent that vast amounts of wealth have been created since then.

I think your attacks on capitalism portray the humanistic, secular idea of capitalism. This is not my idea of capitalism. Take this example from the book Assumptions That Affect Our Lives:

"In The American Heritage Dictionary [a modern, secular dictionary], 'free enterprise' is defined as 'The freedom of business to operate competitively with minimal government regulation.' This term defined in [a dictionary written from the Christian point of view] might read: 'The freedom of private business to operate competitively within the moral and ethical guidelines provided by God.'"

Think about these two definitions. If the first is true, capitalism would probably end up worse than you or I can imagine. If the second is true, most or all of your accusations of it melt away. Slavery? Violates the biblical idea that all men are created in the image of God. Big Coal getting away with poisoning people? Violates rule of law. These problems are not a result of true capitalism, but a result of a lack thereof.

You complain about outsourcing. Do you realize that: first, we have the messiest/highest corporate tax rate in the world, due to an invasive nanny state; second, we have a largely unionized workforce demanding more pay than the free market naturally gives. I understand that unions were originally created for good reasons and with good intentions, but combine them with government and you have a mess.

Curt Day said...

To my capitalistic friend,
You can call my ideas secular if you want, that is fine. Realize that your association of Western Civ with Christianity, the tendency for people who like strong associations with groups is to compromise Christianity for the sake of the group. This is usually done through denying the sin associated with the group along with sanctifying the groups characteristics by attributing them to the Bible.

Your definition of capitalism can also be a definition of neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism replaced the Bretton Woods system where gov'ts, rather than international financiers regulated currency, The result is that democracy is sacrificed to what these financiers can extract from any country. And that is what we have here. The collapse of 2008 was not due to regulations but due to the combination the lack of enforcement of current regulations as well as the elimination of regulations like the Glas-Steagall act. There is your minimum gov't involvement. It put our country into the unwinnable choice between bailouts or collapse and depression.

Again, your joining Western Civ to Christianity can only compromise Christianity. And when one considers the wars, the empires, the exploitation, the ethnic cleansing, and the violent discrimination practiced by Western Civ, why would Christian want to associate the two?

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day:
You blame me for associating Christianity with Western Civilization. What is your alternative? What society can you find that fits Christianity better? It is useless to tear down without building up. Here and now, are the better parts of Western Civilization as good as it gets?

Maybe the collapse of 2008 can be traced to less government involvement. But, if so, less government caused the problem only because of more government before it. When government steps out, a void is left until something else steps in. All too often, government can only see the short term and steps back in. Big government is digging a hole, and it takes suffering and work to fill it.

Curt Day said...

To My Capitalist Friend,
First, I believe you are asking the wrong question with regards to Christianity and Western Civilization. I believe the question is what are the consequences of making such a connection? Will people associate Christianity with wars, intolerance, racism, slavery, exploitation, imperialism, colonialism, and Social Darwinism? That of course is only a partial list but all of that has been the brunt of Western Civilization. And that is what you want to associate with Christianity?

Second, I was just down in D.C. handing out material at the Christians United For Israel conference. I find there that people's loyalty to a group can be so great that they: first) are in denial of their own group's egregious sins; and 2) start to practice idolatry as their god becomes the group. One attendee told me that she believes it is right for the IDF to shoot Palestinian women and children because they are terrorists. In fact, in her own words, she said they were inhuman. I wanted to point out Jesus' parable of the two men praying to illustrate that a sense of superiority can easily come from a dangerously deceptive self-righteousness but she would have none of that.

Group loyalty and identity politics is the idol of the century. We offer to our groups allegiance, loyalty, and delusion. We get back what anyone gets back from group identification, a sense of significance and security. But if Paul saids that he counts all of what he has in common with Judaism as loss for the Cross of Christ, shouldn't we with a civilization based on conquest?

Finally, do you know what scapegoating is? The gov't is your scapegoat. And you automaticallyblame all, or most, of the problems of the world on gov't because you have an allegiance to a non-biblical concept that less gov't is always best. And there are more than two alternatives here.