Thursday, February 25, 2010

Breaking Out of "Limited Morality"

Jesus smashes the boundaries of sympathy and love for our own community when he tells the story of the Good Samaritan and asks, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robber?" Because Jesus destroys boundaries with regularity ---the word parable (think parabala) is derived from the Greek Word "bolo" which means "curve ball", we may take for granted how each story is so exceptional and bursts with meaning. This question of who we view as our neighbor and worthy of our sympathy is of increasing interest to economists.

Beginning with the research of Nobel Prize winner Douglass North economists studied institutions (think of them as rules of the game, legal and/or social) and how they shape incentives to action. Because morality informs the institutions that seem desirable development economists have sought to grasp how morality develops and to whom we show our moral sentiments: cooperation, trust, sympathy, etc.. With all the failed attempts at developing countries you can see this research as seeking to understand what kinds of institutions like property rights, decision rules, etc. will stick in these different cultures.

Specifically, Guido Tabellini has been an important contemporary figure in this discussion and presents two kinds of morality: limited and generalized morality. Basically, limited morality is moral behavior that is acted upon within a strong kinship network but doesn't exist outside of that network. Generalized morality exists within and outside of the kinship network.

Our Economics and Moral Sentiments group discussed today how people apply morality differently to different settings (institutions). For example, someone acts one way in church but another way at the mall or sporting event. Different contexts yield different morality for the same individual. But, I couldn't help but thinking this is not the case for the mature Christian. In every environment they seek to hold fast to the teaching of Christ. Who is my neighbor? Not merely my family and friends. Who should I love? Everyone, even my enemies. Journeying with Christ requires my morality to be consistent, not changing upon every whim.

Perhaps this maturity comes not because Christianity (discipleship not conversion) is not a change merely in my ethical outlook but the acquisition of a new identity. The end goal of this new identity is expressed beautifully by Paul in Galatians 2:20. Admittedly, this is sometimes scary and other times just seems too difficult, but this is the kind of curve ball we should come to expect from a God who can love even us.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

This was a really interesting article, thanks for sharing it!