Friday, December 24, 2010

Not Exactly Rising to the Challenge

Joel Belz of World Magazine issued an interesting challenge. Readers should create a list of key statements about economics that young Christians need to know. He's gone to compile a "top ten list" for the magazine.

I was really interested in this idea, but I'm just not very competent at two requirements for the challenge: each item has to be 30 words or less and in concepts understandable to a 4th grader. Nevertheless, I thought I would send him a list of nine key points aimed at high school or college students that are derived from a lot of the lessons that Doug and I have worked through for the courses on Compassion and Sustainability as well as for our book-length project. I divided them into three parts: Three Lessons for Conservative (or Libertarian) Christians, Three Lessons for Liberal (or Progressive) Christians, and Three Lessons for All Christians. Here is the first installment. I'll post the others over the next few days. In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas Eve. And, if you are one of those people that works to keep our hospitals, police forces, fire departments, or national defense in place so the rest of us are able to attend Christmas Eve services, thank you and God Bless You.

Three Lessons for Young Conservative (or Libertarian) Christians:

1 ) Yes, voluntary exchange makes people better off. Organized voluntary exchange (the market) together with a respect for property rights and institutions that promote long term contracting are incredibly successful innovations that promote an improved standard of living and an escape from poverty. Both Bill Gates and Mother Theresa, in their own way, help mankind. But, the market remains a human institution, and it falls within the bounds of “the total depravity of mankind” --- which doesn’t mean that everything we do is sinful, but rather that there is nothing that we can do without God that isn’t, in some way, infected by sin. Each of us exhibits some kind of sinful behavior by the decisions we make in the context of a free market.

2 ) The opposite of “government action” is not “the market,” it is “voluntary, decentralized action.” The market is one of, but not the only, non-government form of economic organization. Christians, is particular, have a long history of private, collective, voluntary action to try to bring the Kingdom “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” In fact, how can we read the Bible and not be called to this type of service?

3 ) Nothing about the free market would cease to function if Christians decided to change their preferences over consumption. The world is full of people who are hurting, many because of things they have done, a whole lot because of what other people have done to them. If all Christians decided to buy less for ourselves and spend the extra on someone else, the sun would still rise tomorrow on capitalism and the free market.

Corollary: Christianity is not Objectivism, and Ayn Rand is not a prophet of the Church

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