Tag Archives: politics

GK Chesterton, TRUMP, CLINTON, the 2016 election, and the Medical Fallacy

TRUMP and CLINTON (hey, it was in the title).

Throughout the presidential campaign of 2016 we have heard a recurring theme:

“Our country is sick.  It needs to be made well.  Vote for me and I will provide the remedy it needs.  I will bring the healing that our country needs.”

There has been no shortage of rhetoric like this on either side of the political divide.

According to the inimitable G.K. Chesterton, however, this is a fallacy.  He terms this the Medical Fallacy.  How can politicians pontificate about what ‘well’ is in absolute terms, if the idea of well is of the most disputed issues in all of academia?  One side of the ideological divide defines well in one way, while the other defines it differently.

What is seen as a remedy by one side of the political spectrum will be seen as an exasperation of the original problem to the other.  This whole business of talking about “well” and “sick” is patently absurd.  It is play on emotions.  It is like invoking balls and strikes when talking about football.  Only in medicine and science can this terminology be used.

Why you might ask?  In medicine, we agree on what a well body looks like.  We agree on what good is.  The disagreement comes when it concerns malady.  In politics and social science, we agree on what bad looks like—we disagree on what constitutes the good.

That is a profound problem.

To give you an analogy, Chesterton makes this grand point:   It is a fact that a man may have pain in his leg and walk into a hospital, and due to medical necessity, come out with one leg less.

BUT HERE IS THE CLINCHER

Never will that man find himself under the scalpel of a doctor, and in a moment of creative rapture, walk out of the hospital, having being given one leg more.

Don’t fall for fallacies.  Nonsense doesn’t cease to be nonsense just because it is uttered by an “intellect” or a “smart” politician.

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What Then Shall We Do?

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom

The American founders recognized that man, by nature is flawed and capable of great evil.  This is why they distrusted rulers.  But they also recognized that for a society to be free, its citizens must be virtuous. James Madison noted, “a republic once equally poised, must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.”  Similarly, Patrick Henry declared, “Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”  John Adams, who would go on to be our second president, noted, “The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, they may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.”

Without virtue, there is no hope.  Without God, there is no virtue.

Even the skeptical Benjamin Franklin recognized that, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” But even more directly, Proverbs 14:34 states, “Righteousness exalteth a nation.”  It would seem that our framers were speaking of a government whose aim was to govern those who were already engaged in private, self-governance.  It seems that they were speaking less of a freedom to do what we want, but rather, a freedom to do what we ought.

America is truly a beautiful place.  It isn’t made beautiful because of our inherent goodness, however.  It is beautiful because God has blessed our land with His divine providence, allowed us to flourish, and given us His blessing. She is only beautiful because, for America, God shed His grace on Thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea.

The framers all have a common theme in their words:  Virtue is required for freedom.  They also acknowledge that Faith is required for Virtue.  It is with this truth that we have what Os Guinness calls the Golden Triangle of Freedom:

Freedom requires virtue.  Virtue requires faith.  Faith requires freedom.

In 2016, I would argue that virtue is a relic of a long forgotten and provincially simple past.  It is an afterthought—condemned to oblivion in the hearts and minds of most Americans.  On the other hand, faith has been so pushed to the periphery of the public square, systematically attacked through government and culture, that, for the majority of Americans is not a part of their lives.

When faith and virtue become scarce, freedom becomes extinct.

Freedom is not doing whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want.  That is anarchy.  Freedom is the power to do what one ought.  You can see how the other necessary intangibles are important.  Without virtue, we cannot be free.  We are not capable of doing that which we ought.  Without faith, we can have no virtue.  We must have faith to believe that God’s precepts and His moral law is right.  And without freedom, we cannot practice our faiths in the public square.

Some say, “We have the right to have faith. Even in China they have the freedom to worship.”  No, my friend.  The Constitution guarantees us the right to exercise our faith.  No family owned business should be forced by the government to provide contraception if it violates their Christian faith.  Exercising our faith is a command.  We must exercise our faith.  In fact, the Bible declares that faith without works is dead.  It is not enough to just know truth. We have to act on it.

We live in a culture that wants to do away with consequences.  We want relationships without commitment.  We want sex without babies.  We want money without earning it.  We want results without discipline. We want freedom without the responsibility of virtue, and without the challenge of faith.

Where am I going with all this?  I think this election is a referendum on whether or not we want faith to be completely pushed out of the public square altogether.  I am not saying that Hillary Clinton is Nero.  What I am saying is that this election is clearly about going in a specific direction.

The direction of more state or less state.

The problem is, we want more state.  We aren’t governing ourselves!  Because our citizenry by and large has rejected virtue and faith, we are not capable of freedom; and as a result, we are in danger of losing our Republic.  Only a virtuous citizenry can govern themselves.  What happens virtue is gone?  I think we end up with an election that offers the choices we see before us.

The Bible talks about this.  In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6 we read:

For a long time, Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them.  In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil.  One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress.

As Tony Evans notes, “When God is your problem, only God is your solution.”

So what do we do?  Well, it isn’t as simple as just electing the right president.  Revival never starts at the White House.  It starts in your house.  We must be people of the Book.  We must be people of prayer.  We must be people who fast, discipline ourselves, teach our children the way of the Lord, and make disciples.  We must be people who engage the Bible more than just Sunday morning at Church.  We need to be in regular deep, critical, Bible study.

Can you defend your faith?  Can you give good arguments to destroy evil arguments?

Doing our Christian and civic duty is a responsibility.  It isn’t enough to attend church on Sunday and vote every four years.  That is a recipe for pretty churches, but dead souls.  It is a recipe for candidates who lie, cheat, and steal—and then tell you what you want to hear at election time.

Hint:  They know this about the culture.  They know we are docile.  They know we cannot govern ourselves.  They know they can lie without accountability.

Unfortunately, that mindset in both the church and the culture is why we see what we see.

You see, many of us want a McDonalds type of faith.  We want to drive up and take the things we want off of the value menu, but leave the expensive stuff alone.  It costs too much.  No, my friend.  We are called to take it all.  We are called to become like Christ.

  Too many of us want to work part time for God but get full time benefits.  We want love without sacrifice.  We want meaning without truth.  We want design without a designer.  We want good without the prospect of evil.  We want law but no lawmaker.  We want god but no God.

Likewise, as citizens, many of us know virtually nothing about our country.  We know where to locate it on a map but that’s about it. We are more likely to know the characters of the Kardashians or Chrisley Knows Best than we are to know how many members of Congress there are.

That being said, we are at a critical point, but we aren’t a people who are capable of governing ourselves!  We aren’t prepared.  We have given that away.  We want full control over our 1,000 cable TV channels, but when it comes to things that matter—like health care—we have given that decision away! We have abdicated it elsewhere.  So what do we do?

I argue that for Christians, the first responsibility is to actually commit to the Lord.  We must change.  We must take Him seriously.  We must turn from our current lackadaisical ways and make Him our priority and source of strength.  We must realize that we as Christians are the blame.  We are a barometer for the culture.  A cold in the Church is pneumonia in the culture.  Think about that.  As the Church goes, so goes the culture.

Meanwhile, if we are interested in preserving a culture that is at least not violently hostile to our living our faith in the public square, we should choose the best candidate with a chance of winning who does not show an open animus toward us. Notice that I didn’t say that person has to be a believer himself.  There have been numerous examples in history where non-Christians have governed in a way that was not dangerous to Christians.  Can one choose between Constantine and Diocletian?

What I am not saying:  I am not saying that a government must be tolerant of Christianity for Christianity to survive.  I am not saying that.  Christianity has outlived all of its pallbearers.  Chesterton notes that the Church has gone to the dogs at least five times.  Each time it was the dog that died.

Can an immoral man be fit to lead?  Could a Christian possibly vote for Donald Trump?  I cannot answer that for you.  All I can say is our country is not at the point where it could elect a Godly leader.  Aristotle in his book Politics talks about a righteous man amongst a sea of immorality.  He says the righteous man would be cast out.

We are an unrighteous people today.  There is no righteous candidate.  Any candidate who was close to being one was cast out.

I have said it before, elsewhere; I am a one issue voter.  The choices before me are bad on the one hand and catastrophically horrible on the other.  I will also consider which candidate, aside from his personal exploits, will be less hostile to the Christian faith.  It is something to think about.

But regardless of the election, let me just say this:  We as the Church have much work to do, and it might be extremely uncomfortable.

I leave you with a quote from one of GK Chesterton’s political novels.  Chesterton firmly believed in a fallen human nature. Because of this, he thought society would eventually give up on the difficult task of democracy. Look at this prophetic quote from the story:

We are, in a sense, the purest democracy. We have become a despotism. Have you not noticed how continually in history democracy becomes despotism? People call it the decay of democracy. It is simply its fulfilment. … The old idealistic republicans used to found democracy on the idea that all men were equally intelligent. Believe me, the sane and enduring democracy is founded on the fact that all men are equally idiotic. Why should we not choose out of them one as much as another. All that we want for Government is a man not criminal and insane, who can rapidly look over some petitions and sign some proclamations.

 

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An Election That I’d Rather Not Have To Be A Part Of.

My daughter is old enough to understand at least peripherally, what the Presidential election in our country is about. She has noticed the candidates on television. She has heard my wife and I talk back and forth about what is happening, the candidates themselves, and the policies that are and aren’t being put forth. Unfortunately, she has also heard some of the negative things that this campaign has brought about.
She is smart, perceptive, and asks honest questions.
How does one explain what is happening right before our very eyes to a child who is still developing a worldview? When she asks me point blank, “Daddy, which one do you want to win?” what do I say in reply? It isn’t easy.
We are truly faced with a dismal choice.
What I want to do with this space is not endorse a candidate. I do not want to persuade you to vote this way or that. I want to just note a few things that I think have been overshadowed by the shrill voices that unfortunately exist on both sides of the debate—and even exist in the camp that has distanced themselves from this election altogether.
The first thing I want to note is that when you really think about it, there is really nothing new going on here. Sure, the stakes may seem higher, and the controversies may be over different things, but really—are we experiencing something new here? Is this really the first time that real questions about candidates moral well-being have been brought into question?  Surely the choice between Douglas and Lincoln was just as stress inducing.
Contrary to the opinion of the Clinton apologists in the 90’s, elections of presidents do concern the character of candidates. Character is quite important. As the right sees it, the left always has a questionable character because of the policies they put forth. On the left, the right always are failures of moral character because they are unevolved Neanderthals. Think about that for just a second: You may hear a conservative criticize his or her opponent in strong terms. They may even call them immoral. But be honest, how many times have you heard a conservative Presidential candidate call a liberal candidate evil or suggest that they are influenced by evil? Hardly ever. What you hear more times than not is a serious condemnation of their ideology and their ideas.
On the left however, you often hear something altogether different. Instead of actual discussions of policy, you hear allegations of the candidate wanting children to starve, blacks to become slaves, killing dogs by putting them on the roof of their car, or pushing someone’s grandmother over a cliff. There is often a criticism of the person—not the issues.  I mean, what presidential candidate from the Republican party hasn’t been called a sexist, a rapist, a homophobe, or a war monger?  Do you remember what the left was able to do to Mitt Romney?  He is a stand up guy.  They were able to plant into peoples minds that he killed his dog by placing it on the suitcase rack of his car.  They were able to paint him as a guy who cancelled an employees health insurance because they got cancer.
Our current situation may be different from others in that we find ourselves in a situation in which the character of both candidates are not desirable. Leave the issues aside. The candidate from the Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the candidate from the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, both have questionable characters. Now, I myself, would love to vote for someone else. I could vote for Gary Johnson or Ted Cruz. Or better yet, I could vote for Calvin Coolidge or George Washington. Unfortunately, however, neither of them are on the ballot this November.
What is one to do in a situation like this? I clearly can’t vote for candidate A because of his character. I can’t vote for candidate B because or her character. I cannot vote for Calvin Coolidge—who has great character—because he isn’t on the ballot. What do I do?
For starters, I don’t go trying to make excuses for the candidate of the party I typically align with.  No Christian should make excuses for Trump or Clinton’s behavior.  Donald Trump from the Republican Party has been a playboy his entire adult life. Recently however, it has been revealed through a video that he has made lewd (read: unequivocally despicable) comments about specific women. In this video, which was recorded without his knowing, he boasted in a Don Giovanni-like way about his sexual exploits—some seemingly edging toward being descriptions of sexual assault.
I cannot excuse, explain away, endorse, look past, or be complacent to those facts. They are horrific and I denounce them as I would denounce my son for saying them.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has engaged in her own nefarious activity. We’ve got her treatment of women who claimed to be raped by Bill Clinton, we have her email scandal, and we have her inability to act when it came to Benghazi—resulting in the death of 4 Americans. I am not going to go into the complete sordid history of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, so let’s do this to be fair:
Both candidates have lived lives and said and done things that are completely and unequivocally reprehensible. Both should resign in disgrace.
For me to support Donald Trump at this point just because he is a Republican would be an act of obsequious docility. For me to give my vote to Clinton would be just as bad.
We are at an impasse it seems. What do I do?
In my view, and perhaps I am wrong, in a situation like this, we vote on proposed policy. Granted, in this election, neither have overwhelmingly great policies. One has horrific policies while the other has some policies I like, and some that I don’t like. The one that is least despotic, least statist, least globalist, least tyrannical, more likely to uphold the Constitution—and the one who could potentially save the lives of the unborn— is the one that I would choose. This has been my way of thinking since I began voting.
As a side note: My activity as a voter began in the 2000 election. I voted for George W. Bush. Now, I want to put this out there because I think it is necessary to say: I was not a product of the religious right. In fact, I was not aware of Jerry Falwell until after 9-11. I only knew who Pat Robertson was because I would see him on television and ask my grandmother who he was. I did not associate them with politics.
Even in the Baptist churches I grew up in, I do not remember being shaped politically. I do remember being shaped to have a certain interpretation of the scripture, end times, and a view toward certain theological issues (which I may hold different views on now). The only political issue I can remember being harped on constantly in the churches I grew up in was abortion. But to be fair, I don’t remember any candidate’s names being attached to this issue. I say that to say, I do not align with the Republican Party because conservative Christians have typically done that. Not at all.
If I were to be honest, I would say that both of my parents and my grandmother who lived with us were staunch conservatives. My dad was an Air Force pilot and as such, I grew up in a particular culture, that emphasized the greatness of America, while at the same time pointing out the truths of mistakes and errors in human judgment.  I was never taught that America was perfect.  I was taught that our of all the world systems of government, the one we have in the United States is the best. When it came to politics and elections, my parents never told me who to vote for. They never described my Christian faith as being something indissolubly linked to a political party. To be fair, I think I may have heard a few questions like, “How can a Christian support abortion,” or “We believe marriage is between man and a woman,” but that was the extent of it.
What I was more likely to hear was a critique from my dad about immoral taxation through threats, coercion, and intimidation for the purposes of benevolence, or a discussion about the legitimate role of government in a free society.  These are ideas that hail from a classically liberal view.
I say that to say: We did not sit at the dinner table discussing why it was my duty as a human being to be a conservative Republican. My political formation happened much later.
I believe that all people are designed by God to be free. I also believe that we have the right as human beings—and certainly as Americans— to have private property. Our most basic piece of private property is ourselves. Now, I do not want to get into a theological dialogue here. I understand that all things ultimately belong to God—even me. But as a human being, I am responsible for myself. I am the one responsible for my most basic property. Because of this, I cannot support abortion in any way. Why? Because it denies the right of another person their private property. I support a mothers right to choose. What I cannot support is a mothers right to do away with the private property of another person; namely, the unborn baby. I believe we are a minority of one.  For that reason, I am a one issue voter when it comes to abortion.
So, with an issue like that, I can look at proposed issues. Hillary Clinton on the one hand, wants to increase access to abortion. Trump on the other, is a bit of a mystery. For much of his life he has been pro-choice. Lately however, and many conservatives feel he is only doing it to get votes, he has shown a contrition for those views and now considers himself pro-life. He has gone so far as to chosing a Vice Presidential candidate who is one of the more highly regarded pro-life legislators, and he has released a list of 20 judges who he would nominate for a vacant Supreme Court seat. This list is a who’s who of pro-life people.  That is certainly a major issue for me.
If faced with a decision to have a president who would add one more abortion each year to our yearly total, or have a president who would reduce it each year by one, I would choose the latter.
Even just one life means that much to me. One life.
Another reason I will choose from the two major party candidates is because of duty. As an American citizen who has the right and the duty to vote, not voting—or protest voting— is not an option. Too many men and women have died for my right to vote. A man in my church went to Normandy in his late teen years so that I would not be governed by a German superpower. I will not disrespect him by not voting. I would never desecrate the honorable sacrifice our soldiers have given by not voting. On the other hand, voting third party isn’t an option either. One of the two major party candidates will be our President. I could never look a serviceman or woman in the eye again knowing that from the two candidates, I did not give serious consideration and choose the one who would be a more effective commander in chief. After all, a man or woman might live or die based on who holds that office—regardless how I feel about the candidates on the ballot. For that reason alone, I will choose.
I know my argument isn’t complicated and it doesn’t invoke any of our very popular and often published public theologians. The thing is, the United States existed for quite a while before they arrived on the scene. No disrespect intended (I think highly of the men I am thinking of), but I do not need their blessing or their input into how I should vote or not vote, or their historically dubious (at times) understanding of how our Republic should choose a president. In their hand-wringing and chastising about the lamentable and indissoluble link between the religious right and the Republican party, they are guilty of that which they decry: Pairing politics with the gospel.
If I think that using the gospel to justify alliance with a political party is wrong, isn’t it wrong to use the gospel to decry alliance with a political party?
To me, and I am not intending to lay this at the feet of the aforementioned men, I see an effort by many in the evangelical community to want to seem relevant to the secular culture. I see a desire to be printed in the New York Times. I see a desire to be interviewed on CNN. I see a desire to not be thought of as a bigot. What I see in an even larger sense is to make the world look like the church. The problem I think is that the church in doing so, begins to look like the world. In this sense. They are using politics to justify the gospel.
Whether I am relevant in the culture does nothing to the veracity of the Bible. Nothing.
Hear me on this, nothing short of a full-throated endorsement of secular humanism, Marxism, abortion, gay marriage, transgender whatever, or euthanasia will be enough to be considered relevant. Nothing.
I have heard the word sin used a lot this election cycle. Often it is invoked when an evangelical is a Trump supporter—or at the very least would consider voting for him given the circumstances. I have even heard it described as being opposite Jesus. When it does come to sin, I am more offended by statism, immoral taxation through threats, intimidation, and coercion, the engaging of our country in offensive immoral wars, and the murder of the unborn than I am by lewd comments made in every Marine Corps barracks every day of the week.
We hold our heroes in high esteem, but not all are squeaky clean. Not all talk like you or I. Many are rough around the edges. To deny that Patton could be a leader of men because of his mouth would be both insane and ignorant. To assume that President Eisenhower never engaged in loose filthy talk when among other officers is naïve. Winston Churchill was a great leader, but we all know he was vulgar in his personal life.  Yet, that will not stop pastors from using him as a sermon example this Sunday.
When it comes to Trump,  to overlook the off-duty conduct of the men I just mentioned, and allow for their veneration because they faced enemy fire in a foreign war, but not extend to another man the same grace is inconsistent.
But it is even more troubling for me. When it comes to Christians and the American political process: Why does decency and honor matter now? There have been great candidates for president who were solid Christian men of high virtue and character, and they were rejected as a laughing stock by many evangelicals for the likes of secular men, nominal Christians, and even a Mormon.
Whatever your views on some of the particular issues they embraced (remember I do argue on voting based on issues), the day that Bob Dole was chosen over Patrick Buchanan, or John McCain over Ron Paul, has in part, led us to our current predicament. From my perspective, Buchanan and Paul didn’t endorse immoral wars—and for that, they were rejected. Their character didn’t matter. Their positions on abortion didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that Ron Paul had an orthodox statement of faith on his campaign website. What does that say? We will take our medicine and vote for the lesser of two evils as long as he has an R by his name and holds to neoconservative foreign policy.
I want to say one more thing about Trump and his heinous and sickening talk about women (of which I am sure there will be more secret audio released). If some of my words or behavior from my life showed up on video, I would never show my face again in public. I have said and done horrible things that I am not proud of. Someone may have video or audio of me in a point in my life in which I was not living for God. I would shudder at the prospect of it being released on the internet. I don’t know Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton’s heart. Both have said and done things that are heinous. What I do know is that MY sin put Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary. For that, I should be disqualified from being a child of God. Despite the justice I deserved, Jesus took the wrath of God on himself—he waived my punishment. So when you get down to it, whether it be Trump or someone else: There but for the grace of God go I. Does that mean they should be president? No. What it means is that I can look at issues.
I am not in the position at this point in my life for me to stand here and point out the sin of another person, to call for the tearing down of Satan’s strongholds. How can I call for the vanquishing of Satan and his evil while I refuse to cancel my own television subscription?
Just a rhetorical question: I wonder if those who are quick to condemn another person’s sin would be willing to have their internet search history made public—or to have their life story shown on camera?
We should certainly hold these candidates to a high standard. The problem comes when we hold them to one that we aren’t held to. It costs something to hold ourselves to a high standard. It costs less to hold others to it. While I denounce Trump’s words from 11 years ago and demand differently, it doesn’t cost me to say it. It does cost me to turn the camera around and look at myself. I voluntarily pay taxes to a government that uses my tax dollars for immoral things. Among them is abortion. By paying taxes, I have blood on my hands. Then again, so does every evangelical leader who has never led a movement that said, “Stop the killing, stop the crime, we won’t pay another dime!” Not another dime until abortion mills are defunded. You might say, they couldn’t ever do that? Sure they could. Sure we could.
It might cost something. It might cost everything, but you could do it.
I think if nothing else, this election is putting a microscope on the Church as never before. We are impotent in the West to be an authoritative voice in the culture. Jesus said that the gates of Hell would never prevail against his Church. There is a church on every corner in America. There are seminaries all over the place. There are tons of pastors, deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, and members. Why does it look like Hell is winning? Answer: Most of the aforementioned aren’t working for or living for the Lord.
Perhaps we need to hit rock bottom. After all, for many, it isn’t until they hit rock bottom that they learn that Jesus is THE Rock at the bottom. Maybe we as Christians need to live in a society in which it costs something to claim the name of Christ.
Right now it costs nothing. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East put us to shame. They are tortured and killed for the name of Christ, but they keep on living for Him.
I wonder—how would it look to the world if it cost everything to be a Christian? How would Christians look to the world? How many of our current Christian brothers and sisters would refuse to pay that cost? How many of our churches would become office buildings or community centers?
Whoever you vote for, remember, there is a much at stake. You can look at issues. You can look at character. You can look at both and see who would be more trustworthy. What you cannot do, in my opinion, is call another Christian “opposite Jesus” for doing what he feels is his responsibility as an American.
I leave you with this quote from John Lennox:
Christians in the New Testament lived under oppressive regimes guided by such figures as Augustus Caesar, Herod the Great, Nero, Caligula, Pontius Pilate, and others. Christians were persecuted, had few rights, no vote, could not run for public office, and were even killed for their faith—and yet Christianity flourished, eventually concerting the emperor himself. God has dealt with bigger problems before.
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The Morality of Greed

If you were to be completely honest, one of the prevailing themes you have grown accustomed to hearing is the idea that greed is inherently evil.  Now, I have to be honest:  As a Christian, I personally believe that it is my duty to seek first the Lord and His kingdom.  If I do this, all these things (my needs being met) will be added unto me.  So, for me, the byproduct of work is not primarily money.  The byproduct of work is, first and foremost, glorifying God through excellence.

That being said—if I seek Christ’s Kingdom first, there is nothing wrong with me also desiring to earn compensation for my work.  I cannot find any instance in the Bible in which desiring to be paid an adequate wage for ones efforts is wrong.  You might say, “But those greedy Wall Street guys are surely engaging in immoral behavior,” or “Greed is the root of all evil.”  Some of them probably are.  In fact, the very college academics that make that claim teach moral relativism, but when a banking executive actually exercises moral relativism in his work, he is suddenly immoral?  But Greed being inherently immoral?

The problem with this type of reasoning is that to make this case, one has to read social grievances into the Biblical text itself.  Jesus Christ did not come to give us a perfect economic system or to be a social agitator.  He came to cure man’s sin problem.  I do agree that Jesus talked about the impact of money, but I feel it comes from a different angle than just “wealth disparity.”  I think Jesus’ commands about money and not loving money have to do with what a person places ultimate value in.  Is your ultimate value your money?  If so, you are a slave to your money.  Is your ultimate value your body?  If so, you are a slave to your health.  Do you find your ultimate value in your financial success?  If so, you are a slave to work.

Our ultimate value should be found in Jesus Christ.  The Bible even says, “for they did not love their lives when faced with death.”  Our lives are not our ultimate value.  Neither is our money.

But is ‘greed’ necessarily evil?  Let’s look at it.  While we do so, let us remember that passionate issues require dispassionate analysis.

If you look objectively at definitions of greed, you will see that greed is very different from envy, jealousy, or covetousness.  It is different than materialism.  It is even different than greediness.  Greed is nothing more than seeing the furthering of one’s own interests as his primary motivation for work.  This goes against the conventional wisdom, without question.

So how can greed drive a person’s work?

Let us think about a few examples of this in real life:  Picture for a moment, a farmer in Idaho.  Can you imagine his days’ work?   Picture him getting up well before daylight, venturing out into a field—facing sleet, snow, and bitterly cold wind.  All this is done in order to harvest potatoes.  Because of his hard work, New Yorkers can have potatoes for dinner.

Now picture a Colorado cattle rancher.  He gets up well before dawn as well.  He feeds the cattle.  He breeds them.  He moves them from location to location so that they can eat greener grass.  His entire life is circumscribed by taking care of cattle.  He faces the dead of night, winter and snow, cold rainy mornings, and even the dry heat of the summer—all to make sure New Yorkers can have a steak next to that potato.

Here is the question:  What if New Yorkers—in their desire to have a steak and potato for dinner—had to rely on the inherent charity and willingness of ranchers and farmers to care enough about New Yorkers to send them steak and potatoes—rather than their desire to make a living for themselves?

I would be grieving for New Yorkers.

You see, in serving the interest of themselves, the rancher and farmer necessarily serve their fellow man.  Their desire to earn a living (greed) demands that they produce what other people want.

Our free market is driven by an imperative:  It is more profitable to serve your fellow man than not to serve him.  Adam Smith talked about these principles in his book, Wealth of Nations.  The free market system is essentially a moral one.  It depends upon supplying people with what they desire at a price that they are willing to pay for it.

This of course comes with risk.  What if the New Yorker doesn’t want to eat a steak or order a potato?  What if instead, he desires to eat bacon and eggs?  No one forces him to buy what the rancher has to offer.  Then again, no one forces the rancher to plant potatoes.  It is all about individual choice.

Similar to this is the idea that the free market works only because of trust.  When is the last time you bought beef at the supermarket and actually weighed it yourself to see if it weighed what the packaging said?  When was the last time you measured a 2-liter of soda to see if it really contained 2 liters?  In fact, we rely on trust all the time.  You dont carry around scales and measuring devices in your pockets.  It would cost too much.  It would take up too much room.  It would cost you convenience.  Trust is an important concept here.

Still yet, is an even more moral situation:  If I cut a person’s grass, and at the end of my work, he pays me 30 dollars; that is essentially a certificate showing that I served my fellow man.  When I take my thirty dollars and walk into the supermarket and buy steaks, potatoes, and sodas for my family and I to eat for dinner—the cashier of the supermarket basically says to me:  You want the rancher in Colorado and the farmer in Idaho to serve you?  How have you served your fellow man?  I then produce the certificate of achievement (30 bucks).

Wealth itself is nothing more than scarce information.  I have 30 dollars in my pocket.  If you just compare the cost of goods, you could say that my 30 dollars is worth much less than the food I eat at Applebees.  In fact, if I were to buy the same products that I will consume at Applebees, it might be half as much.  The problem is, I cannot consume 30 dollars.  It is only a piece of paper.  So, I exchange it gladly for something that is worth more to me than the money itself:  namely, food.  Because I am not in the restaurant industry, I do not have the skills, infrastructure, or the resources to make quality dinners.  I don’t have the extra time either!   So—for that scarcity of information, I gladly pay more than it is worth.

A thing derives its value by how much a person is willing to pay for it.

Consider this:  I walk into a supermarket and tell the manager I want a gallon of milk.  He charges me 3 dollars.  If that milk is worth to me more than my three dollars, and my three dollars is worth more to the manager of the store than the milk, we engage in a voluntary contract.  We voluntarily engage in a transaction of trust.  I trust he gives me a gallon of milk, and he trusts that my three dollars are worth three dollars.  I make him feel good and in return, he makes me feel good.  This is called a positive sum gain.  On the flip-side, if I were to walk into that same supermarket and hold a gun to the manager’s head and say, “Give me the milk or I will kill you,” I have just said, “If you do not make me feel good, I am going to make you feel bad.”  This is a zero sum gain.

In all of human history, there has never been an economic system prior to the free market that did not function without zero sum gains.  Most of recorded history notes looting, plundering, theft, and coercion as the norm.  The exception has been the free market system.  It is a system based on trust and reciprocity.

The rule among fallen men is theft.  The exception is voluntary trade.

These are all moral concepts.

Greed isn’t inherently evil.  It drives our transactions.  After all, what is wrong with wanting to better the lives of you and your family?  Even the most ardent socialists I know send their child to piano lessons.  Why?  They want the best for their child.

The contrast of greed is the idea of envy.  Picture this:  You work a 60-hour per week job sweeping floors at a Fortune 500 company.  One night while walking home, you see a large group of people who work at the company eating in the restaurant.  You pause and watch through the window.  The person driven by greed will think to himself, “What must I do to be where they are at?  What have they done that I haven’t?”  This might prompt your working so hard that everyone notices, taking night classes, reading more books so that you can pass a promotion test, or finding a new job at which advancement is possible.  Either way, these are healthy questions to ask.  The other view would say, “It is inherently unfair that they have what I do not.  How can I have some of what they have?”

Now, the political left is well aware of these two differing types of thinking. The conservative would usually reply to this man, “I am going to work to get you equality of opportunity; you are going to have to work to ensure an equality of outcome.”  The progressive, on the other hand would declare, “I agree with you.  It is unfair.  He only has his stuff because he stole it from you.  You deserve to be in there too.  In fact, if you vote for me, I will promise to take some of what he has and give it to you.  I cannot ensure equal opportunity, but I can ensure equal outcome.”

This is zero sum economics.

If you pick the pockets of Peter to pay Paul, you will always have Paul’s vote.

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