Posts Tagged productive

The Test of Self-Interest: Transforming the Natural into the Spiritual

The Journey of Abraham and Lot, 1356-67, Also Manfredi De Battilori Bartolo Di FrediUsing the example of Abraham, who listened to God’s call to ditch his comfort zone, Oswald Chambers provides a lesson in self-denial and obedience:

As soon as you begin to live the life of faith in God, fascinating and luxurious prospects will open up before you, and these things are yours by right; but if you are living the life of faith you will exercise your right to waive your rights, and let God choose for you. God sometimes allows you to get into a place of testing where your own welfare would be the right and proper thing to consider if you were not living a life of faith; but if you are, you will joyfully waive your right and leave God to choose for you. This is the discipline by means of which the natural is transformed into the spiritual by obedience to the voice of God.

Whenever right is made the guidance in the life, it will blunt the spiritual insight. The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best. It would seem the wisest thing in the world for Abraham to choose, it was his right, and the people around would consider him a fool for not choosing. Many of us do not go on spiritually because we prefer to choose what is right instead of relying on God to choose for us. We have to learn to walk according to the standard which has its eye on God. “Walk before Me.”

Such an insight is crucial if we are to successfully execute God’s plan for our lives. As it did for Abraham, such an approach will transcend our earthly concerns, impacting all of our decision making, whether economic, familial, personal/vocational, political, etc.

Without fundamental and intentional alignment to God—through his Word, prayer, the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit, etc.—we are left to our own devices and our own short-sighted notions of the “good.” In our profit-making, we will tend toward rationalizing and justifying actions that are in our perceived self-interest. In our sacrifice, we will tend toward emotionalization—allowing humanistic impulses to guide and direct our giving, which will, in turn, lend toward constructing golden calves.

To serve God, then, we must first deny ourselves, and to deny ourselves in any truly worshipful or productive way, we must live with “the discipline by means of which the natural is transformed into the spiritual by obedience to the voice of God.”

If we do not aim to achieve the right—i.e. the will of God, or what Chambers also calls the “best”—all of our petty, humanistic intellectualizing, emotionalizing, and excuse-making will lead to petty, humanistic outcomes. Surprise, surprise.

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A Real Fair Trade Solution: Kill the Big Ag Behemoth

I have routinely criticized “fair trade” schemes as ineffective, inefficient and counterproductive — a convoluted form of temporary charity that would be better if treated as temporary charity.

The real problems that cause poverty are deep and complicated, and they cannot be fixed by magical price inflation by Westerners (particularly when our own view of value is as distorted as it is).

As I pointed out in my review of Victor Claar’s book on the subject, one of these problems is often the nature of the given market. When it comes to coffee, for example, Claar explains that “coffee growers are poor because there is too much coffee.” The solution is hardly, “more coffee!”

Many of these realities are difficult to change for good reason: accurate, voluntarily determined prices reflect the real preferences of real people who are just trying to create real value. This includes both the consumer and the creator (the coffee grower). Yet other realities are stubborn because they are involuntarily determined.

This is where we should be setting our sights, and this week at AEI’s newly rebranded project, Values and Capitalism (formerly Common Sense Concept), I focus on one of the biggies: agricultural subsidies.

Here’s a taste:

Although the aims of “fair traders” are often noble (e.g. when “equality of outcome” doesn’t masquerade as “fairness”), their efforts would be much better spent tackling the real problems that impact economic development in the long term. If we’re looking for a game of Demolish the Western Privilege Machine, agricultural subsidies are a marvelous piñata.

The price distortion caused by such subsidies is summed up nicely by Daniel Sumner in an AEI paper on the subject:

Farm commodity subsidies—including price and income supports—crop insurance subsidies, and disaster aid encourage US production and disadvantage farmers who attempt to compete with subsidized production from the United States. These programs stimulate more production when Read the rest of this entry »

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Phantom Needs: Projecting Poverty Where It Doesn’t Exist

Mincaye, Waodani

Mincaye doesn't care about your cars and credit cards.

Steve Saint, author of End of the Spear and missionary to a tribe that killed his father, has some marvelous insights on the West’s tendency to project its “standards, values and perception of need onto others,” particularly when it comes to material needs (HT). When we do so, Saint argues, we often impose the opposite: poverty.

Unfortunately, this tendency has been evidenced no more energetically than by Western Christians.

From Saint’s own experience working with the Waodani people, the material needs are far less impending than the typical Westerner assumes. Indeed, the hustle-and-bustle of such outsiders is often deemed distasteful by the very people the West is attempting to “rescue” through material “fulfillment.”

As Saint explains:

When people visit the Waodani, they look around and think, “Wow, these people have nothing!” People from the outside think the Waodani are poor because they don’t have three-bedroom ramblers with wall-to-wall carpeting, double garages so full of stuff the cars never fit and, I guess, because they never take vacations to exotic places like Disney World.

Mincaye, on the other hand, sees the way we “Outsiders” live here in “The foreigner’s place” and makes comments like; “Why, never sitting, do the foreigners run around and around in their car things speaking to each other on their talking things but never hunting or fishing or telling stories to each other?” After traveling and speaking with me in the U.S., Canada and Europe, Mincaye is always greatly relieved to get back to his thatched roof hut, with the open fire wafting smoke in his face, eating whatever happens to be in the cooking pot.

As I have been arguing quite aggressively (here, here, and here), we mustn’t ground our views of mission or vocation or work or needs or productivity or value through our debased, earthly perspective (Romans 1, anyone?). By doing so, we will only dwell in our individual pride and arrogance, whether we think we are “doing good” or not.

By arbitrarily and impulsively acting for the sake of acting (not a good idea), we actually reject the true source of life. There is a reason that the Bible says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” for without actually denying ourselves and submitting to him, we are nothing but Read the rest of this entry »

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Joyful Innovators: Liberty and Dignity in the Christian Lens

welder, welding, fabricating, steel, creativity, ingenuityIn my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I take a look at Bill Easterly’s recent interview with economist Deirdre McCloskey, author of the new book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.

McCloskey seeks to topple our conventional views of what leads to economic growth, arguing that much of it comes down to maintaining proper attitudes about liberty and dignity.

Her thesis, as explained in the interview, is as follows:

Modern economic growth — that stunning increase from $3 a day in 1800 worldwide to now upwards of $130 a day in the richest countries, and anyway $30 as a worldwide average — can’t be accounted for in the usual and materialist ways. It wasn’t trade, investment, exploitation, imperialism, education, legal changes, genes, science. It was innovation, such as cheap steel and the modern university, supported by an entirely new attitude towards the middle class, emerging from Holland around 1600. (It has parallels in classical music and mathematics and politics, in all of which the Europeans burst out, 1600-1800.)

As usual, I turn McCloskey’s theory toward Christianity, and more specifically, evangelicalism, examining how evangelicals tend to view such elements (nowadays) and whether those views are attributable to some recent sociological trend or the belief system itself.

Here’s an excerpt:

To use the evangelical sphere as an example, there seems to be an increasingly common sociological disdain for innovation and markets, which seems to imply that the “tenets” of evangelicalism conflict with Read the rest of this entry »

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The Magic of Industrialization: Washing Machines, Productivity, and the Gospel

Hans Rosling recently gave a TED talk on the immense productivity that has come with industrialization (HT). To demonstrate such benefits, Rosling centers his discussion around the washing machine, a tool most Westerners simply take for granted.

Watch the video here:

Although Rosling puts significant emphasis on the silliness and hypocrisy that permeates the green movement, he concludes his talk by pointing back to the productivity factor. When products assume tasks for us — particularly labor- and time-intensive tasks — we are free to pursue other endeavors.

In the case of Rosling’s mother, the washing machine gave her time to go to the library, teach herself English, and inspire a love for scholarship in her son. Such stories should prompt all of us to think critically about Read the rest of this entry »

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The Redemptive Road Trip: Church Is Not a Gas Station

As mentioned previously, I have been reading David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

In the first part of the book, VanDrunen explains the story of the two kingdoms, starting with the first Adam, and ending with the last. In the second part, he explains how we as humans are to participate in both kingdoms, relying heavily on the term “sojourner” to characterize our role on this earth.

In the third and final part, VanDrunen discusses what he believes to be the overarching purpose for earthbound Christians: the church. If we are only sojourners on this earth, how are we to treat the church in the larger earthly context? (Or is the church the larger earthly context?) It is is this point that I want to explore for a bit.

VanDrunen begins by summarizing two popular analogies for going to church that I’m sure you’ve all heard:

One popular analogy is that going to church is like stopping at a gas station. Church is a place where we stop to fill up our tanks after a tiring and stressful week and thus get recharged for the week ahead. Another analogy compares going to church to a huddle in a football game. Church is the gathering of all the team’s players so that they can regroup, encourage each other, and prepare for separating again and facing the opponent through the coming week.

VanDrunen quickly moves on to explain why he thinks such analogies are “radically insufficient and misleading.” Here are the two primary deficiencies as VanDrunen sees them:

Deficiency #1: Church is not a human-centered event.

Perhaps most obviously, these analogies portray going to church as a human-centered event. Going to church is not primarily about me or even about Read the rest of this entry »

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Giving and Receiving: Christmas, Consumers, and Charity

Buy More Stuff, Christmas, consumerism, shoppingChristmas is a wonderful time of year, but it has recently become an occasion to ridicule America’s consumer culture.

In a recent post at Ethika Politika, I address some of the issues surrounding consumerism and charity, pointing out that one just might be a driver of the other.

Here’s an excerpt:

We like to call it “consumer culture” (most often with an “evil” at the beginning). People are standing in lines for petty products, spending money they don’t have, and passing out extensive wish lists and catalogs to friends and family. On the surface, it appears to be a spectacle of shallowness and shortsightedness. Buy, buy, buy! Sell, sell, sell! It’s all so terrible, isn’t it?

For some, it most certainly is, but for most of us, consumerism isn’t so much a sign of our materialism as it is a representation that we rely on things for survival and pleasure. In this understanding, it would seem that our consumer culture isn’t such a bad thing at all, particularly around Christmastime, when much of our buying is concerned with the interests of others. Through this lens, is there anything healthy to be found in the bustling consumeristic spirit of the holidays?

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Deny Yourself: The Upside-Down Economics of Christianity

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Sebastiano Conca (1746)

Many have dismissed Christianity by claiming it is based in an ideology of pure selflessness — one in which the truly devoted Christian is destined to a life of pain, poverty, and abandonment. Given how many actual Christians assume this perspective, such a view is understandable. But although the Bible promotes selflessness on many levels, the holistic truth about what God intends for us is a bit more nuanced.

The key to overcoming this confusion is a recognition of the difference between poorly aligned and properly aligned self-interest.

Jesus provides the clearest explanation of these matters in Matthew 16:24-28:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Jesus then illuminates the profit motive behind it all:

…”For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

As counterintuitive as it may appear in natural terms, the choice to “lose your life” and follow Jesus provides the ultimate value. But although the new covenant is not a zero-sum game, we must remember to keep our intentions in selfless mode. That’s the tricky part. We must deny ourselves even while doing so will be in our best interest.

This is a challenge, because we are natural beings prone to natural inclinations. Even when we center our hearts and minds around the Word of God, we are constantly tempted to act according to Read the rest of this entry »

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