Balancing the common wealth & self
The politics of the day are scary – no matter where one stands on the political spectrum. I know and have friends who cannot for their life imagine how people, much less saints can stand on the opposite end of that spectrum from their own point of view.
What disturbs me most is that from these extreme positions my own friends find it impossible to understand, much less respect that others have other than mine positions. I found this article helpful. Note especially the first paragraph and the “tension between libertarian individualism and pursuit of the common good”.
For sure, I find the tea party and the libertarians to be “the party of ‘me'”. I find this directly in contradiction to Scripture, where “me” is paramount over others. I do not need to list the violations of the character of God, instruction for us, etc, that this violates. Yet, saints line up here by the thousands. I outright indict these brothers and sisters as buying into Babylon’s lie, value system, and demonic goal of it being about “me”… “Behold, in the last days, people will be lovers of themselves…”. Now that I have stirred the pot, take a read, and I’ll pick up afterwards:
IN PURSUIT OF THE COMMON GOOD
“A TENSION BETWEEN libertarian individualism and pursuit of the common good characterizes all Western liberal democracies. This tension is nowhere more acute today than in the United States, where the forces of libertarian individualism are far more powerful than in Europe, or than they have been in our country at any time since the late 19th century. But Christian tradition affirms that human beings are social, cannot flourish in isolation, and should seek the well-being of the whole rather than merely their own well-being—and that government exists especially to pursue the common good of the whole community.
By “libertarian individualism,” I mean the belief that societies and their governments are a necessary evil: Individuals are what matter, and all that these lone rangers seek from their neighbors is to be left alone to pursue the “good life” as they define it. Individuals reluctantly choose to give up a little of their freedom—as little as possible—to governments, whose very limited purpose, according to this view, is to provide the security services that are absolutely necessary to prevent threats against persons and property.
Laissez-faire capitalism in its pure form extends the same kind of thinking to corporations. What might be called “corporationist individualism” views a business as a kind of individual actor that should be left alone to pursue its goals.
Understanding this vision helps us make sense of the rhetoric and policy proposals of the major players in the Republican Party today. The reason Ron Paul can argue for the abolition of major government departments, such as Education and Housing and Urban Development, is because he believes providing such services is no proper business of government. One reason many Republicans want a flatter tax structure is because the idea of progressive taxation—where the wealthier pay at least a marginally higher tax rate than the poor—enshrines a vision of government in which its actions seek to contribute to a more level economic playing field. But such a goal, from a libertarian point of view, is completely inappropriate for government to pursue.
Such individualism is a relatively recent innovation, traceable at its earliest to the 17th century. It is a mere child compared to the much older, and much preferable, Christian theological-ethical tradition of the common good. The stark contradictions between the two visions became noticeable quite early in the emergence of modern liberal democratic capitalism. These differences eventually evoked fierce battles on the part of Christian leaders to curb the worst excesses of libertarian and corporationist individualism.
The Catholic social teaching tradition is one important voice that affirms strong commitment to the common good. I resonate deeply with this tradition when it affirms that God created humans as social rather than solitary creatures; that the well-being of the individual is inextricably connected to the well-being of all; that all Christians must be interested in contributing to “social conditions which allow people … to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily”; and that “the role of the state is to defend and promote the common good,” as the Catholic catechism puts it.
The upsurge of libertarian individualism is wrong theologically, wrong ethically, and wrong in terms of the public policies it inspires. It will and must be challenged by the common good tradition.”
January 2012 Issue, Sojourners Magazine
David P. Gushee teaches Christian ethics at Mercer University in Georgia.
My politics will alienate anyone who buys into the political mumbo jumbo today. To watch these candidates manipulate their gross sinful lifestyles to fit the moment, to see the religious groups wink and nod to accept them as if they care for the common person, all knowing that they are being used…. to see the political extremism being squawked as if it is feasible or reasonable… it’s all rubbish. It ignores that the President actually has little control over what is happening under his/watch… and that many forces cause such issues. It ignores that the corpritocity actually runs the nation and the world. It ignores that their lobbyists with no limits today in campaign contributions buy who we actually have representing us. Sickening comes to mind as my summary.
Yet for the right, I have huge issue that the libertarian individualism of “me” has leaked into the main stream thinking. It ignores the “common good” that the article above espouses. On a pragmatic sense, the best and healthiest nation, the long term sustainability requires a solid deep bench in the health of the nation. Yet the recklessness of the financial institutions in the 90’s and up to 2008, when Presidents Clinton and Bush dismantled regulation over these industries, caused huge pain. The trickle down economics from President Reagan forward has seen the most wealthy become more so, the middle class lose 10% of it’s buying power and the middle class see a huge percentage of the former middle class people slip into poverty. The same rubbish quoting Colossians 3 continues to be taunted as if it is legitimate for their greed – denial of the economic collapse that saw MILLIONS lose jobs, towns go under, states go under, education go south, higher education get the fist, etc.
In Louisiana, the Governor (Bobby Jindall) is a GOP darlin’. He’s vowed to never raise taxes and has in fact cut state revenues stating it will help the state… then cut every state agency, especially education, higher education and road works… Ever drive on the highways here? The struggling education system is on life support now, and the higher education which was making headway into the brain drain is now on its heels again. LSU, which had 30K undergraduates at the Baton Rouge campus alone is down to 22K…. cuts and fees hiked! Yet the people in the wealthier and redneck parts of the state love him… There is a huge blindness that he’s not acting in favor of the state today or tomorrow, but posturing for national stages and the 4.5M people are mere stepping stones as he tap dances on our heads. But he touts the “me” Gospel and people buy it.
The lack of care for the common good is very concerning for me. We’re walking with a woman now, who was a mom, staying at home to care for her daughter, a small 10 hour/week job to help meet ends works two nights a week to help cover expenses was her only absence, when her husband was not working. He leaves her and refuses to give her any support …she’s next to homeless with no way to pay for food, much less an apartment, car, insurance, medical insurance, etc. Yet the GOP wants to cut support structures like this.
I had a friend discuss the failings of a specific health care system… how it was 74% ineffective. His answer was to close it down. Maybe – if we were rebirthing it something effective! BUT why not completely overhaul it and get some fresh blood in there to fix it? Hard to change the rules to empower a leader to do that? Bet it’s easier to change those rules than close it down, care for the people who miss out and recreate a new one!
The Biblical foundation for this common good concern I have is simple… ANYTHING we have is HIS to start with. Any gift we have (natural, acquired or spiritual gift) is not for us… it is for the good of the body, for others, for benevolence, not for us. Think of every example in the Bible – it’s not ours – it’s for others. Recall the verses about barns, Samaritans, Centurions, the poor, the greedy, stewarding 1, 5 & 10 drachmas, etc. How much does Jesus have to directly talk about something till we don’t justify, minimize and sin in our selfishness. Our success financially, for those who do have a gift to be successful is for OTHERS… it is your contribution to the Kingdom…. Who and where is the Kingdom? Where, whom and what has He put before you to love through your success? Am I calling successful people to be poor? Not necessarily… I am calling you to simplicity, sacrifice, generosity, graciousness, empathy, sympathy, and the Godly pastoral care for others though. Many states are actually not states, but “COMMON WEALTHS”. It is a commonality – a shared endeavor. Ever read books from pre-globalism? When a steam boat would dock, the entire town would show up with carriages, wagons, dollies, etc… there would be needed and it took everyone to participate together. The Asian rice farmers could teach us something – you can’t fill, drain or harvest your rice crop without complete cooperation amongst the entire village. Hmm. Ever hear the term, “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well, we don’t anymore and how’s that working out for us as a society? Hmm.
Now, for the liberals – government is needed and leadership is needed and federal centralized efforts have a place. For example, in Texas, there is an educational investment variation from the wealthy suburban Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio school districts (white), and the rest of Texas. “Those schools” get an average of $800/student than the rest of Texas! That’s huge in what can be done to educate children – then we wonder why they stay poor! That is a different education!
With this said – the liberal approach to apply it all from the top doesn’t work – the right has a point here. It is consistently too big, too complex, too inefficient, too much administration, too lazy a people, too few measurables, too impersonal to effectively apply the force at hand. The best application of federal dollars is best applied as low and local as possible.
And, the left wing is as guilty of lobbyist influence as anyone else in congress. The left also does not require some effective progress. Sure, there must be room for those who cannot make progress and will always need help. Yet, the very generational poverty moochers that drive the right nuts, are the ones of who nothing is required… I get why the right gets exasperated.
On the foreign side, well, there is responsibility as a blessed nation, but guys on the right – we’re empire now and its ugly. Left, we can’t do everything… libertarians, you’re naive as the day is long. Are you crazy? Don’t answer that… you are!
To be Biblical, requires sacrifice. To be Biblical requires discernment. To be Biblical requires mercy and a posture for the common good. To be Biblical requires courage to shut down the undue lobbyist influence – and this will bring us close to revolution to shut them down – but if we don’t, the republic of representation of the people is done, if its not done now. The role of President is impudent in the current climate. We need Biblical courage to stand up to Babylon and become the people we must be to reflect our Imago Dei.
As we enter 2012 – to be a Biblical people, we must participate in the politics – it is how we affect the social systems that impact people and that is what Jesus would do. To be a Biblical people, we must die to ourselves. To be a Biblical people, we must voice God’s desire for who we are to be – that we can look at ourselves in the mirror. AND to be a Biblical people we MUST STOP the hatred and disparagement of other good people who have perspectives different from ours. Politics have gotten so ugly, it is debase. We have allowed the powerful to manipulate us to do their bidding as they exercise undue power and influence at our expense.
May God’s people by the dam breakers that sets the example for the entire lost and hurting nation within which we live. May be live an example towards each other – for they will know we are Christians by our love.