Archived Posts April 2012 - Page 5 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

My ongoing reflection on the Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins continues with today’s Acton Commentary, “Bread First, Then Ethics.” This piece serves as a sort of follow-up to an earlier commentary, “Secular Scapegoats and ‘The Hunger Games,'” as well as an essay over at First Things I wrote with Todd Steen, “Hope in the Hunger Games.”

In this week’s commentary, I examine the dynamic of what might be understood to reflect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as depicted in the Hunger Games (HT to Hunter Baker for his reference to Maslow). In general, “Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs.” Or more succinctly: bread first, then ethics.
Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsThis dynamic is captured nicely in a brief dialogue in the film between Katniss and Peeta. Peeta expresses his frustration at their situation: “I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don’t own me. If I’m gonna die, I wanna still be me.”

To this Katniss responds bluntly: “I just can’t afford to think like that.” Survival first, then she can worry about making ethical stands or moral gestures. Bread first, then ethics.

In today’s piece, I conclude that “the pagan answer to the question of hope focuses on bread first, and only afterwards (and perhaps never) on spiritual or moral matters.” The situation is a bit more complex than this, however. What we should understand by “first” in this sense is not necessarily temporal, but rather a priority of purpose or significance.

There’s a certain element of truth to something like Maslow’s hierarchy, even if one might quibble with the details. As Bertolt Brecht famously put it, “Erst kommt das Fressen / Dann kommt die Moral,” or “First comes eating, then comes morality.” A church teaching that ignores the physical needs of people, or only on the life to come, is truncated and flawed. Scot McKnight’s recent book The King Jesus Gospel makes this point quite well.

Indeed, as the Puritan Richard Baxter observed,

If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings, not as if we were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men; God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily sense to the soul.

So seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added as well. Do not allow for material goods to become a distraction, or even an idol, that steals attention away from our focus on “pardon and spiritual blessings.” But don’t let our focus on “spirituality” become otherworldly and disembodied.

The gospel is good news for the whole person, body and soul. What God has joined together, let no one tear asunder.

Subsidiarity has becomes shorthand for smaller government, while solidarity is now shorthand for expansive government. But as Msgr. Charles Pope explains, there is more nuance to the terms than the reductionist slogans suggest:
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Schools are controlled by the government, but they serve specific communities with niche needs, says Paul T. Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Is there a way that education be publicly funded but privately managed?
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How shalom, common good and prosperity can come from an unlikely place.

An interview with Gary Stratton by Jon Hirst.
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Work: The Meaning of Your Life“When conducting Business as Mission, the primary purpose has to be to expand the Kingdom of God,” said Joseph Vijayam, founder and managing director of Olive Technology, a Colorado Springs-based information technology services provider. “Profits and an increase of shareholder wealth are an important result of a solid business that is well executed and are essential for the survival of any business, but they need not become the very purpose for existence.”

Vijayam invites Christian business leaders to reflect on the place of profits in the context of Tax Day here in the US: “I am not challenging business owners to stop making profits, but instead to look at those profits in a completely new way.”

In a piece for Comment magazine last year, “Reforming Economics,” I argued, “For too long a view has held dominance that has portrayed profit as a purpose or end, rather than as a means or a consequence. That is to say, the pursuit of profit is acceptable when it is couched within the broader framework of and constrained by the norm of service of others.”
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The noir heroes like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” served as models for a generation of Americans, says David Brooks. The new generation of apolitical social entrepreneurs could learn from them too:
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Since your wallets are probably a bit lighter due to Tax Day here in the United States, Acton wants to help out by giving you a free e-book: Globalization, Poverty and International Development. Just follow the link, Globalization, to get our monograph from Lord Brian Griffiths delivered free to your Kindle or e-reader. This offer is available beginning at 3 a.m. EST, 4/17/12 until 3 a.m. EST, 4/19/12.

 

Legal scholar Orin Kerr provides excerpts from the concurring opinion today in Hettinga v. United States, in which Judge Janice Rogers Brown (joined by Judge Sentelle) argues that the Supreme Court should overturn its rational basis caselaw in the economic area and return to a Lochner-era regime of judicial scrutiny for economic regulations:
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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty released an Easter week statement titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” The document outlines recent threats to religious liberty in the States and abroad while endorsing an upcoming  “Fortnight for Freedom” to defend what it calls “the most cherished of American freedoms.”

We suggest that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this “fortnight for freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.

This thoughtful and well-reasoned statement is a necessary read not just for Catholics, but for all concerned with religious liberty. To read it in its entirety, click on the link above.

As Michelle Kaffenberger points out, parents in the poorest parts of India share a concern of many Americans: Their children don’t actually learn much in the public schools.
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