Posts tagged with: materialism

Blog author: jsunde
Monday, September 21, 2015

tree-colorful-4Over at the Reformation21 blog, Michael Jensen compares what he calls the “scarcity mindset” of the world with the “abundance mentality” of God, noting that “the world as we see it is open to the creative and transformative power of the Lord God.”

Although Jensen’s portrait of civilizational progress is undeservedly bleak (if anything, we’re learning to see beyond scarcity), and although he overstates the conflict between “growing populations” and “diminishing resources” (see Matt Ridley et al), he manages to frame the basic theology quite well:

A theistic worldview, and in particular the Christian one, has at the heart of reality the three-personed God of Love, whose creative energy made everything from nothing at all by his Word, and who makes a great nation out of the fruitless loins of Abraham, and who gives life even to the dead. His grace abounds; his abundance overflows. He enters into, blesses, and renews the earth. The Old Testament testifies again and again to the renewing power of the divine breath upon the earth.

The emblematic episode was the Exodus: a feeding in the wilderness, in which God reminded Israel of the title that Abraham had given him when he provided a ram to substitute for Isaac: yhwh yrh, the God who provides. The manna from heaven was not a natural co-incidence. It was miraculous. It wasn’t supposed to be there – it exceeded nature’s fruitfulness, and enabled survival in the wilderness, where nature was in fact barren…The feeding of the five thousand is the New Testament counterpart to the feeding in the Exodus. The 5000 who gathered in the desert ate from two fish and five loaves, and were satisfied. And, in excess of the Exodus miracle, there were twelve baskets of left overs! The miracle was a provision beyond necessity, to excess.

Of course, as with all the miracles, it’s an object lesson. This is a great extraordinary picture of what the world, when God rules it once for all, will look like. And it isn’t a world in which things will run out. It’s a world in which things overflow, because that’s the character of the God who made it. This is the God who made everything from nothing, not with any strain, but by a word; and the God who gives life to dead. This is the God whose artistry fills the heavens at night, and who has filled the earth with so many creatures that we haven’t counted them all yet. And this is the God, who, despite our willingness to believe that he has our good in mind, gives us even his own Son to supply what we need.

Again, I think these glimpses into the abundance of the not yet are far more prevalent in the here and now than Jensen seems to believe. We have seen unprecedented bursts of innovative and value-creative activity in so many ways, leading to more material needs being met and more bellies being filled than ever before. Surely human greed and vice continue to tempt folks throughout all of that, and the “scarcity mindset” is alive and well among many. But free societies have secured gains not out of quest for self, but by learning to orient inventors, entrepreneurs, and employees in the service of neighbor. (more…)

Braekeleer_Ferdinand_de_A_Peasant_Family_Gathered_around_the_Kitchen_Table_Oil_on_Panel-largeWith the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal empowerment and vocational choice. This is a welcome development, and it can be seized for good in any number of ways. But it also comes with its own risks and temptations.

As with any surface-level “freedom,” unless we seek God first and neighbor second, our action will quickly be steered by pleasure, pride, pursuit of power, or plain old personal preference — leading to shackles that may be looser, but remain shackles nonetheless. Such illusions are nothing new, and lurk no matter what the sphere of our stewardship. But if modernity has wielded a tangible, visible blow to one area in particular, it’s that of the family.

Over the last few decades, marriage has increasingly been misunderstood, and our misaligned approaches to business, education, and politics haven’t helped. Rather than a basic starting point, a foundation of a flourishing society, the family has become just another optional perk in the worship of narrow self-fulfillment.

“Oh that? It’s not for me. Not now.”

As a result, marriage is increasingly seen as a mere contractual arrangement, a 50-50 partnership for the purposes of personal pleasure rather than duty and sacrifice. In turn, culture and family have “evolved” accordingly. Fewer and fewer people are getting married, and those who do are doing so later and later and having fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Divorce is routine. The basic definition of marriage is constantly questioned. (more…)

LemonisMarcus2I’ve written before on how television can be a powerful tool for illuminating the deeper significance of daily work and the beauties of basic trade and enterprise. Shows like Dirty Jobs, Shark Tank, Undercover Boss, and Restaurant Impossible have used the medium to this end, and today at The Federalist, I review a new contender in the mix.

CNBC’s The Profit is arguably the best reality show currently on television. Starring Marcus Lemonis, a Lebanese-born American entrepreneur and investor, each episode highlights an ailing businesses in desperate need of cash, care, and wisdom.

By the end, we get a remarkable view into the types of struggle, pain, glory, and redemption that occur across countless businesses every single day.

The show counters a host of false stereotypes about business, three of which I highlight in my piece. But one that is perhaps more popular and pernicious than all is the notion that business and is necessarily driven by greed and selfishness.

On the contrary, I argue, selfishness kills and service prospers: (more…)

poor-working-class-family-after-the-days-workCapitalism is routinely blamed for rampant materialism and consumerism, accused of setting society’s sights only on material needs and wants, and living little time, attention, or energy for much else. But what, if not basic food, shelter, and survival, was humanity so preoccupied with before the Industrial Revolution?

As Steve Horwitz argues in a preview of his forthcoming book, Hayek’s Modern Family, our newfound liberty and accelerated activity in the Economy of Creative Service has actually freed us to devote more to other spheres of stewardship, not less:

robot 2When arguing about the merits of a free economy, its defenders often give way to a peculiar line of reasoning that goes something like this:

“Socialism would be wonderful if it actually worked, and it could actually work if only men were angels.”

Such claims are meant to frame socialists as foolish idealists obsessed with their silly utopias. But for those of us who believe there’s a certain idealism to the free society, it’s a rather appalling concession. Indeed, the fundamental problem with socialism isn’t so much that its aims are unrealistic — though they most certainly are — but rather that its basic assumptions rely on a view of humanity that is, in so many ways, unreal.

If we let the lofty levelers have their way, we shall inherit a world where humanity is robbed of its dignity and originality, discouraged from creativity and innovation, and restrained from the collaboration and relationship found in free exchange. Even if such a system were to be filled with morally superior know-it-alls and somehow achieve material prosperity, it would still be a society of serfs, submissive to their overlords’ enlightened plans for social “equity,” and thus, servile in all the areas where God intended ownership.

Is a land wherein humans are guided by mere robotic efficiency really something that’s all that wonderful, even if it actually “works”? In whose mind and through what sort of contorted imagination is this considered an “ideal” or “utopia”? (more…)

money-heartI think it is important to keep in mind that it is not the world of economics that is critical to human life on earth. When I left the field of economics for what I still believe to be a more important life agenda, it was because I regarded economics as driving cross-country at 80 mph with my eyes firmly fixed on the rear-view mirror.

We do, in fact, live in a world defined by economic and political realities, just as a fish lives in water. But that economic world has existed for less than 300 years and it will not last forever. When we talk of poverty or the benefits of living above poverty, it’s easy to think that the miseries of poverty are true miseries. But that misery is often only the economic part of the story. Poverty of mind, of person, and, worst, of soul are the true poverties. Comfortable affluence addresses the less important parts of being human.

I wrote my book, Integrated Justice and Equality, to rebuke the current supremacy of the trendy idea about income redistribution. But is income really the point of life? If I had not focused on biblical integration, my work would have just been a commentary on economic well-being without an anchor. (more…)

black-friday1For many, Black Friday epitomizes everything nasty American hyper-consumerism. Stores everywhere are plagued with overly aggressive shoppers, each stuffed to the brim with carb-laden Thanksgiving chow and yet ever-more hungry for the next delicious deal.

It’s all rather disgusting, no?

Quite the contrary, argues Chris Horst over at OnFaith. “Black Friday may have its warts, but let’s not forget the reason for the Black Friday season,” he writes. “The DNA of Black Friday is generosity.”

Wielding a fine mix of basic economics, Christian history, and some good old nostalgia, Horst encourages us to not get caught up in anti-consumerist dismay and instead kick off the holiday season with charity and cheer:

Black Friday commences the Christmas season. This year, Sunday commemorates the official start of the Advent season, but for most Americans, Black Friday initiates the nostalgia and cheer we love most about December. It orients our imaginations toward others and away from ourselves…It’s when Americans turn their attention away from turkey and football and toward buying gifts for one another. We move from Thanksgiving to generosity, shifting from gratefulness for what we have to open-handedness toward those around us…

…Even more, this event is good news for more than just festive shoppers. Black Friday is a big deal for our economy and, consequently, a big deal for all of us…The $600 billion we spend on FitBits, Patagonia ski jackets, and hand-thrown pottery doesn’t just evaporate when we spend it. Those purchases create and sustain livelihoods in garage workshops in our neighborhoods and in warehouses across the globe. They help hobbyists turn their handiwork into employment and give many around the world a shot at a decent job.

This Black Friday, suppress your inner Grinch when you’re tempted to share the story of yet another crazy person fighting over a scarce number of flat screen TVs. Embrace the redemptive side of Black Friday, one that celebrates this season of family and generosity and one that propels our economy forward.