In the wake of the disaster, many are looking back at Haiti’s history to see what has kept this nation in generations of economic despair. As the AP reports:
Two years ago, President Rene Preval implored the world to commit to long-term solutions for his nation, saying a “paradigm of charity” would not end cycles of poverty and disaster.
“Once this first wave of humanitarian compassion is exhausted, we will be left as always, truly alone, to face new catastrophes and see restarted, as if in a ritual, the same exercises of mobilization,” Preval declared.
Indeed, after the early days, weeks, and months following the disaster pass, the “paradigm of charity” needs to give way to the “paradigm of prosperity” if Haiti is to ever achieve its potential.
Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has found relevance in a number of contexts beyond those of its initial utterance. It is most frequently used nowadays to refer to the kind of fullness of power enjoyed by politicians, celebrities, and pop royalty, those who are or consider themselves above the law, morally and sometimes legally.
COVER ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL ELINS
In its January 2010 issue, which went to print before Tiger Woods’ alleged affairs became public, Golf Digest featured a section on what Tiger Woods could teach Barack Obama (and vice versa). It makes for some painful, awkward reading at times in light of what’s happened since.
For instance, author Joe Queenan says that “Tiger never does anything that would make him look ridiculous.” Jackie Burke Jr., who shares Tiger’s permanent locker at Augusta National, similarly notes that “Tiger never answers questions recklessly, and he often pauses to consider his answers before he speaks.” Sometimes those pauses can stretch into days and weeks, apparently.
The critiques of Tiger and what he might learn from Obama sometimes read prophetically. Veteran player and commentator Judy Rankin notes that Tiger “has the ability to be even more memorable than he already is, simply by giving people the occasional personal moment.” Author Bruce McCall says Tiger needs “to be more than grudgingly civil to the vast human throngs awed to be in your presents. That adoration is what supports your empire and unimaginable wealth, so give something back.”
The Acton Institute knows a thing or two about poor fortune in the timing of a publication. An issue of our own Religion & Liberty went to press featuring a cover interview with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford right before his international affair became the stuff of tabloids and gossip pages. This interview was in fact the last one in which he gave an in-depth look at his view of faith and public life before his adultery became public, and so even as painful as it might be to have this kind of thing happen as a publisher, it often does in fact serve some journalistic purpose, as a baseline for critique if nothing else.
In the case of the Tiger Woods feature in Golf Digest, it gives us a permanent snapshot of how Tiger Woods was viewed right before all of this came out, such that the nominal leader of the free world was considered in need of learning a thing (or ten) from him.
One of the comments on the previous post noted a connection between infidelity in so-called personal life and public life, citing Bill Clinton in particular. A recent SNL sketch makes this kind of connection even more apparent:
Amidst all the craziness of l’affaire d’Tigre there are some important questions being raised about the linkage between power, wealth, and faithfulness.
The Wealth Report at The Wall Street Journal asks, “Is it harder to stay faithful with large wealth?”
The initial sociological findings don’t seem to correlate wealth with adultery, at least at any higher rates than the general population of males (interestingly enough, a 2007 survey led to the conclusion, “When it comes to infidelity, money has a bigger impact on women than men.”).
Jesus gives us an apt axiom: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
And so there’s the corollary question of whether dishonesty in one area of life should lead us to question whether there is dishonesty in other areas. Tiger Woods’ apparent and alleged marital infidelities might make us wonder about his emotional control, for instance. Does his robot-like and highly-controlled exterior hide deeper emotional turmoil, as his outbursts on the golf course (both positive and negative) suggest?
And should we wonder whether Tiger would cheat on the golf course? If he’s willing to cheat on his wife, would he cheat at golf? Or does his great love and respect for golf, the ultimate gentleman’s sport, exclude that possibility? And if so, what does that say about his love and respect for his wife?
On the one hand it is clear that one need not be prosperous to be adulterous, greedy, or dishonest. But wealth can sometimes help to insulate us from the common consequences of these sins, and perhaps make facilitate their commission, while at the same time potentially exacerbating the fallout if and when it does come during this life.
Update: A timely word on the economic implications of recent events from SNL, “The PGA Tour: No Tiger, no problem!”
The belief that the essence of capitalism is greed is perhaps the biggest myth Jay W. Richards tackles in his new book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem. One reason for confronting this challenge is that many free market advocates subscribe to the thought that capitalism produces greed, and for them that’s not necessarily a negative. But for those with a faith perspective, greed and covetousness are of course serious moral flaws.
It’s also the kind of myth that less articulate writers would rather not challenge, especially in this troubling economic climate. Richards does however have a skill for tightly honed logical arguments, and he not only is able to defend free markets but tear lethal holes into many of the economic ramblings of the religious left. He even takes on holy of holies like fair trade and Third World debt relief. Richards argues that the free market is moral, something that may come as a surprise to many people of faith. This book provides a crushing blow to those involved in the ministry of class warfare or those who wish to usher in the Kingdom of God through “nanny state” policies.
The book divides into eight chapters, with each chapter discussing a common held economic myth like the “piety myth” or “nirvana myth.” Richards says the piety myth pertains to “focusing on our good intentions rather than on the unintended consequences of our actions.” The nirvana myth characterizes the act of “contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives.” Richards himself states, “The question isn’t whether capitalism measures up to the kingdom of God. The question is whether there’s a better alternative in this life.”
The influence of libertarian economist Henry Hazlitt and Wealth and Poverty author George Gilder are evident through out this book. But the overarching strength of Richards work is how he places the free market message into the context of Christian discussions and debate. Unfortunately before this response, many of the economic arguments by the Christian left weren’t properly countered in popular mediums. Furthermore, the wanton excess of prosperity gospel advocates only fueled or provided ammunition for the religious left’s rebuke of the free market. (more…)
Sports are still able to foster human virtues, especially classical virtues like courage and fortitude. Like any good thing, sport all too often risks becoming an idol, not because of any fault within the institution itself so much as the fault lying within each human participant.
If there’s anything that distinguishes modern sports from classical antecedents, I suppose it would be the wealth that is often attached to high-profile sports today. You might call it the professionalization of sport. Yesterday’s cover story in USA Today examined the extent to which nominally non-professional sports, like college basketball, have become major industries. This is even more the case with overtly professional sports. It seems to me that in the ancient world, there was a great deal of glory or prestige that was associated with victory. But in addition to that aspect of sporting endeavors, we have the added prospect of great wealth for those who excel at golf, tennis, basketball, or football.
Glory may have been an appropriate motivation for pursuing sports in the ancient world, although there’s no doubt that this kind of fame-seeking can become idolatry in its own way. But I’m sympathetic to the view that sports’ ability to foster human virtue is at least potentially compromised by the additional motivation of wealth-seeking. For every athlete that excels today from a deep “love of the game,” there are a dozen others who are in it just for the paycheck.
Writing a commentary for the United Methodist News Service, J. Richard Peck encourages readers to heed John Wesley’s advice on economic policy. “In short, Wesley called for higher taxes upon the wealthy and laws that would prohibit the wasting of natural products,” says Peck. He notes that the cure for economic troubles relating to the poor was to repress luxury.
While some of Wesley’s economc advice is certainly sound, especially his views on the danger of debt, his understanding of basic economic principles in a free economy is severely limited. Kenneth J. Collins, a premier scholar and admirer of Wesley in fact notes as much in his book The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace just how far Wesley actually misses the mark. Collins declares:
Arguing ostensibly from a larger theme of proper stewardship, Wesley posited a “zero sum” world in which the maxim, “if the poor have too little it must because the rich have too much,” by and large ruled the day. As such, not only did he fail to recognize how capitalism actually works in a growing economy, even in a mercantilist one, but also his concern for stewardship, of what he called robbing the poor,” often developed upon such petty matters as the size and shape of women’s bonnets (and he forgets that poor workers often made these accessories) or upon his favorite moral foibles of censure, the consumption of alcohol.
Curiously, Peck also highlights Wesley’s advice for less reliance upon pharmaceuticals. However Peck does not add that Wesley was at war with some healers or physicians in his own time who were taking advantage of the poor with faulty and expensive cures. Wesley published Primitive Physic, or an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases in 1747. He generously distributed copies for free for the poor to fight back against those taking advantage of them. In Wesley’s account there are certainly improvements in medical suggestions, and his tips on healthy living are fairly standard even today. Wesley did not pull these cures and suggestions from thin air, much of his tips came from doctors he trusted. Still there were suggestions like rubbing your head with raw onions for curing baldness and holding a live puppy on the abdomen as a recommendation for intestinal obstruction. The point is that we would not take medical advice from Wesley over more advanced modern medicine, nor should we take economic advice from somebody with little economic understanding. It’s important to note that Wesley’s passionate assistance to the poor is certainly an effort to emulate.
The best advice Methodists can take from Wesley is to be rooted in the Good News he so passionately preached and spread across the globe. When United Methodism as a whole fully recaptures Wesley’s chief suggestion to his followers which was to “preach Jesus Christ and him crucified,” his followers will then again be aligned with the ancient truths.
Lopez: What do love, virtue, and religious faith have to do with money?
Hanna: Money is merely an instrumentality — a tool. It is a tool designed to serve greater ends, like love, virtue, and our faith. However, if we are not thoughtful and deliberate in the way we treat our money, it can work against those ends, rather than for them.
Lopez: Is it fair to say that “non-essential wealth threatens those we love”? Can’t those we love appreciate some luxuries too?
Hanna: Non-essential wealth is a threat — to all of us. A threat is not synonymous with evil, but it is the potential for something evil. When we have non-essential wealth, there is the chance that we spend it unwisely, in ways that can hurt others or ourselves. This possibility does not, however, rule out enjoying life’s legitimate pleasures.
Lopez: Do you feel guilty about being wealthy? Is that a bad thing?
Hanna: Being wealthy is a gift, just like other gifts, and one should no more feel guilty about it than one would feel guilty about being pretty, or playing an instrument well, or being a great athlete. It is how we treat the gift we have received that determines whether we should have guilt.
Lopez: “Money is good” but not greed? A little revision on Michael Douglas?
Hanna: Greed is an unhealthy attachment to money, and is always bad. It is very similar to an unhealthy attachment to food, which we know as the sin of gluttony, or the unhealthy attachment to one’s appearance, which we know as the sin of vanity. Food is good, good grooming is good, and money is good; the unhealthy attachment to any of these things is not good.