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Pope Francis The Red?

Pope Francis / Agencia Brasil

Pope Francis / Agencia Brasil

Pope Francis recently committed a cardinal sin (I crack me up) by criticizing unfettered capitalism and its effects on the poor. This earned him a bit of ire from conservatives across America. Then an Oxfam report came out claiming that 85 of the richest people have as much wealth as half the world. If true, it is an uncomfortable statistic, to say the least.

Conservative and liberal zealots read stories like these and double down on their preferred worldview. Within Christendom, conservative Christians cite Bible verses that promote personal responsibility, hard work, and freedom. Liberal Christians cite verses that have a socialist feel promoting the sharing of wealth for the benefit of all. For a sample of each, read 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and Acts 4:32-35. (Oh which to choose?)

Conservatives blame our economic and social woes on the ruling class within a growing, intrusive government that impedes free markets which could improve the lives of more people if allowed to function with less government meddling. Liberals decry the greed of big business, the wealthy, and systemic flaws that stack the economy against the little guy. My point is that elements of BOTH of these divergent worldviews—capitalism and socialism—are mentioned in the Bible as having value in the correct context. Therefore it is theologically shaky ground for Christians to embrace one worldview and demonize ALL elements of the other. There is an ethos behind each worldview that the Bible conveys to humanity—personal responsibility AND responsibility for our neighbors is not mutually exclusive in the Bible. Granted, there are good arguments regarding whether government is the best middleman for taking care of our neighbors who can’t care of themselves.

Each worldview has weaknesses because it exists in a corrupted world. Sinful people will take advantage in either of these worldviews. These days, leaders in Washington, business, media, and labor game the system for their own personal enrichment while pandering to followers of these worldviews.

Do I favor one of the two primary worldviews over the other? Yes! I favor capitalism. But the real source of our economic and social problems in America has more to do with deteriorating ethics among the general population and at the highest levels of our formerly venerable institutions. Some forms of unethical behavior in business and politics have become so pervasive that it is now just considered business as usual. We have become sophisticated in our unethical ways. Even if we adopt more of a socialist approach in America, we will still have big problems because our ethics and tolerance for unethical behavior sucks.

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife recently pled not guilty to corruption charges. (Google “Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell” for some of the details on the case.) According to news reports, McDonnell has steadfastly insisted that he did nothing “illegal” in his dealings with businessman Jonnie Williams. This statement caused me to reflect on the possibility that many of us rely too much on the “legal” versus “illegal” benchmark when evaluating our actions. When making choices, perhaps considering “right” versus “wrong” is healthier and less problematic than leaning on the strict letter of the law. The law can’t lead us to a good heart, though a good heart can help us obey the law.

Of course, healthy ethics won’t prevail unless the majority of people believe pure ethics originate with God. Why? God doesn’t change and the Bible tells us that he is more concerned with the spiritual health of our heart. Without the higher and flawless authority of God, we adjust our ethics to suit ourselves or the culture around us.

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Mayhem in the Heart: The Chris Dorner lesson

MP900385401The sickening spasm of violence attributed to former police officer Chris Dorner is extremely disturbing, in part, because Dorner’s writings, along with accounts of his friends, reveal the mind of a person who could be our next door neighbor. It is more reassuring when mass-murderers are inarticulate and clearly loony. Granted, we may never know for sure if Dorner was mentally ill. But his tragic story should sober us as a society. Why? Because reports on Dorner’s life indicate he was a man who often thought he was victimized by others. Teachers, administrators, and colleagues all, in his mind, treated him unjustly. In other words, it was always someone else’s fault for the problems in his life. You know the type: the person who never examines their own responsibility and veracity.

Dorner’s tragic tale reminds me of Jeremiah 17:9: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

This verse is an uncomfortable reminder that we are all capable of evil, even the most sane among us. We don’t like to think we are capable of snapping and going over the edge. But you see, Dorner’s problems may have had little to do with his childhood development or the functionality of neurotransmitters in his brain. It is possible that he simply fed and nourished the wickedness in his heart until it prodded him to evil action.

Christ sees exactly how deep our wickedness goes. That is partly why Jesus says “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Jesus is telling us to examine ourselves FIRST. An honest self-examined life helps us avoid falling into that tragic pit where we perceive all negative events as the fault of someone else. If we enter that dreadful pit, well, there is no telling how twisted our thoughts and actions can become. The imperative of Christ that we examine our hearts is not a guarantee that we won’t encounter actual injustice now and then; it just helps us refrain from feeding the beast of wickedness in our heart. Proper self-examination nourishes our mental and spiritual health and helps us get along with others as far as it depends on us.