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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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Lions and Tigers and Politicians, Oh My

For those of you who don’t follow politics, I’d like to offer a crash course you might find helpful as we enter the political season. For those of you who don’t care about politics, you will because politics will impact your life, and not always in a positive way. In the interest of full-disclosure, I used to be a Republican zealot. I am currently registered as “decline to state,” which is sort of like living without a Facebook page; it’s a non-identity identity.

Basically there are two dominant political ideologies in America: conservatism and liberalism. Conservatism says the most people benefit in society when free-markets are allowed to flourish with limited government interference. Conservatives often believe our government is the source of a society’s woes through excessive regulation and taxation.

The weakness of conservatism is the tendency of human beings to slip from ambitious, hardworking, innovative and visionary to avarice. Eventually avarice gets out of control as people become more willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it means gaming the system, breaking the law or exploiting others.

Now let’s look at liberalism (or “progressives” if you prefer the current politically correct euphemism). Liberalism believes a civilized and more equitable society is achieved through centralized government. It believes the government is the necessary, if not primary, redistributor of wealth, usually through taxation and government services. It believes the government is the go-to entity to ensure fairness. Liberals often believe the society’s woes are the fault of greedy corporations and the wealthy who take advantage of the little guy.

The weakness of liberalism is the tendency of people to become sloth and rely more on the government, thus overburdening taxpayers. With good intentions, it tends to give dangerous amounts of power to the government.

I now understand that too many leaders (generally speaking) at the top these two political ideologies are in bed together (figuratively, I hope), and both sides are plundering the government and exploiting their access to financial markets. For instance, Newt Gingrich, a staunch conservative and decrier of big government, was recently discovered to have received generous fees from Freddie Mac (a quasi-governmental mortgage lender) for consulting services. Nancy Pelosi, a liberal decrier of greedy corporations, recently came under fire for allegedly taking advantage of an insider trading exemption available to members of Congress so that she could use information gleaned on the job to increase her investment earnings. In other words, both of these “ideologue’s” have been accused of using elements of the system they loath for personal gain. These two incidents of double standards were not the sole reason for my epiphany that our political and economic woes can’t be solved by a political ideology alone. I came to that conclusion gradually and as a result of reading books and articles about contemporary politics in America. Every American, despite his or her political ideology, needs to understand things like patronage, no-bid contracts, cronyism, pay for play, malfeasance, special favors and the like. And every American needs to be willing to confront these evil things even when it is someone in your preferred political party engaging in these unsavory practices. We can no longer allow myside bias to blind us.

I still believe some form of capitalism holds the greatest potential to benefit the most people in our society. But our problems, currently, cannot be solved by the policies of a political ideology alone. Here is why:

Proverbs 28:2 (NLT) says, “When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.”

Before you nod in agreement I’d like you to consider the possibility that this passage might not be focusing just on the moral rot we usually think of, such as: hyper and debase expressions of sexuality, divorce, illegal drugs, f-bombs in discourse, vulgar movies and substance abuse. These are bad and hurt our humanity, yes. But when I read through the book of Proverbs, I see quite a few passages like this:

Proverbs 20:23 (NLT) says, “The Lord detests double standards; he is not pleased by dishonest scales.”

Dishonest scales are a symbol of the way we do business with others. It might also include simple friendships where one person constantly gets more than he or she gives. The moral rot will continue to worsen in America until people have the epiphany that our fiscal health is not related to political policies as much as it is related to our morality.

For more information on the subject of “myside bias” read “I Was Wrong, and So Are You” at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/12/i-was-wrong-and-so-are-you/8713/