Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Meditation for Good Friday: Invisible Hands Don't Bleed

Adam Smith wrote about the invisible hand of the market, created by the conjunction of the forces of self-interest, competition, and supply and demand.  However, some Christians seem to view the invisible hand as the very hand of God.  Others are idolatrous in a different way: they worship the invisible hand instead of God, trusting it to miraculously produce a better world for all. Jim Wallis' comments at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos are as relevant today as they were then:

We have trusted in “the invisible hand” to make everything turn out all right, believing that it wasn’t necessary for us to bring virtue to bear on our decisions. But things haven’t turned out all right and the invisible hand has let go of some things, such as “the common good.” The common good hasn’t been very common in our economic decision-making for some time now. And things have spun out of control....

...Gandhi’s seven deadly social sins seem an accurate diagnosis for some of the causes of this crisis:  “politics without principle, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.”

On Friday, we will remember the Lamb of God, who was not an invisible hand, but the very Word and Image of God, incarnate.  He took on the sins of individuals, and societies, sacrificing Himself to redeem us, and forgiving us for trusting and worshipping false gods. An invisible hand doesn't itself bleed; it  bleeds others. However, Christ's hands bled, bled for our greed and pride and envy.

After His resurrection, his hands still bore the marks of that sacrifice. He invites us to be transformed: to replace our self-interest with love for God and neighbor; to quit competing and find agreement and cooperation through His Spirit; to trust him to supply our needs.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Americans see Christianity, capitalism clash
By Nicole Neroulias

Are Christianity and capitalism a marriage made in heaven, as some conservatives believe, or more of a strained relationship in need of some serious couples' counseling?
A new poll released Thursday found that more Americans (44 %) see the free market system at odds with Christian values than those who don't (36 %), whether they are white evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics or minority Christians.

But in other demographic breakdowns, several categories lean the other way: Republicans and Tea Party members, college graduates and members of high-income households view the systems as more compatible than not.

The poll, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, found that although conservative Christians and evangelicals tend to want their clergy to speak out on issues like abortion and homosexuality, they also tend to hold left-of-center views on some economic issues.

"Throughout the Bible, we see numerous passages about being our brother's keeper, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and healing the sick," said Andrew Walsh, author of Religion, Economics and Public Policy and a religion professor at Culver-Stockton College.

"The idea that we are autonomous individuals competing for limited resources without concern for the welfare of others is a philosophy that is totally alien to the Bible, and in my view, antithetical to genuine Christianity."

The findings add a new wrinkle to national debates over the size and role of government, and raise questions about the impact of the Tea Party's cut-the-budget pressure on the GOP and its traditional base of religious conservatives.

The poll found stronger religious distinctions over the question of businesses acting ethically without government regulation, and whether faith leaders should speak out about economic concerns such as the budget deficit and the minimum wage.

White evangelicals (44 %) are more likely than other Christians or the general population to believe that unregulated businesses would still behave ethically, and they place a higher priority on religious leaders speaking out about social issues over economic concerns.

Minority Christians, in contrast, believe clergy should be vocal about both areas — particularly on the economic issue of home foreclosures, which 76 % considered important, compared to 46 % of the general population.

"Minority Christians have a deep theological tradition of connecting faith and economic justice, and we see that link in the survey," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. "Because minorities in the U.S. generally continue to have lower incomes than whites, economic issues are also more salient in these congregations."

In other findings:

•Half of women believe that capitalism and Christian values are at odds, compared to 37 % of men.

•A majority (53 %) of Democrats believe capitalism and Christian values are at odds, compared to 37 % of Republicans and 41 % of independents. A majority (56 %) of Tea Party members say capitalism is consistent with Christian values.

•Nearly half (46 %) of Americans with household incomes of $100,000 a year or more believe that capitalism is consistent with Christian values, compared to just 23 % of those with household incomes of $30,000 a year or less.

• Most Americans (61 %) disagree that businesses would act ethically on their own without regulation from the government. White evangelicals (44 %) are more likely than Catholics (36 %), white mainline (33 %) or minority Christians (34 %) to say unregulated businesses would act ethically.

"The most idolatrous claim of the Christian right is that the invisible hand of the free market ... is none other than the hand of God," Walsh said, "and any attempt to regulate the free market, according to this theology, belies a lack of faith in God."

The Rev. Jennifer Butler, executive director of the Washington-based group Faith in Public Life, said the fact that religious values seem to trump political or class differences can help groups like hers advocate for the poor.

And in ongoing debates in Washington over the budget and cuts to domestic spending, that means "making the wealthiest Americans and corporations pay their fair share in taxes" she said.

"People of faith have a unique ability to show political leaders that the economy is a moral issue," she said. "Even some members of Congress are beginning to echo our argument that protecting the most vulnerable as we get out of debt is a moral duty."

The PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll was based on telephone interviews of 1,010 U.S. adults between April 14 and 17. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

1 comment:

Ann said...

The statistic that surprised me the most was that 33-44% of Christians believe that unregulated business would act ethically. That is incredible in the literal sense of the word! Proverbs makes it clear that those who lie & act unrighteously are the very ones who are most apt to be trapped by liars & the unrighteous. The wise know better. Do we see shades of James 1:23-24 in the self-identifying "Christians"?