So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Imago Dei, Part Four

            Today I’m going do something I usually try to avoid. I’m going to step a little outside the bounds of what Scripture plainly says and indulge in a little speculation. I’m not going to say anything that’s anti-biblical, of course, but much of what I’m going to post today isn’t really directly supported by the Bible.
            Why am I so in favor of the Free Market System, AKA capitalism? Well, there are lots of reasons (here if you’re so inclined), but here’s one which I haven’t discussed before, and it fits right into the topic of the Imago Dei.
            Simply put, the FMS allows the full-flowering of the Image of God far more than any command-and-control economy which the Left prefers. Here are my arguments/thoughts on it.
            Again, I’m going outside of what Scripture explicitly says, although I’m in agreement with theological giants such as Calvin. I believe that one aspect of the Imago Dei is our innate creativity. Alone among all his creatures we’re made  in his image, right? So if the Bible isn’t as clear as we’d like as to what that means, then one possible way might be to examine how we’re different from the rest of creation, especially the higher forms of life like mammals. And one way we’re definitely different is in the area of creativity.
            For example, beavers build dams. The Lord put inside their genes and provided whatever they needed in order to build dams on rivers. But beavers have been building dams the same way for as long as there’ve been beavers. You don’t have any beavers looking at trees and saying “Hmmm, my father built a dam this way, like his father before him, like his father before him. But what if we were to build it this way instead?”
            I’m fascinated by ants, and not just because I used to be in the pest-control industry. When it rains really hard, you can usually see plenty of ant mounds in yards all over the area, right? Do you know why you see that? When ants sense that the rains are coming down (or about to), they raise up their mounds above the ground and move their eggs to the high ground to make sure the eggs don’t drown. Like me, Solomon—inspired by the Holy Spirit—was also fascinated by ants and pointed us towards them for some ant qualities which we should emulate, such as industriousness and a willingness to prepare for future deprivations. But one quality you won’t find Solomon praising them for. . . is creativity. Despite what you might’ve seen in movies, ants don’t question their surroundings and working conditions and living conditions and ask “What if we were to do it another way?” In movies like that, the ants and other bugs are infused with anthropomorphism, giving them qualities like human beings so we can relate to them. Ants in the real world keep doing things the exact same way ants have been doing things since God created the ant.
            But not so with people. Starting around the mid- to late-18th century, the free market system (with America and Great Britain leading the charge) started to unleash people’s creativity like never before in human history. Within a few short years we had so many incredible advances in medicine, transportation, architecture, science, and a host of other fields.
            In stark contrast, let’s imagine that you were born in India around the 15th century. It so happens that you’re the most brilliant person in India, maybe the smartest and most creative person in the world at that time. If given half a chance, you would’ve made Da Vinci look like a kid with brain damage. But because you were born into the “dung shoveler” caste, guess what? You’re going to be shoveling dung for all your life, and raising any objections would only make life even more unpleasant for you.
            But in a Free Market System, theoretically you can go as far in life as your creativity, ambition, drive, and hard work can take you. Please notice that I said theoretically. There are plenty of things in life which can hold you back from fully participating in what God created you to be: lousy parents, a lousy education, a bad neighborhood, or possibly some racism or other unjustified discrimination. But you can have all those bad things in societies with less economic freedom. The Soviet Union had bad parents as well. But if people in general aren’t held back by an oppressive government, it’s going to stand to reason that you’re going to see a lot more technological advancement in societies with more economic freedom. To a much larger degree in an FMS society than in any other type of system, the only thing holding you back from advancing as far as you’d like is. . . you! The choices you make.
            We’re all created by God in his image, and I think part of that is creativity, to look at people shoveling dirt out of a hole and asking “I wonder if there’s another way to do that. . . wait! I have an idea!!!” If your idea works and makes lives better for folks, then theoretically in an FMS you’ll get rewarded for that. Does it always happen that people get rewarded for their great ideas and hard work? No. We live in a fallen world with plenty of injustice. My only contention on that score is that in an FMS you’re going to see less of that than in any command-and-control economy.
            And it’s not just an issue of comfort. Yes, I love me some AC in Texas in August, but it’s more than that. I’m diabetic. I’m dependent on an insulin pump which acts as an artificial pancreas. One of my earliest memories is that of my mom undergoing a series of operations for cancer, and surviving. That was in the early 1980’s, and now they can perform cancer treatments which were literally unimaginable just 10 years ago. Look at cancer survival rates now versus 20 years ago, or even less.
            And there's something else to consider re: the Imago Dei and the Free Market System (the FMS). One of the errors which FMS advocates like myself is constantly fighting is the notion that wealth in any economy is a zero-sum game. To put it simply, a zero-sum system is one in which if person A improves his standard of living by a certain degree, then ipso facto person B's standard of living degrades by the same degree. If your neighbor gets richer, then you have to get poorer. Most games are like that: If person A wins a game of Chess, or Monopoly, or Basketball, then by definition, the other person(s) playing the game has to lose
            But one of the effects of the Image is that we can actually create wealth, and we don't have to make someone poorer by doing it. In most of creation, life really is a zero-sum game. The only way that creature A improves his existence, or even continues living, is by taking something from creature B, either by taking B's territory or food or life. But because I'm created in God's image, one of the wonderful things about that is that I can improve my life and at the same time improve the lives of others around me if the FMS is in effect. If I invent a new way of doing things, then that benefits me but it probably will benefit others. If I get wealthier, that also improves the lives of those I hire and buy things from. But I have to reiterate that this is best put in motion in a Free Market System, in which people's creativity is most set free to take them as far they can go. 
            Or how about long-term poverty? Please forgive me as a I quote myself:

According to the Economist, almost one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the last 20 years. One. Billion. People. And according to the article, what's the main cause? Well, the writer calls it "capitalism," but I much prefer calling it the "Free Market System" or "economic freedom." It's allowing people to voluntarily trade for mutual benefit with a minimum of government interference (including corruption). It's letting people make their own economic decisions instead of a government bureaucrat making them for them. That's what gets people out of dire poverty over the long-term, not charity, and especially not government aid. Charity is wonderful for keeping people from dying in the short-term due to disasters, either man-made or natural. I'm all for that. But if you really want to get a large group of people out of sustenance-level poverty in the long-term, there's only one thing that's worked. It's the FMS, made up of voluntary exchange for mutual benefit, and (according to Jay W. Richards) also includes such concepts as "property rights, rule of law, personal virtues like diligence and thrift, ingenuity, cultural values like trust, an orientation to the future, and a willingness to delay gratification." As Richards also puts it, when it comes to actually helping the poor, "[we] Christians need to decide if we want to keep advocating what is hip and fashionable, or the oatmeal-variety stuff that actually works."

            To this list, I’d like to add “innovation.” It’s using food production techniques which allow us to feed so many more people with less effort and less land. Here’s how Nobel-prize winning Milton Friedman put it:

When the United States was formed in 1776, it took 19 people on the farm to produce enough food for 20 people. So most of the people had to spend their time and efforts on growing food. Today, it's down to 1% or 2% to produce that food. Now just consider the vast amount of supposed unemployment that was produced by that. But there wasn't really any unemployment produced. What happened was that people who had formerly been tied up working in agriculture were freed by technological developments and improvements to do something else. That enabled us to have a better standard of living and a more extensive range of products.

            This is the FMS at work, unleashing our God-given creativity.
            Now, is there a dark-side to this? Yes. Unfortunately, we’re still sinners. We have a sinful nature which has twisted and perverted our Image. He gives us creativity, and we use that creativity to make up new ways of sinning. He gives us trees, and we cut them down to make houses but also to make clubs with which to kill each other. It was our God-given creativity that enabled us to make the internet, which has enabled countless billions of people to hear the Good News like never before, but has also introduced pornography into people’s homes like nothing else has ever done.
            But with all the downsides, here’s a question: Would you like to live in any other time in the past? Let’s leave aside the obvious answer of “Yes! 2000 years ago so I could hang out with Jesus or the apostles.” OK, I’ll grant you that. But say within the last 1500 years, is there any other time you’d like to live in besides now? Really? You’d like to leave behind modern health care, modern transportation, modern access to knowledge, etc.? Seriously?
            I'm going to be perfectly frank here. The FMS treats you as a responsible adult who's created in God's image. You make choices in life, and then you live with those consequences. You (as a responsible adult) make a choice to freely trade with other responsible adults. Any economic system other than the FMS treats you as something less: A child, or even an animal. You can't make choices for yourself. You have to have the enlightened one looking over your shoulder. 
            I don’t think we were created to be like ants, always just doing the mundane job in front of us like people did 1,000 years ago. We were designed by our Creator to imitate him (in a very limited way), to look at our surroundings and say “But what if. . .?”

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