Archive for December, 2011

Kim Jong Il and Poverty Remediation

The death of the North Korean genocidal dictator Kim Jong Il should be a day of rejoicing, not because this man is now face to face with his creator finding out his eternal destination, but because you could hope that his passing would usher in a period of relief for the starving and impoverished people of this nation. Alas, that is not likely to be the case since his son, the next in line will probably try to prove himself sufficiently strong and worthy by cracking down harder on the people in the nation and neighboring countries.

Amidst all the press accounts of Kim Jong Il’s death and what a sharp and shrewd man he was, we would be remiss if we did not remember that he has been suspected of crimes against humanity (see article referenced above) and if we did not focus on the failings of this nation to provide for the well-being of their citizens.

What a stark contrast to the overwhelming wealth and freedom of its sister country to the South. The economy of South Korea is booming and is a tremendous success story that underlines how economic and political systems and even, by extension, how military might can help to alleviate poverty. The illustration is made even clearer when the economy of South Korea is compared with the economy of North Korea.  

Economy Watch says of South Korea:

Driven by aggressive manufacturing oriented towards exports, South Korea economy rose to become the world’s eighth biggest exporter of goods. Clearly considered an advanced economy by international bodies such as the IMF, CIA and World Bank, South Korea’s economic profile has won a string of plaudits, including:

  • World’s 8th largest exporter: Ahead of the UK, Russia and Canada.
  • World’s Trading Partner: 3rd largest trader with China and Japan, 7th with the US and 8th with the EU.
  • World’s largest shipbuilder: including world’s largest shipyard run by Hyundai Heavy Industries.
  • World’s 5th largest automobile manufacturer: including world’s largest automobile assembly plant (Hyundai Motors).
  • Asia’s largest oil exporter.
  • World’s highest internet connectivity or access with one of the fastest networks as well.
  • Worls’s largest manufacturer of screen displays (LCD, CRT, Plasma, etc.).
  • World’s fastest increase in patents registered.
  • World’s largest electronics manufacturing firm: Samsung Electronics.
  • World’s second largest steel maker: POSCO
  • World’s largest producer of computer memory chips. 

Of North Korea, the American Enterprise Institute says the following:

What then is the problem? Closer inspection strongly suggests that North Korea’s long-term economic failure is directly related to the policies and practices embraced and championed by the Pyongyang government. North Korea’s current “own style of socialism” [or Urisik Sahoejuui] is a grotesquely deformed mutation of the initial DPRK command planning system, from which it fatefully and increasingly devolved over time.

To be sure, AEI indicates that North Korea is worse than most of its socialist neighbors, but it is clear that the particular government is having a very deleterious effect on the population. Even if it were a more model centrally planned system, such as Russia or China, its standard of living would still be below that of South Korea.

I think that it is instructive that at a time when, in the Western world, we focus on the birth of our Savior and His command for us to care for the homeless, the orphan and the poor, we look to these two nation states and see how large of a job it is to do this in one nation and how relatively insignificant is that job in the other. It is not enough for us in the West to provide money and time to poor and underdeveloped countries to care for the poor. We can and should and must do these things, but that is not enough. We need to remember to focus on preserving in our own home the economic and political systems that allow for wealth and freedom to grow. By doing that we can ensure that our leaders will also press for these types of societies to thrive around the world, so that there are more South Korean success stories and fewer and fewer North Korean disasters.  

It is a fact that free market capitalism unleashed in our democratic republic has shown itself to be the greatest system created to remediate poverty in the world and could therefore be seen as the most effective way to fulfill the commands of Christ that we care for the poor. If, as I believe, this is so, efforts to preserve and extend this economic and political model around the world, is an effective and valid method of participating in the carrying out of our biblical mandate.

Radical Individualism and Christianity – A Good or Bad Marriage

I was listening to a sermon recently and the preacher was making the point that “Radical Individualism” could be one indication that our relationship with God might be more akin to that of a servant than of a son. While I was thinking of that and wondering if I agreed with him or if I thought he was right, he went on to point out that as Christians and members of the church we are interdependent on one another.

I certainly do not disagree with the second point; after all Paul tells us we are all members of one body and the eye can not say to the hand, “I have no need of you”. We are certainly interdependent. Even as I agree with this point, I could not quite shake the idea that something just did not settle right with me that “Radical Individualism” was somehow not healthy. I might not have bothered about this, except that it was not the first time I had heard “Radical Individualism” disparaged by a Christian leader.

I will confess that maybe I didn’t really get the point of the sermon, but I want to defend “Radical Individualism”, that quintessentially American trait. The trait has often been maligned as incompatible with the teaching that we are to be interdependent on other members of the body of Christ. Paul teaches us that we are to submit ourselves one to another. How is that possible if we are “Radical Individuals”?

I have to give the disclaimer that I am partial to the idea of “Radical Individualism,” so maybe my perspective is off, but it seems to me that individualism is a good thing and, indeed, in their July 2009 edition, Christianity Today said, “We [evangelicals] are, of all Christian traditions, the most individualistic. This individual emphasis has flourished in different ways and in different settings, and often for the good. It has challenged moribund religion (Reformation), prompted revival (Great Awakenings), ministered to the urban poor (Salvation Army), abolished slavery (William Wilberforce), and led to explosive worldwide church growth (Pentecostalism). But it is individualism nonetheless….”

Maybe this is why Americans are so individualistic: we come from a Christian tradition that formed and founded our nation. I would add to the above list by saying it is individualism that comes up with new ideas, new products, and new innovations to improve peoples lives. From Rockefeller to Sears to Jobs, the Wright Brothers, Edison and Gates, it is individuals who are associated with great leaps forward. No great invention or no great discovery was ever made by a committee. Our radical individualism contributes to the benefit of others.

When our individualism is stifled it can lead to a dependency culture. I sure appreciate the radical individualists who do not look for a hand out, but look to provide for their own. When the job ends, instead of immediately looking to collect unemployment benefits for two years, they are looking for ways to support themselves and their families. It is individualism that built a nation of achievers that invented the large majority of the modern conveniences that we, as well as much of the world, now enjoy. This individualism has accrued to the benefit of most of the world. This seems to me to be what God made us for. He made us to be creative and adventurous and to pursue the dreams that He actually put in us.

It is hard for me to reconcile this kind of individualism with something that is unhealthy. How does this individualism fit into the concept of the church, that “the body is not one member, but many”? If we are radical individuals how are we to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”? I would suggest that there is no submission at all if we do not bring to the submission the full measure of who we are as individuals in Christ.

If I come to the body of Christ and I submit myself to the church, but say I have no real talent, skills or abilities to offer to the whole, what kind of submission is that? That actually sounds like freeloading. In fact, it is easy to submit if I have no ambition or skill or ability, but if, in fact, I am talented or skilled, there is real hardiness to my submission. I am willingly bringing who I am to the body and submitting myself and my talents to the good of the whole. That is real submission.

It would actually be healthy to try to resurrect and/or celebrate the idea of radical individualism. It might help people to get off the welfare roles and to become productive members of society. Submission, without developing our potential, is either freeloading or surrender or both.

Is Capitalism Driven By Greed

It has become the credo of anti-capitalists that Capitalism is driven by greed and therefore it is an evil or unfair system and the best that can be said about it is that it is a necessary evil, but not something good, fair-minded people should embrace. Certainly Christians could never embrace capitalism. This has always struck me as a very cynical and/or narrow view of capitalism that may have another agenda driving it. Ulterior motives or not, I think this is a misconception that we would do well to dispel.

Adam Smith wrote a book in 1776 called “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” and in Book I, Chapter 2 he states that

“In almost every other race of animals each individual, when it is grown up to maturity, is entirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.”

Apologies for the 18th Century English and phrasing, but Mr. Smith is recognizing what we want to deny and that is that every person is correctly motivated by his own self interest in doing anything. As we might remember, Jesus commands us to love one another as we love ourselves – it is a given that we love ourselves.

We primarily want to survive and since we are not of the animal kingdom, it is impossible for us to survive on our own. We need other people to help us to survive and increasingly more people if we want to survive with abundance. In order to secure the assistance of numerous people we will have to appeal to their own self interest.

Self Interest is different from Greed, which has been defined by Merriam-Webster as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed” but more thoroughly defined by Access-Jesus.com  as:

“…. the core definition of greed is that it is the obsession with accumulating material goods. A greedy person values material goods more than they value God. The Bible also tells us that greed is something that can never be satisfied. Greed and slothfulness have similarities in definition. The greedy and slothful both crave material goods as well as they have no desire to work for or to exchange anything of value for the object of their desires. The slothful will not work even for basic necessities much less add value to the world around them. The greedy will use deception to acquire material goods. The greedy will lie and use false pretenses to acquired goods at the expense of others….”

I take issue with the Merriam-Webster definition since they include the phrase “than is needed” which is subjective, so I believe the Access-Jesus.com biblically based definition is more helpful.

Self Interest on the other hand is defined as follows:

  1. A concern for one’s own advantage and well-being; one’s own interest or advantage. – Merriam-Webster
  2. Acting in the way that is most personally beneficial. – Investopedia 
  3. Regard for one’s own interest or advantage, especially with disregard for others; personal interest or advantage. – Dictionary.com

Most sources define this as a neutral trait or as I have stated above, the normal response of human beings, the desire to do what is of benefit to themselves. The clear difference between Greed and Self-Interest is the willingness to actually do something of value for other human beings to secure the things that benefit themselves.

Seriously, the “sin” is not-so-much wanting to provide for oneself or ones loved ones, but the method of doing that. Starting a business to provide goods or services that people want to buy is not a sin. Charging whatever one wants for that good or service is not a sin. Working for a company that provides a good or service and having ambition to reach the top of that organization is not a “sin”.

The “sin” is in wanting to provide for yourself or your loved ones but not being willing to provide anything to society in return for that provision. The “sin” is in wanting to accumulate so much for yourself at the expense of others and at the total disregard for others or specifically “on the backs” of others. This is really the problem of greed and it is most manifest today in the actions of the Occupy Wall Street Protestors who continue to leach off of communities benevolence in allowing them to occupy parks, etc. and at the same time demanding that wealth be taken from those who have to give to those that do not, in the form of free health care, education, high wages and debt forgiveness.

Capitalism is a system that recognizes human nature and capitalizes on that to create a society that prospers based on self-interest. Generosity and benevolence are higher characteristics that increasingly manifest themselves when individuals have satisfactorily provided for their basic needs. Generosity and benevolence are higher characteristics that increasingly manifest themselves as people understand that they are created by God and are answerable to Him for their actions and how they interact with other human beings. Generosity and benevolence can not be institutionalized as a way of structuring an economic system.

God Save The Republic

While listening to Dr. Larry Arnn the President of Hillsdale College discuss the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution in part I of his series on the Introduction to the Constitution, a light switched on and helped illuminate my long held thoughts on the intrinsically biblical nature of our founding documents and of our Country. His lecture clarified to me my understanding of this nation as a “Christian“ nation even while at the same time understanding that it is not really a “Christian” nation in the strictest definition of the term Christian. I know this is kind of confusing – let me try to explain.

Dr. Arnn made the point that the Declaration of Independence referenced God four separate times and cited four different functions of his role as follows, and in order of their appearance in the Declaration:

a)      Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God – Legislative

b)      Creator with certain unalienable Rights – Creative

c)      Supreme Judge of the world – Judicial

d)      protection of Divine Providence – Executive

Many would not recognize the declaration as a religious or theological document for two reasons. The first reason is because it is part of the founding documents of our country and so it must be a political document, ergo not a theological document. The second reason people would not recognize this as a religious/theological document is because it was not written by theologians or by people that many of us would recognize as passing an orthodoxy test.

Those two arguments do not really stand up to close examination. Our relationship with God should and must inform every area of our lives and so the fact that this document is part of our nations founding does not disqualify it as a religious document. Likewise, the lack of theological credentials or the potential lack of orthodoxy of the writers does not disqualify this as a theological document – at most it makes us examine it more closely to make sure the theological points that they make regarding their understanding of God and His role in the nations as described in the Declaration of Independence are accurate.

Since the potential lack of orthodoxy and the subject matter are not enough to make this a non-theological document, we should be able to study the Declaration of Independence as a theological document or treatise regarding the basis for governance and/or establishing a government.

Regarding the nature of God referenced in the Declaration of Independence, we should be able to easily see that the Declaration of Independence is really not controversial at all as all of the references to God can be corroborated in the Bible. For example:

a)      Lawgiver James 4:12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

b)      Creator Colossians 1:16For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him.

c)      JudgePsalm 82:8Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations.

d)      ExecutiveIsaiah 33:22For the LORD is our Judge, The LORD is our Lawgiver, The LORD is our King.

Aside from the role of creation, we also see that the three other roles described by God were mimicked byIsrael, in varying degrees and taking on various forms throughout their history.

We famously know that the executive part of government was exercised most clearly with the advent of the King and the ascension of the Davidic line, but the executive power was seen before that in the role of Moses and Joshua and the Judges.

Jethro also famously counseled Moses to set up judges of the people to judge disputes because this work was too much for Moses to do.

The Levites, among other more important roles, were also responsible for following the laws and administering them. All of these roles of governance were understood to be different roles to be carried out by different positions and when one branch tried to overstep their boundaries, trouble invariable ensued.  

More detailed and in depth analysis of Old Testament government structure can be found at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs web site.

Now this would all just be an academic argument had the founders not based their understanding of the nature of God in relation to how He interacts with nations on the basis that He is the creator and that He created all men/women equal. If we are not created by God and we are not all equals then how we govern ourselves is a matter of might makes right. The strongest and the smartest among us will govern and have their way over the weaker and less intelligent.

The founders knew that as we are created by God and therefore equal in His eyes and given unalienable rights by Him, we must all therefore have a say in how our society is governed. To not be able to have a say relegates the governed to a lower station than those that govern and we would therefore be denying the fundamental truth that God created us with certain rights and that we are all equal before Him.

Our founding theological treatise on the reasons for our being as a nation recognize this very fundamental fact, without which none of the rest of our institutions could be built. In this very foundational way, our country is a Christian nation and it must be a Republic in order to honor the Christian foundation.

Now in the strictest understanding of the term “Christian” (one who repents of his sin/rebellion against God and asks for mercy and the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross to be the propitiation of his sin, and submits his life to the rule of Christ) it is quite impossible for a nation to be Christian since only individuals can be Christian. It is not however an easy out to say the nation is Christian because it is based on Biblical concepts, but we do not necessarily have to be Christian individually to live in such a nation. A nation that is founded on Christian or Biblical concepts, but whose individual citizens routinely reject the teachings of the Bible, will not long survive. A nation whose citizens do not honor God, will soon find them selves living in either anarchy or a policy state.

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