Thursday, February 9, 2017

Use People, Love Things, and Worship Yourself?

Occasionally I feel the need to indulge my inner nerd. That's when I go over to the American Enterprise Institute's website and check in to see what Arthur Brooks has to say. He's one of those guys who Richard Nixon would have described as a "pointy-headed intellectual." However, instead of  writing scathing denunciations of the West all day, he actually is a stout defender of free markets and free minds. Yesterday he wrote a rather long and ponderous piece entitled, Confessions of a Catholic Convert to Capitalism. In it, he asked several tough questions about his preferred economic system, and attempted answers. I will not go into the details of the thing here, but I want to tell you about a line which jumped off the page at me. In a discussion of the moral and spiritual failings of capitalism he said this...

" I have lain awake worrying about the coarsening materialism of our society and popular culture. Turn on the television, go to the movies, glance at practically any advertisement, and you will learn that the formula for a happy life is simple: use people, love things, and worship yourself."

Use people, love things, worship yourself...

He then asks the rhetorical question: Is Capitalism to blame? Because, although capitalism and free markets have created more wealth and indeed lifted more people out of grinding poverty than any system ever conceived by the mind of man, facts that are not in dispute, has it reduced us to merely agents of commerce, robotic money making and money chasing machines? His answer put forth in the essay is essentially, "No." capitalism, as an economic system is amoral, and is only as good and righteous as the people participating in it. I agree. But, I would add something else. Capitalism, by itself, is insufficient for the happiness and betterment of mankind. It does tend to reduce us to material beings. To get ahead requires a certain ruthlessness of character at times. Without a moral component, economic well being as a goal does indeed encourage and reward...using people, loving things, and worshiping ourselves.

To advance to a place where our life goals are to love people, use things, and worship God is a far more difficult challenge, and more vital for the happiness and betterment of mankind. For me, this is where faith steps in to the picture, since it reorients my mind from it's default position of self-interest to the interests of others, the life of Christ being a case study in learning to love others,  with his haunting challenge, " What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

So, yes. . .I am a capitalist and thankful for its blessings. But I am also humble enough to understand it's limitations.