Sunday, January 22, 2006

Simplicity

One of my goals for this blog, and my life, is to reconcile the Christian Ethic with Classical Economics. Tonight I was reading from Richard J. Foster's Celebration of Discipline which has nothing to do with spanking at all. It is a modern exploration of what have classically been referred to as the Christian Disiplines among which is Simplicity.
To a Christian simplicity is similar to humility. Simplicity is perhaps the outward expression of an inner humility. We want to be focused and inwardly unified. The passions should be held under control and the efforts of human energy should be singularly directed.
One of the more tangible effects of a simple life is greater self-control when it comes to consumption. If we are more interiorly satisfied, we will look to outward sources of satisfaction less. We become less motivated by material gain, and more motivated by inward gain.
This all appears grim to a dismal scientist. What! Will the invisible hand cease to move if such simplicity were to be praticed on a large scale?!? (Though I doubt such a movement should ever arise.) Does this mean that Christians should be anti-Capitalists? Many have made the very arguement.
No! Rather, the christian ethic in this instance, causes the individual to behave more as a firm than a household. The product a Christian seeks to produce is imitation of Christ. To this end he operates more efficiently than the average individual. On what basis?
A factory designed for building airplanes may also build automobiles. But what will it produce more effieciently? Airplanes, of course.
If human beings have a purpose it is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We operate at maximum efficiency when we are doing this. Pursuit of self is less efficient on the one count that it is not what it was designed for.
On the second count, pursuit of self is inefficient because it is not focused on any particular end. There is no garuanteed model to imitate, therefore much energy must be expended in deciding on a course of action. Various values will have to be tested and tried, and empirical evidence is often influenced by lurking variables in legion.
Ah! How often has the unsimplified man asked "What is the will of God?" You do not know because you have not decided within your will what you want to do. You have not decided that you do, indeed want to follow the will of God.
Augustine said, "Love God with all your heart, and then do what you will." By simplifying the inner man we push aside selfish, wasteful, inefficient desires and focus on more enduring sources of satisfaction.
Do we cease to consume, then? A man must eat. Must we live in poverty? There is a difference between poverty and simplicity, though they sometimes occur simultaneously. Mother Theresa, for example, lived amongst the poor. Yet she flew all over the world. That cost money. How dare she fly in an airplane when all that money could have been used to help the poor! Nonsense. Such an attitude adopts the pagan view of the world that there is a limited amount of wealth, and that if some of it is spent on one thing, then there will be none to spend on another thing. When the Bible states that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, it is making an economic statement. There is an unlimited amount of wealth avaiable in this world. There is only a limited amount of human energy to develop that wealth.
Do we doubt that new and renewable sources of energy will ever be discovered? Why? Electricity as we currently use it is less than 300 years old. The internal combustion engine is only 200 years old. We have only been using oil in large quantities for 100 years.
A simple man can enjoy the greater luxuries of life free from guilt. He can walk amonst the poor without arrogance. He can stand before great men without pretense or fear. He can buy what he likes and like what he buys because he has bought it for himself and not to please another man but it is to bring him closer to fulfilling the vision he has been given that he has bought it. He refrains from buying things that are wasteful, or that are intended to mask an internal insecurity. He does not buy upon impulse.
Most of the anti-Capitalists are not protesting out of similar motives. Many have a genuine concern for the poor, which is commendable. But all too often this concern turns to patronization. A simple person has no motivation towards this sort of power play. Rather, they acknowledge the poor, and rightly respond to the needs of the poor man in a way that draws attention to neither the poor man nor himself. In a way that preserves the dignity of the poor man and magnifies the image of God within both of them. And the simple man can walk past the poor man whom he is not to help without the pangs of guilt.
For Jesus did not heal every blind or leporous man nor every infirm woman. Neither does He call us to assist every poor man.
But I am rambling... and I don't want to carry this too far. Suffice it to say that the Christian discipline of simplicity squares nicely with Capitalism as it is properly understood and indeed brings that capitalism into a more efficient operation as less energy is devoted to creating the appearance of wealth, and more is devoted to actual improvements in standard of living for all, especially the least of these.
JN

2 comments:

Chris said...

The scholastics (before Adam Smith) did a lot of work on economics and ethics and working them together. Rothbard mentions a great deal of this in his book, titled "Economic Thought before Adam Smith".

Read more here:
http://www.mises.org/story/2012

Also, come join us at my blog. I would like to have you contribute some time.

Anonymous said...

It is a matter of spiritual timing that I read your blog this morning at 5:30 am, for exactly what you wrote is what I am dealing with today. The strange balance and need for inner peace, balance and simplicity, as my outer world grows more and more complex and profitable. The more income I incur, the greater the need is rising internally for simplicity and detachment from material things. Spiritually I am beginning to crave for more and more forms of fasting which increases my need to "keep life very simple"...to the level of Mother Teresa simplicity.

Thanks for the thoughts,

Elise Upstairs 1924