The first step in attaining economic equity is the individual’s sense of responsibility.
Political success relies on voter self-interest: The individual voter hears the campaign promises (especially those affecting his own financial well-being) and votes for the candidate whose program offers him a better tomorrow. Moral considerations rarely take precedence over practical ones.
Such is the politics of self-interest under which Messrs. Bush and Dukakis currently labor, a politics made even stronger in an American society where getting all the toys is the highest good. And to the have-nots go the leftovers—maybe.
It is little wonder, then, that we find interesting what England’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been saying about the Judeo-Christian basis for her own booming British economy. Speaking as a Christian (and an outspoken one, at that), Thatcher is declaring that “individual responsibility, the family, and work are the key elements by which the Bible instructs us to shape economic and social life.”
“[I]t is not the creation of wealth that is wrong,” Thatcher told the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May, “but love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth. How could we respond to the many calls for help, or invest for the future, … unless we had first worked hard and used our talents to create the necessary wealth?”
While critics of the “Gospel According to Saint Margaret” claim the prime minister is calling upon deity to sanction a nation of greedy materialists (not to mention her own brand of conservatism), her argument to reinstill a moral impulse in our individual and social economic agendas is music to our ears.
Work And The Tgif Society
Not that we are ready to make God out to be a capitalist. It is just that this surprising British ballad sounds a note that is little heard on this side of the Atlantic. There are two points relating to work, in particular, that are worth hearing.
Margaret Thatcher has dared to equate the Judeo-Christian tradition with “the moral impulses which alone can lead to peace” and economic stability.
First of all, in the Thatcher economy, establishing a moral tone begins with the building of individual self-reliance and a sense of personal responsibility. And the foundation for this character building is honest work. “The Good Samaritan,” said Thatcher, “first has to earn the means to be generous.”
Biblically, work is not simply or primarily for the financing of weekend relaxation. On the contrary, it is the essential ingredient to economic morality; it is not just work for the individual’s sake, but for society’s sake as well. Indeed, the Bible clearly spells this out in such passages as Colossians 3:22–24, where work is to be done as a “service to Christ”; and Ephesians 4:28, where we are urged to work so that we may have “something to share with those in need.”
In the context of our own secularization, we have lost this biblical sense of “work purpose.” And unlike Thatcher, no U.S. official would dare incur the ire of the ACLU to equate the truths of the Judeo-Christian tradition “with the moral impulses which alone can lead to that peace … for which we all long.” But in thwarting its own brand of incipient materialism, the church can begin to redefine work purpose in the context of the kingdom, giving work a significance beyond simply being a means to a weekend. As comments historian Bruce Shelley: “Serious-minded Christians bring to work a new dignity, a new responsibility, and a new excellence.”
All of which leads to a corollary to Thatcher’s work emphasis. There is a second truth stemming from her pursuit of a moral economy, concerning the immorality of a society that fails to fight unemployment. Unemployment is dangerous to all because it undermines self-reliance, weakens individual character, and keeps the individual from fully participating in the maintenance of society as a whole. We have lost sight of this simple truth in our own self-obsessions. The dignity of the individual and the morality of an economic program are intimately related, and thus the critical importance of supplying meaningful jobs for all people.
And it is on this point that Thatcher’s moral agenda gets a bit sticky. Where moral tone is sought, moral tensions collide: Responsibility meets compassion head-on. And on the matter of unemployment, the Thatcher vision is more easily given assent than acted upon. The Family Security Act, a bill currently before Congress (with the possibility of a vote later this month), offers a case in point.
Compassion And Incentive
In a sentence, the Family Security Act endorses the idea that the 3.7 million adults on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (our major welfare program) should work for their weekly checks. As with all such “workfare” proposals, however, the bill’s backers (Democrats and Republicans) are able to agree on the necessity of work but disagree over other, equally pressing, equally moral, considerations.
In the name of compassion, Democrats point to the fact that over 80 percent of AFDC recipients are single mothers, the majority of whom have children under six. (The stereotypical recipient, a young male not wanting to work, is just that—stereotypical, not truly typical.) This raises the question of government-subsidized day care. And here difficult objections arise from liberals and conservatives. Speaking on behalf of liberals, the New Republic asks: “Can a compassionate society force a 20-year-old high-school dropout with three kids to make her already bleak life even less bearable by adding 40 hours a week on an assembly line?”
Republicans, in the name of fiscal responsibility, balk at the high cost of such day care, not to mention the high cost of creating jobs for the 3.7 million people. (The Family Security Act calls for $2.8 billion over the next five years.) And in the name of personal responsibility, they gasp over the specter of more governmental involvement in supplying individual life needs—thereby removing an incentive to be responsible for one’s self.
Clearly, finding a middle ground where compassion and responsibility can complement each other is a moral dilemma not easily, and perhaps never, overcome. But that is what makes Thatcher’s current crusade for a moral impulse in her nation’s economy so refreshing: It not only doesn’t avoid the dilemma, but addresses the dilemma head-on in specifically moral terms (Judeo-Christian terms at that). In doing so, it presents a specific starting point for dealing with the dilemma. “Any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm,” Thatcher has rightly said. “We are all responsible for our own actions.…”
Perhaps in all their pre-election promises about economic boom and blessing, Michael Dukakis and George Bush can keep this in mind, and realize that a first step in attaining economic equity is the individual’s own sense of responsibity—to himself and his neighbor.
By Harold B. Smith.
A Sexperts Ethics
It had to come to this. In a world where professional athletes and movie stars talk like experts on everything from politics to pottery, we now have television talk-show host Dr. Ruth writing a book on the ethics of sex. This is a little like Jack the Ripper writing a book on the ethics of population control.
In addition to her duties as a television talk-show host, Dr. Ruth Westheimer is an adjunct associate professor at New York University. She and her coauthor, Dr. Louis Lieberman, a sociologist at the City University of New York, have written Sex and Morality: Who Is Teaching Our Sex Standards? Many have long suspected that Dr. Ruth’s qualifications lie principally in her talent for talking about sexual immorality without blushing. This book adds weight to that view. Its overall impact is embarrassing, even to those who might agree with her free-love view of the world.
Some good points are made in the book. The authors note correctly that our children are not being taught to make wise choices in the area of sexual morality. They outline the church’s dismal failure in educating our youth with good sexual values. Too often, they rightly assert, the church has used fear, misinformation, and neurotic inhibitions instead of education about how to make conscious choices for the good.
Yet when the authors begin to talk about what the good is they become hopelessly confused, even dangerous. They begin by stating that the reason we are in this fix is because there is no single standard of sexual goodness any more—there are many. Even the religious communities, they say, cannot agree on a single standard. By quoting radical and liberal representatives of Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism on the growing acceptability of, say, premarital intercourse and “responsible” adultery, they ignore the fact that all of the world’s major religions have traditionally condemned both—and that the majority of adherents of these faiths today still hold to those absolute standards, even if practice falls short of the ideal.
It is a short step from this first fallacy to the second: If there is no single agreed-upon standard, then we must each choose our own. The authors are coy about stating this second fallacy: They refuse to endorse the “if-it-feels-good-do-it” ethic, and say we must choose values consistent with those of society. But since in the first fallacy they claim that society has no single set of values, we are left with no standard for choosing values except our own thinking and feelings. In other words, the authors are typical examples of the relativistic moral climate of the day.
What Dr. Ruth and Dr. Lieberman really do is ignore the obvious solution—God’s absolute commands. The Bible soundly condemns homosexuality, unfaithfulness, and fornication. The authors don’t, and in so doing they merely contribute to the problem they say they have written this book to address—our children’s lack of sexual moral education. The Bible says that a loving father, when his child asks for fish, does not give him snakes. Sex and Morality is full of snakes.
By Terry C. Muck.
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