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The Moral High Ground
Freemarket Capitalism or
Centralization/Left or Right Wing???

F. Earle Fox

Socialism and other forms of centralization of government on the "right" or "left" (communism, fascism, nazism, etc.) win because they create the illusion of holding the moral high ground.  "It's the right thing to do!"  Especially on the "left", we hear about redistribution of resources from the rich to the poor. 

The aim, of course, is equal results for everyone, not equal opportunity.  We are all supposed, not only to start from the same starting line in the race of life, we are all supposed to end up at the finish line at the same time, and with the same available resources.  We are to be all equally rich.

The whole theory rests on bad errors of judgement and thinking. 

1. Self and Selfishness

The first mistake is to see life as a "race" at all, a competition for top spot, to get as large a corner on the market of available goods as possible.  It is assumed that being a self, being human, means being selfish.

For example, Adam Smith, proponent of freemarket capitalism, is, I believe, credited with saying that the butcher, the baker, and the candle-stick maker do not benefit the public in the freemarket system because of their good will and compassion toward their customers, but rather because they pursue their own self-interest.  They want to get rich.  They know a freemarket system "works" to make them rich, but it is only a matter of luck, not their capitalist good will, that it works for the customer's benefit also.  That is not his intention.   

Socialist folks respond that this is greed and selfishness, and point to greedy and very destructive capitalists to prove their point.  The coercive force of government must take over the freemarket and force a redistribution of wealth.  The force of their argument rests on the assumption that self-interest and greed are the same thing. 

The Second Great Commandment tells us that we are to love our neighbors.  But there is an often ignored qualification to the matter -- "...as you love yourself."   One of my seminary professors once commented that we are to love God first, our neighbor second, and ourselves a poor third.   That is NOT what the commandment says.  The commandment assumes the commonsense Hebrew notion that we are to love ourselves, that we are to rejoice in being ourselves, that being a self is not the same as being selfish

2. the True Self

Nowhere in all of Scripture is there any such negative notion about being a self.  We have twisted the word 'selfish' to suggest that being a self is being self-ish.   That is illogical and nonsensical.  God created us to be ourselves (who else???), to be the self for which He has given us a purpose.  The purpose is expressed in those two Great Commandments (Matthew 22) -- to love God, and to love our neighbor just as we love ourselves.

If that is true, then, if I am not loving myself in a good healthy way, my neighbor is going to have serious problems with his neighbor -- me.   The Second Commandment implies no negation of selfhood, but rather a rejoicing in it.  I am to be myself, to do good things for myself, to receive good things from God for myself, and then to include my neighbor in all those gifts of goodness rather than to exclude him.  That is the meaning of the Second Great Commandment -- as in the parable of the Good Samaritan...  

There are many capitalist entrepreneurs who are indeed selfish, and who try to cheat their customers when they can.  However, one has to say that the selfish capitalists cannot hold a candle to those selfish folks who sit at the controls of redistribution of wealth, skimming the cream off the top for their own selfish interests.  Centralized government has done more damage to the population of the world than any single factor other than sin itself.  Centralized government is, or soon will be, sin in control of the levers of coercion. 

But it is false and very destructive to imply that such negative behavior is a natural part of being a self.  That is poisonous nonsense.   God would not give us a commandment which we could not obey.  Given both his law and grace, we are capable of loving our neighbors.  We can love our neighbors most fully when we ourselves are healthy and well. 

The airline stewardess tells us to put on our own oxygen mask first before putting one on our child.  That is because if we pass out while trying to put one on our child, we will be of no use to anyone at all, including our child.  God is using the same principle.  Get yourself healthy and whole and in good shape so that you can be of reasonable help to your neighbor.  Or, get the log out of your own eye so that you can help get the speck out of your neighbor's eye.  We prove our love when we continue loving even through the hardest of times, at great cost to ourselves.    

Healthiness includes first of all spiritual health and wholeness, what Christians call salvation.   It includes physical and mental health, and it includes the Hebrew notion of substance, the fullness of all those things in life which make it more full and rich, like being able to sit under your own vine shaded from the sun.  It includes cattle and houses and barns.  The Biblical fullness of life does NOT exclude physical riches.  It does include thanking God for all those riches and dedicating them fully, 100%, to His service. 

Thus, under the law and grace of God the local entrepreneur can indeed be loving toward his neighbor, and the economy will boom all the more, not the less.  When we do it God's way, it works.  In God's way, self-interest is not contradictory to loving one's neighbor, but a prerequisite to it.  That is quite different from selfishness, which is using one's goods in exclusion of one's neighbor -- rather than, in a responsible way, to include him. 

3.  the Moral High Ground

God invented morality.  Without God there is no possible way to make an objective distinction between good and evil, right and wrong.  Only the purpose for existence given by a Creator God can meet the conditions necessary for establishing a moral order

Thus, there is no rational discussion of moral high ground other than under the law and grace of God.  That is a logical fact, not religious fluff. 

So secular socialists or secular anything else cannot make a legitimate claim to standing on the moral  high ground.  The secular/pagan worldview is a totally a-moral situation.  To stand on the moral high ground, you must be standing where God is standing, on His purpose for our existence.   

 The Biblical worldview is quite different from the secular/pagan.  God, throughout the Bible, is determined to create with us, His people, a freewill covenant.  To do that, He must set us free from compulsion in our decision-making.  He wants us to choose for Him and His purposes freely and intelligently.  He, the intelligent designer wants us to join Him in His intelligent design by our own intelligent designing for our own personal lives.  He will not accept anything else.  We must choose both freely and fully.  All or nothing. 

Everything government does, it does, as it were, at gunpoint.  Civil government is about coercion.  Some behaviors should be coerced, such as by laws against theft and murder.  But many moral issues are to be enforced by God through our consciences, not by coercion, such as politeness, mercy,  and love. 

Government in the secular/pagan worldview will always drift toward totalitarianism, because in that world we must do something to make up for the absence of moral order.  The only option left to us is the imposition by force of our own order upon society and upon nature -- so far as we can accomplish.  The only way to do that is with a near monopoly of coercive force, i.e., a centralized government over all persons.  A freemarket economy and a limited government over a free people cannot work in the secular/pagan worldview. 

So, the Godly form of government will always be something like the American democratic republic under God, where our rights and freedoms, and our obligations and responsibilities are given by God, not by civil government. 

The limited (rather than centralized) government works because it is under the moral order of God, it's job being to administer the law already given by God, not to make up its own.  That his how the rights and freedoms of the people are unalienable.  Civil government cannot take away what God has given. 

In such a system, the role of civil government is to be the referee for society, which means it cannot be a participant in the game.  It is thus forbidden to be involved in education, welfare, or commerce.  The meaning of a freemarket economy is the absence of government control other than to ensure the keeping of the laws, such as honoring one's contracts, etc. 

Other than being referee, on the terms set by the people through their representatives under God, civil government has no "compelling interest" in making anything happen in society.  Society (not government) might have many such interests, which it can then pursue with equal opportunity -- such as education, welfare, or resource redistribution.  If you want to redistribute your income, have at it.  God tells us to redistribute 10%, but not at gunpoint. 

Standing on the moral high ground then becomes supporting the conditions for equal opportunity, not for equal results.  Equal opportunity means supporting the integrity and health of family life, which is where we as individuals gain our capacity to function in a free society.  We become mature persons who can handle ourselves in the open, free market, in a morally responsible way, loving our neighbors just as we love ourselves. 

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Date Posted -  06/16/2009   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012