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Economic Theory, Self-Interest, and the Bible

This entry is part 20 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

Economic theory tells us a lot about the nature of political actors along with the inadequacy of their knowledge in regulating society to bring about the common good. All rational men act purposefully to remove uneasiness from their lives. They try to maximize those things in life that give them the greatest satisfaction (e.g., money, love, power, influence, charity, altruism, holiness, etc.). However, they also act in such a way that engenders cooperation with others, facilitating and exploiting mutually beneficial gains from trade. Peaceful cooperation is the result of the operation of the market economy. People pursuing their own self-interest voluntarily cooperate to provide the needs and wants demanded in society.

We must be careful to not equate self-interested motives with selfish ones. The former describes one’s economic motivation while the latter deals with one’s character. For example, a person might have altruism or to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2) as his highest goal. He would thus pursue the self-interested agenda that he believes has the highest probability of attaining that goal. He might also pursue other things along with this objective, such as owning his home debt-free, raising four children, and taking his wife on an annual skiing trip. But all these elements (and others we might think of) mix together into concerted, purposeful, self-interested action to attain the conglomerate goal.

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When should a Christian defend himself?

This entry is part 19 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

imageIn his famous work The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer commended Christian suffering under tyranny and oppression as a means of demonstrating Christian faith and commitment. “It would be equally wrong to suppose that St Paul imagines that the fulfillment of our secular calling is itself the living of the Christian life. No, his real meaning is that to renounce rebellion and revolution is the most appropriate way of expressing our conviction that the Christian hope is not set on this world, but on Christ and his kingdom. And so—let the slave remain a slave! It is not reform that the world needs, for it is already ripe for destruction. And so—let the slave remain a slave! [Christ took on the form of a slave too (Philippians 2:7)]…The Christian must not be drawn to the bearers of high office: his calling is to stay below” (1995, Touchstone, p. 260). Is Bonhoeffer right? Should American Christians not run for “high office”? Should they be content with their “slavery” imposed upon them by a tyrannical state that confiscates more than half of their earnings in taxes, proactively regulates their behavior as a big brother would, and maintains a threat against their homes for nonpayment of property taxes?

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Why do “They” turn to socialism?

By Edmund Opitz (1914-2006), author of The Libertarian Theology of Freedom and Religion and Capitalism: Allies, Not Enemies.

Every person of good will longs for peace on earth; he strives for justice and fair play in human affairs. Proclaiming such goals as these does not distinguish the Socialist from other men; rather, it is his means for attaining these ends that marks him out. The operational imperatives of a Socialist order demand a coercive arrangement of society, within which the lives of the many are planned and managed by the few who wield political power. Why do many otherwise idealistic and intelligent people find this scheme appealing? This is a recurring question. Everything about freedom seems so natural and so right to those who understand it that they can’t help but wonder why anyone rejects it in favor of Socialism or Communism. But millions do.

The twentieth century faces Left, and nation after nation succumbs to a "progressive" ideology. Marxism, of the Moscow or the Peking variety, is the official faith of hundreds of millions of people the world over. Countless others may reject Marxism, but they embrace a "liberal" ideology; they advocate national planning, state regulation of key industries, public works, welfarism. Add up these millions and you ask: Who else is there? Well, there are a few people in today’s world who are firmly grounded in the tradition of eighteenth century Whiggism, or Classical Liberalism; who acknowledge the political wisdom of The Federalist; who embrace the free market economic theories of the Manchester and Austrian Schools. There are able scholars in this camp whose writings demolish collectivist theory and marshall solid, carefully reasoned moral and intellectual arguments on behalf of the free economy/free society position.

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