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Tuesday, June 09, 2009
From Money, Greed, and God:
The Piety Myth is focusing on our good intentions rather than on the unintended consequences of our actions.

"Piety," said the Christian philosopher Etienne Gilson, "is no substitute for technique." What he meant is that having the right intentions, being oriented in the right way, doesn't take the place of doing things right. A pilot's caring deeply for his passengers and wanting to land a plane safely are no substitute for his learn how to actually land planes safely. Jesus suggest the same thing. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Don't forget the third item: love the Lord with all your mind. And don't misunderstand heart. Your heart isn't just your feelings. In the Bible, heart refers to the seat of your will and your emotions. I hope you already have a heart for the poor. Lots of Christians do. But do you have a mind for the poor? Unfortunately, that's in rather short supply.

God knows your heart. Spiritually you're better off a little mixed up about economics than indifferent to human suffering. Economically, though, only what you do is important, whatever your reason. Buying a bunch of bananas at Costco will have the same economic effect no matter why you buy them.
In fact, it's morally self-indulgent to feel good about our motives when it comes to actions that affect the world... when it's time to roll up our sleeves and actually try to help someone, fixating on our motives can become a stumbling block. It can distract us from discovering the right action at the right time.
Henry Hazlitt, an economic journalist, thought this was so important that he defined economics in terms of consequences. "The art of economics," he said, "consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."

This is one of those principles that are easy to get and even easier to forget. Unfortunately, Christians have supported all sorts of policies that were well motivated but that made matters worse, not better. Let's look at a few popular policies that are long on compassion but short on prudence.

A "Living Wage"
Fair Trade
Foreign Aid
Government-Run Welfare

(p. 35-49)
The Piety Myth concept is so important in all areas of life, not just economics. While liberals tend to be the worst violators of the idea that as long as you do something, it doesn't matter what you do, everyone (especially Christians) should remember to guard against it daily. Spend your time, money, and effort on useful things. Be discerning!


Steve Martin said...

Amen. We do the best we can. And when we mess up...we are forgiven, and try to do better the next time.

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

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