People Have Value, Spiritually and Economically

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Mostly by way of jotting down some notes, herewith a quick lunch-break post reacting to Kevin Williamson’s thoughts on Mother Theresa and Christopher Hitchens, on the occasion of the former’s canonization as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church:

For those Mother Teresa served, that which did not kill them kept right on trying — until it did. Her organization, the Missionaries of Charity, did (and does) its best to make them comfortable, to care for them in their final agony — to love them. But they do die, often in pain. They do not die alone.

Hitchens, a cultured and cultivated man who nonetheless was as unthinking a partisan of the man-as-meat school of philosophy as anyone of his time, objected to that. Human beings, in his view, were livestock requiring husbandry, and Mother Teresa, as a Catholic, was in his view morally responsible for the very suffering she sought to alleviate by encouraging human fecundity in line with the teaching of her Church. From The Missionary Position: “Given how much this Church allows the fanatical Mother Teresa preach, . . . the call to go forth and multiply, and to take no thought for the morrow, sounds grotesque when uttered by an elderly virgin whose chief claim to reverence is that she ministers to the inevitable losers in this very lottery.”

In spiritual terms, the difference is entirely one of materialism.  The notion of life as a lottery is incongruent with the belief that we all have open pathways to know God.  The classic Christian view (camel and the eye of a needle, and all that) is that those who lose the materialist lottery actually win the spiritual one, but ultimately, all births initiate a stumble through life’s spiritual obstacle course, each with different challenges and distractions.

But what about in economic terms?  Axiomatically, people are the economy.  We’re not livestock, because we’re not cattle.  Our economic role is not defined by our value to somebody else, but by the value that we create by virtue of existing.  In a world of machines or a world of cows, there is no economy.

Going forth and multiplying therefore ought to grow the economy, rather than drawing down its resources, and it does, if we take an absolute view.  But in practice, the economy involves something like quantum rules of perspective.  From the perspective of a relatively well-to-do Englishman who survives by writing abstractly for a relatively narrow audience, increasing the numbers of the illiterate poor may seem to increase their economic pull in opposition to his own.  To the CEO of a state bureaucracy that requires low-income clients, a growing clientele means more leverage to confiscate resources from the private sector.

These dynamics among the powerful lead to the creation of channels and barriers that can prevent the disadvantaged from gaining traction, particularly when competing interests are mediated using government commands.  The government-centric mindset even divides the poor as person A seeks to use government in order to avoid work or person B tries to use government to force person C to pay more for local products, rather than less-expensive imports.

Resolving this problem in the service of humanity is not an easy matter (which acknowledgment is the chief flaw in well-meaning socialistic thinking).  Thus far, I’ve found no better way to set the conditions for a thriving economy founded in fundamental fairness and justice than to spread the principles of Christianity, which brings us back to those spiritual terms.



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