Emerging Christian Ethics
Part 1: Modern Approaches to Ethics
(a) Ethical Egoism
Ethical Egoism, according to most ethicists, is the foundation of American Capitalism; Utilitarianism is the foundation of American Democracy (I'll blog on this tomorrow). So, as Americans, we obviously like and trust these approaches to ethics at some level. But a critical analysis of these two ethical systems will help us to discern what may be the strengths and weaknesses of these consequential systems.
When Adam Smith, “The Father of Modern Capitalism,” wrote The Wealth of Nations, he laid the groundwork of our contemporary economic life. He said that in economic life, each person must seek his or her own good, unfettered by government interference. He argued that self-interest was the highest good (especially in economics) because it benefits all of society.
Michael Douglas’ character in the movie “Wall Street” explains his take as to why “Greed is Good.” (see video clip here).
“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
Ayn Rand (a Russian immigrant to America in 1926 at age of 21) began writing in 1943 that society functions best when we all pursue our best interests. Rand was both influenced by and became a large influencer of American capitalism. She wrote, “The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man’s first duty is to himself.” She came to this conclusion based on REASON: she believed that we rationally understand this as the reasonable nature of things. Rand said that altruism actually weakens society: It creates people who are dependent on others, instead of being responsible for their own well-being. Rand's ethical framework, an elevation of self-interest and a skepticism of altruism, has found its home in the business practices of today's corporate America, and in the consumeristic hearts of many in USAmerica.
I wonder how American Evangelicalism has capitulated to an ethical egoism ethic. Has Christianity become too combined with the “American Dream” of individualism and capitalism? Though we won't admit it in pleasant conversation, have we emphasized personal responsibility to the point of denegrating altruism (that it is mostly enabling people to become too dependent)? Has the Gospel in modern American Evangelicalism become too highly individualized (Do we preach a message that says, “Accept Christ as your personal savior, and you will find personal peace, personal happiness, and [for some evangelicals] personal prosperity”)? Are we peddling a Gospel that has more in common with Ayn Rand and Adam Smith than Jesus of Nazereth?
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