Person, not individual – the Christian contribution to economics

The Gospel tells us about the unity and integrity of the human being. It reminds us that each of us is a unique being, yet we are not ourselves apart from other people. Each of us exists within a series of dualities. Each of us is either a woman or a man; none is a neuter. Each is either married or single, either a parent or not a parent. Each of us is ourselves, but also someone’s sister, brother, child, parent, friend. We are not mere units, persons without relation but we exist through these many relationships.
What is more, each of us is twofold because we are who we are today, and who we will be in ten year’s time. Each of us is not only this present but that future person. The unity of this person is not the present possession of any human being, not even of that human being himself or herself. Persons are not simply individual units, for whom it would be normal to be on our own. We are related to people other than ourselves. We do not simply create our relationships by our own say-so. Some relationships we inherit, and some we hope to pass on to those who come after us. We hope to create or pass on relationships that they will be born into, and if they are willing to recognise these relationships as good, we will have done something for them. But all that depends on thinking of ourselves as persons. Christians do so, but they may be in the minority.
Christians offer their complex account of the human being. On other accounts, persons are insidiously simplified. When we do not think of ourselves as persons, but merely as individual adults, independent units who make their own decisions from their own wills without reference to anyone else, we get a simplistic account of man and a much reduced version of our vocation as economic agents. The Christian view is that we may gain freedom by undergoing our own discipleship, that is, by subjecting ourselves to voluntary restraint of freedom.
The social sciences assume that each of us is an individual on their own, a unit without relation. The more we insist on individual freedom without such self-elected restraint the more we turn the human being into a unit who exists in on-off relationships with other units. These relationships exist only as long as both units want and no moment longer. This makes us one person against the world, for whom there turns out fortuitously, just one friend.
If we turn the person into a unit, who exists in relationship with other units who have no binding and long-term relationship with him, he is effectively in long-term relationship with just one other unit – the state. The corporations serve us as long as we have got money, or can borrow it, to buy their services. But this individual freedom of choice exists only as long as we are independent adults, who pay for ourselves, which we can do as long as we are in the job market. Of course our existence as independent agents begins to wane again as soon as we leave employment again when we retire and make our descent back down into dependency. In the middle of life, we may have many relationships, mediated by the market. By our attempts to grow in freedom without taking on any discipleship and self-restraint we surrender our powers to corporations and the market. But at the beginning of life and again at the end of life we have no money, cannot pay for ourselves, so the state has to supply these service for us.
Every attempt to increase people’s personal freedom that does not start with some form of self-imposed discipleship and self-restraint, tends to shifts responsibilities from that person to the state, and so from this person to all other persons. Every attempt to increase anyone’s freedom increase the power of the state and so increases anyone else’s unfreedom. The state is our parent, partner and sole true ally. Our life would consist is attempting to squeeze more resources out of it. Paradoxically, the more demands we make of it, the more the state is paralysed by special interest lobbies and unable to make good, sparing decisions on anyone’s behalf. On this basis, the individual and the state are mirror images. Each person is a little state and the state is a big person. The two of them are locked in this claustrophobic relationship. On this basis, the state is the true person, whereas we units are persons to the degree that we are dependents of the state.
So the Christian insistence that we are complex beings, who can enforce restraint on our present selves for the sake of our future selves, and for those who come after us, is vital to the concept of freedom. And freedom we agreed is vital to those unforced transacting that characterise economic exchange. You can’t have an economy without freedom. This is why the Christian view of man, as person, the complex being who is encountered only through dualities, is essential to the existence of an open economy. The Christian input, with the complex account of man who as image of God participates in love and freedom, is not only the origin of the open economy, but is essential to its continuing flourishing.

A firm reliance

Spread out before the early settlers of this continent was incredible untapped wealth in the form of vast unsettled lands filled with natural resources—all for the taking. Now that the Frontier is mostly tapped out, we are seeing the long, slow, decline from prosperity to scarcity…and with it the loss of individual freedom. How long will it be before we see masses of government-dependent Americans protesting in the streets of our urban centers because the messiah state can no longer provide them with the handouts they have grown to depend on; that they feel they have earned and have a right to? The taking and the giving and the borrowing by government is unsustainable. We all know this. And we know the day of reckoning is coming. The best that messiah government can do is obscure the reality and delay the inevitable.

How then shall people who are cognizant of this eventuality live? Disengage as much as possible from these dependencies. Simplify your wants and needs. Steer clear of the bondage of debt. Provide for your needs of food, heat, and shelter as much as you can with your own hands and backbone. And, most fundamentally, turn your eyes from the false messiah state to the true Messiah. This response is as much spiritual as it is physical. What I am talking about is a return to the American pioneer spirit, characterized by a firm reliance on the God of the Bible, hard physical work, thrift, self-reliance, subsistence, and the family economy. While it is true that the Great Frontier, with all its uninhabited land and untapped natural resources is now, for all practical purposes, gone, the land remains. And if properly husbanded, the land can still sustain pioneer families in this new century, fraught as it is with impending shortages and instabilities.

Living on a section of land and working to make it productive will not bring wealth sufficient to satisfy the average modern American who is conditioned by our culture to spend, borrow, consume, and spend, borrow, waste. But in the days ahead, those people who have returned to the land, have equipped themselves with the tools and knowledge to make the land productive, and who are secure and content with little, these people will provide a valuable example for the helpless, discontent, and confused all around them. Pioneering is totally contrarian to the spirit of this age, but it is a positive, refreshing, satisfying course of action. It is the only appropriate personal response in the midst of the crisis we find ourselves in.
Herrick Kimball The Deliberate Agrarian

With Mary Magdalene on Easter morning

The Lord Jesus is God and man in one figure. When we worship him, we are standing before the open door of the throne room of the Lord. He waits for us through there, or since we are the ones who are constrained by our limits, it would be better to say that he waits for us out there. He calls us out of this stiflingly small place and into the vaster place of his immediate presence. And so we marvel at the Lord and so we worship him. That is what the angels are showing us, and why the disciples stand here open-mouthed, moving from bafflement to amazement, singing Holy, holy, holy… This tomb turns out to be the throne of God, where all his company stands around the Lord, for where the Lord is, there his people are gathered around him. It the gateway which opens for us so that we can go in to that company and his presence. Our future is through there, with them and him, for we were made for undying communion with God, and with one another, in God’s glorious company.
Easter morning 2010 He must rise from the dead