Ways of Christ

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Part 3 Ethics and society

General Christian viewpoints for economical and social questions.

According to the latest economic research*, man is not the purely egoistic being presupposed by the current liberal economic theory. Only a small minority reacted purely out of their own interest. For most people, other values like "voluntary reciprocal co-operation" enjoyed equal or even more importance. However, even this "reciprocal altruism" - like egoism - does not automatically lead to the best for the whole of society, but can produce cliques, so only conscious and consequent ethical decisions can help us to progress.

Here, psychological and religious-ethical viewpoints set in. Man also has an individual and social nature. Modest self-confidence and an attitude of solidarity towards others can be trained if one is open for it. Wherever our egoistic side is too strong, this is simply because the altruist side has not had a chance to unfold, or it has become atrophied by the hard "training" of western society. Socialist societies over-stressed solidarity, causing the individualistic side of our character, with its desire for freedom, to become neglected ('atrophied'), contrary to the nature of man too. If people don't find balanced circumstances, this manifests itself sooner or later through criticism etc. Either society learns in time, or it will go downhill. This concerns today's predominating economy too, with its typical Global Players. Jesus recommends us to deal with our own problems first (Matthew 7).

On the one hand, one cannot simply translate the general scale of values in the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5-7) etc. directly into instructions on how to handle problems in society. But on the other hand it would not be in accordance with Jesus’ wisdom to practice charity in private life while applying the opposite principles in unions or political functions. Honest ethical values** must prove their worth on all levels, even on the global one.
E.g. the value of charity and the fact that Jesus turned to the poor, is undoubtedly relevant - even beyond the social services of the Churches - for today's social affairs, including human behaviour within companies. Matthew 22,21 also speaks about practical aspects: the charity and also the traditional "tithe" becomes acknowledged by Jesus, that is - apart from the Roman tax - a donation of 10% of the income for religious and charitable purposes. However, helpfulness according to Jesus is based on free will. It is not possible to derive concepts of a forced redistribution of property from it. The 9th and 10th commandments are still valid: "You shall not covet ... anything that belongs to your neighbour". In spite of all our endeavours to achieve an improved social situation for many people, our different destinies remain in the hands of God.
The parable in Matthew 25,14-30 / Luke 19 takes up known material facts. But the context (Luke: The ethical behaviour of a publican; Matthew: the previous parable about the power of the faith of the virgins) shows, that more is meant than just augmenting earthly goods and finances. More clearly, e.g. Luke 12,33 shows that treasures of the soul are more highly esteemed than earthly ones. However, responsibly dealing with goods in trust concerns material values too. E.g. the advice to help the poor and handicapped. Here, material or financial support is an accepted value, instead of invalidating material things in general. In this case it depends on what the property or money is used for (Matthew 6,24: the impossibility to serve mammon and God as well).
To lie and cheat, to practise "mobbing" ('freeze colleagues out', 'ostracism of colleagues') and to realize projects without first establishing their harmlessness for (non-criminal) people, and without asking those concerned, is not the responsible togetherness Jesus constantly demonstrated. Jesus does not speak of "inherent necessities" as an excuse for every failure, either.

The prohibition of interest rates is known from Islam; but Jews and Christians might also find similar advice in the bible (In the Old Testament itself they were prohibitions): 
Ezekiel 18:8-9: He, who does not lend at usury, or take interest (other translation: excessive interest); he, who withholds his hands from doing wrong, and judges fairly between man and man; he, who follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws; this man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.
See also Esra 7:24 (Prohibition of interest, duty and taxes for special occupations); 
Some people interpreted traditionally, Proverbs 28:8 would mean, it does not matter, how the money earned from interest rates is used, because the rich ones finally use it for the benefit of the poor or for public welfare. But wherever today much money is used against that values, the presupposition of the verse is not fulfilled. For fulfilling the values of the verse, it is just important, how money is actually used.
Concerning interest rates see also in the New Testament Matthew 23:23 and 17:24.
The first question was, what might be interesting also beyond the context, in which the Old Testament grew. Therefore the differences in Deuteronomy 23,21 are not discussed here.

The bible urges people to avoid getting into debt unnecessarily (Proverbs 22:7); to plan for the future (Proverbs 21:5) and to grow in wisdom and understanding (e.g. Proverbs 4:5-8). People were encouraged to save goods or money. The "tithe" should be saved each year to enable them to travel to religious festivals and to make donations (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). St. Paul called upon Christians to put something aside each week, to be able to give it, if needed, to fellow Christians who had fallen on hard times (1 Cor. 16:1, 2) and advised them to adopt a moderate attitude towards earthly goods (1 Tim. 6:8). Jesus assumes that calculations will be carried out to make sure that there is enough money available, before starting a building project, for example (Luke 14:28). Today sustainable economics is urgently called for, both for therapeutic and preventative reasons. Private, commercial and public debt is the cause of worldwide financial instability. The website Ways of Christ has no political agenda. We only give general viewpoints here.

*) Ernst Fehr, Direktor of the "Institut für Empirische Wirtschaftsforschung" at the university of Zurich, Switzerland, according to an interview in "Spektrum der Wissenschaft" March 2002, "Reziproker Altruismus...".
**) The spiritual aspects of these values are described in the chapter on the Sermon on the Mount in the main text of Ways of Christ
***) See also our extra page "Basics of ethical values".


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