Sunday, April 22, 2012

We Are the Depraved

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In my previous blog entry I described the sensus divinitatis and the conviction of sin. The big moral principles are (1) love God with all your heart, soul and mind; (2) love thy neighbor as thyself. We don’t follow these principles as well as we should; hence sin. Part of the Christian faith is that we are sinners in need of a savior, but are we really that bad?

I think we human beings are a lot more depraved than we tend to think, and that we don’t always value what we claim to value. We may say we value our fellow human being as much as ourselves, but how often do we buy things we don’t need when that money could go to clothe the naked or feed the hungry? For definiteness, consider a hypothetical man named Smith who buys an expensive big screen television. I being the occasionally unpleasant fellow ask Smith, “Do you value having a big screen television over starving children being fed?” Smith answers, “Of course not.” I reply, “Then why are you spending a sizable sum on the big screen television instead of donating that money to feed starving children?” Smith might say that such an act would be supererogatory rather than morally obligatory. Perhaps it would be supererogatory, but that doesn’t change the unpleasant fact that Smith is valuing having a large television over feeding starving children. Smith has a choice between having children desperately in need of food being fed and having a big screen television, and Smith chooses the television. For this reason Smith is more depraved than he thinks, and Smith is not alone. Most if not all of us are depraved in having a similarly selfish and lopsided value system (e.g. valuing a large television over a fellow human being) and this is largely why the human race has failed to conquer world hunger.

On a similar note, to what degree would forgoing the television purchase and feeding the hungry really be supererogatory? When Smith’s flawed value system is considered, how well is Smith fulfilling his moral obligation to love others as himself? Would Smith let himself starve so that another could have a large television? Probably not. Smith is not, I think, being entirely successful in following the Jesus’ command here.

I do not consider myself more righteous than Smith; if anything I am worse because I am more acutely aware of the problem on a more consistent basis, and while I donate to charity to some degree, it is far below the threshold of what a perfectly moral being would do. I do not value in a way that I ought to value. I, like Smith, am a depraved sinner.

God values us more than we value our fellow human beings. God was willing not merely to give up a large television but suffer to the extreme for our benefit—to die and bleed on a cross. He did this not merely for those who loved him but even for those who hated him. Would we do this for strangers or our enemies? We’d like to say we’d die for others, but we are often unwilling to make even little sacrifices (televisions etc.) for those who desperately need it.

When the call to give is given, the knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice for us makes it more painful for me to refuse, but does it make it easier to accept? Not as much as I’d like. In my my previous blog entry I noted that if I were not a Christian I would still believe that there is a moral standard beyond me and that I have fallen short of it. But it goes further. Even if I were not a Christian I would recognize that if there is heaven where people eternally commune with God, I am very much unworthy of it. I would need God’s grace to enter into something like that.

We value televisions over people. We value our own personal comfort over the desperate needs of the starving orphan. We are the depraved.

God help us.

6 comments:

  1. Ultimately I agree with you but I think your example of world hunger is overly simplistic.

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    1. How is it oversimplified? Remember, I didn’t say that us having lopsided values is the entire reason humanity has failed to conquer world hunger, I said it is a large reason, and it seems hard to justifiably deny that. Producing one meal costs about $0.22, and the problem of world hunger is pretty common knowledge. Keeping that in mind, consider that Americans spend billions of dollars each year making and watching movies. How much of a dent in world hunger could we make if we used those huge resources to e.g. feed the hungry? I’m guessing a lot.

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  2. Why should we "feed the world"? That will never end if we don't teach those people to farm...Take Zimbabwe for example which had a surplus of food until the racist government expelled white farmers from the land and starvation ensued. Even Christ said we will always have the poor: "The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." Matthew 26:11...


    " But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[a]” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."John 12:4-6

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    1. Smith and the starving children was merely an example to illustrate how lopsided our values are. I suspect the best philanthropic strategy would likely incorporate both short-term (e.g. feeding the starving children now) and long-term (e.g. assisting in farming) approaches.

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  3. These problems are not an issue of us not helping them but an issue of not living in a sustainable way. You can feed all the children you want and feel good about yourself but if nothing is done about the exploding population growth you can easily calculate no amount of help is going to prevent a next catastrophe. Postponing the inevitable is only going to make it hit much harder when we are no longer able to postpone it further.
    The world only has so many resources and if you have any respect for nature you do not help populations explode any further but you help women's rights and women education to empower them and to stop them from being breeding farms for tribal gains.
    Knowledge is power, receiving only material help is being bound into dependance and just an new form of slavery.

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  4. hey i have an idea, lets always and only act with the kindness of our heart, the ultimate power of the universe is love, God is love. i am sitting on a comfortable chair with a roof over my head, the food is plentiful, the water is fresh and i am in good health. 22,000 children die each day due to poverty, i dont think im more deserving than the suffering that I should be so lucky, were all sinners, those suffering would be more grateful that what we are with all that we are blessed with. i take this moment to acknowledge and be thankful for my blessings., but i wont sit here and justify any reason why we should ever stop helping those in need. if it takes to the end of eternity constantly helping those in need, then so be it.

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