I’ve got a few somewhat-related topics in my head right now to talk about. I may not get to all of them, but I wanted to touch on a few before I forget and they all fall into the inky blackness of oblivion. So here goes.
First off, I’m pretty excited today. After writing this post, I plan on watching the final hour-long lesson of the Truth Project. I know I’ve already ranted about it before, so I’ll spare everyone another one. But I’m just glad it’s going to be over soon. I won’t have to dream up creative ways to turn Del Tackett into a human piñata anymore. The last one I watched (Lesson 11) was about labour. As much as I found some of what he said interesting – some things in this one were actually ideas I’d never heard before – some of it sounded much like a veiled anti-liberal speech. He talked about how things like “forced redistribution of wealth” and “excessive or inappropriate taxation” were bad things. He didn’t come right out and say that “socialism and liberal politics are bad,” but it sounded that way. Now, I have no problem with conservative philosophy, and I have no problem with people that are against socialism. But I do have a problem with people who say that liberalism is bad because God says it’s bad. Because when it comes down to it, that’s essentially what he’s saying. He’s trying to set up a “biblical worldview,” but with many things that he says, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find consistent biblical support for them. For crying out loud, Jesus himself said to “give all you have to the poor and come follow me”! You really can’t get more radically socialist than that. Now, I suppose Tackett would say that isn’t “forced” redistribution of wealth, but I think that’s stretching it. If he thinks Jesus is an authority on things (and I’m sure he does), and Jesus says to give all you have to the poor, don’t you think that is somewhat “forced”? It’s not much different than if the government authorities tell you to do the same – either way, you’re doing what an authority figure tells you to do.
Anyway, besides that, Tackett had an interesting view of labour. Using the ideas from Hebrew law about farmers leaving the edges of their fields unharvested, Tackett asserted that it was the responsibility of businessmen, not government, to provide jobs for the poor. (Of course, he conveniently doesn’t deal with the fact that this was a law set out by the government of Israel at the time, so it was still “forced” redistribution of wealth. But oh well.) I found this an interesting view – I had never really heard it expressed like this – but ultimately quite naive. Certainly, unemployment is a big problem. But businesses create jobs on the basis of need. If they need something done, that becomes a job for someone to do. If they have everything covered, what are they expected to do? Create meaningless jobs? Should they do what the Nazis did in concentration camps – get some prisoners to dig holes and build a mound of dirt, and then other prisoners to fill the holes in with that dirt? The idea that we can just magically invent jobs is a little – no, more than a little – naive. As much as it is certainly important for us to keep an eye on excessive government spending, the government has a much better way of creating jobs. They start building projects, repair roads, fund research, etc. They can create jobs for people when businesses have no incentive to do so. If businesses had limitless incentives to create jobs, we’d all be employed. So no, Del Tackett, the solution is not just to invent jobs. But good try.
Anyway, on something that is tangentially related to that topic, I’ve started thinking about generational differences in attitudes about charity and generosity. I read an article the other day about how baby boomers are essentially the “spoiled brats” of the world. I mean, certainly that’s a generalization, but the environmental influences present during the upbringing of a generation can certainly create different effects. (Just think about all those old ladies that lived during the Great Depression and now hang on to everything – they never throw anything out because they never know when they might need it.) Baby boomers lived during a pretty tumultuous time, and that led to some strange things. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll definitely spiked during the time when the boomers became teenagers and young adults. And now we have today’s generation. I read a news article about a month ago (unfortunately I forgot to bookmark it) that said that today’s teens are having less sex than their parents did at their age. Yes, that’s right. Despite all the warnings about excessive media influences, the proliferation of condoms and sex education, and easier access to abortion, teens today are apparently having less sex. And why is that? Well, I don’t really know. This is speculation, but perhaps it’s because we saw the lifestyles of the “spoiled brat” baby boomers and reacted against that. Or perhaps sex is just so mainstream that we’ve just kind of gotten “bored” of it – it’s not taboo anymore, so why do it? Or perhaps I’m just totally off. I don’t know.
Another strange trend that I have seen is that today’s generation (my generation) seems to be very globally-minded and willing to volunteer their time, money, and energy toward a cause. That I see as an excellent thing. There are many young adults today who are very passionate about poverty, the environment, disease, education, and the rights of minorities, and they are willing to do much to help with the cause. Perhaps it’s naive optimism. But I think it’s more that we feel a stronger connection to those around the world. We are part of the “global village”, and we are (typically) more tolerant of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. This seems to be a generation that doesn’t see the labels that people have. Or at least, they’re willing to look past the labels. And of course, that’s an excellent thing. But it brings up a good question: why? What’s the motivation behind it? Because another interesting thing is that today’s generation is much less religious than those before us. We are not necessarily all atheist or agnostic, but religion today plays a less important role in culture than it did. So without religion as a motivation, why are we still so generous with our time and money?
I think the answer lies in the rejection of labels. Today I finished off my Religious Studies course on Evil. Throughout the course, it’s been mentioned that social evil can occur when a person or group is defined as “other.” In other words, “they’re not one of us.” This is an important sociological phenomenon known as in-groups and out-groups. Psychologists have found that even a randomly selected group will quickly form an in-group and out-group even when simply given different coloured shirts. How much worse when it is their skin instead! Humans naturally form these groupings, and when that happens, it allows us to do great evil to others. When it’s “us vs. them,” we feel no remorse for killing or hating the out-group. The Nazis did it with the Jews. The Christians did it with the Muslims. The Americans did it with the Taliban. And when the out-group has done wrong, perhaps it’s somewhat justified. But by defining people as “other,” we define them as something less than human. And that becomes dangerous. The Nazis killed the Jews because they thought of them as sub-human. And the Americans who tortured Iraqi prisoners did the same thing more recently.
But today’s generation, generally speaking, has erased those lines in the sand. The typical kid going to school today likely has a class full of black, white, Hispanic, and Asian people, as well as Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, etc. How can you hate people that you have seen and known your whole life? How can you hate your friends? So our “in-group” has been widened to encompass the entire globe. The African child, dying of AIDS, is no different, no less important, than the kid sitting in his house in North America playing on his X-box. They are both part of “us” now, so why wouldn’t we help them? This mentality operates without religion – it operates on empathy. The ability to feel the pain of others drives us toward action. It is the in-group/out-group mentality that thwarts this empathic response. As we outgrow our labels, we outgrow our apathy.
At any rate, with all that said, I don’t mean to say that the upcoming generation is the beacon of light in the darkness. I speak in generalities, as unfortunate as that may be. There are still plenty of spoiled brats in today’s generation, and plenty of people who would rather spend their money on an iPod or a cell phone than on food for those starving in the world. The worst out-group of all is the out-of-sight, out-of-mind group. When we don’t see the realities of the people in developing nations, we can’t feel their pain. And although the global communications we have today have certainly helped to make the world smaller, it still seems difficult to remember the children of Africa when buying the cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant. The urge to buy and spend and consume is in our faces constantly, while the cry for help from the poor is merely a whimper. So, needless to say, we still have a long way to go. But I’m just glad that we are getting somewhere.
Anyway, I guess I’ll leave it there for tonight. I was going to mention a bit about anti-consumerism, but perhaps I’ll leave it for another time. Right now, I have one final hour of my life to waste on the Truth Project, so I mustn’t keep it waiting. Ta-ta for now.