The Equilibrium of Christian Theology: The Economics of Christianity – Pt. 4

AUTHOR’S NOTE: RECENTLY, I PARTICIPATED IN A RELIGIOUS CONVERSATION ABOUT MERITOCRACY. I NOTICED THAT THE CONVERSATION WAS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY FOCUSED ON ECONOMIC SUBJECTS, SUCH AS HOW RESOURCES SHOULD BE ALLOCATED, BUT WAS DEVOID OF ECONOMIC CONCEPTS AND VOCABULARY. THIS ARTICLE IS AN ATTEMPT TO UTILIZE MODERN ECONOMICS TO DESCRIBE THE IMPLICATIONS OF VARIOUS INTERPRETATIONS OF PROTESTANT CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY.

THE DUALITY OF A CHRISTIAN

In Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1987 Vietnam war film, Full Metal Jacket, the main character, Private Joker, modifies his helmet in a manner that annoys one of his commanding officers, a Colonel. He writes the phrase “Born to Kill” on the helmet and pins a peace sign pendant next to it. The exchange goes like this: ∂

Colonel – Marine! What is that button on your body armor?
Marine – A Peace Symbol Sir!
Colonel – Where’d you get it?
Marine – I don’t remember Sir!
Colonel – What is that you’ve got written on your helmet?
Marine – Born To Kill, Sir!
Colonel – You write “Born to Kill” on your helmet and you wear a Peace Button? What’s that supposed to be? Some kind of sick joke?
Marine – No Sir!
Colonel – What is it supposed to mean?
Marine – I don’t know Sir!
Colonel – You don’t know very much, do ya?
Marine – No Sir!
Colonel – You better get your head and your ass together or I will take a giant shit on you!
Marine – Yes Sir!
Colonel – Now answer my question or you’ll be standing tall before the “Man”!
Marine – I think I was suggesting something about the duality of “Man”, Sir!
Colonel – Do what?
Marine – The duality of man. The Jungian thing Sir!
— Long Pause —
Colonel – Who’s side are you on son?
Marine – Our side, Sir!
Colonel – Don’t you love your country?
Marine – Yes Sir!
Colonel – Then how about getting with the program? Why don’t you jump on the team and come out here for the big win?
Marine – Yes Sir!
Colonel – Son, all I’ve ever asked of my Marines is for them to obey my orders as if they are the word of God. We are here to help the Vee-It-Naaam-ese because inside every ‘****’, there is an American trying to get out. It’s a hardball– world son. We have to try to keep our heads until this “Peace” craze blows over.
— They both salute each other 

While Joker was referring to Carl Jung’s notion of the simultaneous existence of the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious, the more general concept of duality is of prime importance to this discussion at both a micro, individual level and a macro, societal level. 

Every Christian is tasked with two seemingly contradictory imperatives: (i) practice mercy/grace and (ii) follow the Biblical law to live a better life than would be possible otherwise. The latter imperative necessitates meritocracy and the former mandates altruism. Christians cannot ignore one imperative and follow the other. The duality of a Christian entails a constant equalization process of finding the balance between meritocracy and altruism. There are ample examples of this duality in scripture. Here is one notable instance:

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John: 8:1-11

Jesus exemplified the Christian duality. He offered the adulteress a second chance. He did not damn her to hell. He personified the altruistic theology. Yet, he also personified meritocracy. He did not offer her unconditional grace with no strings attached. He did not say that she was fine just the way she was. He told her to go and sin no more. He was not the codependent, enabling parent of a drug-addict. He told the woman that she was in error. He expected her to change her behavior, i.e. to behave in a way that is worthy of merit.

In another seminal war movie, Saving Private Ryan, after the Normandy Invasion of WWII, a group of soldiers are sent to rescue a Private Ryan, whose two brothers had already been killed in the war. This perilous rescue mission leads to the deaths of many members of the squad. The commanding officer of the group, played by Tom Hanks, dies at the end of the film. But, before he does, he whispers a poignant message into the ear of Private Ryan: “Earn this.” In other words, he’s telling Private Ryan that his rescue was only achieved through the sacrifice of others. It was not cheap grace. Thus, the failure of Ryan to live his life with honor would serve as a desecration to the memories of the men who died for him. Similarly, Christian theology teaches that eternal salvation is not possible in the absence of a great sacrifice. Pure altruism takes that sacrifice for granted. However, pure meritocracy shifts the focus away from Christ’s sacrifice to a Christian’s personal piety and fidelity to the law. This “theological individualism” mutes the glory of Christ to emphasize personal glory.

While there are countless examples of Christ appearing to favor altruism over meritocracy, there’s one notable example of him eschewing even the faintest resemblance of grace:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23

Here, Jesus makes clear that people must do the will of God if they wish to enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, if someone does not do the will of God, it must be inferred that he will not enter the kingdom of heaven. This is an endorsement of meritocratic theology: merit, as measured by successful adherence to God’s will, is a prerequisite condition for salvation. 

The perpetual flux

For a Christian at an individual level, finding the equilibrium point between meritocracy and altruism is a continuous process. Some situations require the strong prioritization of one imperative over the other, while other situations necessitate weighting the imperatives more equally. Perhaps it speaks to the wisdom of the Bible that both meritocracy and altruism are mandated, as we’ve shown that the sole emphasis on one instead of the other will ultimately end in chaos. 

At a societal level, the Christian duality is also necessary. Christianity does not endorse a brutal, Darwinian oligopoly where inequality is ignored and profit is valued over human beings. Conversely, it also does not endorse a lawless dystopia where self-interest is vilified and victimhood is sanctified. Rather, just like the polar forces of supply and demand, Christianity demands that the opposing forces of meritocracy and altruism be optimized together towards a point of equilibrium.

Sources Referenced

◊ Geddes, Linda. (2018). “The truth about intelligence: Do IQ tests really work?” New Scientist. 

♠ Gottfredson, Linda. (1997). “Mainstream Science on Intelligence: An
Editorial With 52 Signatories, History,
and Bibliography.” The Wall Street Journal. http://www1.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/1997mainstream.pdf

♦Kaufman, Scott Barry. (2018). “IQ and Society: The deeply interconnected web of IQ and societal outcomes.” Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/iq-and-society/

∇ Goldschein, Eric., Bhasin, Kim. (2011). “11 Uncomfortable Facts About How IQ Affects Your Life.” Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/facts-you-dont-want-to-know-iq-2011-11

⊗ Nicholson, Christie. (2010). “Lower IQ Scores Linked to Higher Suicide Risk.” Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/lower-iq-scores-linked-to-higher-su-10-06-05/

⊥ Cobb-Clark, Deborah., Schurer, Stefanie. (2011). “The Stability of Big-Five Personality Traits.” IZA – Institute of Labor Economics, Discussion Paper No. 5943. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1922015

∫ Association for Psychological Science. (2011). “Are the Wealthiest Countries the Smartest Countries?” https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/are-the-wealthiest-countries-the-smartest-countries.html

Ψ Peterson, Jordan B. (2017). “2017 Personality 14: Introduction to Traits/Psychometrics/The Big 5.” The University of Toronto. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCceO_D4AlY

η Understand Myself (Jordan B. Peterson). (2018). “The Big Five Aspects Scale.” UnderstandMyself.com

ℜ Hammond, Peter., (1997). “The Efficiency Theorems and Market Failure.” Department of Economics, Stanford University, CA 94305-6072, U.S.A. http://web.stanford.edu/~hammond/effMktFail.pdf

∑ Myerson, Roger B. (1991). Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict. Harvard University Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=E8WQFRCsNr0C&printsec=find&pg=PR7#v=onepage&q&f=false

∂ Burton, Roland. (2017). “Full Metal Jacket – Pvt Joker’s Born to Kill/Peace Sign and the Jungian Duality of Man.” https://rolandscivilwar.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/full-metal-jacket-pvt-jokers-born-to-killpeace-and-the-jungian-duality-of-man/

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