#78 Are We Born Good?

The Christian Economist

We are not born good. The Christian Worldview explains how fallen people are called to redeem the world by increasing consumer surplus for their neighbors.

 

 

Are we Born Good?

Chloe Zhao, received the Oscar for best director for her film Nomadland.  Ms Zhao, who moved to the U.S. when she was in high school, referenced her childhood again in her Academy Award acceptance speech, reciting in Mandarin the first line of a Chinese classic text that she and her father had memorized: “People at birth are inherently good.”

You have to wonder if Ms Zhao has raised children.  Ginger and I raised three, and we’re supporting the development of seven grandchildren.  It has been our experience that people are born fallen.   One of the key lines in my book Economics and the Christian Worldview says, “There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world because our worldview fits reality.”  It does.

Everyone has a Worldview

There’s nothing new about people claiming humans are born with an inclination to good.  It’s verifiably false, but entities ranging from the Muslim faith to jail reciprocity programs to Black Lives Matter continue to claim that we’re born good, so it seems like a topic we will continue to talk about for quite some time. 

In The Magician’s Nephew, Book 1 in the Chronicles of Narnia series, C. S. Lewis writes, “For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: It also depends on what sort of person you are” (1955/2000, p. 136). Your worldview is where you “stand.” Your perspective is driven by your worldview. Or as I often say, “Where you start has a lot to do with where you end up.”

Everyone has a worldview. When Bart Simpson was asked to say grace before dinner, he mumbled, “Dear god. We paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing!” (Simon, Swartzwelder, & Archer, 1990). That is a worldview. The Christian worldview is sometimes called the “Three-Chapter Gospel”: Creation, Fall, Redemption. And without it, economics cannot exist

Every good story has a creational beginning, a fallen middle, and a redemptive end. Every episode of I Love Lucy started with sweet music and a loving caress between Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. That is creation. Then Lucy would do something crazy to create a mess, often involving her friend, Ethel. That is the fall. Somewhere between acts II and III, Ricky would utter his famous line, “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do!’” She “splained,” asked for forgiveness, and the story ended with redemption. Every good story has those three elements. Why? As Christians, we believe God imprinted that three-part outline on our hearts. We look for it in stories. When stories end badly, we are disappointed. When the “savior” defeats the bad guys and the good guys win, we turn off the TV satisfied. 

Who cares about worldview? Well, just about every action you take is based on your worldview assumptions. My Dallas Baptist University (DBU) colleague, Dr. David K. Naugle says it this way in Worldview: The History of a Concept, “Since nothing could be of greater final importance than the way human beings understand God, themselves, the cosmos, and their place in it, it is not surprising that a worldview warfare is at the heart of the conflict between the powers of good and evil. 

Creation

  Everyone has answers to three questions:

  • Where did we come from?
  • What is our condition?
  • What is the cure?

We believe that, in the Garden of Eden at creation, there was no scarcity because the world was created perfectly by God. Economics starts with the fall. If the fall is the problem, what is the cure? Redemption. Not only spiritual redemption by the acceptance of Jesus Christ as our personal savior, but redemption of the world through God’s use of His viceroys—that’s us!

In the Christian worldview, our answers are the following: Creation, Fall, Redemption. 

In the Garden of Eden, there was work to do, but it was not painful nor oppressive. Adam and Eve named animals and plants, they tended the garden, and everything was fine. “God created the world in perfect harmony and flourishing, and He was pleased,” writes Anne Bradley in Be Fruitful and Multiply (2016, p. 12). Nothing was scarce, so there was no economics. Work only became difficult after the fall, as does everything else with which humans interact. But more about that later. 

Fall

The fall. You cannot understand economics separate from the fall. If people are not fallen, there is no scarcity, and there is no economics. 

Milton Friedman said that most economic myths stem from a mis-understanding of the zero-sum fallacy.  But Friedman was an atheist and I’m a Christian.  So my phrase is:

Most economic myths stem from a denial of the fallen nature. Without the fall, there is no scarcity. Without scarcity, there is no economics. You have to understand the fall to understand economics

Everything else is scarce, and it became so when Adam ate the apple. The fallen nature cursed everything and economics began

In Christians and Economics, Kerby Anderson states, “[O]ne of the reasons that Marxism was doomed to failure [is] because it did not take into account human sinfulness and our need for spiritual redemption” (2016, p. 5).  Marxism denies the fallen nature, and thus it does not work.  

Agnostic Jew, David Horowitz explains it this way in a radio interview, “The big problem we face in the world is us. And I think every Christian knows that. That we are sinners, that one of the protestant ideas is salvation by faith. We are so flawed in our beings, so prone to sin and temptation, that none of us deserves to get to heaven and that we can only get there by divine grace. It’s a very profound idea” (2019). This agnostic Jew may understand the Christian worldview better than many Christians. Horowitz continues, “Why do we have a system of checks and balances? Because the founders didn’t trust the people, they felt they had to be restrained” (2019). You cannot understand economics without understanding the fallen nature of humans. His latest book is titled  Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America..

No utopia:  

In Defending the Free Market, Father Robert Sirico offers the following logical—and accurate—assessment: “Recognizing that heaven on earth is impossible, we do not pursue utopian schemes” (2012, p. 176  There is no perfection on this side of heaven.  This is inherent in the economic ideas of opportunity cost and marginal utility.  We continually get better, but we can’t reach perfection.  In theological terms we call this sanctification, and most Christians agree we can’t reach it in a fallen body. 

I explain this in more detail in podcast #34 No Utopia.

Back to Ms Zhao, who believes people are born good.  Then, she assumes people are made bad by society.  Thus, they believe they must change the institutions of society, because that’s where the evil is.  If I agreed with them, I would give my DBU students a few lectures, then lead them out into the streets to change the courts, the universities, the political systems, state charters, and city rules.  The problem with her assumption is that, you can change society all you want, but as long as it’s populated by fallen people, you will have imperfect systems.  

The Christian Worldview does not agree with Ms. Zhao.  We believe we are born bad, and can be redeemed through the acceptance of Jesus as our savior.  You see, how “Where you start has a lot to do with where you end?”  I discuss this in more detail in podcast #13 No Crash Diets.  Sorry, that podcast is mis-titled, but it explains why Christians are mostly conservative. 

In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter says the problem in the world is me.  

That’s the problem with revolutionary movements like Antifa and Black Lives Matter.  They assume people are good, but the systems are bad.  That’s a wrong assumption.  Because what they will find is that the revolution they favor must be followed by another revolution, because they will find their revolution didn’t work, because it’s not perfect.

As I wrote in the first chapter of Biblical Economic Policy,   Utopian Plans are not in our wheelhouse.

Redemption

Most religions believe you must behave to be saved. Christians believe we are saved to behave.

Adam Smith (a deist) believed in God, so he saw this invisible hand as God’s providence over human affairs, since it creates a more harmonious order than any human being could contrive. Even though Friedrich von Hayek (that guy looking over my right shoulder) did not see God’s providence in the market, he, too, marveled at what he called its “spontaneous order” As Christians, we attribute this to God’s order.

God called fallen people to restore the earth to His original creational intent.  This human creativity is expressed around us on a daily basis.   The computer that allows you to see this video, the chair you’re sitting on, the shoes on your feet, were all made by creative human beings who improved their product offering to serve their neighbors.  

“No one ever made an ounce of earth” is the first line in Fred Gottheil’s textbook Principles of Economics.” He continues, “Economists accept as fact that every resource on the face of the earth is a gift of nature” (2013, p. 3).  The computer, the chair, your shoes, they all came from the earth, and we humans didn’t do anything to create it.  We simply scoop up the dirt and through God’s providential guiding, find ways to deliver consumer surplus for our neighbors. 

Our role is clarified by Corbett and Fikkert, in When Helping Hurts “[W]hile God made the world ‘perfect,’ He left it ‘incomplete.’ This means that while the world was created to be without defect, God called humans to interact with creation, to make possibilities into realities, and to be able to sustain ourselves via the fruits of our stewardship” (2014, p. 55). 

Stewardship comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which appears in the New Testament. It is a Greek compound word that is translated as the ‘management of household affairs.’ Of course, this is where we get the term ‘economics’” 

So in economics we are called to be stewards of the earth.  God called fallen people to restore the earth to His original creational intent. 

We are not made good.