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Monday, October 24, 2011

Caution! Human Nature on Display


by C.J. Chase

If you follow the news much, you've probably heard of the Occupy __ protests happening in cities across America. They started in New York with the Occupy Wall Street protest and spread not only across America, but to cities and towns around the world.

People have joined the protests for reasons as varied as the protestors. Some are angry with corporate greed. Some want the government to do more to regulate business, but others are angry about government-corporate cronyism. Some want debt forgiveness and minimum living standards for everyone. A few are there for the party. Many are advocates of socialism or other non-capitalist based economic structures that seek to treat everyone the same financially.

Noble motives. But a funny thing happened on the way to the egalitarian future. Recent news articles about the Occupy Wall Street protest have included complaints of theft and other crimes among the protestors. Some of the protestors are unhappy the OWS leaders have not equitably divided the $500,000 the protests have raised thus far in contributions. Theft, unequal distribution of assets -- all the things the protestors have complained about are happening among the protestors. It seems many of those with the supposedly noble motives of equality and justice have the same sinful nature that has corrupted every society since God evicted Adam and Eve from the garden.

Greed is so pervasive to mankind's fallen condition, it made God's top 10 list of do's and don'ts: "Thou shalt not covet." From the time we first utter the word "Mine!"-- usually in toddlerhood -- until the end of our days, all of us struggle with greed. When my oldest son was an elementary school student, he had a meltdown in the classroom once because another student had his pencil. "It's just a pencil," I told him later. "It writes the same as any other pencil." But how many times have I fought to maintain my grip on my adult-sized pencils with the toddler-sized cry of "Mine"? How many times must God shake his head at me and say, "It's just a __."

Greed tears apart families, communities, countries, and even churches. It causes divorces, church splits, and wars. "My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain." (Ezekial 33:31)

"We are the 99%" is a popular slogan of many Occupy protests, a statement against the disproportionate wealth of the top 1%, wealth that many Occupiers believe should be taxed at higher rates and shared with the other 99%. And yet, how many of these protestors advocating college loan forgiveness realize that on a planet where half the population still doesn't have access to clean drinking water, just by virtue of being born in America and other Western countries, they themselves are among the wealthiest people in all of world history?

No one, neither rich nor poor, is immune from greed. King Ahab murdered to obtain a vineyard, even though he already had untold wealth. David, a man "after God's own heart" murdered to obtain a woman, even though he already had multiple wives. Even the poor man in Jesus' parable, the one who received pardon for an immense debt, wouldn't follow his lord's generous example, but demanded payment from a man who owed him only an pittance.

During my travels in Central America, one thing I have noticed is how detrimental unchecked greed is to a society. Where bribery and corruption run rampant, poverty and despair follow. Imagine what your life would be like if every interaction with government -- every assistance you needed from the police, every trip to the DMV -- might be accompanied by the expectation of a bribe. Would you want to start a business knowing that with every change of government, you would have to bribe a new set of officials just to keep your business open?

I hope those involved in the Occupy protests learn the right lessons from their experiences. Greed is a part of the human condition, and there will never be an egalitarian paradise until Jesus returns. Only a changed heart can change behavior: "But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance." (Romans 6:17)

Do you have any adult-sized pencils you don't want to let go of?


After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Redeeming the Rogue was an August, 2011 release. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at cjchasebooks.com

12 comments:

  1. Right on sister!
    I haven't felt compelled to support the Occupy______ movement at all despite my social coming-of-age in the high period of 'sit-ins' and protests. We go way back.

    Capitalism is not perfect but it takes looking at what's going on in other parts of the world to see that capitalism in a true democracy is much to be cherished. Your post confirmed that. While not perfect, it can and should bend with public opinion. How expected this fighting within the ranks is --don't most of the Bible teachings deal with finance?

    My personal greed deals with time. My first reaction to giving up a moment of is "Mine!". Now, I have to be selfish about my writing time to an extent, but I also have to be willing to give it away as well.

    I have to say I GASP! feel sorry for President Obama. As we know, Presidents get blamed for everything going on during their watch. But the economy is really a global one. Things really stink right now and I don't see it getting better.

    Time to learn to make do with less and share the excess we all have.
    Our last big recession that wasn't a recession taught a lot of people to danger of living on credit. NOW "they" blame our economic troubles on the fact people are not out BUYING!. yikes.

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  2. Good morning, Deb. Time is such a good answer! I'm definitely guilty of being stingy there.

    I think captialism works better with human nature than so many other economic systems. Alas, human beings just aren't inantely selfless enough for things like socialism or communism to work. We don't like sharing with others, particularly ones we think aren't contributing as much. As Margaret Thatcher said (paraphrased), The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money. I tried to think of communal arrangements that have actually worked out, and about the only ones I could come up with were (no surprise, really) religious orders.

    I think the reason the US was so successful for so long was that our founders were primarily Christian or of Christian background (as in, steeped in Christian thought) and they had a Biblical understanding of mankind's nature. They designed the government around this understanding.

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  3. Okay, this is only vaguely related to the discussion, but I've been wondering lately about the job market. It seems like everyone in America wants the "big" jobs and in the meantime we don't have enough people to work lower paying jobs and end up importing people or using foreign goods that we can't manufacture at a low rate. Of course these days most Americans go to college, and who wants to go to college just to be a janitor.

    I love education...but it seems like somewhere along the way we have created a monster.

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  4. Dina, I think there is a another piece or two to that.

    For one thing, I think the dumbing down of education has meant a high school diploma is practically worthless. I worked for a company (that shall remain nameless) that required college degrees for jobs that could have easily been done by someone with a decent high school education.

    So, we've made college a requirement for jobs that don't actually need that much education. However, college loans have increased the price of college (which has gone up far faster than inflation), by making the cost "hidden" in that people don't pay until later. And then when they graduate and discover themselves with a huge debt to repay, they naturally want to score a big paying job immediately, not start at some beginner level job.

    A second piece of that is with college costs rising so disproportionately, the old "working one's way through college" model doesn't work any more. Students without scholarships or significant savings have to take out a loan. And that feeds the cycle.

    Not that long ago, many low-skilled (and low paying) jobs were done by teenagers and college students. My first paying job (at age 10) was working at a nearby blueberry farm during the summer. Most farms required kids to be 12 to start, but this family knew my parents, so they let me start earlier. I'd hoped to move up to de-tassling at 13 (it paid much better), but we moved that year. I ended up working weekends as a hotel maid instead. Cleaning up after strangers. Yuck. But I survived. All those types of jobs are now being done by immigrants. But with college costs so ridiculous, my teenager's time is better spent studying than working at minimum-wage job. (If he can raise his SATs by 20 points, one of his first choice colleges will increase the scholarship another 5K/year. Working isn't worth his time right now.)

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  5. That comment was almost as long as my post! Should have saved it, huh?

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  6. Very interesting, C.J. I know Dave Ramsey says that people should work their way through college and not take out loans. And while Mr. Ramsey annoys me on some levels, I think we all need to realize that what you can't afford, you simply can't have. Beginning with our government. Maybe we should put him in charge of the countries finances. Give him a big red pen. Nope, can't afford...

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  7. I'm sitting here remembering a time back in my childhood. I was the offspring of a single mother and we didn't have a whole lot. I think I was about seven when I saw some commercial on television for something I wanted that I knew I would never have.

    And I came up with this great idea that wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone in the world had the same? Shortly thereafter a commercial came on for a relief organization. The ones with kids with swollen bellies and flies around their eyes. And I asked myself the same question: Would I be so eager to have everyone be equal if it meant that I had less? And what would I be willing to give up to help people who were truly in need (not just lacking something they wanted.)

    I find it ironic that two of the movements that seem to be spreading are the "buy American" and Occupy Wall Street. People want better paying jobs here. And I get that. But then what happens to those in the sweatshops in third world countries who suddenly have less? Do American factory workers work harder that they deserve much more than those in India or China?

    And these are questions I don't have an answer for. I do recall Jesus saying that the poor will always be with us. But not easy issues, to be sure.

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  8. Excellent post and excellent comments.

    It IS such a difficult question.

    One of the problems in our "everybody gets a trophy just for being in the game" society is that some people think they are entitled to the good life just for being here.

    We all "deserve" to have new cars and cell phones and cable TV and computers, right?

    Ummmm . . . if you can afford them.

    We forget that, though we try to have a country where everyone has equal opportunity, that doesn't guarantee equal outcomes.

    Why shouldn't a man who has worked hard in school and broken his back for decades to get his business going not have the luxuries he's worked for all his life. He took the risks. He put in the work. He made the sacrifices.

    Maybe I decided I would rather take it easy in school, work a safe 9 - 5 job and then relax at night. Maybe I decided to go on vacation rather than invest my money.

    Why should I expect the same outcome as the first guy or begrudge him what he has?

    Is life inherently unfair? Of course it is, but, as William John Henry Boetcker (and NOT Abraham Lincoln) famously said:

    * You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
    * You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
    * You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
    * You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
    * You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
    * You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
    * You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
    * You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
    * You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence.
    * And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

    And, as my dad famously (at least to me) says: "I never saw a poor man hire very many people."

    Yes, we ought to help those who truly can't help themselves. But maybe these "Occupy" people, if they really have anyone else's best interest at heart and aren't just wanting to play Woodstock, should go find some soup kitchens to volunteer at.

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  9. It's a tough one, Barb. I want to help, but ... well, how uncomfortable will it make me again?

    As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate more and more that true change begins with the heart. That's why I no longer buy into the libertarian view that social issues don't matter. (Although I don't think we can legislate true morality either. We have to reach hearts.) A society needs morality and freedom to prosper. Freedom without morality leads to licentiousness and laziness (a problem common to contemporary Western culture). And morality without freedom leads to a stifling of the heart and mind like one finds in Iran or Afghanistan.

    As for your comment about the sweatshops and such, one thing I find truly wrong with the US government borrowing obscene amounts of money from China is the entire idea of us taking advantage of China's poor so we can live like kings.

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  10. DeAnna, I have to agree that life is "unfair." But reading your post, I've concluded most of our envy issues stem from comparisons: focusing too much on others -- why can't I have all that money/leisure/fame -- instead of focusing on ourselves.

    Fortunately God is "unfair" also, in that he doesn't give us what we deserve!

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  11. Thoughtful post, CJ. Great discussion, too.

    I love what you just said about God being unfair. We don't receive what we deserve. We receive so much better. Grace and mercy.

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  12. Interesting discussion, CJ, and lots of great comments.

    I think someone (Deb?) mentioned time as being the thing they don't want to let go of. That is also my big thing. I really have so little time to myself, with the exception of studying and doing schoolwork. That doesn't really count, and I long to take a nice long train trip and have a good several days in solitude. One of the Inkies mentioned going to a retreat and a convent last year, and I think that just sounds perfect.

    Do I really have to let go of it, CJ? I don't want to...

    I'm not sure if this really fits in with the subject, but some of the Occupy comments here reminded me of this... In my ancient history class, we have to post an essay every week, read others' essays, and ask and answer questions. So this one student wrote in his essay that people who have money are racists. ??? I asked him if he really believed that people who work hard and provide a home for their families are racists. And if he does believe that, I wanted to know what he's basing that on. No big surprise, but he didn't answer.

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