Progress or God. Whom will we serve?

“Stewardship starts with the principle that we first have to honor whatever we are charged with. Then we can think of ourselves. We have done just the opposite. We have tried first to have everything for ourselves and then have tried to correct the damage we’ve done to animals and to plants. It is not a good relationship. I think we must go back to the beginning and ask ourselves as western people, what did we trust, what gods did we decide to follow, where does the real point of happiness lie in our lives?…we have the promise of our Saviour himself that in christian belief there is a power to replace that old faith [in building our happiness out of technique and economic growth]. It is not a power emerging from us, but one that has its fulfillment in his coming kingdom in which he will change our present world to restore justice. In that kingdom we will find Shalom dwelling immanently in our intercourse with him and with our neighbours. It will not be a product of our activitiy but will dwell there as something to be lived out of. It is up to us to expect that kingdom and to erect a signpost of that kingdom in our present society” (brackets and emphasis mine).

Bob Goudzwaard, Aid for the Overdeveloped West, p. 57-58.

We cannot build for ourselves Shalom or happiness. These do not come about through technological or economic progress (which damage our relationship with others and with creation itself). Rather, Shalom is something given by God, not as something that we work towards but rather as something that we work out of.

Our way of life in the Western/Northern world is a lie that we must abandon. Here, I think the Body of Christ must lead the way.

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8 comments
  1. Al said:

    Interesting post…

    While our hyper-materialistic societies definately need to be held accountable for the havoc that they’ve unleashed upon mother earth, it’s also important not to get too down on technology.

    There’s a false kind of natural simplicity that presumes that everything in nature is in and of it’s self and everything that is man-made is in and of itself bad. I find G.K. Chesterton helpful in this regard. He says that we should look to the example of children; the wonder that share equally to a tree and to a train. He writes in his book Heretics the following:

    “The child is, indeed, in these, and many other matters, the best guide. And in nothing is the child so righteously childlike, in nothing does he exhibit more accurately the sounder order of simplicity, than in the fact that he sees everything with a simple pleasure, even the complex things. The false type of naturalness harps always on the distinction between the natural and the artificial. The higher kind of naturalness ignores that distinction. To the child the tree and the lamp-post are as natural and as artificial as each other; or rather, neither of them are natural but both supernatural. For both are splendid and unexplained. The flower with which God crowns the one, and the flame with which Sam the lamplighter crowns the other, are equally of the gold of fairy-tales. In the middle of the wildest fields the most rustic child is, ten to one, playing at steam-engines. And the only spiritual or philosophical objection to steam-engines is not that men pay for them or work at them, or make them very ugly, or even that men are killed by them; but merely that men do not play at them. The evil is that the childish poetry of clockwork does not remain. The wrong is not that engines are too much admired, but that they are not admired enough. The sin is not that engines are mechanical, but that men are mechanical.”

  2. Al said:

    Sorry Jeff, I definatley need to start proof reading my posts!!! Let’s try again….

    Interesting post…

    While our hyper-materialistic societies definately need to be held accountable for the havoc that they’ve unleashed upon mother earth, it’s also important not to get too down on technology.

    There’s a false kind of natural simplicity that presumes that everything in nature is in and of it’s self good, and that everything that is man-made is in and of itself bad. I find G.K. Chesterton helpful in this regard. He says that we should look to the example of children; i.e. the wonder that they share equally with a tree and to a train. He writes in his book Heretics the following:

    “The child is, indeed, in these, and many other matters, the best guide. And in nothing is the child so righteously childlike, in nothing does he exhibit more accurately the sounder order of simplicity, than in the fact that he sees everything with a simple pleasure, even the complex things. The false type of naturalness harps always on the distinction between the natural and the artificial. The higher kind of naturalness ignores that distinction. To the child the tree and the lamp-post are as natural and as artificial as each other; or rather, neither of them are natural but both supernatural. For both are splendid and unexplained. The flower with which God crowns the one, and the flame with which Sam the lamplighter crowns the other, are equally of the gold of fairy-tales. In the middle of the wildest fields the most rustic child is, ten to one, playing at steam-engines. And the only spiritual or philosophical objection to steam-engines is not that men pay for them or work at them, or make them very ugly, or even that men are killed by them; but merely that men do not play at them. The evil is that the childish poetry of clockwork does not remain. The wrong is not that engines are too much admired, but that they are not admired enough. The sin is not that engines are mechanical, but that men are mechanical.”

  3. Al said:

    Sorry Jonathan…I have no idea why I called you Jeff!! It’s been a long day 😀

  4. jt* said:

    “There’s a false kind of natural simplicity that presumes that everything in nature is in and of it’s self good, and that everything that is man-made is in and of itself bad.”

    Good point.

    I don’t think Goudzwaard (or the scriptures for that matter) suppose that technological/economic progress is bad in and of itself. Rather, I think what Goudzwaard wants to say (to echo the scriptures) and which I would affirm is that technological and economic progress are not *good* in and of themselves and to say that they are (as our society so obviously does) is a lie that has been sold to us by modernity. Ultimately, our society tells a story that is alternate to the biblical story. The story of economic/technological progress says that if we just progress further we will make for ourselves Shalom (although modern economics/technique wouldn’t use this language). In other words, it is *through* economic/technological progress that we will be happy. Yet this is a lie. Evidence of this, as Goudzwaard goes on to point out is the fact that the “have’s” have become the “have-not’s”. Who is it that needs oil to sustain their way of life? It is the western world and yet we are “rich”. The USA is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the “have’s”, and yet they have become the “have-nots” because of the level of development they pursue. Another example can be seen in the paradoxes that are so evident in the west. i.e., how is it that poverty exists in rich countries?

    Anyways, to cut to the chase, the story that the western world is telling us (a story rooted in the lies of modernity) is itself a lie that does destruction to our relationship with people and with creation.

  5. Al said:

    “Ultimately, our society tells a story that is alternate to the biblical story. The story of economic/technological progress says that if we just progress further we will make for ourselves Shalom (although modern economics/technique wouldn’t use this language). In other words, it is *through* economic/technological progress that we will be happy.”

    What part (if any) do you think economic/technological progress, and material wealth play in our happiness and or shalom, as human beings? Surely as Christians we would affirm that our ulitimate sense of happiness and well beings is rooted in fellowship/communion with God and with others, but is this the whole story? Thanks…

  6. jt* said:

    Yeah those are good questions to be asking and wrestling with. To continue with Goudzwaard, I think he suggests that one of the chief ends of economic/technological progress is stewardship. One of the premises that this is based upon is that work is inherently good.

    So, take enterprise for example. To oversimplify, enterprise is generally looked at as a means to make profit. Work is a means to an end, money. So, if the enterprise is chiefly concerned with money then it will want to reduce those things that get in the way of making profit. Here then, we see employees who suffer because their jobs are taken away and replaced with machines. Workers then are relinquished to numbing, un-creative jobs. Also, workers come second to making money so corporations feel free to use sweatshops where they pay their workers next to nothing. This is all the wrong starting point I think. If, one of the chief goals of the enterprise is stewardship then we can think of things differently. For example, the enterprise is then a community of people. Just like you cannot own a person you cannot own a community of people and thus we cannot speak of someone owning an enterprise. If this is the case, and work is inherently good, then the enterprise begins to take on a different shape where all of the workers and management are one. This also has huge implications on how the environment is treated by companies and the environment ceases to be something that we should take advantage of for profit.

    These are all some loose thoughts so sorry if it seems jumbled. What are your thoughts?

  7. Al said:

    I definately will have to check out Goudzwaard.

    Alot of it seems to come down to a universal concept of Justice (i.e, men and women have the right to dignity; slave labour and sweat shops strip people of the dignity they’re due). The same would have to go for child labour, since Justice demands that children are due a childhood, and child labour robs them of this.

    I was living in Bolivia during the Cochabamba “Water War” in 2000. Here you had North America, European, Japanese multi-national corporations coming into the country wanting to privatize the cities water. People had to start paying an extra 10 or 20 dollars a month for drinking water and sewage. Ten or 20 dollars I’m sure you could imagine is alot of cheese to a family that may only be pulling in about 150 or 200 dollars a month!! These companies were also able to effect legislation forbiding the people to practice tradiontal methods of collecting water (i.e., via rain barrels) People had been practicing these methods for hundreds of years before the Spanish conquered Bolivia. Basically the whole thing was about making a profit off of the people of Cochabamba. Fortunately they were able to organize, protest, and in the end get rid of privitiazation after a 30 day stand off (where the Army was called in). Many people were arrested and one young man was shot and killed by the police.

    Stuff that this is obviously wrong, but like Chesterton I’d want to guard against a kind of Tolstoyian simplicity that seeks to reject anything “man-made” or artificial and only elevate those things belonging to nature (including forms of progress, wealth and society). I’ll try and write more soon and flesh the whys and hows out more.

  8. jt* said:

    A good place to start with Goudzwaard is “Aid for the Overdeveloped West.” It’s out of print but I have a .pfd version I can send you. It’s less than 100 pages.

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