The Journey series
Wealth and Autonomy
This week's Mustard Seed examines the idea that wealth affords autonomy. The Oxford English Dictionary defines wealth as an abundance of valuable possessions or money. Many people strive for wealth believing it will buy freedom to do as they choose.
We constantly produce and consume wealth. We are more certain to consume than to produce. Illness, injury, or misfortune may reduce, interrupt, or end our capacity to produce. A prudent person saves a portion of what they produce to tide them over any interruptions. Savings offer security. They allow a person to remain self sufficient rather than reliant on the good graces of others. Savings allow one to retire comfortably once work becomes onerous. At some point, however, savings switch from prudence to folly.
There was a man who became obsessed with saving. He didn't go out except to work, he didn't have friends, and he didn't take holidays. He ate meagre meals, dressed in second-hand clothes, and lived in a one-room apartment. His savings grew large as he grew old.
One day he realized that he had more savings than he could ever use. He prayed that he would be able to take his savings to heaven. After months of agonizing prayer he begged, "For the love of Jesus, have mercy on me!"
"Since you've begged for my mercy I'll let you into heaven," God replied, "and, since you're so set in your ways, I'll let you bring one suitcase with you – filled with whatever you want."
The man went out and bought the biggest suitcase he could find. He bought all the gold bars he could afford and filled the case half-full. He scrimped and saved all the harder, determined to fill his suitcase. He bought more ingots whenever he could and packed them tightly in the suitcase.
On the day he filled the last bit of space he died. The miserly hermit lugged his suitcase with him up to the Pearly Gates. St Peter found his name in the Good Book. "It says you're due for Purgatory, but you'll have to leave that outside."
"There must be some mistake," the man protested, "God said I would go to heaven and promised I could bring one suitcase filled with whatever I want."
"Well, you will go to heaven after purgation," St Peter said, "but nobody brings anything with them."
"But God promised," the man insisted. "Ask Him."
St Peter went off to ask God about the man's claim. He returned a short while later with a furrowed brow and rubbing his chin. "I'll be darned," he said. "This has never happened before. May I see what's in your suitcase?"
The man opened his suitcase and St Peter began laughing so hard he cried. "Now I understand," St Peter said, once regaining his composure. "You're slated for the road crew. God has let you bring some paving stones!"
Next post: Serious Wealth
Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’
This week's Mustard Seed examines the odd claim to autonomy in sexuality. The free love movement began in the 19th century. Its proponents wished to remove state control over sexual partners, birth control, marriage, and promiscuity. They believed mutual love was a better guide for sexual unions than were legal or economic bonds. A partner could be freely chosen and, if love ended, the relationship could be freely dissolved. Their relationship would be monogamous and committed for as long as their love endured.
With the pill and more readily available legalized abortion in the 1960s and 70s, free love was coopted to mean a noncommittal, sexually active lifestyle with many casual partners. In theory, anyone could sleep with anyone with no repercussions. In truth, there are considerable psychological and emotional traumas and, more than occasionally, unplanned pregnancies. The pro abortion chant, my body, my choice attempts to maintain the enlightened feminist's conception of sexual autonomy. Any rights of the father and unborn child are summarily dismissed.
The original concept of free love understood objective moral standards but argued there was a higher level of morality in freely choosing to adhere to those morals than in being coerced to do so. The latter version argues one is free to choose what is moral.
Similarly, autonomy, as conceived by 18th and 19th century philosophers, proposed morality must be universal, no act can at once be moral and immoral. Morality does not depend on outcome. Free will was requisite for merit or culpability, but did not determine morality. The latter version of autonomy claims morality is determined by our free will. What's moral for me today may or may not be moral for me tomorrow. What's moral for me may or may not be moral for you. Morality is dependent on circumstances.
Secularists today view morality as a social construct that evolves. People and groups naturally act to maximize their own gain whilst minimizing their costs. Morality evolves to resolve conflicts that arise when the needs and wants of individuals or groups within a community run contrary to the needs and wants of other members of that community. Moral rules balance rights. Regarding sexuality – the gains are pleasure, children, and emotional attachment; the costs are sexually transmitted disease, children, and emotional attachment. Which side of the equation children and emotional attachment fall depends on current circumstances. Autonomy over one's own body is the trump card.
Christians view morality as conformance to God's will. Each person comes from God and their ultimate end is to reunite with God. It is wrong to use people as a means. People may cooperate to achieve a goal, but each is a co-agent – never a means. We are to steward the rest of creation. We may use things as a means to pursue unity with God. A means should not be squandered, used contrary to its nature, or counter to pursuit of unity with God. The nature of sexuality is pleasurable, procreative and unitive. Its proper context is between spouses within a family. To use sex purely for pleasure is to squander it. To deny its procreative potential is contrary to its nature. To practice sex outside the marital union will harm, and may destroy, its unitive nature.
Sexuality, properly practiced, is both a creative and cohesive force which forms strong family units as the basic units of a strong community. Sexuality trivialized to mere entertainment fractures society. By its very nature, sex can't be autonomous without brutalizing its intimacy.
Next post: Wealth
Peter T Elliott