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Of Markets and Morality

The great mantra of this prevailing culture of self-absorption is tolerance: If only everyone, everywhere, and under all circumstances could only be tolerant, we are assured, what a wonderful and peaceful world it would be. This kind of illiberal faith, this chic toleration, is so intolerant as to assert the truth claims of orthodox Judaism and Christianity. The problem with this arrogance (which always fails to see its own arrogance) is that it presumes that the Jewish and Christian reliance on the use of faith to apprehend some truths diminishes the importance of the mind, and hence, man himself.

This modern, liberal mindset begins by rejecting revelation, but in the course of its intellectual trajectory it must undermine not merely Biblical truth-claims but any claim to know truth. It does so to allow the individual to impose himself and his opinions on the world, creating God and others in his own image rather than shaping his views according to reality.

Theistic agnosticism in this way easily proceeds to moral agnosticism, and eventually, when it has run its course, one emerges as an epistemological agnostic–unable to assert knowledge of anything with certainty. All of this, then, is an attack on man, his capacity for choice, his dignity, and his intellect. It is an attack on the prerequisite for all intellectual and moral progress–and it is done in the very name of progress. It is an attack, eventually, upon human life itself exactly to the extent that it relativizes morality and virtue.

Ironically, this whole approach ends up destroying tolerance itself. Pluralism is not a beige, lukewarm man of undefined verbiage–a blended mixture of mild opinions calculated never to offend. It is vivid in hue, robust in texture. The roots of pluralism and tolerance are not found in a valueless agnosticism that holds to nothing in particular, or everything in general, but emerges within a certain stance to which people are committed, while accepting boundaries to its enforcement.

Defenders of genuine liberty stand opposed to the nihilistic subjectivism of our age. We desire to build a society based upon the truth about man and God. Yet, one area of confusion that the advocates of the free economy must avoid making is the temptation to either idolatrize the market economy, or to suppose that virtue is something that can be enacted by politicians and implemented by bureaucrats.

Of itself, the market and the technological advances that result from it, lack a telos–a proper end or purpose toward which this development is oriented. That end or purpose depends upon the human person who initiates economic actions, and who himself has absorbed from somewhere a sense of moral purpose. The market and technology lack the logic to tell us who we are and what we ought to do. For that we must look elsewhere: to the texts of Scripture, to God’s love and action on behalf of those created in His likeness and image.

The market and technology give us the how–and this how is critically important–for without it life would be burdensome and difficult. Earth would be unable to sustain the abundance that provides for human well-being and prosperity. But while the free market is necessary in providing the how of technological progress, it is to the Scriptures that we must look to discover the ought of our lives; to answer the perennial questions: How ought, then, we to live? What is the purpose, the value, and the end of our society, our homes, and our lives?

To separate the how from the ought is to create economic and moral chaos–it is to either place human life at the disposal of economic, technological, and emotional whim, or it is to become so heavenly minded we are no earthly good. We are called to become good servants in the culture of life. This requires us to master both our world and our moral lives, and live as dignified sons and daughters of the God of Life.