Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wealthy, to be or not to be?

Is wealth really all that desirable?

Adam Smith weighs in:

“The poor man’s son…when he begins to look around him, admires the condition of the rich. [he is displeased with his home and with being obliged to walk on foot, he feels himself naturally indolent, and]* he thinks if he had attained all [their comforts] he would sit still contentedly, and be quiet, enjoying himself in the thought of the happiness and tranquility of his situation.

“To obtain these conveniences, he submits in the first year, nay the first month of his application to more fatigue of body and uneasiness of mind than he could have suffered through the whole of his life from the want of them. Through the whole of his life he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant repose which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquility that is at all times in his power; and which if in the extremity of old age he should at last attain to it, he will find to be in no respect preferable to that humble security and contentment which he had abandoned for it…he begins at last to find that wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility.”

“There is no real difference between [the rich and the poor], except that the conveniences of the one are somewhat more observable than those of the other.”

“Power and riches appear then to be enormous and operose machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniences to the body.” – All from Theory of Moral Sentiments, part 4, Ch. 1

Jesus also warned of possessing great wealth and riches in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” – Mt 19:23-24

Wealth and riches are not means to a happier or more tranquil life. They offer us but a few more means to frivolous and trifling goods and services of utility. The poor man on the street can be and often is just as happy as the man in the mansion seemingly living contentedly, but without all the distractions from our true path to happiness. They are both subject to the same terrors—“to anxiety, fear, sorrow, diseases, danger, and death.” (also from Smith)

The challenge, then, is to abandon our attachment to our wealth and, ultimately, to give it all away for the betterment of our brothers, our fellow men who are created in the image of God. For they only offer us a few frivolous trinkets of utility and a society of charity is much closer to true happiness than one of wealth and riches.

* - brackets indicate paraphrasing for the sake of shortening Smith’s long-winded writing

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dignity of all Work

My job at a local restaurant this summer served as a great reminder to me that dignity can be found in all* vocations, including something seemingly as insignificant as a dishwasher or cook at a small restaurant in western Kansas. Many of my co-workers were there simply for a paycheck, but they also made it possible for many weary travelers to take a break from their long journeys or for families to share time together and enjoy a nice meal.

Even the seemingly most insignificant occupations that many believe make little to no contribution to the overall welfare of the society do indeed have dignity and value. The people who occupy these positions were also created with the same dignity as doctors, civil servants, missionaries, and priests and should therefore not be looked down upon as something less than important.

So, the next time you eat at a restaurant, or observe another "lowly" vocation, consider passing on your gratitude for the work that they do with a simple thank you and a smile. A little gesture might go a long way!

*=I had to qualify "all" vocations as not including unauthentic "work" such as selling drugs, distributing pornography, etc. These occupations do not have dignity and are not considered true work in the Christian sense of the word. However, the people within these occupations still very much have dignity and should be thought of as no less than those serving within authentic vocations. The need for their conversion is just ever more pressing as their "work" takes them farther from God.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yikes! Where did the summer go?

Okay. Sorry for the long hiatus. I had a great opportunity to learn about the economics of food service this summer, which in addition to farming and preparing for grad school, kept me too busy to post any entries. I begin classes tomorrow and look forward to relaunching this blog. I hope to post my next entry tomorrow or Tuesday and hopefully I'll also start to attract more followers. Please send me your comments, questions, or requests for future posts!