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HolyGround >> Christianity and wealth


8/25/12 7:43 PM
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Ridgeback
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ChanceDuBois - I think that people pooling capital and using it to build a hospital to run as a not for profit venture still requires the accumulation of capital in the first place, which requires normal mutually beneficial for-profit interactions.

I don't know anything about distributism, I will read about it.

I honestly don't see free market interactions as exploitative or selfish- they are by definition of benefit to both parties, otherwise they would not happen. What I do find exploitative and selfish is the exercise of political power for control of these free interactions via the threat of violence. Do you perhaps disagree with personal ownership of resources and the means of production?

  Once again I will remind you that what Jesus is teaching is based on humans having lived up to their potential, which means humans would not have died, gotten sick, or had any issues with the natural world.  Take away the fear of death (which the Bible teaches is the actual cause of sin), the fear of sickness, and the fear of want and people would no longer need to spend most of their time scraping out a living.  Imagine the entire globe where people are working towards a common good rather than all the actual exploitation that takes place while a tiny minority hordes the wealth and the exploited majority slaves to keep it going (which is pretty much the relationship of the first world with the third world right now.  

I don't know of any free market interaction in the modern world that isn't heavily conditioned by the reality of original sin, which takes for granted that people will try to cheat, steal, misinform, and get the better of their fellows if they can persuade the government to help them.  The free exchange of things is not the issue, but free markets are just as tainted by those human tendencies as state-controlled ones.  I think this is why Christianity teaches, at bottom, that if people arent' transformed from the inside out then no external system is going to work.  And every human system of economy or governance or anything else is tainted with human failings.  Everything is rocked by scandal where sooner or later people are looking out for their own self-interests at the expense of others.  Probably a true free market is the best system we can have in our fallen state because it does place some embedded controls on human duplicity and lets a lot of things get sorted out (a bad product, which is a form of cheating, usually fails as soon as the word gets out), but it is based naturally on human greed as Adam Smith noted.  I've never seen a real free market in operation though so I have no idea.

Do I disagree with personal ownership and means of production?  No.  I don't place my hope in any system of government or economic system.  They are all riddled with failure.  It is true that modern industry and technology have given humans a level of comfort and ease never before seen in human history, but now we see many people warning that this is unsustainable and older and much longer lasting cultures may have been much wiser to the degree that they did not try to change the world around them to please their inner desires, but rather worked hard to have the discipline to live in harmony with the world around them.  What can't be argued is that people are using resources at a rate never before seen in history.  Can we keep it up?  

Free market interactions in the real world are complex.  These days they often stand on the backs of Third World labor.  So the American buys a product from a global corporation that is of low quality but very cheap and it is something he could live without if he was not needing to stay distracted from his own thoughts around the clock.  The materials are extracted from a third world country that is kept in check through the threat of violence by Western powers (Afghanistan is a great example) for a pittance that does nothing to help that exploited country or its people (it might help a few criminals at the top).  A system of exploitation may be mutually beneficial in the sense that all the agents involved in it get something they need or want within the confines of a very unfair global situation, but that doesn't make it right or sustainable.  Yes the sweat shop laborers get a little pay to put a little food on the table, but that doesn't mean we should call a system with inherent exploitations good.
8/25/12 9:23 PM
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ChanceDuBois
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In terms of changing the reality of existence so that people did not die, get ill, or want for any basic thing then yes I can see that normal economics would not apply in many areas (food production for one). In this situation there would still be reason to accumulate capital however. For example in the creation of technologies like computers or cars which are incredibly useful and entertaining but not essential, not to mention simple interest, curiosity, and passion about things. People might still want to build amazing new structures, design fantastic new machines, or investigate how the world works. Does the reality of Jesus remove this desire from the minds of people? If not then how do people obtain their desires without first accumulating capital? Are all resources including land unlimited in the new world, or only those allowing basic survival?

I don't agree that a minority hoards the wealth of the world while an exploited majority toils to keep everything working because potential wealth is infinite and it is impossible to keep people from creating wealth for themselves unless you violently oppress them to quite an extreme degree. I do think that a minority holds an unjustifiable power in politics over the majority and that wealth does not provide the same kind of power as politics. Wealth is only the means to persuade people to do what you would like them to do. They still have to agree to do it based on the cost benefit calculation as they see it. Politics by contrast does not have this limitation.

I do not agree in any way with Malthusian warnings about limits to growth. These naturally come from people already wealthy and never from those who have less. They are nothing less than a call for trade barriers and always include severe government intervention. Human beings have always managed to overcome whatever technical limitations are put in front of them and I see no reason to expect this to cease. Wealth creation naturally includes technological work-arounds or material buffers (wealth) in the cases where solutions are stalled. People by their very nature exploit nature to make it more useful and comfortable to themselves. A purposefully shaped natural world is part of the extended phenotype of human beings, integral to the kind of creature we are.

The actions of western and dictator governments in Africa and the middle east are a great demonstration of the evils of government controlled economics. What could be more indicative of this injustice than our government deployment of actual soldiers (using tax money extorted from us) to mineral rich Afghanistan and the installation of a convenient puppet state? The government handing generous contracts to state supported corporations which are virtual extensions of government anyway is not an example of free markets at work that I recognise.
8/26/12 1:40 AM
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Grakman
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Ridgeback's description of the world makes things seem horrible, and I suppose for many of the world's people, it is. Coupled with the Rev's view about the poor and the marginalized, it makes one wonder why God doesn't do something about it. I know that Jesus came to save the world, I know that we are supposed to change ourselves to change the world, I know the arguments about free will and so on... I know I'm probably just restating the problem of evil, nevertheless that's the thought that occurred to me while reading these posts.

God is supposed to be the same today, yesterday and forever, but we hesitate to accept that in the Old Testament God's blessings seemed to mean physical wealth, lands, etc, as well as spiritual. If Israel followed God's commandments and kept the law they were blessed in all that they did, including war. If Israel strayed, God punished Israel by sending them into captivity, losing lands and wealth, etc.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Jews of Jesus day did not accept him as the Messiah, as in their view the Messiah would fix all the problems of the world mentioned in this thread. But in Christianity what we have instead is a shifting of blessings to the inner life and the after life.
8/26/12 2:23 AM
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Ridgeback
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Actually the Christian view is that the world was made good, but is fallen, which is exactly how I experience the world I live in.  There is so much beauty and goodness in the world and yet there is a level of evil that is heartbreaking.  If you are not aware of the evil you need to get out more.  We live in a world where children are tortured and enslaved and sexually victimized and their perprators get away with it.  This was pointed out by the Christian Dostoyevksy and is probably the best argument against Christianity ever made.  What other word can you use to describe a species that came up with a nuclear bomb and the the Killing Fields other than horrible?  What I really worry about are the people who claim that things are mostly okay.  How can that be?  

Last I checked Grakman you believe in some kind of god.  So why aren't you asking the same question of your god?  Seems like you are playing the "I will leave my babies at home and dash the heads of yours against the rocks."  Put some of your cards on the table.  After all, you ask why God doesn't intervene but you also believe that every person, including child torturers and rapists, will all go to heaven.  Which one is it?  How is it that people who are comfortable exploiting and devouring their fellow humans will be perfectly at home in God's presence with apparently no difference in the core of who they are?  Where does justice fit into all of this?    

Your reading of the OT is odd.  That God is the same does not mean he deals with humanity in exactly the same way.  Clearly the ministry of Jesus points to a process of spiritual maturity, which is why his commandments are harder than the Mosaic law in almost every case.  He goes from an "eye for an eye" to "forgive and love your enemy."  That is a pretty big progression.  

Thank God that Jesus points out the reality of the wealthy, which is verified in history and even in modern polls that demonstrate that the wealthy are less generous with their excess than the poor are with their meager means.  What a horrible thing it would be to actually believe that all the rich are blessed by God and have his favor and all the poor are clearly cursed by God and have fallen out of his grace.  If you have to choose one view why would you embrace what you take to be the OT one (despite the fact that the book of Job clearly says otherwise)?  

Christianity is not the shift to the inner life and afterlife. Quite the contrary.  It is the claim that the Kingdom of Heaven has intersected with our own reality and that our own reality is on its way out.  This is not an "otherworldly" claim but rather a claim that a world of justice is the New Creation and all things are made new.  Hence the reason Christians are called to live as much as possible as citizens of that new kingdom, not merely as people who try to endure the reality of this world and get through it so they can escape to the after-life.  And this is the promise and prophecy of the OT from Ezekial's vision of the bones to Isaiah's prophecy of paradise.  


8/26/12 10:44 AM
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Grakman
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Ridge,
Lots of comments and questions, I'll try to answer them all without parsing your post.

First I'd like to go back to the point of this thread, which is about Christianity and wealth. When you say the wealthy are less giving than the poor, how do you define wealth? As I've pointed out before, even the poorest among us in the West live a life of luxury compared to those in Third World countries. You can be considered 'poor' in the USA and live in a home with air conditioning, drive an SUV, and watch the game or the fights on a big flat screen TV. Are these people part of the wealthy who do not give as much as the poor, or are they considered poor?

My point in citing the examples of Solomon and Job in the Old Testament is that it indicates to me that wealth in and of itself does not make anyone more of a sinner than someone who is poor. In some ways, the wealthy are vilified by those on the left like homosexuality is vilified by those on the right. This ties into the way I viewed Christian universalism in that we are not in control of where we are born, into what nation. By mere accident of birth in the United States I have vastly more opportunities than a child born in Bangladesh or some other Third World country. I will also be exposed to Christianity from birth and am far more likely to 'choose' Christianity as my religion than a child born in India or Indonesia or Afghanistan as well, thereby giving me a greater chance at salvation (under the Western Christian paradigm) than any of those children. How is that fair?

And you know as well as I Ridge that Christian universalism (CU) does not teach that there is no justice or refining period in the afterlife. The view of CU that I have always held is that ALL are judged in the afterlife for their actions while on earth, not because of original sin but their own deeds. CU teaches (as far as I know) that this period is not eternal, like the traditional Western view of Hell, but only as long as is necessary to purge the person of sin.

If the wealthy are sinners (apparently the worst kind to some)and Jesus came to save sinners, then the wealthy are included in his salvation the same as the murderers, rapists, fornicators, liars, adulterers, etc.

As far as putting 'cards on the table', it appears that you assume that because I can find points I disagree with in this thread that I must have answers to the questions and rebuttals to the remarks that have been made. This is like saying that a person can not critique a fight or a football game unless they're a fighter or a football player. I do believe in God because of the world I see around me, the order, the complexity of life itself. I don't see how it came to be all by itself. Now just because I believe that doesn't mean I have an answer as to why God doesn't intervene and make people stop hurting one another. I could say that it's all because of free will, or I could take the Muslim idea and say that everything we face is a trial given to us by God to see if we will keep faith in him no matter what happens. I could say that I believe in reincarnation, that earth is a form of purgatory in and of itself, and by being born here we are fulfilling some sentence based on acts committed in a prior life. Or a combination of all three. Any one of those would suffice to meet the need you have for me to put my cards on the table but the truth is I don't have all the answers.

On to another point. On the one hand you talk about moral progression, from the Mosaic law to the law of Christ; yet earlier in your post you describe a Hellish world filled with nuclear bombs, child rapists and sexual predators, wealthy who pray on the weak. And yet in the same post you say our reality is on it's way out and that all things are being made new. From the way you've described it, I'm not sure things have changed very much from the time of Moses til today, other than the inventions of advanced technology. Do you hold the view that mankind is progressing inch by inch to the establishment of the kingdom of God here on earth?

Lastly, as far as cards on the table, do you consider yourself wealthy? And by what standard do you say you are or are not wealthy? Do you feel that your actions are in accord with the beliefs and ideas you've espoused on this thread and others?
8/26/12 10:47 AM
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Grakman
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p.s. How do you feel about the Orthodox church spending money on the building and maintenance of huge cathedrals instead of spending the money on the poor, the widows, and orphans? Is it OK because they also help the poor in some ways?

How do you reconcile this with the views you've espoused in this thread and others about wealth?
8/27/12 1:18 AM
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Ridgeback
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Edited: 08/27/12 1:19 AM
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 Grakman,

I will respond to your longer post at another time, but let me address your second questiona about cathedrals.  Cathedrals and parish temples are great examples of the communal kingdom ethic at work.  Here the people sacrifice their time and treasure to build a communal and sanctified space to worship God.  It belongs to all and no individual profits from it.  People volunteer their time to clean or paint or tend the yards and a whole lot of other things the go beyond the mere survival of a family and transcend that.  And of course the local parish is usually the leading donor of help to the poor.  You seem to be implying that I believe like Judas that anything beautiful and expensive is wrong because that money could go to the poor, but the Kingdom of Heaven is not entranced with poverty, just with the accumulation of wealth for selfish purposes.  

As far as alms for the poor the building of communal worship spaces and looking after the poor is not even remotely mutually exclusive.  Parishioners give their time and treasure to helping the poor in countless ways.  Our parish, as an example, has volunteers go to a soup kitchen each Sunday and the parish makes a yearly trip to Mexico to build houses for poor families and support the orphanage there.  The parishioners who don't go often donate large sums of money to keep this orphanage going.  

If a Cathedral was a scheme whereby an individual makes profit from it for his own selfish ends (as is often the case with mega churches) you might have a point, but honestly your question comes across as willfully misunderstanding what I have wrote or the attempt at a cheap shot.  A parish community is a microcosm of the Kingdom of Heaven, where people come together to struggle against sin and look out for each other without a profit motive or a power motive.  Many fail to live up to this, but it is the goal. Name one other thing on the planet that is like that.
 
8/27/12 2:01 PM
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Grakman
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Ridge, it's ok you don't have to answer any of my questions stemming from 'cards on the table.' I took your comments personally and responded in kind. I apologize for that. I'll try to restate some of my views here and in such a way that it will actually make sense. Wish me luck! lol

1 - Except to perhaps the wealthiest 1% in the world, the 'rich' are always other people. What I have tried to point out in the thread and elsewhere is that even the poor in the West are wealthy compared to others in the world. There is a lot of talk on the boards here about the wealthy being evil, having difficulty getting to heaven or finding the Kingdom of God and so on. I'm wondering where people draw the line at what they consider 'wealthy.' I know this varies from person to person, but if an American drives a nice car and lives in a nice house and puts money in a 401k for his retirement is he considered wealthy? If so, how much is he expected to give away and to whom is it supposed to be given? Going further down the economic ladder, the poor person on government assistance who drives a nice car, lives in an air conditioned home with cable TV, cell phone, etc, is he wealthy? Why or why not? He has more than millions of other people who are really poor - no shoes, not enough food, no blankets or warm coats for winter...

It's ironic to me that people with access to computers, the Internet, who have cars, jobs, and houses, all want to sit around and argue that wealth is evil and can keep a person from entering the Kingdom of God, when to millions of other people on the planet WE ARE THE WEALTHY. I get the feeling we want to make this issue about the mega-wealthy but maybe that's just how I've read it.

2) Why is it OK for organizations like the church to keep money and use it to build cathedrals and churches, but not individuals? The church is some countries is supported by the state government which levies taxes on behalf of the state approved church. Yes, the churches have and support many charitable programs but so do some wealthy people. The Catholic church just sold off a multi-million dollar beach front property on the east coast that was used as a vacation home for retired priests. Is this a suitable use for the parishioner's donations? If it's a Protestant church that keeps a big beach front property for the pastor's and staff's use, is that worse because it's an individual and not the 'church?'

I've asked a lot of rhetorical questions that do not need to be answered. My personal opinion? Wealth is not the root of evil and being wealthy will not keep a person out of heaven, the kingdom of God, from being saved, whatever you want to call it. To me, it's all about what's in the heart. I believe that wealth is a trial for some people and a blessing for others, depending on the person's circumstance and attitude towards what they have. Gratitude to God goes a long way. I don't think everyone who has money needs to bankrupt themselves giving away everything to help other people, particularly people who do not want to help themselves. I believe that God calls us to be responsible for ourselves first and then to reach out to help others from our excess. I don't believe that God would want anyone to deliberately make themselves a burden to other people, to deliberately eschew working and making a living to live off of government largess or even that of one's church members.

The Utopian ideal may have people all working together in community to build things together, to raise food and so on, but until the Messiah comes or returns, depending on your point of view, it takes money to do all of those things. You can't build hospitals, fund them and staff them with personnel, equipment, supplies, and so on, without money. You can't build homeless shelters and feed them without money, you can't send missionaries to Timbuktu without money. Somewhere, somehow, someone with money is supporting all of these philanthropic endeavors and making all these good deeds possible, whether it's small donations from lower income folks or massive donations from those with more, it's still money - it's still wealth.

That's my take. Perhaps I am saying the same thing as everyone else here and I'm just reading into what everyone else is saying.

Lunch is over, have to get back to work. Cheers!

8/28/12 7:26 PM
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Demitrius Barbito
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 Luke 6:24

"But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.


Whenever the bible or Jesus says "Woe" it means YOU ARE FUCKED.

From Genesis to Revelation WOE is a fearsome term and one the you would not want aplied to you UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

So, um, ya...
8/28/12 8:09 PM
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Grakman
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Demitrius, please define 'rich?'

I've made the point in this thread that even those who are considered poor in the United States are 'rich' compared to millions of other people on the planet. Think about it - even a linoleum floor, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, cable TV, a car, food on the table, and an actual BED to sleep on.... how many people living in a Third World country with dirt floors, no glass in the windows and beads covering the doorway would think that 'poor' American is rich?

All of them.

So, um, ya... we're all rich and going to hell.
8/28/12 10:32 PM
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Grakman
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Interestingly enough, King Solomon is considered a saint in the Eastern Orthodox church.
8/28/12 11:05 PM
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gord96
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Seek that which is imperishable. That's pretty much it. It sounds too simple, but is it really? Is your goal spiritual enlightenment? Or making money and living the dream? It doesn't really matter what you have, but where you are going.

I think much of 'rich' in scriptures and texts is not so black and white as meaning that you are wealthy or have a big house by the lake with a boat and a scooter that has a horn that plays Dr. Feelgood. What if 'rich' is a mindset? Would a 'rich' mindset be one that can't find contentment in the spirit and things that are imperishable and seeks what is of the world and perishable? Maybe every class of people have a rich? Rich poor. Rich middle class. Rich rich.

Who knows!
8/30/12 9:49 AM
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Demitrius Barbito
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Grakman - Demitrius, please define 'rich?'

I've made the point in this thread that even those who are considered poor in the United States are 'rich' compared to millions of other people on the planet. Think about it - even a linoleum floor, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, cable TV, a car, food on the table, and an actual BED to sleep on.... how many people living in a Third World country with dirt floors, no glass in the windows and beads covering the doorway would think that 'poor' American is rich?

All of them.

So, um, ya... we're all rich and going to hell.

  I think I need to stop at this point. I AM NOT TRYING TO COVINCE YOU. 

I'm just stating something.

This quote says much to the subject:

"Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable".
8/30/12 2:49 PM
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Grakman
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Thanks for the reply Demitrius. I understand you're not trying to convince me, no problem. I'm still wondering if we in the West - the poor and the middle class - are defined as 'rich' in your paradigm though.

Good luck to you in your spiritual journey (sincerely.)
8/30/12 3:08 PM
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Grakman
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If riches were meant to constitute a total obstacle to salvation for all who possess them, as might be inferred from certain words supposedly uttered by Jesus when they are interpreted in a literal fashion instead of in their spiritual meaning, then God, who conceded them would have
placed an instrument of ruination in the hands of certain people against which they could not appeal. But this idea is quite repugnant to all reason. However, it is beyond doubt that from the destruction it causes, the temptations it provokes and the fascination it holds, we may deduce that
riches constitute a very dangerous trial, even more dangerous than that of misery. It is the greatest provoker of pride, selfishness and sensuality. It is the strongest tie which holds Man to Earth and distracts him from thoughts of Heaven. On many occasions it produces such a state of dizziness that those who go from misery to wealth completely forget their first condition, together with those who had shared this state with them, even those who had helped them, turning them into insensitive, selfish and futile people. Nevertheless, from the fact that riches make the journey difficult, it does not follow that it becomes impossible or that it cannot become a means of salvation for those who know how to utilize it, just as certain poisons may restitute health when employed in the correct
quantities and used with discernment. When Jesus said to the young man, who inquired how he could obtain eternal life, that he should dispose of all his worldly goods and follow Him, it did not mean that Jesus was establishing
an absolute principle, that everyone should get rid of everything they possess, nor that this is the only price to be paid for salvation. It was meant to show that attachment to worldly goods was an obstacle to salvation. The young man in this case had judged himself to be released from further struggle because he had observed certain commandments, and therefore he refused the idea of abandoning all the worldly goods he possessed. His desire to obtain eternal life did not run to the extreme of acquiring it through this sacrifice. What Jesus proposed to him was a decisive test destined to uncover the depths of his thoughts. Beyond doubt he could be a perfectly honest man in the eyes of the world, never causing harm to anyone, never cursing his neighbours, never being vain, futile or prideful, and always honouring his mother and father. But still he did not possess true charity, because his virtues did not go as far as abnegation.

In the strict acceptance of these words, the consequence would be the abolition of riches due to their being detrimental to future happiness and the cause of a great deal of the evil on Earth; for the rest, it would be the condemnation of all work, as being the means of gain. This would be an absurd consequence which would only convey mankind back to a primitive existence which, for that very reason, would be in complete contradiction to the law of progress, which is one of God's laws. If riches be the cause of much evil, if they aggravate so many evil passions, if they really provoke so many crimes, it is not the riches themselves that we should blame but mankind who
misuses them, as he does all of God's gifts. It is through ill usage that humanity constantly turns what could be most useful into something pernicious. This is a consequence of the inferior state of earthly life. If only wrongdoing and mischief could be produced by riches, then God would not
have placed them upon Earth. It is up to Man to make them produce good, and even if they are not a direct element of moral progress, then beyond doubt they are a powerful element in intellectual progress.

9/5/12 6:23 PM
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ChanceDuBois
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Edited: 09/05/12 6:23 PM
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I don't see how making profit through free exchange is selfish. Both parties to such an exchange end up better off than before. Sure, they are motivated by self interest, but I think it is a distortion to call any freely undertaken and mutually beneficial exchange selfish in the way that a forced or violent exchange clearly is.

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