Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Simple and True

Finding the center

I was reminded when I read Saul Bellow's Nobel Lecture Thursday night, the center doesn't move, men move away from the center, and there is a need for the simple and true.

People look for the bottom line, people always have. They look to the press and media to research the details for them and tell them what they need to know, what is important and what has the potential to effect their daily lives. They look for the summary of an issue and the simple bottom line.

We must be careful not to live our lives as if they were the summary of a book we didn't care enough about to read, ourselves. If we do not care enough to find our own moral center, we become unbalanced. We become unbalanced as individuals and, as a nation made up of individuals, the collective effect is a morally, unbalanced nation.

One of my favorite poems has long been Mark Strand's "Keeping Things Whole." In a review of Strand and Robert Hass, "The New Yorker" offered its critique that Strand, who was moved from city to city and sometimes country to country as a child, wrote about powerlessness. Strand may have been offering a simpler reason for movement, claimed "The New Yorker," than the practical and serious reasons of his parents, he moved, simply, "to keep things whole." A powerless child looking for a simple and true summary of his being? I wonder if Strand felt he had a moral center?

I moved, Thursday night from Saul Bellow to Vincent David Jericho (a natural transition?) on Friday morning. From Jericho's pod casts (segment 1 and the segment with Glen Beck as a guest) to an article, "Can Free Markets Survive In a Secularized World?" written by Steven Malanga. Jericho read from that article Friday morning to make a point about the effect the moral decline in America is having on our economy today, a point which I believe Saul Bellow might have easily made in his Nobel Lecture 30 plus, years ago. Malanga wrote:

"The 18th Century English cleric and theologian John Wesley was troubled by a paradox that emerged as his teaching spread. He, like other Protestant thinkers stretching back to Calvin, taught that one could honor God through hard work and thrift. The subsequent burst of industry and frugality generated by Wesley’s message improved the lot of many of his working-class followers and helped advance capitalism in England. But, “wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion,” Wesley observed, and subsequently pride and greed are growing more common, he complained.

The emergence of what Max Weber described as the Protestant ethic represented an important point in the evolution of capitalism because it combined a reverence for hard work with an emphasis on thrift and forthrightness in one’s dealings with others. Where those virtues were most ardently practiced markets advanced and societies prospered. And, as Wesley foresaw, what slowly followed was a rise in materialism and a reverence of wealth for its own sake.

Today, we seem to be living out Wesley’s most feared version of the pursuit of affluence unencumbered by virtue. Scam artists perpetrate giant Ponzi schemes against their friends and associates. Executives arrange compensation packages that pay themselves handily for failure. Ordinary people by the hundreds of thousands seek a shortcut to riches by lying on mortgage applications. Heartless phony bailout schemes take the last dollar of people already in distress."

Jericho, in part, said:

"Can free markets survive in a secularized world without some moral ethic, some base line principles?

The free market is just as bad corrupt and useless as socialism and fascism and any other 'ism' you want to throw on the table. Without morals and morality, capitalism collapses and so, my friends, does republican democracy. You're seeing it, you're living it, you may even be, directly or indirectly, responsible for it."

Americans must find a simple, true, moral center. Integrity, morality and virtue must win over greed, lust and envy. For me, I find that moral center inhabited by God and his instruction book, the Bible. One thing, for sure, as Malanga ended his article:

"People instinctively know something is missing, just not what. A religious revival in America seems unlikely. Is it equally as unlikely that our institutions, most especially our schools, would once again promote the virtues that made capitalism thrive and Western societies prosper--not just hard work, but thrift and integrity, or what we once called the Protestant ethic?"

We are individuals. We must find our individual moral centers then, we must stand again for the position of integrity and virtue, for the simple and the true, and against the position of moral decline, greed and materialism.

It occurred to me a few moments ago, I have blogged about America's moral decline and the ramifications of that decline in the past. In my opinion, no one says it better than Watchman Nee in "Love Not the World:"

Nee: Chapter 2:

"Most of the historic university colleges of the West were founded by Christian men with a desire to provide their fellows with a good education under Christian influence. During their founders' lifetimes the tone of those foundations was high, because these men put real spiritual content into them. When, however, the men themselves passed away, the spiritual control passed away too, and education followed its inevitable course toward the world of materialism and away from God. In some cases it may have taken a long time, for religious tradition dies hard; but the tendency has always been obvious, and in most cases the destination has by now been reached. When material things are under spiritual control they fulfill their proper subordinate role. Released from that restraint they manifest very quickly the power that lies behind them. The law of their nature asserts itself, and their worldly character is proved by the course they take."


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