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by John Schneider


Did Joe DiMaggio Miss His Calling?

The cramped imagination of utilitarian ethics.

Calls for simple living have played a vital role in Christian history. But with rare exceptions they have presented themselves as discretionary, as what ancient theologians called counsels, and not as commands. Most often they understand their "counsel" as an alternative to a life of involvement in the world. What is remarkable about today's evangelical advocates of "simpler living" is that they present it as normative for all Christians, and they see it as nothing less than a strategy for transforming the culture of modern capitalism. I believe it is a mistake to present "simpler living" that way.

A case in point is Arthur Simon's book, How Much Is Enough? Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture. If Simon had written this book as a discretionary "counsel" and not as issuing an ethics-shaping "command," and as a mandate for transforming the character of capitalism, one could but admire its many virtues. In the early chapters, Simon gives us a gentle but firm shaking on distorted spiritual priorities. How pathetic and sad it is to think that we could be so very affluent and still not be content. Simon properly notes that in centuries past not even royalty dared dream of the affluence we commonly now enjoy. Yet it seems that many of us are still unsatisfied. Vast waters of wealth are everywhere, but for the insatiable there is "not a drop to drink." On this level, the question in the title, "how much is enough?" has its answer. Most of us, if we are healthy, already have enough, and we should not crave more.

It is a truism that most of us could and should be giving more to the global poor. But here, trouble starts for the model as an ethics of capitalism. In this economic order, percentages of income simply given away do not take into account the moral configuration of someone's economic life as a whole. What of production and its liberating effects? What of investments in businesses, employees' benefits, in insurance for family, in our own pensions, or in funds for college? ...

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