October 25, 2011

Some economic laws of spirituality

By Dr. William Luckey *

I cannot take any credit for this, and I am sorry that I did not think of it first.  The other day I was reading a book on spirituality and the author brought up an interesting point.  She said that Christianity conformed to economic laws such as Gresham’s law.  This law says, in its short form, that bad money drives out good.  We can understand this by looking at an economic system that has two types of currency in circulation, both legal tender.  One is a precious metal, such as gold, and the other, paper money, supposedly representing gold.  The two currencies are interchangeable, meaning that one can turn in paper certificates for the real thing, or for, say, convenience, turn in the gold for certificates representing the gold.  But when governments start printing more certificates than there is gold, like a counterfeiter, the value of those certificates begins to decline.  People then notice that the paper certificate that says 10 oz. of gold buys less than the 10 oz. of actual gold.  Noticing this, people obtain as much gold as they can and hoard it, and use the paper certificates.  Gold, because it is now more valuable, becomes an inflation hedge and people keep it against the time when the paper currency becomes valueless, then they can bring out their real gold and still be able to survive.

The author to whom I referred said that there is a Gresham’s law of Christianity:  non-challenging Christianity drives out challenging Christianity.  We could say that non-challenging Christianity is “watered-down” Christianity, just like the paper currency in the above example is “watered-down” currency.  In this case, however, the reason for the driving out of the challenging Christianity is different than the reason for the driving out of the gold in favor of the paper money.  That reason is that people tend, because of the scars of original sin, to gravitate to the easy, the short cut, to that which confirms their own private preferences.  A friend of mine once characterized the typical sermon of the 1970s in New York City as, “It’s go to be good to be good.”  This is an example of the “watered-down” religion that crept into so many parishes and dioceses since Vatican II was hijacked by Modernist rebels.  Priests no longer gave sermons on serious moral questions such as abortion or, God forbid, the evils of artificial birth control, in favor of sermons having very little content; sermons that made you feel good, rather than telling you what you must actually do.  This kind of Christianity spread like wildfire, because now people could make up their own minds about moral questions, simply because there was no priestly guidance.

The catechetical instruction in the 1970s was horrible as well.  When my kids began to become school age, we were directed to a private Catholic school run by nuns because people told us that it was more orthodox than the local parish school.  Well that was not true at all, and after my wife had a talk with the principal, and we both examined the catechetical materials my children were to have in their classes, we decided to homeschool.  So who were left to go to the school?  People who were not at all distressed by the no-content doctrine that was to be taught, and paid a lot of money for it.  The rest of us went into “hiding” in a sense.

One economic law that my help to understand this phenomenon is the economic “law of demand.”  This very simple law, which is one of the first things one learns in an introductory economics class, is that when price goes up, people demand less of a product or service; when the price declines, they want more.  The extent of the change of quantity demanded to the change of price is called by the unfortunate term of “elasticity.”  Simply stated, if people are really committed to something, like heroin, a rise in price will make hardly a difference in demand.  If people are not really committed, and there are some substitutes available, such as tea for coffee, the demand for the item with the rising price will fall and the demand for the item with the unchanged price will rise.

Applied to the religious situation at hand, when the Church begins to fail in its duties to the faithful to offer the unvarnished truth and substitutes a namby-pamby version of itself, two markets are created.  One is the market for namby-pamby Catholicism, and the other for the real thing.  They are no longer the same product.  The new-fangled version of the Catholicism has a low price (no real penitential practices, pick and choose morality and no-real presence in the Eucharist) as opposed to the higher priced Catholicism, the true version, which calls for real commitment and sacrifice, etc.  Just like a high quality product which is sold in upscale stores, most people go for “knock-offs.”   Liberal Catholicism is a “knock-off” religion.  One gets to call oneself a Catholic like a woman who shows off her “Gucci” purse, but neither of them have the real thing.

Why are there two markets for Christianity?  The answer is the level of the society.  In a society that prized the traditional values of Christianity, the watered-down version would not be tolerated.  For the last 40 years it not only has been tolerated, but embraced, by a society which has become “fat, dumb and happy.”  All we have to do is read the Old Testament to see the same scenario that God himself predicted in Deuteronomy.  The chosen people would become prosperous and eventually offer human sacrifices to Baal in the very Temple itself.  God sent his prophets to warn the people, as he has in the past hundred years of so; St. Therése of Lisieux, St. Josemaria Escriva, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, etc., great Popes, but like the Israelites of old, we did not listen.

The other market, that does not tolerate the cheesy Catholicism, pays an even higher price for the “product” because it comes with persecution, not only from the society at large and the agnostic media, but from members of the Church itself.  My own sons, because they have a large number of children, are criticized by their fellow parishioners:  “Didn’t you ever hear of birth control?” or “What are you, some sort of Super-Catholics?”  There are even advertisers for this diluted form of Catholicism—liberal professors at so-called Catholic universities.  Most college-aged Catholic students, ignorant of the true faith and whose parents are just as ignorant, send them to these colleges thinking that they will get a Catholic education.  They come out as agnostics, or as surface believers.  It is the same as the advertisers of Gucci knock off purses, who, while not admitting that the purse is not a real Gucci, tell them that it is but just cheaper.  That is to say, this is the real Catholicism, but it costs less in actual requirements than the original.

Because economics is not a business science, but a science of human action, I think that this author I was reading has stumbled on something useful to our understanding of the spiritual world, and I intend to follow the path it leads from time to time.

Dr. William Luckey is the former chairman of the department of Political Science and Economics at Christendom College, where he is currently a professor.  He holds advanced degrees in Business, Economics, Political Philosophy and Systematic Theology. He was married in 1971, has four children and 12 (soon to be 13) grandchildren, and is a Lay Dominican.

You can visit his blog entitled Catholic Truths on Economics at: http://www.drwilliamluckey.com/

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


Follow us:

Check out Catholic News Agency Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome