Home > Commentary, Common Misconceptions, Culture > The Pious and the Hypocrite

The Pious and the Hypocrite

I’ve been mulling a topic for a week or two now and today on the radio I heard an interesting perspective.  Dennis Prager set up this juxtaposition, which I’ll expand a bit for my purposes

Man #1 is pious.  He is kind to those he meets, helps his neighbors and cares for his family.  He gives regularly to charitable organizations and attends church religiously (sorry).  He’s a hard worker at his middle class job – conscientious even without supervision and has unmatched integrity and sincerity.

Man #2 is… well, not.  He claims to hold mainstream moral values but his lifestyle (outside his once a week church visit) proves otherwise.  He’s on his third wife (obviously needing to move churches each time to avoid the poor opinions of others) and that relationship isn’t going well either.  He’s a Wall Street type and outside of flings with his secretary, his only passion is money; making it, hoarding it and spending it.  He is 100% dedicated to his own image as far as it concerns others believing that he has it all together and has the world at his finger tips.  Greed – followed closely by the desire for power – is the driving force that animates his efforts and he will tell anyone anything to achieve those ends.

Now, I don’t think it would be considered judgmental to label Man #1 as more worthy of respect for his personal life and perceived ethos.  But, which of these – determined on the basis of results – would be considered more beneficial to society?  That’s not quite so easy.

What if the story was expanded to show that Man #1 took that piousness to the extreme and become a suicide bomber?  Does his personal integrity and dedication trump what he’s done?  I assume that’s a question that doesn’t require an answer.

And Man #2.  What if his intense desire to turn a profit, pad his pockets and increase his status leads to thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of families being financially viable into the future?  His singleminded selfishness has the effect of paying for the college tuition of children and grandchildren across the nation.  It means that a aging couple will be able to afford to stay in the house they’ve owned for 30 years after retirement.  It means that middle-class families (well below the personal financial level of our second man) can count on continuing their modest lifestyle into the future.  It gives a respectable return on investment to the pension funds of teachers, laborers, engineers and truckers.

I guess I’m trying to make 2 points, which are somewhat related.

1. If corporate execs, bankers, traders and fund managers are obeying the law and doing their jobs (ie. providing jobs, money and financial returns to people in virtually all levels of society) then why are their motives important?  They have a task before them to take someone’s money and use it to make more money and they generally achieve this.  Strictly judging by their societal benefit, they are productive.

2.  This is why our system is the best ever conceived.  It pragmatically takes into account (unlike socialism) how humans *actually* behave and uses that to provide money to the people who have the ideas – with the help of their hard-working fellow man – to turn some money into more money to everyone’s benefit.

I know this is a bit heady for a lazy Tuesday afternoon but do any of you have an opinion on this?

  1. January 27, 2010 at 11:08 am

    How about a third person…a combination of the positives of the two? A pious man as described who is also a hardworking businessman bent on making money for the right reasons (as described above)…obviously morally sound. Don’t you think that’s what we’re called to be, salt and light, in this society/work example?

    That is, there are many ways to be influential for God AND be a contributing member of society in general. I think a lot of times the church makes a distinction that someone can only be one or the other (i.e. money/high powered careers are bad and something Christians should avoid). The point is, we should be able to live our life out as proof to the gospel no matter what job have or salary we get paid.

    • January 28, 2010 at 9:08 am

      In retrospect I may have extended my analogy too far.

      I was less interested in the individuals morality and more in the public reaction to Wall Street types. It seems there are plenty of people these days castigating those in the banking/trading/stock/corporate world for greed and commercialism without ever acknowledging that their actions (whatever their motivation) support millions of regular folks (the vast majority of the workforce in America and beyond) and are the driving force behind the most vibrant economy in the history of mankind. Many are ignoring the fact that rich people who invest to get richer also enrich society at large.

      You’re points are all well made but I was trying (and perhaps failing) to make a different illustration.

  2. January 28, 2010 at 9:26 am

    I gave you a thumbs up for that one Matty. I definitely second that.

  3. January 28, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    And how do they enrich the society at large?

    Just because someone gets rich doesn’t mean that they enrich society.

    I personally think that what a person is willing to do get rich is important.

    The banking/trading/stock part of the corporate world gambled, with greed as their only motivation, with other peoples money and when their gamble lost, they came begging to the rest of us for salvation. And they had screwed up so bad we had to rescue them to prevent an even greater economic catastrophe than they had already created.
    And then they insisted that they should still get their bonuses.

    I do not deny that bankers/traders/brokers serve a valuable, even critical function in our economy. They finance our houses and our companies. Without capital, there is no capitalism.

    Some bankers are actually trying to enrich society at large. As are some brokers and some traders.

    The one you describe isn’t. And the impact of his greed and the greed of those like him have given us a series of booms and bust where the only winners in those cycles have been the very rich, who seem to ride above it all.

    I love capitalism. I profit from capitalism.

    But unfettered, unmanaged, unregulated capitalism is a disaster waiting to happen. Without limits on the system, we will continue to have a boom and bust economy where the rich continue to profit and the rest of us lose.

    The man you describe has no interest in enriching society at large. And the past 30 years, since we have been deregulating the financial services industries, have proven that without limitation, without some controls, the actions of people like your protagonist do not enrich society at large, they only enrich themselves.

    How do you expect us to react to Wall Street types. They create, through their arrogance and greed and stupidity, the greatest economic crisis we have faced since the Great Depression. We bail them out with the intent that they will start lending again. Maybe, just maybe, they will realize that they helped to create the housing bubble that collapsed underneath them and find ways not to foreclose on struggling families. Maybe they will start to lend money to small businesses again. Not only did we directly bail them out, we lent them trillions of dollars at less than 1% interest. Trillions that they then lent out in their credit cards at 10% or 12% or 15%. And they still aren’t lending much to small businesses.

    As a direct result of the help we all collectively gave them, the big banks and brokerages are making record profits again. And instead of using some of those profits to help finance a recover from a recession they helped to create, they spend their money lobbying against the reforms necessary to break this cycle of boom and bust. And they reward people who screwed up the economy and then rode the public purse back to profitability with literally billions in bounuses.

    I fail to see how people like your protagonist are enriching society.

    Themselves yes, but they don’t give a shit about society at large and are doing nothing to enrich it.

  4. January 29, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    As it relates to bankers and the current mess, I agree with Walt.

    That said, the government is complicit in all of this, and I don’t really trust O’s economic team to fix the problems, especially when the people on it are nearly all ex-Wall Street bankers or laissez-faire intellectuals.

  5. February 2, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    As a stert I would just roll us back at least to the level of regulations we had before a Republican Congress repealed Glass Stegel in 1999.

    I shouldn’t come as a suprise the the boom and bust cycle in the financial markets date back to Reagan’s deregulations. Its not actually good for the economy to go through some sort of financial system crisis every 5 – 7 years.

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