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You Were Made for Beauty, Not Profit

I believe that God created the universe out of sheer creativity and love, as an expression of God’s very nature. I believe that God loves the Creation like a parent loves a child. I do not believe that God created the universe in order to get some sort of utilitarian benefit out of us. God did not create us as a means to an end. Just like a good parent chooses to have a child for the sheer joy of expressing love and caring for another life, God created us as nothing less than an expression of overflowing imagination and delight. And I believe that God’s relationship with us is the surest guide to how we should relate with one another.

If taken seriously, these beliefs have radical implications for the way I think about my life and how I relate to others. If I truly believe in and seek to imitate the unconditional love of God, I can no longer relate to my fellow beings as means to an end. I can no longer see my fellow creatures in utilitarian terms, as if they existed in order to benefit me. If I am to see through the eyes of God, I must regard each person as a masterpiece work of art, and a beloved friend.

Works of art and friends are not governed by capitalist ideas of value and utility. Real love is not based in cost/benefit analysis. Love does not look to strike a bargain or get the advantage. Rather, love sees the beauty of our fellow creatures and values them for who they are, not what benefits, economic or otherwise, they can provide us with. When we see through the eyes of God, we discover a world of innate value; a world in which each one of us is unconditionally loved.
Many of us do believe these things, in theory. And, at our best, we apply this worldview within our immediate family, and to our circle of closest friends. Yet few of us dare to look at the entire Creation through this God’s-eye lens. In fact, the few of us who come close to truly seeing the world this way probably seem absolutely crazy!

This is not surprising. For a very long time, human society has been headed on a trajectory away from the cohesion of love and towards a worship of the “useful.” Human communities have become atomized, with each individual pushed in a myriad of ways to put themselves first. Other groups and other people are seen in terms of the economic and social benefits that can be extracted from them. The ancient practice of chattel slavery, elevated to a global scale during the European colonization of the Americas, is the prime example of this trend. A slave is an individual who has been completely removed from all human community and who, as a result, becomes an object – property of other human beings.

While chattel slavery is now formally illegal, the spirit of slavery lives on. Though the worst abuses of slavery are mostly a thing of the past – at least in the United States – billions of us continue to think of ourselves in terms of our own utility to others. My generation has come to think of ourselves as eternal freelance agents, selling our skills to the highest bidder. We are taught that we must “brand” ourselves; in order to succeed, we must “market” ourselves to potential employers. We meticulously craft our resumés and online profiles to maximize our appearance of professionalism, profitability and utility. Our anxiety and self-doubt is palpable.
We have been encouraged to forget our true nature as children of the living God. Instead, we exchange the truth about God – and about ourselves – for a lie; we worship and serve created things, rather than our Creator.(1) We have been fooled into thinking that our true value comes from what we can do, who we impress or what we can buy. We have forgotten that our true worth lies in our identity as creations of a joyous God, who pours out blessings for the sheer beauty of it.

I believe that if we want to discover real freedom, we need to reexamine our ideas about value altogether. What is the source of our worth as human beings? What is our purpose in this life? Is it to generate profits for the powerful people and institutions that govern our world? Is it to drive the engines of economic growth and technological progress? Or were we created for something far more sublime? Can we imagine the possibility that our value is more akin to a beautiful painting by Monet, rather than to the value of pig iron or a photocopier? Are we able to accept our own unconditional beauty and worth, as children of God?

1. Romans 1:25
  • “And, at our best, we apply this worldview within our immediate family, and to our circle of closest friends. Yet few of us dare to look at the entire Creation through this God’s-eye lens. In fact, the few of us who come close to truly seeing the world this way probably seem absolutely crazy!”

    Yup. You raise and important challenge here — considering our relationship to those whom we can’t see or know, and to value them as beloved children of God. I don’t think this problem is necessarily a product of capitalism, per se. At the risk of relying on a cliched political polarization, I’d say centralized communist structures evaluate their citizens in strict terms of utility just as much, if not more.

    I’ll even go out on a limb here. I think we have a great deal of potential power to see the distant worker as our sister/brother and tend to their needs in a market system (I’m purposefully avoid the C-word), where we can make ethical decisions about our choice of goods/services, as well as the underlying relationships to those who produce them for us. But we have to awaken ourselves to those relationships.

    The problem is globalism that lacks true connection. Heck, neighborhoods that lack true connection! As you point to, we have to start expanding our circles of community, bit by bit, to include the other, and to put a face to the faceless.

    I think making decisions on cost/benefit analysis is not a bad thing — though leading of the Holy Spirit is far more important — absent either of these two bases, we’d be making decision based on impulse or emotion. The challenge is to shake up concept of *whose* cost and *whose* benefit; *what kind* of cost and *what kind* of benefit. In a relationship based in gospel love, the idea of striving for mutually beneficial exchange can become a radical concept for building the Kingdom of God, rather than the lie that often Capitalism promises but seldom fulfills.

  • P.S. I hope you’ll forgive my focus on the economics aspect of your thoughts more than the holistic message. The former has been a subject of interest to me lately.

    P.P.S. Thanks for the prior post , as well. I’ve been in conversations with community members about how we can make our relationship with the Occupy Movement less about what’s happening an hour away in Boston and more about our towns here on the Mass/New Hampshire border. Your words spoke to my condition.

  • Thank you so much for your wonderful article. This issue is something I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about, especially recently with all the discussion in politics about financial inequality, etc. I’ve just started reading a 1985 book Money, Sex, and Power by Richard Foster and am looking for a copy of The Covenant Crucified about the early Quakers and their philosophy for capitalism in America. Thank you again for the inspiring piece!