- Not Every Story is Based in Reality
- How Homosexuality Became Normal in the West
- How Evolutionists Explain Poverty
- Lies Enslave, Truth Transforms
- Human Evil, Cosmic Consequences
- NURTURING: The Wonder of Being There
- Personal God, Personal Creation
- The Implications of Moral Freedom
- Work, Save, Give: The Protestant Ethic
- Three Ways God’s Universe Makes Sense
- HOME SCHOOLING: Why It Makes Sense Today
- Christianity is True Even If You Don’t Believe It!
- Moral God, Moral Universe
- What Do Singapore and Apple Have in Common?
- God’s Laws, the “Secret” to Life
- Time Matters: Present, Past, Future
- The Doctrine of the Trinity Matters in Real Life?
- Two Fronts in the War of the Century
To keep their friends happy, students in Russian schools routinely cheat for one another, or at least look the other way. According to the annual Monitoring of Education Markets and Organizations Project, one in seven university students in Russia admits to cheating on exams. Further, one in twenty-five admits to paying someone else to write a midterm or final paper for him or her. These results, from a 2013 study, track with longstanding observations about academic honesty, or the lack thereof, in Russia.[i]
Throughout history, societies have struggled to organize themselves around the individual or around the community, the one or the many. Communism, the vestiges of which remain in China, Russia, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea and Laos, came down on the side of the many—at the expense of the individual. The current “anything goes” climate of the US, meanwhile, exemplifies the other extreme, radical individualism. Most societies have fallen for one extreme or the other: individualism or communalism, tribalism or egalitarianism.
The One vs The Many
Societies that start with “the one” usually come from three basic religious perspectives. Monism (e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism) holds that the only reality is spiritual and that “all is one.” Materialism (including atheism, naturalism, secularism, evolutionism, and reductionism) holds that the only reality is matter and energy. Unitarianism (such as Islam, the Unitarian movement, modern Judaism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses) hold to belief in an infinite God who exists as only one “person,” a single, undivided one.
By contrast, polytheistic societies, such as traditional animistic societies, and Mormonism, start with “the many.” They assert that the universe is ruled by a plurality of finite personal gods, sometimes even deified humans. These societies tend to focus on the group, giving short shrift to the dignity and worth of the individual.
In the biblical doctrine of the Trinity we find a biblical, life-affirming balance between these views. Belief in the Trinity establishes a radical point of intersection, the profound integration of the individual within community. Societies that discover this “secret” value both freedom (which emphasizes the individual) and justice (which emphasizes the community).
Implications of the Trinity
British economist Brian Griffiths discusses the radical implications of the three-in-one God for our social, political, and economic lives. “Before time there was plurality of persons in the Godhead. God was not alone. He was not some solitary figure, unable to communicate, for whom love was a meaningless idea. The Trinity was a community, a fellowship. The persons of the Trinity related to each other and always have done.”[ii]
The practical implications for political and economic life are profound.
“The one” leads to the unity of the community. Instead of diversity, there is uniformity as the state reigns supreme over the individual. Anyone who has visited the drab, gray apartment blocks of Moscow or Warsaw, built during the soul-crushing reign of communism and still standing today, has seen the powerful, dehumanizing results.
Egalitarianism, meanwhile, focuses on equal outcomes or equal distribution of resources. The politics of resentment and victimization have encouraged big chunks of Western societies to buy into the idea that government should somehow ensure that everyone has an equal share of the pie. The egalitarian rejects all social and economic rankings, since all people are presumed “identical.” The egalitarian therefore puts great stock in numerical outcomes and quotas. Like the communist, he or she is perfectly comfortable with the redistribution of wealth to fix “unjust” outcomes.
“The many,” for its part, elevates diversity and individualism, the logical conclusion of which is the dissolution of the state. Only this balance—holding the rights of the community and the individual in tension—will create a state that is both free and just.
It’s All About Me
Individualism, despite the constant hype we hear in the media and in the academy, boils down to an endless search for personal fulfillment. Self-gratification is the sine qua non. Yet this search is bound to disappoint, as shrewd observers inside and outside the church have seen. Irving Kristol writes, “As the history of twentieth-century modernism . . . demonstrates, the pursuit of self suffers the same fate as the pursuit of happiness: he who is merely self-seeking shall find nothing but infinite emptiness.”[iii]
However, the biblical theist stands on solid trinitarian ground. This ground allows for community—a group of individuals living in unity under common laws. The root of community is neither the greed of individualism nor the envy of egalitarianism. It is contentment, which comes as we relate properly to God. “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8–9).
A consistent biblical theist cares about the individual and the community. Thus, the theist has reason and motivation to stand against prejudice, racism, and classism in his or her own life and in society. Regarding the law, he or she truly is “colorblind,” judging people not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” as Martin Luther King Jr. famously put it. The theist supports justice by protecting all human life, liberty, and property. The theist knows that individual moral discipline and the civil government of the community work hand in hand. Neither can work alone.
Responsibilities are more important than rights
In such a system, our focus shifts from rights to responsibilities. People have a personal responsibility not only for self and the family but also for their larger community. And through our responsibilities as citizens we enact laws that protect the weakest and most vulnerable. The unborn, children, minorities, families—all should be protected through civil rights laws, child labor protections, and so on. The theist resists any pigeonholing; he or she is both liberal and conservative as commonly defined, personally responsible and socially engaged. “I am my brother’s keeper” might be the theist’s creed.
Hospitals, hospice care, schools, senior homes, job training for the able-bodied poor, churches, school boards, and political parties are all avenues in which we care for our communities. Historically, many of these have been private voluntary associations. Edmund Burke called them “little platoons.”
When individuals band together, the resulting “social capital” contributes to the health of individuals, to a society’s economic growth, and to a strong and functioning representative government.
Societies tend to form around one of two ethics, the one or the many, both of which tend to lead to poverty. A culture of human flourishing, however, begins with a recognition of the Trinity, the embodiment of the one and the many. In this kind of culture, people take responsibility for their own lives while actively engaging in their communities and civic life. Such people know that freedom and justice are essential in creating societies of plenty.
- Darrow Miller
This DM&F Classic blog post is excerpted from the book Discipling Nations. For the entire text go here.
[i] Jack Grove, “Cheating Is Rife in Russia, Finds Student Survey,” Times Higher Education, March 26, 2015, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/cheating-is-rife-in-russia-finds-student-survey/2019241.article.
[ii] Brian Griffiths, The Creation of Wealth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 55.
[iii] Irving Kristol, “Of Decadence and Tennis Flannels,” Wall Street Journal, September 21, 1976, Section I, 24.