Self-Interest in the Christian Life

by Caleb Roberts

The traditional relationship between Christianity, and the ideas which sustained the growth of capitalism may increasingly be called into question but, at another level, there is a need for the political and social education of the majority of laity and many priests.  This education would not encourage them to form up behind the latest political banner and social cause, but enable them to discover the potentially exciting totality of human existence, with its many dimensions and possibilities, and also the way the world has shaped their understanding of existence and even Christianity itself.  Ministerial concern with the ‘personal’ is rarely ministry to the person at all, but ministry to the religious part of the private individual who has been produced by the legacy of nineteenth-century liberalism and the effects of an industrial society.  Christian ‘freedom’ is still equated with this pseudo-philosophical background that the individual is ‘free’ to think and say and do what he likes within the framework of the law.  Christians whose spiritual immaturity leads them into this liberal trap may discover that, in defending what they believe to be the will of God, they are supporting the present sinful condition of man, and defending Satan’s claim to unlimited dominion.  For there are fallen ‘structural realities’ as well as individuals.  The struggle for the freedom of the children of God is not against other individuals’ self-interest, as many Christians seem to practice in their spiritual life, but against the spiritual powers of darkness which rule the world order.  Even the simple discovery of this can be liberating.  Self-interest, correctly understood, is indeed essential to human nature, but it does need to be distinguished from possessive individualism and the world view this entails. (273)

Michael Langford | “Hard Times: Catholic theology and the critique of capitalism” in Essays Catholic and Radical

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