You've reached the shared blog of Michael Mckay and Todd Frederick. Two friends who have worked together in ministry and labored in similar educational endeavors. Please join us as we consider the interaction of Christianity with modern culture...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Ubiquity of Self-Interest

I recently purchased a gently used car from a fellow student who was in a bit of a jam. The balloon payment for the car had wiped out his savings and he faced an oncoming school year in need of a job and short on resources. He had a variable asking price and offered me the lowest price he was willing to take. I made a larger counter offer. You might accuse me of arrogantly proclaiming my virtue, but in all honesty, offering a larger price was still in my own self interest.

Economists discuss the value one places on something using the neutral term, ‘utility.’ Utility is the value someone places on an object, a principle or an action. Just about any interaction between people can be assigned a ‘utility’ value. How many ‘utils’ of value would you place on the time you are spending to read this? Obviously, it is of greater utility to you than (insert alternative activity), because you are still reading… Perhaps you just stopped, realizing that the utility value of reading about utils is less valuable than the next episode of Top Chef. I certainly won’t try to make a persuasive case against good cooking, but the idea of utility is important. Several research questions come to my mind: Does God act in His own self interest? Does God appeal to our self-interest to influence our relationship with Him? Are our sacrificial acts really in accord with a different self-interest?

I’ll take shot at the last question and leave the others for another time. When I paid more than my friend’s asking price was I ignoring my own self interest? I could have made a lower offer… In actuality, I wanted to make sure that my friend did not feel that I had taken improper advantage of our relationship in a business transaction. The utility value of fair dealing with a good friend was of greater value to me than the money charged in the transaction. I paid a slightly higher price than I could have, but gained a necessary vehicle in good condition and ensured good relations with my friend. All in accordance with my own selfish desires. Can you think of an example where you cannot identify some aspect of self-interest in an interaction with another person? I’m starting to think that self interest is ubiquitous.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why Disney Will Never Make a Movie about Athanasius...

If you have young kids than you have probably become an expert on Disney films and have been able to see the patterns and guess the moral of the story before the denouement occurs. Normally a marginalized character faces adversity and overcomes in the end. With the mantra of "just believe in yourself" being the key to the solution of the protagonist's problems, we leave the experience with renewed expectations on our own life. As a sidenote, I credit American Idol's success to this mantra. Especially in the early stages of the season when the audience gets to see deluded people who genuinely believe in themselves and yet unfortunately cannot combine that belief with any talent.

With this in mind, Athanasius may seems like a shoe-in for a Disney film. Athanasius was a Church Father who was influential in the 4th century. He was marginalized throughout his life by being repeatedly banished by the emperor and being called "the black dwarf", because of his skin color and short stature by those who opposed him. If I were to stop here, I think everyone would agree that this has all the necessary ingredients of a Disney movie.

But I doubt we will ever see a Disney movie about Athanasius, and here is why; Athanasius was one of the primary advocates against Arianism (the belief that Jesus Christ was not divine), and argued relentlessly for the scriptural teaching that Jesus was not only divine but also that unless Jesus was divine he could not have procured our salvation. This is a powerful argument which casts the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in a cosmic redemptive context and keeps us from falling into the trap that Jesus was a just a good man or a good teacher or a good martyr who "believed in himself."

We owe a lot to Athanasius for the work he did in arguing for this biblical position amongst the believers of his day. Arianism still exists today in various forms. Hopefully, the theological descendants of Athanasius will continue to argue, persuade and suffer so that the whole world will come to a clear understanding of the scriptural doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ.