selfishness, discrimination and indifference

a christian’s main call and purpose in the world is to love. when we examine the nature of love, who is it that we are called to love and the obstacles that hinder us to love– we can come closer to the lofty goal that jesus gave us as gift.

if we believe that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God and there is inherent dignity because of our humanity, this will frame how we see each other. how we see one another affects how we treat– love– one another.

i love this quote from thomas merton: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

love of neighbor is primary over worthiness. who we are is more important than what we do, what we consume, what we produce.

one of the values in usa culture is meritocracy. it is a foundational belief that through hard work, determination and ability, one will receive what one deserves. but this belief can negatively affect how we see one another and how we act toward one another: it affects love in our world.

there is an engaging article written by clifton mark on the effects of meritocracy. ( )

here are some highlights:

“meritocracy makes people more selfish, less self-critical and even more prone to acting in discriminatory ways. Meritocracy is not only wrong; it’s bad.

“(the) ‘paradox of meritocracy’ occurs because explicitly adopting meritocracy as a value convinces subjects of their own moral bona fides. Satisfied that they are just, they become less inclined to examine their own behavior for signs of prejudice

“worldly failures becomes signs of personal defects, providing a reason why those at the bottom of the social hierarchy deserve to remain there…under the assumption of meritocracy, the very notion that personal success is the result of ‘luck’ can be insulting. To acknowledge the influence of external factors seems to downplay or deny the existence of individual merit…It’s false, and believing in it encourages selfishness, discrimination and indifference to the plight of the unfortunate.”

these insights into the weaknesses of meritocracy’s worldview can free us to love one another more authentically if we are able to shift our foundational world view. again as a christian, , it is the dignity of the human person and a deep respect for all human life.

it seems to me that when we look at the various social challenges in our society– racism, homelessness, immigration, health care, social security, etc– meritocracy negatively affects our approaches, laws and responses to people on the margins.

mark’s commentary on “leveling the playing field” as a remedy to social ills plays into the falsehood of meritocracy. while it is necessary to acknowledge unequal starting points and its effects on people who live in poverty, it still assumes that if we all started from the same place, there would be equity (because of meritocracy). leveling the playing field would be helpful, but is not the ultimate answer and it would continue to advance the false narrative.

but systematic change away from meritocracy would be very difficult. our economic system of consuming and producing props up meritocracy and we hold up innovative billionaires as examples of success.

perhaps a deeper reflection on how we all have been affected by the pandemic restrictions can help us see the various ways that our cultural and economic assumptions fail us as a society. but i am not holding my breath that this reflection and needed changes will actually happen. we will see decisions being made in favor of those that society sees as worthy; others– those without merit– will continue to suffer more.

jesus’ call to love is needed so much in our sinful world…

i close with another quote from merton:

“The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!”

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