Spiritual guidance for anyone seeking a path to God. explorefaith.org


Explore God's Love Explore Your Faith Explore the Church Explore Who We Are  

> Bookshelf > Freakonomics
Join our mailing list
Join our mailing list
Send this page to a friend

Support explorefaith.org

Give us your feedback

Bookshelf home

Modern Classics

Popular Fiction
Commentaries on Religion and Culture
explorefaith.org books
History of Faith
Author Interviews
Online Book Group
Living Your Faith
Memoirs and Biographies

Bookshelf Index


A Rogue Economist Explains
the Hidden Side of Everything

by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
William Morrow, 2005

What Christians Can Learn from the “Rogue” Economist: Spiritual Reflections on Freakonomics

commentary by John Tintera

It’s a rare thing indeed when a widely hyped book merits its reputation, but Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner is the real deal. Quirky, entertaining, and full of useful facts and information—unless you’re the kind of person who simply hates non-fiction, Freakonomics will not disappoint. If you’ve already read it and moved on to Malcolm Gladwell or Jim Collins, I’d like bring you back for a moment to Steven Levitt’s freaky universe. Or, if you haven’t, do not be afraid, there won’t be many spoilers here.

In his book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Michael Hart observed that Jesus Christ would probably be considered the most influential person in history if only more people actually followed what he said and did. It doesn’t take an economist to know that citizens in our culture are more likely to call a lawyer than turn the other cheek, but it is something akin to a cold shower (especially for a professed Christian) when you let Hart’s remark settle in.

For me, the central revelation of Freakonomics is the extent to which we are all driven by incentives. Drawing on data from the worlds of sales and merchandising (with examples ranging from the crack trade to the real estate biz), sports (particularly, Sumo wrestling), and education, Levitt demonstrates that given the right incentive (or wrong, as it may be), a significant portion of the population will lie, cheat, and steal. Conversely, incentives can make law-abiding citizens of even the worst of us.

That got me thinking about Michael Hart. Perhaps the problem with Christians is that we lack a proper incentive plan. Let’s be honest: the system of heaven and hell invented by our ancestors no longer works for us. Another inducement scheme bequeathed us by our forbears is the tax exemption for religion. Aside from giving society a slight warm and fuzzy feeling, what does it do for us? Freakonomically speaking, it provides no positive incentive to do good and, insofar as there are no demands made by society in exchange for the privilege, it probably has a slightly corrupting influence.

As for the question of heaven and hell, St. Thomas Aquinas would say that incentives based on hope and fear are imperfect. (Only gifts offered to God out of love are perfect.) This hearkens back to what I believe to be the core message of Jesus: Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. In the Christian system, it is the love of the Father/Mother that enlivens us, draws us out of darkness into light, and is the burning torch that moves us forward. In the love of the Father/Mother lies our encouragement to be and do good. As Jesus notes, from this encounter flows the need to turn in love toward our neighbors, meeting them with peace and justice. But it is in God’s love that our good deeds are rooted.

The first step in furnishing for ourselves a Christian Freakonomics will be to analyze our own relationship with God. Is it the infinite beauty and goodness of God that drives us—or do doubts and darker motives linger beneath the surface? Certainly doubt makes for stronger faith, but somewhere along the line I believe we’ve become too accepting of our doubts, weakening our resolve to do what Christ commanded.

Secondly, how real, how palpable is the God we worship each Sunday? I can’t recall the last time I heard a sermon that sought to make God real enough to shake me to my bones. We hear all kinds of moralizing from the pulpit, but until we regain the awareness that it is God’s Love that gives all meaning and all bearing to our lives, we risk forever coming up short of the blazing example of our Founder and Brother, Jesus Christ. Now there’s an incentive plan for the ages.

Copyright ©2006 John Tintera

To purchase a copy of FREAKONOMICS, visit amazon.com. This link is provided as a service to explorefaith visitors and registered users.


(Return to Top)


Send this article to a friend.

Home | Explore God's Love | Explore Your Faith | Explore the Church | Who We Are
Reflections | Stepping Stones | Oasis | Lifelines | Bulletin Board | Search |Contact Us |
Copyright ©1999-2007 explorefaith.org