Piloting Faith: The Common Good

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I’ve been collaborating on some projects with author and theologian Matthew Fox recently. In a conversation with our mutual colleague, Dr. Luther Smith, Matthew quoted a statistic that left me absolutely stunned. 

In talking about our worrisome descent into self-destruction as a global society, he said, “People in the US spend $56,000 EVERY SECOND on weapons development. I can think of a lot more creative ways to spend that kind of money.” Couldn’t we all?

St. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval Roman Catholic scholar, was the first to coin the term “common good.” He was concerned about the ways governments care for all people, not just those who have privileges or access to power and wealth. Aquinas noted that when rulers make laws that violate what works for the common good, they become tyrants. Aquinas went on to conclude, “A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler.” What does this say about us? Nothing good, I fear. 

Instead of building weapons that kill people and destroy our planet, what could we do with $56,000 every second for the common good? We could…

  • Eradicate hunger, 
  • Build a farm to table movement that supports local community economies,
  • Develop treatments and vaccines for diseases impacting people around the world,
  • Give everyone who wants it access to higher education, 
  • Begin the work of reparations, 
  • Provide social services and support to help families thrive,
  • Rebuild our roads, bridges, and critical infrastructure, 
  • Invest in minority and women-owned enterprises,
  • Develop clean energy solutions, 
  • Clean our oceans…

In other words, we could care for the poor, heal the sick (and our planet), honor our children and elders, and protect the weakest among us. If we refused to invest in greed and tyranny, we could invest in a more just and generous world for all. The core teaching of every major religion says that care for the “common good” is the path to God. 

My heart breaks for the hypocrisy of our time. “Good Christians” ignore the teachings of our faith for the sake of greed and selfishness, and somehow still sit unconvicted in pews and wave their Bibles for photo ops. But I cling to the wisdom of Joanna Macy who reminds us, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” 

May we all break open for the sake of the common good. 

We are in this together,


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