Christianity and enlightened self-interest

By January 13, 2017 One Comment

“When selfishness replaces righteousness, Christianity is dead”–is a quote I heard in a discussion some years ago concerning Christianity and the common welfare of humanity. Selfishness is one thing, but enlightened self-interest is quite another. The expression, “the Lord helps those who help themselves,” while often attributed to, does not come from Christianity.

Nevertheless, the sentiment applies when one thinks of the contribution to Canadian society of the Christian clergy in providing encouragement and education for people to improve their lot in life through their own effort guided by enlightened self-interest.

The Antigonish Movement, so named as it was founded by Father Jimmy Tompkins, Father Moses Coady, Rev. Hugh MacPherson and A.B. MacDonald led this movement from a base at the Extension Department at St. Francis Xavier University (St. F.X.) in Antigonish, Nova Scotia in 1924. Father Coady is remembered for having applied the principles of the Antigonish Movement which consisted of the mass meeting; the study club; and the school for leaders.

The goal of the Antigonish Movement was to help people in the Maritime Provinces who earned a  meagre living in fishing and agriculture to raise themselves out of poverty in forming wholesale co-operatives and credit unions. Father Coady would tell audiences at churches and community centres, “you can get the good life. You’re poor enough to want it and smart enough to get it.”

Through the effort of Father Coady and others in the Antigonish Movement, the United Maritime Fishermen, the United Fruit Companies and the Canadian Livestock Co-operatives (Maritimes) were formed and strengthened. Commenting on one of the successes of the Antigonish Movement, Jim Lotz notes in The Humble Giant: Moses Coady, Canada’s Rural Revolutionary, “In 1932, the people of Judique formed 12 study clubs.

Two years later they built a lobster factory. Canned lobsters brought better returns than fresh groundfish that had to be sold to buyers on the wharf for any price they cared to offer. The 30 members of the Judique lobster co-op paid off the cost of their factory in two years. They built another one, then opened a credit union and co-op shop. The residents of the community told Coady’s staff that they were “much richer than we were a decade ago, both economically and spiritually. We have gained much confidence in ourselves through directing and managing our own affairs.”

The Lord helps those who help themselves indeed.

Geoffrey Wale

Geoffrey Wale

I am a blogger and librarian living in Ottawa, Ontario. I have a B.A. in sociology from Queen's University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Western University.

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