It happened again recently. A man claiming “righteousness” used recent surplus in material goods as evidence both of his righteousness and the law that righteousness and surplus in material goods are proportional.
This pseudo-law has a long history especially in a culture influenced heavily by the ancient Jewish texts, but it also approximates a much more complex truth about the world for which it receives some support. BUT, the claim that the divine distributes blessings to the obedient and curses to the disobedient, I call this the cosmic-Santa Claus notion of the divine, is deeply problematic when asserted so.
First, the truth that is approximated. Indeed, righteousness, avoiding interrogating its nature for this reflection, is a good, and can only have good effects. Good comes from good obviously. BUT, whether those good effects are the perseverance though injustice, persecution or calamity OR the production, trade, saving and investing of material surplus is all out of the control of the righteous. And he is not placed in one or the other relation relative to his righteousness alone. Counter-examples are legion. BUT, no doubt, the proper effect of righteousness is good. That I will not let go of. It makes better the life of the righteous in good times and bad. But that it always produces material surplus is false.
Second, the counter-example that falsifies the absolutizing of the relation between moral and material good and the proportionality of the distribution of each. It is evidence of the inconclusiveness of the investigation of the Jewish sacred texts that Job is there. But, even in Job in the end the righteous wins material good (as if being given new kids would be anything like repayment for having one’s original kids lost in a bet between two thugs). The end of Job is about it raining material goods on he who persevered. And indeed, it happens. But not always. In Ecclesiastes we are told that the sun shines on the good and the bad. Even the sage Jesus, in his famous beatitudes, connects moral development with material surplus. A charitable interpretation is that he needed to communicate a spiritual truth to at best spirits in bodies who could only understand with eyes and ears and were not (and are still not) equipped to treat the moral in its purity.
The counter-examples: anyone who has ever lost to the conniving rogue. Anyone who on his death-bed looks back over his life and sees that the accounts have not been set straight. Anyone who has seen some reap who have not sewn and some sew who have not reaped.
The Puritanical Libertarian has an interpretation. He holds tightly to the truth that on-average virtue and righteousness are better for he who produces them. But, he does not think it possible to measure a man’s righteousness by his material surplus or to predict his material surplus by his righteousness (a thing hard to verify in the first place).
So, what is the benefit of righteousness? Righteousness!
What is the benefit of virtue? Virtue!
To pursue either for any other reason is to take the probable effect for the cause, to put the cart before the horse, to become confused by the value of the good in itself and the value of the good in another.