Last Tuesday, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney asked voters to make their decision by answering a version of Ronald Reagan’s famous question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” It was the wrong question then and it is the wrong question now, at least for Christians, and probably for most other people, too.

Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement famously wrote:

The world would be better off
if people tried
to become better,

And people would
become better
if they stopped trying
to be better off.

For when everyone tries
to become better off
nobody is better off.

But when everyone tries
to become better
everyone is better off.

Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried
to become richer.

And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried
to be the poorest

And everybody would be
what he ought to be
if everybody tried to be
what he wants
the other fellow to be.

We are not all called to voluntary poverty, but Christians should at least view with suspicion attempts to make material success the only kind of “better off” we value.  As David Brooks suggested and others humorously lamented, the Republican Convention focused far too much on stories of heroic individuals rising in material wealth, and far too little on the strength of communities, the power of compassion, and the importance of civic virtue.

In fact, my family is better off financially than we were four years ago.  Our taxes are a little lower and our salaries are a little higher. We have stable jobs, good health care, and strong retirements plans. Very few of our friends have faced unemployment or dealt with mortgage problems that have affected so many. Our kids are in good schools. We are not worried about the future. But when my husband, 18 year old son, and I vote this November, I think we should ask not about ourselves, but about how the most vulnerable people in this country have fared.

In Paul Ryan’s speech, he put things a little differently:

“We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.”

That’s a far better standard. One that both parties, and all of us, should hold ourselves to.