Magi Mike's Blog

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The Capitalist Christian on Jesus on Distributing Wealth

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In the Washington Post thread devoted to the economic nature of Christ’s teaching, one of the pro-capitalist Christians argued that Jesus was opposed to the redistribution of wealth on the grounds that in Luke 12:13-21 one of the multitude he was addressing said to him:

Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully, and he thought, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he decided, This will I do, I will pull down my barns, and build greater, and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee, then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

To make an anti-egalitarian point the greedy Christian typically extends the parable, after all they all know God’s brain, don’t they? and adds:

Mind you, here was a guy who got nothing, and his brother got everything… doesn’t seem “fair” or “socially just”, right, Libs?

Well contrary to these puerile attempts to denigrate “libs”—anyone vaguely humanitarian—most libs will wonder how this omniscient right winger can presume that this man had “been screwed in this deal”. How does he know the social circumstances or character of the man or his father? Maybe the father had given the inheritance to his most reliable son. Maybe the man’s father had cut him out of the will because he was a drunkard and a gambler. There are no reasons in the story to suggest that the man deserved better, but the point of the tale is that the man is not being “poor in spirit” by coveting his brother’s inheritance. Jesus was sticking to his own principle of the spiritual benefit of poverty. The capitalist continues:

Finally, Jesus finishes with a warning, not to the “rich” brother that received the inheritance, but to the brother that received nothing, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses”.

Does this capitalist apologist for bent Christianity know what we do not, that the rich brother was standing there? Jesus replied to the one who had addressed him, as anyone would. He was concerned that he was or would become greedy, for that is the result of wealth. The more you have, the more you want, but a society has only so much wealth and, when it is not shared fairly, the usual case, someone will be rich at the expense of others. Typically, the Christian so-called who really worships Mammon not Christ ends:

I’ve no doubt, that in response to the demanders of reparations for black people, to the demanders of social justice, to the demanders of taxing the rich more to give to the poor, to the union protesters demanding to get paid more for doing less work, that Jesus’s response to them would be, “beware of covetousness”.

Perhaps so, but no one knows the answer to hypotheticals. What we are sure of is that the Christian community believed in fair, indeed equal, distribution of possessions, and the only reason the life of Christ and of his apostles is given in the New Testament is so that they can be examples to Christians. If the only point of Christ’s life were his crucifixion, then the rest of his recorded ministry is a waste of time and effort, and shows that the Holy Spirit is stupid. The gospels tell us that the first Christians lived thus because that is the way Christians were expected to live, and subsequently, when mainstream Christianity had gone bent, many tried to live according to Christ’s principles in their own communes based on the original one described and Christ’s egalitarian moral principles.

The word translated as “covetousness” here, and in some other places, is better translated as “avarice”, being “grasping” or “greedy”. There is a marked distinction between the poor expecting society to treat them more fairly and the wealthy middle and upper classes who can never be satisfied however much they acquire—another translation is “acquisitiveness”. So, “take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth,” is another condemnation of rich men. No one needs riches. It is pure greed to have them, so riches are necessarily sinful, implying that others are doing without. And why leave out the illustrative parable that followed, and is cited above.

A rich man cannot be “rich towards God”. He cannot be saved because his riches mean more to him than the kingdom of God. And the clear implication is, of course, that this man thought he could be eating and drinking for years to come without a worry, yet the poor would be scratching around for a bruised fig when a fair sharing of the produce would eliminate hunger.

Socialism is fairness, not avarice. Should any decent human being prefer avarice? It seems Jesus did not think so.

Written by mikemagee

21 August, 2011 at 1:08 am

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