Thursday, April 27, 2006


CONNECTING THE DOTS. I haven’t found a more striking statement regarding Christian insight into the idolatry of money and the relationship of rich and poor than the following excerpts from Dissenter In A Great Society by William Stringfellow. This is food for thought, and prayer, for all of us who tend to segregate our quest for financial security from the poverty of others.

IDOLATRY OF MONEY. “The idolatry of money means that the moral worth of a person is judged in terms of the amount of money possessed and controlled. The acquisition and accumulation of money in itself is considered evidence of virtue. It does not so much matter how money is acquired—-by work, or invention, through inheritance or marriage, by luck or theft—-the main thing is to get some. The corollary of this doctrine, of course, is that those without money are morally inferior--weak, or indolent, or otherwise less worthy as human beings. Where money is an idol, to be poor is a sin.”

ONE AT THE EXPENSE OF THE OTHER. “This is an obscene idea of justification, directly in contradiction with the Bible. In the Gospel none are saved by any works of their own, least of all by the mere acquisition of money. In fact, the New Testament is redundant in citing the possession of riches as an impediment to salvation when money is regarded idolatrously. At the same time, the notion of justification by acquisition of money is empirically absurd, for it oversimplifies the relationship of the prosperous and the poor and overlooks the dependence of the rich upon the poor for their wealth. In this world human beings live at each other’s expense, and the affluence of the few is proximately related to, and supported by, the poverty of the many.”

POVERTY MAINTAINS LUXURY. “It is true today as it was in earlier times: the vast multitudes of people on the face of the earth are consigned to poverty for their whole lives, without any serious prospect whatever of changing their conditions. Their hardships in great measure make possible the comfort of those who are not poor. Their poverty maintains the luxury of others. Their deprivation purchases the abundance most Americans take for granted.”

SEARCHING QUESTIONS. “This leaves prosperous Americans with frightful questions to ask and confront, even in customs or circumstances that are regarded as trivial or straightforward. Where, for instance, do the profits that enable great corporations to make large contributions to universities and churches and charity come from? Do they come from the servitude of Latin American peasants working plantations on seventy-two hour weekly shifts for gross annual incomes of less than a hundred dollars? Do they depend upon the availability of black child labor in South Africa and Asia? Are such private beneficences in fact the real earnings of some of the poor of the world?”

ENTANGLED AND IMPLICATED. “To affirm that we live in this world at each other’s expense is a confession of the truth of the Fall rather than an assertion of economic doctrine or an empirical statement. It is not that there is in every transaction a direct one for one cause and effect relationship, either individually or institutionally, between the lot of the poor and the circumstances of those who are not poor. It is not that the wealthy are wicked or that the fact of malice is implicit in affluence. It is, rather, that all human and institutional relationships are profoundly distorted and so entangled that no person or principality in this world is innocent of involvement in the existence of all other persons and all institutions. ”

1 comment:

  1. The Fall of Every Sparrow

    Don't ask me why -- but your meditation on Stringfellow drove me from a Harlem lawyer into the arms of a Kentucky farmer (and writer, of course) Wendell Berry who as you have pointed out encourages us to "practice resurrection."

    So, first -- Wendell Berry:

    "For the thing that troubles us about the industrial economy is exactly that it is not comprehensive enough, that, moreover, it tends to destroy what it does not comprehend, and that it is dependent upon much that it does not comprehend. In attempting to criticize such an economy, we naturally pose aginst it an economy that does not leave anything out, and we can say without presuming too much that the first principle of the Kingdom of god is that it includes everything; in it, the fall of every sparrow is a significant event. We are in it whether we know ir or not and whether we wish to be or not. Another principle, both ecological and traditional, is that everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it; that is to say, the Kingdom of God is orderly. A third principle is that humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them."

    This is what I believe we are called to -- whatever it is that we do -- as Christians in our work in the world -- and certainly in regards to economy. That is to say that if what we are doing is not encouraging and building up the attention to the fall of every sparrow than we are not doing what we are called to do. And by the fall of every sparrow -- I mean the fall of every sparrow in our communities... But so often we don't pay attention -- we don't know the names. This is the groundwork upon which the attacks on what Stringfellow points out (it seems to me) must be built. It seems that this is how Stringfellow worked to build it both in Harlem (in My People Is The Enemy) and even later on Block Island. Anyway...thanks John for reminding us of Stringfellow's words and indictment.


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