Thursday, April 17, 2008

William Stringfellow's 40-year old insight eclipses political sound-bytes

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.”

ILL-GOTTEN PHILANTHROPY. “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. ”

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