Monday, September 27, 2010

Success, Wealth, Poverty, and Getting a Grip

The Old Testament readings for the last couple Masses have been from Amos. He was - from the establishment point of view - a troublemaker who managed to get himself kicked out of Bethel. That's not so surprising, the way Amos "...denounces the hollow prosperity of the northern kingdom...." (Amos, Introduction, NAB)

So, what does the "prosperous reign of Jeroboam II" have to do with me? A little over 27 centuries have rolled by since Amos poured oil on troubled fires in Israel.

Some things have changed. It's unlikely that many people measure grain by the epha any more.

People, on the other hand, don't seem to be all that different. Here's what we heard from Amos, Sunday before last:
"Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! 1 'When will the new moon be over,' you ask, 'that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!' 2 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!"
(Amos 8:4-7)

And the Catholic Church is Supposed to be Conservative?!

Amos doesn't have much good to say for the complacent fat cats of his day.

It's possible to read selections from Amos and other parts of the Bible and come up with the idea that poverty is virtue, and wealth vice.

Or that it's okay to kill capitalist oppressors and take what they've got for redistribution.

Take other parts of the Bible, and you can tell a tale about God being a sort of money machine for the faithful.

I've mentioned liberation theology and the prosperity gospel before: and they're both really bad ideas.

About equating poverty and virtue? I think it's more accurate to say that we're allowed to be poor - or wealthy - and what matters is what we do with what we've got. (February 4, 2010)

Catholic teaching also includes the idea that God doesn't approve of powerful people taking advantage of those in a weak position. As I've written before, Catholicism doesn't fit into either of contemporary America's two major sociopolitical philosophies. (November 3, 2008)

But Isn't Wealth Evil Or Something?

I've gotten the impression, growing up in America, that there's a sort of bias against wealth and wealthy people. There's the feeling that people don't get wealthy unless they cheat.

Or something like that.

Sure, some folks probably get wealthy by bribing officials, cooking the books, cheating their customers, and ripping off their partners. But I rather doubt that everybody who earns a fortune - didn't earn it.

There's the story about the fox and the grapes - and avaricious and envious - and that's getting into a related topic.

I think the 'having money is bad' notion came from quite a few things: including greed, envy, and that 'Biblical' quote, "money is the root of all evil."

Reality check. That's:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

It's Okay to be Wealthy?

I've never had to let my family go hungry - which is probably more than many of my ancestors could have claimed. Somewhere I ran into the assertion that for much of history, "wealthy" meant having more than one day's supply of food on hand.

By that standard, my household is rolling in wealth: thanks to ancestors who moved to this country, a freezer in the back entry, canned goods on the shelf, and a well-stocked refrigerator. Also a wife who has a habit of keeping a few day's supply of ready-to-eat meals on hand.

The latter came in very handy after that pipe burst in the laundry room. (September 24, 2010)

I can handle being where I am on the American continuum of wealth - but I don't assume that folks whose annual income is a few orders of magnitude over anything I've ever made are dishonest.

But, like I said, that's not a universal assumption.

Which may account for something I ran into the other day. One of those online profiles, where people describe themselves in a few more-or-less well-chosen words, included this phrase: "...I am a successful Christian that is living proof that you can live a sin free life and be successful...."

Maybe "a sin free life," in that person's mind, is one in which no felonies are committed: maybe even no blatantly dishonest business practices. I've no problem with someone deciding to live that sort of life. At all. I think it's a good idea.

On the other hand, I'm not at all convinced that many people, 'successful' or not, live a completely sin-free life. We're supposed to try, but there are passages like this:
"If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, 3 and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, 'We have not sinned,' we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
(1 John 1:8-10)
Me? I haven't been brought to trial on felony charges, and started driving sensibly several decades ago. And I make a point of going to "confession" - as the Sacrament of Reconciliation is called in America.

Is that because I'm wracked with guilt and anguish, hopelessly trying to achieve unattainable goals of perfection?


I'm something of a perfectionist - but that quirk in me would tend to keep me away from the confessional. I really, really, don't like admitting my shortcomings.

But I participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation because I'm a Catholic, and we've got rules about "confession." I also think it's a good idea. Which is yet another topic. (August 22, 2010)

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.