"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Innocence, A Straight Eye, and a Promised Future
"Those who neither make after others' goods nor bestow their own are to be admonished to take it well to heart that the earth they come from is common to all and brings forth nurture for all alike. Idly then do men hold themselves innocent when they monopolize for themselves the common gift of God. In not giving what they have received they work their neighbors' death; every day they destroy all the starving poor whose means to relief they store at home. When we furnish the destitute with any necessity we render them what is theirs, not bestow on them what is ours; we pay the debt of justice rather than perform the works of mercy...Of Dives in the Gospel we do not read that he snatched the goods of others but that he used his own unfruitfully; and avenging hell received him at death not because he did anything unlawful but because he gave himself up utterly and inordinately to the enjoyment of what was lawful." - St. Gregory the Great
Such is the great tradition of the Christian faith - that we owe to God our very being and the gifts of the Earth that are common to all. To hoard and exploit the gifts of God while the poor starve by the tens of thousands every day is idolatry and blasphemy in the most Biblically literal sense. Nor did the prophets truncate this sin into one of personal immorality, or in the words of Daniel Berrigan, "In the classical prophets, the attack is mounted not against the personal conduct of the incumbent authority, except insofar as its hypocrisy sets the stage for public injustice. But to the prophet, injustice is the point. The poor are his passion. Set down, defrauded, shunted about, denied a voice in their destiny, reduced to chattels, to money-making integers, the poor are the occasion, not only of anti-human conduct on the part of the their masters, but of atheism, of a non-credo, a denial of God." - Daniel Berrigan, Uncommon Prayer.
Non sunt divitiae nec verae nec vestrae (Riches are neither real nor are they yours) - St. Augustine.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but here is the reply to the gospel of prosperity that gloats like a blind frog over the miseries American prosperity brings to the world's billions: "But what must you own to be happy? When you become happy, you say, you will become better than you are now, wretched as you are. But it is not possible for what is worse than you to make you better; you are a man, and everything you long for to make you happy is inferior to you. Gold and silver and any material thing you long to obtain, possess and enjoy are inferior to you. You are better and are worth more, and as you wish to be happy, you want to be better than you are because you are unhappy. True, it is better to be happy than wretched. But to be better than you are, you seek what is worse than you. Everything on earth is worse than you... So take my loyal advice: we all know you want to be better and we want it too; seek what is better than you, which is the only thing than can make you better." - St. Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms.
To round the point a bit more forcefully: "Riches impoverish and kill the soul; they make a man cruel toward himself; they make him finite and dispossess him of the dignity of the infinite, for his desire, which should be united with the infinite Good, has been set on a finite thing and lovingly united with that." - St. Catherine of Siena.
So much should serve the indisputable point that traditional Christianity regards unlimited thirst for gain as a moral disgrace and degradation.
The alternative, which must be the foundation of any economics which claims the name of Christian, is laid out in the Acts of the Apostles, "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common...There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need." Act 4:32, 34, 35.