Monday, April 09, 2012

Don't Feed the Poor

I have long thought that there is an absurd contradiction inherent in evangelical Christians' enthusiasm for capitalism.  When I read the Gospels, I can't manage to come away with the idea that Christ was advocating a system of government based around the idea of making sure that people could become fabulously wealthy.  I just don't see him as very concerned about low marginal tax rates.

However, appearing on This Week yesterday, Rick Warren, the pastor of an evangelical megachurch in California, took this to a whole new level.  Here is a part of what he had to say:
R. WARREN: Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There's over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there's a fundamental question on the meaning of "fairness." Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.


The only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S. Create jobs. To create wealth, not to subsidize wealth. When you subsidize people, you create the dependency. You -- you rob them of dignity. The primary purpose of government is to keep the peace, protect the citizens, provide opportunity. And when we start getting into all kinds of other things, I think we -- we invite greater control. And I'm fundamentally about freedom. You know the -- the first freedom in America is actually the freedom of religion. It's not the second, third, fourth or fifth"

This is not, taken by itself, an absurd position.  In fact, it's sufficiently vague that I could end up agreeing with it almost entirely, depending upon how the details get fit in.  Although, I suspect that Rick Warren and I would fill in those details very differently.

The problem is that combining this with the Gospels is an absurd position.  To me, it demonstrates the complete bankruptcy of many (though most certainly not all) evangelical Christians.  It is perilously close to the reprehensible doctrine of the Prosperity Gospel, which holds that those who are rich are so because they deserve it.

Look, Christ said the following (from Luke 12):

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

And John the Baptist teaches (Luke 3):

 7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
 10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 

From these passages it remains debatable whether government should be involved in helping the poor; I think the case for that is extra-biblical either way.  But this idea that it is Christian not to give help directly to the poor but rather to insist the creating jobs is the only way to help them is so clearly opposed to the spirit of Christ that Rick Warren ought to be laughed out of his pulpit.

But remember, if you ever find yourselves with a couple fishes and a few loaves of bread and faced with several thousand hungry people, don't give that food away.  The laws of supply and demand show that you can get an immense return on investment by selling them to the highest bidder.

5 Comments:

Blogger Tim (Kalyr) said...

They seem to believe in The Gospel According to Ayn Rand, which isn't in my bible.

Somebody should point out to them the similarities between Randism and Anton Levey's Church of Satan. Except fundamentalists probably don't do irony.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Jon Biggar said...

Once again, you've gone out on a weak limb by constructing a strawman argument.

Nothing in Warren's quote disavows the idea that the Bible teaches that individuals have a *moral* responsibility to help other people who are disadvantaged.

What you won't find anywhere in Jesus' teachings is the idea that personal moral responsibility to help the poor somehow legitimizes using force to make other people do so as well.

You should be ashamed that you are implying that Rick Warren believes otherwise.

7:12 PM  
Blogger frankly said...

Jon,

Not really. Ricky has made that argument himself. Also his "church" lives it by providing very little in the way of assistance as our Savior suggested.
Math 21 - go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

its hard to make the case that he presents a strawman when Warrens life stands out as one of enriching himself ahead of helping the poor.

2:06 PM  
Blogger frankly said...

Jon,

Not really. Ricky has made that argument himself. Also his "church" lives it by providing very little in the way of assistance as our Savior suggested.
Math 21 - go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

its hard to make the case that he presents a strawman when Warrens life stands out as one of enriching himself ahead of helping the poor.

2:06 PM  
OpenID moderatelyradical said...

Personally, if we are, as has often been asserted, a Christian nation, certainly we would want to do collectively what we are all called to do individually. Surely banding together as a community, a state, or a nation is more efficient than trying to do it all as individuals. For instance, I can only house one homeless person myself (or maybe a married couple) but if we all get together we might even be able to end homelessness altogether.

4:43 PM  

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