Sunday, May 01, 2005

Greed and God 

In his excellent post, Dominus Restituere, farmer again raises the specter of the Dominionist threat, and in it we read this:
"Accommodation is misapplying the Word of God in society and culture. This is by far the more subtle error. One glaring example would be "Christian socialism" like that espoused by Ron Sider in Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger. This perspective down plays biblical charity and poor laws (such as gleaning) in favor of the anti-biblical "solution" of government taxation and redistribution of wealth.
By way of contrast, the truly biblical welfare is local, personal, voluntary and usually requires the poor to work (2 Thes. 3:10)."
As an antidote and explanation of this secular embrace of high commerce and greed by the ostensible disciples of the man who said "Blessed are the poor", I implore you to pick up the May copy of Harper's and read "Let There Be Markets"(not online), Gordon Bigelow's excellent history lesson on the historical connection between economics and fundamentalist religion in the United States. The entire article is a wondrous read, but in regard to the above quote, let me reprint here for you a relevant piece of Bigelow's essay:
"At the center of this early evangelical doctrine was the idea of original sin; we were all born stained by corruption and earthly desire, and the true purpose of earthly life was to redeem this. The trials of economic life---the sweat of hard labor, the fear of poverty, the self-denial involved in saving---were earthly tests of sinfulness and virtue...the pain of earthly life as a means of atonement for sin...they regarded poverty as part of a divine program. Evangelicals interested the mental anguish of poverty and debt, and the physical agony of hunger or cold, as natural spurs to prick the conscience of sinners. They believed that the suffering of the poor would provoke remorse, reflection, and ultimately the conversion that would change their fate. In other words, the poor were poor for a reason, and helping them out of poverty would endanger their immortal souls. It was the evangelical who began to see the business mogul as an heroic figure, his wealth a triumph of righteous will...
By the 1820s evangelicals were a dominant force in British economic policy...evangelical Anglicans held significant positions in government...Their first major impact was in dismantling the old parish-based system of aiding the poor and aging, a policy battle that resulted in the Poor Law Amendment of 1834. Traditionally, people who could not work or support themselves, including orphans and the disabled, had been helped by local parish organizations. It had been a joint responsibility of church and state to prevent the starvation and avoidable suffering of people who had no way to earn a living.
The Poor Law nationalized and monopolized poverty administration. It forbade cash payments to any poor citizen and mandated that his only recourse be the local workhouse. Workhouse became orphanages, insane asylums, nursing homes, public hospitals, and factories for the able-bodied. Protest over the conditions in these prison-like facilities, particularly conditions for children, mounted throughout the 1830s...This first anti-poverty program in the first industrial economy was not designed to alleviate suffering, nor to reduce the number of poor children in future generations. Poverty was not understood as a problem to be fixed. It was a spiritual condition. Workhouses weren't supposed to help children prepare for life; they were supposed to save souls."
He goes on to illustrate his point by giving some background behind a well-known genocide--the Irish Famine. When it began, the British government responded by helping provide food to the Irish, via cornmeal shipments from the US. But when a new government administration headed by evangelicals took the reins in 1846,the program was regarded as an intrusion into the "free market", and insisted it would only allow the problem to continue. Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary of the treasury,
"viewed the potato-dependent economy as the result of Irish backwardness and self-indulgence. This crisis seemed to offer the opportunity for the Irish to atone...Trevelyan stopped the supply of food. He argued that the fear of starvation would ultimately be useful in modernizing Irish agriculture; it would force the poor off land that could no longer support them. The cheap labor they would provide in towns and cities would stimulate manufacturing, and the now depopulated countryside could be used for more profitable cattle farming...
There was no manufacturing boom. Roughly a million people died; another million emigrated. The population of Ireland dropped by nearly one quarter in the space of a decade...When government food supplements stopped, food prices rose, private charities and workhouses were overwhelmed, and families starved by the side of the road."
Faced with the bad press of the thing, "political economy" was re-tooled to look more like hard science and renamed "economics". And to this day we find it ingrained in our culture that wealth is synonymous with virtue, and poverty with laziness and sin, an equivalence that all too many of us buy into, in spite of the plentiful evidence to the contrary. Think, for instance, of the many TV preachers in their fancy clothes with their hands out for money, promising true believers a life of wealth and ease, or the resplendent ostentation of Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral, the big business that is Oral Roberts, or the rampant growth of megachurches.

Is it any wonder that this administration, steeped in right-wing evangelical crusading, is so stingy with its "conservative compassion"? It's actually helping all those downtrodden unfortunates closer to the True Light of Eternal Salvation. How could I have been so harsh!

corrente SBL - New Location
~ Since April 2010 ~

~ Since 2003 ~

The Washington Chestnut
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