Friday, May 19, 2006


Several blogs I frequent have been hosting heated discussions about charity. Seeing as how I'm going to spend entirely too much time writing comments for these discussions, I figured I may as well cross-post to my own blog. This is something I've been meaning to address, anyway.

One fellow said:
American and European consumption is part of what will gradually help end poverty.

While capitalistic nations have historically provided a higher standard of living to their citizens, this outcome is by no means guaranteed with capitalism on a global scale. One of the nasty side effects of capitalism is a gradual trend toward a wealth gap, where the rich get richer because they have the resources to do so, and the poor get poorer because they don't. Nobody really seems to know where this trend stops ... whether, for example, a global capitalism would produce food and shelter for everyone, or simply preserve current standards of living, and funnel more resources to the extremely rich.

We should keep in mind that we are talking about economic models here, not well-established scientific facts. And in light of that uncertainty, Christians are absolutely justified in trusting the simplicity of Jesus over the claims of capitalism, and rejecting the seductively convenient theory that we can best help the poor by buying whatever it is we want. Faith that capitalism will solve all our problems is kind of like "pie in the sky by and by" theology ... it sounds nice, but it does little to help the people who are starving today.

Another fellow said:
Jesus tells the rich young ruler, after he kept all the commandments, to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus. Are we doing the same as we read these meaningless posts on our high dollar computers, wasting our valuble time at our overpaid jobs? I would say no!

Speaking of waste, this is a huge waste of the story of the rich young ruler. Obviously, none of us live up to what Jesus asks from this pitiful rich kid. None of us ever live up to the absurd ideals that Jesus presents. But in my opinion, that's what makes the point.

The rich young ruler is out to negotiate his salvation. He's playing the game of "how much do I have to do before you'll love me?" And in response, Jesus smacks the crap out of him. Jesus shows us that he can never give enough -- that we can never give enough -- that the lexus guy is doing the wrong thing, and so is the go-out-to-eat guy, and so is the two-pairs-of-pants guy. We all hold something back, so we're all sinners. Thanks for the info, Jesus. We'll just go on our way feeling guilty.

But I think we can do better than that. Because if Jesus' absurd demand teaches us anything, it teaches us that we're pretty stupid to suppose that God is concerned with what percentage of our income goes into a collection plate. That we're kind of crass to suppose that -- in this situation -- God is terribly concerned with "the condition of our hearts". God is concerned with people. And people are starving to death. So many people are starving that even the wealth of a rich young ruler won't feed them.

So instead of feeling guilty, or worrying about whether God approves, I expect we'd be better off giving as much as we can possibly make ourselves give. And next week, maybe we'll be able to give a little more. Because giving a little today is better than giving nothing as we tie ourselves in knots trying to figure out how much we have to give before God loves us.

So get after it. People are starving, remember?


scoots said...

I think the last two paragraphs are superbly put. This year I'm going to have an income for the first time in my life, and I'm ready to find out if I'll actually do what my idealistic self has always said I would.

Darius said...

And it's not like there are just a couple isolated verses against wealth as a temptation to be avoided. It's enough material to be described as a theme in what we're given of Jesus' teachings.

Yeah, it's a mighty convenient theory - just concentrate on getting personally as rich as you possibly can, and it will make the whole world better. Reagan seems to have started it with "trickle down economics."

Matthew said...

Thanks. Getting a "superbly put" from you is better than getting an "excellent" and a gold star. =)

Do you really think it started with Reagan? Because it would be nice to be able to track the arc of that economic philosophy. I'll have to ask my Libertarian buddy what he knows about that.

theo said...

I see a lot of "WWJD" braclets at our church and I wonder if people really "get it." How can you think of yourself as a Christian and be unconcerned with starving people (especially as Americans grow fatter by the second)? I don't get it.

My first post here but I'll be back!

shantanu dutta said...

Though you say , you talk of a liberal Jesus , I would say, that is the integral, holisitc gospel , you are really talkng about. Check out some of my thoughts from a South Asian Chrisian perspective at

Matthew said...

Glad to have you.

Glad you stopped in. I haven't talked lately about what I mean by "liberal", but I hope that you're right in saying that Jesus' liberality is part of the wider gospel.

grumblefish said...

Interesting thread. I wonder if any among us (at least, in this country) have the sand to confront
reality, and admit that there might
be a few crucial spiritual matters
to eclipse our ingrained material desires, in both scope and urgency. Yes, we keep running, but
it's away from something more often
than toward something. The track will probably shorten itself, to
accomodate both motivations.

Matthew said...

theo said:
especially as Americans grow fatter by the second

Which reminds me of a certain gum-chewing girl in a chocolate factory, as well as a fairly gruesome Monty Python sketch.

Jeremy Gregg said...

For more on this topic, uou should drop by Larry James' Urban Daily...