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A religious plea for equanimity.

I am not a very religious person. By that I mean that I don't display what is a very deep spiritual questioning and seeking I constantly do. Today I'll make an exception.

America has become a divided country, not in the Left and the Right, but the rich and the poor. Somehow the rich have escaped scrutiny by the religious right, and have used the religiosity of America to out-maneuver more centrist or reasonable politicians. Not too long ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger was booed at a Republican convention (being held in California where Schwarzenegger at the time was the sitting Republican Governor) for doing nothing other than urging Republicans to go to the center. (I'm looking for the reference for this. Let me know if you know this speech.)

So with religious zealots defending the right of the rich to be rich, I'd like to talk in religious terms today.

The world Jesus walked on was one like today divided into two groups: the rich and the poor. Jesus the son of an artisan would have been in the low "middle" class, below a landed peasant, but well above a beggar or prostitute, but in general a member of the poor classes. The rich landed nobles that lived in cities inhabited a world of money and influence very far from the small village of Nazareth that was composed of around 400 souls. It is in this world, similar to ours where the richest 10% of the US own more than the other 90% that Jesus said:

I am telling you the truth: a rich man will hardly get into the kingdom of heaven. I'll say it again: it is easier for a camel to enter through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter God's kingdom. (Mt 19:23)

This line has been ignored over and over. Even the Puritans believed that God's grace was visited on prosperous people and God's disfavor on reversals of fortune. I remember reading an impassioned letter from a puritan woman at having lost her house to a fire and how she cast the loss as an instruction from God not to worry about material things. This feeling that God's favor was visited on prosperity was also held by Jews of Jesus' time. Lepers were unclean and shunned because the illness was see as falling into God's displeasure. The illness would not go away until that person had repented and been forgiven by God.

What this line points to is not the accumulation of wealth through work, or the benefits of the work of earlier generations. What this teaching means is that God doesn't favor people with monetary wealth (but with spiritual wisdom), and that monetary wealth can be a huge impediment (not impossible but way harder) towards entry into heaven. So why protect them from high taxes? Would those not essentially help them reach heaven? For many religious or religious-pretending groups this is not even an issue.

What did Jesus say of taxes? Which had to be paid to Rome with Roman coins bearing the likeness of the Emperor (and the saying "Son of God")?

Give Caesar's things back to Caesar, and give God's things to God. (Mk 12:17)

And yet in this recession we want the peasants to bear the bailouts, the deficit reduction while even just Clinton Era taxes can't be re-established?

I am not an advocate of mixing religion and government, I think that contaminates religion. And yet religion is there today, but not justifying equanimity, clearly a Christian goal, but inequality. It's time we stop avoiding the moral issues altogether or arguing them on purely rational grounds. The morality here is backwards and it needs to be straightened.

Sources: Scott Korb, Life in Year One; Anne Bradstreet, Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of our House


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