Wealth vs. Same-Sex Unions or, the Convenience of Moral Relativism

DSC02085Whether or not Scripturally justified (via various hermeneutical gymnastics), the traditional Christian approach to homosexuality is that the action is wrong (though historically the Church is silent on attraction). Whether that’s right or wrong is certainly up for debate, but historically the Church has been against such actions. The historical trend has led Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox to stand in the way of allowing same-sex unions, a stance that of course futile. Within a generation every state will allow same-sex unions. Regardless, it hasn’t stopped Christians who follow the traditional teachings on homosexuality from doing all they can to prevent same-sex unions from occurring.

Another often ignored Christian teaching is the teaching against greed, or against opulence. Both the Bible and Church tradition clearly speak against the displays of wealth, of gaining wealth on the backs of the oppressed, and of generally holding onto that wealth. Ironically, such a history on the teaching of wealth has led to Christians really doing nothing. Granted, the Catholic Church has typically held a “liberal” approach to economics (along with its own economic system of Distributism) and the Orthodox have encouraged personal giving, but Evangelicals have almost moved entirely away from the issue. Even Catholics and Orthodox don’t like the idea of condemning the wealthy for being wealthy. Such an approach is almost uniquely American; it is also a new approach based on a progressive interpretation of Scriptures.

See, the Bible is clear that when the greedy hold onto their wealth, the entire society suffers for it. It is why God commanded rich Israelites to give a portion of their gains to the needy. Ignoring the spiritual purposes for giving (such as the fact that God gave His own Son as a gift for all, so we can give our income – something that is not from us to begin with – to help those in need), there are very practical purposes for being against the centralization of wealth. Study after study shows that when wealth is held in the hands of the few, the many suffer. Part of what made the American economy so powerful and successful for a number of years is that income inequality simply wasn’t an issue. With the rise of income inequality in the past few decades we’ve watched the middle class virtually disappear within America, and the ramifications are horrendous.

The above arguments aside, the Bible is very explicit on how the wealthy are to handle their money. Paul instructs the wealthy to be ready to share their money with those in need (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Proverbs 28:27 says that a wealthy man who gives has found true wealth, but the one who doesn’t give is cursed. James curses those who curse the poor man, arguing that the poor are called to be rich in faith (James 2:5-6), which of course contradicts the modern attitude toward the poor as “leeches” and “lazy.” Deuteronomy 8 explicitly states that it is God who grants wealth, not the individual. There is no such thing as a “self-made man,” merely one whom God has blessed. Proverbs 14 goes further to argue that whoever oppresses a poor man insults God. Paul again states that those who desire to be rich will simply fall into temptation that will result in destruction (1 Timothy 6:9-10). John says that those who fail to give lack the love of God within their hearts (1 John 3:17). God condemned the nation of Judah for illicit gain and protecting the wealthy, which harmed the poor (Jeremiah 22:17).

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of passages on wealth and poverty, with most condemning those who are wealthy by illicit gain or for not giving to the poor. In Amos 2:6-8 God condemns Israel for their treatment of the poor, specifically for making money off the poor and oppressing them. The entire fifth chapter of Nehemiah is about him stopping the oppression of the poor. What is the oppression he is so against? The charging of interest, the mortgaging of fields, the borrowing of money to survive a famine. In fact, Nehemiah demands that the nobles redistribute their wealth and give back to the poor all they have taken. We then find out that Nehemiah did this while he was the governor of the land.

The entire point of the above is to show that God’s moral commands and legislative commands tend towards social justice, or at least not oppressing the poor. In the Bible, oppression seems to be when a worker is given a wage that is below what is livable, or when people make a profit on the poor (that is, increasing profit margins by keeping workers impoverished). Or when banks and other companies make a massive profit on the interest they charge people, especially when those people took out loans simply to eat or survive.

The Bible is incredibly explicit on the treatment of the poor, that when the wealthy become richer and the poorer become poorer, it is against God’s natural law. This is why no single society has ever lasted long in which the rich became richer and the poor became poorer; such a trend violates natural law, which is no different than trying to violate gravity. At some point, negative consequences follow.

Yet, Christians are relatively silent on the massive social injustices that have occurred in the past few years. In fact, many praise the rich. For those that recognize the problem, they argue against government involvement because, “it’s not the government’s place to place Christian morals on the rich.” Or, my favorite, “How can the government decide how much is too much.” I actually agree with these arguments, but then these Christians turn around and argue against homosexual marriage and homosexual unions, which is the government placing Christian morals on sexual actions! We quickly  become moral relativists when it comes to wealth, arguing, “We can’t know what wealth truly is” or “how much is too much?” But when it comes to sexuality, we’re ardent absolutists. These positions are incompatible – you can’t be a relativist when it comes to your pocketbook, but an absolutist when it comes to your pants.

Every single argument I’ve ever seen used to prohibit homosexual unions can in turn be used to prohibit the rich from being greedy. “It harms society,” “it’s disgusting,” “it goes against nature,” “it goes against God’s law,” “it goes against God’s intentions,” are all arguments that can be used against both homosexual unions and greed (if one follows a traditional interpretation of Scripture). If anything else, two men marrying each other does far less harm to society than a rich business owner hoarding his wealth. From a practical perspective (and spiritual perspective), the rich oppressor damages a society far more than someone engaged in sexual sin.

I am not taking a stand on these issues, at least not a legislative stand. I don’t want the government involved in my marriage or in my pocketbook, at least beyond what is necessary. What I’m arguing for, however, is some consistency. It is nothing more than relativism to argue that the Bible condemns homosexuality, but turn around and say nothing about wealth. It’s hypocrisy to push for legislation banning homosexual marriages, but fight any and all attempts to curb the greed implicit within our economic system.

While there’s nothing wrong with Christians pushing for economic justice or improvements to our economic system (as this is a way to promote aiding the oppressed), perhaps we would be better served to follow the example of Christ. Christ didn’t hold protests outside of brothels, nor did He attempt to convince the Romans to increase taxes on tax collectors (who did oppress the poor). Instead, He dined with them. He dined with both the sexually and fiscally immoral, showing them there was a better path. Rather than engaging in politics – which is necessary at times, but comes with a cost – He pursued the issues personally. The reason is because the Gospel extends beyond moral actions. Even if we legislated morality to the point that people had no choice but to lead moral lives, this would still not save them, nor would it save our society. It is only through holiness that a society can be saved, not the hypocrisy of picking and choosing which culture war we will fight.

A Possible Solution for Wall Street Protestors?

Taken from digitalburg.com

The “Occupy Wall Street” protest is quite interesting to me. On one hand, I understand and agree that something is wrong with any nation where greed goes unchecked. At the same time, some of the solutions I’ve heard only take one tyrant (an oligarchic Wall Street) and replace it with another (an authoritarian Washington). If the movement is to achieve anything worthwhile and noteworthy of change, it should be towards creating a more stable economy while also furthering freedom, not in taking one dictator and replacing him with another dictator.

With the above in mind, rather than sitting and complaining about the greed in Wall Street (or Washington for that matter), I’d like to offer a few practical solutions for CEOs to follow as well as a few idealistic solutions. First, with the practical solutions:

  1. For employees with a minimum of 6 months employment, offer them a profit share in the company – this is best accomplished via buying or giving employees stock. While I’m not sure on the laws, giving employees stock in the company for achieving certain goals makes them part owners and spreads the wealth of the company to those working for the company. For instance, if you have a store that is performing at 40% guest satisfaction, you could promise every employee x amount of stock if they increase that to 50% guest satisfaction. This would allow employees to take ownership of the company and give them something more than an hourly wage or the promise of a raise. While this cuts into the take-home profits for CEOs (temporarily), it creates a happier workforce, which in turn could actually increase profits; after all, no one works harder than a business owner, so if you can turn your entire workforce into co-owners of your company, then why not?Let us also not forget that not every employee will be enticed by the above offer. Yet, this shows the strength of the suggestion – if an employee is still lethargic after being offered a co-ownership of the company, then he’s probably not fit to work at your company. Thus, the above program offers a way to weed out employees who could potentially bring down your business. You end up receiving a workforce who wants to be there, who is motivated to be there, who is qualified to be there, and who shares in the successes of the company.
  2. Celebrate a “jubilee-type” income (give away your income every 7 years). Many executives make upwards to a million dollars after benefits; many others make far more than that. Thus, it isn’t too much to ask them to show some frugality in saving up their income for 6 years and on the 7th year donate every penny of income that year to charity, to employees who need help, or back to the company. For those who make quite a bit of income this charitable spending goes a long way towards helping those who are less fortunate. At the same time, on the practical level, it elevates one to near sainthood in the media and among the masses; who can complain about corporate greed if you’re giving away your income every 7 years, especially if you’re giving that back to your employees as a bonus?
  3. Always give away more than 50% of your income after tax (this is for those bringing home a substantial income). While you could give away your income every 7 years, another thing to help dispel the belief in corporate greed is to give away 50% or more of your net income. Again, not all CEOs of all corporations will be able to do this (some corporations are small, thus some CEOs really do not make that much). But for those who are bringing home well above half a million dollars, living off half the net income isn’t asking that much; it’s still much more than what the average American has to deal with. Again, by giving away your personal income, who can protest you or call you greedy?
  4. Give back to the company, especially to help the most underprivileged of your employees. When giving back your personal income, one thing to look at is possibly setting up a charitable program within your own company to help your employees. One company – Darden – has set up a program called “Darden Dimes” where employees can donate as little as 10 cents of each paycheck towards the program. If an employee within the Darden company needs help, they can receive a prepaid gift card to help them through a troubled time. If all companies did this, with CEOs pumping hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars into it every year, this would increase employee satisfaction and faith in the company. This, in turn, would increase guest satisfaction (because guests would walk into a happier environment), which in turn would increase overall profit.
  5. Give back to the community, especially in education ventures. Imagine if the richest of Americans offered to help people with medical bills, or finding jobs, or building up lower income housing to help those in the area. We complain about welfare, government spending, and the like, but what if the richest of Americans took their money and invested it into private ventures that addressed issues related to the poor. It would render the government to a secondary role for those in extreme poverty; in other words, the government wouldn’t have to spend as much, meaning they wouldn’t have to tax people as much, meaning the whole debate about cutting spending or raising taxes could cool down a bit. While there isn’t enough money in the world to fix these problems (there will always be those in poverty), if every American who makes over half a million dollars a year donated to these private organizations in a substantial fashion, perhaps it could help alleviate and reduce the problem.If one were to choose where the money would go, I would argue that it should go into reshaping and reforming our educational system. Put money into programs that actually teach students rather than prepare them to take a government-issued test. Put the money into programs that help us reform education so we’re producing thinkers and not test-takers. Remember, all of these students aren’t just future consumers, but future employees; if they don’t know how to think now, they’ll make for bad employees in the future, which will ruin profits in the future. Thus, it makes sense to invest in them now so you can make more later.

Along with the practical solutions (ones that are driven by profit motive), there are some idealistic solutions I would offer. These, of course, are harder to obtain, but would naturally cause greed to disappear.

  1. Recognize that you will be held accountable for your actions, in this life or the next. Though a belief in God exists for the vast majority of Americans, acting as though God exists seems to be passé. However, God does exist and He will hold you accountable for how you’ve spent your money. One can look to the Scriptures and see that there are over 1,000 verses concerning poverty; half of those condemn those who do nothing to help it or make money off the impoverished. For the richest Americans, especially those who attend church on a regular to semi-regular basis, do understand that how you treat the poor will weigh heavily in the coming judgment.
  2. Recognize that the happy life is one of virtue, not one of vice. All humans pursue happiness, of this there is no doubt. What we define as “happy,” however, differs amongst humans. In our modern world, we tend to think of material things as being happy, and it’s true they can bring temporary happiness, but they do not resemble true happiness. Think of it this way – when you were younger you wanted that cassette player so you could be happy. If you got that same cassette player now, would you be just as happy? Of course not, because it’s out of date. Thus, happiness based on material items is constantly in flux, never satisfied, and always seeking; one is never truly happy because one is always seeking after the next change. Rather, true happiness is found in the pursuit of virtue and the obtaining of virtue. True happiness is found in the things that do not change, not in material wealth, which is always in flux.
  3. Recognize that material wealth will bring you nothing. The world has lost many millionaires to death; in fact, to date, every single millionaire or billionaire that has lived has also died. We can think of the recent tragic death of Steve Jobs, who in spite of his millions, still passed away (as a side note, Jobs serves as an example of a CEO who had a giver’s heart). Your wealth will not follow you, nor will it follow your children, nor will it follow your children’s children. At some point, your wealth will run out; and no matter what, it cannot save you. It may prolonge your life, but it will never prevent its inevitable end. So why pursue that which is temporary? Why not use that which is temporary for eternal gains? Why not build a legacy of giving, or helping people, of helping a community, of helping a society, and in so doing establish an eternal legacy that will never end?
  4. Recognize that living a good life is far more important than living a material life. The best things in life are so expensive that they can’t be bought. Having a big screen TV or the best car is nice and makes life easier, but it’s not nearly as good as having a family to come home to. Living in a multi-million dollar mansion is wonderful, but it’s minuscule compared to helping out someone who is desperate for help. The good life is the one lived in pursuit of true happiness, of a happiness that is good in and of itself; the good life is the one lived in service to others.

It is my hope that someday we’ll live in a society where these principles are put into practice. It is my hope that the problem will fix itself. But from what I’ve studied in history, it seems rather sad that in order to fix the problem of our current oligarch, will turn to a different type of tyranny and suffer all the more for it. 

A More Virtuous Society

There can be little doubt that we live in a society that lacks virtue and that such a lack of virtue is causing the downfall of our society. While there are those who would disagree with my assessment, the fact is those who disagree are part of the problem.

By denying an ethical standard based upon virtue – which is external to humans and leaves humans attempting to achieve a standard – many people are turning to Hedonism, where man becomes a measure of himself. Hedonism teaches that so long as you’re not harming anyone else, what you’re doing is ethically good. This is the predominate ethical standard in America and is sadly being co-opted by Christians as well. Whereas one used to engage in moral actions for a multitude of reasons, including a desire for good judgment in the afterlife, in modern times men are only moral so long as it is within their best interests to be moral. At the point morality would prevent a hedonistic desire and violating such a moral code would come with little to no consequences, modern man then acts out against that moral code.

We see it in our CEO’s who will bring in $9 million in bonuses a year, but then put a pay freeze on their employees paychecks or induce economic panic by saying that their company teeters on the brink of bankruptcy and therefore needs a bailout. We see it in the MTV culture that has turned sex into a recreational tool or a commodity to get what they want rather than a mystical act that brings husband and wife together. We see it in our young teenagers and in our Congress, who often only differ in their vocabulary, but not attitudes and thought processes, in wanting everything to go their way rather than come to a compromise. Our society is becoming more individualistic because it’s becoming more hedonistic. At some point, hedonism will lead to dire consequences.

How much longer before our young people begin to ponder the possibilities of eradicating those who are of lower intelligence? After all, such people require sacrifice and require us to help them. Perhaps our society will refuse to devolve to a position where we are eradicating undesirables, but can we not see how we’re moving towards a classist society? Again, the hedonism of America is beginning to procure a class society where the rich can avoid the poor. We send our extremely poor to public schools, but we should never pretend that they get the same education as the child of rich parents, who generally send their children to private schools. A hedonist looks at such a situation and asks why people can’t have disparity in education, never realizing that it creates a permanent disparity between the classes, which soon become castes that people are not allowed to leave. Continue reading

From Virtue to Vice (part 3)

We now come to the 7 Vices, which have become virtues in the modern day. These are the things that traditionally have been viewed as the seven major categories for sin; though there are multiple sins, they can generally fit within one of these seven categories (and all fall under pride).

Continue reading