Why Millennials Want Bernie Sanders or, How America Could Have Stopped Socialism

N6YQRW1Bernie Sanders offers free stuff and makes socialism look cool. After all, all the rad kids are down with Democratic-Socialism. I hear tons of 20-somethings are totally dressing as the late Michael Harrington (a famous Democratic-Socialist thinker for you squares out there) this Halloween. What these young whippersnappers need to remember and learn is that they’re not entitled to anything and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Just because they can #FeelTheBern for free and legal marijuana and Xboxes doesn’t mean socialism suddenly makes sense.

Of course, when we remove ourselves from the rhetoric of Baby Boomers and even Generation X (the last generation to have a shot at the American Dream), the support for Bernie Sanders among millennials does make sense, even if it’s misguided. What people fail to understand is that the world for someone who is 20-something years old isn’t the same world for a 20-something year old 20, 30, or 40 years ago. 40 years ago students could work a full time job at minimum wage and pay for a college education while also paying for rent at an apartment. Back then minimum wage was $2.30 an hour, or about $9 by today’s standards. That’d earn a minimum wage worker $4,784 (give or take) for the year. Going to school full time would have run a tab of about $2,600, or half their income. So even for those who couldn’t squeeze that full amount, a small loan could take care of their education and, even in a worst case scenario, they’d be able to pay it back relatively quickly after graduation. Of course, earning a college education back in 1976 would have guaranteed a middle class job with a middle class income. And the average rent in a big city ran around $220.

Compare that to today’s standards. If a student works full time while going to college at minimum wage, she’ll earn $15,080 a year (give or take). The average four-year degree at a public institution will run $17,500 a year, which is more than her income. Also, the average rent in a big city has jumped to well over $1,500 a month (assuming she’s not in government housing). And all this for a degree that won’t necessarily guarantee a much higher income. And I know, we can say, “Well go get a trade school degree,” aside from ignoring implicit idea of creating a servant class, trade degrees are very susceptible to new technological advances or even market saturation: If everyone has a trade degree, then the value of having a trade degree drops. The overall point is that the economy today for those entering college, leaving college, or who have been out of college since 2000 is in a dire situation.

What’s more is that there’s no hope for millennials. The trend we’re seeing in the economy right now is that as Baby Boomers retire, rather than younger people taking the vacant positions, the positions are either being eliminated, rolled into another position, or shipped overseas. Even those lucky few who do get to take the positions are typically treated to significantly lower wages than their predecessor, because of “experience.” While not typical in all situations – especially in upper management – it’s very true for the average worker. Ideally, as Baby Boomers retire it should create a job vacuum, which would naturally increase wages and decrease unemployment and underemployment. But instead, we’re seeing absolutely no increase in wages or progress for those under the age of 30.

What the above means is as follows: As Baby Boomers retire, the younger generations are not inheriting better jobs and better wages. In fact, already we’re at a point where the majority of Americans are no longer in the middle class. Since 2000, even though Baby Boomers have begun to retire, we’ve seen no real progress in wages and no high demand to fill those jobs. That means over the next 10-15 years, as the last of the Baby Boomers begin to enter into retirement, we’ll watch the complete disappearance of the middle class. People will either be rich, or they’ll struggle. There will be no one who just lives comfortably, who while not rich or wealthy, can still put money into savings and retirement. What that also means is that in the next 10-15 years, the US tax-base is going to shrink considerably. Even if we taxed the top 10% income earners at a 90% rate – which is almost too heavy a burden for most people even in the top 10% of income earners –  that still wouldn’t be enough to fund our government. Historically in the 20th century the United States was able to grow, create highways, run mostly efficient projects because of the large US tax-base. After all, it’s better to collect hundreds to thousands of dollars from hundreds of millions of people than millions of dollars from hundreds to thousands of people.

As it is, we’re looking at a situation where within 20 years the United States is going to struggle to pay for some pretty basic things. Already we’re watching our infrastructure completely crumble because there’s not enough revenue being pumped into necessary projects. Many police departments are underfunded, leading to legalized corruption in civil forfeiture. In the states, most schools – especially low-income schools – are significantly underfunded. Imagine how these things will work 20 years from now. Most government money will likely go to wealthy areas of the country, while the rest of the country is ignored or remains underfunded. As it is, 1 out of 5 Americans is on some form of government assistance, or welfare to use the pejorative term (medicaid, SNAP, housing assistance, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance). You can’t just mismanage funds to get on those programs as they’re based on your income, not how you use your income. That means21% of the country earns somewhere around or below the poverty rate. When compared to other industrialized nations, it’s pathetic. If we increase the number to include social security, veterans’ benefits, unemployment, and other social services, that number increases to 49%.

We’re heading towards a nation that, within 10-15 years, more people will be taking money from the government than putting money into the government. Not because they’re lazy, not because they’re “moochers,” but because that’s how we’ve set up our economy to function. Such a government simply isn’t sustainable, so cuts will be made, meaning benefits will be cut. That always leads to unrest and can harm a nation.

So the above is exactly what millennials have to look forward to. And along comes a crazy-eyed, wild-haired, tough-talking guy pointing to other nations using Democratic-Socialism, pointing out how it’s succeeding, pointing out how it works, pointing to a brighter future, and you wonder why millennials are drawn to him? I know enough about the Nordic system to know that what Sanders says it is and what it actually is are two different things. I know enough to know that his plans are really a bastardized version of the Nordic system. And I know enough to know that his plans, while significantly flawed, are still better than our current system. The dark future that awaits us is why millennials are willing to look at Sanders and hold out hope. Personally, I like what Sanders offers and will probably vote for him, not out of hope, but out of, “Well, our current path leads to doom and some of his ideas have worked elsewhere, so let’s try it.”

What’s worse is that all of this could have been prevented. A person who earns a livable wage, who can save up money, who has good healthcare, who has a secure retirement plan, and who knows that they’ll continue to be promoted and advanced with hard work doesn’t want to pay higher taxes, doesn’t want multiple government programs to solve for poverty, and doesn’t want socialism. It’s why Baby Boomers – who have spent most of their lives in the middle class – are so opposed to Bernie Sanders. It’s why millennials – who will never be in the middle class – like Sanders. Not because he’s cool, different, or hip, but because he sees the problem and offers a solution. But if the problem didn’t exist, then they wouldn’t need Sanders’ solution. The problem does exist, and it’s caused by greed.

Contra Gordon Gecko, greed is no good. Greed is a cancer, but worse than cancer. Cancer is random and not celebrated, so everyone fights it. Greed, however, is intentional, chosen, and celebrated, so it spreads and consumed everything in its path. Millennials don’t care that millionaires exist or that corporations have made massive profits; what they care about is that these profits haven’t been dispersed to the people who earned them, the workers.

US-corporate-profits-after-tax-1990-to-2013 (1)

US corporate profits after tax have increased dramatically since the early 90s. But when we look at income…


Income has failed to match corporate profits. Which, to a certain extent, who cares if a CEO earns millions of dollars a year? I certainly don’t. If I can pay for the necessary things in life and lead a comfortable middle class lifestyle, not worry about my future, know that one day I can retire, why do I care that the CEO makes millions? But when his millions come at the expense of my paycheck? Well, now I care.

See, millennials don’t care that there are rich people, what they care about is that greed has essentially collapsed our society and economy. We’re just waiting on the other shoe to drop from 2008. If you want to know why millennials are turning to a self-avowed socialist, it’s not because they actually want socialism so much as it is they hate greed and what greed has done to our system. Greed is a horrible thing, a destroyer, and it’s causing the collapse of our nation.

Millennials, right or wrong, support Sanders because no one has supported millennials. Because we’ve allowed greed to run rampant, because we’ve celebrated greed, because we’ve created a system where the greediest people reap all the rewards, we’re looking at the decomposing flesh of what could have been a great nation. Greed is killing our nation and the masses are growing restless. This can either be settled through the wealthy giving up their greed and sharing their wealth voluntarily (ideal situation), or it can be given up through a political revolution by electing a far-left candidate (not ideal). Or, if the political revolution is stopped, one can only wonder when people will become so desperate that they’re willing to take to the streets in massive protests and riots (really not ideal). We came close in 2008, so it’s not difficult to imagine another shake up causing a more violent response.

So stop with the belief that millennials want free stuff. They don’t care about stuff. They just want a future. And if the wealthy business owners and CEOs don’t see fit to give them that future, they’ll vote for anyone who can promise it to them.

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.

Contra Dave Ramsey or, Sts. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom’s Secrets to Wealth

DSC02094A fair warning: This is going to be one of my harsher posts. I’ve given this time in order to go back and edit to cool it down, but sadly I think this is as tame as I can make my thoughts. I’m against false teachers who parade around as Christian leaders, but then offer damaging advice that contradicts Scripture. I have a heart for the poor and oppressed, so when these false teachers – such as Dave Ramsey – take a low view of the poor and oppressed, it makes it difficult for me to treat the subject lightly and with charity. For that, I apologize if my anger shines forth and ruins the message. 

I’m a little late to the Dave Ramsey controversy, but that’s quite intentional. Rather than being another reactionary voice, I wanted to take my time to form an opinion. Besides, my issues with Ramsey go deeper than the controversial repost of “20 Things the Rich Do Everyday.” Rachel Held Evans does a pretty decent job of debunking Ramsey’s post anyway, so there’s not much need for me to touch that whole issue.

What is more concerning is how conservative evangelical Christians, specifically those who follow Ramsey, are obsessed with obtaining wealth. What Ramsey says about credit card debt and getting out of debt is certainly helpful, but outside of these very practical and common sense approaches, much of what Ramsey says is useless and wrong. He preaches that we ought not be indebted to anyone, which is mostly true. It makes no sense to use credit to acquire stuff; the TV, the couch, and other items can be part of a savings plan. When you pay interest on non-capital producing or non-essential items, it just doesn’t make sense. Getting away from such spending and debt is one thing that Ramsey really gets right.

With that out of the way, Ramsey is apparently woefully ignorant of what it means to be poor – or even middle class – in America. Such an offense is forgivable, of course, and to be expected from someone who has been rich most of his life. However, Ramsey takes his approach to wealth a step further and attempts to say that his methods and teachings are Biblically justifiable, and that to contradict him is to contradict Scripture itself. To hold a different economic theory yet claim Christ, to Dave, is to be a “Christian.” Those with English as their first language understand that to put the word Christian in quotations is to imply that those who claim the title of Christian aren’t really Christians, they’re “Christians.”

My brother taking Ramsey to task before it was cool, making Jon the hipster critic.

My brother taking Ramsey to task before it was cool, making Jon the hipster critic.

In fact, if you teach people not to be successful, or that the Bible might imply that some are called to poverty, not only are you a “Christian,” but you’re a loser.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 11.28.55 AMTheologically, Ramsey is simply wrong. The Bible is full of Scripture that displays one very universal truth: God is with the poor. Notice how in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, it is poor Lazarus who goes to Heaven while the Rich Man (who neglected Lazarus) goes to Hell. The Rich Young Ruler was proven a hypocrite because he would not depart with his wealth. Jesus even admits to being homeless in his ministry. Proverbs 14:31 says that whoever despises a poor man insults God (in other words, mocking the poor or taking a harsh view of the impoverished is an insult to God). From a theological viewpoint, Ramsey is not only wrong, he’s anti-Biblical.

Yet, even the advice he gives simply doesn’t work. He encourages people to put their money into mutual funds so they can “drive for free” and retire rich. In the video, the example given has a mutual fund at a 12% gain. Here’s the thing: Very few mutual funds earn at 12% right now. Those that do tend to be international or placed into high risk domestic (both are high risk). In fact, 12% is more of a pipe dream. Not to mention that involving one’s self in these mutual funds also puts you in bed with some morally suspect companies. Many mutual funds invest in private prisons, which make a profit on treating prisoners horribly (which contradicts Scripture). In fact, unless you’re using a company like Ave Maria Mutual Funds, you’re probably gaining money off the porn industry, abortifacients, and other nefarious companies. The international mutual funds – some of the highest earners – come with the cost that they potentially increase slave-labor and sex-trafficking overseas in order to boost profits and thus boost investing.

Of course, the Bible is quite explicit on ill-gotten wealth. Proverbs 22:16 says that whoever oppresses the poor in order to obtain wealth will find poverty (obviously, not always in this life, which should worry those who gained wealth via oppression). Yet, one can’t come close to Ramsey’s 12% without investing in some pretty questionable mutual funds – even if one goes with Ave Maria, in the long term the investment will net around 7-8% return (which is good, but remember a higher return means a higher risk).

Finally, Ramsey says that he wants people to retire rich so they can “give it away.” He encourages people to live within their means so later in life they can help others via charity. But I don’t think he understands what “charity” really means. Certainly, Ramsey gives far more than I do to charitable causes. After all, he’s a multi-millionaire and I’m not. But the Bible’s view of charity is not a matter of quantity, but of quality. In Luke 21:1-4 we see Jesus praising the widow who gives two mites – quantifiably less than what the rich gave – because it was given cheerfully and it was all she gave. She gave 100% of what she had while the rich gave out of their abundance. Note that Christ doesn’t condemn the rich for giving out of abundance, he simply notes that the widow gave more. Even the idea of “retiring rich” doesn’t seem to coincide with Biblical teachings, mostly Proverbs 11:4 which states that righteousness, not riches, will aid us in our day of judgement.

I state the above because Ramsey, who believes in giving away his money, recently spent over $4 million on a house. The man has made a living off people who lack common sense when it comes to finances, saying he can give you financial freedom if you’d only buy his book, his program, and so on (none of it is free).  The only reason Ramsey is able to say any of this to us, of course, is because he declared bankruptcy (a selling point in his books). In other words, he owed a debt and didn’t pay it back (Psalms 37:21 is pretty clear that you shouldn’t do that). Maybe he went back and paid all those he owed a debt to, but the point is the only reason Ramsey is successful is because he was able to declare bankruptcy, something he tells people not to do.

Of course, he ignores the very real situation that many Americans find themselves in, namely that their salary simply doesn’t allow them to save up money. I know of a Walmart employee who had to choose between paying the electric bill or the water bill, and his personal hygiene suffered for it. I know of many people who struggle with paying for gas that week or for groceries. These stories are not anomalies and are growing in frequency. While you shouldn’t go into debt for a TV, what about a necessary medical procedure? What about the fact that even after insurance, an appendectomy can come with $11,000 in out-of-pocket costs?  What about the fact that 20% of adults in America will struggle with medical bills and that the vast majority of bankruptcies are caused by medical debt? Of course, because people spend their money trying to pay off medical bills, they sometimes squander their cash flow and end up using credit cards to extend cash flow while paying off medical debt (which is a bad idea).

What about poverty around the world? 2 billion humans, or approximately 28-30% of the world’s population, live in abject poverty. Imagine a Christian putting Dave’s “Biblical Principles” into action while living in China, Syria, Sudan, or any number of countries. Do you really think working hard and saving up money will make them rich? Of course not, because if the Christian isn’t murdered, imprisoned, or left jobless, his money will be taken from him. Dave’s principles really only apply to middle-class Americans (even the lower-class can’t apply them because they don’t make enough money to save money, even if they live as frugally as possible), which is to say that Dave’s principles aren’t really Biblical principles. Biblical principles tend to be universally applicable, even if the application looks different in different areas. There’s only so many ways to be holy, to be charitable, and so on. All of these, however, are applicable regardless of the time or place the Christian finds himself in. Not so with Ramsey’s principles, which are only applicable if you happen to be middle class and living in America.

The Traditional Christian View of Wealth

With the above, one might think that I’m against being rich or wealthy. The reality is, I’m not against wealth or being rich. Acts 4 has Barnabas giving away some of his land for Church use. The fact that Barnabas owned land during the Roman era marks him as someone who was wealthy. That the early Church met in the homes of Christians (mostly women as well, which is an interesting side point), means that some Christians were wealthy enough to afford homes large enough to accommodate groups for worship. The early Church had wealthy members. In fact, that the Bible has multiple commands on giving to the poor implies the understanding that some people will have enough wealth to give away.

Biblically, there’s nothing wrong in being rich. Certainly, I think it’d be quite nice to have money someday. It’s the obsession and pursuit of wealth, however, that is the issue. Rather than quoting the Bible – because it’s quite easy nowadays to perform some exegetical maneuver and get the Bible to say whatever you want it to say – perhaps it’s best to look at how the early Christians viewed wealth. Let’s look at two of the greatest Christian thinkers/writers of all time, Sts. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. The books I’ll quote from are both put out by St. Vladimir’s Seminary. The one from St. Basil is “On Social Justice” and the one from St. John Chrysostom is “On Wealth and Poverty.”

In a homily given on the rich young ruler, St. Basil summarizes Christ’s message:

“For if what you say is true, that you have kept from your youth the commandment of love and have given to everyone the same as to yourself, then how did you come by this abundance of wealth? Care for the needy requires the expenditure of wealth…Thus, those who love their neighbor as themselves possess nothing more than their neighbor…But now your possessions are more a part of you than the members of your own body, and separation from them is as painful as the amputation of one of your limbs. Had you clothed the naked, had you given your bread to the hungry, had your door been open to every stranger, had you been a parent to the orphan, had you made the suffering of every helpless person your own, what money would you have left, the loss of which to grieve?”

While St. Basil’s point might seem extreme, what teaching from the Bible doesn’t seem to go too far? Obviously, in practice such a requirement might be impossible. After all, one ought to feed one’s family and provide for them, even for future generations (Proverbs 13:22). The point, however, is that how can we justify an over-abundance of wealth (you know, like a $4 million house) when there are those down the road struggling to put food in their mouths? If we truly cared for the poor, we would spend at least our time if not our money doing what we could to help them.

“What well-dressed person has ever been granted even one additional day of life? Has death ever spared anyone on account of wealth? Material things exist to assist with life; surely they were not given as a provision for wickedness?”

Even Steve Jobs, one of the richest people in the world, died. The point made is that we’re all going to die, rich or poor, and upon our death we will have to leave a reckoning to God. We will have to state what we did with what we had on earth. At that point, your 401k, that you lived like no one else so you could live like no one else, your savings account, and so on won’t matter. What you did with those things will matter.

“Come now, distribute your wealth lavishly, becoming honorable and glorious in your expenditures for the needy. Let what is said of the righteous be said also of you, “They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” Do not enhance your own worth by trafficking in the needs of others.”

I assure you, St. Basil is not a Marxist or a Socialist (especially considering those ideas are neo-classical views of economics, something that didn’t develop until the 18th and 19th centuries). Notice the last point, which seems to strike to the heart of Dave Ramsey’s business (it’s not a ministry); he charges money to people who do need his advice. They have a need and are desperate and he makes money off that need. While it’s okay to make a profit, the man earns hand over fist. The whole point being, it’s okay to make money, but don’t make money off people’s desperation, especially the poor.

“Did you not come forth naked from the womb, and will you not return naked to the earth? Where then did you obtain your belongings? If you say that you acquired them by chance, then you deny God, since you neither recognize your Creator, nor are you grateful to the One who gave these things to you. But if you acknowledge that they were given to you by God, then tell me, for what purpose did you receive them? Is God unjust, when He distributes to us unequally the things that are necessary for life? Why then are you wealthy while another is poor? Why else, but so that you might receive the reward of benevolence and faithful stewardship, while the poor are honored for patient endurance in their struggles? But you, stuffing everything into the bottomless pockets of your greed, assume that you wrong no one; yet how many do you in fact dispossess?”

Our wealth comes from God. It doesn’t come from being savvy with investments, it doesn’t come from chance, it doesn’t even come from hard work (a cole miner is a hard worker, but hardly wealthy); God gives us what we have. He gives it to us, whether He gives us riches or poverty, so that we might honor Him with what we have been given. If we store up our riches or lament our poverty, we miss out on honoring God and partaking in His kingdom.

St. John Chrysostom does not water-down his message on wealth and poverty either. He is just as adamant on the issue as his friend St. Basil.

“You are a spiritual soldier; this kind of soldier does not sleep on an ivory bed, but on the ground. He is not anointed with perfumed oils: these are the concern of those corrupt men who dally with courtesans, of those who act on the stage, of those who live carelessly. You must not smell of perfumes, but of virtue.”

Again, if one focuses solely on the material aspect of what St. John is saying, one misses the point. After all, I sleep on a mattress, something not afforded to other Christians or people around the world. Does this mean I’ve missed the point of the Gospel? No, the point is that we ought to pursue virtue instead of riches. If we have riches, then let our virtue dictate how we spend them. If we are poor, then let our virtue be our wealth.

“Just as the dogs licked the wounds of the poor man, so demons licked the sins of the rich man; and just as the poor man lived in starvation of nourishment, so the rich man lived in starvation of every kind of virtue.”

In speaking on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, St. John points out the vast disparity between the two. He shows how the coldness of the rich man and his neglect to his poor neighbor robbed him of the wealth that really matters, the kind that can’t be bought or invested in.

“But with God we cannot say this; for no one will escape His judgement, but all who live by fraud and theft will certainly draw upon themselves that immortal and endless penalty, just like this rich man. Collecting all these thoughts in your minds, therefore, my beloved, let us call fortunate not the wealthy but the virtuous; let us call miserable not the poor but the wicked.”

Ultimately, what matters is how we live, not what we have. One can be rich and virtuous (again, look at Barnabas) or poor and wicked. Likewise, one can be rich and wicked or poor and virtuous. The truth is that one’s wealth does not determine one’s standing with God (as implied by Ramsey’s tweet shown above). How we live our lives ultimately determines our stance with God. St. John reiterates this point later, by saying;

“So if you see someone greedy for many things, you should consider him the poorest of all, even if he has acquired everyone’s money. If, on the other hand, you see someone with few needs, you should count him the richest of all, even if he has acquired nothing. For we are accustomed to judge poverty and affluence by the disposition of the mind, not by the measure of one’s substance.”

Finally, St. John gives possibly the best advice on giving:

“Let us also do this, I beg you, without making any inquiry more than necessary. Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness; if anyone at all ever comes to us with this recommendation, let us not meddle any further. We do not provide for the manners but for the man. We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy, in order that we ourselves, unworthy as we are, may enjoy His philanthropy. For if we were going to investigate the worthiness of our fellow servants, and inquire exactly, God will do the same for us.”

When it comes to giving, we often question whether our money will help. We question whether someone deserves it. We question the state of the person receiving the benefit. But we never remember that God gave us the greatest gift of all even though we were in the worst state of existence. We are not saved by our works, we are not saved by our faith, for our works and faith are never enough. We are, instead, saved by God’s philanthropic mercy. If he can grant us eternal life, peace, and union with him, certainly we can depart with a few material possessions to help those in need, regardless of how we think those possessions might be used.

There is nothing wrong with being rich or having wealth. If God has blessed an individual with such things, then we should be happy for the individual so long as the individual’s virtue overcomes his wealth. We shouldn’t seek a plush retirement or wealth, contra Dave Ramsey, but instead we should seek the virtue of God and let the money fall where it may.

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).

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The sin of personal peace and affluence

Toward the end of his life and last of his published books, Francis Schaeffer began to argue against the attitude of “personal peace and affluence.” A man who had dealt with the hippie culture head – a culture of rebellion against ‘the system’ and plastic culture – lamented over what he saw occurring in the 1970’s. He believed that many of the young people of the 60’s were giving in and joining the system in the 70’s. He feared that this way of thinking would only continue into the 80’s. Schaeffer, in an interview with Colin Duriez even said, “As long as they [Americans] can have these things [personal peace and affluence], they will give up anything!

In our modern society, especially post-9/11, we look at these words and think that Schaeffer might have been a little off. After all, what is wrong in giving up some freedoms or giving up some moral ground, so long as we can live free of controversy and make money? I happen to believe that what Schaeffer feared did occur in the 80’s and early 90’s and has led to the nihilistic culture that is arising, a culture of empty selves. Continue reading