Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Vilification of the poor is our sacred duty!

Demonizing the poor is not merely a Republican strategy of aligning the middle class with the financial elites, it is a meme that has been sanctified by the Church since the 19th century. This phenomenon is known as the "Protestant Ethic" which was founded on the Calvinist principle of predestination which held that all people were selected by God either for salvation or eternal perdition. According to scripture, God's presence in ones life manifests in the fruits of the spirit and industriousness is one of them. Because it was also believed that affluence was solely a result of hard-work, the leaders of the religious establishment were inclined to presume that the rich were saved by definition. By contrast, poverty appeared to be solely a result of indolence and the poor were presumed to have been condemned to hell.

In light of the premise that no-one could override God's will, the secular and the religious elites concluded that it was pointless to attempt to alleviate poverty. After all, they are poor just because they are lazy and they are lazy because God made them that way and no-one could change that, so no-one can stop them from being poor! Who could possibly argue with that!? Besides, colluding with the industrialists was a far more lucrative venture than abiding by Christ's dictum of a "rich man is just as likely to enter heaven as a camel is to go through the eye of a needle".

Since then, the religious establishment has been a foremost ally of the financial elites who were granted a moral justification to renege on their responsibilities to the poor. In return, the Church received ample financial support and procured a large number of lucrative followers who had little interest in being sincere Christians. Within a century, religion emerged as a multimillion dollar business and the net-worth of its best practitioners exceeded that of many Wall-Street speculators. Virtually any person with a conscience would find this enormous hypocrisy daunting, if not altogether unbearable. That is why a significant percentage of preachers have lost their faith but the financial incentives compel them to preserve their stature as religious leaders.

1 comment:

  1. The curious thing about predestination, the idea relates to an obscure biblical reference, a passage in which it is stated that there are those whose names are inscribed in "the book of life", is that there is nothing you can do about it and no work ethic will influence it either way. The whole idea was an extreme reaction to the idea that God's favour could be earned in any way, ie sacramental observence, obedience to the RCC, good works.

    The idea of being "the richest man in the cementary", in order to evidence your salvation or fitness for eternal life when the last judgement comes about, is, I believe, absurd but the villification of the poor has more to do with views that they were not abstentious of "worldliness" or "worldly pleasures" and has more to do with puritanism or, later on, methodism. I think its actually recidivistic in religious terms, more closely related to earlier thinking about "elects" or "choosen people" than Jesus' message of universal salvation and God having "no favourites".

    Its unfair to say that all Christians, even the establishments, have uniformly villified the poor, many of the earliest socialist and other anti-poverty movements were Christian in character or thinking. RH Tawney is an excellent example of a religiously interested socialistic thinker.

    The story about the eye of a needle refers to a gate at the time which a camel could walk through without a burden on its back but which it could not enter with a burden of good on it. That story needs to be read in context with others, its not that voluntary poverty should be considered but that "the things you own end up owning you" kind of thing. Jesus highlights in other discussions that the duty and obligation of ownership is burdensome and prevents free movement, free decision, in short freedom per se and the enjoyment of life as God intended. It is what he has meant when he has been recorded as saying "poor in spirit"and also a reference to the idea of "to have or to be", which is a philosophical question I think, although Erich Fromm described it as being a "mode of existence" reflected in discussion such as those Jesus had.