Tom Pittman's WebLog

2018 May 29 -- Poverty and the Golden Rule

As Jesus pointed out, God is into details: He cares about the individual sparrows and the number of hairs on your head. Some people are detail-oriented, but I try to focus on the Big Picture, to keep The Important Thing as The Important Thing, without (as Jesus pointed out on another occasion) neglecting the details. Marvin Olasky, editor of WORLD magazine, is, as I pointed out some five years ago and again earlier this year, a Big Picture guy who doesn't want to be bothered with the details. If the details are wrong, the big picture probably also is corrupt (because every Big Picture is composed of little details) or the unexamined details might actually be OK. This month -- a couple weeks ago, but when the rag has so little "urgent" news, and is so cavalier about the facts, I don't feel much pressure to read it the day it arrives -- Olasky got one right.

The article, like everything in paper journalism these days, is more opinion than fact, but he compares two approaches to how we might relate to the poor and homeless, and sees in the difference a fundamental difference in Christian faith, one Protestant, the other Catholic. He quotes Martin Luther calling for "the abolition of all begging throughout Christendom," and compares that attitude with Matteo da Bascio founding an order of monks who became poor to live alongside others who remained poor.

Olasky did not say so, but both approaches are based on Christian theology. Becoming poor is what Jesus Christ did for us, but it did not stop there. The long-term goal of Christ's poverty is that we might become rich. Luther started out as a monk, but he read his Bible more carefully than his colleagues. Neither Luther nor his successors today understand the message of Jesus as The Two Great Commandments -- Love God first above all else, then Love your neighbor as yourself -- but the Golden Rule is inextricably bound up in what Christians teach, even if they don't want to make it theologically significant. Da Bascio loved his neighbor as himself by taking himself down to the level of his neighbor, and staying there. The rest of us obey the spirit of the commandment by lifting (or at least trying to lift) the neighbor up to a higher level, because that's what we want for ourselves. The result is that poverty tends to go away by the Protestant method, but only gets worse by the Catholic way. You can see its long-term effects in countries dominated by Protestant theology (northern Europe and the USA) as compared to countries dominated by Catholic theology (southern Europe and Latin America).

Atheism has no Golden Rule at all (except as leftovers from Christian parents and grandparents), so as the Christian heritage of the USA gets replaced by atheism, the wealth our work ethic brought on the whole nation is also getting replaced by poverty and crime. Islam never had a Golden Rule as a significant part of their dogma, so poverty is much worse in Muslim-dominated countries. Both Catholics and Muslims confer a blessing on giving to the poor, so in order to be blessed, the rich must keep the poor poor. Atheists have no blessings other than what you can get for yourself, which is usually (but incorrectly) understood as the strong taking from the weak, which has the same effect, only worse. That's why atheism tends to destroy the economy of the countries where it holds rule.

The Golden Rule is a rising tide that lifts all boats. Making other people wealthy enables them to return the favor. That's subtle, and most people -- especially most politicians -- don't get it. And we are impoverished by their ignorance.


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