Stop Worshipping the Enriched

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Posted on August 22nd, 2011 | Filed under Featured, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with , , , , , , , , , ,

Harper Simon, son of Paul Simon and inheritor of a voice with breathtaking semblance to his dad’s, sings us a hymn at the beginning of his beautiful self-titled collection of songs:

“No, I never did believe / That I ever would be saved /Without giving my all to God… / So I freely give my whole / My body and my soul / To the good Lord /Amen.”

Giving all to God, means worshipping God. So, yes.  Let us give our all to God. But let’s be careful who that God we worship is. Let’s be careful to whom we are giving our all.

I have long been mystified by the dynamic by which the impoverished defend the enriched (Is it self-loathing? Is it a kind of Stockholm syndrome?).  But, I am mystified no longer. The defense is a kind of worship.  It is almost as if the defense of the enriched has bought in to the lie that the mega-rich are ‘job-creators.’ And what is due to the Creator if not worship? You see, theology matters.  How we answer the question, Who is God? matters.

In a culture, like ours, where money is worshipped, I find it makes perfect sense that the possessors of money are likewise worshipped.  Think they’re not?    In Minnesota, obnoxiously-and-offensively-enriched persons pay a lower tax rate than relatively impoverished persons. And, of course, we are aware of Warrren Buffet’s August 14, 2011 plea in the New York Times to policy makers in Washington DC to “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich” who enjoy cozy relations with “friends in high places.

Before proceeding, let me suggest that we need to change the way we talk. Buffett says, “Super-Rich,” but he should say, “Super-Enriched.” It seems to me that there are no such things as “the rich” and “the poor.”  Those are not cosmological categories; they are not forces of nature.  In fact, there are only “the enriched” and “the impoverished.” Wealth is withheld from some by others who do the withholding.  What is undoubtedly on the increase is the concentration of wealth into the hands of the few; the enrichment of the few—and this is done by the active impoverishment of others.  And let’s be clear: when a scant 400 people have accumulated wealth equal to the wealth of 150,000,000 people (i.e. half of the population of the US), as has happened in the United States, almost all of us are impoverished by the enriched.  And we continue to give our all to them.

Now, if God amounts to nothing but the richest being—i.e. the being whose sole possession is only everything—and we live as if we humans are created in the image of that God (Gen 1:26, etc), then it is only logical to deduce that the most enriched person is the most reflective of the being of God.  The imitation of the God who is the ultimate owner, the ultimate accumulator, the ultimate possessor requires the person to own, accumulate, and possess.  By this dynamism, those who are bereft of owning, accumulating, and possessing are less God-like, less images and likenesses of God.

So, do you think that God is a really-really-, super-, mega-, über- (add your favorite superlativist prefix here) rich being in the sky?  Even if you say you don’t, I challenge you to question a little deeper.  If your tax and political ideology effectively worship the rich, by giving all to them (and, incidentally, if you are among the enriched, and think that’s just fine, that would mean that you feel ‘entitled’ to have it all given to you)—as Harper Simon reminds us we are encouraged to give our all to God— then I think you really do worship money, you really do worship the enriched persons who by their actions impoverish the rest of us.

I’m not saying we should all get greedy.  I’m saying we should all be mindful where our treasure is, where our heart is.   It is time to dethrone the enriched—which means stop sacrificing to them, stop worshipping them. And it is time to re-imagine God and re-image ourselves not as accumulators, owners and possessors—but rather as incarnations of love, reflectors of love, images of love, because God really is love.

And together, we’ll become a new creation of love.

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8 Responses to “Stop Worshipping the Enriched”

  1. Retta says:

    Yes, I think we are called to reflect God. Just because
    most of us earn our keep from the rich, whether we work for private or government does not mean we worship them. Sometimes it’s the religious leaders who get too cozy with the world of power. Jesus saw that clearly.

    • Thanks, Retta. I agree that there is an unsettling relationship between the halls of power and houses of worship. And I agree that working for the ‘rich’ should not be considered worship of them. What I think qualifies as worship is sacrificing for them, as one is called to sacrifice for God. Since Reagan, there has been a steady and intentional transfer of wealth, a redistribution of wealth from the hands of the many (the workers) to the hands of the few. That redistribution of wealth has been on a massive scale, and in so many cases, the victims of that dispossession (laborers, working class, middle class) vote for the people making policies that enrich by impoverishing. The impoverished defend the enriched, defend the class of people who have stolen in a kind of reverse Robin Hood dynamic where our culture steals from the poor and gives to the rich. Religious people in the three monotheistic religions are called to offer our entire lives to God, called to sacrifice for God– not for greedy enriched people. I hope that clarifies my position. Let me know if I am still not connecting with you on this.

      • Retta says:

        Unless I am missing something, Paul, you have repeated your position. I would like to expand the topic by pointing out that people work for private or public powers and I don’t know any way out of that. We give our power away whenever we don’t do for ourselves what we can and come together in community to act upon what we believe. Religious leaders are into control of the poor as much as the rich; sometimes it’s hard to see the difference, though hypocrisy shines brightest in the former.
        Your position taken to the next step would have the poor without anything for the rich to take. We see American corporations searching for the takers of the unhealthy foods they can no longer sell at a profit in our country.
        The rich are looking for the next venture. What will it be? Will politics be local? How about building greenhouses so that local produce can be had all year around. Local bakeries (remember when bread came in paper bags?) and butcher shops (butcher paper?) when you only bought what you needed. Perhaps as the malls close and big business is not successful we will have our lives back.
        Technology has made it possible to work from just about everywhere (cables are being buried as we write).
        No need for huge cities and mega trucks on concrete highways.
        What will our future look like and how can we extrapolate from the knowledge and wisdom available? There is so much to discuss and act upon. What do we want our government to do for us, not to us. How can we live peacefully in our small world? We have so much in common as humans. The rich are a handy scapegoat. Jesus didn’t waste time with them but called them our on what they valued. If truth be told we care too much about the rich and not enough about each of us.

        • Yep. You’re right: That’s what i did: just clarified that ‘worship’ is not the mere fact of working for the rich.

          I am perplexed by this statement though: “Your position taken to the next step would have the poor without anything for the rich to take. ” Actually that is precisely what I am afraid the current trajectory leads to, and it is the absolute opposite of my vision.

          Have you read Eaarth by McKibben? You’re right: we need to use the energy we have left to implement a new paradigm. The old ways just won’t work any more.

          And yes, the rich are a handy scapegoat– but, I hasten to add, it is very handy for them if we absolve them of their increasing responsibility for the global proliferation of misery.

          Thanks so much for engaging this conversation!!

  2. Thanks for this piece, Paul! I am always challenged by your writing, but it is always a challenge I welcome. I especially appreciated your suggested change in terminology from “super-rich” to “super-enriched.” It’s such a subtle shift in nuance, but an important one at that. A professor recently pointed out that in spite of all the time we spend in the church debating issues of sexual morality (about which the Bible has very little to say), we spend hardly any time talking about our collective responsibility to the impoverished (to use your term) and what is required of us as disciples (about which the Bible has MUCH to say). I think you are right to call our attention to economic disparity, tax and political ideologies, and stewardship. My only criticism of the piece lies in what seems to be your explanation of why some are impoverished, which is a result of wealth “withheld from some by others who do the withholding.” I suspect economic disparity and the inner-workings of free market capitalism might be a bit more complicated than that, but I do appreciate your point. Thanks again for this!

    • Thanks, Kari. There is a social justice notion from Patristics (and restated by the Roman Church in the last century) that lays out a difficult (impossible?) demand: whatever surplus anyone has in excess of what one needs while there are others who lack their basic needs, one maintains that surplus only by an act of injustice. By that measure, one that, by the way, makes me into an unjust accumulator, we can wipe away the obfuscation of modern economics and call greed greed when we see it. 400 people holding the wealth of 150 million people is a wretched reality. What’s worse, when we think globally, rather than nationally, women (and it is mostly women) across the globe are transformed into machines who produce the goods we consume: their lives are impoverished by our mode of consumption. I don’t know how to overcome this sinful state of affairs. I need to go think happy thoughts.

      • James Croft says:

        It’s an interesting notion, but it only has moral force if it can be demonstrated that there is a way that the wealthy could distribute their wealth to those who need it that 1) actually works and 2) does not cause greater problems. One of the most intriguing and counter-intuitive points of some respected libertarian economists is that it is in fact impossible, ultimately, to give money away (by which they mean, primarily, that the distortions created in the economy by attempts to redistribute cause more problems than they solve, and end up making people poorer than they would otherwise be).

        Add this to the fact that the economic “pie” is not of fixed size, and can grow such that even if a smaller proportion of people owns a bigger portion of the wealth, poorer people can STILL be getting richer, and that some philosophers have sincerely and in good faith argued that greed is not in fact a moral evil, and I think you get to Kari’s position: things are rather more complicated than we might wish them.

        What you see as the “obfuscation” of modern economics may well be nothing more than the sophisticated recognition of the complexity of economic systems. Such systems may be more problematic and morally challenging than we would like, but better, I think, to face the complexity and try to understand it than to turn away from it.

  3. Imaduddin Khawaja says:

    Good post. While I agree with the gist of the article there is something that I couldnt really understand.

    “Now, if God amounts to nothing but the richest being—i.e. the being whose sole possession is only everything—and we live as if we humans are created in the image of that God (Gen 1:26, etc), then it is only logical to deduce that the most enriched person is the most reflective of the being of God.”

    The riches of humans as indicated here is based on currency. Currencies are developed by humans – the “created” beings. The value of all the currency or even gold is only a value perceived by the “created” beings not by the Creator.

    The Creator did not create the currency neither does he ever give or take anything in exchange for any currency or even a material. So I couldnt really understand the basis of the logical reasoning here.

    Thanks. :)

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Paul Joseph Greene is attending the second year of his doctoral program, seeking a Ph.D. in systematic theology at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. "Let's talk interreligiously about liberation, identity, power, privilege, creative transformation, process, politics, and Glee! And by virtue of our relationship, let's become a new creation together." Paul was selected as one of three Outstanding Contributing Scholars to speak at State of Formation's workshop held at the 2013 American Academy of Religion.


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