Tuesday, September 13, 2011

poor people, xian lens

As I drove through Denver, I saw an alarming number of homeless people. I couldn't help but contemplate the inequality of wealth, very much present in my home state. I gave  an old man a bagel that I bought for my babies. I generally do not give homeless money (we are incentive based creatures) but I did have perfectly good food that he could eat. I still feel a bit bad about contributing to the problem but I have not yet thought of a solution that I can contribute adequately. I was reminded that day by a "preacher" that I lived in a Xian society and that the "xian" thing to do would be to give the homeless money and shelter. Although I do not believe the "preacher" had a firmer grasp on his religion than I do, I found myself putting on the lens of Xianity and thinking about being "poor."

Reason is the chief quality of human action that, to Aquinas, makes the existence of poor in a society intolerable. Laws must be made in regard the common good in Aquinas’ just society, which reflects that of which we observe outside of society, since Aquinas was reconciling Aristotle’s empiricism with theology: “nature inflicts a loss on the part in order to save the whole,” Aquinas states. Nature does not act against God’s willing of its' purpose. It finds itself equilibrium, if even at the cost of one of God’s creations. This might be taken as a shortcoming of God or a limit to His perfect goodness; Aquinas might have reminded only God can see the true entire consequence of action and is in fact benevolent. In the Reply to Objection, Aquinas says that any human law that goes beyond the scope of the Commandments should not be obeyed.

Society must reflect the laws of nature, since the men with the greatest reason are philosophers (who reflect on what they see), they must create positive law (the laws of the political bodies.) If while studying the laws of nature, philosophers are witnessing the workings of God, uninterrupted by human will and society, society must reflect the nature of natural laws, and anything outside of that is unjust. Nature equitably shares itself. When in a state of nature, no things are possessions of the few, all exists for all of nature to share and benefit from. Society must reflect nature. Therefore, society must find an outlet to distribute wealth and burden those who have more than others, or else that society is unjust.

The Gospel of Luke would not tolerate poor people in a society where wealthy people were, either. It is told in Chapter 19 that Jesus was wandering through Jericho, when he comes across Zacchaeous, the tax collector. When Jesus approached, the greedy rich tax collector realized the wrongness of his ways, and gave away half his wealth and gave back anything he once stole from the people of Jericho. Jesus then told Zacchaeous that he was saved because of this deed. This story is indicating that if you are rich, you must give away your wealth to those that have less than you, and if you do not do so, you are not getting into heaven. A just society must have avenues for you to redistribute your wealth, and if it does not, it less not just. A just society, to Luke, would not tolerate the existence of poor people, it would redistribute it cumulative wealth to its entire people. While reading this inference, I am reminded of the communist utopia; a society which promotes common ownership of all resources to all members, which would not have inequalities in wealth and thus would not promote greed, coveting, or stealing. You could live by the virtues of the Bible easily in a communist utopia; free from ownerships of possessions (material, marriages or family constructs), free to devote your time to the common good and living an ethical life.

Both Luke and Aquinas are opposed to human laws which go against the divine good. Although those that are poor have less material possessions to be attached to (and thus may have the opportunity to be closer to God), the laws and the construct of an unjust society would keep the poor impoverished and without the capabilities to be close to God. That may be because the laws of an unjust society prohibit Xianity or do not adequately provide for the religious providers of that community. The laws might allow for some to be incredibly wealthy while others work and receive not enough. This is explicitly laid out by Aquinas when he said “burdens are laid on subjects according to the common good.” According to Aquinas’ tradition, a just political society would not tolerate inequalities of wealth if poor people exist within that society. The wealthy have an obligation to the poor: to be taxed to take care of the inequality of wealth.

(Holy Bible, Luke, Chapter 9, paragraph 3 and this text from Thomas Aquinas)
current tonal amusement: Ben Prestage

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