Tuesday, July 9, 2013


+ A FACEBOOK EXCHANGE > J. Barrett Lee shared Oliver James Davis Jr.'s photo.
One friend said: "and to think, America voted Jimmy out - for Ronnie 'aw shucks' Reagan. Ugh."

Another friend argued that the "government doesn't know the best way to help the poor since each situation is different; that's why its better to give to local organizations."

I responded: ... there is just as much waste in charitable organizations as in government, maybe far more. Government keeps salaries down for the most part. Check out some of the salaries of the staff of non-profits. And check out how much is spent for fund raising. Sometimes 90 per cent. Government gets a bad rap these days. It doesn't deserve it. People are so misinformed.

He responded: "I agree with you that some charitable organizations are wasteful and some to the point they are being deceptive. ... but in general, the government does not do a good job of distributing funds properly or knowing if funds should be given out at all. The government gets a bad rap because it has earned it."

I responded: The poverty rate was cut in half during the years that the Great Society was well funded. Funding has been reduced over and over again since the late 70s.

And then Barrett blew me away with this remarkable post: 

"What troubles me most (and is the reason why I found this statement compelling) is the moral and spiritual issue at hand. People in this country tend to associate of Christian values with white, middle-class, American, capitalist/consumerist values. For a profound and disturbing treatment of this connection, I highly recommend reading Max Weber's classic book: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Christian imagery is so often used to baptize the myth of 'self-made' individuals who 'pull themselves up by their own bootstraps', as if such a thing were even possible.

"The gospel is neutered of its radical nature in such a context. Salvation is reduced to individual afterlife concerns and morality is reduced to private sexual concerns. It is assumed that Jesus has nothing to critique about the most basic, fundamental values of our society (which basically boil down to works righteousness). Material wealth is implicitly (if not explicitly) associated with God's blessing (and therefore approval of one's lifestyle).

"Also within this system of assumptions, aid given to the poor is considered 'charity': an extra expense freely given out of one's surplus whenever the giver feels so inclined. These funds are usually the first to be cut in a perceived crisis. There is no room in such a philosophy for a moral obligation to give. Furthermore, the 'charity' serves only to underwrite the status quo of the current economic order, making the wealthy appear benevolent and generous. This creates a dynamic where the egos of the rich must be stroked if one wants to really help the poor.

"I believe that Jesus advocated a transformation that goes far deeper than either government-based relief or private charitable giving. The revolutionary coming of God's kingdom 'on earth as it is in heaven' involves a total reversal of the status quo in the re-ordering of human society: 'The last will be first and the first will be last.' As white, middle-class Americans, this should quite literally scare the hell out of us. The prophet Amos talks pretty extensively about this as well (see Amos 5:18-24). It seems to me that God is interested in justice, not charity (or even worship): 'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.'

I responded: Amen! Such a compelling and compassionate and comprehensive statement, Barrett. TYSM. / copying your statement onto my journal and now asking permission to blog it.

Barrett responded: "Permission granted."

I responded: Barrett, the more I read your statement, the more impressed I become. Wow. This is one of the most powerful and succinct arguments for creating a just society I have ever seen and that it is based on biblical values makes it even more impressive. Bravo.

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