Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Do We Need the Rich?, III: Faith & Reason


Yesterday we saw what can happen when you put faith and reason in opposition to each other when trying to decide whether other people are guilty, guilty, guilty . . . or just different from you in things that don’t really matter . . . such as how much money they do or don’t have.

Rich people's hell, according to the poor.
Specifically, we looked at the idea that a passage in the New Testament should be understood as meaning that “the rich” (as defined by whoever is condemning “the rich”) are somehow inherently different from everyone else, and are damned to hell for all eternity, do not pass Purgatory, do not collect two hundred years indulgence.
Two can play at that game, however.  Assuming we accept the Bible as true, we can point out that the verse presented as “proving” that the rich are inherently different is usually taken out of context.  If we want to know “what Jesus really meant,” we have to read the entire passage:
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.  When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. (Matt. 19:24-26.)
Here’s where a little genuine Bible study — and a lot of common sense — comes in handy.  We have to know, for example, that in Jesus’s day, for both Jews and pagans, the rich were seen as favored by God or the gods.
Sanctimonious, self-righteous people's hell according to the rich.
For the Jews, of course, this just meant that the rich had more duties, especially to the poor.  More had been given to the rich, so more was expected.  Even pagans had this idea.  Various pagan myths tell of gods visiting earth, rewarding virtue, but coming down like a ton of bricks on the rich who didn’t fulfill their responsibilities to the poor.  Those that didn’t?  Just wait — the gods will punish you in the next life.  We can’t punish you, but God or the gods will.
This did not change the fact that for many people, Jews and non-Jews, wealth was seen as a sign of God’s/the gods special favor, and a pretty good indication that someone was of the elect and G/god’s’ Special Friend, however a culture or faith understood that concept.  Yet here is Jesus saying that these presumably favored individuals are going to have a tough time getting into heaven, possibly even tougher than the rest of us ordinary schmoes.
What we really know about God's judgments.
This rocks the Apostles back on their collective heels.  “Say what?  But,” they say (in exceeding amazement), “who then can be saved?  If those whom we believe to be Specially Favored are getting it in neck (or the eye of a needle), what kind of chance do the rest of us have?  We’re screwed!”  (An ancient Hebrew term meaning fercockt.)
“Not so,” Jesus reassures them.  “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
Even non-Christians can accept this logic.  It’s not that the rich are inherently sinful or anything else, but neither are they any better!  Jesus’s point was not that the rich are worse than the rest of us.  It was that the rich aren’t any better than the rest of us.
"I'm human, therefore, I'm human."
All human beings are as human, and are human in the same way as every other human.  The only reason Aristotle wouldn’t agree with that statement is because he made his own error about human beings in order to rationalize slavery, i.e., some people are not fully human, or human in the same way as other humans, while some aren’t human at all . . . and thereby contradicted his own principle of reason.
Thus, if even the rich are going to have a tough time getting into heaven, what is to be done?  According to Jesus, “With God, all things are possible.”  Do the best you can, and leave the rest up to God.  And (by the way), don’t go putting yourself in the place of God, and start judging either the rich or the poor according to your principles — that’s not “leaving it up to God.”
So — what has this got to do with the Just Third Way?
Plenty, if we stop to think about it — and we’ll get to that tomorrow.
#30#

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