July 22, 2012

America's Bane

My pastor just finished a sermon series on the book of Ecclesiastes. Maybe that’s why chapter 1, verse 9 came to my mind last Friday night after seeing the Dark Knight Rises.

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

Or put another way, if you live long enough, you’ll see history repeat itself.

I knew going into the movie to look for allusions to the French Revolution and Occupy Wall Street movement; I heard the messages that movie preached of justice, inequality and madness. Then I read a Forbes article linking increasing wealth inequality to social instability. It makes sense, particularly in light of Justice Louis Brandeis’ statement, quoted in the article, ¬†who said:

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

Well put, Judge. America has the most robust military in the world and yet, ironically, it is not a foreign invader that threatens our liberty now – it is our greed. The median income in America has declined nearly 40% since 2007 to $77,000. By contrast, the top 1% of households saw their income drop only 11%. Those same households have nearly 43% of the financial wealth in America while the bottom 80% of wage earners scrap it out for 15% of the wealth. This chart from Who Rules America helps show the impact of these stats. Now, being poor in America arguably offers a more comfortable life than to be poor in the developing world, at least in terms of material possessions, but the unequal wealth distribution in this country begs the question, how much longer can it continue? When will the tipping point be reached? Will there come a point in America, as it did in France, where the disenfranchised majority will rise up and demand wealth redistribution that restores some sort of balance to society?

Ecclesiastes 1:9 suddenly seems incredibly relevant and instructive (although in reality it always was). If we live long enough, we will see history repeat itself. The American Revolution, French Revolution, even Batman’s battle of Bane in the Dark Knight Rises all echo the same event, as though it were a cyclical occurrence in human history. The story of the last thirty years in America is the story of Ancient Rome; greed breeds destruction, ultimately, and we have been greedy in America for a long time. That is how so much wealth ends up in the hands of a privileged few. T

This phenomena is not new because it is the nature of the human heart to hoard wealth and possessions. As a follower of Jesus Christ, His words on the matter mean more to me than anyone else’s. Jesus spoke much of wealth and of true riches but at the moment, one passage in particular helps me, as His follower, to calibrate my response to the staggering wealth inequality in my country – Luke 12:13-21. The whole passage is worth reading but I’ll highlight verse 15:

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

I’ll be honest, it’s incredibly tempting for me to envy the uber-rich. Heck, even the mildly wealthy. I’d be lying if I said at least part of me didn’t want the ease and toys that come with wealth. However, as a believer, I have to remember that I came into this world and I can’t take anything out of it. This life is incredibly short. Eternity is very long. I want to invest in riches that I can take into eternity with me. 1Timothy6 reminds me what riches will stand the test of eternity – the Gospel; proclaiming it, cherishing it and serving Jesus Christ. That is what it really means to do good. So, I am going to listen to God and be content with food and clothing and avoid the love of money, since loving money is a root of many kinds of evils.

Like Catwoman found out a little too late in Dark Knight Rises, the proper response to outrageous wealth and greed isn’t to hate the wealthy; it isn’t to overthrow them and plunge a city, or country, into anarchy. It’s to remember what true riches really consist of, to be content with what you have and to be generous with what you have – sharing it with others who have less than you.

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