Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Income Gap and Ideology: The Further Dehumanizing of Working Class People

  • If we made an income pyramid out of a child's blocks, with each layer portraying $1,000 of income, the peak would be far higher than the Eiffel Tower, but almost all of us would be within a yard of the ground.
        Paul Samuelson

There's an important question to consider when trying to understand how ideology functions in our lives: Is what I believe in the interest of other people for me to believe it?

The attacks on people of low income has turned into a competitive sport for many public figures, politicians, and citizens. We've declared a socially acceptable war on the least of these. If the attacks against the poor were leveled against any other minority group, we would have taken to the streets and called this behavior out for what it is: hatred.

We've created a straw man to beat up and blame all of society's ills on. This straw man is a composite of every negative stereotype about poor people. If we believe all of our economic woes are caused by welfare queens and meth addicts on food stamps, then we don't have to ask the real questions related to the military-industrial complex or our broken financial system. 

An ideological war is being waged against the working class. In one corner we have the working poor and in the other corner we have the working two missed paychecks from being the working poor. The saddest thing about this war is that it's a shadow war in which the ruling elite are forming alliances with members of the "47%" in order to bash their contemporaries. 

To get to the crux of the original question: who benefits from what we think? Why are so many people against raising the minimum wage if there's no empirical data to support the claim that doing so hurts the economy? Why do we blindly accept partisan talking points as facts? All of these questions have real answers; sadly, too few of us will even engage in the pursuit of these answers.

The quote from Paul Samuelson is often dismissed as class warfare. The structural problems of global capitalism go unresolved as we focus on the plight of those closest to us- instead of looking at the circumstances that caused them. Yes, there are welfare cheats. There's corruption in every avenue of life; some people will always take advantage of a situation.

I've never understood how people get so outraged over someone in their community getting over on the system, but keep quite about a fashion designer using child labor in the developing world or some company polluting the water because it's easier to dump chemicals than to responsibly dispose of them. There's a segment of our society who view the 4% of our country who are investors as mythical and magical. We get upset about the Affordable Care Act, but keep quite about a tax code so full of holes that anyone with a decent accountant can pay a lower tax rate than the average citizen. 

I'll close with a few points to ponder: first, the Federal Reserve is a private bank. It's not part of our government. Second, globally there's about 3 trillion dollars in circulation, but we have over 50 trillion dollars of debt. Last, If you work for a living: you are working class. There's no shame in this. 

Rick Roderick once offered an empirical test for anyone unsure of where they stand. He said quit your job for eight years, and if at the end of that period really bad things happened to you: you were working class. The growing income gap has the ability to affect your life more than what your neighbor is doing. The majority of us are one catastrophic accident or illness from being on public assistance.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Forgetting MLK On Your Day Off.

J. Edgar Hoover once called Dr. King a "notorious liar"; he also labeled him the most dangerous man in America.
Dr. King could have gone to Edinburgh Scotland for postdoctoral studies, but chose to go to the heart of gut bucket Alabama. He was driven by his Christian faith to stand up against state sponsored terrorism better known as Jim Crow. Now, let's keep it real: how many of us would tell the truth when any questioning of the status quo could get you killed?
The 81 year period of Jim Crow followed 244 years of legal slavery. America existed as a nation of legal and state sponsored terrorism. Yes, Jim Crow was better than slavery, but that choice is an indictment of the state of equality at that time.
Let's not forget that king died marching with sanitation workers; a great leap for what passes as black leadership today. Gone are the days of A. Phillip Randolph, Ida B. Wells, and Stokley Carmichael. The outspoken black leaders of this generation are prohibited from the media. Guys like Carl Dix have a better chance of being on TMZ than the corporate media. The few faces you see on television have been pushed so far to the margins that you need a map to find them.
I celebrate Dr. King because he had the courage to put his mental and physical well-being on the line. Today we won't even talk about something that makes us uncomfortable. So, as some of us enjoy the day off remember: a man was murdered standing on principles of freedom and equality. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Condemnation Of God's People By God's People

Jesus was murdered because he dared to challenge the status quo. The difference between going along to get along and doing the right thing cost him his life. The sanctity and preciousness of a person was never up for debate with Jesus. There are elements of the church that have forgotten this.

Dr. Martin Luther King JR. Died standing up for the rights of "funky" and "dirty" sanitation workers- not corporate elites and not the Ruling class. The dignity of a person isn't tied to their career or the clothes they wear. The garbage man is a man with a soul. This "Stepford" Christianity needs to go. The church does more damage to itself (internally) with this type of behaviour than any external enemy could dream of. When those in need of the most help fear judgment from the Church something is wrong. If we accept the challenge of living a Christian life we have to take that challenge seriously. 

The way we (as a society) treat poor people can be directly tied to the way we worship money. We've added an artificial quality to the means of commerce that carries a greater value than the things it can buy. It's common when you meet someone to have them ask: what do you do for a living? For many, the answer we give has the ability to determine the boundaries and depth of that relationship. The person in higher economic standing is perceived to be the better person. That kind of thinking might be fine for those in the world, but it goes against the teachings of Christ and needs to be removed from the church.

1st Samuel 12:20-21 reads as follows:

20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.

We admit our weakness, repent, claim Jesus Christ as our saviour, and then we covet money and the status associated with it. This isn't an indictment on all of us, but some of our churches and clergy have fallen into this trap. When was the last time you heard a sermon about Jesus and the money changers in the temple? 

Recently Pope Francis came under fire for a line of thought in his Apostolic Exhortation: 

“No one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society”. “For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a sociological one. This is why I want a Church that is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us” (198). “Politics, although often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity”. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by … the lives of the poor!” (205). He adds an admonition: “Any Church community”, if it believes it can forget about the poor, runs the risk of “breaking down”.

As a Christian, I take very serious the call to service. As a church, we have to open ourselves up to the idea of working with people of other faiths when their causes align with ours. The idea that challenging the current state of our economic realities is cause to question a person's character or integrity is symptomatic of a culture that worships an idol. I expected politicians and the media to attack the Pope for his rebuke of our western economic values, but I was shocked to see clergy come out of the woodwork to take shots at him. We can find an example of this kind of idolatry in scripture. Amos 5:10-12 reads as follows: 

They hate the one who rebukes in the gate,
And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly.
Therefore, because you tread down the poor
And take grain taxes from him,
Though you have built houses of hewn stone,
Yet you shall not dwell in them;
You have planted pleasant vineyards,
But you shall not drink wine from them.
For I know your manifold transgressions
And your mighty sins:
Afflicting the just and taking bribes;
Diverting the poor from justice at the gate.

We live in a world that's run by money, but we don't have to let it run us. It's not money that causes these problems, it's the perversion of money. When we attach the value of a person to their socioeconomic status we've failed to follow the great commandment. Jesus didn't have a V.I.P room. This kind of behavior is of the world and it displeases our father.

The scripture I opened with from Samuel places this lust in its proper context; when judgement is upon us no amount of money can buy our salvation. Yes, we deserve the fruits of our labor. This isn't about making people feel guilty for having financial gains. God wants us to have the necessities of life, but he also wants us to be humble in our blessings- both spiritual and financial. We are commanded to love God with all of our hearts not money.

So much of our service starts with the internal struggle to do what is required of us no matter what the external world thinks. We cant live our lives afraid of being uncomfortable, or making others uncomfortable. We are allowed to show righteous indignation when we are on the side of justice.

Love thy neighbor doesn't just mean love the person who occupies a space closest to us. The treatment of our brothers and sisters living in poverty is disgraceful; the fact that it's socially acceptable is tragic, and the fact that members of our churches actively participate in it is an abomination.

James 2:1-5

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

Preaching God's word is about more than driving a nice car and eating lunch after service on Sunday. Proper preaching saves souls. You can't claim to be the leader of lost souls if you are picking and choosing the souls you save. Jesus carried a cross for the prince and the pauper. When you stand behind the pulpit to preach don't let go of Jesus. It's easy to look down your nose at people from such an elevated height, but remember there's only one most high- and he will definitely judge you for how you treated those made in his likeness. Jesus loved the wretched of the earth. We will be judged by how we treated the "least of these".