Giving from the heart, not from guilt, would make a difference
As of today, I can predict, with confidence and sadness, that Bill Gates is going to hell.Over the past year, more than one reader of the Summit Daily has remarked, with weariness tinged with irritation, that they wished the columnists in the Opinion section would give religion a rest. In Rich Mayfield’s case, religion is his job, but for the rest of us, wouldn’t it be nice if we stayed away from the subject?Speaking for myself, my religion tends to take up a bit more time as time goes on. I wish I could say that it was as a result of my desire to become a better Christian, but it’s not. In part, I spend more time with books like “God’s Politics” because the political agenda of this country, as in the past, is driven by religion, so it pays to know the details of what I and they claim to believe in.
An increased interest in religion is also a common part of aging. I also find learning more of the intricacies of my chosen religion leads me to learn more about the religions of others, Islam for example, which is helpful. While delving into religion often leads to unpleasant subjects, it also gives comfort and perspective to a day-to-day world where violence, manmade or natural, is impossible to ignore, and where the values on which we base our lives seem harder and harder to agree on.Which brings us to Mr. Gates, America’s richest man. His wealth derives from products (Microsoft) that have changed all our lives and, in so doing, he caused anyone who has turned on a computer to quietly but very earnestly wish a little bit of hell on him for some glitch in his system that has nevertheless taken this world a small step toward heaven on earth.Mr. Gates is bound for an unpleasant afterlife because of his inactions in this life. Even the simplest of Christian knows that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle that it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. A variety of political “-isms” over the centuries have interpreted that to mean wealth and the wealthy are bad. While that’s not what the Bible means, we find in the 21st century that the dominant “-ism”, capitalism, ignores the price of wealth entirely.
The accumulation of wealth carries enormous spiritual consequences. Capitalism and Christianity over the past century have reached an unspoken accommodation that some wealth, sometimes really big amounts, are acceptable, carrying only the responsibility to give a small portion of that wealth away.But that’s only an accommodation, a comfortable but ultimately painful self delusion. There’s nothing in the Bible that says the first $100,000 or $1 million of wealth is deductible against the wages of sin. While wealth itself is not a sin, ignoring another of God’s creatures in need, whether they’re panhandling on the street or made destitute by a hurricane, is very definitely an affront to the Almighty. No one needs to feel guilty for material success in this life. But there’s a price to pay for ignoring the responsibility toward all of the other creatures Scripture tells us God created in his own image, and that responsibility means more, far more, than 10 percent of individual gross income.And taxes don’t count toward your responsibility toward your fellow man. Some government programs for the less fortunate have been successful, some not, but just as importantly, there’s no way to know how much worse the less fortunate would be if “failed” government programs of recent decades hadn’t been in place.
We do know that if everyone gave to others according to their means in this country, gave not from guilt but from charity, a whole array of social programs could be eliminated.If you don’t think you’re “rich,” that this line of thinking only applies to Bill Gates, then you should probably ask your church leader for a sermon on Leviticus 25 and Jubilee. If you believe those portions of of the Bible condemn the sin of homosexuality as well as homosexuals themselves, for example, then don’t relax in the comfort of your second home. You’ve got no place in line at the Pearly Gates when some of God’s creatures have no home, much less a second, or a third.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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