[The following is an excerpt from the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason” by K. Scott Schaeffer]
In the years leading up to the 2012 election, the Republican Party embraced the Ryan Plan, a “roadmap” designed to align the nation’s budget and tax structure with modern Republican ideology. On the house.gov website, the Republicans said the plan “Promotes saving by eliminating taxes on interest, capital gains, and dividends.” Notice that their pitch implies that “saving” is good, that it is righteousness to be rewarded by exempting those who practice it from having to pay taxes. There are two fronts on which they claim saving is good. One is that it benefits the economy, and the other is that it’s more righteous than spending.
Yet the savings of the wealthy are often of no benefit to the economy. Republicans act as if all savings by the wealthy lead to job creation, which is untrue. When customer demand is low, the wealthy invest in real estate, short selling, derivatives, gold, oil futures, etc. and effectively keep their savings out of the economy, which is good for no one but themselves and maybe those who conduct the transactions.
The implication that saving is more righteous than spending sounds good to many of us. We know it’s bad to use credit cards to purchase consumer items we lack money to pay for. In such cases, we borrow money at high interest rates for non-necessities, which costs us more in the future, and that’s irresponsible. It’s this model of irresponsibility that leads many of us to see spending as bad and saving as good. We all know that the right thing to do is to save up for items we want but don’t absolutely need. We also know it’s wise to set aside money for unforeseen emergencies like job loss, car repairs, house repairs, or illnesses.
The saving that Republicans promote as righteousness is different. As of 2011, only 4% of capital gains realizations belong to those who earn less than $100,000 a year. So the “saving” the Republican tax plan rewards is that of the rich. For the rich, saving isn’t a matter of managing money in order to afford the basics of life. They already have the basics of life and much more. For them, saving is hoarding. Here are a few passages addressing this kind of saving:
Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Luke 12:33-34, “Sell your possessions and give to charity. Make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”
Deuteronomy 17:17, “He [the king of Israel] must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.”
This last verse condemns hoarding money, not spending it. The Bible differentiates little between saving money and buying possessions with it. In the Bible, hoarding either is wrong. Only giving excess money and possessions away is always right. So there’s no biblical or moral reason to reward hoarding. Those who hoard money should pay at least as high of a tax on that money as lower income people do on their incomes.
Are the Rich Evil?
I once saw a bumper sticker that said “Basic Socialist Theory: Demonize the Rich.” This is an example of how Republicans fight off any suggestions that the rich may be in the wrong. They label as evil those who criticize the rich and are unwilling to label the rich as righteous heroes who create our jobs.
So am I wrong for criticizing the rich?
If so, I refuse to take responsibility. I will simply point my finger at the Lord, and say, “He started it!” The Bible’s condemnation of the rich is overwhelming. So I won’t just share a few verses with you. I’ll share a bunch:
James 2:5-6, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?”
1 Timothy 6:5-10, “…and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Of course there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
Amos 4:1, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’”
Amos 5:11-12, “Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.”
Luke 6:24, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”
James 5:1-6, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. You gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you in the last days that you have stored up your treasure. Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”
Matthew 19:21, 23-24, “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me… Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
I’ve heard countless Christians say that this last passage is not in any way a requirement to give away all of our money; it only applies to people who put their hope in money. In other words, if you pray, “God, I’m relying on You,” even though you’re confident that you have and earn plenty of money to support yourself, you’re fine; but if you pray, “God, I’m relying on my money…thanks for nothing,” then you need to give all of your money away; so as long as you give lip service to the idea that God provides for you, this verse is useless.
I can’t find anything in the Bible that leads us to this interpretation. Here’s another interpretation:
Do you blame the poor for their poverty?
If you do, that means you see yourself as having worked harder than the poor and being more deserving of wealth than they are. In such a case, you place your hope in your own efforts to acquire wealth, not in God. Give away all your money, so you can overcome your arrogance and reap God’s blessings!
Are you envious of people on welfare who don’t work?
End your envy by joining them! Quit your job. Let someone who has been unemployed for a while have it. Then give away everything you have, and let the government provide for you. Paradise isn’t so far away after all!
Are you furious that low income earners can get government assistance?
If so, join them! Accept only minimum wage for whatever work you do and give away all that you have. Then you can live like all of those people you envy who want government handouts, because they are unable to figure out how to prosper in our competitive economy!
Are you fighting mad that you have to pay taxes, crying, “They have no right to take my money! And what about the 47% who don’t have to pay?”
Give everything away and accept minimum wage, then you won’t have to pay taxes and you can keep what little money you’ll have (although you’ll have to spend it all on minimal necessities just to stay alive).
Are you socking all of your money away in gold, locking it up in a safe, and stocking up on guns and ammo in anticipation of the day when you have to shoot the hordes of poor people (or government representatives) invading your home to take your gold and guns?
If so, give it all away, then you won’t have to shoot anyone, and you won’t have to worry about the poor coming for your money!
If your love of your money and possessions makes you arrogant, envious, angry, dishonest, hateful, greedy, fearful, and even willing to harm anyone who might take them, this quote from Jesus was meant for you! Remember when Jesus said in Matthew 5:30, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off, and throw it from you…?” There’s a pretty good chance this statement applies to money, too. If it causes you to sin, give it away!!!
Why is it so hard for a rich man to enter heaven?
It’s that wealth is a driving force behind two of the Bible’s greatest sins: greed and pride (which are the driving forces behind most other sins). I’ve already shared with you many Bible quotes that condemn greed. However, the Bible also contains about 40 passages that condemn pride. Here are some Bible quotes linking wealth to the sin of pride:
1 John 2:16, “…for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the father, but from the world.”
Ezekiel 16:49, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but she did not aid the poor and the needy.”
Psalms 10:2, “In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.”
James 1:9, 10, “But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; and let the rich man glory on his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.”
1 Timothy 6:17-19, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
Some of us are raised to believe that pride is good, but Proverbs 21:4 tells us this: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.”
So is all pride bad?
Like many words, pride has multiple definitions. Webster’s defines pride as “1 a) an unduly high opinion of oneself; exaggerated self-esteem; conceit b) haughty behavior resulting from this; arrogance. 2 proper respect for oneself; sense of one’s own dignity and worth; self-respect. 3 delight or satisfaction in one’s own or another’s achievements, in associations, etc.” The Bible opposes both the first and third definitions. The second definition is acceptable, however, because we are allowed to feel good about ourselves. But we are prohibited from feeling that we are better than others because of our actions, possessions, children, or any other reason.
Unfortunately, wealth fuels pride. Attaining wealth leads us to credit ourselves, not God, for our successes, because we think we have out-performed others. We rarely take into account how the unique set of circumstances that enabled us to succeed exists for no one else on earth. For everything we achieve, thousands of things beyond our control had to have fallen into place at the right time. When we assume that our circumstances are similar to those of others, we believe ourselves to be more deserving of wealth’s benefits than others. For those who grow up wealthy, or easily acquire wealth, it’s even more difficult to have merciful attitudes toward those who don’t, because they are out of touch with most people’s struggles. Everyone they know lives a life of ease, so they assume that lower income individuals are just lazy. Those who have not experienced or witnessed the struggles of the poor lack empathy and, therefore, neglect the needs of the poor.
So do the wealthy have any shot at eternal life?
The answer is “Yes, but…they have less of a shot than low income individuals.” Wealth’s power to fuel greed and arrogance is too strong for most people to handle. That’s why, as classes go, the wealthy are the evil class. This is not to say that all rich people are bad, and it’s certainly not to say that all poor people are good. But Jesus made it clear that the rich face the slimmest odds of receiving the gift of eternal life.
What must they do?
This is the part where I’m supposed to say that all they have to do is accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, and all will be fine. But as Jesus says in Luke 13:3, “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” It’s not just about believing and asking forgiveness, but also turning away from sin. Accepting Jesus is the starting point. And then through prayer, God can guide you to a point of repentance by means of the Holy Spirit. I believe that getting to that point of true repentance includes having a love for what God is all about. Many Christians think God is all about their forgiveness. But that’s a self-centered Christianity. True Christianity is other-centered, not self-centered. If the rich become one with the other-centered love of God through Christ, which means rejecting a life of greed and arrogance, then heaven awaits.
– K. Scott Schaeffer