Charity and Economics, part 2 -or- Context is everything

The last weekend of April 2014was very eventful: Benghazi emails hit the press, an old racist (who happens to own a basketball team) made some racist remarks and the Holy Father, Pope Francis, canonised two new Saints: Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII…. and the Holy Father also tweeted about the root of evil.

Pope Francis issued a tweet saying, “Inequality is the root of social evil.” That was it.  No context, no elaboration…

 At least not until I dug through news sites for two days.  At length, I found the explanatory, background materials published separately, in which the Pope explained that he was referring to our individual responsibilities to help each other, especially that the wealthy should help the poor.  Okay, I accept that as the background.  But all that was publicised was the seven word tweet.  I expect millions of people in a hundred countries heard about the tweet.

But how many people are going to dig for the explanatory materials?

To most, it must have sounded like the spiritual leader of a billion Catholics was on the same page with the President of the United States, declaring that income inequality is somehow bad.  I wrote about that a few weeks ago, in a post called Income Inequality is Upward Mobility.

Income inequality is a good thing; it’s hope for improvement.  Read my prior post.

What the Holy Father actually wrote, though, was “Inequality is the root of social evil.”  Let’s set aside for a moment, the fact that Christian and Jewish Scriptures both declare that “Love of money is the root of all evil.”  This I will come back to.  I want to talk about just plain inequality for a few moments.

There are all kinds of inequality.  As Wesley Snipes once observed, “White men can’t jump.”  I resemble that remark.  I am not a good basketball player.  Some people are very good at basketball and many other sports.  The Director I work for is a much more talented athlete than I; he’s good at soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc.  So, we have inequality of talent.

Some people have movie star looks, like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson and Sigourney Weaver.  Some people, like a lady who works in the same building as I do, aren’t so blessed in the looks department.  So, we have inequality of looks.

Some people have the ambition to stay with a particular skill until they become Olympic calibre, or the best in the world, like Mark Phelps, Billy Jean King and Michael Jordan.   Others, like Steve Jobs, the guy from ‘Ten Dollars and a Laptop,’ and Billy Joel, make and lose two or three fortunes in a lifetime, but they keep getting back into the thing they love: computers, business and music, because they have the drive to just keep going.  So, we have inequality of ambition.

Talent, looks and ambition can all lead to success or failure, depending how each of us apply them.

But what is the source of talent, looks and ambition.  I contend that we’re all either born with these things, or we aren’t.  Ambition, properly applied can make up for a lack of most things.  But again, we’re either born with it or we aren’t.

And what is the source of things we’re either born with or not?  God. The Scriptures tell us that God formed each of us in our mothers’ wombs.

God forms each of us as individuals, He makes us each unique.  He gives each of us a purpose and the talents to carry it out.  But He is the source of our different combinations of inborn talent, looks and ambition.  And different combinations of talent, looks and ambition lead to inequality.

So how can inequality be a bad thing if God is the source of it?

Let’s get back to that Scripture verse, I said to leave aside before, shall we?  “Love of money is the root of all evil.”  Love of money:  valuing things over people, valuing the temporary over the eternal.  Love of money leads to covetousness and as I wrote in my first Pursuit of Virtue post: covetousness leads to a host of other sins.

So, inequality isn’t the problem.  People being taught that it’s okay to covet is the problem.

The Pope related this in his explanatory materials, but it really didn’t come across in the tweet.  And, of course, most of the press just publicised the tweet.  Seven catchy words fit better in a headline or a sound byte, than 24 pages of context and explanation.  That’s why I’m an essayist and not a tweeter.

If people covet their neighbor’s skills or possessions or wealth, they will focus on the material, not the eternal. They will focus on what their neighbor has and want to take it or destroy it.  They will ignore, or not sufficiently develop, their own talents.  And failure to understand your purpose, failure to appreciate and develop and use your talents, that’s a poverty worse than dirt floors, lack of food and muddy water.

What do you think about inequality?  Are you a fan of Pope Francis? Or was Saint John Paul your Pope?  Sound off below in the Comments.

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