Distinguishing the Wealthy from the Worldly

Canadian coins

Our Lord never despised the rich. Throughout his life, he moved among different classes of people with authority and ease. He converses with poor fishermen, but also with the scholars in the temple. He heals blind beggars, but also responds to the request of a centurion with a household full of servants. He was born among the poor, but at every turn his life is ornamented by the gifts of the virtuous rich, from the gold and frankincense of the Magi to the private tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

When Christ addresses the rich directly, his words are not scornful, but cautionary. In the Sermon on the Mount he declares (Matthew 6:24) that we cannot serve both God and Mammon. In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:22) he depicts riches as thorns that can choke the Word and make the plant unfruitful. He tells the rich young man (Mark 10:23) that it is hard for the rich to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Taken in context, this is not an indictment of wealth per se so much as a reminder that everyone, rich or poor, must turn to God for salvation. But the story also serves to warn us that material prosperity can breed overconfidence and a false sense of security.

Clearly, we must be wary of excessive attachment to material goods. This general principle, however, does not dictate a specific lifestyle, and we often find ourselves presented with hard choices when we try to discern what we really need, and what it is appropriate for us to want. We cannot serve God and money, but money can help us to serve God, and especially those whom God has put into our care. When does a legitimate effort to support one’s children bleed into materialistic over-indulgence? When does the genuine appreciation of excellence mutate into worldly attachment?

These questions can be particularly troubling for residents of wealthy Western countries, because we already have a love-hate relationship with our stuff. In part, this reflects the difficulty of sorting out questions of justice in a complex global economy. But it also reflects the way that we are constantly bombarded with messages concerning our material goods. On one side we find the commercial world urging us to feel deprived and inferior if we don’t have the right stuff. On the other, an army of politicians, preachers and private charities explains that we should feel very bad about all that stuff we have, and should atone for it by subsidizing other people’s stuff.

Over time, all of this trinket-dangling and envy-stoking and guilt-tripping can create quite a strain. One way or another, most of us do find a way to live with our stuff, but we also live with a load of stuff-related guilt which is easily exploited by politicians and hucksters and kids selling expensive cookies. Even our parents once contributed to this angst when they enjoined us to clean our plates “because children are starving in Africa,” leading to complicated moral reflections about whether we really are ingrates for not wanting that last greasy fish stick.

Is it possible to escape from the perpetual cycle of desire and regret? Unsurprisingly, a number of people have tried, and there are plenty of books on the market that promise to uncomplicate this moral quandary. One shelf belongs to the prosperity preachers, who assure us that God wants us to be wealthy and that we can glorify him precisely by getting that promotion and enjoying that mansion home. Who wouldn’t pay $13.99 (the list price of Your Best Life Now) for that kind of liberation? Randian libertarianism puts an appealing philosophical varnish on prosperity, explaining that we have a moral right to whatever we have contractually earned. Moving to the liberal end of the spectrum, Rawlsian arguments persuade many that statist redistribution is the blanket solution to inequality. Ironically, this offers wealthy liberals the opportunity to discharge their stuff-related guilt and anxiety simply by voting for the Democrats. Give your blessing to the tax man, and get back to shopping for whirlpool tubs and Mini Coopers.

All of these perspectives share a common flaw, which Catholics ought to recognize. All aim to relieve individuals of the responsibility to evaluate the appropriate place of material goods within their own lives. The truth is that there is no simple formula that can tell us whether we own too many things or too few. This question can only be answered within the context of an individual life, and it requires a realistic appraisal of the actual value of the goods involved.

St. Thomas Aquinas was characteristically pragmatic about material wealth. In his exploration of the sin of covetousness in the Summa Theologica, he points out that “good consists in a certain measure.” This is a reference to Aristotle’s advice to locate virtue as a mean between two opposing extremes, valuing material goods neither too much nor too little. A person will be virtuous when he seeks material goods as a means to a further end, only “in so far as they are necessary to him to live in keeping with his condition of life” (ST, question 118, article 1).

Readers may be inclined to object that this advice raises more questions than it answers. They will be right. St. Thomas’ Aristotelian reasoning forces us to consider what our “condition in life” really is and should be, and to evaluate our use of material goods in light of that understanding. These are hard questions, but they are the right hard questions. We should resist all efforts to take those salutary debates off the table, regardless of what political ends those justifications might serve. When we have mindfully considered how our lifestyle can best reflect the demands of virtue, we will be immune to the envious taunting of the less prosperous, but also to the spurious justifications of the profligate.

Where much is given, much is expected, and Americans as a people have been given much. For many in human history, it took considerable exertion just to survive and fulfill basic human obligations to family and community. For us, the choices are much more numerous. Mostly this is a blessing, but it also means that we are burdened with the task of discerning the best way of making use of the talents, resources and opportunities available to us. Living in a wealthy nation, we are frequently tempted to indulge in excess, and we ought to be mindful of this spiritual danger. It is also possible, however, to lose oneself in joyless self-flagellation, or to seize the anti-materialistic spirit in a selfish way, as when a person uses the danger of materialism as an excuse to pursue a personally fulfilling, but not lucrative, ambition at the expense of financial security for his family.

Ultimately we should endeavor to be Christlike in our ability to move among rich and poor without experiencing either envy or unwarranted shame. Being born into a prosperous nation is neither a misfortune nor a sin. It does, however, burden us with certain obligations of stewardship. As faithful Catholics and proud Americans, we should shoulder those burdens with dignity, and try to use our share of mammon as a means to serving God.

Rachel Lu

By

Rachel Lu, a Catholic convert, teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where she lives with her husband and three boys. Dr. Lu earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at rclu.

  • Dick Prudlo

    Mrs. Lu strikes a good balance and it could serve as a proper starting point for our bishops. Understanding that our Lord neither damned the rich or cleared their path to salvation proves that He wishes all to share in the glory of heaven. Social justice then is something more than simply passing the soup bowl then go to the next gathering of “great men” and scandalizing the faith with platitudes.

  • lifeknight

    An old priest friend would often say “In media stat vertus.”

  • Don

    Really well stated Rachel. It seems to me that over the past 50 years or so, the proposition that anyone with wealth, must have wrongfully acquired that wealth off the backs of others, has gained moral and political momentum. As a matter of moral righteousness, this position has allowed everyone who thinks they should have more, to demand more from those of means, but without ever having to ask themselves, “what do I really require?” As a result, we see the roots of envy intertwine with the roots of greed to become almost indistinguishable. Regrettably our bishops have fueled this misdirected fire with steady calls for more social programs often using language scornful of those with some measure of wealth. Christians now often argue that it is morally wrong not to redistribute wealth . . . because Jesus was so focused on the poor. From my read of the Gospels, Jesus was focused on saving souls and he didn’t seem to condemn anyone based on their balance sheets.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I find quite often that those who claim to be wealthy by moral means, are likely at a level the economists would call “upper middle class”, which is something to be more proud of than feel guilty about.

      There is a level of obsessive wealth, however, that focuses on building and keeping wealth rather than building and keeping the kingdom of God. But such people are in the extreme minority (there is not enough world for it to be otherwise) and follow a much different religion than we do. You will find them with their financial planners on Sunday morning, not in Church.

      • Adam__Baum

        One does not need a fat bank account to be grasping and covetous. You can find individuals of all means who worship lucre.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Absolutely true. But at a certain point in the fatness of one’s bank account, a generous man will give it away, where one who worships lucre will continue to grow the account (or, thanks to the rules of the FDIC, open a new one).

          I would agree with the original article that there is no fixed amount, no magic number for this line to be crossed. Individual lifestyles and circumstances differ- it would be wise for a man with 8 children to have at least $320,000 set aside for their college, for instance (and under FDIC rules, he’d better have that in 4 bank accounts).

          But at the point where St. Katherine Drexel found herself upon the death of her father, generosity is called for.

          • Adam__Baum

            So what are we to make of the story of the poor widow described by Christ who’s gave the two small coins, not from her largesse, but her need?

          • Adam__Baum

            Then what are we to make of the story told by Christ-of the widow who gave all that she had, two small coins?

            One of the problems with your thesis is that you assume wealth is material, tangible, divisible and transferrable. I assure you it is not-

            in many cases, such as where there are closely held businesses or intellectual capacities-that wealth is inalienable and any attempt to divide it, transfer it or sometimes even measure it-is erosive or destructive of it.

            It’s akin to the difference between kinetic annd potential energy.

            • TheodoreSeeber

              If wealth is not transferable, material, or tangible, then we have no basis for an economy at all, and we might as well go back to bartering.

              As for the widow, isn’t it clear? She starved to death.

              • Adam__Baum

                “If wealth is not transferable, material, or tangible, then we have no basis for an economy at all”

                Not true. That’s a Wall Street/Washington view of the world.

                • TheodoreSeeber

                  What is there to economics, other than trading material wealth?

                  • Adam__Baum

                    Dictionaries are very useful.

                    “the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or the material welfare of humankind.”

                    By the very virtue of that question, you should be embarrassed.

                    Tell me something. If/When you purchase a car, do you look at the vehicle, review its attributes and capabilities, and then attempt to find the best deal or do you just go out and buy whatever happens to be the first thing you see and pay whatever is first asked at whatever rate of interest is charged?

                    When you buy your daily bread, do you attempt to get the freshest, best tasting you can or just grab whatever is on the shelf. Do you buy what you expect to need, too luttle or just load up your cart, and eat it dry, without any meat, peanut butter or condiments?

                    Would you put more effort into buying a car or that bread?
                    All of those things are economics-the term is from the greek,
                    “oikonomikos” which relates to the proper management of of a household.

                    Economics is many things, but most of it is an attempt to understand how to make effective decisions in a world of imperfect information, scarcity and tradeoffs.

                    By the way, “trading material wealth” is not something you implicitly dismiss with apprarent derision-it’s essential for everyday life-and I fail to understand why some people refuse to understand that, as they bang away on a computer made possible only by human beings trading to benefit each other.

                    Hillsdale College is offering a FREE course on Economics, it would benefit you greatly.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      You are the one who claimed “One of the problems with your thesis is that you assume wealth is material, tangible, divisible and transferrable. I assure you it is not.”

                      If material wealth doesn’t exist, if wealth is not tangible, divisible, and transferable, then “the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or the material welfare of humankind” also cannot exist, because the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services is not tangible, divisible, transferable, or material.

                      That is why I asked the question- and your answer has given us a paradox. Both can’t be true. Which is?

                      Oh, and in answer to your question- I buy whatever was produced *closest* to myself. This gives me the additional guarantee of being able to visit and talk with the manufacturer, and in turn, also supports my neighbor.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      I erred in not writing you assume ALL wealth. My bad.
                      There’s a difference between wealth and “goods and services”. Of course there is “material wealth”, but there’s also wealth that exists in capacity to make or do something- it’s somewhat like the difference between potential and kinetic energy. Also, look up “intellectual capital”
                      And in buying whatever’s *closest* to you, you are attempting to maximize a prefence. It’s still an economic calculation.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Well, for that matter, there is also spiritual wealth, which can’t be touched by economics at all. Which is what I get by buying what is closest to me, and giving it away to those in need.

                      I would call potential wealth still a category of material wealth though. Time can be sold, and with a futures contract, future efforts can also be sold, and thus ownership transferred.

                      Whether it is MORAL to do so is an entirely different question.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      “Well, for that matter, there is also spiritual wealth, which can’t be touched by economics at all. ”

                      I disagree. Christ was very clear when he enjoined us to build riches in heaven, rather than earth. He was clearly telling people how to allocate their efforts and where to place value.

                      What you call “potential wealth” is a a rather convoluted conflation of time preferences and arbitrage. (By the way, if you ate today, especially grains, you benefited from the futures market, which fills a real need).

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      What I find immoral isn’t exotic at all, it’s commonplace.

                      Usury, in its broadest sense, is earning money without labor, based only on previous ownership of capital. That’s so commonplace that our entire economic system is based upon it and named after it: Capitalism.

                      Likewise with Sexual Liberty; it’s not exotic at all, it’s quite commonplace, with nude dancers in 12 bars within a mile of my house, and the majority of children being born today outside of wedlock (and far, far more being conceived out of wedlock and then not allowed to be born at all).

                      Exotic? No, not one bit. Original Sin is the one theological theory that never needs proving, the evidence is all around us.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      You know, there’s a point one should stop digging, but unfortunately, you’ve passed that point, you are a financial luddite.
                      The term “capitalism” is imprecise and undefined, but it usually precludes the inordinate and extensive state meddling we now take for granted. What we have is statist corporatism.
                      Usury is not “earning money without labor”, it is the charging of excessive interest.
                      If you think God is opposed to earning a return, I refer you to Matthew 25.
                      I’m not arguing in favor of nude dancing or illegitimacy, so I can’t address your digression, other than to assume its supposed to be some sort of indicia of rectitude (it’s not, no more than acknowledging gravity makes you a physicist)

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      I think God is opposed to a man who HOARDS his return. And investment is a form of making money without labor (and if you pick the right investments, without any more acts whatsoever). Centralization of ownership is very much what our economy is about at the higher levels. I’m not talking about mere investment either- I’m talking about buying businesses out, to liquidate their assets, to give you more money, to buy more businesses out, to liquidate their assets, repeat. Causing great destruction as you do so, but hey, that’s business for you.

                    • dwduck

                      Risk is to capital what labor is to the worker. Without risk, there’s no return.

                      You realize that businesses are generally worth more than the sum total of their assets, right? If my investment strategy involves losing money with every transaction, I won’t be in business for long.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      When the investor has the right information, there is no risk. As you claim- if your investment strategy involves losing money, you won’t be in business very long.

                      The rewards taken far outweigh the risk taken, to the extent that there is a grave imbalance between capital and the worker at the top end. And that causes inflation for everybody.

                    • dwduck

                      That’s absurd, and it should be immediately obvious why — what you’re describing is in essence free money, which is clearly unsustainable. (Here’s a more concrete example: your FDIC-guaranteed, essentially risk-free savings account generates a return _below_ the rate of inflation. In other words, it’s a guaranteed loss.)

                      Your misunderstanding of risk is likely blinding you in other ways. For example, you’d no doubt condemn the venture capitalist who makes a 2000% return investing in a single company — because you’re ignoring that 9 out of 10 investments are a total loss, and they’re $100 million a piece.

                      I suspect, though, that your real motivation is envy. If the rich are by definition greedy and evil, then it lets you off the hook for not being rich yourself, and no doubt it entitles you to a share of their supposedly ill-gotten gains. Not only is that entirely un-Christian, but it’s counter to the Ten Commandments, too. Might want to look into that.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      My real motivation isn’t venture capitalists- they largely deserve what they get, and are willing to take real risk.

                      My complaint is destructive capitalists, the type who cut projects and staff and sell off the company for an easy profit. They aren’t taking a risk at all, but when the venture capitalist might get a 2000% return, the destructive capitalist gets a 10,000% return. It is much more profitable to destroy than create in our system. Which is why our factories are fleeing overseas and Americans don’t make consumer goods anymore.

                    • dwduck

                      Once again, a healthy business is worth more than the sum of its assets. Unless and until you can explain how doing what you describe doesn’t result in a colossal loss — much less the “10000% return” you invented — I’ll have a hard time not finding this all rationalization for some darker envious impulse.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      A healthy business may be worth more than the sum of its assets, but it is entirely common that a healthy business can be turned into an unhealthy one by its investors. Happens all the time, and it is the reason why I advise small business owners against going public.

                    • dwduck

                      That’s twice now I’ve asked you to explain yourself, and twice you’ve dodged with an off-topic platitude. I wonder why that is…

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      What part of “destructive capitalism destroys human lives” do you not understand? Have you never been laid off from a position so that the owners could have another yacht?

                      Have you never worked in a retail store, only to have the business sold to an investment group that ruined the company and sold off the assets?

                      Have you never been told that any research and development project that doesn’t show a profit in four months is a failure?

                      THAT is the form of capitalism I’m against. The short sighted chasing after profit that ends real advance.

                    • dwduck

                      No, actually, I haven’t.

                      Congratulations — you’ve taken a brave and principled moral stand against of a set of abuses you’ve defined entirely in your own head. Until you make some connection to reality, however, that stand is worth less than what it costs you to post here.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Not entirely in my head- one of these guys recently ran for President of the United States, only to be beat out by another of these guys:
                      http://www.alternet.org/economy/how-mitt-romney-got-rich-destroying-american-jobs-and-promoting-sweatshop-capitalism

                    • dwduck

                      “Oh noes Bain Capital” is, at best, a tenuous connection to reality. And Alternet isn’t even that.

                      Sorry.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      So you don’t know anybody who has been laid off or had projects canceled upon a change of ownership? You don’t have empty storefronts in your neighborhood from businesses that were bought out and sold out?

                    • dwduck

                      You seem to be assuming the only reason these things happen is because of the unseen presence of Mitt Romney, evilly manipulating the strings of the economy with a breadth and a subtlety usually reserved for Dick Cheney. That’s a simplification bordering on obsession, which is pretty clearly the issue here.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Not at all. The reason these things happen is because Greed is a Capital Sin. The names change, the story stays the same, regardless of Romney, Bush, Obama, Carter, or Clinton.

                    • dwduck

                      And here I thought misusing capitalization to make your Very Important Point ™ was a capital sin.

                      So, to summarize — despite destructive capitalism supposedly being the driving force behind the economy for decades, not only can you not explain in real-world terms how it makes a profit, you can’t even give clear real-world examples of it, other than films and obscure small businesses, to which your definition doesn’t even apply.

                      But I think, after all this, I finally understand your underlying complaint — it’s no longer the 1950s. Unfortunately, instead of accepting that the world has changed and trying to work out our new place in it, you’ve decided instead to obsess over a single (and conveniently domestic) boogeyman.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      His underlying complaint is that this is a sinful world of unlimited wants, finite knowledge and scarce resources-and he rejects any human effort to deal with those facts as intrinsically, inherently, totally and irredeemably corrupt.
                      Theodore needs to assess the congruence of his view of economic man with Luther’s view of man in general to see just how much heresy he’s imbibed.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Rather, I reject Luther (and Calvin’s) dim view of man in general, and accept Pope Francis’ concept instead.

                      Yes, the world is intrinsically, inherently, totally and irredeemably corrupt- which is good reason to reject any of its assumptions as being true, on either side of the political divide.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      “accept Pope Francis’ concept instead.”

                      Oh you do? Explain it and stay on topic.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Using SHOUTING is a near capital offense online. Using capitalization of proper theological terms to separate them from common English is normal practice within the Catholic Church.

                      “But I think, after all this, I finally understand your underlying complaint — it’s no longer the 1950s. ”

                      In a way, yes. But also that I refuse to accept the secular progressive concept that progress is always Theologically Good (it isn’t).

                    • Adam__Baum

                      So is envy, which of course is the observe of the same coin.
                      Can we presume that this general indictment of politics means that you’ve decided that you simply want to vent a variety of inchoate indignities, rather than attempt to defense the specific allegations that began this tedious thread?

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      It is not envy to point out greed.

                      There is a reason why I’m a Catholic Monarchist rather than a Republican or a Democrat.

                    • dwduck

                      Ah, now the insanity starts to make sense. Why did it take you so long to admit that? You could have just outed yourself up front and saved us all the trouble.

                      A Julia by another name. Good luck with that.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      I thought all readers of Crisis were Catholics.

                    • dwduck

                      I suppose it makes perfect sense to you I’d be complaining about the Catholicism, and not the extreme fringe monarchism.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      :”There is a reason why I’m a Catholic Monarchist ”

                      So was Henry Tudor. And you are dripping with envy, it’s soaking through that cloak of the finest visceral indignation.

                      You haven’t pointed out “greed”, you’ve created a largely fictional paradigm and asserted that it underlies everything, failed to make the case, and then just wandered off intro unrelated and irrelevant macroeconomic and political topics.

                    • Art Deco

                      Come again? You offer a list of a businessman/politician from Massachusetts and four of the six men who have occupied the Presidency over the last 36 years, no two of whom made a living the same way. What’s your point?

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Those are merely examples- and by no means are the whole. All politicians really make their living the same way- by accepting campaign contributions/bribes.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      No, we just have places that went out of business, shortly after hope and change set up shop. You’ll see more, shortly.

                      Google “Bonnie Doon”.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Hope and Change = Compassionate Conservative. Different name, meet the new boss, exactly the same as the old boss, because the same oligarchs own the elections now as they did before. Vote Democrat, Vote Republican, makes no difference whatsoever.

                    • dwduck

                      Well, who or what is it? Greed? Oligarchs? Presidents? Private equity managers? Mitt Romney?

                      Your failure to stay on-message is putting you dangerously close to nonsensical ranting territory.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      All of the above and then some, or to put it the way Adam__Baum did, the system itself is “intrinsically, inherently, totally and irredeemably corrupt.” Good enough reason to get rid of the system.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      Is anybody defending the “petit mal” of the Bush Administration?

                      Try to stay on topic.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      It is one and the same. The names change, the facts stay the same.

                    • Art Deco

                      There are empty storefronts in my neighborhoods because there is no renter at the price the landlord favors. Why is this a social problem?

                      People get laid off or projects get cancelled because market conditions change for one reason or another. There are errors of committment, technology shocks, financial shocks, &c. It is weirdly utopian to think that forecasting will always be flawless, technology never change, &c.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      And there is no renter at the price the landlord favors, because there is no economy.

                      Market conditions change for only one reason- because somebody can make a profit by changing them.

                    • Valentin

                      This seems a tad bit naive, we should remember that just as the state of man changes so does the material world, it is what makes us unique in creation that we are in time and so the “movers and shakers” of the economy are not the only factors involved in the economy because there both finite and infinite materials that play roles as well as the weather, tweaks and intercessions that the spirits play a part in (whether they are good spirits or bad spirits I don’t know) all I am saying is that the greed of one man is not always the reason for the failure of a project or company.

                    • Art Deco

                      40 years of ‘destructive capitalism’? I am scratching my head as to what sort of qualitative change you fancy appeared on the scene in 1973.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Most favored trading status for China?

                    • Adam__Baum

                      Anybody who thinks there’s such a thing as riskless, because of the “right” information, who ignores the fact that economic information is usually opaque, incomplete, impure, unsettled and dynamic, live is a cartoon world.

                      Inevitably, whenever you run into the Catholic Left., you will notice that they are always very left, and the Catholic is a veneer.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Riskless is when you go into an investment with the entire intent to dismantle the business and replace it with something cheaper.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      I’m really getting tired of reminding you that was a movie, by a guy who has never been terribly concerned with truth.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      I know too many people who worked at GI Joe’s to believe that.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      Even if you pull the name of some obscure place where your fantasy supposedly happened, you actually don’t know what happened (even though you really, really convinced yourself that you can know) and it’s certainly not SOP.

                      You sound like those goofy feminist authors that reject all marriage because a couple of louts beat their wives.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      Oregon is an obscure place to you? And I thought I was provincial!

                      According to BOLI statistics, when you cut the politically self serving U3 rate, and use the U6 rate instead (a far better measure of how the recession has affected unemployment) 25% of common Americans have been beaten by your couple of louts.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      Interesting diversion, but your post has no bearing on your assertion.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      GI Joe’s, since you seem unfamiliar with the story, was a sporting goods store bought out by just such a private equity firm- and utterly destroyed within two years.

                      It was local to Oregon, but has been repeated throughout the economy of the United States, with millions of corporations, and you would seem to be calling such destruction good in your thoughtless and uncritical worship of Profit.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      He’s actually describing omniscience.

                    • dwduck

                      Investing for Christian Scientists?

                    • Adam__Baum

                      It’s neither Christian or Science, but I guess that’s for another day.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      “When the investor has the right information, there is no risk”

                      Get a copy of “The Black Swan” and read it.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      “I’m not talking about mere investment either- I’m talking about buying
                      businesses out, to liquidate their assets, to give you more money, to
                      buy more businesses out, to liquidate their assets,”

                      This was the premise of the movie “Wall Street”, not reality.

                    • Art Deco

                      What is wrong with liquidating a business? That is what happens in bankruptcy proceedings. Private equity is often the last stop on the train before you get to bankruptcy. There are some circumstances where plant and equipment are better deployed by some other enterprise.

                      Years ago, I was reading the letters to the editor in Dissent and one objector to an article therein (on producer co-operatives) offered this imperative: “a firm should never fail and discharge its workers; it should only change its prices / product mix”, which is a remark of someone who has little respect for the skills and ingenuity of anyone in business (IIRC he said he had participated in several producer co-operatives, an institutional form rare outside the timber industry and agro-marketing).

                    • Valentin

                      I don’t think time or the future is predictable enough to contract with any guarantee since the material state of the future changes so frequently that making contracts about future services is risky which is something a farmer knows very well. But I think that if everyone were a faithful Catholic (which unfortunately is not the case) we could rely on each others generosity the way that the Little Sisters of the Poor do where they rely on the outside world (Or in many cases the people who live close by) to bring them food, not out of force the way that the federal government forces people to give them money but rather out of love and hard work.

  • Freedom Hayak

    It’s important to note the “obligations of stewardship” apply to individuals and institutions like the Church – and NOT the State. As Dorothy Day warned, we and the Church have abdicated our obligations to each other to the State, to all of our perils.

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  • hombre111

    Not a not very convincing effort to make us comfortable in our excess. Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. He also said, “woe to you rich, you have HAD your reward.” I find it hard to explain this away by “putting it in context.” Again and again, it has been shown that, the richer you are, the less likely you will have empathy and compassion for those who have little. As John Pilch points out in his studies about the culture of the Bible, those ancient people believed that God had given everyone enough. If someone was rich, it was because he had taken from others. And in our culture, this is certainly true. Since the “recovery,” 95% of the wealth has gone to the 1%. The laws are written that way. The story of the manna is a cautionary tale: There was just enough for each day. Those who rushed out to gather more than they needed watched it rot before their eyes. The road to St. Peter’s gate is cluttered by people who are dragging their wealth along with them, because old habits die hard.

    • Adam__Baum

      Interesting how easily our resident leftist dismisses the salvation of the “rich”, implicitly confident that he himself is not rich. By any reasonable measure, both against contemporary and historical standards, he is fabulously wealthy. He has access to a computer and apparently has enough leisure time to engage in genealogical research. To some third world person traveling miles on foot for potable water, and carrying it in some gourd, such rants about wealth would surely be self immolation.

      So “ancient people” believed wealth was the product of pillage, not mutually beneficial exchange. They also believed that physical infirmity was the punishment for sins, and that the world was flat, so what?

      Keynes (himself a defunct economist) once observed that “practical men” were the “slaves of some defunct economist”. Here we have evidence that ignorant and envious men are similarly afflicted, but of course their compass always points to one defunct “economist”, that detestable misanthrope, who was so evil he engaged in the infanticide of an illegitimate child and was lazy, he refused to bathe, Karl Marx.

      There is no doubt that great temporal wealth can distract one from the only prize that matters, eternal salvation. In a sinful world, the wealthy can indulge their tastes and vices in conspicuity and grandeur, but more often than not, they make that great wealth by filling some human need, by doing that which others cannot or will not do with the same proficiency and efficiency, or quite frankly at all.

      But I guess that would evade somebody who parasitically pounds away on keyboard without the slightest bit of gratitude for the efforts of those that gave him his own personal printing press.

      Hillsdale College is currently offering an online course in economics, free of charge, but it’s so much easier to hang on to ancient ignorance and supersition.

    • Purists aren’t really purists

      I agree with Adam here. I always find the combox philanthropist to be a nuisance. Some people wake up in the morning, see that they have children, a wife, rent to pay, health insurance to buy, so they go off to work in the private sector to try a earn a few pennies to make ends meet, and if they work hard they put some away in savings and hope to retire by 80 (make that 55 if you are a government employee). Other people, like hombre here, wake up and spend all day on the computer complaining about those people ( people who built his house, built his computer, made his carpet, etc.) while he presumably collects health insurance through his Church and has his abode paid for by his parishioners. Get a life man.

    • Art Deco

      Since the “recovery,” 95% of the wealth has gone to the 1%.

      It would be advisable not to imbibe bogus statistics.

      • hombre111

        From Krugman in the New York Times.

  • Ioannes

    If one is rich one can be like Zacheeus And give half of what you make to the poor. and what you Keep one can ask; is this for the good and or service of others? (including jobs for others, which provides then with a path To Sanctification). Our good Lord did tell wealthy Zaccheus “salvation has come to this House”

  • WalterPaulKomarnicki

    Christ mentions ‘money’ 29 times in the Gospels, but uses the adjective ‘tainted’ .

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  • Phillip

    From the Navarre Bible Commentary on the Beatitudes in St Luke:

    “24. In the same kind of way as in verse 20, which refers to the poor in the sense of those who love poverty, seeking to please God better, so in this verse the ‘rich’ are to be understood as those who strive to accumulate possessions heedless of whether or not they are doing so lawfully, and who seek their happiness in those possessions, as if they were their ultimate goal. But people who inherit wealth or acquire it through honest work can be really poor provided they are detached from these things and are led by that detachment to use them to help others, as God inspires them. We can find in Sacred Scriptures a number of people to whom the beatitude of the poor can be applied although they possessed considerable wealth–Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Job, for example.
    As early as St. Augustine’s time there were people who failed to understand poverty and riches properly: they reasoned as follows: The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor, the Lazaruses of this world, the hungry; all the rich are bad, like this rich man here. This sort of thinking led St. Augustine to explain the deep meaning of wealth and poverty according to the spirit of the Gospel: ‘Listen, poor man, to my comments on your words. When you refer to yourself as Lazarus, that holy man covered with wounds, I am afraid your pride makes you describe yourself incorrectly. Do not despise rich men who are merciful, who are humble: or, to put it briefly, do not despise poor rich men. Oh, poor man, be poor yourself; poor, that is, humble […].
    Listen to me, then. Be truly poor, be devout, be humble; if you glory in your rag- ged and ulcerous poverty, if you glory in likening yourself to that beggar lying outside the rich man’s house, then you are only noticing his poverty, and nothing else. What should I notice you ask? Read the Scriptures and you will understand what I mean. Lazarus was poor, but he to whose bosom he was brought was rich. ‘It came to pass, it is written, that the poor man died and he was brought by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.’ To where? To Abraham’s bosom, or let us say, to that mysterious place where Abraham was resting. Read […] and remember that Abraham was a very wealthy man when he was on earth: he had abundance of money, a large family, flocks, land; yet that rich man was poor, because he was humble. ‘Abraham believed God and he was reckoned righteous.’ […] He was faithful, he did good, received the commandment to offer his son in sacrifice, and he did not refuse to offer what he had received to Him from whom he had received it. He was approved in God’s sight and set before us as an example of faith’ (Sermon, 14).
    To sum up: poverty does not consist in something purely external, in having or not having material goods, but in something that goes far deeper, affecting a person’s heart and soul; it consists in having a humble attitude to God, in being devout, in having total faith. If a Christian has these virtues and also has an abundance of material possessions, he should be detached from his wealth and act charitably towards others and thus be pleasing to God. On the other hand, if someone is not well-off he is not justified in God’s sight on that account, if he fails to strive to acquire those virtues in which true poverty consists.”

  • newguy40

    Thank you for the interesting and thoughtful article.
    As I move to a different “condition of life” (raising children->children out of house-> considering my and my wife’s saving for retirement) my view of money and wealth has shifted to a more measured and candidly more charitable direction.
    I am struck at the remarkable plenty and material wealth I see each day. My weekly trip to Costco serves me in that area quite well. I don’t think most folks in the USA have considered how well they live. I try to build my thankfulness in to my prayer. It only takes a few seconds to consider all the material and spiritual gifts God has given me.

  • vito

    Jesus never said he “despised” the rich, he only said they have less chance of getting into Heaven then a camel getting though the eye of a need.e

  • Arriero

    I find this article quite calvinist-oriented. And that’s disturbing.

    The Church is a church for the poor and of the poor. The thing is that you, although having by chance a big account in the bank, must also be a poor, behave like a poor. Or, put another way, you MUST be the last, not the first.

    Pope Francis recently said: «I’ve never been a right-winger». This phrase has a lot of deep sense and true feeling. He never said «I’ve never been a conservative», because he of course is a conservative, and a true one; but he certainly is not a «right-winger». The former are usually poor and humble sons of the Catholic Church, the later are calvinist-minded guys with huge pockets that need some relief for the hollow money and the selfish spirit they possess.

    That’s a key difference between protestantism and Catholicism: money and usury.

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