Blessed are the poor…

… because they give more generously than the rich, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Did you see that story?

Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest survey of consumer expenditure found that the poorest fifth of America’s households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations in 2007. The richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent.

The figures probably undercount remittances by legal and illegal immigrants to family and friends back home, a multibillion-dollar outlay to which the poor contribute disproportionally.

None of the middle fifths of America’s households, in contrast, gave away as much as 3 percent of their incomes.

Did this surprise you? It didn’t me — at least, not after I thought about it for a moment. It’s the identification thing. The more affluent one is, the more likely one is to think of the poor as the “other,” to think of poverty as “a way you’ll never be.” This can lead one to think there must be something wrong with the poor on a moral level — that they’re lazy and just don’t try or whatever.

Not that I’m a paragon of sensitivity or anything, but I’ve never had that attitude, mainly because God blessed me with a tendency toward depression. He’s given me a taste of what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the challenges before me. Just a taste, mind you — I always manage to cope, and have never had that crippling kind of despondency that keeps people in their beds. But I’ve seen through that door, and I can easily see how dysfunctional I’d be if I’d never been successful at anything, had no education, no home, no real prospects. In fact, it causes me to marvel that people who are down and out manage to do ANYTHING, as so very many do.

So I didn’t really need to get laid off to see into the abyss, but now that I’ve had THAT experience, and am still having that experience — no permanent, full-time job with benefits at hand yet — I’m less likely than ever to be dismissive of the plight of the poor.

That AP story raised another interesting explanation for the relative generosity of the poor:

Herbert Smith, 31, a Seventh-day Adventist who said he tithed his $1,010 monthly disability check — giving away 10 percent of it — thought that poor people give more because, in some ways, they worry less about their money.

We’re not scared of poverty the way rich people are,” he said. “We know how to get the lights back on when we can’t pay the electric bill.”

Now there’s an instance in which I do suffer from a malady of the bourgeois: I do have that middle-class horror of not being able to pay the bills. The prospect, which gets closer each day that I don’t have a steady job, is more than a little appalling. There’s that middle-class voice in my head that goes, “The electricity turned off? OHmyGod, NO!” Whereas Herbert takes it in stride, and keeps on giving.

Which ought to teach us something.

35 thoughts on “Blessed are the poor…

  1. Daniel

    It’s misleading not to include the actual amounts donated. The upper 1/5 gave on average $3,326.15, while the lowest 1/5 gave $452.83.

    Comparing the percentage spent across vastly different quintiles of income is meaningless.

  2. Daniel

    I should add that I think the article’s focus – the lowest-income earners who are stretching their budgets to give – is great, and those folks are commendable.

  3. bj


    Thanks for your comments and perspective. I saw those %s yesterday and had some of your same thoughts. Daniel misses the whole point. It’s the “widow’s mite” and not the amount that the rich can give which to them is rather meaningless. “This sum was everything she had to her name, while the other people give only a small portion of their own wealth.”

    Thanks for sharing your feeling about being laid off as I faced that situation for more than two decades as the company for which I worked continuously downsized. My functional group went from 43 people doing the same job across a nine-state region in 1989 to five people doing the same job for the same territory when I retired in 2006.

    Also, I remember when I had to apply for unemployment benefits because I worked for an organization after high school and during college that let me go because I was heading into service in a few months. It was so humiliating to be in line and then the employer lied about the rationale as is commonly the case in this world. Otherwise, his unemployment ins rates would increase – What a situation!

    Man God bless all those in need and give an insight and empathy to those who have none.

  4. Lee Muller

    Socialistic liberals are especially uncharitable, according to all evidence.
    It fits right in with their belief that government should force some taxpayers to do the work of charity.

    Just look at the meager donations of Obama, Al Gore, and Joe Biden.
    At the fundraiser last month for Sidwell Friends School, the Obamas donated no cash, only a signed copy of a magazine from Michelle. I wonder how much they will try to write off their income taxes for that!

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    It is amazing the negativity you are free in attributing to others. Why do you assume the Obamas will try to write anything off on their taxes for that? It probably had great value to Sidwell b/c someone wold pay good money for it.
    Check out your own eye for a change.

    I was so hoping you were finding sources of income. Don’t give up. You have a lot of talent and you are valued around here. Something will happen. Since I was thinking you might have figured something out, perhaps you need to make others aware that you are still looking for something. I can imagine it would feel uncomfortable for you. It’s so unfair!

  6. Doug Ross

    While I can appreciate people who have charitable intentions, reading the article from The State left me less appreciative. The one woman mentioned is basically just transferring a small portion of the charity (welfare and unemployment) she receives from the government to others. Guess where her welfare and unemployment money came from — from taxpayers. But those contributions by the taxpayers to the welfare and unemployment systems are not included in the charitable giving percentages that were calculated. I would bet that if forced contributions to social programs via taxes were reduced on the upper quintile, charitable giving would increase. I would also suggest that funneling money through churches and non-profits would see more reaching the poor than it does via the government.

  7. Doug Ross

    And just to clarify – I’m talking about the use of statistics to “measure” the relative charitable attitudes of large groups of people. The statistics don’t account for things like mandatory contributions to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamp programs, etc. All which could technically be considered charitable giving if you consider the purpose (and not the fact that they are mandated by government).

  8. Lee Muller

    Ms. Fenner,
    All YOU need to do is compare the paltry donations of the Clintons, Gores, Obamas and Bidens with the Republicans they ran against, which are on the FEC website.

    Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.” The surprise is that liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.

    If many conservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality, Brooks, a registered independent, is, as a reviewer of his book said, a social scientist who has been mugged by data. They include these findings:

    — Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

    — Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

    — Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.

    — Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.

    — In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.

    — People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

    Brooks demonstrates a correlation between charitable behavior and “the values that lie beneath” liberal and conservative labels. Two influences on charitable behavior are religion and attitudes about the proper role of government.

    The single biggest predictor of someone’s altruism, Willett says, is religion.

  9. Brad Warthen

    Kathryn, I’m going to have to stick up for Lee a little bit, here. Truth is, liberals on the whole are NOT as personally generous as conservatives — this according to Nicholas Kristof, who several months ago bemoaned that “We liberals are personally stingy:”

    Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.

    Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

    So there you have it, for what that’s worth.

  10. Bart

    Brad, you beat me to the punch on this one. Lee is absolutely correct and to further add to the discussion, I don’t believe Lee was being negative, just defending conservatives against a popular misconception that we are stingy, uncaring, and have no compassion when it comes to others. Maybe the way he said it could be misinterpreted but as usual, he does back his comments up with supporting information.

    The amount my wife and I contribute annually is a private matter for us but it is always generous. Personally, to me, giving is a private matter and not meant for publicity purposes. When I see anyone giving a big check and it makes a splash across the headlines and the contributors grinning like Cheshire cats, it loses a lot of the humanity of the gift. This is especially true when it is a politician or celebrity just making headlines and enhancing their public persona.

    Another way to look at the autographed magazine Michelle Obama gave to Sidwell is that the magazine did or will bring a good price from a collector or fan and I am sure that was the intent of donating it. As far as taking it off for tax purposes, how and what value can be placed on it to benefit the Obamas other than the purchase price? Sidwell will benefit and the Obamas are only out the cost of the magazine.

  11. Birch Barlow

    On charity, the bottom line is that it’s human nature to be self-interested. For the vast majority of us, it really only comes down to how much we’re willing to admit to the extent of our greed.

    Liberals and conservatives do not matter.

  12. Bart

    Birch, it would be nice if liberals and conservatives didn’t matter except for the fact that those on the receiving end would be receiving a lot less if not for conservatives.

    Greed is part of human nature. How we control it or let it control us is the question isn’t it? When greed is out of control, we are left in the mess we have now. When television shows like the old “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” become very popular, what does that say about us?

  13. Lee Muller

    The point is that modern liberals, who believe in Socialism Lite, do not accept personal responsibility. They are so concerned with making sure that others “contribute their fair share”, that they have become shirkers themselves.

    Having the government hand out other people’s tax money is not charity.

    Taxpayers seeking to protect their property from moochers is not “greedy”.
    The moochers are the greedy ones.

  14. Birch Barlow


    I agree with you that it’s silly when conservatives as a group are called greedy by the more liberal crowd.

    In fact, whenever the word “greed” comes up in a discussion about politics, I usually cringe. Most of the time, it’s always some other group of people who are greedy (conservatives, liberals, the rich, Wall Street, etc.). People always seem to miss the fact that they themselves are just the same.

    As to how we can control greed, that seems to me to be a personal decision based on your system of morals or religious beliefs. There’s not really much you can do to correct the greed of others.

  15. Brad Warthen

    Let me amend Birch’s assertion slightly — liberals and conservatives shouldn’t matter. The issue should be doing the right thing, which is not a function of anything so trivial as political ideology.

    As one who is appalled by both ideologies, as they manifest themselves currently in our politics, in more or less equal measure (and I say “more or less” because it depends upon the issue and the circumstances — sometimes I’m more appalled by “liberals,” sometimes more by “conservatives”), I can see the faults, and occasional virtues, in both.

    On the “greed vs. generosity” scale, here’s how it breaks down:

    “Liberals,” generally speaking, believe very strongly in the processes we have in a representative democracy for deciding ways to pool our resources as a society and address common needs and problems. Once these needs are identified and approaches for addressing them agreed upon, liberals are happy to pay their taxes to support these things. And yes, pay THEIR taxes. One of the nastier things that anti-gummint “conservatives” like to say about liberals is that they’re voting to spend OTHER people’s money (and the associated hypernasty image here is of masses of poor, lazy black and brown people voting themselves largesse from the wallets of hard-working, productive, righteous white folks), but the truth is that the liberals are voting to spend their own money this way, the same as everyone else’s, the presumption being that anyone who thinks this money should NOT be collected and ppropriated has the same chance to win elections as the liberals do. To the extent that others benefit from these services, this is a form of charity, as Doug notes when he says one is giving to food stamps, etc., through one’s taxes, something a liberal is far more comfortable with than conservatives are. (And remember, food stamp recipients are far less likely to be voters.)

    But then liberals, having gladly given this way — a way agreed upon through public, deliberative processes — are less likely to give privately. One reason for that is that so much private giving is through churches, and regular churchgoers/tithers are somewhat more likely to think of themselves as “conservatives.” Kristof notes that the subset of liberals who are religious give as generously as religious conservatives. And there’s a certain logic to this for secular liberals. Since they are happy to give through their taxes, why should they also give through other means?

    “Conservatives,” on the other hand, believe more in personal giving, and object strongly to public giving (generally speaking). Since liberals believe in the public giving, they quite naturally accuse conservatives of being “greedy” because they object to participating in paying for programs agreed upon, fair and square, through democratic/republican processes. One problem with this is the language conservatives use: There’s a lot of “I, me, mine” in their rhetoric in the public sphere, however personally generous they may be. There’s a lot of silly talk about “my money,” as though those little pieces of paper would have any value absent a strong, stable government keeping order and enforcing rules that uphold the sanctity of contracts and the very notion of private property. Then there are the truly selfish folks within the movement who give other conservatives a bad name, the Ayn Rand types who believe absolutely and unapologetically in the “virtue of selfishness,” both public and private. Of course, that’s unfair to the many conservatives who simply detest the idea of charity being forcibly administered through the faceless, impersonal state. Pure, true charity is personal; it’s one person willingly doing something for another person, looking into that person’s eyes and identifying with his need and suffering. Too many of us — liberal and conservative — want to write a check that pays someone else to do the grubby work of actually dealing with the poor and their painful situations.

    That said, a problem with much “conservative” thinking on the matter is that giving through the public sector is automatically less desirable as doing so through private channels. It isn’t, and that assumption is wrong, just as it would be wrong for a liberal to think that the PUBLIC approach is automatically better. As Reagan himself said, there are certain things the state should do (and only the state CAN do effectively) in the way of providing a social safety net. And a charity can develop its own bureaucracy, and be guilty of spending too many resources perpetuating itself rather than serving the intended purpose.

    Bottom line is, on this subject there is plenty to make both liberals and conservatives squirm, if they have a conscience and are capable of thinking outside their own narrow ideological boxes.

  16. Doug Ross


    The problems with government enforced charity are these:

    1) The overhead involved in administering the programs is higher than typical charities.

    2) The incentive to do the best job possible in terms of avoiding waste and corruption is limited because the administrators are not motivated by charitable behavior but by collecting a paycheck. For reference, look at the Medicare system which robs tens of billions of dollars of healthcare from people who need it because of fraud.

    3) Society becomes more and more accustomed to turning to the government to address problems. It’s no surprise that politicians target the elderly for votes as we have created a couple generations of Americans who now expect a welfare check disguised as a retirement pension plan payment to show up every month. As long as the politicians don’t screw with their Social Security they can count on the power of incumbency to remain in power.

    4) Once in place, the government charity programs only grow larger, no matter how they actually perform. All they have to do is tweak the tax rates upward… as they have and will continue to do for Social Security and Medicare.

    5) Charity enacted by representative democracy is not as pure as you would present it to be. What we have in place now is not the result of doing what the people think is best but instead represents the wishes of politically connected lobbying groups combined with backroom “quid pro quo” deals done by politicians. “I’ll give you a Social Security tax increase if you vote for my pork barrel project”.

    The government simply becomes a black box through which a dollar is taken forcibly and 50 cents comes out the other side in the hands of the needy. A local soup kitchen wouldn’t get donations if it had that type of overhead.

  17. Birch Barlow

    Doug, those are all, I think, valid points.

    But, let’s say we got rid of all those type of federal programs. Do you think we’d see a rise in charitable giving? Do you think the rise in giving would make up the difference?

    If you put a few extra dollars (money previously in federal charity programs) in a man’s pocket, what makes him more likely to spend that money on charity? If you put a few extra dollars in his pocket that came from another source, such as a raise, I don’t think he’d give it to charity at a higher rate than he already does.

    Is it because he will then recognize the greater need (caused by the elimination of the federal charity programs)?

    I think it’s interesting. I certainly don’t know what the answer is though.

  18. Doug Ross


    It would be interesting to find out what charitable giving percentages were going back for the past 100 years or so. My guess would be that as government programs cut of wages has grown, charitable giving has dropped.

    According to Brad, the only way I can ever expect to see Social Security replaced by a true retirement system funded by and owned by the wage earner is for 51 Senators, 200+ Congressmen, and a President who believe the same thing to be elected. There are too many elderly voters dependent on the system now to make that possible. It’s called The Third Rail of politics for that reason. Give voters a little check every month and they get hooked on it. Even though we all know that it’s not sustainable longterm for a variety of reasons.

  19. Lee Muller

    If we got rid of all those federal welfare programs, we would have such a change in attitude, and such prosperity, that there would be more real charity available than needed.

    Government does not create wealth. It consumes wealth.

    Even worse, government destroys incentive to work hard, save money, and invest it, pass it on, or give it away. At the same time it is discouraging innovation, it is telling the least wealthy people that they should not even try, that “the rich” owe them a lavish living, and that government brokers will see to it that they get what is due to them.

    If Brad doesn’t like the images of “lazy black people voting themselves a living off the wealth of others”, he should take it up with the populist demagogues who sell that to so many people. He can start with Barack Obama, James Clyburn, and some of the patronizing white liberals who think they were put on Earth to manage the redistribution of wealth to the helpless non-whites.

  20. Doug Ross

    I’ve been looking in more detail at the figures used to support the premise that poor people give more than top earners. According to the actual report, it was based on cash contributions compared to income. And the report itself makes note that somehow the lowest quintile ends up claiming to have spent more money overall than it had in income. This is noted as being due to low end wage earners not always claiming income (i.e. tax avoidance).

    What also doesn’t appear to be included are the very large non-cash endowments that high end earners frequently create. Bill and Melinda Gates foundation was funded with $35 BILLION from Bill’s Microsoft stock and from matching donations from Warren Buffett. That wouldn’t show up in these statistics. I think the rich do give more than they are getting credit for — they just do it on a larger scale that doesn’t show up as cash contributions.

  21. Lee Muller

    Obama and his ilk don’t think Bill Gates should be allowed to give all that money away as he chooses. They think that THEY should tax it away so they, being of superior intellect and sentiments, can direct it to further their visions.

    Brad is also wrong about liberals not voting to play at charity with OTHER PEOPLE’S money. They may vote for programs they are funding, but they don’t stop there. They could do that with real charitites. No, they want to take other people’s money, and they hijack the government their own personal agendas.

  22. Herb Brasher

    This has been an interesting discussion, especially since I’m right in the middle of some of these actions, as a giver, and as an administrator of a 501(c)3 organization responsible for the distribution and use of charitable funds, and as one watching the whole scene of charitable organizations and their practices. Abuse of charitable funds entrusted to charitable organizations has certainly been on the rise in recent years, with the result that it costs a lot of money to put in the kinds of controls in order to maintain proper accountability. Everytime I see the “widow’s mite” coming in (some times in the form of $5 from a widow that I know is stretched to the limit), I cringe when I think what a financial audit alone costs each year, but it can’t be helped.

    There are a lot of corollaries to this discussion, inlcuding the confusion and cost in the health sector. My wife and I try to keep our income at a minimum in order to properly use funding that others have given sacrificially, and we are grateful to family doctors who simply didn’t charge for their services, or other forms of God’s provision that we have been entrusted. But not being able to afford propery health insurance has been, and continues to be a problem. Christian Care Medishare has been helpful, though they will never cover pre-existing conoditions (which limit us severely), and they are very far behind in paying hospital bills that are supposed to be shared by members. (But to be fair, they have had to spend a lot of money defending their case against health insurance companies that want to drive them out of existence).

    I thank Brad for his extensive discussion on these issues, including the contrast of liberal-conservative thinkers. What I find interesting (as an evangelical) is that biblically, both socialism and the possession of and responsibility for private property are found in Scripture. There is clear evidence that God’s ideal society is a socialistic one, as the Year of Jubilee as commanded in the OT returned all private property to the original owner, and at one point the OT law says that, if the Israelites adhere to the MOsaic law, there will be no poor among them.

    I have seen that basic principle operating among Christians, but it seems that it only works for a time, and generally only works in times when members have very little, and are forced to pool their resources. It requires spiritual motivation and energy, and a high commitment to one another. However, sooner or later human selfishness sets in–for example comparing one’s own financial state to that of someone else, or “if they get that, then Is should get this,: and it becomes a nightmare to administrate.

    No wonder there is no evidence that ancient Israel ever kept the Year of Jubilee. But heaven, will be,it seems, God’s ideal socialist state –remember the old KJV translation from John 14, “in my Father’s house are many mansions”? Forget the “mansions,” the word simply means “rooms.” There’s plenty of rooms for everyone, and plenty of work to do as well. And I guess you can’t take your gold with you, since they use it there to pave the streets. Who would want to carry a bunch of paving material in their pockets, anyway– it only weights down the casket, and the pall-bearers have to work that much harder.

    Anyway, it seems there is plenty of motivation from a biblical side both to work for social justice, and to protect private ownership. I think it would do all of us, on all sides of the political spectrum good to allow our personal ethics and practices to be called into question.

    One interesting side note: I recall that the Reagans, according to their tax returns, gave 2% of their income to charitable purposes, though someone has already pointed out that tax returns are not necessarily a reliable source for ascertaining a person’s generosity. In defense of the Reagans, I also recall an acquaintance who worked on their security staff when Reagan was governor of California. He said that the Reagans were always very generous and fair in treatment of their staff, something that is not always true of successful politicians.

  23. Lee Muller

    The only reason health care costs more for those of us you pay the bills, is that there are so many moochers abusing the system. Charity, or lack of charity, is not to blame for that.

    As for inefficient charities, most are an order of magnitude more efficient than the government efforts at welfare.

    There are not that many people without health insurance or “access to medical care”. Many without it can afford, it but studies show they choose to spend their money on vacations instead. We have 30,000,000 illegal aliens coming to the USA to steal medical care.

  24. Herb Brasher

    Lee, why is it that you think everyone has a right to your opinion about nearly every comment that is posted on this blog?

  25. Lee Muller

    I don’t think most people have a right to an opinion.
    The uniformed ones certainly have no right to be treated as if they were making sense.

    Do you have some specific complaint about a specific opinion, or facts which make you uncomfortable?

  26. bud

    I don’t think most people have a right to an opinion.
    The uniformed ones certainly have no right to be treated as if they were making sense.

    Are you suggesting men and women who are in the service, ie the “uniformed ones” have no right to be treated as if they make sense? I suggest you become a little better informed about how to spell.

  27. Lee Muller

    I am in the service, and uniformed.

    You are an anonymous ignoramus, and uninformed.

  28. Bart


    I am curious about something you said. “…………at one point the OT law says that, if the Israelites adhere to the MOsaic law, there will be no poor among them………”

    Yet, did Christ not say that the poor will always be with us? And, was the Mosaic Law not intended only for Israelites at the time it was written? Were the Mosaic Laws not intended to provide a guide on how a community was to operate under a set of divinely inspired rules from God? Were the Israelites not instructed to take care of widows and orphans who could not fend for themselves? Wasn’t private property allowed and there was no sin for accumulation of wealth, just the hoarding of it for greed? Were not owners of wheat fields commanded to leave the edges unharvested and the shaft only gleaned once so the poor, widows, and orphans could come gather what was left?

    There are few descriptions of Heaven in the Bible and if you adhere to the concept that God is a socialist, you might be espousing a belief beyond your earthy capabilities.

    Recently I found a website for BioLogos. It is fascinating and for once, an outlet for my curiosity about God, the beginnings of mankind, evolution, and a series of other questions I have asked myself privately. I highly recommend it. There is a series of 34 questions and for me, I find the answers more to my way of thinking and personal belief in a living God than anywhere else other than the Bible.

    And, if we stop and think about all of the discussions we have on this blog and others, whether one may be a believer or not, take time to read the book of Ecclesiastes and consider the wisdom of Solomon. In particular, read the words written in chapter 10, verses 16, 17, & 18. According to the interpretation and explanation in my NIV, “When the Israelites had immature and irresponsible leaders, their nation fell.”

    Recently, this country has had immature and irresponsible leaders who had no wisdom or knowledge gained by experience and confirmed results that produced positive results on most of their decisions. Yet, we have at the same time, men and women who have served long but still incapable of gaining wisdom and meaningful experience. We are witnessing at this moment faux leadership by perhaps the most inexperienced leader in the history of this country. He may speak the words of wisdom but they are hollow, without substance or on a basis of experience.

    We have allowed the one thing most mentioned in the Bible as the root cause of our shortcomings, greed, to control our financial markets, our personal lives, and have allowed greed to erode the moral fiber we once thought we had as a nation. This nation was founded as a Christian nation and still is in spite of Barack Obama’s declaration to the contrary.

    Although we each have the gift of freedom of choice, for those who adhere to the Christian faith, we need to remember the final words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12;13 & 14. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

    Herb, I wish you Godspeed on your duties as the administrator for your organization. A sacrificial life for the good of others is truly blessed and takes a great deal of dedication and ultimately, humility. However, don’t forget that from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, to the last book, Revelation, the central theme has been devotion to God and the secondary one is wealth and power and the use of both, for good and bad. The pursuit of wealth has always been with us and will remain so until the end of humanity or time. The ultimate question is what we do in the pursuit and what we do when we gain it.

  29. Lee Muller

    If Herb chooses to lead a sacrificial life, that is his business.

    But when someone tries to impose sacrifices on the rest of us, to support his religious vision of charity run by government, he is violating the Constitution.

  30. Herb Brasher


    More about this later, I”m too much in a rush to do any justice to your very thoughtful comments. If you look up Deuteronomy 15:4, you’ll find that the Year of Jubilee, if had been kept, would have indeed eliminated poverty in Israel, simply by the fact that all debts would have been cancelled every 50 years, and property, especially land, returned to the original owner.

    Problem is, there is no evidence that the Law concerning the Year of Jubilee was ever kept, and it most likely was not. Such a concept involves a highly motivated, unselfish caring for my fellow-human beings. As most of the OT (and the NT, for that matter) indicates, it was very seldom the case that the Israelites actually practiced what they preached. So Jesus’ words were spoken in the context of human need and human (dare I use that Calvinist word?) depravity–Judas betrays his friend for money, and, what is also likely, an attempt to use Jesus to further his own political ends (people, and politicians, are always trying to use God to their own ends, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you.

    As to socialistic endeavors, one only has to read the first chapters of the Book of Acts in order to discover that Christians shared everything they had, though they still kept to private property.

    Two things come to mind: 1) C. S. Lewis’ observation that no nation, or perhaps better said, no economic system, has ever been able to sustain itself over time by charging interest (it’s not clear though whether the Biblical injunction against usury precludes all interest-taking, or just exorbitant interest-taking). Sooner or later economic fraud, or misuse of the poor by the very rich, or some other extreme, takes over and wrecks the prospeity. As you know, we probably have a good example of that in our time. 2) I forgot that the second one was! Maybe I’ll remember it later!

    As for descriptions of heaven, there is more there than you think. A lot of it is in symbolic or “cartoon” (the technical word is “apocalyptic”) form. The perfect cube form of the “Holy City” in Rev. 21 comes to mind. The gates of it are made of one gigantic pearl, suggesting that it through joining with Christ in suffering that people are drawn into God’s Kingdom (not in hefty arguments like I tend to get myself drawn into on this blog!!). The whole “temple concept” of Heaven is based on the ideal vision of Ezekiel 40-48, which personally I don’t think was ever meant to be taken literally, but is a prophetic vision in terms that Ezekiel as a priest could relate to, decribing how the people of God are meant to function beautifully together. 1 Pet. 2 alludes to this concept–each individual believer is meant to be a beautiful “stone”, supporting and bearing the needs of others, and fitting into the whole structure of what God is doing in His Church. Perhaps the Psalmist’s reference (Ps 133) is relevant, “how good and pleasant it is for brothers (culturally it would not be polite to mention sisters, but we certaiinly should in translating it in our culture) to dwell together in unity.”

    The blessing of a real fellowship of believers who really care for one another, exposing fraud, but at the same time willing to take risks in order to give others a chance, well, it’s hard to describe unless one has experienced what church, or better said, Christian fellowship really can be. I don’t blame people who try to escape a heavy[handed powerful church. James Michener’s caricature of Germans emigrating to Texas in hte 1800s (in his novel Texas comes to mind–no wonder both Lutherans and Catholics wanted to escape the Church back then (not a disparaging comment–I’ve served as a Lutheran minister myself, though I’m not an ordained Lutheran minister).

    Well, I could keep on rambling. My point is not that our political systems should be anything close to a carbon copy of what God desired for ancient Israel (which would have to be translated from the context of the agrarian society in which it was given to our dis-connected, technological, me-first information-overload culture). But there are always ideals and aspects of it that we need to listen and apply. Balance is needed–as St. Paul said, if people won’t work, then they shouldn’t eat. On the other hand, those of us who know what it is to be un-employed or to be dumped by an unscrupulous “Mr. Potter” are very glad for some kind of “cushion.” We need that, I think, otherwise the rich just get richer, and . . . . I’ll stop my ramblings! Gotta practice my alto-sax. I play in the Columbia Community Concert Band–along with a lot of other old people (and a few young ones) who don’t want to lose their touch.

  31. Herb Brasher

    Bart, I”m only scratching the surface on what the Bible teaches about heaven, but think about oblique references like St. Paul’s “do you not know that we will judge angels?” It’s admittedly difficult to interpret what that means, but at least it means that we’re not going to be sitting around doing nothing, playing a harp, and otherwise bored to death. Its a “new heavens and a new earth.” Evidently we’ll have leadership responsibilities. So get ready to work–together, that is!

  32. Lee Muller

    A lazy, stingy majority taxing away the charity of the more industrious and more wealthy minority one reason democracy degenerates into economic a and moral decay, on its way to tyranny.

  33. Bart

    Herb, I appreciate your comments and I have read the accounts of heaven you referenced.

    Avoiding at this time, a long discourse over the meaning of Acts 2:44-45, it was my interpretation and understanding that the number of Christians was small in the beginning and they banded together to take care of themselves. They met daily, prayed, and enjoyed fellowship one with another. As they showed themselves to the public, their numbers grew as witness to their joy and devotion. For me, this set the standard for churches and how the church is supposed to be run when it comes to taking care of the members and adherents.

    I have a slightly different take on the Deuteronomy passages you referenced. As mentioned, in the land of plenty God gave to the Israelites, there should not any poor people among the Israelites. His promise was for the lsraelites to dwell in a land of milk and honey where by implication, the only way a man would be poor is if he didn’t take the opportunity and by his labor, have plenty. The book of Deuteronomy should be taken as a whole, not segregated into verses. The book gave the Israelites a set of rules and commandments from God on how to live with themselves, the Levites and aliens. God gave Moses these commands for His chosen people to live by. We should be willing to give freely to others and there should be mechanisms to help those who are truly in need.

    It is understandable that each of us will interpret the Bible differently since we have been given freedom of thought and choice. But, if we are to use the Bible as a guide to live by, maybe we should remind our leaders that this country was founded by and is still a Christian nation. In that respect, it would be appropriate to remember that we have been a blessed country and as long as we followed God’s word, this nation prospered. Consider these words from Deuteronomy 15:6 – “For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.”

    If we take these words literally, then we should never borrow money from another country. Once this country started to borrow money from China and other countries, we gave away our sovereignty and independence.

    I am always looking to learn and appreciate your time to post comments.

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