The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 20, 2012

David Yount: Churches favor sensible, not sentimental, view of poor

By David Yount
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Cuban dictator Fidel Castro once remarked that Karl Marx, the prophet of communism, “would have agreed with the Sermon on the Mount” preached by Jesus.

He was wrong. Communism is based on the forcible abolition of poverty, not on its voluntary acceptance. It is an ideology that seeks to make men and women into gods controlling their own destinies, independent of their creator.

While purporting to be motivated by compassion, communism resorted to terror from the outset. In a parody of Christian love, it enforced mere comradeship.

By stealing from the rich to give to the poor, collectivism managed to leave almost everyone impoverished. Far from suffering persecution for justice’s sake -- the Christian ideal -- it created the terrible gulag.

What Marx did believe was that religion is the “opiate of the people,” drugging the masses into accepting their present miseries for the sake of future rewards.

Let’s acknowledge that Marx had a point, notably in the Victorian age in which he lived and wrote. The leaders of Victorian society managed to be both callous and sentimental about poverty.

The poor, they believed, were childlike; with industry, they might possibly better themselves. But if they remained in want it was either their own choice or God’s judgment on them. Lamentably, the churches did little at the time to disenchant the rich about their self-serving prejudices.

Marx’s contemporary, George Bernard Shaw (like Charles Dickens before him), railed against this hypocrisy. Poverty, he said, is “the greatest of evils and the worst of crimes ... I can’t take religion to a man with bodily hunger in his eyes.”

Setting aside their Victorian aberration, the churches now favor a sensible rather than sentimental view of poverty, holding that the poor are unfortunate through no fault of their own and must be ministered to. Poverty, like a mutating virus, assumes many forms, so that even when hunger is abated and health is restored, the human spirit can still remain starved.

Although it deplores human want, the churches also hold that poverty, if freely embraced, can enrich the human spirit. As Matthew quotes Jesus, “If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, he must give up all rights to himself, take up his cross and follow me”

Christians need not construct crosses of their own. Our lives will be littered with troubles not of our making but which cannot be ignored. If we devote our lives to trying to grind our crosses into sawdust we will be disappointed.

Jesus proposed that the better course is to pick them up and follow him. That is the way of love.

St. Francis of Assisi, whose genius consisted of finding treasure in the commonplace, is perhaps the most admired exponent of voluntary poverty, deriving wealth from appreciation rather than possession. Francis treated life itself as a romance, addressing simplicity as a loving companion -- his “Lady Poverty.”

David Yount is the author of 14 books. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and dyount31@verizon.net.