I recently watched the replay of the Ted/Bernie healthcare debate and, as opposed to the recent round of presidential debacles (I mean debates), it was very informative and cordial. Listening to Senator Sanders’ brand of government, I was again struck with how pervasively he juxtaposes the rich against the poor to make his point.
Frequently, when proposing his policies, Sanders will use the highly effective tactics of vilifying those who have more money, specifically “lots” more money, and victimizing those who have less money. This is a phenomenal way of communicating difficult, counter-cultural points to the masses. Whether we like it or not, despite the recent swing towards socialism, our culture is still built on capitalist principles. I’m not here to debate the merits of socialism vs capitalism – that is a topic for another day – rather I want to ask a very important question.
Why do we care how much other people make?
What makes us applaud when people say, “The top 1% have too much wealth, they should pay their fair share!”? Even more foundational, why do we feel bad for people who have less wealth? Why are we sympathetic to the homeless man and judgmental toward the billionaire?
1.Victimization Is Essential To Humanity
Culturally we have a propensity to victimize and become victims. Victims need a villain – so we find one in those who are the least vulnerable; the 1%.
I submit that victimization is essential to being human. We all see ourselves, to varying degrees, as “the little guy” who can overcome the odds to conquer the world. We have an infatuation with heroes who rise from obscurity to save the day. We love stories of small town insignificant people who rocket into the spotlight to become massive celebrities.
Why? Because, there is a part of the human soul that longs to be adored, that seeks power, that wants greatness. In order for those desires to be present, we must see ourselves as victims in our current state. If we have not yet arrived where we want to be, then we must be held back by something – whether it’s friends, family, ourselves, the government, the universe; we all have a tendency to become victims.
As such, we relate best with those who are victims. We can’t relate to those who’ve arrived. After all, we’re too busy projecting ourselves onto their success and dreaming about becoming them. We relate to those who are most like us, victims. Unfortunately, sometimes there just aren’t enough victims to go around. So, we start creating victims out of thin air – this is what I call the victimization of culture.
At its core, the desire for greatness and adoration is directly tied to the Genesis dominion mandate (Genesis 1:26-30) and is part of being made in the image of God. Victimization, on the other hand, is a result of the curse of human kind (Genesis 3:16). The Genesis 3:16 curse says the woman will always seek equality with the man and the man will rule over her – this is descriptive of a massive power struggle that has existed throughout history between men and women. Men desire to rule, but not well. Women desire to rule, but disguise it as seeking equality. This power-struggle is the piece of our curse that leads us all to self-victimization.
As such, victimization is essential to the human condition. Only through realizing who we truly are, that none of us are entitled to anything and don’t deserve what we have, can we effectively move past the victimization phase and seek to live for something greater than self-fulfillment; namely the glory of God.
2. Social Outrage As A State Of Mind
So, beyond needing to identify with other humans as co-victims in this seemingly eternal battle against the power-mongers of the world, why do we seriously engage such outlandish claims as, “He makes too much”?
In part, this is due to being culturally conditioned toward social outrage. For decades, we have been bombarded by a barrage of injustices varying from “Save The Whales” to “Feed The Starving Children”. The problem is not the causes themselves, nor the barrage we endure. The problem is the prioritization of all causes as equal. Saving whales is inherently less noble than feeding starving children. Most liberals will disagree that all lives are equal – but once again the dominion mandate from Genesis 1 will prove that mankind is indisputably more valuable than all other created matter. Therefore, the value of a human life and the condition of that life is considerably more worthy of protecting than that of whales or trees or buildings or pets (yes, I went there!)
Within causes related to humanity, there are also things that deserve more priority than others. Buying a homeless family a new house is considerably less honorable than defending the life of an unborn child or exonerating an innocent man from a death sentence. Not to say anything of these social causes are wrong or that those who support them are in the wrong. On the contrary, all these things are good and worthy of support – but only to the degree that they deserve and not to the detriment of those things that are of greater import.
On the scale of social reactions to injustice, we have apathy on the one hand and philanthropy on the other. The problem is that we have swung too far one way or another. We are either jaded to all injustices because of this massive desensitization toward problems, simply due to the sheer volume of problems encountered on a daily basis, or we are overly philanthropic towards every cause we are confronted with equally.
Both positions are disproportionate to reality and true justice. We can not, nor should we, exhibit the same outrage for a cat denied treatment at the vet as we should for an elderly woman denied cancer medication. We must not exhibit the same outrage over an endangered animal killed as we do over millions of aborted babies. These things are not equal and do not deserve the same gravity of justice.
Social outrage defines our culture. We are simply over-caused. We project sympathy and demand justice, but we rarely do anything but talk about it. Ultimately, social outrage is just another way to display self-centeredness. It’s saying, “This terrible thing happened and here’s what I think about it, don’t forget about me!”
The only way to combat social outrage as a state of mind is to prioritize causes the way the Bible does. Whatever is most important to God must be most important to us. Everything has a proper place.
Side Note: Outrage over someone who has more money than someone else should be fairly close to the bottom of your list.
Exception to the Side Note: See bullet #3
3. Compassion Is A Direct Result Of Image-Bearing
Remember that whole Genesis 1 thing that keeps coming up? The dominion mandate exists because we, humanity, have been formed in the image of our Creator. We bear His likeness. He has implanted His character within the very fabric of what it means to be human. The worst among us are those who most suppress the image of God and the best among us are those who have trusted Christ to fully restore the image of God in them. Sin and the curse has obscured the image of God that we all bear as humans – but it is still who we truly are. No matter how sinful the man or how much he suppresses the truth of God, there is a piece of his nature that is innately God-like. Never perfectly God-like, but the imprint of God is on all of us.
That is why we seek justice for those who have been victimized. That is why we outrage over injustices and reach out to help those in need. It is why our hearts break when we hear of people being mistreated or why a sad song can bring a tear to our eye. We feel because He feels. We relate to the broken not merely because we are broken, but because He became broken for us and He relates to the broken. We bear His image and He is a compassionate and merciful God. Therefore, in the essence of who we are as image bearers, we feel compassion and mercy for the weak and cast down.
This means we do feel outrage when we hear of a CEO making $10,000,000 per year while his employees are on welfare because of the very business practices that are making him rich. We call them on that because it is unjust for them to stand by and do nothing. Not because they have more money than their employees. Most CEO’s are more qualified, have more experience, endure more pressure, make tougher decisions and spent years getting where they are, so they’ve earned the right to be paid more for their work. Rather, we’re outraged because in their position of power and influence they aren’t doing more to effect change.
It isn’t the fact that they have so much money that bothers us, really. It’s the fact that they aren’t using their position and wealth to make a positive change in areas that they are directly responsible. Really, the outrage that results from being an image-bearer is cause by poor stewardship. Like the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, the Lord is angry with the servant that didn’t properly care for what he entrusted to him.
That righteous indignation is part of what it means to be an image bearer and we have every right to be outraged over those injustices, in their place. However, it is important to realize what we are truly outraged about. Do we really care that Person X makes $10 million and Person Y makes minimum wage? Why should that be any of our business? We should instead care that Person X is directly responsible for Person Y being on welfare because X exploited Y to make his $10 million.
The problem is not rich people. The issue is not rich vs poor. The issue is and always will be one of stewardship.
4. Victimization Excludes Guilt
We’re not breaking new ground here. We know that rich people aren’t the problem. We know that the 1% is only the 1% because they earned it at some point in history. So, why do we choose to become victims and victimize others for the sake of vilifying someone else?
Because, if we can convince ourselves that the 1% is the problem – that it truly is just an issue of someone making obscene amounts of money (notice the language we use too, “obscene amounts” – what does that even mean?) then we exonerate ourselves from responsibility.
But, if this truly is an issue of stewardship, no one gets off the hook. We all are responsible to manage what we have – whether that is $10 million, $10k, or $10.
Socialism is not necessarily a bad idea – as long as it isn’t mandated by government. Opt-in socialism is actually a staple of all benevolent efforts. We share our wealth, food, even houses to make someone else’s life better (or more similar to our own). The church is even called to do these things. Socialism and capitalism can and do co-exist beautifully. The problem is neither – the problem is stewardship.
In all cases where socialism and capitalism do not work for the good of everyone involved, the fault lies in poor stewardship. Whether the government takes on too much power and mandates a way of life, or business get greedy and exploit their employees and customers, or whether you blow your grocery budget on a hot tub, it’s all the same problem.
Don’t be a victim. Take responsibility and do your best to walk humbly before God and men.
Because, we really shouldn’t care how much money people make; only what we do with what God has given us.