What the “Occupy” movement captures is not so much a clear sense of what it “wants” as a clear sense about that which many in America now wrestle…
A growing sea of economic disparity that exists between “ultra-haves-in-perpetuity” and the “utterly have nots.”
I get the sense that at its core the bubbling revolt of the Occupy movement is not about lazy people wanting it easy in life. That would be a gross oversimplification of the most visible symptom of a growing trend of economic consolidation that began a long, long time ago and is only now reaching eye-popping levels of excess.
Let’s ask ourselves a few questions…
When Enron collapsed, destroying thousands of lives in its wake, were thousands of hard-working underlings at fault, many of whom are still struggling to recover?
Or does the blame for that mess fall at the feet of the privileged few at the top of the leadership heap who raked in enormous salaries and lived high on the hog?
When Tyco collapsed and it became known that the corporate elite threw themselves Bacchanalian orgies on the company dime, who was at fault? Lazy underlings or greedy corporate leaders? Remember the $300,000 birthday party for the boss’ (Dennis Kozlowski) wife, complete with sex and booze for all?
When whistle-blowers attempted to alert the SEC to the coming collapse of Wall Street, only to have their concerns fall on deaf ears, who was to fault? The people who “trusted” the greedy elite to protect their assets or the the uber-wealthy investment managers who created increasingly risky investment instruments built one upon another like a Ponzi scheme run amok? It is all-too-easy to forget that Wall Street didn’t collapse because just one company got risky. Wall Street collapsed because EVERYONE, including places like Goldman Sachs, where they give out annual bonuses in the millions of dollars, got risky.
When oil rig operators to warn BP managers that they were drilling too fast and with not nearly enough attention paid to safety, only to be told to shut up and keep drilling, whose fault was the resulting explosion and catastrophic spill? The guy who made $70k working the rig or the guy who made $250,000 telling the guy who made $70k to keep drilling?
There is no denying the pure fact of the matter…
The overwhelming bulk of our nation’s wealth is now concentrated in the hands of a few, not the many. That is not speculation. That is fact. What used to be called “the middle class” is shrinking, with a privileged few escaping each year toward “upper class” status and a growing number falling to the bottom to the edge of poverty. Simply blaming the “laziness” of average people trying to earn an average day’s wage doing an honest day’s work is no longer good enough.
Does this mean we should be come a socialist state, bent on forced redistribution of wealth?
Capitalism, balanced by an appropriate level of regulations that hold a measure of our human tendency to pursue unrepentant greed in check, is still the best economic system on the planet.
Does this mean unionized revolt is the answer?
In recent decades unions have abdicated their right to be the voice “of the people.” Unions have shown themselves in recent years to be incapable of policing their own ranks, jettisoning lazy, underperforming coattail riders that drag down the whole.
Does this mean that we have done our nation a disservice by allowing the uber-wealthy to think that it is okay to hold on to increasing proportions of their wealth as if they can take it with them when they pass from this world to the next?
We Christians have lost our prophetic voice in this age, and I’m not talking about “prophetic” in the “I can tell the future sense.” I’m talking about “prophetic” in the “we’re observing things through holy eyes” sense.
We are as guilty as anyone at succumbing to the shackling lure of money versus the freeing power of the Gospel.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes this all clear, in simple, unmistakable terms.
Our affluence taints what should be a clear-minded interpretation of God’s will for our lives.
Consider Matthew 19:16-30
The Rich and the Kingdom of God
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Contrary to what some prosperity theologians argue, Jesus almost certainly wasn’t talking about some “gate” at the corner of the city of Jerusalem. That’s a myth we conjure to help salve our conscience about our corporate wealth as a nation. Rather, Jesus was making a point about the corrupting power of money. The more you have, the more you want. The less you have, the more you want of someone else’s. Money is, indeed, the root of all evil and we just don’t see clearly when cash is on the line.
Money makes politicians – who already live relatively comfortable lives – chase the financial carrot proffered by lobbyists. Money makes them compromise on principles we should all hold dear as stewards of the future of the less fortunate, like the notion that the voice of the weakest member of society should have equal voice in the halls of congress as the most privileged.
Money makes pastors tone down their preaching so as to not offend those with wealth. It is, after all, the only way to keep their ministries alive. Irritate the wealthy with a haranguing message of giving more to the less fortunate and you will eventually wind up with a beautiful building in which to preach but no people to stock it with on a Sunday morning.
No, I can’t condem the Occupy movement for anything more than the fact that it lacks the punch, clarity, and urgency of the Gospel of Christ. The Occupy movement is merely a reflection of a boiling pot of community angst that is on the path toward full-out class warfare someday in the not too distant future. When few can afford a modest home, decent jobs are no longer found at home but abroad, where essential health care – a critical human right in a civilized society – is only affordable by the privileged few, when having a nutritious selection of food on the table is a daily struggle, not a given, that’s when the lid on the pot will blow and the whole crumbling mess will collapse.
What the Occupy movement represents is nothing more than a telegraphed punch to the solar plexus of the fabric of our society.
If we as Christians don’t pay heed and start calling the uber-wealthy to a higher degree of selflessness and self-restraint we will be just as guilty as the Occupy people for creating an environment that ultimately results in social collapse.