Let us end our little blog series on why wealth is wrong. We have already looked at the mathematical argument, where we saw that it is impossible to keep wealth while giving the same wealth to the poor. Then we discussed the economic argument, which says that it is better to invest in goods and services beneficial for the poor rather than superfluities like luxury and entertainment. And last time, I brought up the Bill Gates argument, which states that it is the quantity of what we keep, rather than what we give away, that measures our generosity.
In each post we have started with an argument for why wealth is right, and we shall do the same in this post. The most common moral argument I hear when people defend wealth is: “Rich people have worked hard for their wealth, and deserve therefore to have it and do what they please with it.” It is often combined with “We only have a moral obligation for ourselves and our families, not for the entire world.”
The moral argument for why wealth is wrong, on the other hand, is brilliantly summarized by the apostle John: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 Jn 3:17). As I explained in my article about a Christian World Vision, Jesus-followers should without doubt apply the same moral standpoint on non-believers as well.
In other words, the idea that rich people have a moral right to do whatever they want with the wealth they have gained stands in contrast with the idea that all who have more than what they need have a moral duty to share with those who are in need. When Christians argue for the former moral standpoint, they often point to the fact that the Bible defends the idea of private ownership, since stealing and coveting are described as sins in for example Exodus 20. This means, they argue, that the rich can keep their wealth without being moral monsters.
This is biblically incorrect, however. Even Deutoronomy 15:7-9 talks about how it is a sin to keep wealth for oneself when someone else is in need. Private ownership is no moral excuse for keeping wealth for yourself when you have more that you need.
Furthermore, if there truly isn’t any moral duty to share with the poor, if a rich person is morally innocent if s/he spends all money on jewelry and vodka while poor Lazarus is dying outside the door (Lk 16), then generosity doesn’t exist. A gift to the poor has no intrinsic merit whatsoever, it is morally neutral.
A poor person suffering or dying would still be sad and tragic, but a rich person rescuing the poor from such tragedy would not be morally good. This, however, is a contradiction. If a tragedy is bad then the avoidance of tragedy is good. And if a rich person can cause such a good avoidance of tragedy but chooses not to, then the rich person does something bad.
Finally, the argument that we only have a moral obligation for ourselves and our families, is clearly unbiblical and also goes against the idea that all humans are equal. It can possibly be defended by someone living in total isolation with his/her family, but if one is connected to the globalized economy and benefits of other’s labor, then such a moral stance is just being selfish.
This is why all rich people are morally obliged to give away the value of everything they don’t need to the poor.
Micael Grenholm is editor-in-chief for PCPJ.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!