My Money, My Body

That’s a dangerous title for a post, huh?

Presently, I will likely infuriate both ends of the political spectrum. This post is not really about politics; it’s just that the recent election provided such a great example, I can’t resist. Some setup is required, but I’ll keep it brief, so some assembly is required by the reader.

I’ve talked a lot about money and wealth in this blog, always making sure I note that I’m preaching to myself as much as anybody else. I think about this have-and-have-not thing quite a lot, so it’s no surprise that I was thinking about it when I worked on the Habitat house. That brief experience helped to support my fairly constant view that it’s okay (in fact, a good thing) to make money, but the only good reason to make money is to use it to help others.

This eventually risks bringing up the idea that “some” folks “deserve” to have money, because “their” money gets used in the “proper” ways to help “other” people. Lots of quotes there, but this in turn brings up the idea that how a person uses the money he or she has, is a personal ethical/moral choice. In such a view, a person would make as much money as they possibly could, and then spend as much as they possibly could in the ways they choose to help benefit those without so much. And I must admit, with the exception of the first sentence of this paragraph, this is fairly close to the way I believe things should be. I’ve been given the opportunity in life to make a pretty decent wage. Therefore, I should share that wage. End of setup part 1.

I got an email the other day, and it featured a list of ways the “Democrats,” from FDR to present, have worked with respect to Social Security to take money from those who have it. Beside the fact that this email is not terribly factual, what was intriguing to me about it was (1) the list of addressees and (2) its title. The majority of the addressees were self-professing Christians, and the title was, “Who keeps taking my money?” Upon receipt, I was a bit perplexed. Even if the email had been factual, the glaring thing to me is that I’m pretty much left at a loss when people refer to the money that is presently held in their name as being their money. Most especially when the list of addressees is predominately Christian, I would have presumed that the foundational understanding would be there’s no such thing as “my” money. I thought it was God’s money, and therefore existed for the sake of all of God’s children. End of setup part 2.

Putting together parts one and two, I think that if I sat down with most Christians who have money, they would say that technically the money is God’s money, and that they should use it to help others. But I also tend to think they would say that how this is done, when, and for whom, is their choice as stewards of the money. And, furthermore, I tend to think this would be their faith-based view of why the government should keep its hands off of “their” money. (The implication being, I tend to think, the first sentence of paragraph three). Having thought about it this way is about as close as I can come to understanding why a faith-based worldview would have such a hard time with the government “redistributing” wealth. And I don’t think, actually, that such a faith-based view is that bad. I mean, if you really believe everything you earn should be “yours,” that you should have control over it so that you can make the personal moral choice on how to use it best, in your best faith-based estimation, for God’s Kingdom, then I can’t fault that. I might even go so far as to say you’re quite right; that the government has no business trying to legislate the moral issues of my wealth and how it’s used. That’s why I’m a moral person after all; to take this responsibility and make my choices sincerely, humbly, and with fear and trembling before God. That’s my place. Not the government’s. Fair enough. Let’s go with that, for a moment.

But here’s the tough part about blogging in the middle; there’s a flip-side that, to me, is a bit interesting. Sit down, and hold on to your hats while I open a giant can of worms: Isn’t this the same type of point that certain folks are trying to make regarding abortion rights? This is a provocative question, sure, but I think it has quite a bit of merit in opening up some interesting ideas.

[I realize that “abortion rights” is a bit of a questionable phrasing, according to some people. I realize that the general populace prefers to place discussions in the “pro-choice” versus “pro-life” framework, and that those who talk about the fundamental right of reproductive choice are talking about more than abortion; but they are talking about abortion in the mix and for me this needs to be addressed. I also realize that the “pro-life” group, who has adopted a name not so cleverly implying that the “other side” is “anti-life (read: pro-death),” largely ignores those other issues involved in reproductive choice, going so far in some cases as to (with a gross failure in internal consistency) oppose birth control. In a politically negative view, what “pro-choice” really means is the right to have an abortion regardless of how and why someone became pregnant, and therefore it is, in part, a call for the “right to terminate a problem” after one has already made a free choice resulting in the problem. In the other politically negative view, what “pro-life” really means is that all people should be legally forced to have only the choices certain other people are willing to afford them. As with most political claims, each of these has some truth and each of them is conveniently incomplete. As I note in the rhrn.net faq, both labels are trouble. I, for one, am both pro-life and pro-choice, unless those terms are seen as cultural labels representing pre-packaged platforms, in which case I am neither. I have digressed…]

Anyway, are the two points, about keeping one’s money and keeping one’s reproductive rights, the same? Well if they were identical they wouldn’t be two points, but they are very similar. Both sides can argue that their cause is a matter not of morality per se, but of freedom and rights, with morality only coming into play if you consider freedom and rights to be moral issues per se. Both sides can argue that their cause is indeed a moral issue, and that morality concerning their particular cause should not be legislated. Both sides can argue that the other side is the more potent biblical issue; the Bible is not too keen on the murder of innocents, and it is no less keen on greed and social injustice (which are, essentially, the murder of innocents). Both sides can argue, on the other hand, that their cause is not explicitly condemned in the Bible. Both sides can argue that their cause honors personal responsibility, and both sides can argue that the other side’s cause allows and promotes selfish irresponsibility. Both sides can be either right or wrong on any of these points, depending upon their personal, heartfelt motives.

What astounds me, all things considered, is that the two issues are seen as separately as they are, and how successfully they are separated by those who play politics. Do you believe that the government has the right to tell you what to do with those things you consider most private and personal, most yours, or do you not? If not, then they shouldn’t be telling you about reproductive rights, nor should they be sticking their fingers into your wallet. If yes, then let them decide who should have your hard-earned money, and when you should or should not be allowed to have an abortion. Take your pick; but don’t let people fool you into thinking the issues are all that different from one another.

I think maybe there is an alternative view, and it goes something like this: Let’s give to Caesar what is Caesar’s—which in practicality means Caesar is going to do whatever Caesar wants to do anyway—and to God what is God’s. Maybe we should stop looking to institutions to solve our problems, and stop looking at them as if they are the cause of our problems. Maybe we should each look instead inside of our self, deeply and profoundly, and choose. Choose to rise above political rhetoric, and cease to be a victim of it and of those who succumb to it. Choose to see that “they” and “it” are not the problem. Choose to see that the selfishness inside of you and me is the problem. Choose to see that ultimately the solution rests gracefully in the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of and for all people who choose to enter into it, and so each choose not for the sake of our own lives, but for the sake of all of us together; the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and the unborn.

My money? My body? No, they aren’t.

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