Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Failure, and Tithing, good thoughts for the New Year

Found this excellent post at the Cerulean Sanctum, an excellent blog site that's been added to our blogroll in the sidebar. Author Dan Edelen combines one of my favorite passages from Ecclesiates with an interesting and somewhat obscure passage from Job, and then winds up with a most interesting conjecture about the widow who gave her last two pennies. All of which to say, we don't respond as Jesus would to worldly success and failure, either in ourselves or in others.

As a follow-up posting, brother Dan hit again with another deep thinker, this time about tithing and its relationship to prosperity. In this post, the follow-up comments were excellent, and the discussion does a good job of forcing us to think through our individual belief on the topic, perhaps one of the most controversial in Christianity.

Might one of ye jolly good knights care to sum up these issues for us in these last days of 2006, so that we can get 2007 right for a change? :-)

Sir Chuck, always hopeful of change for the better


  1. Several things. One is "prosperity" in this sense. is not measured by one's bank account. There is no one to one arrangement between money and "quality of life". Realism demands that despite our emotional instincts money is in fact an aid to improving quality of life if wisely used: many in the world are savages because they are poor as well as being poor because of being savages and some who have worked among such people have been shocked not by their suffering but their being brutalized by it. However wealth is at least as often squandered on temporary dissipation, petty social vanities(I never understood the joy of having a car that was better then one's neighbor's), or on corruption and oppression(limited thankfully in our culture by slowly grown social and legal disciplines but hardly eliminated).
    Moreover though money helps quality of life, training does better. Living in a good social circle(s), being well brought up(or if not so fortunate, charitably and skilfully rescued from ones bad upbringing), having innocent activities to give one satisfaction, are more important. Virtue and happiness are not the same. it is a great weakness of the bourgeois society that a great many are not happy with being virtuous which is one reason why there are Communists, Nazis, and Islamicists. Of course that could be said more accuratly to be the weakness of merely-human-virtue,and extremists are mainly angry at society for not giving more then the most it is capable of-in essence demanding from the world what it cannot give.
    Back on topic.
    But whatever the complications being a better person and living in a better group do help happiness. Of course somewhere no doubt there is a bloodthirsty tribal warlord, or a gangster grown rich by selling drugs and stolen-arms-for-loathsome-people, and is quite happy being evil. Presumably he will have his reward.
    Nontheless my point is true. One's happiness depends less on the resources one has then on the person using it and the people he associates with. There are happy poor people and sad poor people, happy rich people and sad rich people. Though it has long seemed to me that the happiest people are in the middle-that the very poorest often become brutalized and the very richest tempted to excess. Which in fact Proverbs says-give me neither poverty nor riches.
    I would say that the prosperity promised by God need not be in "resources" and is certainly not necessarily in money(I would rather have books then money, and incidently I have a lot of books).
    As for the "condemnation of prosperity" that could perhaps be better interpreted as pointing out who is being condemned as condemning them simply for belonging in that group. Just as "woe unto you scribes and pharisees , teachers of the Law" was hardly intended to denounce being a teacher of the Law, but to denounce misuse of a trust by people who have that position. Just as the scribes were condemned not for being scribes but for how they acted as scribes so with the rich.
    There were a number of rich people in both the Old and New Testaments who were highly praised. Even the Rich Young Ruler was interestingly, given pity rather then harsh judgement. In point of fact Jesus was willing to help anyone who admitted needing help. A large part of his harshness was because posessing any good thing can lead to a false confidance that leads one to think he doesn't need more then he has. Israel at the time was not wicked(picture a Jewish equivalent to gladiators, temple prostitutes, or human sacrifice at the time) so much as overconfident in it's merely-human-virtue. To use a martial analogy picture a soldier crouched in a slit trench halfway up the beach at Normandy. He has gone to far to go back and not far enough to be safe. He is not a coward but he has not yet the strength to go the final distance. So his sergeant kicks him. Not because he is tyrannical(there are plenty of tyranical non-coms but this one is not), but because the sergeant knows that if he cannot get the soldier to advance further he will die.
    That is a model for many of Jesus' berateings and rebukes. They were as much to get peoples attention as to condemn them. Overconfidance in earthly things, as far as justice goes may be venial. But the results of that overconfidance are paradoxically deadly. As Screwtape pointed out to Wormwood, spectacular sin does not damn as effectivly as getting someone in the habit of sin-just as one is one can sometimes become a worse drunkard by having a constant intake of small drink as an occasional spree with harsh drink.
    Overconfidance in earthly things-even "merely human virtue", and most certainly overconfidance in riches is a sin that is like that.
    So what matters to, put it in a chessy sense, is not the health of ones portfolio, but the health of one's heart.

    Sir Jason

  2. many in the world are savages because they are poor as well as being poor because of being savages and some who have worked among such people have been shocked not by their suffering but their being brutalized by it.
    For instance there is a recent story that one couple who stayed in New Orleans to "work with the community" ended up shot for their pains.

    Sir Jason