The Idolatry of Poverty

Many of the authors I read promote a more simple life, one free of the fetters of keeping up with the Joneses and unbending to the will of social norms and pressures to be as the rest of our society expects us to be.  I can get behind such a promotion.  It’s our culture’s materialistic philosophy that has driven many into debt and subsequent destitution, and its lasseiz-faire philosophy that drives the wealthy elite to keep them there. I very much support an undoing of such a system, and I see living simply as an opportunity to do just that.

What I’m bothered most by is the tendency of many authors, including one’s I’ve read, to idolize poverty as the only way to live as a Christian (or as a human being).  They have effectively demonized money, capitalism, and possessions in favor of a more divine way of living, that of austerity and asceticism, and will look down their noses at those who have more material possessions than they do.

There are some misconceptions I’d like to dispel from this manner of thinking.

1) Objects such as money and possessions are not in and of themselves evil, any more than a hammer is evil.  Both can be used for evil intent; I can easily kill a bystander with a hammer, though this does not make the hammer evil, and while it is true that objects can be made with only evil intent (nuclear warheads, for example), money and possessions do not fall under this category.  They stand merely as vehicles which one may drive to a destination, be it evil or good.  while restrictions and roadblocks may be necessary to ensure the vehicle’s direction, the restrictions are for the driver, not the vehicle itself.

2) Speaking from a Christian standpoint, God does not favor a particular economic status or class.  The Bible makes it clear that God shows no favoritism, so why would he favor the rich or the poor? God wil bless those who ask of him, and give to those who need.  It is inaccurate to think that the rich have no needs, or that the poor have every need; God will provide according to the “needs” he sees an individual or community having.

3) What tools we are given, we must therefore use to better those around us.  Some have indeed been blessed with material wealth, but are given said wealth with the understanding that they are managers thereof, not owners.  The wealth is NOT theirs to keep, and must be used to benefit those who have not and to further the kingdom of God on this Earth.  In the same way, the poor stand as a reminder not only to the rich of their vocation in life, but as a reminder to all that the pursuit of material wealth is indeed a meaningless one without the blessing of God.

In no way does this mean that the eradication of poverty is wrong; it simply means that we must refocus that goal to make sure that none starve while others have extra food, or freeze to death while others have extra coats.  We must learn to live according to our needs, not our desire for convenience or for power.  Neither poverty nor wealth in and of themselves can give what we need; only God can do that, and we must depend solely on his providence in this life, no matter how bountiful or sparse it may seem.

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