October 26, 2011
Indulgences and the Influence of the Rich
A sad aspect of Christianity’s history occurred during the Middle Ages, when representatives of the church sought money from parishioners through the granting of indulgences. Essentially, pardoners—armed with mandates to collect alms—promised salvation to those who paid for it. Indulgences were seen by Martin Luther as the purchase and sale of salvation and as a way to justify acts of great evil. This was one of the catalysts that ushered in the Protestant Reformation.
Today we see the practice for what it is—barbaric and based primarily upon greed. However, future generations will make the same claim about a similar evil among us. In this nation, where a vast majority of people claim to be Christian, we see political power being bought by the rich, while institutions and processes meant to defend the middleclass are dismantled. A good example of this is how collective bargaining rights have been restricted in many states, even as the influence of a rich few, like the Koch family, grows in ways that brings them unprecedented access.
Why do Christians tolerate this, when their Savior said, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to the least of these, ye did it not to me”? Why, in particular, do the Tea Party faithful applaud draconian budget cuts that cause fire fighters and teachers to lose their jobs, even while the richest among us horde the cash they receive through tax savings?
There are two reasons why this occurs. For starters, we’re not Christian—at least not in the way Jesus taught. Hopefully you’ve read compelling evidence that supports that view elsewhere in this blog, but it doesn’t help that Herman Cain—who claims God told him to run for the presidency—says, “If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself.” Apparently, he believes our primary goal in life should be the acquisition of wealth and shame on anyone who chooses to be a school teacher who’d rather prepare children for life, but can’t keep a job in today’s uneasy economic climate.
But a notion I’ve only alluded to is nearly as important as an explanation for the inequality in our nation. We’re witnessing an institutional corruption that mirrors the indulgences practiced in the Middle Ages. We say our freedom of speech applies to corporations and so we allow them to fund the campaigns of politicians, which they control like an army of ventriloquists’ dummies. Then we watch while wetlands are destroyed to access a few more barrels of oil. We allow the wealthiest corporations in the world to report billions of dollars in profit and pay nothing in taxes. We deregulate an industry that subsequently sells radioactive derivatives to our pension funds in a way that nearly bankrupts us.
Why do we tolerate this?
There are ways to take back our nation. Former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, has what I think is a great idea. Quite simply, it’s this: Cause all campaign contributions to be put in a blind trust so that candidates don’t know who their donors are. This step should reduce the risk of an inequitable quid pro quo.
Posted by Alan Bahr