Divine redistribution

New highs in US stocks. Gold off $8.

Why would the value of US corporations go up? Already at record levels, what additional good news is there? With a dividend yield around 2%, it will take investors 50 years to get their money; where’s the upside?

Beats us. So, we will turn from the ridiculous to the sublime: Pope Francis is calling for a “redistribution of wealth”.

We have always had a sentimental attachment to religion. Some of our earliest memories were hatched in the pews; smells of candles burning and wool suits worn only on Sunday, capacious vestments, flowing gowns and flickering lights and, of course, the hymns; many we can still recall half a century later.

The words, too, we remember as music and poetry: the old King James version and the 1928 prayer book. Today, we are out of sync. We know the chants and liturgy in 17th century English with “sitteth”, “proceedeth”, “begats and begotten”. We still say He “spake by the prophets”, putting us at odds with the rest of the congregation.

A friend of ours died a few years ago. He was on his deathbed, where he was given last rites. Then, he recovered a bit only to sink again. A second time, the priest came to prepare his way into the afterlife.

“I didn’t think you were a believer”, we asked him, after the second visit.

“Oh. I’m not a believer. I just go along. It would be vulgar not to”.

We are happy to go along with our religion, such as it is. But the clergy doesn’t make it easy. If organised religion survives, it will be in spite of its protectors and promoters. In the ‘70s, they decided that we should modernise our rogations and supplications. Out went the familiar rhythms, sung mindlessly for so many decades. In their place came bright, shiny clunkers.

“Follow me”, said Jesus famously, “and I will make you fishers of men”. We never really considered the meaning of it until the authorities changed it.

Then, it was too late. The spell was broken. Follow me… “and I will make you fish for people”, says the updated version. This was supposed to be easier for worshippers to understand. It also avoided the word ‘men’, which had become politically incorrect by the ‘70s. But it left us with awkward thoughts.


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“Fishers of men”, was a charming metaphor, but “make you fish for people” was a command. Or worse, it made us think of a poor Christian with a hook in his mouth.

Alternatively, the expression could be interpreted to mean that if you followed Christ, you would be turned into chum. None of these images was particularly attractive.

Nor do the improvers limit themselves to religious advances. We don’t recall any mention of reforestation in the Bible, but they’re sure it’s in there somewhere.

The shores of the Chesapeake Bay in the summertime tend to be hot, humid, with a dense growth of trees, bushes, and vines. A traveller set ashore below Annapolis finds himself swatting mosquitoes, picking off ticks, and scratching the poison ivy between his fingers.

He might think he had stumbled into the Amazon Basin. And four hundred years’ experience has taught the locals to keep the jungle under control. That is why your editor spends many of his weekends with a chainsaw in his hands, cutting back the trees from the previous year, trying to keep his farm from becoming a green hell.

Nevertheless, the church authorities – who must come from the Great Plains or the Western Desert – have given the youth group the goal of planting trees. How they knew the area lacked trees was never explained. But when we arrived for Sunday service this past weekend, the deed had been done – un-doing the work of at least four generations of vestry.

For decades, mowers kept the field clean. And children rolled down the hill next to the church, ran wild in the meadow, hopped, leapt and slid, yelled and frolicked – whenever the adults were busy in the church hall. But now if they roll down the hill, they will run into a tree.

Likewise, if God had a plan for redistributing wealth, he forgot to mention it. But the highest authority in the Roman Catholic Church must have some thoughts on the matter.

Here is the Huffington Post on the story: “VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis called Friday for governments to redistribute wealth to the poor in a new spirit of generosity to help curb the “economy of exclusion” that is taking hold today.

“Latin America’s first pope has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system that excludes so much of humanity.”

Does God approve of taking money by force from some people to give it to others? How much money does God think a family of four should have? Are people better off or worse off if they are the recipients of a wealth redistribution scheme?

We don’t know.

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One Response

  1. 13/05/2014, Leviathan wrote

    There are some answers to Bill’s final questions in the Bible – but more importantly would it not be appropriate for the Pope to make a start on this redistribution process by realising and distributing some of the massive wealth of the Roman Catholic Church, before lecturing the rest of us?

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