April 22, 2006

Morality in the time of Republicans

Walking home from school yesterday, I walked past an empty lot--recently emptied. I expect that soon a monstrous house will fill it. That seems to be the trend around here. I guess we live in a popular neighborhood, which makes for elevated property values. Now the people who are moving in, come with a lot of money and seemingly no problem with showing off that money.

I recall a conversation with someone about large homes. He is conservative, but couldn't understand why people continued to build these huge homes. "It is none of my business what they do with their money...." It was clear he disapproved, but didn't think he could do so with any standing. I wondered at the time, (but didn't say it) why isn't it our business? Why is conspicuous consumption something we can't criticize?

Take the recent retirement package of Lee Raymond, Exxon CEO:
"According to a recent proxy filing by the company, Raymond received $48.5 million in salary, bonuses and incentive payments last year; exercised more than $20 million in stock options in 2005; and in January received a lump-sum retirement payment of $98.5 million. The proxy said that after 43 years of service, Raymond had accumulated $183 million of stock holdings plus stock options worth a net of about $69 million at current share prices.

Evidently, even the Republican House Speaker is concerned about this, but how can he really do anything? Who in the conservative base really thinks there is something called "enough?" From talking to religious conservatives, I get the sense that they no longer even ask the question. One of my friends continues to tell me that while the Bible verses on homosexuality are clear, the numerous passages questioning wealth "don't really mean that." (Nor, of course, do the passages on loving enemies and turning cheeks, which leads us to idiots like Falwell talking about "blowing away terrorists in the name of the Lord.") Wealth is only a problem, he says, if it comes between the person and God. Never mind that the NT seems to imply that money does that all by itself, conservative Christians seem to have parsed it so that money is only a problem if you want to literally have sex with it.

If the church has no criticism of wealth, who will question conspicuous consumption in an age of poverty?


Bruce said...

You should also note that many of these new homes are huge but not that well built. Personally I would look for an older home that had better construction, that is, if I was in the market for a home...

There is still, in the minds of many christians a very strong link between conspicuous wealth and christianity. The alternative to them, as established during the cold war is communism and athiesm. So, strangly enough, as we become more and more unequal as a society the safer we become from communism, and hence, athiesm.

Streak said...

Bruce, good point. I think Christianity and capitalism (and Americanism) are fused early in our history, but it isn't until the Cold war that criticisms of wealth are seen as manifestations of communism. And, as you note, since communism was godless, Christians had no place to go but to embrace capitalism as if Jesus was more business analyst than savior.

If I were king, democrats and liberal Christians would get a couple of key ideas back into the public dialogue: 1) government and taxation are not evil, they are necessary to build a livable society. We can always fine tune, critique and cooperate, but we need both to live together. 2) criticism of capitalism doesn't make you a communist. You can believe in the effectiveness of the market and still think it needs regulation and oversight.

Bruce said...

I think we'll get back to that eventually. I can tell already that people are more and more willing to listen to reasonable talk now that the immediate threat of communism has vanished into history. However, now we have to content with people using terrorism as the same blunt weapon in debates about our society.