Lesson 7: Sharing Risk

Rich vs. PoorLet’s examine the Church’s voice in our democratic society that many think presently champions an inverse of Christian values. Last week I suggested that entails asking what the Church has to say when economics is allowed to trump every other authority so that monetary wealth becomes the only standard of human success. We could begin by asking people to ponder what tradition meant when it spoke of the monetary sector of the economy supporting the caring sector. That should lead to thoughts about how the society might manage its material resources to care for people.

If we want to be relevant in our queries, we must acknowledge two basic theories that are directly related to one another. The first maintains the economy must manage a scarcity of resources and the second that modern business has become risk management. The capitalist thesis is that this is best done by the self-interested pursuit of profit in a free market.

If (and it is a pretty big “if”) Christians accept these premises, we would champion the risk being shared by all in the community. Our basic assumption is that all authorities coordinate their gifts in the pursuit of the common good. The solidarity of the community then calls for all to share the risks of managing this perceived scarcity. The Christian voice quite naturally challenges financial management that uses modern technology to cover both sides of any risk, first because it passes the risk on to the vulnerable and second because it elevates manipulating money over caring for people.

It is in this context that the Church is the voice for the poor. I do not think this is so much a preference for the poor as recognizing our responsibility to speak for poor, because no one else does. Sadly, many Christians opt out of this obligation by taking Jesus’ words about having the poor with us always as an excuse for not caring for them at all. Of course, that argument not only takes Jesus’ words completely out of context but also ignores his constant teaching that caring for the needy is basic to his Gospel.

Pope Francis speaks for the Church when he reminds our affluent society that the world is in the midst of a global irruption of the poor that is especially found in the Southern Hemisphere and among poor working women. Another exemplary voice was the 1983 statement of the Canadian Roman Catholic Bishops:

We recognize that serious economic challenges lie ahead for this country. If our society is going to face up to these challenges, people must meet and work together as a true community with vision and courage. In developing strategies for economic recovery, we firmly believe that first priority must be given to the real victims of the current recession, namely—the unemployed, the welfare poor, the working poor—pensioners, native peoples, women, young people—and small farmers, fishermen, some factory workers, and some small business men an women. This option calls for economic policies which realize that the needs of the poor have priority over the wants of the rich; that the rights of workers are more important than the maximization of profits; that the participation of marginalized groups takes precedence over the preservations of a system which excludes them.

Christine Firer Hinze, on whom I have relied for many of my thoughts on the economy, echoes the bishops’ call for courage. She often cites Ghandi’s observation that we think the enemy is hatred when it really is fear. She then suggests we need the Church to overcome fear more than to teach ethics.

I find this call for courage fundamental, because one of the consequences of making economic theory the sole foundation of society is that it counts love among the scarce resources. It regards love as too insufficient a commodity to be effective in the workings of society. The Christian voice assures the community that the Gospel promises love is sustainable and we need not be afraid to share. That makes confronting the question, “How much is enough?” one of the critical issues in our time.

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3 Enlightened Replies

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  1. KERRY S WALTERS says:

    Wow. Excellent!!!

  2. John Myers says:

    I am going out on a limb…..I question the first of the two theories this lesson is based upon. The theory that the economy must manage a scarcity of resources is relative to boundaries. I believe it is not possible that our US boundaries contain a scarcity of resources, depending on how we define ‘resources’. If we define this as adequate food, clothing and shelter and you consider the gross product of production within our borders – I think most would agree these resources exist for all people within those borders, and are not scarce …requiring management.

    I suggest the management that is required is in the hearts of our people and the economy is a moot point. This comes down to wants and needs. If we want a standard of living that borders on ridiculous, it may be different – but, that would be a want.

    The second theory is one that I can endorse fully. Risk is certainly what drives decisions of the powerful and wealthy since it is in that interest to maintain that status – but only if your heart is cold. I think conscience and guilt works on many in this position to ultimately become benevolent – and often after a life was spent being quite opposite. Then there is the issue of how to disperse the wealth and who is worthy? I think we find our country in this position today.

    Unfortunately, our answer has been too close to many philanthropists – EBT cards, HUD housing, WIC, and many other attempts to love the less fortunate with a checkbook or bank balance. The Good Samaratin did not throw some money on the beaten man along the road as he passed…. he stopped from his busy day, he took the man in his arms, cared for him and took him to others who could help him further- does this parable not define how we should act? Is this not what we are called to do? The answers are not found in arguments over the judicious use of someone else’s money……

    • Fritz Foltz says:

      I went with the economists for the lesson but think many if not most good theologians would agree with John. At least most arguments I recall speak about faith in God’s benevolence. The idea is Jesus’ words about having faith that God will care for you like he cares for flowers and birds gives his followers the courage to share. From that perspective the economists are self serving.

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