A recent post by Jim West (The Church has Fetishized Poverty) reminds me of my bad old days when I believed in Christian “righteousness”. It comes from someone who would deplore any association with cultism or even fundamentalism (I think) but it drills hard into a believer’s guilt feelings in a way to stop them doing genuine good in the world, and it rips scripture out of context to justify its agenda. The post begins:
People: the church should give all its money to the poor.
Jesus: nah. Use that expensive ointment on me.
People: but the poor, the poor, the poor….
Jesus: shut up. If she wants to use her money for me, it’s cool.
You have probably identified what’s wrong from the outset. Jesus is about to die and excuses great expense on him for that reason. In normal circumstances, of course, Jesus said something quite different:
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Would Jim West accuse Jesus of “fetishizing the poor”? It appears so.
But here comes the killer:
Should we help folk? Sure. Should poor folk be our only concern? Nope. Fetishizing the poor, furthermore, has more to do with people wanting to feel better about themselves. They want to feel as though their own privilege isn’t problematic so they focus on the poor as though they would trade places with them if only they could. But of course we all know they won’t.
Nice that a mere mortal can so comprehensively judge and condemn the motives of his fellow creatures.
What, pray tell, is so damnably wrong with “feeling good about oneself” if one actually does, and for the reason that one actually does, good to help a fellow human being?
One does have to wonder, moreover, if Jim has ever seen a fellow human being in desperate need and felt an overwhelming compulsion to help that person — but pulled back because he feared that he was feeling some “goodness” deep down within himself for doing so. Or does he — or so many other Christians so obsessed with “getting to heaven” etc — even know what it is like to simply respond impulsively to help someone without any consciousness of one’s own feelings at the time? Sure, long afterwards and reflecting back on the event one might feel some relief and satisfaction that one had acted when one did — Should fear of such a feeling eventuating have stopped one from acting?
Put simply, faux concern for the poor really is just a way to feel good. The poor become a means to an end, and serve no other purpose but to be the object of feigned love. The poor are objectified when they are fetishized.
That’s all bullshit. I’ll say that it’s an excuse to protect one’s own precious righteousness at the expense of those with real needs in the real world.
Sure, systematic change and reform is essential in the bigger picture. But systemic changes won’t help feed or clothe a fellow-creature this very night or the next few days.
Someone please notify Jim of this response from an evil, damned, atheist to his post.
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