Second article in a series . . .
The great religious systems of the world – and many indigenous regional strains – weave a harmonious montage against greed and materialism. This blog post is the second in a series highlighting religious unity against the type of values seen in the dominant religion of the land: the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. The following is excerpted from the book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, available in May 2014.
Judaism prohibited lending money for interest, called usury. The Hebrew Bible book of Deuteronomy disallowed lending for interest within the Israelite community; outside the community – with foreigners – it was permissible. Usury was prohibited within the community mostly so that the poor would not be exploited by those with money to lend. The financially well-to-do lending to poorer members within the community was seen as a form of philanthropy, ultimately supporting the communal common good. An interesting historical note: most all the competing religious systems and secular codes from the ancient Near East, from which Judaism emerged, did not forbid usury. Israel, a smallish community dwarfed by Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia, forbade usury most likely to protect and unify a poor community that needed to do all it could to stay together and survive. Demanding interest on a loan to a neighbor was understood to be an act of hostility. The Hebrew word anawim, a plural noun translated “the poor” or “the marginalized,” can be understood to have an unexpected antonym: brutality, untamed anger, the violence of the rich. The expected antonym – the rich – is not specific enough; the actions of one group directly affect the state of another within the community. Their fates are united, for better and for worse.
(Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, Blue Ocotillo Publishing, May 2014. All rights reserved.)
Addendum: “The violence of the rich” is obviously a provocative statement and blog post title. Let’s be clear: it’s not an indictment to be rich nor is it a sin to enjoy earthly blessings. Expensive items accessible only to a few of us – Mercedes-Benz automobiles, Beaufort Alpage cheese, Thos. Moser furniture – merit higher prices (mostly) due to superior quality and workmanship. High-caliber quality and exceptional workmanship make the world a better place and do not contribute to its demise. What does contribute to the world’s demise is the sense of disconnection that can exist between those who are rich and those who are poor.
The religio-cultural system emanating from a small ancient Near East community accentuates the close connection between its richest and poorest members. The Hebrew prophet Micah excoriated the rich of Jerusalem for taking economic advantage of the city’s working class, calling their actions “violent” (Micah 6:12). This religious system still speaks an important word of caution to the well-to-do: be aware and active to temper the injustices suffered by the poor. To not do so is an act of indifference that can stray toward violence.