A puzzle

Some time ago, I was in a progressive, hippiesque bookstore. This was not my fault, I hasten to add. I go into bookstores only because I can’t help myself. It is some kind of mania or addiction. I am in no way responsible for my actions on such occasions. In youth, when they had them, I would go even into Maoist bookstores, where they sold copies of the Little Red Book, the Peking Review, and things of that nature. It was a bookstore, you see; I had to go in. And so today, I go even into cool, “alternative” bookstores. Compulsively.

A radio was playing.

Often radios are playing, among other obnoxious noises in the heart of the city. I like to think I’d never play one myself, though perhaps that is spiritual pride. Perhaps being forced to listen to rot is an opportunity for spiritual growth, as any other kind of suffering. Or maybe it will provide a topic for an Idlepost.

Some gentleman from Brazil (I think) was chattering about “the poor.” (Must have been the CBC.)

It seems they have poor people in that country. The guest in question — caressed by the host as a famously smart person, with an advanced degree in economics from somewhere; or perhaps somewhere else — was telling us how much better the poor are than rich, or even middle class people. Consider, gentle reader, how very inspiring: for they help one another, and appreciate things more, and have innumerable other virtues. How they’re not greedy and selfish, like the rich.

Fair enough: I have noticed the same in Parkdale, and other comparatively poor places I have visited. They are very thoughtful and compassionate. The poor, for instance, are able to bum cigarettes from each other in Parkdale. Not so in rich neighbourhoods such as Rosedale or Forest Hill, where sometimes I think no one ever bums cigarettes. They’re too proud there. Or maybe in those rich neighbourhoods they don’t even smoke, they are so full of themselves. No room to inhale. Not like the poor, who breathe in and out all the day long.

In the old days, I would hear things like this about, for instance, the Chinese peasants — not on the radio but from articles in the Peking Review. They might be poor, but they weren’t bad like rich people, who tended to be the running dogs of the Yankee Imperialists.

So as we see, there is some moral advantage in living below statistical sea level, with the fish. You don’t have to worry so much about appearances. Keeping up with the Joneses (or the Silvas, or the Oliveiros) is, after all, not morally improving. And if you can’t keep up with them, anyway, why not stop trying? Instead, you can become morally pure, and good, like the other poor people.

It was quite marvellous how virtuous these poor people were, in their tin-roof hovels in the slums of São Paulo. Surely anyone would want to live there, and have such wonderful neighbours. There can’t be any crime in such districts; not when all the people are so impoverished and good. They couldn’t commit a white-collar crime if they wanted to. The saints must be packed into the favelas at a thousand to the acre. This primary point was clinched again and again.

Only in point two was absurdity fully achieved, however. The gentleman — apparently some liberation theologian — thought the poor people should get more money. On what he declared to be Christian principles, he wanted “political action.” He wanted to put down the mighty from their seat, and to exalt the humble and meek. He wasn’t shy about this. Since Providence had failed to achieve this result, it was now up to him and other community organizers. A redistribution of wealth must proceed, on an extraordinary scale — from the rich to the poor. The rich must be made poorer, and the poor made richer, or else we will never have “equality.”

The radio host did not ask where this gentleman got the idea that Christ demands class equality. (A pity, for I was curious myself.) Nor ask where He demands property seizures, for that matter. Not even that notorious tax collector, Saint Matthew, presents such views for our consideration. Clearly this man has a direct line to God, with access to information not previously available. Or else, he has something wrong. (But who am I to judge?)

Alternatively, there could be one of those “interpreter” problems, that seems to afflict Pope Francis whenever he is flying. Might the same people who constantly mistranslate him from Spanish and Italian into English, have mistranslated the Scriptures into Spanish and Portuguese? Might that be why Our Lord comes across as some kind of Peronist or Commie? Let us charitably suppose it is a simple misunderstanding.

The gentleman had just finished telling us how the poor were holy, and the rich not. Better than that, he’d told us how the superior behaviour of the poor was the product of their inferior wealth and station. On the gentleman’s own argument, his transfer scheme must therefore make the rich holier, and the poor more depraved.

Do they teach logic in Latin America? (I know they don’t teach it up here.) Or do they just have some arbitrary “preferential option for the rich”?

For surely, if poverty is the reliable source of virtue, we should be at pains to keep the poor in their place. Not for our benefit, of course, but for theirs, we should keep them downtrodden, marginalized, subjugated, exploited, destitute, and often short of cash. We can assure their salvation by promoting poverty and malnutrition, and carefully maintaining their status as victims.

And as for the rich, who cares? They have their reward.

So here is my question: Why does this man want to hurt the poor? Why put obstacles in their path to Heaven? Why does he want to improve redemption prospects only for the rich? What kind of Christian is he?