Earnest also criticized Christian churches that don’t put most of their effort into addressing poverty.
Most guilty in his mind was anyone who argues for cutting taxes and balancing public budgets “on the backs of the poor.”
But what I was thinking the whole time he was making the case for rich people, religious people and conservative people to be their brother’s keeper to a greater extent was just how easy it is to draw a line in the sand that lets ourselves off the hook.
I’m pretty sure Earnest would define as the guilty rich those people who live in 14-bedroom mansions with 20-acre lawns and have a 5,000-square-foot “cottage” in Provence, a beach villa on St. Lucia and a Gulfstream G650 to take one back and forth among them.
What I’m not sure of is how far below that lifestyle he would draw the line of the guilty rich.
Apparently Earnest’s upscale neighborhood is not too extravagant. He could well defend the fine car he drives and the tailored suits and starched shirts he wears as a necessary part of uniform for anyone in his business. He controls far more wealth than most of us ever will.
But somehow he doesn’t include himself among the rich who aren’t doing enough for their fellow man.
This isn’t to pick on Earnest.
It’s about me, too.
Probably you as well.
But most of us should look in the mirror and say, as the prophet Nathan proclaimed to King David after his parable of heartlessness, “Thou art the man!”
Think about it:
• Just having a typical American house makes us far richer than most people on Earth.
• What you or I spend on air conditioning - a “necessity” that didn’t exist 100 years ago - each summer would feed several Brazilian street children for the whole year.
• The average American worker’s weekly wages eclipse the annual per capita income in countries over large parts of Africa and Asia.
• The cost of a nice dinner and a movie out would provide dozens of meals at a Salvation Army shelter.
• The cost of a moderate family vacation could build a house for a family in Haiti.
Such realizations open a Pandora’s box of quandaries: How much are we called to sacrifice? Is it ever OK to experience luxury when others are desperately poor? Should we, as Jesus advised the rich young ruler, sell all we have and give it to the poor? Should I help my neighbor pay his utilities or send powdered milk to Darfur?
I have no answers to these questions except that all of us have obligations to the needy and, contrary to Earnest’s smug assertions, none of us is qualified to draw the line for someone else.
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at firstname.lastname@example.org.