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Lecture 2: Happiness, Wealth and Poverty in Scripture

Lecture 2: Happiness, Wealth and Poverty in Scripture

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Lecture 2: Happiness, Wealth and Poverty in Scripture

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  1. Lecture 2: Happiness, Wealth and Poverty in Scripture Dr. Ann T. Orlando 31 January 2013

  2. Outline • Contemporary Notions of Wealth and Poverty • Greek Philosophical Notions (i.e., Plato and Aristotle) • Happiness, Wealth and Poverty in LXX • Happiness, Wealth and Poverty in NT

  3. Wealth Definitions • Wealth is usually thought of materially: an abundance of property, resources and money • Wealth can be applied to an individual, society, nation • Typical measures of wealth • An individual measure is ‘net worth,’ that is the sum of all liquid and illiquid assets minus debts • For nations a common measure is, GDP, gross domestic product (GDP) is the market value of all goods and services produced within a country in a given period • Standard of living is often measured as GDP per capita

  4. UN Definition of Wealth of Societies • Inclusive wealth: monetary measure which includes the sum of • Natural capital including land, forests, energy sources, and minerals. • Human capital, that is the population's education and skills. • Physical (or "manufactured") capital includes such things as machinery, buildings, and infrastructure. • Social capital, strength of a society’s institutions, culture, relationships (families) • Recent (2012) UN report begins with a consideration of well-being as a (perhaps the) most important component of the wealth of a society

  5. Poverty Definition • Usual definition is the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions • According to the US Census Bureau in 2011, national averages for ‘poverty’ thresholds are: • $11,702 for an individual • $26,404 for a family of two adults and 4 children • See

  6. Definition of Wealthy… • Very much in debate in American society • Minimum yearly income to be ‘wealthy’ (at least for tax purposes) • Democrats: $250,000 per year for a married couple • Republicans: $1,000,000 per year for a married couple • But ‘income’ can mean a variety of things (or not), including salary, dividends, interest, social security, pension distributions, sale of property for a gain • Different taxes on different computations of income

  7. Relative wealth and poverty • Perception of wealth (or poverty) dependent on society • Categories of material needs • Economic resources (job and transportation) to provide food, shelter, clothing for family • If satisfied, then not poor • Confused with categories of material wants • Luxury car, fashion, gourmet food, vacation home, entertainment • If satisfied, then rich • But our society and economy are built around satisfying wants: • Consumer economy • Example: actions of Federal Reserve

  8. Plato on Wealth, Poverty and Society • Primarily discussed in The Republic, focused on wealthy, poor and society • The Republic begins with two young men asking Socrates why the just seem to be poor and unhappy, while the wealthy are unjust and happy • Socrates claims both groups are unhappy, and contribute to an unhappy society: W • Wealth is the parent of luxury and indolence, and poverty of meanness and viciousness, and both of unhappiness.Plato, The Republic • Plato (Socrates) suggests how to order society so that all are happy, including • Three fixed social classes (rulers, defenders, workers) • All things held in common; no individual private property

  9. Aristotle on Wealth, Poverty, and Society • Aristotle addresses these issues primarily in The Politics • Agrees with Plato that there should be three fixed classes in Society • Agrees that both excess wealth and extreme poverty lead to unhappiness and a dysfunctional society • However, strongly disagrees that all material goods should be held in common • For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. For everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest…The error of Socrates must be attributed to the false notion of unity from which he starts. • From this Aristotle strongly argues for the necessity of private property, but as much as possible equally distributed • But a city ought to be composed as far as possible, of equals and similars; and these are generally the middle classes. Wherefore a city which is constituted of middle-class citizens is best constituted.

  10. Aristotle on Economic Justice • Distinguishes between • Proper management of material possessions (economics) such as household management • Grabbing wealth (chrematistics) such as retail trade • According to Aristotle, retail trade is unjust because wealth is gained by manipulating prices • Worst sort is usury in which money is made on money, completely divorced form ‘natural’ price of goods • But Aristotle does not believe all should have exactly the same amount. Some according to their merits (ability to manage), should have greater material possessions; this is Aristotle’s notion of distributive justice

  11. Epicurus on wealth and poverty • Wealth and poverty measured by attainment (or not) of appropriate desires • Desires may be • 1. Natural and necessary (basic food) • 2. Natural and unnecessary (variety of gourmet food) • 3. Unnatural and unnecessary (chocolate cake all the time) • A happy person is one who has material possessions to satisfy the first type of desires • Property should not be held in common, at least property which satisfies the first type of desire

  12. Stoics on Wealth and Poverty • Not unlike Epicureans • Wealth is a hindrance to contemplation of wisdom; • Very opposed to usury, as it seemed to be making money out of ‘nothing’ • But discouraged not only lenders but borrowers • One should be content with whatever Providence has provided, and try to grasp for more by borrowing

  13. Biblical Greek for Wealthy and Poor • Plousios abundant, wealthy, abounding; a rich man • Related concept of arrogance, uperephavos • Ptochos poor, beggar, indigent • Related concept of humble, tapainos • Alsopenes, or working poor as in day laborers for hire

  14. Property (Land) Rights in Old Testament • Land (as usual in antiquity) was basis for wealth • However, land ownership for people Israel was because God allowed them to own the land • The land, Israel, fundamentally belongs to God, not to any individual or even to the nation Israel; this implies: • Land itself must be treated with care, such as allowing land to rest every 7 years (Exod. 23:10-11) • Land could not be sold in perpetuity; had to revert to original owner or next of kin at jubilee (Num 36:4)

  15. Old Testament Concepts of Rich and Poor • Mixed view of rich and poor • Individual rich and poor • Rich enjoying God’s blessing as in Lev. 26:3-10; Prov. 10:22 • Poor suffer God’s judgment and punishment as in Lev. 26:14-26; Ps 109:10-11 and Prov. 13:18, 21, 25. • Also corruption of powerful rich against struggling poor, especially people Israel, • Example story of Naboth, Ahab and Elijah (1 Kings 21) • Prophets in general cry out against the unjust, powerful rich

  16. Economic Justice in OT • Laborer is due a day’s wage and cannot be withheld; Lev. 19:9-10; Sir 34:22 • No partiality should be shown in law based on wealth; Lev 19:19; Isa 10:1-2 • No usury, also basic needs should never be used to guarantee a loan, Exod 22:25-27 • Gleanings from harvest must be left for poor on the land Lev 19:9-10 • Protection for poor who cannot help themselves, such as widows and orphans Exod 22:2; Ezek 22:7

  17. New Principles in New Testament • Property not important, or even desirable • Reversal of ‘happiness’ for rich and poor • Thus to be happy requires giving up riches • Voluntary poverty a sign of a Christian • Examine Acts 2 and 4 • Property held in common • Deacons ‘ordained’ to administer property • NAB correctly translated not that Christians immediately sold all their property, but that they began selling property and giving to the community

  18. Some New Testament Concepts of Rich and Poor • Rich are called upon to share their goods (Story of Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31) • Riches as an obstacle to genuine love and discipleship (Story of Rich Young Man, Mark 10:17-31) • God has special preference for humble poor (Beatitudes, widow’s mite) • Source of genuine happiness

  19. Assignments • Luke 1 • James • 1Timothy 6 • Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle, Chapter 1 • Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine, 170-183 • Write Short Paper