Thought for the Day - John Bell

Here is a little bit of ancient Jewish wisdom especially for all those still beneath the blankets:

Do not speak ill of a rich man even when you are in your bedroom,
for a bird may carry your voice
a winged creature may repeat what you say. (Ecclesiastes 10 v20)

This text which clearly works to the benefit of wealthy philanthropists may have a particular poignancy as the debate develops regarding tax relief on charitable donations.

The trouble about money is that it is often linked to power. Money well used can do great things which benefit many people, anything from funding the arts to bringing food and water to a starving nation. It has great pragmatic possibilities. But there is another power which has to do with the presumption that enough money should buy influence and assure control to the benefit of those who are wealthy.

Last month I was in a small rural village called Santa Maria de Fe in Paraguay. There I met a
peasant farmer who has four cows. Every week he has to decide whether he’ll travel to market every second day to sell milk, or whether he’ll keep the milk, make cheese and only travel once a week to the market. The decision is made purely on whether he can afford the cost of petrol for his dilapidated motor bike.

Given his poverty, he has no power, even though he produces essential goods. Given his lack of money, he cannot offer himself a bonus worth twice his annual salary. Contrast that with the ability of the rich elite in his country to have their voice always heard, their intentions easily fulfilled, irrespective of any negative impact they might have on the people who provide cream for their coffee.

Whether it is philanthropy, taxation, wage-bargaining or domestic finances, whenever any issue of money is on the table, issues regarding how power is being used are seldom far off.

As a Christian I could never demonise money. Jesus mentions it in half his parables. He relies on charitable giving especially from women, and he is clearly at ease in the company of affluent people. There is nothing in the Jewish-Christian tradition (or in any great world religion to my knowledge) which says that money is intrinsically bad. Nor can it be claimed that moral questions only rise when we consider the unhealthy addiction some people have to accumulating wealth.

The primary moral issue is whether in dealing with wealth, we become less concerned about the good things our money can do, and more convinced of the presumed synonym that money equals power.

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