Larry Richards is a friend of mine from high school who has become a very popular speaker among conservative Catholics in North America. I watched one of his social media posts recently and he made a point that few would disagree with, but it’s a message many may not like.
Larry pointed out that according to Christian scripture the only thing that damns us to hell is to neglect our neighbour in need. There’s nothing more important than feeding the hungry.
Larry was making his point primarily for those who believe in eternal damnation; he’s trying to keep them from hellfire.
There are few religions or social philosophies that don’t prioritize taking care of the poor. So why is this such an issue all over the world? How is it possible that so many have missed this vital point? How could a person who professes to be Christian support political and economic policies that result in a world where over 700 million people live on less than $2 a day?
Jesus couldn’t have been more blunt in stating that this isn’t acceptable.
The issue isn’t money. We all need money to survive and money is a fair reward for our contributions to the good of society. When we provide valuable service, we get paid. When people provide us with the same, they get paid as well. We all pay taxes to develop and maintain infrastructure and support our governments. This creates a society where everyone benefits.
Expanding on this idea, former American vice-president Hubert Humphrey said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
We often say that money is the root of all evil. It’s not. Money allows us to do a tremendous amount of good in the world. It allows industry to thrive, it allows us to provide for our families, and it allows us to invest and to spend as we choose.
The issue isn’t money, it’s greed.
Greed is prioritizing profit over the well-being of our neighbour. It’s not paying a just wage or even any wage. It’s forcing people to work in unsafe conditions. It’s abusing the legal system so as not to be held accountable for our crimes.
Perhaps Larry’s statement seems foreign to us because we like to absolve people of their wrongdoing if they have wealth and power. We simply ignore it, thus creating a culture of impunity.
We often forget that industrialists on both sides of the Atlantic gladly invested in Adolf Hitler’s regime. Many shared in his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Companies that exist to this day exploited the slave labour of the concentration camps and even performed medical experiments on humans. There are companies that ran factories in both Germany and North America during the Second World War, profiting from mutual destruction and death. Yet we don’t speak of this and I dare not name names in a public forum.
Today we see corporations exploiting weak governments. We see limited worker rights and an absence of environmental regulations in many places. This results in huge short-term profits for stockholders, and devastation, poverty and suffering for the citizens of exploited countries. Yet we seem so surprised when people flee their homes and seek to cross our borders.
My friend Larry’s message may not make sense to everyone. Maybe there’s no such thing as eternal damnation. But by refusing to speak up for our neighbours, we may well be creating our own hell.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. For interview requests, click here.