Rant: The Sin of Sodom
A lot of people might think that this title has something to do with homosexuality. Let me be clear from the outset; it has nothing to do with homosexuality. It has to do with the real reason God destroyed the city of Sodom, as proclaimed in Ezekiel 16:49-50:
“Behold this was the iniquity of Sodom thy sister, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance, and the idleness of her, and of her daughters: and they did not put forth their hand to the needy, and to the poor. And they were lifted up, and committed abominations before me: and I took them away as thou hast seen.”
In the midst of our economic crisis, I can’t help but wonder if it is in truth a collective punishment visited upon us by God for our failure to put forth our own hands to the needy and poor (in addition to the extreme obscenity of our popular culture, but that is a different matter). I don’t mean to say that God directly intervened and played around with the Dow and the NASDAQ, or created the housing bubble, but that He allowed us to fall into this pit as a severe warning to a greedy and selfish generation that holds the reigns of power.
Modern industrial capitalism actually died a long time ago, and no one seems to know it yet. It died even before the USSR collapsed. What we have been witnessing in America for the last 30 years is a sort of “Weekend at Bernie’s” style parody – a corpse propped up by monetarist policies, the creation of artificial wealth and the accumulation of endless debt.
Manufacturing, the production of actual things of value, now takes place largely in the third world, where the workers are often brutally exploited and denied the human rights outlined not only in secular constitutions of the West but also the social doctrine of the Catholic Church (see par. 301 of the Church’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine for a list of those rights).
This country, then, like Sodom participates in the oppression of the poor, while even some calling themselves Christians rationalize it by arguing that “it would be even worse for them if our companies weren’t there”. Aside from the fact that we don’t really know that, it is about as morally relevant as arguing that beating someone to the point where they are crippled for life is better than murdering them.
The Holy Father himself, Pope Benedict XVI, spoke about these issues at length as Cardinal Ratzinger in 1985 in an article titled Market Economy and Ethics:
“Since the inherent inequality of various individual economic zones endangers the free play of the market, attempts at restoring the balance have been made since the 1950’s by means of development projects. It can no longer be overlooked that these attempts have failed and have even intensified the existing inequality. The result is that broad sectors of the Third World, which at first looked forward to development aid with great hopes, now identify the ground of their misery in the market economy, which they see as a system of exploitations, as institutionalised sin and injustice…
…we can no longer regard so naively the liberal-capitalistic system (even with all the corrections it has since received) as the salvation of the world. We are no longer in the Kennedy-era, with its Peace Corps optimism; the Third World’s questions about the system may be partial, but they are not groundless. A self-criticism of the Christian confessions with respect to political and economic ethics is the first requirement.
But this cannot proceed purely as a dialogue within the Church. It will be fruitful only if it is conducted with those Christians who manage the economy A long tradition has led them to regard their Christianity as a private concern, while as members of the business community they abide by the laws of the economy.”
Christians cannot get off the hook by claiming that they have been valiantly fighting the culture wars since the 1960s, spending millions on think tanks, institutes, publications, propaganda, political campaigns, etc. A true culture war would declare not only a war on sexual sin, but a war on economic sin. God does not save his wrath for adulterers and fornicators alone. As we see in the Book of Wisdom, 6:7:
“For to him that is little, mercy is granted: but the mighty shall be mightily tormented.”
The Bible is filled with exhortations to kings and princes to treat the poor with justice, and promises of severe wrath for those who abuse them. In the New Testament Christ tells the rich young man that the one thing he still needs to do to be perfect – in addition to keeping the commandments, including we may presume those related to sexual morality – is to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.
Does this mean that one must become a wandering vagabond? Far from it, for as we see in Acts, all who followed this command of Christ ended up in a community of believers dedicated to sharing and spreading the word of God. In losing themselves both spiritually and materially (we are an incarnationalist faith, remember), they gained everything. They created a true culture, that is, a perfect idea existing within a perfect structure. While the young man mentioned before went away sad, “for he had many possessions”, others entered into a life of joy and abundance, even under persecution.
The reward was not in heaven alone, as some might be inclined to think, but even here on this Earth. When we live in communion with others, our burdens do not multiply but decrease. And when we give away things we don’t really need anyway to the poor, or sell them for money that we use to help others, our “treasure in heaven”, as Christ says, increases exponentially. We all know this, too – we all know (many of us anyway) how great it feels to share and to give freely, yet as a nation we are covetous.
Because Christians – Catholic and Protestant – waged a culture war with one eye shut, they now suffer the ridicule of the media, a decline in political prestige, potential oppression by secular governments, and near total irrelevance outside of the enclaves dominated by the Christian Right. As Pope Benedict recently wrote in his letter explaining the excommunication of the SSPX bishops, “in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of being extinguished like a flame that has run out of fuel”. A truly sobering thought.
In my humble opinion the closed eye was to the plight of the poor, not just in America but throughout the world, a plight that was and remain too severe and widespread to be addressed by cutting checks to charitable organizations, or even setting up food banks and homeless shelters. These are important but the problem is structural and foundational. The Church still does a lot of good for a lot of poor and disadvantaged people, but it takes the entire community of the faithful, living and not just believing as the Apostles did, to truly and effectively address their suffering.
It is easier to address the sexual sin because it is usually a personal sin and in America, we all live very personal lives in what Pope John Paul II called a very “personalized” culture. This is not to reduce the seriousness of sexual sin, which also has social consequences in the long-run. But the result of our continued failure to address the social and economic sin will be that few outside of the Church, and perhaps not many more within it, will rush to its defense in its hour of need.
Now is the time to decide once and for all whether we serve God or Mammon. This isn’t a cliché anymore, it isn’t a stale aphorism we can casually throw around, it is a matter of life and death. The 5 percent or so of the world’s population that makes up the USA can no longer consume 50 percent of its resources, or even 25%. Such imbalances make all of us “the mighty” in relation to the rest of world, “the little”, and if we do not repent a “mighty torment” awaits. This economic crisis may just be the beginning.