Among those of a leftist political bent, it is worse to be known as rich than as an abortionist or an adulterer. For while the DNC fights for abortion and loves Bill Clinton, it continues the tired rhetoric of class hatred, notably in its platform:
[Republicans] think that if we simply eliminate protections for families and consumers, let Wall Street write its own rules again, and cut taxes for the wealthiest, the market will solve all our problems on its own. They argue that if we help corporations and wealthy investors maximize their profits by whatever means necessary, whether through layoffs or outsourcing, it will automatically translate into jobs and prosperity that benefits us all. They would … follow the same path of fiscal irresponsibility of the past administration—giving trillions of dollars in tax cuts weighted towards millionaires and billionaires while sticking the middle class with the bill…
[We believe in] asking the wealthiest to again contribute their fair share…
These are pulled just from the first section of the platform, but it illustrates the point. (Bonus eyebrow-raiser: the DNC wants to create an economy “built from the middle out.” Not from the bottom too? When did the Dems stop liking the poor?)
Who are the rich? To be in the top 5% of household income earners in 2010 only required $180,810 and the average household income of this top 5% was only $287,686. A household where the husband and wife are doctors could easily fall into this top 5%. So could a small business owner during a particularly good year. I only provide the data for context in case readers inclined to gripe about “the rich” may unintentionally be offending their neighbors, coworkers, or fellow parishioners.
Why is it okay to dislike the wealthy? Celebrities who make gobs of money rarely provoke such ire. If we are to avoid the near occasion of sin, and if envy is one of the seven deadly sins, then clearly there is a danger of envy if we begrudge people their justly-earned income. New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia notes that
[Envy] is defined to be a sorrow which one entertains at another’s well-being because of a view that one’s own excellence is in consequence lessened. Its distinctive malice comes from the opposition it implies to the supreme virtue of charity. The law of love constrains us to rejoice rather than to be distressed at the good fortune of our neighbour. Besides, such an attitude is a direct contradiction of the spirit of solidarity which ought to characterize the human race and, especially, the members of the Christian community. The envious man tortures himself without cause, morbidly holding as he does, the success of another to constitute an evil for himself.
More authoritatively, the Catechism states
2534 The tenth commandment…forbids coveting the goods of another… The tenth commandment concerns the intentions of the heart; with the ninth, it summarizes all the precepts of the Law.
If it concerns “the intentions of the heart” and not the size of net wealth, is it not possible that, though some of the rich have a disordered appetite for fast cars, fancy clothes, etc., that people of lower incomes may as well? Is greed only committable by people above a certain income?
The nearby CCC paragraphs (2534-2557) stress the point made in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is the root of all evils.” Not money itself, but the love of it. Jesus clearly asks his disciples to practice detachment from earthly goods, but this again is a matter of our hearts and where our treasures lie. Another relevant passage is Matthew 19:
[Jesus said to his disciples] “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Note a few things: Jesus just says only that a rich man will have trouble entering heaven, but the disciples wonder whether anyone can be saved. They interpret Jesus as saying that the sin threatening our salvation is common to everyone, which is of course true of envy. If Jesus only meant that the top 1% would have it rough getting through the pearly gates, why would the disciples be “greatly astonished?” Further, Jesus responds to them by noting that the source of salvation does not lie in physically divesting oneself of all monetary assets, but in God, with whom “all things are possible.” It’s an odd kind of works-righteousness that presumes one’s salvation is secured by staying below a certain income limit.
I’m not arguing that the rich are immune from envy; only that they do not have a monopoly on it. Clearly, then, for those people (rich or poor) who struggle with envy the solution lies in addressing their morality. It would seem to violate the principles of justice and subsidiarity to “cure” a rich person of the sin of envy by simply empowering the state to take more of their income.
I’ve stressed in past posts that investors and capitalists have the same amount of human dignity as do laborers; I will likewise stress here that the rich have the same amount of dignity as the poor. I know we are to have a preferential option for the poor, but does that mean we have to have a preferential option against the rich?