Dear Wall Street banker:
I understand there are demonstrators outside your window, and the whole Occupy Wall Street thing is getting out of hand.
Yes, I know you are smart. And rich. Maybe you deserve all you got. Personally, I’m not bitter and I’m not outside your door. I’ve got a mortgage to pay and a life to live. Taxes, too.
But if you are feeling a little guilty about your excess profits, I have a recommendation, especially if your attitude toward hurting people is condescending.
Read Calvin. Not the cartoon one. The other one. He writes:
Whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say, ‘He is a stranger’; but the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh. Say, ‘He is contemptible and worthless’: but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his own image (Institutes, 3.7.6).
Yeah, I know. The demonstrators are all unbathed freeloaders, or at least it’s easy to think so. But besides the self-serving political hacks, union bosses and celebrity want-a-bees, there are a few people out there who really are out of work and out of luck. And some of it is your fault.
I agree, there is no reason (and no way) to pay off their school loans, or at least none that I can think of. But you did get a bail out. Remember? That was right before you hiked interest rates on credit cards to 29%. (Lots of middle class people who aren’t even the least sympathetic to the protestors are not going to forgive you for that.)
So a little compassion and pity might be in your best interest. In fact, the biblical arguments for generosity and hospitality are persuasive. Abraham. The Good Samaritan. You get the picture.
In another place, Calvin writes:
The man who wishes to exempt himself from providing for his neighbors should deface himself and declare that he no longer wishes to be a man, for as long as we are human creatures we must contemplate as in a mirror our face in those who are poor, despised, exhausted, who groan under their burdens (Corpus Refomratorum, Vol. 51, col 105.)
You would think Calvin might have studied Jesus, who pointed out that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Now, mind you, I’m not one who believes the government should make you give your money away. (They can prosecute you for crimes, though.) I believe you should give it away on your own. That’s what Jesus told the rich young ruler. His problem wasn’t that he had money, but that he wouldn’t let go of it.
There are boundaries, sure. There are plenty of nut jobs and bums. Some of them are even politicians. I understand that. And yes, charity can be taken advantage of.
But the greater risk is that you die in the isolation and hopelessness of your wealth, only to be judged for your indifference and greed.
I don’t think you need a new law. I think you need a new heart, and only God can give you that.
As Calvin puts it:
Say that you owe no effort for any service of his [the man who needs you aid]; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place so that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound you to himself.
Wow. Kinda makes you want to write a check for some need instead of some indulgence.
No regulation required.
See also Occupy my street