Counterculture Con HQ

December 24, 2009

The Ten Suggestions – revisited

A preacher in England offers his novel take on the Eighth Commandment-thou shalt not steal.

Delivering his festive lesson, Father Jones told the congregation: ‘My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.

‘I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.

‘I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need.

‘I offer the advice with a heavy heart and wish society would recognise that bureaucratic ineptitude and systematic delay has created an invitation and incentive to crime for people struggling to cope.’

And the kicker,

The married father-of-two [priest] insisted his unusual advice did not break the Bible commandment ‘Thou shalt not steal’ – because God’s love for the poor outweighs his love for the rich.

Catch that?  I call that last one the marxist “tell.”  Poor=good, Rich=bad.  Here delivered as God loving the poor over the rich.  Which is not biblical.  I grew up in the Third World.  I’ve seen poverty.  Not the-poor-are-overweight variety of poverty we are familiar with here in the West.  I’m talking the fly-infested skeletal child, the cardboard shacks, the open sewers, and literal starvation, Sally Struthers variety of poverty.  I wouldn’t pretend to judge or moralize over someone driven by that kind of desperation to take morality into their own hands.  I haven’t walked in those shoes myself, and I’ve been tempted by far, far less.  But have we really descended to the level of poverty and desperation as a society that would justify theft to the extent it should be taught from the pulpits?  Are the poor more desperate now than when God’s law was handed down to us?  Or is this good priest’s advice more a reflection of what’s going on inside our churches ideologically.

More here.

Hat tip: Jawa

UPDATE: America’s Young Theologian quotes Thomas Aquinas in defense of the good priest above:

Nevertheless, if the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand…then it is lawful for a man to sustain his own need by means of another’s property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.

I would agree with Thomas Aquinas.  Survival trumps all.  And if a man should be so driven to steal, he would find no condemnation from me.  But I’m willing to bet Aquinas never had a burger thrown back in his face by a “starving” panhandler because he only takes cash.  So while in theory I’m 100% onboard with Aquinas, on a practical level I’m pretty convinced the good priest mentioned above was merely grandstanding to make a larger point.  That larger point probably having to do with “structural justice”, or something along those lines.  And that’s fine.  Honest.  But the way he went about it was ridiculous.

UPDATE: further guidance on Thomas Aquinas in the comments.

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13 Comments »

  1. Shoplifting. The solution to being poor? A certain group has been trying that very thing in New Orleans for years. Doesn’t work. They’re still poor.

    Comment by greyrooster — December 21, 2009 @ 23:33

  2. Here’s the thing about this post: I agree with you that this is obviously a huge overreach by this priest. Indeed … and you should mention this in an update … his Bishop and the CoE rejected this statement.

    But I do take exception to your shorthand here: ‘Catch that? I call that last one the marxist “tell.” Poor=good, Rich=bad. Here delivered as God loving the poor over the rich. Which is not biblical.’

    1) Gutierrez’s ‘Preferential Option for the Poor’ is a complex theology supported by scripture in A Theology of Liberation (1971?). Sure it may be a reading of scripture INFLUENCED by Marxism but it is certainly not ‘Marxist’. To call it ‘not biblical’ is an overreach on your part.

    2) What is this guy’s point? There a plenty of people in this country (no less the UK) who have run into dead ends. In a country where so called Conservatives are rejecting an expansion of health care for the poor and spent 8 years lining the pockets of big industry is this really what you want to say?

    What does revolution sound like … look like? Will we be able to recognize its call?

    3)”Are the poor more desperate now than when God’s law was handed down to us?”

    If this question is to be taken seriously –and I think its a fine point– then going back to what Gutierrez was saying seems to be not only valid but necessary rather than giving conservatives yet another moralist rally flag in their fight over an ideology we can hardly even grasp.

    Comment by paleocon — December 22, 2009 @ 17:42

  3. Maybe it was overreach to say it’s not biblical, but only because I give Gutierrez the benefit of the doubt. Yet teaching the poor to fight for their rights is one thing, teaching them to break one of the Commandments is another entirely. God having a heart for the poor is not a call for them to sin. Such teaching coming from the pulpit, which doesn’t have ignorance as an excuse as do laymen, reveals an atheistic disregard for the innerrancy of God’s word and the wisdom behind it. It reveals marxist infiltration. This is not judgement on the poor who are driven to sin by desperation, it’s calling out the infiltrators in our church. One more thing too, talk of “revolution” in countries that still have freedom of expression and recourse to the democratic process is anathema. It should be opposed no matter how righteous they think their cause is. Everybody thinks they have a beef, and that would be a recipe for total chaos.

    Comment by Jesusland — December 22, 2009 @ 20:13

  4. “One more thing too, talk of “revolution” in countries that still have freedom of expression and recourse to the democratic process is anathema.”

    As I said, i agree with you for the most part. Stealing from the pulpit is ridiculous but what else will you count out? MLK preached much ‘law’ breaking from the pulpit. And when he turned to strikes for fair wages he got a bullet to the head.

    What do we do when ‘democratic’ process exists in name only and when freedom of expression is an act of impotence?

    Jefferson cites ‘absolute despotism’ in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence but i fear the despotism has taken a new and unexpected form in a post-industrial information age.

    I ask again … Will we be able to recognize its call?

    Comment by paleocon — December 22, 2009 @ 20:49

  5. I suspect the laws MLK preached against were unjust man-made laws, not God’s eternal law. We mustn’t confuse the two. Also we should not excuse any revolutionary movement that replaces biblical teachings with its own like this preacher did, no matter how worthy the cause may seem. I’m sure you agree with me on that. Because that is the Ring. If real democracy doesn’t exist, then obviously it’s time for revolution. Has that time arrived? Some on the Right are grumbling so. CCHQ does not agree.

    Comment by Jesusland — December 22, 2009 @ 22:35

  6. This should be investigated regarding this post:

    http://americasyoungtheologian.blogspot.com/2009/12/theology-on-theft-abundance-and-poor.html

    Comment by paleocon — December 23, 2009 @ 17:04

  7. Duly noted, and updated.

    Comment by Jesusland — December 23, 2009 @ 18:57

  8. Just one last thought … here it would be wise to return to Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérable’. When Monseigneur Bienvenu opens the doors of Grace to the thief Jean Valjean who had just repaid his kindness by stealing from him:

    “Jean Valjean felt like a man who is just about to faint. The bishop approached him, and said, in a low voice: ‘Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.’

    Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded. The bishop had laid much stress upon these words as he uttered them. He continued, solemnly: ‘Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!'”

    Comment by paleocon — December 23, 2009 @ 22:17

  9. paleo,

    food for thought. Thanks for the comments.

    Comment by Jesusland — December 23, 2009 @ 22:47

  10. Aquinas’ point is that taking what one needs is not theft. As such, the Decalogue has nothing to say about it. You grant some of his logic, but not yet that “in cases of need all things are common property.” It is worth pointing out that Aquinas pre-dates Marx by 600 years. From my communication with Fr. Jones, he seems to support the connections I drew between his sermon and Aquinas as far as what Jones was after. Merry Christmas.

    Comment by America's Young Theologian — December 24, 2009 @ 08:24

  11. AYT,

    God shows mercy to the poor. I believe that’s where Aquinas was coming from. That’s where I’m coming from. But perhaps he goes too far re “common property” and sin. For why else would we have a prayer like this in Proverbs 30:

    “Make me absolutely honest, and don’t let me be too poor or too rich. Give me just what I need. If I have too much to eat, I might forget about you; if I don’t have enough, I might steal and disgrace your name.”

    What “disgrace” is he praying about if the Decalogue has nothing to say about it and if the property in question is “common”? And while I appreciate Rev. Jones resting on the authority of Aquinas, he went too far as well. Thanks for your thought-provoking comments.

    Comment by Jesusland — December 24, 2009 @ 08:52

  12. i find it interesting that the Thomistic logic “in cases of need all things are common property” is precisely the course of logic taken by Hugo in Les Misérable … The Bishop tells those worried about the silver plates that they didn’t belong to them in the first place.

    Comment by paleocon — December 24, 2009 @ 10:11

  13. There is a conflict here. And maybe that’s because we aren’t distinguishing between “poverty” and “survival.” The dire need to survive absolves you, but mere poverty does not. I don’t believe survival is an issue where Rev. Jones is concerned. Though I have softened my position about the good Reverend.

    Comment by Jesusland — December 24, 2009 @ 10:24


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