Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Curse of the Dollar-Shaped Plank

Sometimes I wonder if the reason we interpret "Blessed are the poor in spirit" to mean "Blessed are the people who feel poor on the inside" is because American culture is so oblivious to the sway that money holds over it that we feel we have no other choice but to read this beatitude in such a way that it makes no demands upon our lives. I mean, it's either that or we have to sell one of our Hummers (and that ain't gonna happen).

All cultures have their blind spots, including us. I mean, we have no problem recognizing the faults in other cultures, or in American culture of times past, but diagnosing similar traits in our own is another story. For example, we look at the fact that Muslim females wear those black robes with their faces veiled and lament the way Islam treats its women, while at the same time rarely seeing the demand for Botox, Calogen, and surgical augmentation as glaring testimonies against how we Westerners view our own.

We can wonder with great sanctimony how antebellum Southerners could claim to be disciples of Jesus while simultaneously being owners of slaves, but when a Fortune 500 CEO moves his company's manufacturing to a sweatshop in Malaysia so he can pay the workers $.09 an hour without having to worry about those pesky labor laws to protect them from oppression, we don't call that "slave-owning," we call it "smart business."

We watch those WWII documentaries and wonder how the German population could just sit back passively as Jews were being slaughtered, while feeling no more guilt than the Germans over the 1,000,000 innocent men, women, and children we have killed while liberating Iraq.

My point is simply that if we desire to interpret the Gospels correctly, we need begin by recognizing the dollar-shaped plank that we have firmly lodged in our collective eye.