The Ruin of Joseph

Amos has some stern words for us in chapter 6 of his book. It is a dire warning to the rich who anoint themselves with the finest of oils and drink the choosiest of wines while “Joseph” [their country] goes to ruin. They are complacent. They lie on ivory beds. The eat lamb and beef and make music on the harp. They are complacent!
We may be counted among the rich. Our pastor says that if we know that we will have food on the table and a roof over our heads six months from now, we are wealthy. Contrast this to billions who live on less than $2 a day.
Emmanuel Charles McCarthy says that radical evil is the refusal to alleviate relievable human suffering. In other words, complacency is radical evil.
Amos lines up well with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man form Luke’s Gospel. The rich man lived a life of luxury while Lazarus, covered with festering sores, languished at the gate hoping for a mere morsel to alleviate his hunger. The rich man was complacent. Jesus is not saying that it was wrong for the rich man to enjoy life. He was saying that enjoying life and ignoring the suffering of others is wrong—dead wrong.
The question is whether our nation [Joseph] is collapsing. There is ample evidence that we are on a moral decline. Robert Gates can come to Congress and unabashedly ask for $190,000,000,000 for one year for the war on terror and the President then says that $60,000,000,000 over a five year period for health care for children is a “budget buster.” Budgets are moral documents. Spending 52% of our budget for war and defense while children and adults in this country and around the world languish in poverty is a grave moral issue. Over 40,000 children in this country and abroad die every day from preventable illnesses many of which are caused by unclean drinking water.
It is immoral to refuse to alleviate human suffering. As a nation, we spent less than 1% of our GDP on aid to other nations. We rank 24 out of 24 among the wealthiest nations in this regard. And when we give there are gross imbalances. Some favored nations get hundreds of dollars per capita while Haiti and other impoverished countries get a few dollars per capita.
Perhaps the nation is collapsing because we are collapsing. We fall into the luxury of our consumer-driven society as we await the next recall from China. In order to amass more and more while others have less and less, we live in our own Imperial Comfort Zones (alla Daniel Maguire). We eat the finest beef and lamb. We drink choice wines. We anoint our Humvees with the finest of oils.
We demean the poor—why don’t they get a job? But we ignore structural poverty and the violence it reaps on the dignity of other human beings. As long as we can blame them for their condition, we can dine in luxury without a qualm of conscience.
Bill Clinton has launched an initiative to get people to give much like we say in church of their time, talents and money to alleviate human misery. The William J. Clinton Foundation is encouraging people to go online and make a commitment. So many people have already responded. They are not complacent. They are using their time, talents and resources to alleviate human suffering. Let us hope that this and other grass roots initiatives will alleviate Lazarus’ suffering.

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