Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Delivering his festive lesson, Father [Tim] 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.Color me unsurprised, but hardly jaded. It is an outrage that someone to whom others look for moral guidance could condone theft under any circumstance. Father Jones is as morally bankrupt as they come.
'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.'
What is perhaps less apparent, but no less remarkable is the declaration of spiritual bankruptcy also evident in his sermon. Consider the notion that theft from a big corporation is somehow better than theft from a mom-and-pop store. Is a shareholder or a customer of such a corporation any less violated simply because the impact of such a theft might seem to be proportionally less, or because it is impossible to say precisely who suffers from such crime? Of course not.
Indeed, big corporations, due to their size, are often among our greatest benefactors as measured by their ability to bring large numbers of paying customers excellent value. Should their owners, invisible or not, have a pack of shoplifters as their reward? According to Father Jones, they should.
It is common today for people to regard theft from big, "faceless" corporations as somehow not really stealing. Many such people do not think in abstractions well enough to see that they are, in fact, violating fellow human beings when they do, or the abstraction of a corporation makes it easier for them to evade the fact that they are stealing. Father Jones quite obviously doesn't see the owners or customers of large corporations as human beings. He furthermore doesn't see the "haves" as having rights.
The inexorable logic of Father Jones's altruism thus blinds him to achievers as human beings. If you are able, particularly is you are "big" (i.e., successful), you are fair game to legions of people down on their luck. Perhaps, if you're driven out of business as a result, he'll spare you some sympathy and tell you whose pocket you can pick.
It says something about a man -- something not good -- when what it takes to get his notice is your misery.
I cannot recall exactly where I read it, but I have encountered the idea more than once that great historical atrocities against one group or the other were often preceded by depersonalization, by people in a society coming to regard such a group as less-than-human, and thus not worthy of moral consideration or political protection.
Altruism has long goaded people into persecuting businessmen, usually through government regulations and the like. Not that persecuting businessmen through a government intermediary is any less immoral, but this telling people individually to do so is a new low. Whatever debt the idea of individualism might have to Christianity, the ethics of that religion is plainly at odds with it.
We are, it seems, permitted by its light to be wretched, stunted versions of what we potentially could become.