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The Ethics of Enjoyment: The Christian’s Pursuit of Happiness by Kenneth Cauthen


Dr. Cauthen is the John Price Grazer Griffith professor of theology at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Grazer Theological Seminary. Published John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1975. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Chapter 6: A Declaration of Interdependence


What does it mean to be a morally responsible citizen in a complicated world? This is the question to which this book has been addressed. Its intention has been to describe the setting in which moral thinking must go on in the coming years. A further aim has been to suggest an ethical perspective based on the Bible. My purpose has not been to provide ready-made, prepackaged answers. Nevertheless, some of my own convictions about what Christians and churches should do with respect to particular political and economic questions have been clearly implicit in these pages. In this last chapter, it seems appropriate to develop a few of them more fully. I do so in order to give some specific illustrations of how visionary reason might respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow. The proposals I make also point out some problems that might be dealt with in a Center for religion and the future. These problems, of course, would also be appropriate for laboratories of reflection and task forces in churches to deal with. Finally, the material provided could be used to show how problem solving, decision making, and goal setting must all be taken into account in dealing with moral problems in a cybernetic society.

I invite the reader to think through certain issues with me. Some will agree; others will disagree. My aim is to present conclusions I have come to, along with some of the facts and reasons that have led me to them. I know full well that there are opposing arguments and evidence that lead to different convictions about what ought to he done. Much of what I will say has been implicit in the previous chapters, and it seems only fair that I "come clean" and declare myself openly. No reader is likely to be surprised by what appears in these concluding pages. If I appear to be a crusader in behalf of certain controversial political and economic views, I do so deliberately. My purpose, however, is not to give dogmatic answers to complex problems but to stimulate discussion. I invite rebuttal. What is important is that we all think deeply and realistically about our responsibility in the light of the moral imperatives of Biblical religion. I am not so much concerned that everyone agree with me as I am that all get involved and commit themselves to what their own visionary reason tells them to do. Hence, I urge the reader to enter into conversation about America and the future of humankind.

The century beyond 1976 will take us into a future that will be different from the past. We are viewing the convulsive birth pangs of a planetary society pregnant with unprecedented promise and peril. The world stands in need of a vision of its destiny as a unified global community of interdependent human beings. We inhabit a potentially bountiful and benign but also possibly vulnerable and virulent Spaceship Earth. Do the moral resources for meeting the challenge of the future lie in a combination of American ideals and Biblical religion? The United States has great material wealth and power. We have enormous, expanding resources of scientific knowledge and technical know-how that could be used for meeting human needs. We have in our heritage a belief in freedom and a dream of justice for all. A reservoir of idealism resides in the hearts of ordinary Americans. As we enter the third century of our history, is there any hope at all for inaugurating a Second American Revolution?

What would a Second American Revolution mean? One idea certainly must be in thc center of any vision of a desirable future: equality. It is an ideal basic to both American history and Biblical religion.

EQUALITY

Jesus The Declaration of Independence

You shall love your All men are created equal.
neighbor as yourself.
(Lev. 19:18; Luke 10:27)


Jesus taught his followers to regard their neighbor’s need as equal to their own. In today’s world the neighbor is, in principle, any human being in need. The Declaration of Independence was a political document that marked a great step forward. It must be read against the background of the divine right of kings and the absolute power assumed by governments. Viewed in that context, the statement that every human being has certain inalienable rights given by God that governments and kings cannot take away is a remarkable claim. After two centuries we are still trying to live out the implications of that creed. In the beginning it was mainly white, property-owning males who were really equal. In the Constitution, before it was amended, a black slave counted as 3/5 of a person in determining how many representatives a state would have in Congress. It took nearly a century to outlaw slavery. After another century we are still far from achieving racial equality. Women were not given the right to vote until the 20th century. The Constitutional amendment to guarantee equal rights for women ran into strong opposition throughout the country. In many areas of our common life women are still discriminated against by law and by custom. In the early days, only those (white males) who owned a certain amount of property could vote. Nevertheless, the ideal of equality was declared. It has a validity for political, economic, and social life that we are still working on.

Equality as a legal principle and as a moral ideal has never meant that there are no differences of intelligence, physical prowess, talent, or virtue among people. In all such particulars the human race exhibits great variety. The meaning is that every human being has the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All are equal before the law. Each person has the same claim to the means of human fulfillment as any other, no more and no less. In religious terms equality means that God loves all earthborn children alike. Every person is of infinite worth. God has no preferences of race, religion, sex, or nation. A person is a person. The moral requirement to love other people equally with oneself is an implication of the love of God which goes out to all human beings without favoritism.

A Declaration of Interdependence is needed to further universalize the principle of equality. The idea that everybody counts for one and nobody counts for more than one must now be applied to the realities and possibilities of Spaceship Earth. Two implications of equality and interdependence come into view at once. (1) The economic system and the tax laws are stacked in favor of the wealthy, the powerful, and the few. A political movement is needed to unite poor and moderate income groups. The aim should be to redress the balance for the sake of a more equal distribution of power and wealth. (2) The resources of the whole world must, in the long run, be regarded as belonging to all the people of the earth. The massive inequalities of wealth and consumption that now divide the rich countries from the poor countries are morally intolerable. The ideal that all people should have equal access to the material means of human fulfillment should be a goal toward which we move as fast as opportunity, prudence, and political reality allow. The most feasible path toward such an ideal is to incorporate into the structure of economic life the actual interdependence of the world’s people. The more immediate need is for economic aid to underdeveloped countries, along with famine relief in emergency situations.

The nearest I ever came to engaging in a deliberate act of civil disobedience was about a decade ago when I read The Great Treasury Raid by Philip M. Stern.1 This book tells how the tax laws of this country have been manipulated by wealthy people and huge corporations for their own interests and to the disadvantage of the large majority of less privileged citizens. I threatened to refuse to pay my income taxes in protest of this outrageous situation. The other part of my plan was to denounce the unfair tax advantages I received as a minister. Either prudence or cowardice finally prevailed, and I backed down. Nonetheless, my sense of outrage is still present. Wealth and power are unequally and unfairly distributed in America today. This injustice is built into the system itself. I will not try to prove that claim in a paragraph. A good deal of the evidence in available in two books to which I refer the interested reader: A Populist Manifesto by Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield and The Rape of the Taxpayer by Philip Stern.2

If the average American can read the first chapter of Mr. Stern’s more recent book and not be red with anger, then I am at a loss as to what would stir indignation. Consider chapter 19, "Letter from an Indignant Taxpayer." This is a letter actually sent on August 9, 1972, by Philip Stern’s secretary to Chairman Wilbur Mills of the House Ways and Means Committee and to Chairman Russell Long of the Senate Finance Committee. The letter tells what she has learned by typing Stern’s book at a salary of $150 a week. On the $7,800 she earned in 1971, she paid federal income taxes of $1,057.50. She asks why she has to pay nearly 14% of her earnings when some millionaires get off for practically nothing. Granted the case of J. Paul Getty is an extreme one, but it certainly impressed Ms. Saunders. He is said to be worth over a billion dollars and reportedly earned up to $300,000 a day during the early sixties. Yet from what President Kennedy told two senators, Getty paid only a few thousand dollars in tax. She goes on to recite instance after instance, all documented in her boss’ book, of loopholes that favor the rich. She also reminds Senator Long of how insistent he has been that welfare recipients ought to do a minimum of work. They might, he suggests, clean up "their filthy neighborhoods." Why, then, is Mr. Long not bothered by the fact that those who get what amounts to a free gift in tax savings are not required to do any work? Specially-privileged capital gains and tax-free municipal bonds are prime examples of work-free welfare. She proceeds to ask similar questions about the billions that corporations like General Motors and IBM will save over a period of years by investment credit and such wonders as "asset depreciation range." Mr. Stern shows how very weak the case is for these bonanzas. Ms. Saunders admits that she doesn’t fully understand all the complexities of the tax laws. But she did learn some of the usual defenses of these profitable schemes. She concludes that most of the reasoning is rationalization for a rip-off. Stern’s book documents the claim that the real welfare programs in this country are for the rich, not for the poor.

In June of 1974 the news media reported a swindle that illustrates how the law protects the very rich. About 2,000 wealthy investors poured $130 million into a scheme to drill oil wells. About $100 million of it disappeared. Home-Stake Production Company of Tulsa lured these well-heeled speculators into a deal crammed with tax benefits. Tax shelters enable people in high income brackets to invest money that would otherwise go to the IRS. By investing in a business such as oil drilling, they earn income that is protected from taxation by lucrative allowances. A whole industry has come into being to exploit every nook and cranny of these quite legal tax shelters. Despite the swindle, the lucrative benefits of the law will insure that those who invested huge amounts will probably end up with little loss.

According to Philip Stern, America’s richest 3,000 families get an average of $720,000 in tax welfare. The time has come for thoroughgoing tax reform. The basic principle of such reform is stated in the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution which instituted the income tax. This Amendment gives Congress the power to tax income "from whatever source derived." Put otherwise, the idea would be "to stop treating money earned through prior wealth more favorably than that earned through hard work."3 Closing the loopholes would make a difference of $77 billion a year, according to Stern. How can there be equality before the law until the income tax scandal is corrected?

If millions of average taxpayers are being subjected annually to such unfairness, why don’t they rise up and vote out the lawmakers who allow this outrage to go on? Many people don’t know the facts. Others are resigned to the fact that "the little guy will always get it in the neck." Some may secretly envy the rich. Others simply may not care. Seldom do the politicians offer much of an alternative at election time. Those in Congress who are in favor of tax reform have difficulty getting on the right committees. The sheer complexity of tax laws is a barrier to reforming them. A major reason tax reform is so hard to come by is that representatives and senators are financed heavily by contributions from the wealthy who benefit from the present tax structure. Who is foolish enough to bite the hand that feeds him? Even the Watergate and related scandals which showed dramatically how money corrupts power have so far produced only minor ripples in the direction of reforming campaign financing. However, the political power is there if middle and lower income citizens would unite and combine their efforts.

Inequality in the distribution of wealth and income is a closely related issue. The ratio of the total national income going to the poorest and the richest segments of society has changed little over the last quarter of a century. Yet the total output of goods more than doubled between 1947 and 1970. The actual figures for 1970 are:4

Poorest fifth 5.5%
Second fifth 12.0
Third fifth 17.4
Fourth fifth 23.5
Richest fifth 41.6

These are before-tax incomes. But the so-called progressive income tax changes those proportions only a few points. The after-tax share is nearly as unbalanced as it is before the IRS gets its portion. The stated tax rates range from 14% to 70%. The actual rates are quite different. The average rate for taxpayers in the $50,000 to $75,000 range in 1971 was 22%. For those earning over a million dollars a year, the average rate was only 32%. On the whole, the rate of taxation is roughly proportional to income, except for the richest 5% of the population.5 These percentages take on more meaning when it is recognized that 90% of American families lived on incomes of less than $13,000 after taxes in 1970.6

Isn’t this the land of equal opportunity? Don’t the differences in income reflect what people deserve in terms of their effort, talent, and total contribution to the country? These are only partial truths. Great opportunities do exist for the resourceful, the hard working, and the ambitious. Those who make a greater contribution perhaps deserve a greater reward. Nevertheless, the present arrangements in America developed over two centuries have created built-in advantages for some, disadvantages for others. Those with great wealth and power keep the cards stacked in their favor. Children simply do not start off with an equal chance in present society. Moreover, the present wealth of America and its future capacity for producing goods and services have been built up over many years by the brains and brawn of many people. Hence, it is impossible to justify any continuation of the present inequalities. Wealth is a social product. Black slaves as well as gifted inventors like Henry Ford, the work of millions of ordinary citizens as well as of entrepreneurs like John D. Rockefeller have made America rich and powerful. The present reward system is out of proportion to present contributions, given the unfair advantage with which the children of the privileged begin. Youths who start off poor do occasionally make millions. But these exceptions do not modify the big picture very much. There are no simple answers to questions of fair play in such complicated matters as this. Nevertheless, a redistribution of wealth in the direction of greater equality is one major move that interdependence demands.

Income redistribution can be accomplished. We know how to do it. An estimate of two or three years ago was that a reallocation of only 5% of the total national income would bring every family up to a minimum of $5,000 a year.7 A shift in this direction could be brought about by providing grants to individuals or families sufficient to allow a minimal standard of living. This system could totally replace the present system, which nearly everyone agrees is a "welfare mess." A number of proposals have been made along this line. Both conservative and liberal politicians have spoken in favor of the idea. The administrations of President Nixon and of President Ford have considered welfare revisions of this type. Schemes may go under the heading of Negative Income Tax or Guaranteed Annual Income. Basically their aim is to provide a guaranteed floor of income for everybody. Providing a minimum of $3,600 for a family of four would add $25 billion to the government’s budget. A floor of $5,500 would cost $71 billion.8 How would it be paid for? First of all, we could reduce spending in other areas. A substantial body of responsible expert opinion in this country maintains that the nation could defend itself on a budget of $20 billion less. Second, we could adopt a no-nonsense, no-loophole income tax with steeply graduated rates set at whatever levels were required to pay for the agreed family minimum.9

A number of income redistribution plans have been proposed. Dr. Harold W. Watts, for example, presented a scheme in 1972 to the Democratic Platform Committee which has much merit.10 It would replace the whole system of present public assistance programs and individual income tax schedules. No typical family of four would have less than $3,720. Work incentives would apply at every income level. Any person making less than $50,000 would keep at least $2 of every $3 earned. Nobody would keep less than 50¢ of every dollar earned. Only 3 out of every 10 people would end up with less than they have now. Put differently, 70% of the entire population would have more than they do. Moreover, the total revenue paid to the government would increase by $3 billion. These figures would need to be adjusted for today’s conditions and incomes. Nevertheless, Dr. Watts’ plan indicates what is feasible.

Many understandably balk at what seems to be giving money to people, no strings attached. However, we already allow a deduction of $750 for each person. An exemption or deduction amounts in effect to a grant in terms of reduced taxes. The present system "gives" more to the rich than it does to those of moderate or low incomes. For a family of four paying on a 14% tax schedule, the $750 individual deduction provides a savings in taxes of $420. A wealthy family paying at the 70% rate saves $2,100. Moreover, we already give welfare to those who have little or no income at all. Some critics claim that a guaranteed annual income would destroy motivation, corrupt character, and create an army of welfare loafers. This is not very likely. If a person making $50,000 feels that $10,000 more a year is enough incentive to change jobs (and people in such cases almost invariably do), then it would seem that a father would find four mouths to feed enough incentive to look for work, even if he had $5,000 guaranteed to him. A person who will not work in order to get more than $5,000 to support a family at today’s prices may have problems, but it is hardly lack of incentive. A Department of Labor report issued in June of 1974 indicated that atypical family of four living in a city required $8,200 for an "austere" budget and $12,600 for a moderate one. The requirements for a moderate budget had risen $1,200 in one year because of inflation.

The issue of income redistribution is a splendid example of the way problem-solving knowledge, politics, and values interact to determine the direction of society. Economists and tax specialists may invent various plans and specify the costs, benefits, and consequences of each. No plan can be instituted, however, unless the political power can be mustered in Congress to pass the legislation and persuade the president to sign it. Fundamental also are the attitudes and values involved. Right now there is probably not enough sentiment in favor of economic equality and redistribution of wealth to make use of the knowledge or to mobilize the political power. Should not Christians in their roles as citizens and voters take the lead in creating the political possibility for income redistribution? Should not churches in their corporate witness take the lead in developing attitudes and values favorable to equalization of opportunity and privilege? Here is something immediate and practical that Christians and churches can do. They can help create the moral climate and the political realities that will make income redistribution both possible and necessary.

The meaning of the ideal of equality at the global level is more difficult by far. The claim that the resources of the whole world belong to the people of the whole world is an implication of the doctrine of creation as stated in Psalm 24:1: "The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." However, between that ultimate goal of religious faith and the immediate historical facts stand numerous secondary principles. Chief among them are the territorial and property rights of individuals and nations. The United Nations should not, even if they could, immediately take over the oil of Saudi Arabia for general distribution to all alike. Nor should the wheatfields of Kansas at once be declared a commons from which all can harvest indiscriminately. A request this year from the Eskimos for their share of General Motors should not be honored.

Nevertheless, we need to enlarge our moral vision beyond national boundaries. In the decades ahead all peoples of the earth will move toward a converging destiny. It has taken two centuries for us to begin to live out the meaning of the declaration that "all men are created equal" in our own country. It may take two more centuries before we put into practice the global ideal of equality. Two things can be said, however, about the immediate practicalities of achieving this goal.

1. The world is being knit together in bonds of economic interdependence. This is a hopeful sign. Those who depend on each other and know it are more likely to play fair. Increased trade between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. may be a step toward warming relations between them. It may even turn them away from the madness of the arms race. There is hope in the fact that some of the non-industrial countries do have rich resources. This gives them a potential base of power. We have seen what the Arab countries can do with the threat of oil embargoes. Nevertheless, the system of world trade is still stacked in favor of the rich countries, just as economic opportunities in America are stacked in favor of those who already have wealth. It is an obvious truism that ideals flourish best when they can be connected with the mutual self-interests of interacting parties. Where interests do not merge, justice treads a more tortuous path. Moral idealism in this case can only moderate the baser passions of nations.

2. The rich countries must assist the poorer countries for immediate humanitarian reasons and for the long-range reasons of global peace and security. Masses of impoverished and desperate people are a threat to everybody’s future. Here is a point at which Christians and churches can do something immediately in a down-to-earth practical way to help the wretched of the earth. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, now head of the World Bank, recently reminded a conference of religious leaders how desperate is the plight of millions of the world’s poor. 800 million people live on 30 cents a day or less. In parts of the underdeveloped countries 25% of all children die before they are five years old. Life expectancy is at least 20 years shorter in these countries than in America. He went on to say that only 3% of the expected economic growth of this country through 1980 would be required to meet the United Nations’ goal of 7% of GNP (gross national product) devoted to assistance hinds. We now contribute only 125%. This percentage puts us 14th among the 16 developed countries in the giving of aid. Edward P. Morgan gave figures to show how little we now do in this regard. We spend $20 billion for alcoholic beverages, $13 billion for cigarettes, $5 billion for cosmetics, and $3.5 billion for aid to developing countries. Mr. McNamara, speaking as a Presbyterian elder, said, "If the churches will not speak to these issues, who will?"

James Grant, president of the Overseas Development Council, pointed out that the myth of producing more in order that all may have enough is being shattered. The earth has limited resources. We are realizing that there are ecological limits to growth. Inevitably, then, emphasis must shift from production to distribution. Global justice has to do with a more equal sharing of the world’s goods. Redistribution will require not only a new politics but new life-styles emphasizing reduced consumption and conservation. Religious communities can play a large part, Grant said, in preparing for an era of scarcity.

Lester Brown claimed that famine is shifting from geography to economics. The poor in every nation are going to be caught in the squeeze. There are radical shifts going on in our world that mark a transition from one global era to another. The movement is from production to distribution, from supply to demand, from independence to interdependence. To emphasize present inequalities, he pointed out that the average American uses 150 times more energy than the average Nigerian. The great question before the world is not simply how to produce more but how to distribute what we have more equitably. This means, Brown said, that the problem has shifted from the domain of economists to that of theologians.11

There are hungry people in the world today. More empty stomachs are likely in the years to come. What will the churches do? I have spoken of the problem of values in this book. In real life that comes down to asking what prosperous Americans will do in the presence of the bloated bellies and shriveling bodies of children whose helpless parents have only love but no food to offer them. I have spoken of the church as the bearer of Christian visionary reason. In practical terms, that means envisioning a world in which there is no hunger and asking what must be done beginning right now to realize that dream. One immediate task of Christian visionary reason would be to mobilize the moral energies of Christian people in support of greatly increased economic assistance to the countries in which millions of people literally do not know where the next meal is coming from. If we can spend nearly $100 billion for military purposes, can we not spend at least $10 billion to save people from starving? Individual Christians can write their representatives and senators in Congress letting them know that they would like to see our priorities changed. They can demand a reduction in unnecessary and wasteful military spending which an insatiable Pentagon would force on us. They can let their leaders know of their concern for the poor of the world and of their willingness to pay the needed taxes and to reduce personal consumption or do whatever it takes to make humanitarian policies possible.

Americans have grown cynical about foreign aid programs. Much of the disillusionment is justified. An intensive seven- month investigation by Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele reveals some of the negative aspects of past efforts.12 More than $172 billion has been spent since World War II in overseas assistance. The authors note the following unintended consequences of what was billed as humanitarian aid to the poor. Foreign aid has:

• -- Aggravated food shortages in some countries; reliance on food imports from the United States has discouraged home production.

• -- Subsidized sweatshop factories and textile mills in

• -- South Korea; instead ofraising standards of living, as was intended, the sweatshops have lowered it, paying from 10 to 30 cents an hour.

• -- Entrenched the rich and powerful in foreign countries

• -- by aiding businesses controlled by them, thus widening instead of narrowing the gap between the rich and poor.

• -- Generated windfall profits for business and financial interests in this country.

• -- Led to the building of a gaming lodge in Kenya and a luxury hotel in Haiti with $150-a-day rooms, whereas the intent was to stimulate private investment that would aid the poor.

• -- Created a powerful foreign-aid lobby in this country made up of corporations, financial institutions, colleges, and others who benefit by funds appropriated for overseas relief.

The authors also report that American aid has fed the hungry and provided medical assistance for the ill. It has built highways, factories, hospitals, and schools. It has financed the education of thousands of foreigners in the United States. Like all human ventures, foreign aid is flawed with greed, corruption, and mismanagement. It is a mixture of good and bad. However, we must avoid complacency and cynicism in the face of the negative side of foreign assistance. Instead, the American people should demand a thoroughgoing reconstruction of the whole range of aid programs. Once set up, they must be monitored carefully to insure that their intent is carried out. Should not Christians take the lead in demanding that humanitarian policies be legislated and rigorously enforced in the interest of lifting the wretched of the earth out of their misery?

It would be a denial of every premise in this book to claim that relieving the poverty of the world is an easy matter. Moreover, despite its wealth and power, the United States alone cannot save the world, even if it set out to do so with the purest of motives. Realism and modesty must mark all our efforts. Yet we can alleviate hunger and suffering in substantial ways if we are wise as well as compassionate. We cannot make the world perfect, but we can make it better than it is. The eminent economist, Gunnar Myrdal, makes five important points in his book The Challenge of World Poverty.

1. Lifting the wretched of the earth out of their misery will require a combination of thoroughgoing economic and political reforms in the poor countries and substantial aid from the developed countries. It is crucial that the developing nations take radical measures to democratize and equalize their societies. This is essential if economic advances are to benefit the masses and not simply a few.

2. Western nations have so far not made any real sacrifices to aid the world’s poor. On the whole, they have not been prepared to forgo even minor trade advantages that offended their long-range self-interests. Furthermore, Americans who think they are the only ones who have given assistance or believe that the United States has given more than its fair share are mistaken.

3. The aid policies of the United States have been shaped primarily to further military and political interests, not to help the impoverished masses. Humanitarian impulses have sometimes been involved, but all too frequently this country has propped up repressive and corrupt regimes under the guise of saving people from the wicked communists.

4. A new philosophy of assistance must be directed first at reforms in the interests of the poverty-stricken masses. Only in this way can aid policies escape the understandable cynicism which so many people have about them.

5. Based on this study of the facts, Myrdal concludes that "only by appealing to peoples’ moral feelings will it be possible to create the popular basis for increasing aid to underdeveloped countries as substantially as it is needed."13

Especially noteworthy are points four and five. Point four would appeal to the revolutionary ideals on which this nation was founded. It would put us back on the side of those movements in the world which are striving for equality. I am writing these words on Independence Day, and I can hear people celebrating from my window. But it frequently happens that those who are most enthusiastic about the revolution of 1776 are the most convinced conservatives today. It is time we captured the best of our own past for the sake of all the world’s oppressed. Americans in recent years have been given spurious, dishonest, and inadequate reasons for supporting aid. Widespread support on the part of Americans must be based on morally sound as well as politically realistic principles, freed from the myths and corruption of the past. Point five is a special challenge to Christians. Should not churches take the lead in appealing to the moral feelings of people?

To conclude, here are some specific things Christians can do as individuals in their roles as citizens and voters. They can:

1. Demand that their political leaders enact a no-nonsense, no-loophole income tax system which insures that all pay their fair share.

2. Urge the replacement of the present welfare system with a guaranteed minimal family income plan. The goal should be to provide an income floor for each family which is at least one-half of the median family income for the country as a whole for that particular year. This move should be coupled with other measures designed to equalize economic opportunities and benefits for every American.

3. Urge Congress and the president to work toward the goal of committing 1% of the gross national product to the assistance of the poverty-stricken countries. An aid program should be based on realistic humanitarian principles. It should be rigorously monitored to prevent corruption and misuse of funds. Aid should be made available in ways that encourage the recipient countries to make reforms which will guarantee that the masses of the poor are actually helped.

When examined, all three of these proposals raise complex issues. Nevertheless, they suggest a direction and a goal. A Declaration of Interdependence focused on the meaning of equality for the nation and the globe is one way of uniting American ideals with Biblical imperatives. Whether the time is right for a transformation of values and goals on the scale needed, I do not know. A Harris survey released in 1974 may have some significance for our topic.14 It indicates that there are shifts in attitudes and outlook that may signal a readiness for change. The survey indicates that 59% of the American people feel alienated. This is up from 29% in 1966, and the rise has been steady. The newspaper reports that "a majority of every single major segment of the population is turned off by politics, the fairness of the economic system, and the role accorded the individual in society." From the Vietnam War through rising inflation and unemployment, to Watergate, the index of disaffection has moved upward. In 1972, 66% of blacks but only 47% of whites were basically discontented. Only two years later the percentage of white discontent had risen to 57%, while the black index remained the same. For the first time the college-educated, the suburban dwellers, and those with incomes over $15,000 have shown a majority of their members in the unhappy group. Disenchantment among young people has increased from 46% to 62% in the last two years. This is a greater rise than was evident in the late sixties and early seventies. It is not clear what all these figures mean or portend for the future. They do suggest that easy optimism cannot be sold today. They may also signal a potential responsiveness to leaders with a positive vision that is both realistic and hopeful. Disenchantment, however, can also be exploited by reactionary forces and demagogues. Alienation and disaffection only signal a readiness for change. They do not guarantee that the change will be creative.

Given this peril and prospect, what is to be the response of Christians and of churches as we celebrate the 200th birthday of the Declaration of Independence? The answer is not finally to be given in a book. We cannot, by merely taking thought, bring in a better tomorrow. The test will come in our actions; everything we do -- or don’t do -- affects the world, so we must work cooperatively, wisely, and humanely to realize on earth the Kingdom Christ promised.

 

Notes:

1. Philip XI. Stern, The Great Treasury Raid (New York: Random House, 1964).

2. Both of these books are available in a paperback edition: A Populist Manifesto by Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield is available from Warner Paperback Library (75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020) for $1.50. The Rape of the Taxpayer by Philip M. Stern is available from Vintage Books (Random House, Inc., 201 E. 50th St., New York, NY 10022) for $2.45.

3. A Populist Manifesto, p. 105.

4. The Rape of the Taxpayer, chapter 21.

5. Peter Passell and Leonard Ross, The Retreat from Riches (New York: The Viking Press, 1973), pp. 76-77.

6. The Retreat from Riches, p. 7.

7. The Retreat from Riches, p. 14.

8. These figures are from The Retreat from Riches and pertain to estimated costs of the early 1970s. See chapter 2 of that book.

9. See The Rape of the Taxpayer, chapter 21.

10. For complete details, see Willard B. Johnson, "Should the Poor Buy No Growth?" Daedalus (Fall 1973), p. 181. Dr. Wafts’ proposal was apparently based on projections for 1975 conditions provided by the Brookings Institute.

11. The report of this conference is given in The Christian Century (June 26, 1974), in an article by Cornish Rogers.

12. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (December 25, 1974), pp. 1A, 8A-10A.

13. Gunnar Myrdal, The Challenge of World Poverty: A World Anti-Poverty Program in Outline (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970), p. 368.

14. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (June 27, 1974), p.9A.

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