I’ve been thinking a great deal about poverty lately, specifically its causes as well as what our obligations are (both personal and societal) to alleviate it.
This is a dicey subject to address for two reasons. First, because of our current economy, there are many people who are a heck of a lot poorer than they were two years ago. And second, any time someone addresses the issue of poverty, except from a leftist position, they are automatically labeled as cruel, unfeeling, lacking in compassion, and the usual plethora of criticism – without consideration as to whether the arguments have any merit or not.
The reason this issue came up was because of a recent comment on my blog entry “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”
I had posted one of those humorous modern-twist rewrites of Aesop’s classic fable circulating around the Internet. Most of the readers got a chuckle out of it.
But someone took exception to our amusement and accused us of not being Christian because we preferred the original moral of the story (“Be Responsible for Yourself”).
This poses an interesting question. To what extent are we socially, morally and ethically responsible for others? At what point do the Ants share their hard-earned resources with the Grasshoppers? And is it ethical to force the Ants to distribute their resources to the Grasshoppers at the point of a gun? What responsibility do the Grasshoppers have in their own fate?
Let’s make one thing clear: In Aesop’s fable, what distinguishes the Ant from the Grasshopper is a work ethic. Nothing more, nothing less. The Grasshopper is not down on his luck while the Ant is busy storing food. He is not ill, or handicapped, or in debt, or out of work, or any other hardship an insect might face which would keep him from working toward a secure future for himself. The resources are freely available to both insects. Nothing – nothing whatsoever – is preventing the Grasshopper from getting his rear in gear and storing food for the winter – except an attitude problem.
Yet according to the critic, we should not presume to call ourselves Christian because the Bible admonishes us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The selfish Ant should share his food with the poor helpless Grasshopper regardless of what caused the Grasshopper to get into his predicament in the first place.
So, since I am clearly a flawed Christian unable to appreciate the finer points of loving my neighbor, I need to know to what extent the Grasshopper is called upon to provide for himself before the Ant steps in to keep him from starving in the cold of winter.
Is the Ant required to applaud the Grasshopper’s idleness, then uncomplainingly feed him during the winter? Does God smile upon the idle Grasshopper receiving the Ant’s hard-earned resources without requiring anything of the Grasshopper in return?
Perhaps. Certainly Jesus died for both the Ants and the Grasshoppers of this world. Not one single one of us – Ants or Grasshoppers – are worthy of such a sacrifice, but He did it anyway.
However I don’t believe that releases us from our obligation to try our best to provide for ourselves.
Many of us in this economy are poorer than we were before the downturn due to credit crunches, medical bills, unemployment, inflation, and other unavoidable situations. These people are not Grasshoppers. They are just down on their luck, something that happens to Ants and Grasshoppers alike.
I wish – oh how I wish – people could grasp this very basic concept: No one objects to helping others get back on their feet when they’re down. Most of us consider it a privilege, a duty and a pleasure to help those who are down on their luck.
But the Grasshopper is not down on his luck due to misfortune. He simply does not have a work ethic to match the Ant’s. Not only does the Grasshopper expect the Ant to help, but he refuses to help himself even when he can. Worse, our government then compels the Ant to help the Grasshopper at the point of a gun, whether the Ant wants to or not. That’s when the milk of human – er, insect – kindness starts to run thin.
To forestall the firestorm of criticism undoubtedly in the works by outraged readers, I’ll ask again: To what extent should able-bodied, perfectly-capable Grasshoppers be asked to provide their own resources for the winter? Or are Grasshoppers absolved from all responsibility for their own future?
And if the Ants are called upon to love their Grasshopper neighbors as themselves, why are the Grasshoppers excused from returning the sentiment? The Grasshopper, if he loved the Ant as himself, would get busy and store his own food so as not to be a burden to the poor hard-working Ant when the snow flies.
For those who accuse us Ants of un-Christian attitudes with regard to our neighbors, I’ll reference a few biblical passages in support of personal responsibility, the most succinct of which is 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “… If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Note that it does not say “Can not work” but “Will not work.” Big difference.
It should be obvious to anyone with an insect-sized grain of common sense that government entitlements discourage able-bodied Grasshoppers from working. And on a larger scale, I’m concerned that as more and more Grasshoppers receive the resources which are forcibly removed from the Ants, there will be fewer Ants to support the Grasshoppers.
Since the Bible is ever a handy resource for life’s concerns, I’ll direct the doubtful to parts of Proverbs 6:
“Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
…it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest –
and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man.”
Just a thought.