The poverty in the immigrant Dutch Reformed community where I grew up was not grinding poverty, but almost all families were poor. It was egalitarian; people were treated alike. Had there been any wealth to be displayed, the community would have firmly disapproved of such a display. Much later I learned about Max Weber’s thesis that the origins of capitalism are to be found in the ethos of early Calvinism; the Calvinists, said Weber, regarded financial success as a sign of God’s favor. My father's attitude was the exact opposite. If someone in the community was beginning to accumulate substantial wealth, my father assumed that it was due, not to God’s favor, but to shady dealing.
Have you got good religion? Enslaved Africans in the antebellum South asked this question when they created a spiritual that offers a poignant and penetrating perspective on the state of Western Christianity. The famous line from “Have You Got Good Religion?” is a critique of Americanized Christianity.
What the widow in the Luke parable wants from the judge is vengeance or vindication. True, some have translated the original into something more polite such as “give the verdict to my side” or “give me justice.” Well, it is true the widow wanted justice done, and to her benefit. But it seems she wanted more.
President Bush may truly care about the poor and about people down on their luck, and he may want the public and private sectors to join in efforts to help. But his actions suggest he is engaged in what the Wall Street Journal calls a “war on the war on poverty.”
Samuel, the Billy Graham of his day, was adviser to the political leader Saul, the Pete Rose of ancient Israel. Samuel anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. But soon (to quote James Thurber), “confusion got its foot in the door” and went through the entire “system.” Samuel observed Saul disobeying the explicit word of God, and it became Samuel’s job to inform Saul that God had rejected him as king.
"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree . . .” With those words the writer of Luke’s Gospel acknowledged the political backdrop of Jesus’ life. The Roman Empire was the world’s unrivaled superpower. Its influence extended throughout the Mediterranean, and it had developed the capacity to enforce its will in such remote outposts as Judea.
The mainstream of Christian ethics has contended that there can be a legitimate or “just” use of military force—legitimacy being determined by a variety of factors, such as the presence of a “just cause,” “right authority,” “last resort,” and the use of “means proportional to the end,” to cite some of the traditional language