Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. –Leviticus 19:15 (TNIV)
Some say “the rich are evil” or “the rich must pay.” Others announce “the poor are lazy.” Those who imagine that God loves the poor more than the rich, or that the rich are specially favored by God are simply bigots. The Bible is quite clear: the poor who are oppressed and suffer injustice–God is attentive to their cry. The rich who are unjust, who take advantage of the powerless, and who show no compassion for the disadvantaged are repeatedly denounced in the Bible.
But the Bible is equally clear that those who condemn someone simply because they are rich, or praise someone simply because they are poor are just as wrong. In fact, they are thinking as clearly–and using the same sorts of arguments–that one would hear coming from the worst racist. Denouncing a group simply because they belong to a particular class is like denouncing a group simply because of their race or gender. Belonging to the class of people that we would characterize as rich is not inherently evil. Being a member of the class that we would characterize as poor is not inherently good. One’s actions as a human being–how one treats one’s neighbor–is what matters and that moral standing is not dependent upon the class, race, or gender that you happen to belong to.
Are there evil rich people? Certainly, just as there are evil poor people. No one group of human beings entirely virtuous or entirely evil. Individuals are evil or good, regardless of their group identity.
It is a widespread human temptation to compartmentalize the world into simple categories. We tend to believe that we can decide that a particular group is evil and responsible for the problems we face. Then, we decide that the solution to our problem is simply to destroy the group we’ve labeled as evil. Throughout history, the ugly choice has regularly been made to deny groups deemed unworthy of their possessions, jobs, rights, and lives.
Always, those who make such a choice argue that they are motivated by righteousness. The haters of a group insist that they are fixing problems and righting wrongs. The defenders of justice will insist that the targets of their ire are evil and anyone who disagrees with them must be evil too.
But those who decry a group, no matter how obviously evil that group must seem to all “right thinking” people, will be no more just than countless bigots of times past. They are like the lynch mob certain that those they hang are guilty of heinous crime. The focus of such mob mentality will be to scream about the crime that has been committed, the need for justice, the rightness of the complaint. There will be no concern about whether those being blamed are actually guilty. All that really matters is on my suffering, the suffering of the group, the suffering of the majority, the suffering of my people. Our suffering makes all the crimes we commit in the name of justice acceptable. Someone must be punished. So why not them?
In our system of jurisprudence, unlike many, insists that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Our society has decided it is preferable that guilty people go free than that even one innocent person to be punished. Of course, the system is not perfect. On occasion innocent people do suffer injustice and are punished. But it happens far less than under a system where the emphasis is on punishment and justice as opposed to anything else. Those who insist on the collective guilt of a group simply because they belong to that group are uninterested the innocent.
Justice is worthwhile; justice is desirable. But it must be balanced by mercy and a concern with finding the truth.
When people are hurting, we want to make their hurt go away. But it is never the right answer to blame the innocent. It is never the right answer to blame a group, imagining that they must be guilty just because we don’t like them for whatever reason, or because they are not attractive, or because they don’t think or act the way we think they should.
It is easy to raise money and to get people involved in protecting cute animals. No one wants to see pandas become extinct. But we probably would have trouble getting anyone to care if cockroaches suddenly became an endangered species.
Many of the rich seem out of touch, clueless, tone deaf, uncaring and self-absorbed. Therefore, they make a convenient scapegoat. But if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we ourselves are often selfish, self-absorbed and, like many of them, concerned only with making money. After all, we mostly go to work only because we have bills to pay and stuff we want to buy. Oddly enough, the rich are simply human like the rest of us.