Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Am I my brother's keeper?

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As much as I hate Ron Paul's delusional Randian pipe-dream, the cries from the audience are what really delivered a severe blow to my faith in humanity. Have we so lost touch with our interconnected nature as humans? Regardless of the view you want to take, isn't it generally accepted that helping each other out is vital to our collective survival?

From an evolutionary biologist's perspective, our drive to empathize with others and work for the good of the community is what has allowed us as a species to have such vast success.

From a biblical perspective, the injunction to care for others is much more explicit. Certainly one of the messages received in the story of Cain and Abel is that we should be our "brother's keeper." The Hebrew word which the King James Version translates as "keeper" is שָׁמַר (shamar), which is most frequently used in the Old Testament when discussing the importance/need/command to "keep" the commandments/covenants. That in Genesis, God would have us care for each other and use the same word as with being a "commandment keeper" is fitting given that Jesus later pointed out that there is no greater commandment.

Often the assumption is made (thanks to years of tradition) that Sodom and Gomorra were so evil that they deserved to be destroyed because they were gay. However, if one bothers reading more of the old testament than simply the Torah, we read the prophet Ezekiel's explanation (which Elder Burton calls their "even greater evil"). They were prideful and they refused to share their abundant food with the poor. Elder Maxwell once used this same reference in Ezekiel to describe Sodom's lack of care for the poor when he said:
There are too many scriptures condemning members in all dispensations for ignoring the poor to require repetition here. I do turn to an example that summarizes some of the errors of the culture in Sodom. [Ezekial 16:49] Add to this observation the powerful verse 20 in the 49th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, and we see that there is a clear connection between economic disparity and sin.
If one trusts the pseudoepigraphic "Book of Jasher" (which many early mormon leaders did) you can read more graphic accounts of the people of Sodom and Gomorra abusing immigrants for their money (or labor) and allowing people to die in the streets.

This is (as Elder Maxwell pointed out) a significant theme throughout the Old Testament. Prophets calling the political leadership to repentance for "grinding the face" of the poor.

Now I'm sure that some feel justified in condemning this hypothetical 30-year-old to death because of his own foolish decisions. Perhaps some can live with such rationalization, but mormons have virtually no wiggle room on this point:
And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
[Mosiah 4:16-19]
I understand that many have the view that Ron Paul voiced, namely that churches should be the ones to care for the poor. I have some issues with this approach as I see it being incredibly ineffective, incoherent, and insufficient at dealing with the systemic problems in our society. (FWIW I see the government approach to the problem to be moderately ineffective, incoherent, and insufficient at dealing with the systemic problems in our society; I feel that regardless of the macro-level approach individuals need to each seek out those in need) But at least a view such as Ron Paul's does not extinguish the imperative to care for those in need. At least such a view doesn't scream "YEAH! Let him die!"

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