I’m going to be sharing what I’ve learned about God’s view of stuff from this book I’ve been reading, but first I want to lay some ground work so we’re all talking about the same thing. Before we start talking about God’s view of stuff, it is helpful to get some facts about all the stuff in the world. So, here it goes:
The stuff in the world is not shared equally, in fact, it is shared WAY less equally than we think it is:
We hear that wealth is unequally distributed, and we think it should probably be a bit more fair. Here is some research (and a pretty graph) that sums up what we know about the distribution of stuff in America:
- wealth is very unequally distributed
- it is a lot more unequal than we think it is
- all people (regardless of political party) actually want stuff to be more equitably distributed (aka: don’t call me a bleeding socialist, the Republicans want this too).
See this article if you don’t understand what’s going on in this graph. But basically, the white bars are wealth, and the graph is showing how wealth is distributed throughout the population. The bottom 40% of the population has so little, it doesn’t show up on the graph.
Within a country, when stuff is not shared very equally, it’s correlated with LOTS of other really bad social problems.
Here’s a graph that shows the correlation between social problems and income inequality.
Also, America wins the western democracy inequality game, but South Africa pretty much wins the world inequality game. Our Gini Index is in the 60s. This is on a scale where 0 means every single person has exactly the same amount of stuff, and 100 means one person in the country has everything and everyone else has nothing. And we’re in the 60s. The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in South Africa identified extreme economic inequality as the biggest barrier to racial reconciliation in our country in 2013.
In other words, what social scientists are telling us that what is important is not just the amount of stuff people have (ending poverty), but the gap between the haves and the have-nots matters, too. Here are a bunch of TED talks you can watch to explain this data further (here and here)
And lastly, Everyone has a warped perception of where they fall on the income ladder, especially if you’re a white person.
Sorry to bash white people, but it’s true. About 80% of white Americans think they are low to middle class (even compared to the whole world) but… uh, it doesn’t work that way. While there are poor white people in America (not denying that) the reality is that white Americans are still have the highest incomes and were the group quickest to recover from economic recession (largely thanks to their wealth, or their accumulated assets, not just their income. Interesting implications for how the history of racism and slavery continues to benefit white people).
In South Africa, white people have an even bigger perception problem. Compared to the rest of the population, we are in the top two upper living standard measures, but we think we’re the same as everyone else in South Africa, or even worse off!
Yes, there is a growing wealthy black middle class, but so far studies have shown they don’t have the same sense of ignorance about their wealth- they at least know they are wealthy.
So, given this is the state of stuff in the world, if you’re someone like me whose trying to follow Jesus and figure out how to relate to stuff, you might have some questions:
Like, does Jesus want me to literally sell everything I have and take a vow of poverty? Or am I evil because I have so much stuff? Is there a rule book, where I get told step-by-step what to do with my stuff? Can I buy a new laptop?
These plaguing questions will be answered soon. 🙂
PS you might like reading other things I’ve written about stuff here.