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The Gospel of Prosperity vs. The Gospel of Christ

Laurel Javors | Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just when I thought that I had heard it all, I open The Observer and read some of the Viewpoints in response to a student’s concern that the hourly waged workers at Notre Dame are not making enough money off of which to live. I find it amusing when 18 and 19-year-old white students talk about “wage inflation” when people like myself and others suggest we actually pay people fairly. As someone who worked in the labor movement in Chicago for a summer and heard the stories of human beings being exploited in the name of capitalism, it reminds me that very few people actually know what Jesus said, what the Catholic Church teaches, and what reality entails.
One of the most shocking things written in the Viewpoint was Mark Easley’s “Word to the wise” (Feb. 18). It is a disgrace that someone attending one of the top-20 schools in the country, a Catholic one at that, knows so little about what the Catholic Church teaches on economic justice and has such a condescending attitude toward those who keep Notre Dame clean, ensure that the campus looks pristine, and feed the students. Rather than focusing on Easley’s erroneous article, I would like to focus attention on what the Catholic Church teaches on the issue and what Jesus teaches, something which many Christians have disregarded in favor for a Gospel of “Prosperity.”
In May of 1891, Pope Leo VIII issued the first of modern Papal encyclicals entitled “Rerum Novarum.” At the time of its publishing, there was a real problem of worker exploitation, especially in America. In it, Pope Leo VIII laid out that workers have certain responsibilities to their employer; to do the just work that his/her employer asks of him/her. In return, the employer “mindful of this — that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one’s profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven.” These are not the words of some “bleeding heart liberal calling for wage inflation” but rather are the words of Pope Leo VIII. Since “Rerum Novarum,” every Pope has written something demanding that workers be treated with justice and that they be given a living wage.
This brings up another point being discussed, often on false pretenses, in Viewpoint comments: the idea that somehow $9 an hour is sufficient. Many people have alluded to their heroic days of working hourly waged jobs where they lived off of a minimum wage. The problem is, the examples they have presented are the exception, not the rule. Making $9 an hour means that person working forty hours a week makes only $18,000 a year. The reality that people need to accept is that not every household is a two income household. Another reality — not everyone has perfect health. $18,000 won’t cover rising health costs for those who have children with health problems or dependents who cannot work. And how far is it to ask people to work more than forty hours a week when that person has a family? The fact is that hourly waged workers are doing jobs that are needed in order to function. If they didn’t work them, we would be in a world of hurt. No garbage collected, no one to clean our streets, no one to clean up the blood in the operating room after a surgery. The problem is that in our current economic system, these jobs are not fully valued for the good that they provide to our society.
I think the thing that this whole discussion has lacked is the words of Jesus. Jesus preached that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” and that “what so ever you do to the least of these my brothers, that you so do unto me.” And yet Alex Andre in his Viewpoint article (“Welcome to capitalism,” Feb. 22) said we have “no moral responsibility” to pay Notre Dame workers a just wage. What Bible are you reading? Are you even reading the Bible? It amazes me how un-Christ-like so many on the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses can sound. Jesus himself was a peasant, suffered cruelty at the hands of humans, and yet, those claiming to be Christian forget that. Based on what the Bible says, on what Jesus said, I can say with 100 percent confidence that our Lord always takes the side of the oppressed, that were Jesus around now, he would demand a living wage for those working honestly, just as he demanded just treatment for those on the fringes of Palestinian society 2000 years ago.

Laurel Javors
LeMans Hall
Feb. 25