Listen to this story
The internet got very angry at a young woman who recently wrote about her charmed life. The internet is a volcano hungry for human sacrifices. Her article was an honest record of the money she, a struggling intern, spends in a week — money mostly provided by her wealthy family.
She was a “have” who pretended to be a “have not,” and that is why the virtual pitchforks came for her. I felt sorry for her. I don’t think she deserved the rage. She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but wanted people to think it was a spork.
I was raised to feel compassion for those who are not like me. It wasn’t really my choice. I was brainwashed. My parents were devoted to the faiths they grew up with and decided to subject their children to both Mass and Sunday services. So I spent many hours sitting in the pews of both Catholic and Baptist churches as a boy, nodding off to the Word of God.
My parents wanted to make sure they didn’t raise a monster, so they taught me very basic lessons based on fundamental Christian beliefs: be nice, help the weak, God is love.
“Who, then, can enter heaven?”
As a result, my head is full of bits and pieces of scripture. It’s in my subconscious whether I like it or not. If my personal morality were a finished Tetris puzzle, Bibles stories would be the “T”-shaped blocks. The other blocks would mostly be Star Trek episodes and the musical Les Miserables.
Trying to understand Western Civilization without the Bible is like trying to explain Lady Gaga without mentioning Madonna. Much of our modern culture can be found in the pages of a book still tucked away in roadside motel room nightstands. It is an essential text, regardless of whether one likes it or not. There are very nice stories in the Bible. Beautiful, even. And there are some fantastically unbelievable ones, too. Super-strong Samson, Joshua, with his wall-wrecking horn, and Moses, Master of Plagues, were like The Hebrew Avengers to me.
There are also parts of the Bible that are best skipped. The Bible had many mortal authors and a few of them were really hung up on prejudices specific to their times (and, sadly, ours).
I do not believe the Bible was written with lightning bolts by an omnipotent supreme being. I know people who do and I try to respect their beliefs. My respect manifests by never bringing it up at dinner.
I have found, however, that those who believe the Old and New Testaments are divinely written and not, as I believe, crowd-sourced collections of ancient wisdom, are often vulnerable to a certain earthly command from a specific species of religious leader. That command is “give me money so that I may buy a second private plane.”
Those are also the same so-called holy people, with their expensive rings and bespoke vestments, who’ll insist that God is fear.
I am pretty sure Jesus would have been a socialist. He did feed five thousand people for free and the profit margins on that miracle would have been pretty sweet.
I’m not saying all preachers covet riches. But there are plenty out there who want money so they can buy fancy cars or vacation mansions. They stand before television cameras and propose a transaction: be faithful, give money, and all your greedy prayers will be answered. I am no theologian but I’m pretty sure a prayer isn’t a genie’s wish for more moolah.
The Gospels are clear about money. I know this because I once had a nun tell me that the Gospels are clear about money. Judas gets paid very well. I remember her telling me the story about the temple merchants and how angry they made Jesus. I also remember this story: Jesus tells a rich man the only way he can get into heaven is if he gives up his possessions and helps the poor. Then, he turns to his disciples and says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
“But Jesus,” I imagine the rich man shouting. “What if the camel is very, very tiny and the needle is really, really big?”
The rich don’t get to go to heaven. They’re just cursed to try to create it here on Earth.
I live in New York City, which is a very popular Valhalla for tycoons. I have known many rich people. One very old billionaire I worked for had surprisingly soft-looking baby skin. It costs money to look that smooth. A startup millionaire I know told me, in all seriousness, he was going to live to 120. A very wealthy woman offered me this advice: “never buy an apartment with an elevator.” I don’t know if I’ve ever really met a happy fat cat, even though they’re often smiling.
I’m not judging. I’ve got my own problems, and some of those problems have absolutely nothing to do with money.
I am not, at this moment, wealthy. But I am not broke. Thank Spock. I recently paid off all of my credit card debt, after many years, so occasionally I feel like I’m rich. Sometimes, when I’m eating out, I order the shrimp cocktail, the champagne of appetizers. I like to imagine there are no debt collection agencies in heaven. And lots of shrimp. Yes, I know heaven isn’t real. But I like to cover my bets.
There are those who fought for their wealth. And those born to wealth. Either way, though, there’s enough luck involved that it doesn’t hurt to be grateful.
The poor are as capable of happiness as the rich are of suffering. For instance: the rich know, in their bones, that money can’t buy love but they try anyway.
I’d love a little luck. I am a capitalist by necessity. I am pretty sure Jesus would have been a socialist. He did feed five thousand people for free and the profit margins on that miracle would have been pretty sweet. The main problem with socialism, though, is all the socialists. But I don’t know if a world built on sharing would be a bad place.
I don’t romanticize poverty. The broke can be selfish. Cruel. The poor are as capable of happiness as the rich are of suffering. For instance: the rich know, in their bones, that money can’t buy love but they try anyway. They have hearts and hearts break. I wonder if King Louis XVI looked at the gruesome guillotine and thought “Oh shit, the peasants really do hate me.”
I read another viral story from a few weeks ago about a billionaire who promised to rescue children trapped in a cave with his very own personal submarine. I do not doubt he wanted to help. But he didn’t get the love he expected. This man also sells recreational flamethrowers because it excites his many fans. I find this humanizing—I, too, know what it’s like to have a mid-life crisis.
Another story I read was about a very rich woman who, it was revealed, owns 10 yachts. I remember playing a game with my mother and sister while we clipped coupons called “What would you do if you won the lottery?” The list always included new cars, tropical island vacations, and the paying off of family debts. I would never have thought “buy 10 yachts.”
Forget Fitzgerald’s famous line about the rich being different — they are just like you and me, only with better healthcare. They are human. Their lives are full of insecurity and anxiety. The rich think everyone else is rich and when they meet someone not rich they’re terrified it may be contagious. The rich should be pitied, even if they don’t tend to make eye contact with those of us who look like the help. Pity them because they’re going to die just like the rest of us. Their heaven is escaping the end of the world in a helicopter to a luxury bunker. A high-tech five-star ark full of rich people with too many opinions on capital gains taxes.
Jesus’ disciples freak out when he tells them, twice, that the rich aren’t invited to paradise. I’m sure a couple of them entertained earthly dreams of maybe starting up a lucrative spice business and buying a camel.
“Who, then, can enter heaven?” they ask their doomed hippie rabbi.
He responds, simply, that with God nothing is impossible.
Did Jesus exist? I have no idea. There is a historical record of a mouthy preacher who pissed off the deep state. It’s more plausible that Jesus is just Western civilization’s most successful brand. It doesn’t matter, though. Be nice. Help the weak. God is love.