Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
The Call of the Carpenter

By Bouck White

(American Congregational clergyman, 1874–1951; imprisoned for protesting in a church against the Colorado massacres)
JESUS held that self-respect required of the rich young man that he refuse to accept too long a handicap over his fellows in the race of life, and start as near as may be from the same mark with them. But he went also a step further. He exacted of the young man that he de-class himself. “Come, follow me.” This was the staggerer. To stay in his own set and invest his fortune in works of charity, would have been comparatively easy. Philanthropy has been fashionable in every age. Charity takes the insurrectionary edge off of poverty. Therefore the philanthropic rich man is a benefactor to his fellow magnates, and is made to feel their gratitude; to him all doors of fashion swing. But Jesus issued a veto. He denied the legitimacy of alms-giving as a plaster for the deep-lying sore in the social tissue. Neighborly help, man to man, was acceptable to him, and he commended it. But philanthropy as a substitute for justice—he would have none of it. Charity is twice cursed—it hardens him that gives and softens him that takes. It does more harm to the poor than exploitation, because it makes them willing to be exploited. It breeds slavishness, which is moral suicide. The only thing Jesus would permit a swollen fortune to do was to give itself to revolutionary propaganda, in order that swollen fortunes might be forever after impossible. Patchwork reformers are but hewing at a hydra. Confronted with this imperative, the rich young ruler made the great refusal. To give up his fashionable set and join himself to this company of working-class Galileans, was a moral heroism to which he was unequal. Therefore he was sorrowful; he went away, for he had a great social standing.  1
  Something of the same brand of atonement was evidently in the mind of Dives when he awoke to the mistake he had made—desirous to send from hell and tell his five brothers to use the family fortune in erecting a “Dives Home for the Hungry,” belike with the family name and coat of arms over the front portal. Jesus would concede no such privilege. He referred those “five brethren” to “Moses and the prophets; let them hear them”—Moses being the leader of the labor movement which had given to the slaves in the Goshen brick-yards their long-deferred rights; and the prophets being those ardent Old Testament tribunes of the people who had so hotly contended for the family idea of society against the exploiters and graspers at the top. Dante’s idea that each sin on earth fashions its own proper punishment in hell receives confirmation in this parable. “The great gulf fixed,” which constituted Dives’s hell, was the gulf which he himself had brought about. For the private fortune he amassed had broken up the solidarity of society—had introduced into it a chasm both broad and deep. The gulf between him and Lazarus in this world exists in the world to come to plague him. The thirst which parched Dives’s tongue, “being in torments,” was the thirst for companionship, the healing contact once more with his fellows, from whom his fortune had sundered him like a butcher’s cleaver. Jesus had so exalted a notion of the working class, their absence of cant, their rugged facing of the facts, their elemental simplicities, their first-hand contact with the realities of life, that he regarded any man who should draw himself off from them in a fancied superiority, as immeasurably the loser thereby, and as putting himself “in torments.”  2

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