In recent weeks two men with obscene levels of wealth stroked their overly developed egos as they became the first private citizens to fund a trip to “space.” It seemingly did not matter to Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos that what they were doing was an utterly pointless vanity project, or that NASA has been doing things like this since the late Fifties when the aptly named “Vomit Comet” started taking trainee astronauts up in an aircraft where they would experience brief periods of weightlessness. I remember reading about the Vomit Comet decades ago and wondering myself what it would be like to experience zero-gravity, but hoping it would not entail throwing up multiple times during the experience. Given this well known history, it can safely be said that Bezos, with his rocket powered phallus, and Branson with his equally absurd “space ship” have done exactly NOTHING to advance science, or to better human kind. They simply used their wealth to engage is conspicuous consumption of the most perverse and obscene kind imaginable in my theological opinion.
For many Christians, things that are seen as perverse and obscene are generally related to sexual matters. Not so for me. Contrary to what fundamentalists/evangelicals believe and espouse about sexuality and moral purity, the Bible is actually quite varied on issues related to sex and often in ways that diverge greatly from the evangelicals’ moral absolutes. This can be seen in the Torah in multiple places, the story of David and Jonathan, Ruth’s use of her sexuality to secure her future, and the highly erotic Song of Songs, just to name a few such places where proponents of purity culture profoundly miss the mark. (1) Conversely, there are many places in the Bible that speak about the rich and powerful harming their communities and the people therein by accumulating vast wealth. As I will show below, this is precisely what the two aforementioned billionaires have already done with their toy rockets as they flew high enough above the earth to experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Jeff Bezos’ fellow libertarian billionaire Elon Musk intends to do the same in the near future. This is both absurd and immoral.
Imagine having the wealth to eradicate poverty worldwide or to mitigate climate change while conserving and strengthening ecosystems that make life on Earth possible, but deciding instead to pour ridiculous sums of money into a project that literally does nothing but stroke your ego while putting a lot of fossil fuel pollution into the air on a planet that can ill afford it. Imagine that your wealth increased by billions of dollars during a global pandemic and choosing to cosplay The Right Stuff instead of using that wealth, and Amazon’s or Virgin’s vast infrastructure network for shipping and receiving to deliver vaccines, or water, or any other basic human necessity to people who are in need. Imagine thinking that promoting “space tourism” and hoping to profit from it in the future by charging $250,000 to almost go to space knowing all the while that burning fossil fuels is making the planet increasingly uninhabitable, is a moral thing to do. Imagine having the resources to fund actual, meaningful scientific advancements that would make life better for everyone such as medical advancements, or capturing and storing carbon in the atmosphere, eliminating plastic from the ocean, desalination technology for making salt water potable, expanding or creating high speed mass transit worldwide, alternative energy advancement, biological remediation of polluted soils and other ecosystems, reforestation projects in the Amazon river basin and elsewhere, or any number of other worthy scientific advancements that make life better, but choosing instead to hold a press conference in which you thank all of the employees who make your exorbitant wealth possible because they are not paid well or do not have health care. Imagine having knowledge of permaculture design as Richard Branson does, (2) and despite being obscenely wealthy choosing to pretend that you’re Major Tom calling ground control instead of showing the world how effective permaculture can be buy financing permaculture design projects around the globe in areas where people are in desperate need for solutions to ecological degradation, and food, fuel, and fiber shortages. Imagine being that selfish. For me, it is impossible.
When I think Jeff Bezos, the epitome of the comic book villain and his space cowboy counterpart building rockets instead of using their vast wealth to alleviate suffering, I am reminded of some Biblical passages that highlight just how perverse and obscene the billionaire class is in our time of history. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah? Evangelicals like to say that it was rampant homosexuality that caused God to destroy the cities. That simply is not true according to Ezekiel 16:49 which states that the sins of those in Sodom were that they had “pride, excess of food, prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” It was also related to the attempt to rape and dominate the guests that Lot was sheltering in his home. It had nothing to do with homosexuality at all, but extravagant wealth, ignoring the plight of the poor, and an attempt to violently rape and dominate someone’s guests. What concerns us here is the arrogance and wealth of Bezos, Branson, Musk, et al and their willful choice to accumulate and hoard wealth in the face of vast human poverty and suffering and then throwing that wealth in the faces of billions of people to “take a ten minute joy ride in space,” to quote Senator Elizabeth Warren.
That joy ride also calls to mind two of the stories found in the gospels in which Jesus addresses the sin of accumulating extreme wealth. In Luke chapter 16, beginning in verse 19 we read about a profoundly wealthy man who dresses in purple and fine linen and whose wealth allows him to dine sumptuously every day in a time and place where food insecurity was all to common. This rich man completely ignored the beggar named Lazarus at his gate who longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Hungry and in need of medical assistance because he was covered in sores, Lazarus was still ignored by the wealthy man who made the conscious choice to continue to revel in his wealth instead of rendering aid where it was needed. Both men die and Lazarus is comforted in paradise while the rich man is in torment in Hades because he ignored not only Lazarus, but the Law and the prophets whose words unambiguously demand care for the poor and less fortunate. In similar vein, we read the story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22, about a rich man who encounters Jesus and is told that despite the fact that he says he has kept all the commandments, he must sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. He walks away from Jesus deeply saddened because he has so much wealth. Jesus then tells his disciples how difficult it is for people to hoard wealth and enter the Kingdom of God. These are just three examples found in the Bible that speak to the sin of hoarding wealth in a completely unambiguous way, and at least two of them are well known to Christians of every kind.
On a planet that is dying due to rampant environmental destruction and climate change, and where there are literally billions living in poverty, including 1.3 billion who live on less than $2.00 per day, (3) there should not be billionaires at all, much less billionaires building rockets to play pretend that they are astronauts more than fifty years after actual astronauts already did those things. The level of abject selfishness displayed by these men (and others who have billions of dollars at their disposal) is simply staggering. It is perverse and obscene to hoard wealth in such a fashion, especially at a time when a global pandemic has reeked havoc on the poor. Forbes magazine published an article this year saying that there were 493 new billionaires in the world, with a record number totaling 2755 globally. Of that 2755, 86% are wealthier in 2021 than in 2020. (4) Something has to change, and as a permaculturist and Christian I believe that the excess wealth of billionaires should be radically redistributed. (5)
Instead of focusing on the sex lives and reproductive health of others in a way that is toxic and authoritarian, Christians could be using that same level of energy, activism, and political organization to ensure that those who hoard wealth MUST part with large portions of their often ill gotten gains to eliminate poverty, clean the air and water, repair infrastructure, plant billions of trees, and in short do everything that is possible to ensure that the planet remains habitable, all over the world. Far too many wealthy people are using far more than their share of the Earth’s resources, and everyone is footing the bill but them. The Christian thing to do in my estimation is to tax billionaires out of existence. They will still be far richer than they could possibly need to be and we might just be able to bring forth jubilee by uplifting the poor from poverty, and making sure that the Earth remains habitable for generations to come.
(5) For more about permaculture see my book Go Golden. Go Golden
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