Christianity and Marxism have at least one thing in common: a paradoxical view of poverty. Both tend to (1) exalt the poor, but (2) devote energies to making everyone unpoor.

The second part of that formula I readily understand. Having grown up in circumstances well below the official poverty line, I now support efforts to provide jobs, housing, medical care, and basic human services for people who lack them. But what about the first part? The people I grew up around seemed no more virtuous or admirable than anyone else. Indeed, most of us wanted desperately to escape poverty. Why, then, should the poor be exalted?

A phrase being bruited about, “God’s preferential option for the poor,” has only increased my puzzlement. I do not contest the phrase; the Catholic bishops and others who coined it have assembled an impressive list of supportive passages from the Old and New Testaments. One need only read through the Beatitudes (especially Luke’s version) to gain a sense of Jesus’ favoritism toward the poor and the disadvantaged. My question is, Why? Why would God single out the poor for special attention over any other group?

Accidental Blessings

I have received help on this issue from a writer named Monica Hellwig, who lists the following “advantages” to being poor:

1. The poor know they are in urgent need of redemption.

2. The poor know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with one another.

3. The poor rest their security not on things but on people.

4. The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.

5. The poor expect little from competition and much from cooperation.

6. The poor can distinguish ...

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