Ethos Education

Now You See Me: How much responsibility should the rich take for the poor?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of Christian perspectives on the uses and responsibilities of wealth.
  • Consideration of the concept of moral or immoral occupations.
  • Consideration of who should take responsibility for the poor.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Recognise the unequal division of wealth within western society, and also between the developed and developing world.
  • Understand biblical teaching about the relationship between rich and poor people.
  • Understand biblical teaching about the responsibilities of wealth.
  • Evaluate how a modern Christian might seek to meet these responsibilities.

STARTER:

Put the students into groups of six, and give each group a set of Job cards. These can be dealt face up so that everyone sees which job they have. Explain that each group represents some kind of business or organisation which is facing financial difficulties. Explain that the combined annual salaries of the six employees amount to £450,000. There are further annual expenses of £200,000 which cannot be reduced. The organisation’s annual income is £500,000, which means that the company will go out of business unless salaries can be reduced by £150,000. Display that figure on the board so that the groups don’t forget it. Explain that the Chief Executive has to make the final decision about how to achieve those salary cuts, but he has to listen to the suggestions and arguments of the other employees. Say that as well as being given a job title and a salary (which are on the Job cards) which will be common knowledge within the group, each employee will also be given a Motivation card, which details their specific aim in the discussions. These motivations are not to be revealed to any other member of the group.

Ask whoever has been given the Chief Executive card to come to you to collect a set of Motivation cards. Give them the Chief Executive’s Motivation card, and tell them to distribute the others at random to the other members of their group without reading them. Remind everybody not to tell anyone else what their Motivation card says – it should guide the way they conduct the role play, but it should never be directly revealed.

Here is a summary of the Job cards:

  • Chief Executive; salary: £200,000.
  • Senior Management; salary: £100,000.
  • Star employee; salary: £75,000.
  • Long-serving employee; salary: £45,000.
  • New employee; salary: £20,000.
  • Part-time employee; salary: £10,000.

Here is a summary of the Motivation cards:

  • Chief Executive: keep the organisation in business; keep your salary as high as possible; keep the star employee – the organisation won’t function without them.
  • You don’t care what happens to anyone else, only you.
  • You are devoted to the organisation. Make sure that it survives.
  • Aim for as few people as possible to leave the organisation.
  • Most importantly, try to keep your job; secondly, make sure that those who keep their jobs don’t have to take a pay cut.
  • Make sure that the final decision is fair to everyone.

Give the groups five minutes to discuss what they should do, before giving them a two minute warning. At the end of that time, say that the discussion must end, and the Chief Executive must make a final decision on how to achieve a reduction in salaries of £150,000.

Once the Chief Executives have informed their groups of their decisions, debrief the students with the following questions:

  • Who managed to achieve the objective on their motivation card?
  • Did any groups manage to come up with a proposal which satisfied everyone?
  • Who lost their job? How did that feel?
  • Did anyone feel that the exercise was unfair?

Draw out that the power in the situation is all with the Chief Executive and the star employee (although the star employee may or may not realise their power – they could force through any decision by threatening to resign if they don’t get what they want). Point out that it would be quite possible to avoid any job losses at all if the big earners were willing to take on the bulk of the cost-cutting from their own salaries.

Ask the students to analyse whether the people with the power acted in the interests of everybody, or of themselves alone. What were the consequences of this? Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about whether or not having wealth brings a responsibility towards other people.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the film Now You See Me (E-One, 2013, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that four stage magicians, calling themselves ‘The Four Horsemen’ have come to the attention of police detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) after apparently stealing a vast sum of money from a French bank as part of their Las Vegas act. In this scene, they are making another public appearance at the Savoy Theatre in New Orleans, under the watchful eye of both Detective Rhodes and their financial backer, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).

  • Start time: 0.46.42 (in chapter 7 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.55.57
  • Clip length: 9 minutes and 15 seconds

The clip starts with the theatre voiceover man saying, ‘Arthur Tressler presents…’ The clip ends with several hypnotised audience members piling on to Detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). If you prefer a shorter clip, start at 0.49.55 (first line: Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) saying, ‘At the intermission, we asked you to write down your current bank balance’) and finish at 0.55.18 (when Merritt says, ‘Hey, we left you the jet and the rolls.’)

Ask the students whether what the Four Horsemen did was right or wrong. Their actions in defrauding Arthur Tressler’s bank account were illegal, whereas his previous actions in using loopholes to avoid making insurance payouts were, presumably, legal. Which do the students think was more morally defensible? Should Tressler have used his vast fortune to help the people who had taken out insurance with him, or should he have protected that fortune by avoiding payouts if at all possible?

What wider conclusions can the students draw about the responsibilities for those with great wealth towards less well-off members of society? If Arthur had not been the owner of an insurance company, would he have had any obligation towards the victims of Hurricane Katrina? Should he have any obligation to them?

Now split the class into small groups and ask each group to look at the following Bible passages. Amos 4:1-3; Amos 5:11-16; Amos 8:4-7. If you don’t think there will be enough time for each group to look at all three passages, you could ask different groups to start with different passages, which will mean that even if each group only tackles one passage, all three will have been looked at by someone, allowing feedback to be presented to the rest of the class. For each passage the students should answer the following questions:

  • What attitudes and actions are the wealthy described as having/carrying out?
  • Why do you think the writer considers this to be wrong?
  • What consequences does the Bible say will result (this question may need to be answered for the three passages taken together, rather than for each individually)

Take feedback from the different groups, and draw out the overall picture painted by Amos – that the rich were enjoying their wealth, even to the extent of oppressing the poor and needy (you may need to explain that oppressing means keeping the poor in a bad situation and actively preventing them from improving their position). You might like to point out some of the comparisons between the passages and the song lyrics, such as the description of wealth leading to injustice, and the mansions of the rich, both of which are mentioned in chapter five.

Bring the students’ focus back to the present day, and ask them again how they think rich people should use their wealth – is there anything wrong with them just enjoying their money, or should they feel some kind of responsibility to those who are in a less privileged situation? It might be helpful to point out to the students that since the early 1980s the gap between the richest 10% in Britain and the rest has consistently increased. In 2012, the poorest 10% of the population had only 1.3% of the total wealth, whereas the top 10% had 31% of the wealth – more than the bottom 50% put together. In the last ten years, 80% of the extra wealth created has gone to the top 50%, with 40% going to the top 10% alone. If some of the students feel that there is a level of responsibility that goes with wealth, ask them how wealthy somebody has to be before they should be expected to use their wealth for the sake of others.

You might want to allow this discussion to go on for a little while. Some students may feel that only the very rich should be expected to use their wealth to help others. Whether or not this is the case, point out to the class that when we think beyond national boundaries, everybody in the classroom could be considered as rich – in 1980 the Brandt report found that the developed nations (such as Britain and America) contained 25% of the world’s population while consuming 75% of its resources whereas the developing nations (sometimes referred to as the ‘Third World’) was trying to feed 75% of the global population with only 25% of the resources. Merely by virtue of living in a country like Britain, the students are likely to be in the world’s wealthiest 10%. Ask the students to consider the implications of these figures in the light of their thoughts on the responsibilities of wealth, and invite any comment that they may wish to make.

Explain to the class that Christians have always held that the privileges of money should not just be selfishly enjoyed by the wealthy. Christians do not believe money itself to be evil (point out that in one of the most misquoted verses of the Bible, Paul does not warn Timothy that money is the root of evil, but that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Explain that there are many passages in the New Testament that reflect the belief and practice of the early church regarding the responsibilities of wealth. Split the class back into their small groups, and give each group one of the following passages: Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 12:13-21; Acts 4:32-37. Ask each group to look at their passage and to answer the following questions for it:

  • What does the passage say about the attitude a Christian should have towards money?
  • What does the passage say about how Christians should use money?
  • Who is likely to benefit from this?

Allow time for the groups to feed their answers back so that everyone can hear the content of each passage. If more than one group has tackled some of the passages, give an opportunity for the students to discuss any differences of opinion as to the meaning of the verses.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, ask the students to write a speech to give to a gathering of the wealthiest members of society. The speech should call upon them to rethink how they use their wealth, and provide a Christian basis for the use of their wealth.

YOU WILL NEED:

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