Saw an article on the Neal Boortz website today about a children’s story called “The Rainbow Fish.” In this story, a fish with many color scales is asked to give his scales away to fish that do not have any. After initially refusing to do so, this fish then discovers he cannot not be happy until he does so. Boortz had a major problem with this story, and after some thought, I realized that I do, too.
Boortz interprets this story as wealth redistribution indoctrination. He relates the story of a small girl many years ago who went around asking for donations for various causes because of her belief that “everybody ought to have an equal amount of stuff.” Boortz proposes that stories like that of the “rainbow fish” are instilling socialistic tendencies in children:
“The adult who wrote this book is telling our children that it is not nice to own something other people want, but don’t have. If you do happen to be the proud owner of such an item, it is incumbent upon you to give it away or you won’t be liked.”
When I first read about this story, I noted the similarity of the story of Zacchaeus in the Bible. Zacchaeus was a Jewish tax collector at the time that Jesus lived, and was much disliked because of his dishonesty and excessive wealth. After an encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus decided to give away half his possessions to the poor and repay everyone he had cheated, fourfold. So I asked myself, “what’s wrong with a story about giving away your possessions?”
Then I realized that perhaps the story was not about giving away possessions. Perhaps the story was about the other fish that demanded that the wealth be shared. However, the story of Zacchaeus contains the Jewish people who wanted Zacchaeus to share his wealth, and so this is not a major difference. Furthermore, neither story is about spontaneous generosity, since in both stories the protagonist is placed in contact with someone who ultimately changes their viewpoint and convinces them to give up their possessions (an octopus for the rainbow fish, and Jesus for Zacchaeus).
So is there a difference? I’m not sure there is. However, I believe that there is a very crucial difference between what the stories may lead children (and adults, for that matter…) to believe. In the story of the rainbow fish, the octopus is a part of the natural world, so the implication is that there needs to be some natural impetus for causing or prompting people to redistribute wealth. This role is fulfilled in a socialistic community by the government (or by peer pressure and the desire by individuals to gain acceptance in society). In the story of Zacchaeus, however, the changing power comes from Jesus Christ, a supernatural source. There was no government forcing Zacchaeus to give his wealth to the poor (in fact, the Roman government is what gave Zacchaeus the power to tax citizens and gain all the wealth in the first place).
So there’s the difference: natural vs. supernatural. The rainbow fish story is about natural forces and man-made organizations prompting wealth redistribution, and the story of Zacchaeus is about a supernatural force changing a person’s heart. Call me idealistic, but I believe that generosity and unselfishness MUST come from the heart and SHOULD NOT be legislated by the government. I realize there will always be those who will never share their prosperity if not forced to, but I question the morality of coercing them into doing so. Change should come from the other direction: inside-out, rather than outside-in.
May our country never reach a point at which there is little or no incentive to thrive and prosper, and may there always be those willing to give what they own, not out of social obligation or a desire for recognition, but out of a sincere desire to please God and improve the lives of fellow brothers and sisters around the world.