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April 25, 2008

Comments

Abby

So all the poor working people in the US simply party too much, don't show up for work, and are basically lazy?

John

Yeah, Abby, I'm suggesting that all that the poor people do in this country is get drunk and sit around eating too many Twinkies and Moonpies. No, of course not! :)

Unfortunately, you've undercut your own over-generalized summary of the message behind this anecdotal story with the phrase, "poor working people." And you've pointed to the distinction being made through this story.

The mass redistribution of wealth is a generous idea. But in trying to protect the needs and rights of the less fortunate, it creates a corresponding injustice for those who work hard. If, for example, as a college professor I decided to give an "A" to anyone who simply showed up to take the test, regardless of their preparation or hard work, then why study? And what does it mean for the diligent student who had studied hard, only to discover that his neighbor gets the same result without the effort? Ultimately, the value of everyone's grade and effort goes down.

This is the same problem facing our country when it comes to the idea of distributing wealth (e.g. the well-intentioned, yet misguided notion behind welfare). We certainly need to help those in need. (For the Christian, the Bible commands it - Proverbs 31:8-9, for example.) But, that approach to helping our neighbor in need assumes a personal responsibility on their part. (This is why Paul warns against idleness in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13.)

There are certainly many poor people who are working very hard to better their circumstances. That said, there are also many people who are not. And they don't have to when the government has decided to give them a handout. (I have personally witnessed this reality. Coming out of high school, I worked as a handyman of sorts for a company that owned some Section-8 housing. I remember walking into one small house in which there was no furniture and 5-6 kids were lying on mattresses in the living room. The woman who lived there did not have money (or perhaps, did not use the money) to buy the most basic of needs, and yet, the children were all crammed on the mattresses watching cable television on the big screen TV, the only real piece of furniture to speak of. She had discovered the magic secret of the welfare system at that time. She didn't have to work, because she could feed from the government trough. And she was actually able to receive more money from the government with each child, thus creating a desire to have more children.) The question regarding a person in that situation: Should you and I through our taxes be paying for that kind of lifestyle?

I don't mind helping those in need who demonstrate a willingness to work and make a contribution to society, no matter how big or small. It's when you and I are footing the bill for those who are working the system to their advantage that I have a problem. And it is especially when we create a system like wealth redistribution which fosters that kind of dependency that I part company with this basic tenet of liberal thought.

There is a mistaken assumption by many liberals that conservatives are merely money-hoarding, moralists with hearts made of stone when it comes to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised. Certainly, many of the basic principles are different between a liberal and conservative philosophy, but the goal is presumably the same: to help people and better our country. It's simply the strategy by which we accomplish that aim which is different. Neither strategy is perfect to be sure. But the goal is to determine which one is the most fundamentally sound and most effective in serving its purpose?

Unfortunately, the liberal notion of helping people by funneling more money their way undermines the necessity for personal responsibility. And it creates a state of dependency for which we all bear the burden.

Abby

But honestly if you look at the Bible how often did Jesus make a point about capitalism? He says to give to the poor more times than I can count but He doesn't warn like you just did of the dangers of people taking advantage of the system. I don't think that is His heart and I don't think it should be ours...although it is tempting. My flesh feels the same way you do...when as a teacher in a low-income school the kids with free lunch always smelled of smoke. How could their parents afford cigarettes but not lunch? BUT that isn't for me to judge....I am only called to help where I can and to use discernment. Jesus was a socialist!!

Nate B.

Abby-

Thank you.

You are a more honest reader of the Gospels than many “conservative evangelical” Christians I’ve known. Of course, John is right about this being a complicated problem. But if someone wanted to base their social ideals on Jesus of Nazareth, they would be more of a socialist than a conservative Christian. Not sure how that happened historically, but it is a bit ironic that the most passionate opponents to actual egalitarian reform in this country are the most outspoken “Christ”-ians.

Scott

I feel as if a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.
I had been under the impression that since I am a Christian, that I should strive to be like Christ. And since Christ was a giver, I should be giver.
But now I find out that Jesus was a Socialist. Awesome. Now all I have to do is help determine who has too much and how much we want to take away from them and then we can give it to the poor. Hey and since its not my money, let's be even more generous than in the past.

andy

Bravo Scott. No offense to anyone else making comments. I personally think Jesus is rolling his eyes at us all right now. I think he'd ask us how much time we've spent contributing to the great commission, taking care of the sick and widows verses time spent caring for our benjamins, blogging about our money, and listening to empty promises on the television?

Abby

I can admit when I am wrong (unlike the republicans....Just Kidding). I should NEVER say what Jesus is or was so I take back my comment on Him being a socialist! You are right.... andy....so right. I am convicted more and more of how much do I really give to the poor, how many sacrifices do I really make as a middle-class american? I fall very, very short. I stand behind the rest of my comment but take back the last line. Jesus was so above being a socialist or not, being conservative or liberal, He WAS and IS GOD. Who am I to give Him the creator of me a simple, earthly label?!

Nate B.

First, I should remind everyone that I’m not a Christian, or a religious believer of any sort. However, I did grow up in the Christian church (Protestant). So I am speaking as an outsider, but one with some inside experience.

(Abby—I wrote this before I was able to read your last comment. You are probably on safer ground now among evangelicals by taking back your Socialist Jesus statement. But, if you are really determined to understand what Jesus thought, keep reading the four Gospels and don’t let the cobwebs of classical theology or conservative Christianity distract you. As I said before, you are an honest reader. Stay that way…That’s if you care to take advice on Jesus from an un-believer.)

Scott’s point is well taken (if I understand it—I caught a whiff of sarcasm, so I’m assuming he’s not a fan of socialism). Jesus spoke mostly about giving, personal giving, giving out of love. He didn’t advocate any Jewish political sect that resembled socialism. He didn’t speak to political advocacy at all, as far as I can remember (someone correct me here, or anywhere else for that matter). This is the point I was trying to make. There are many, many, many issues and choices that people face today which Jesus never explicitly dealt with.

When I was in high school, I wore a WWJD bracelet. This was supposed to remind me that I should base all of my decisions on what Jesus would do. Sometimes that was easy to determine, but sometimes it wasn’t. What is required for anyone who tries to live by the words and deeds of one man who lived two thousand years ago is extrapolation. Or, what’s easier, to just go by what the Christian community tells you Jesus would have done, whether that extrapolation makes any sense or not.

What this boils down to is that Christians often don’t make decisions based on what Jesus would do, because there’s a lot Jesus never did, or never said or probably even thought about. That’s not an indictment of Christianity in itself. It’s just a description of what John has been calling a worldview. From my experience, evangelical Christians aren’t just followers of Jesus. They are followers of Jesus + Paul + Moses + Solomon + David (in roughly that order of importance) as understood in light of: Plato via Plotinus, Augustine, and Pseudo-Dionysis; Aristotle via Thomas Aquinus; Luther; Calvin; Pascal; Kierkegaard; and (enter your favorite contemporary theologian/philosopher here). This is how the extrapolation is done in reality.

I’m totally fine with that. All worldviews are like that. But what often happens is that an evangelical Christian will do the “Christian” thing and assume that they are doing what Jesus would do, when that’s not really the case. It’s what Christians would do, who are followers of that long list above.

So when someone like Abby goes to the polls, she might ask herself how Jesus would vote. One conclusion would be that Jesus didn’t give political advice, so she shouldn’t vote at all. (Maybe that’s what Andy’s advice would be—Jesus wouldn't be concerned about our political choices, only personal sacrifices). Another conclusion would be that she should vote for the candidate that will do the most for the poor, since Jesus seemed to be concerned about the poor. This might even be a candidate who advocates social economic reform. I think that’s a legitimate extrapolation. Another conclusion would be that she should be more concerned about the unfair taxation of the rich than government sponsored relief for the poor. Well, ok. That’s fine. It’s a legitimate point about competing claims of justice and compassion. But she wouldn’t be getting that from reading the Gospels. I’m not sure where she would be getting it from that long list of people above. That idea probably can’t be traced back much farther than Adam Smith and John Lock. Again, nothing wrong with that.

My concern is from the standpoint of being an intellectually honest reader, and I think Abby has a leg to stand on here if she votes for a candidate who advocates social economic reform because Jesus would. And, as I mentioned in my previous comment, the fact that Abby is in the minority among evangelicals about this is a little ironic. But Christianity is a worldview with many tributaries.

Abby

Nate-
I agree with so much of what you are saying. I could be totally off here but I would like to encourage you to read "Searching For God Knows What" by Donald Miller. On the back of the book it says, "If you have felt that Jesus is someone you could respect and admire but Christianity is something that repels you".....basically this book is for you.

OK Back to the topic. It is so easy to go with what the majority of Christians are doing....most seem holier than me, and to know more theology but that is where this sick feeling builds inside me and I wonder...is this really what Jesus says? He went AGAINST the social norm and He was all about social justice. (And for the record I do think He was socialistic in nature but I don't want to put Him in a box by giving Him an earthly label.)

And Nate- thank you for your encouragement- I will take advice from an "unbeliever" such as yourself (because I think you might actually know Jesus.....) I so agree we need to read the Bible without looking at how men (seriously it has mostly been white men) have defined the Bible throughout the last centuries and how they have used the Bible to say and support what works best for them. And I am not a man-hater. I am married to a white man who I love more than life itself and both of us agree that the Bible has been used to support this Christian right agenda in many wrong ways.

Tim

Ever since I majored in economics in college and then religious studies in graduate school, I have had a great distaste for the simplistic rhetoric of both Republican and Democratic leaders and their respective economic philosophies. The rich Republicans who hoard their wealth and live lavishly often justify their lifestyle simply because they think they work harder than others who have less. They often neglect to publicly give glory to God for their exceptional abilities, backgrounds of privilege, and/or strong leadership skills honed from a base of strong natural personality characteristics. The rich Democrats often do the very same thing but proudly love to talk about their "philosophy" of caring for the needy while giving away no more than the rich Repulicans. Talk without actions is no better than pride without actions. That is probably why Jesus spoke about how hard it is for a rich man/woman to enter the kingdom of God. They are self-deceived by their philosophies of self-reliance and pompous words.

The truly honorable followers of Jesus are those who sacrifice time, talents and money out of a genuine love for others, even when it involves mercy [not giving people what they deserve] and grace [giving people what they don't deserve]. If the rich lived that way, we'd have more than enough wealth to meet the needs of every person in our country, not just by "throwing money at them" but by all of us "getting our hands dirty" in the touch business of salvaging and rehabilitating people's lives and not just their finances.

I am a believer in small government because it shouldn't have to be as big as it is if we all did our part. But since we don't all do our part, maybe we'll have to continue "making a charitable contribution" to the government so their employees can do the work we should be doing. That solution will never be the best, neither in administrating the practice of it or in developing the love for others in need we should all demonstrate. Meanwhile, we should be personal "socialists" in the sense of making sure we meet whatever needs we can around us. If enough of us Christians took that seriously, obviously involving the rich among us who have the financial resources, we'd see the need for a larger and larger government social welfare budget reduced.

Nate B.

Abby-

I will check that book out. Christianity and I have parted ways on friendly terms, I think. I have no problem accepting the truth of many things Jesus said. He should be taken on his own terms, though, and ultimately I can’t believe in his deity.

But you give me hope that there can be common ground for believers and non-believers in the interest of the poor...And also for the survival of our common ground. I might be off base here, but I would like to encourage you to read “The Creation” by E. O. Wilson. He is an atheist and a giant of modern Darwinism, but he encourages Christians in America to meet him on the near side of metaphysics for the care of the Creation.

Tim-

You’ve done a great job of describing the reality of what is happening. To be honest, I think things would be a heck of a lot better if there were more people like you, John, Scott, Andy, and Abby out there, actually doing what Jesus talked about. But like you, my concern is pragmatic. It doesn’t matter much to me if Christians wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to be selfless givers if the government provided for the needs of every human being. Less poverty, less despair, less pain in the world is what is needed, period. Since individual believers and non-believers alike aren’t getting the job done (no one is stopping them, right?), then I’m also willing to make my charitable contribution to the government. I’m right there with you Tim. Less government would be great, but a Christian Utopia of no government and rampant charity seems to be as unattainable as a Socialistic Utopia.

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