Sunday, September 7, 2014
Those who try to marry politics and religion are setting themselves up for failure
Christian Hypocrisy In Washington DC
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
Remember when we were kids in school? We used to recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag every day. Among other things, the pledge calls us “one nation under God”. Judging from how things are going in Washington these days we have become anything but that. We are faced with endless wars overseas with no end in sight, and these wars on multiple fronts threaten to bankrupt the country. Meanwhile here at home, it is the American people who are already faced with bankruptcy and even homelessness due to long-term unemployment, while citizens everywhere continue to lose their houses to foreclosure under circumstances that are questionable at best. The rapidly growing population of homeless people is already in the process of turning into a human tidal wave of misery and hopelessness. Here in Atlanta where I live, the homeless population on any given day averages around 7,000 or so, of which half are children. This is a gross social injustice considering that it is happening in the richest country in the world. Even the cave men lived in caves tens of thousands of years ago. So it is accurate to say that they had it better than the homeless folks do today. It is a basic human right to have a roof over your head. Shelter is not a privilege, and throwing children out into the elements is nothing short of barbaric. And yet some have the nerve to call America a Christian nation!
In the meantime, we have our nation's leaders in Washington invoking the name of God as a justification for waging immoral and illegal wars all over the globe, with many being of the clandestine variety. Here at home, our nation's lawmakers debate whether gay persons should serve openly in the military or not, and various individuals in our country's leadership take a stand on whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. These side-issues are being debated while our country grapples with record deficits that threaten to swallow up what is left of the US economy, just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned. They pontificate about “family values” while the value of American real estate continues to stagnate, depriving millions of formerly middle class people of their chief source of wealth – their homes. They threaten to do away with the American social safety net at a time of record unemployment and rampant homelessness, just when it is needed the most. If these neo-conservatives succeed in taking away, or even reducing, the social safety net that millions are currently depending upon because they can't find work (and often because they can't even feed their kids), you can be sure there will be rioting in the streets similar to Ferguson, Mo., and let's not forget the civil wars in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. These current events line up with much of what I have been saying on this web site since day one about what is wrong with the world in which we live, and what we should change to make it better. Anyone can be religious, but I choose to take it to the next level. I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to make a real difference.
Being a blend of liberal Christian, Teddy-Roosevelt-style Populist and political progressive (hence the name Progressive Christian), I particularly enjoy going after big government and main-stream denominations at all levels, taking them all to task not just for the way in which they are running things, but challenging their thinking and their values. For example, many Republicans in Washington keep talking about God and politics as if they are interchangeable. They like to make it look like they are on the side of God, as if God were a political conservative. And they like to make it seem like the Democrats and “liberals” are a party of loose morality, favoring abortion, gay marriage, and hanging around with terrorists. They are experts at crafting and delivering their message – good enough to inspire many middle-class folks to vote against their own financial interests in the 2010 mid-term elections. Their message works because it appeals to people's base emotions, not their intellects. And reacting is so much easier than critical thinking, especially when we're so emotionally drained from these years of unemployment, or working multiple part time jobs, or home foreclosures. They are so effective with their message that they don't think twice before selling the idea that God wanted George W. Bush to attack Iraq, God favors the Tea Party, and God wants Sarah Palin to be President. Or maybe Mike Huckabee.
They completely ignore the First Amendment's separation of Church and State. The first amendment to the US Constitution begins by saying, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.......” To me, this means anyone who wishes to engineer a merger of government and organized religion either knows nothing about the Constitution or they openly wish to break it. Either way, that means they would be committing treason if the neo-cons were to actually pull off such a thing as that.
They publicly thump the bibles on which they were sworn into office. They brag about giving 10% of their incomes to the church, even though many don't. And they make sure they're seen praying, whether it be in church, in public, or on TV. Jesus had something to say about that, and those words of wisdom are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago when they were first spoken. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 5-6, NIV)
But if you set aside the hysteria and look at the facts, Jesus was part liberal and part socialist by today's standards, and much of the New Testament condemns the attitude of the so-called religious right (which is neither as far as I am concerned). For example, Jesus condemned the greedy rich, saying, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." [Matthew 19:24] He denounced the moneychangers in the temple at Jerusalem as He threw them out, saying, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” [Matthew 21:13] And Jesus stood up for the poor and underprivileged, saying, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me." [Matthew 25:40] So then, how can the nation's leadership, especially the conservative right-wingers, call themselves Christian – followers of Jesus Christ and He alone – as they hold the unemployed and retired pensioners hostage while fighting for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires? They don't care about us, and they don't care if we know that or not. We the people, America's middle and working classes, need not tolerate what amounts to being openly insulted. We can and should fight back! Who is with me today?
Jesus acknowledged the need for both government and tax-supported government services, saying, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's." [Matthew 22:21] So then how can the conservatives call themselves Christian as they rail against taxes and their definition of "big government"? Never mind the fact that it is the same bunch of people railing against big government who are voting in favor of the continued funding of the largest and most formidable military in world history. Last year the US government spent more money on military expenditures than all the rest of the world combined. Then again, there is the fact that the United States has more people in prison than all the rest of the world's countries – again, combined. There is something very wrong with this picture, that's for sure. When faced with these facts, I am forced to come to the conclusion that America isn't the world's greatest country anymore. It's up to us, the American people, to turn this around.
Jesus healed the sick – even lepers – for free. He didn't ask them for an insurance card first, he just healed them because it was the right thing to do, but more importantly because that's what he was called to do. Jesus was the original "socialized medicine" machine. So then, how can the Republicans call themselves Christian (that is, followers of Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth) as they condemn the much less socialistic (and woefully insufficient) "Obamacare"? The truth of the matter is that much of the effectiveness of any government is directly proportional to how well it cares for its people. (By the way, it was Thomas Jefferson who first said that.) The United States is the last developed country in the world that does not have national health insurance for its citizens. Every other developed country – and many developing ones – has national health insurance except for us. As I said above about shelter being a basic human right, so it is with health care. Proper medical care is not a privilege available only to those who can afford to pay. Good quality health care is a basic human right that must be available to everyone without qualification, including preexisting conditions. The money to implement such a plan as this is already available with plenty to spare. All the government has to do is call off all the wars and occupations overseas and bring the troops home. Whatever money is left over can be used for a giant public works project to put all the long-term unemployed back to work, or to send them back to school to learn a trade. Is there sufficient money to accomplish and finance this worthy goal? Absolutely, and all without adding to the federal deficit. Here's an example: If the US military set aside one day's expenses for the twin occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq (Again! Wasn't twice enough?) and put those funds in an interest-bearing account, there would be enough money to send every single American school kid to four years of college education – fully paid for. We'd get all that from just one days military expenditures! So don't tell me we can't afford quality education without qualification! Oh yes we can!!
As he stood there on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of the living God." [Matthew 5:9] Still, the conservatives call themselves Christian as they continue to call for endless war, be it legally and morally justified or not. At the same time, they expound on how pro-life or anti-abortion they are. So, let me get this straight. In order to be a good Christian, one must be pro-war and pro-life simultaneously? Sorry, Reverend, but you're going have to explain that one to me. And then they try to justify torture. So I ask them, in the words of the popular button and bumper sticker: Who would Jesus torture?
In the end, I see many conservatives paying much homage to the Bible while ignoring what is inside it. As for myself, I could not stand to live like that, being a Washington hypocrite. Let's vote these right wing-nuts out of office this November and start all over again on a clean sheet of paper. It's the only way we can peacefully force things in Washington to change. But if things don't start changing, and soon, the unrest of Egypt, Syria and Greece will be arriving on American shores with a vengeance. If governing power cannot be returned to the American people peacefully, then things will deteriorate to the point where we will simply have to retake it by force.