Sunday, May 13, 2018
The swamp isn't drained yet, Mr. President. You're going to need a bigger pump
The Ongoing Christian Hypocrisy In Washington D.C.
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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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 the way things are proceeding in Washington and the Middle East these days, America has become anything but that. We are faced with endless wars overseas with no end in sight, and these wars on multiple fronts have bankrupted our country. Meanwhile here at home, it is the American people who are faced with bankruptcy and even homelessness due to either long-term unemployment, or because of declining wages and rising costs for those who are working. Citizens everywhere continue to lose their houses to foreclosure under circumstances that are questionable at best or outright financial fraud at worst. 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 5,000 or so, of which half are children! This is a gross social injustice, particularly 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! Throwing men, women and children out into the elements for mere financial reasons is nothing short of barbaric!
As all this outrageous injustice continues, we see and hear our nation's leaders in Washington invoking the name of God and quoting the Bible (out of context!) as a justification for waging immoral and illegal wars all over the globe, with many being of the clandestine variety. Meaning, the US taxpayers who are unknowingly funding their illegal activities have been clueless as to what is going on. But thanks to the Internet, people are rapidly waking up to what's been going on, and this is happening on a global scale. 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” and their religious faith. In the meantime, one in every four American children doesn't have enough to eat, and one in every five American school kids will be homeless at least once before they turn 18.
Moreover, “conservatives” in Congress threaten to do away with the American social safety net at a time of 1970's era wages and rampant homelessness, just when it is needed the most! If these neoconservatives succeed in taking away, or even succeed in reducing, the social safety net that millions are currently depending upon because they can't find work or enough of it (and often because they can't even feed their kids), you can be sure there will be rioting in the streets at best, or another US civil war like in Syria or Yemen at worst. These current events line up with much of what I have been saying on my web site (or blog) since day one about what is wrong with the world in which we live, and how we should proceed 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. I can be super-spiritual all day long, but if I'm too stingy to buy a homeless lady and her two little kids a $10.00 or $12.00 box of fried chicken with some 'sides', what good am I?
My own faith is a blend of leftist Christian (yes, there is such a thing; think “social gospel” minus the emphasis on 'social salvation' from that era), plus Teddy-Roosevelt-style Populism and Bernie Sanders-style progressiveness (hence my website name Progressive Christian Ministries). So now you know why I particularly enjoy going after big government and main-stream denominations at all levels, taking them all to task not just because of their sometimes-misguided leadership, 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 like themselves. And they love to make it seem like the Democrats and “liberals” are a party of loose morality, favoring abortion and gay marriage, and hanging around with terrorists both domestic and foreign. They are experts at crafting and delivering their message – good enough to inspire many middle-class white folks to vote against their own best interests in the 2016 presidential 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 Republicans, and God wanted Sarah Palin to be President. Or maybe Mike Huckabee.
Our lawmakers 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 these neocons and right-wing extremists were to actually pull off such a political stunt as that. They publicly thump the Bibles on which they were sworn into office. They brag about giving 10% of their incomes to the churches they belong to, even though many don't attend church at all. 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 serene 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)
As we set aside today's ideological hysteria and look at the facts, Jesus was part liberal and part socialist by today's standards (hence the inspiration for the “social gospel” of 1,900 years later), 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 money changers 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 our nation's leadership, especially the conservative right-wingers, call themselves Christian? How does one call oneself a follower of Jesus Christ – and allegedly He alone – as they hold the unemployed, the disabled and retired pensioners hostage while fighting for more 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? I'm just one disabled man, all I can do is write from here in my apartment. So I need all you able-bodied people to please, please, get out in the streets and protest, or do something more if you can. Our situation here in America has become intolerable!
Jesus acknowledged the need for government as well as 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 these war hawks of Washington call themselves 'Christians' as they rail against paying their fair share of taxes? Never mind the fact that this is the same bunch of people who vehemently oppose national health care and food programs for poor kids! Never mind that these same people (and their financial backers) are the ones voting in favor of increasing 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, very wrong with this picture, that's for sure. When faced with all these facts, I am forced to come to the conclusion that America isn't the world's greatest country anymore, if it ever really was. The American people have woken up to the fact that we've all been bamboozled for generations. It's on us to correct this glaring problem, everybody. 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, nor did he have any legal forms for anyone to sign. Jesus just healed people because it was the right thing to do, but more importantly because that's one of the things he came here to do (let's not forget Jesus' main reason; his blood which He shed on a cross for each of us!). Jesus was the original "socialized medicine" personified. So then, how can certain conservatives call themselves 'Christian' (that is, followers of Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth) as they condemn the infinitely more profitable (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 wrote 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 is already available with plenty to spare. All the government has to do is call off all the illegal wars and occupations overseas and bring our troops home. Whatever money is left over can be used for giant public works projects 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 once 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 – 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 and delivered his Sermon 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? Or, one must be pro-life but opposed to putting the entire country on Medicare, then? And then our military and “intelligence” establishment tries to justify torture by saying so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” saves lives? So I ask them as I ask you all; in the words of the popular button and bumper sticker: Who would Jesus torture?
In the end, I see many neoconservatives, Republicans and other right-wing extremists paying much homage to the Bible while ignoring what is in between its covers. As for myself, I could not stand to live like that, being a Washington hypocrite or a modern-day Pharisee. My conscience simply would not allow me to do such a thing, and especially without taking it to the Lord in prayer beforehand! Let's vote these right wing-nuts out of office during this year's midterm elections first, and we'll see what happens. But if nothing changes and our plight continues to slowly worsen, it's going to be time to start all over again on a clean sheet of paper in 2020. If our country is still here, that is. It's the only way we can peacefully force things in Washington to change. But if things don't start changing, and soon, the civil wars of Syria and Yemen will be mushrooming from within America's heartland, and with maximum 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. Get ready, everybody. And, if you're not already praying, please start. It's the least you can do.