My facebook friends run the gamut from very conservative to very liberal; from Christian, to atheist, to several other faiths. Many of them are libertarians of various stripes, most of them much closer to the Tea Party and neo-Conservative movements that I am comfortable with. So I see a lot of posts about “financial responsibility”, ending “welfare dependency” and all that, but the ones that bother me most are those that malign the poor and quote scripture at the same time.
I don’t understand why many Christian Americans are so fond of quoting verses like “He who is willing to work should not eat”, while the cutting programs that supply food to children who are too young to work and unemployment benefits for those who were working until they lost jobs through no fault of their own. We follow a Savior who worked miracles to feed the hungry crowd that followed him, but support politicians who have $50,000 per plate fundraiser dinners to support their plans to cut food stamps and school lunch programs.
Somehow, the Christianity of the Bible – the one that teaches us to love and care for others, to be generous, to be altruistic, and to give – has been replaced with a gospel of selfishness. I wanted to blame this on my circle for friends, which has for more love for Ayn Rand and “small l” libertarianism” than could possibly be healthy, but it seems to be a part of larger Christian culture in America.
So, how did we get here and when did it start?
I don’t know the answer to that, but it has been going on for a while, as evidenced by waitresses who hate working Sundays because of rude Christians who don’t tip or leave tracts in lieu of money. It’s one reason I shy away of businesses that advertise their faith – because they often screw other people. I wonder how long it has been happening. I don’t think that Christianity makes people selfish like this, but maybe it provides a cover for people who are greedy or even sociopathic.
Most of us, especially in the American mainstream, don’t really expect Christians to be all that Christian. It’s more like a title or preference, but we expect people to disagree with at least part of what their church teaches, to sin pretty frequently, to break this or that commandment, and even to joke about and say that “hey, God’s a good guy, he’ll let it all slide because they can’t be that bad a person”. I think this is where I’m supposed to slide off into some sort of fundamentalist rant about living by the Bible and getting back to God but, sorry, fundies, y’all are just as bad about this as the rest.
Anyway, this face value Christianity makes it really easy for anybody to excuse shady behaviour by assuring people that they are Christians. Since Christians are supposed to be good people, we just let it go and assume that they must be good and acting from good motives. It also allows people who really are greedy, selfish, and mean-spirited to hide that or to keep on being selfish and to promote the same agenda is before, while framing it in the language of religion and trying to attribute their lifestyle to God.
Maybe part of this is linked to early Puritan beliefs that wealth and prosperity were proof of God’s blessing, but it definitely shows in the prosperity gospel that is so common today. When you believe that the rich are blessed by God, it’s not a far stretch to start believing that they are more virtuous as well, or that poor people are only poor because of some imagined moral failings.
From there, it is easy to ignore charity, social justice, and so many other demands the gospel makes on us by focusing on materialism. After all, why bother with helping those lazy, sinful poor people when they really just need to get a job and get right with God? Isn’t it better to spend the money on a nice car, million dollar home, and the right clothes, so those around you can see how prosperous you are and know that you have obviously been blessed?
Sure, people tell me they don’t really think that way, but their comments among friends and reposts on facebook seem to say otherwise.