A Gospel of Selfishness

By: F Delventhal - CC BY 2.0

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.

Musical Interludes

By: Nayu Kim - CC BY 2.0

in·ter·lude

 noun \ˈin-tər-ˌlüd\

: an intervening or interruptive period, space, or event
: a brief romantic or sexual meeting or relationship
: a short piece of music that is played between the parts of a longer one, a drama, or a religious service

The past couple weeks have been rough. I’ve been stressed out for personal reasons and falling behind on work and school assignments. It seems like the more I try to get caught up, the more I hit that state where I just freeze up and cannot write or code or think, and then I fall behind even further.

In light of that, I decided to spend an hour or so after class in the student union, reading, instead of going straight to the computer lab to work on homework. I got settled down into a comfortable chair, complete with a footstool, my bottle of flavored water, and the book I’m reading – The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris. My plan was to read a few chapters to clear my mind and then either go to the computer lab and work on some programming homework or go to church and pray for a while before I went to pick up my son from daycare.

Instead, I found myself listening to another student play the piano for over 2 hours. It’s common for people to stop by and play for a while, so much that it usually blends in with the conversations and other background noise. But, today, my mind kept drifting back to the music.

He started with a few Christmas carols, then some Springsteen and other 80s songs. Then, he started playing hymns, and my mind left the book behind and focused on the music. Rock of Ages is what caught my attention, followed by Amazing Grace. By the time he started playing Just As I Am, I was about to tear up.

That’s one thing about music, in particular old hymns. The times I have left the church, and thought I had left Christianity altogether, it was usually the music that brought me back. So this was just awesome, in part because it was so random and unexpected. The great part was that I had just had a few things happen that confirmed I am going in the right direction in my faith journey the day before, and that made this experience of listening to sacred music while reading an account of another’s spiritual journey all the more special.

With the music, I had memories of churches and songs past – the hymns we sang at my grandma’s church growing up, the choirs I was part of as a child, and specific songs from specific churches. I was also reminded of the separate times when a Christian radio station and a college choir director with a love for Mass music set me back on the path toward God.

I realized that I could listen to it now and hear and experience only the sweet, without the bitterness that I held for so long towards certain types of religion. Realizing that the line “fall on your knees” in O, Holy Night is a reflection of beauty and awe made me remember, with sadness, how many times I had heard that phrase twisted into one of fear. That echoed two other things from Norris’ book – the idea that lack of faith is not doubt, but fear, and the way she was able to overcome the scariness she had seen in Revelation by listening to it from a new perspective.

This random moment brought so many things together for me. While Norris writes about spending time in lectio divina and choir with the monks helping her to reconcile music and poetry and religion, I ended up immersed in all 3 because I sat in the right place at the right time to read I book I picked up on a whim. This pause in my day and re-centering of my mind and spirit is what I have needed for weeks. It just came in the last place I would have expected.

Coming Soon

coming-soon

It seems like most of my blogging has been divided between a few niche sites, which was taking a lot of time and spreading me thin.

So, over the few month or two, I will be moving things over here. I haven’t decided if I will copy posts over or leave the other sites as they are, but most of my blogging from here on out will be at this domain.

I may also add some other things in the future, related to different projects I’m working on and may link to some of my other sites, but this should help me keep my web presence better organized.