Jesus: Anti-Welfare, Randian Capitalist?

I get into conversations. A few of these recently have not done much to paint modern Christianity as a belief system characterized by compassion, empathy, and charity.

One such conversation revolved around the American tax system and social welfare. A group of (mostly) Christians were complaining that they are tired of paying higher tax rates than their less fortunate fellow Americans. They are tired of having their hard-earned money taken from them while so many do not pay, or pay very little. They are tired of watching lazy good-for-nothings take it easy while on the 'government gravy train.' While these are not a uniquely Christian gripes (nor do all Christians have these gripes), this chorus has been growing louder in Christian circles, and has has been elevated by religious right leaders, pundits, and authors, as legitimate Christian concerns.

Many Christians seem to believe that Jesus did not condone involuntary redistribution, but rather voluntary acts of charity. While this is not entirely off-base, it is far from accurate.

Gregory Paul, writing in The Washington Post's On Faith column last week, wrote about this bizarre shift from a socialist Jesus to a capitalistic Christianity:
A truly strange thing has happened to American Christianity. A set of profound contradictions have developed within modern conservative Christianity, big and telling inconsistencies that have long slipped under the radar of public knowledge, and are only now beginning to be explicitly noted by critics of the religious and economic right.

Here is what is peculiar. Many conservative Christians, mostly Protestant but also a number of Catholics, have come to believe and proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free wheeling, deregulated, union busting, minimal taxes especially for wealthy investors, plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations.
He continues to describe yet more bizarre shifts, including the religious right's growing love affair with hard-line atheist and anti-Christian Ayn Rand. As Paul writes, many of these "Christians who support the capitalist policies associated with social Darwinism strenuously denounce Darwin’s evolutionary science because it supposedly leads to, well, social Darwinism! Meanwhile atheists, secularists and evolutionists are denounced as inventing the egalitarian evils of anti-socially Darwinistic socialism and communism. It’s such a weird stew of incongruities that it sets one’s head spinning."

Indeed it does. How has this happened? How can such Christians reconcile their anti-welfare, capitalistic ideology with a religion based on a man who urged his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor? Paul states, "A basic point of core Christian doctrine is that the wealthy have no more access to heaven than anyone else (and in fact may have less), offering hope to the impoverished rejected by cults that court the elites."

In scripture, Jesus provides continuous encouragement for the poor. He warns the wealthy that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Chapters 2 and 4 of Acts state that all “the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need… No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…. There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”

That's about as far from the Objectivism of Ayn Rand as one can get. That, my friends, is socialism and welfare in a nutshell.

As for those who claim that Jesus's socialism was voluntary, it is important to note that in Jesus' time, we did not have complex societies comprised of millions of people. In simpler times it was not uncommon to welcome traveling strangers into one's home for a meal, a bed, or to have a wound or sickness treated. We relied on the charity of others because societies were not advanced enough to have, or need, safety nets for the suffering. Today, not many would take a stranger into their home, and very few have the time, or energy, in our modern, frantically paced society, to provide hands-on assistance to those in need.

In addition to Jesus' own words, we also have numerous depictions of pro-socialist ideology in The Gospels.

Writes Paul (again from the above-mentioned Washington Post piece):
To get just how central collectivism is to Christian canon, consider that the Bible contains the first description of socialism in history. Anti-socialist Christians also claim that the Biblical version was voluntary. Aside from it being obvious that the biblical version of God was not the anti-socialist Christian capitalists commonly proclaim he was, some dark passages in Acts indicate how deeply pro-socialist the New Testament deity is. Chapter 5 details how when a church member fails to turn over all his property to the church “he fell down and died,” when his wife later did the same “she fell down… and died… Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

Dear readers, does this not sound like a form of terror-enforced-communism imposed by a God who thinks that Christians who fail to join the collective are worthy of death?

Part of the reason why the current pro-capitalistic, anti-socialistic ideology has infiltrated the religious right is due to the dominionist ideology that has been championed by the far-right over the past 20 years.

It is no secret that the religious economic ideology found in the influential Christian book, America's Providential History by Mark Beliles and Stephen McDowell has infiltrated the Republican Party Platform and was partly instrumental in informing many of George W. Bush's Administration policies. This ideology is also echoed in the the policies of many current Republican lawmakers, including most of the 2012 GOP hopefuls. There is a clear relationship between the "dominion mandate" described in the textbook, and the ideology of the religious right.

Beliles and McDowell write:

"Scripture makes it clear that God is the provider, not the state, and that needy individuals are to be cared for by private acts of charity."

"Ecclesiastes 5:19 states, 'For every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them'...Also in I Chronicles 29:12, 'Both riches and honor come from Thee.'"

There has been much made of the Dominion mandate and the fact that Bachmann and Perry have close ties to the Dominionist movement. Many of the supporters of Perry's 'Response' prayer rally are aligned with the New Apostolic Reformation and Seven Mountains Dominionism. We have yet in our nation's history seen such a dangerous mix of religious and political ideology.

It must be said that this ideology is not new. Gordon Bigelow, writing on the evangelical roots of economics (Harper's Magazine v.310, n.1860, 1may2005):
At the center of this early evangelical doctrine was the idea of original sin: we were all born stained by corruption and fleshly desire, and the true purpose of earthly life was to redeem this. The trials of economic life—the sweat of hard labor, the fear of poverty, the self-denial involved in saving—were earthly tests of sinfulness and virtue. While evangelicals believed salvation was ultimately possible only through conversion and faith, they saw the pain of earthly life as means of atonement for original sin...Evangelicals interpreted the mental anguish of poverty and debt, and the physical agony of hunger or cold, as natural spurs to prick the conscience of sinners. They believed that the suffering of the poor would provoke remorse, reflection, and ultimately the conversion that would change their fate. In other words, poor people were poor for a reason, and helping them out of poverty would endanger their mortal souls. It was the evangelicals who began to see the business mogul as an heroic figure, his wealth a triumph of righteous will. The stockbroker, who to Adam Smith had been a suspicious and somewhat twisted character, was for nineteenth-century evangelicals a spiritual victor.

Paul, in the Washington Post, cites many other contributions to this Bizarro Christian Capitalism:
In the early Protestant Netherlands, Switzerland and England capital became the dominant economic driver. Of course members of a religion want to think that God approves of what they are up to. So many (but not all) Protestants began to cherry pick those Biblical passages that could be massaged to seemingly support laissez-faire markets while pretty much ignoring those that clearly don’t. This works because, as surveys show, most Christians don’t actually read the bulk of the Bible, and people are mentally skilled at dismissing the awkward passages they do come across. Christians really took the theory that God is pro-capital to its extreme in what has be come the least socialistic and most Jesus-following of the advanced democracies, the USA, where many see the nation as an exceptional, God blessed “Shining City on the Hill” they think stands as the exemplar of Godly capitalism to the world.Christians really took the theory that God is pro-capital to its extreme in what has be come the least socialistic and most Jesus-following of the advanced democracies, the USA, where many see the nation as an exceptional, God blessed “Shining City on the Hill” they think stands as the exemplar of Godly capitalism to the world.
This ideology flowered with the emergence of evangelical and Pentecostal Prosperity Christianity and the modern corporate-consumer culture. This culture was further integrated into politics promoted by the likes of Ayn Rand, William Buckley, Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, and the alliance between Reagan and the religious right. It has gained more steam in recent years with the advent of the Tea Party, the recent Rand revival, and the rise of politically minded Christian right organizations and figures, many with close ties to 2012 GOP candidates.

Even if one could successfully argue that Christianity is pro-capitalism, where is the acknowledgement of Adam Smith's argument for a progressive taxation. Adam Smith, widely cited as the father of modern economics and capitalism, and author of the classic treatise on capitalism, The Wealth of Nations, wrote the following:
“The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor...The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. . . . It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

"The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state. The expense of government to the individuals of a great nation is like the expense of management to the joint tenants of a great estate, who are all obliged to contribute in proportion to their respective interests in the estate. In the observation or neglect of this maxim consists what is called the equality or inequality of taxation."
And while Adam Smith truly believed in the promise of capitalism, even he warned us of the dangers of excess and greed:
“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”
Clearly, both The Father and the father of capitalism are preaching the same thing: It is our duty to contribute more than our less fortunate neighbors (in proportion to our abilities and wealth), for the greater good of society. It really couldn't be any more explicit.

As a non-believer who often finds himself in conversations with devout Christians, I find it strange, and a bit disturbing, that I am often the one who ends up preaching the Christlike messages of compassion and charity. Where have these ideals gone? This strange brand of Christianity fails to address the issue of human suffering, a staple of Christian theology. In this Bizarro World, it is the successful, employed Christian who is the one suffering, while the welfare recipient is reaping the spoils of capitalism. This is upside-down thinking, and is precisely where religion fails.

Humanists adhere to a code which not only rejects scripture as a moral guide, but which requires that we act with the goal of reducing suffering. Whereas we understand that we are not always capable of reducing the suffering of people at all times, we support the funding of organizations which are equipped to address the problem of suffering on a mass scale. Are there flaws in some of these services? Is there waste? Do some people abuse the system? Sure. But they are successful in reducing suffering in most instances, and working to improve these services is preferable to tearing them down.

America is somewhat unique in the way its social issues are so deeply intertwined with religious ideology. (Even It is the mix of religiosity and political conservatism that has bred this new brand of Christianity where our wealth is smiled upon by God and we ask the sick and the poor to pick themselves up by their bootstraps or suffer the consequences.

In different times, it might be the Christian accusing the atheist as being selfish, smug, and lacking in compassion.

Funny how things change.

(NOTE: The characterizations in this post describe a particular brand of Christianity -- I know many Christians who are some of the most generous and compassionate people I know.)

Images from Tea Party Jesus, a Web project "putting the words of Christians in the mouth of Jesus."


Batshit Match Quote Quiz: Can You Tell The GOP Candidates Apart?

Much is being said about the batch of leading GOP presidential candidates being entirely too similar. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) claimed on Face the Nation that the candidates were "so interchangeable they might as well be Legos." 

Nearly all of the 2012 hopefuls are desperately courting the religious right, and as such their stances on social issues are virtually indistinguishable

Ever since Reagan won the 1980 election on the backs of the Religious Right, the GOP has relentlessly catered to the whims of conservative Christians, usually at the expense of more important factors.  Over thirty years later, it appears that  winning the GOP nomination is impossible without proving one's allegiance to the Religious Right, or at least pretending to fit in (see Romney).  And in thirty years, we have not seen a batch of candidates this committed to the Religious Right's theocratic ideology.

On to the quiz...

Test your ability to differentiate the 2012 GOP hopefuls based on the following quotes. Match each quote to one of the below candidates. (Answers at bottom of page.)

A = Michele Bachmann, B = Herman Cain, C = Rick Perry, D = Newt Gingrich, E = Rick Santorum, F = Mitt Romney, G = Ron Paul

1. “I'm just going to tell you from my own personal life, abstinence works.”

2. “Literally, if we took away the minimum wage — if conceivably it was gone — we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.”

3. “Based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.”

4. “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [my grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists.”

5. “Who do you worship? Do you believe in the primacy of unrestrained federal government? Or do you worship the God of the universe, placing our trust in him?”

6. “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?”

7. “The American Left hates Christendom. They hate Western civilization.”

8. “The Founding Fathers envisioned a robustly Christian yet religiously tolerant America, with churches serving as vital institutions that would eclipse the state in importance.”

9. “Corporations are people, my friend.”

10. “And what a bizarre time we're in, when a judge will say to little children that you can't say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it.”

11. “But unlike abortion today, in most states even the slaveholder did not have the unlimited right to kill his slave.”

12. “Abortion leads to euthanasia. I believe that.”

13. “We're in a state of crisis where our nation is literally ripping apart at the seams right now, and lawlessness is occurring from one ocean to the other. And we’re seeing the fulfillment of the Book of Judges here in our own time, where every man doing that which is right in his own eyes—in other words, anarchy.”

14. “Where do we say that a cell became a blade of grass, which became a starfish, which became a cat, which became a donkey, which became a human being?' There’s a real lack of evidence from change from actual species to a different type of species. That's where it's difficult to prove.”

15. “Tiger [Woods] will be 40 years old in 2016. The Republican Party should begin grooming him now for a run at the White House. His personal attributes and accomplishments on the golf course point to a candidate who will be a problem solver.”

16. “I am not here bashing people who are homosexuals, who are lesbians, who are bisexual, who are transgender. We need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life, and sexual identity disorders. This is a very real issue. It's not funny, it's sad. Any of you who have members of your family that are in the lifestyle — we have a member of our family that is. This is not funny. It's a very sad life. It's part of Satan, I think, to say this is "gay". It's anything but gay.”

17. “There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.”

18. “As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else. It's being drawn to Iraq. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the eye to come back to the United States.”

19. “So let me say on the record, any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.”

20. “Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

21. “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.”

22. “Pray for me...and my team. Ask that the Lord will give us a special anointing on how to put our team together, who those team people will be, that he would bring those people to us.”

23. “Lord, the day is at hand. We are in the last days. You are a Jehovah God. We know that the times are in your hands. And we give them to you…The day is at hand, Lord, when your return will come nigh. Nothing is more important than bringing sheep into the fold. Than bringing new life into the kingdom…You have weeded that garden. The harvest is at hand.”

24. “Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.”

25. “Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong.”

26. “I believe homosexuality is a sin because I’m a Bible-believing Christian, I believe it’s a sin. But I know that some people make that choice. That’s their choice.”

27. “There is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us...prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it.”

28. “This may be an opportunity for her (Melissa Etheridge) now to be open to some spiritual things, now that she is suffering with that physical disease. She is a lesbian.”

29. “The secularists wage an ongoing war against religion, chipping away bit by bit at our nation’s Christian heritage. Christmas itself may soon be a casualty of that war.”

30. “In some ways, to believe in evolution is almost like a following; a cult following — if you don’t believe in evolution, you’re considered completely backward. That seems to me very indicative of bias as well.”

Answers: 1=C, 2=A, 3=B, 4=D, 5=C, 6=D, 7=E, 8=G, 9=F, 10=A, 11=E, 12=G, 13=A, 14=A, 15=B, 16=A, 17=A, 18=E, 19=D, 20=C, 21=E, 22=A, 23=A, 24=A, 25=F, 26=B, 27=D, 28=A, 29=G, 30=A


Religious People Are Nerds

University Rankings on Religiosity, Equality, and Political Leanings

The Princeton Review surveyed over 122,000 students for their yearly college rankings. The data is sliced and diced in many ways. Of particular interest to readers of this blog might be the 2011 rankings related to religion, politics, and equality.

There are some obvious trends. Also, BYU, Hillsdale, and Wheaton seem like major drags.

Some abbreviated overviews below...

Most Religious Students:
1. Brigham Young University, Provo UT
2. Hillsdale College, Hillsdale MI
3. Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula CA
4. Wheaton College, Wheaton IL
5. Grove City College, Grove City PA
6. University of Dallas, Irving TX
7. College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout MO
8. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame IN
9. Calvin College, Grand Rapids MI
10. Baylor University, Waco TX

Least Religious Students:
1. Bennington College, Bennington VT
2. Reed College, Portland OR
3. Bard College, Annondale-on-Hudson NY
4. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie NY
5. Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville NY
6. Bard College at Simon's Rock, Great Barrington MA
7. Emerson College, Boston MA
8. Pomona College, Claremont CA
9. Grinnell College, Grinnell IA
10. Macalester College, St. Paul MN

Most LGBT-Friendly:
1. New York University, New York NY
2. Stanford University, Stanford CA
3. Emerson College, Boston MA
4. Wellesley College, Wellesley MA
5. Bennington College, Bennington VT
6. University of Wisconson-Madison, Madison, WI
7. Macalaster College, St. Paul MN
8. New College of Florida, Sarasota FL
9. Prescott College, Prescott AZ
10. Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville NY

Least LGBT-Friendly:
1. Wheaton College, Wheaton IL
2. Grove City College, Grove City PA
3. Brigham Young University, Provo UT
4. Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney VA
5. College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout MO
6. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame IN
7. Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula CA
8. Boston College, Chestnut Hill MA
9. University of Dallas, Irving TX
10. Texas A&M University - College Station, College Station TX

Most Liberal Students:
1. Macalaster College, St. Paul MN
2. Warren Wilson College, Asheville NC
3. New College of Florida, Sarasota FL
4. Eugene Lang College, New York NY
5. Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville NY
6. Hampshire College, Amherst MA
7. Bard College, Annondale-on-Hudson NY
8. University of Puget Sound, Tacoma WA
9. Pitzer College, Claremont CA
10. Prescott College, Prescott AZ

Most Conservative Students:
1. Hillsdale College, Hillsdale MI
2. Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula CA
3. Texas A&M University - College Station, College Station TX
4. Grove City College, Grove City PA
5. United States Air Force Academny, USAF Academy CO
6. University of Dallas, Irving TX
7. United States Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point NY
8. Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney VA
9. Brigham Young University, Provo UT
10. Angelo State University, San Angelo TX

You can access the report here.

Ask Sam Harris A Bunch Of Stuff

Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape, answers questions submitted by readers. This is his second entry in this series (the first can be found further below).

The full video is an hour long. Links to specific topics/questions are provided below:
1. Eternity and the meaning of life 0:42
2. Do we have free will?  4:43 
3. How can we convince religious people to abandon their beliefs? 14:52 
4. How can atheists live among the faithful? 19:09 
5. How should we talk to children about death? 21:52 
6. Does human life have intrinsic value? 26:01 
7. Why should we be confident in the authority of science? 30:36  
8. How can one criticize Islam after the terrorism in Norway? 35:43
9. Should atheists join with Christians against Islam? 41:50
10. What does it mean to speak about the human mind objectively? 45:17 
11. How can spiritual claims be scientifically justified? 50:14 
12. Why can’t religion remain a private matter? 54:52  
13. What do you like to speak about at public events? 58:09 

Sam's first entry in this series is below (without the handy chapter links, unfortunately).


2012 Candidates: Where They Stand On Marriage Equality

Marriage Equality USA has released a handy matrix detailing each candidate's stance on marriage equality and other related issues.

Most of us don't need much help knowing where the GOP candidates stand, unfortunately, but it is interesting to see where they split hairs.

It's also more than a bit disappointing to see that a Republican is more progressive on the issues than Obama. One would think it wouldn't require an openly gay politician like Fred Karger to find support across the board for equality.

(h/t Pam Spaulding)

Man Designs and Plays Largest Drum Set In the World, For God

Dr. Mark Temperato, or RevM, as he's called, has built the largest drum set in the world. It's massive. The set is comprised of over 500 pieces. It boasts over 90 drums and 90 cymbals and features the 'World’s Largest Symphonic Gong.'

Why? To "worship God and wage war against the enemy."

From the Breath of Worship site:

At times, during the course of a service, the Holy Spirit may instruct Mark to minister on the drums or symphonic gong. During these moments, people’s lives have been deeply touched and often experience a sudden manifestation of the presence of God. A prolific speaker, Mark’s high energy, down-to-earth teaching style utilizes both his speaking ability and custom digitized sound effects, thus using sound teaching to declare the Word of the Lord. A moment with God, it lingers for a lifetime.

Whether preaching from behind the pulpit or playing the drums, one of the most appreciated aspects of Pastor Mark’s ministry is the use of the prophetic gifts. God is using his fresh approach prophetically as a catalyst to WAKE UP America from the shadow of indifference that has swept across this nation.

The first time Mark played drums in a Church was in 1978.Since that time God has used his drumming, teachings with signs & wonders to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. God uses Dr. Marks, high energy teaching style. And his unique abilities to declare the Word of God. At times the Holy Spirit may instruct him to minister on the drums or play the symphonic gong. During these moments, people often experience a sudden manifestation of the Glory of God. It is an experience people never forget and lives are deeply touched.

Mark plays for an audience of ONE – “The Creator of the Universe”! Everybody else gets the overflow and all the Glory goes to God!

You may notice that the immense drum set features only one bass drum. Says RevM, "I only use one bass drum on my main set because there is only “ONE GOD” and only One way to get to Heaven and that is through Jesus Christ." Makes perfect sense.

Visit the site for more, including an FAQ, and a breakdown of his gear.