Friday, September 21, 2012

A Rant Too Long for Facebook

OK, then, just this week I preached the following words in a sermon
Never ever ever read the comments on any even vaguely political article on any web site. Ever.”
I call that “David’s Rule for Internet Serenity,” and I went on to invite the community to refrain from cynicism and hate-filled rhetoric, to find gratitude in every possible moment, and to keep silent unless our voice improves whatever context or conversation we find ourselves in.
Then this morning, in a simple scroll through Facebook, I ran across this comment:
I think the point is that we should not be forced by the government to feed those who are unwilling to work for their food. I regularly give food to those in need, of my own free will. I don't want the government telling me how to spend the money that God gave me. Only God has that right.
As you might guess, the comment came in a response to a status posted in the wake of Mitt Romney’s ill-considered remarks about the 47-percent of Americans who, he said, “believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.”
The comment, made at a fundraiser and leaked on tape this week to a reporter, reflects what is, in my experience, a fairly widespread belief among affluent Americans about the unwashed masses of poor folks. I’m not going to try to unpack Romney’s words or the misinformation imbedded in them. Lots of folks have already done so. You can find one excellent analysis at the Atlantic.
I am studiously avoiding the comments on any article about Romney’s remarks, and I’m just as studiously avoiding engaging on Facebook, a social circle I inhabit for fun and to stay connected with friends and family in distant places. Oh, sure, I’ll make the occasional snarky comment in response to a political statement from time to time, but I really try to avoid arguing on line because it goes around in circles and just makes me angry without changing anything other than my blood pressure.
Incarnational theology, if we take it seriously, should teach us that minds only change when hearts have been touched. Hearts don’t get touched in on-line arguments, they only get touched in face-to-face encounters and relationships.
Nevertheless, sometimes writing matters, if for no other reason than to clarify one’s own thinking. I do not for a moment delude myself into thinking that clarifying my own thoughts will clarify anyone else’s; and I cannot resist the snarky insistence that some folks’ thoughts need clarifying.
I’m not even talking about Mitt. I’m actually bothered more by the Facebook comment, and, in particular this part of it: “I don't want the government telling me how to spend the money that God gave me. Only God has that right.”
As I noted already, Mitt’s comments would make me angry if they surprised me at all, but the truth is he’s simply reflecting an attitude that is deeply imbedded in the consciousness of many wealthy Americans. I no longer have the capacity to be surprised by that.
But I remain constantly surprised by the notion that God is a heavenly ATM dispensing cold, hard cash to deserving souls and thus nobody but God can tell a deserving soul how to “spend the money that God gave me.”
To be honest, my first question is always, “where the hell is the line for that, ‘cause I gotta get me some!” Seriously, where is God handing out money?
I should also be fair and note that the Facebook comment does not say, explicitly, that the person is deserving, but I am going to extrapolate from the idea I so often hear in such arguments that “God helps those who help themselves.” Accordingly, a just God would not be giving out money to the undeserving, who, at least according to the gospel of Mitt, seem to believe they are victims entitled to food and are doing nothing to help themselves. 
I extrapolate because if God is just handing out money willy-nilly to any old soul lucky enough to know where the line is then the money is an undeserved gift, that is to say, a handout.
So, is God handing out gifts willy-nilly to any old soul?
In a word, "yes." Everything I have is a gift, beginning with life itself and a planet that sustains that life. We call it grace, and it comes in all kinds of forms. The God I know as the author of that life, the giver of the gift, the God of grace, has, in fact, already told me, as it were, how to spend what I’ve been given: give it to the poor. Scripture is pretty decidedly clear about that.
In a secular, more-or-less democratic society one of the ways we do that collectively is through public programs that support the poor. In an obviously different context, that's more or less the case that Calvin made in favor of civil government. There is plenty of room to argue about the best and most effective ways to do that, but to suggest that the government has no place in the process of providing for the least of these our fellow citizens seems, at best, unrealistic in a nation of 300 million people, and, at worst, a pernicious, selfish deception based on an equally pernicious self-deception.


Beth said...

tell it, bro. you go!--yo sistah

Laughing Fish said...

Hey, my name is actually Christian Wright, and I do have a progressive blog, that I write under. It is at . Funny to see this!

Well good luck writing and I will promise not to take credit for all your work ;)

Christian Wright said...

Laughing Fish you've made me laugh! When I started this way back blogging under pseudonyms was the thing to do, and yours was just too good to resist for someone prone to writing rants about the so-called Christian Right.