09/15/2005: Gem o'the Day:
Overturning the Gospels: Katrina has reminded us that Christian morality should be about responding to the wretched and loving the unlovable—not about other people’s sex lives, By Melinda Henneberger.
Sept. 14, 2005 - There was a great piece in Harper's last month, "The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong'' by Bill McKibben, about how three out of four Americans believe the Bible teaches this: "God helps those who help themselves.'' The Gospel according to Mark? Luke? Actually, it was Ben Franklin who came up with these words to live by.
"The thing is,'' McKibben writes, "not only is Franklin's wisdom not biblical; it's counterbiblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.''
Now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we have seen—and been unable to look away from— the direct result of this self-deception.
And if such tell-me-I'm-dreaming scenes as rats feeding on corpses in the streets—American streets—isn't enough to make us rethink the public-policy implications of turning the Gospel on its head in this way, then truly, God help us.
We as a nation—a proudly, increasingly loudly Christian nation—have somehow convinced ourselves that the selfish choice is usually the moral one, too. (What a deal!) You know how this works: It's wrong to help poor people because "handouts'' reward dependency and thus hurt more than they help. So, do the right thing—that is, walk right on by—and by all means hang on to your hard-earned cash.
Thus do we deny the working poor a living wage, resent welfare recipients expected to live on a few hundred dollars a month, object to the whopping .16 percent of our GNP that goes to foreign aid—and still manage to feel virtuous about all of the above.
Which is how "Christian'' morality got to be all about other people's sex lives—and incredibly easy lifting compared to what Jesus actually asks of us. Defending traditional marriage? A breeze. Living in one? Less so. Telling gay people what they can't do? Piece o' cake. But responding to the wretched? Loving the unlovable? Forgiving the ever-so-occasionally annoying people you actually know? Hard work, as our president would say, and rather more of a stretch.
A lot of us are angry at our public officials just now, and rightly so. But we are complicit, too; top to bottom, we picked this government, which has certainly met our low expectations.
Len on 09.15.05 @ 08:14 AM CST