One of the most common complaints I hear concerning Christianity and politics is that Christians don’t follow the philosophy of Jesus in regards to welfare, healthcare, the poor, etc. I read a stereotypical article along those lines today on AlterNet. It was titled “Why Are So Many Christians so Un-Christian?”
The author’s main argument runs like this:
- Jesus recommended and practiced charity to the poor.
- Christians don’t follow Jesus’ practice or philosophy because they hate Obamacare along with other government “charity” programs.
- This hypocrisy is “rational” because people believe whatever they want to believe and use religion later to legitimize their own cherished beliefs.
In the author’s own bitter words:
As much as liberals would often wish it otherwise—and no matter how much conservative Christians may claim their beliefs all come from the Bible—the truth of the matter is there’s no real relationship between what a person believes and what their religion ostensibly teaches them to believe. In practical terms, the word “Christian” is an empty term that can basically mean whatever the believer wants it to mean. Christians decide what they want to believe first and then, after they’ve chosen their beliefs, search for any excuse, no matter how thin, to claim that their belief is consistent with their chosen religion.
It’s a process called rationalization or motivated reasoning, and to be perfectly fair, it’s how most people think about most things most of the time: They choose what to believe and then look for reasons to explain why they believe it.
Fair enough. The only problem with this is that the author overlooks the obvious fact that her own beliefs would be subject to the same exigency. For instance, she minces no words in attesting that the Christian God is “mythical” and Jesus himself is a “mythological character.” This is pure assumption. And, furthermore and ironically, it is a religious assumption. Which makes her conclusion all the more thorny:
That’s one reason politicians love to talk about religion, because they don’t have to prove anything. But that’s the major reason religion really has no place in politics.
Well then get your religion out of politics! Sheesh. Physician heal thyself. If motivated reasoning is such a salient force in human epistemology, this dear deluded author cannot help but succumb to it. She very much wants God to be mythical and politics to be religion-free. Her desires and beliefs, as she so aptly points out, predate and predetermine her rationalizations. She cannot say that atheism frees her from this. Atheism, like any other religious or anti-religious system, is outside the realm of empirical validation. Metaphysical claims are simply not provable. And this is okay. Saying something is not provable is not the same as saying it is not true. Just ask a Logical Positivist. Oh yeah, they aren’t around anymore. Because they made the self-defeating metaphysical assertion that all metaphysical assertions were meaningless. Unfortunately for our author, her motivated reasoning suffers from a case of special pleading, and I’m not willing to uphold the plea (how uncharitable of me).
As for the substance of her claims that most Christian politicians (and Christians in general) practice hypocrisy, she is right. Hypocrisy is a very common problem in the church. But not in the way she so incompetently delineates. When Jesus gave people bread and healed them of diseases, he gave them the products of his own (albeit miraculous) labor voluntarily. He never forced anyone else to give, and he certainly didn’t donate everything to the State to distribute. Christians should certainly follow His example and philosophy. And most Christians actually do. As I’ve written about elsewhere, red states are generally more charitable than blue ones. Liberals, who so very often tout their own compassion and charitableness, are often very stingy when it comes to their own money. Personal and voluntary charity is what Christians should be, and apparently are, all about.
Refusing to support Obamacare or the welfare system is not the same thing as rejecting Jesus’ principles and practices of charity. Being against government welfare is not the same thing as being “parsimonious haters of the poor.” If Jesus had lived in the modern age, He would have been forced to comply with city health and restaurant codes before He gave out any more bread, and He would have been sued for practicing medicine without a license. The system that the author thinks is so in line with biblical principles has little or nothing to do with Jesus’ actual practices.
There is a significant difference between voluntary private charity (the kind Jesus actually practiced and advocated) and compulsory civil welfare. Apparently, the author herself also believes what she wants to believe concerning the Bible. Her own conceptions have little basis in biblical research, as she makes painfully obvious. For instance, she confidently asserts, “. . . there’s nothing in the Bible that even comes close to suggesting that it’s good for people to be forced into starvation simply because they had the misfortune of living in a time of high unemployment.” How about 2 Thessalonians 3:10? Strip away the emotionally charged language, and yeah, I’d say that comes more than close. But I digress.
Most Christians (even the hypocritical ones, mind you) are not against charity as such. We’re against forced redistribution of wealth. Because this is theft. (Remember, that’s also in the Bible and stuff.) But, even more importantly, most of us are against government largesse because it is actually not in the best interest of the poor (whom we actually care about personally and care for privately). That welfare is bad for the poor is an empirical assertion, not a religiously motivated sentiment. It can be tested. It has been tested. Government welfare has never succeeded in moving most of the people who receive it out of poverty.
And I imagine universal healthcare will be just as inefficient and unjust in this country as it has proven to be in all of the other countries where it has been attempted. Please spare me the counter-arguments about the EU or Sweden or Buddhakinesia or whatever. People there pay half or more of their income to a bloated system they often want to escape when they have a real emergency. Not efficient. Not just. But, like the author says, “There are always fools who won’t believe the evidence, no matter how overwhelming, but for most of us, most of the time, we have a limit.” Well, mark one down for the fools then, moderator.
Contrary to popular opinion, private education and healthcare worked just fine in this country before the civil government made up a bunch of stupid reasons to take them over. If anything, civil government interference has actually caused the problems that have apparently necessitated more civil government interference. No. Just no. Stop. Please.
Critics of Christian “hypocrisy” prove the value of Christian principles even while they attack them. If Christians were atheists, we would all be allowed to be stingy Scrooges without any fear of condemnation. It is in fact our connection to Jesus and His graciousness that holds us to a higher standard. And this leaking-heart author with a (probably) watertight wallet would have that moral standard removed from politics? I’m sure that would make the plight of the poor so much more manageable. Just look at the wonders that have been done for the poor in officially atheist countries like China and the former Soviet Union. Paragons of charity and wealth equality, right?
I think rather than criticizing Christians for their political philosophies, perhaps atheists should put their own money where they love putting their voluminous mouths. Last time I checked, charitable hospitals, private charity, and disaster relief were not being spearheaded by atheists, but by Christians. In other words, when I look at the vastly uncharitable liberal world, I don’t feel compelled to ask the question, “Why are liberals so un-liberal?” The fact is, when a Christian is uncharitable, his own religion condemns him. When atheists and liberals are uncharitable, what materialistic principle exists to hold them accountable? None. In fact, there’s no universal moral principle to condemn them for anything. And, if we take to heart the concept of motivated reasoning, this might explain why they chose their (non) religion in the first place.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com