You'll recall the national debate that was launched when Fox News entertainer Glenn Beck warned his churchgoing fans to "run as fast as you can" if their pastors started preaching about "social justice." Beck's pronouncement was puzzling to many Christians who believe that helping the needy is what religion is all about. But America's religious conservatives know better than that. (They think.) They've taken the phrase "charity begins at home" to a whole 'nother galaxy.
Ever wonder how the Tea Party proletariat, most of them fundamentalist zealots, reconcile what Jesus said about caring for the poor with their own unquestionably selfish "Me Me Me" ideology? Alfredo Garcia at Religion News Service addresses that question, via HuffPo: Tea Party activists say the question is not whether to follow Jesus' words, but how. Lloyd Marcus of Deltona, Fla., a spokesman for the Tea Party Express, is a born-again, nondenominational Christian who says flatly that "Jesus was not for socialism." "Yes, the Bible advocates giving, but out of the goodness of our own hearts, not out of government confiscation of wealth or re-distribution of wealth," he said. Joseph Farah, founder and CEO of the website WorldNetDaily and author of the new Tea Party Manifesto, agreed. "When Jesus talks about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, he's talking to us as individuals," Farah said. The Bible does not "suggest that government is the institution that he designed to help the poor." Government social welfare programs are akin to "coercively taking money from people and redistributing to other people, which, at the end of the day, is legalized stealing," he said. "And the Bible is pretty firm on stealing." (I will never understand how the minds of these people work. Everything in their narrow world is the exact opposite of reality.)
The Reverend Jim Wallis, founder of the Washington-based social justice group Sojourners, responds to this grossly egocentric interpretation of Christianity: "The libertarian enshrinement of individual choice is not the preeminent Christian virtue. Emphasizing individual rights at the expense of others violates the common good, a central Christian teaching and tradition." Put another way, we already have entire families sleeping in streets and public parks and small children dumpster diving for food. Teabaggers must want to see more of that because they're sure as hell not going to pick up the slack if their political dreams are attained and all federal assistance for impoverished citizens is stamped out. And while we're on the subject of philanthropy... Let's take a gander at one sterling example of this Tea Party-esque "charity" being doled out by a Republican politician. On a local Christian TV station in South Carolina, Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer (who the program's host describes as "On Fire for the Lord") recently discussed how he goes about donating shoes to poor children. First Mr. Bauer washes their feet, presumably to demonstrate how Christ-like he is. ("Are the cameras rolling? Gimme that halo effect.") Then he starts proselytizing to the kids, preaching the Gospel of Jesus as he and other southern bigots understand it. Pure bliss. I mean really, what's more satisfying to Bible thumpers than a captive audience of needy youngsters? YOU distribute the largesse, so YOU get to set the rules. They can either listen to your Jesus spiel or return to their cardboard boxes unshod (or hungry, as the case may be). This is the very antithesis of altruism.
Bauer sets the stage for his acts of charity and goodness: "What we do is, they come in, they'll sit down, we'll kneel on a little stool in front of them, they put their feet out, we'll take their shoes off..." The host, who looks like Saturday Night Live's Church Lady after a night of heavy drinking, asks, "Do they know what's comin' up?" Andre says, "I don't believe most of them do. I don't believe most of - I think most of them think they're getting a pair of shoes (which would make sense since that's the reason they showed up) but while we have them there we take the opportunity to ask them if they have a relationship with the Lord. We actually give a lot of them a Bible... I want them to get so much more out of this than just shoes." (Such as his personal right-wing religious convictions.)
"Here you go, kids. Free footwear! But only after you let me wash between your toes and lecture you about sin and your personal relationship with God." Tell me, is the following video as creepy to you as it is to me?
Most generous people realize that true charity is dispensed quietly, without fanfare or the expectation of getting something in return. What proselytizing Christians like Bauer call charity is not far removed from simple bribery.