How the GOP Convinced Evangelicals to Neglect the Poor

How the GOP Convinced Evangelicals to Neglect the Poor January 31, 2014

kingpawnqueenThe Moral Majority may have disbanded at the end of the 1980’s but it also accomplished its mission: Weyrich, Falwell and others forged an alliance between Catholics and Evangelicals (no small feat) over a handful of issues which were then adopted by the Republican Party due to the symbiotic nature of their relationship. In the wake of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, Republicans needed the South to form a stable voting base for future elections. Southern Evangelicals needed the Republican Party, too, as they had grown tired of being marginalized by the steady march of “progressive” social change in America. It was a match made in heaven, so to speak, and like many couples who have been married a long time, after a while they’ve started to even look like one another so that the principles of one have become every bit as much the principles of the other (or as Allen Clifton says, a new hybrid thing has arisen which he calls “Republicanity”). It was odd enough seeing the party of Lincoln absorbing the innate racism of Southern whites; it was also odd seeing a party focused on limited government adopting invasive stances on social issues like reproductive rights and marriage equality. But it’s particularly jarring to see churches founded on the teachings of Jesus embracing the GOP’s disapproval of public assistance for the poor, the sick, and the elderly, especially since, as time goes on, Evangelicals are increasingly finding themselves among the poor, the sick and the elderly. One of the most curious phenomena in American politics is that those states most likely to vote against assistance for the poor are the poorest states in the union. Similarly, those states which vote against expanding healthcare programs (like mine) are those which need it the most. How can this happen? What could possibly motivate an entire voting bloc to consistently vote against its own best interests, even unto the contradiction of the tenets of its own religion?

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. –Seneca*

In order to pull off a coup of this magnitude, those who benefit most from these policies (the wealthiest Americans) would have to convince middle America that they have a moral obligation to fight one set of battles which have no ostensible downside for those at the top of the financial food chain while teaching them to turn a blind eye to those places where the policies they support more clearly contradict what middle Americans say they believe. To make this happen, you would need some kind of social structure in place which elicits automatic trust from its members, and you would need an environment rife with pressure to conform to groupthink on a massive scale (That part’s easy: Ever been active in an Evangelical church?). You would also need to bifurcate life into thoroughly separate spheres so that “spiritual things” and “earthly matters” mixed as little as possible (Evangelicals are naturally dualistic because there’s a pretty pervasive dualism running through the New Testament, despite the protestations of its modern defenders). A thoroughgoing dualism serves the interests of the wealthy because as long as charity is seen as a responsibility of the church and not the government, no one will come knocking on the door of the rich asking them to share what they’ve accumulated.

There are a couple of major problems with this. First of all, pure capitalism and the unfettered worship of the free market hurts everybody in the end because the plight of the poor inevitably impacts the rich as well. Crime, poverty, and a lack of quality education among the poor eventually comes back to haunt the rich (the lower 99% spend the money that make the 1% who they are) and if they go unchecked long enough, class warfare may even result. Extreme income inequality destabilizes any society, and that’s bad news for everybody. Second, leaving charity to the church would be disastrous, since the real-world needs of the poor so dramatically dwarf the actual charitable giving levels of churches. One writer estimates that in order for churches to cover just one government program (WIC) they would have to devote 17% of their budgets to cover those expenses, when in reality most churches give far less than that to charitable causes or programs (the Evangelical Christian Credit Union estimates it’s closer to 1%). Most of the money brought in by churches (tax free, I might add, to the tune of $71B a year in exemptions) goes to paying overhead, property maintenance, staff salaries, and promotional and material costs. Very little actually goes to help the poor. So when someone says giving to the poor is the church’s job and therefore not the government’s, he is making a decision that impacts millions based on how he feels the world should operate rather than how it actually does.

There’s also a glaring inconsistency in how churches apply the separation of church and state which was built into the Constitution. When it comes to things like taxes or healthcare decisions, churches often become champions of Jefferson’s wall of separation (he did, after all, borrow the notion from the Baptists in the first place). But then when politicians write laws which privilege Christian beliefs above all others (see school prayer and gay marriage bans), they support those decisions with great zeal. This bifurcation of life is applied arbitrarily and is used selectively. That explains why it is so easy to convince Evangelicals that charity belongs in the religious sphere instead of the civic sphere. They’ve become so comfortable with that dualism that they are easily swayed by rhetoric which appeals to this notion. That is another key element keeping the have-nots happy with not-having.

Finally, to complete this coup you would need to create a kind of epistemic closure around that population so that all their sources of information conform to a pre-approved ideological template. In a land built on the freedom of press, this could be the trickiest part, since impartiality is the cardinal virtue in such a place. Enter FOX News and talk radio.

The FOX News Effect

In a global information age, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data that clamors for your attention. While our great-grandparents only had to know about what was going on in their local communities, we today are expected to know what’s happening on the other side of the planet. Our world seems almost unmanageably big. On top of that, changing financial realities and the hollowing of the middle class have made us busier, working more jobs and longer hours than our parents ever had to work just to make ends meet. We find that we have less time than ever to sort through mountains of information in order to figure out what’s happening in the world. Our attention spans have gotten shorter, as has our time to really think. With all that incoming noise, we need some kind of filter, some kind of selective mechanism to help us evaluate what matters most in the world. We need help making sense of it all. That’s why our sources of news have become so important. They have become our lens to the outside world.

There was a time once when news outlets worked hard to be impartial in their reporting of the news. When I was a kid, a news anchor could lose his or her job by overtly stating a personal opinion about the story he was covering. In fact, from 1949 to 1987 the FCC explicitly maintained a “Fairness Doctrine” which mandated that news outlets labor to tell both sides of controversial issues. As channels proliferated, however, the FCC decided the multiplication of options lessened the need for such overt controls over content, which created a breeding ground for one-sided programming. First it was talk radio which took advantage of this new freedom (as a counterweight to Clinton-era liberalism). But soon cable TV got in on the action as well. Fairness and balance were virtues of a bygone era, but now the rise of corporate media conglomerates has changed all of that, so that the bottom line determines what gets discussed and how it gets discussed. Today media outlets intentionally cater to the biases of their target audience because it sells well to tell people what they want to hear. It feels good to have your preconceived notions validated by the people on TV. This creates an echo chamber in which one’s own prejudices get amplified and reinforced so that viewers become more and more entrenched in their own interpretation. And no news outlet understands this better than FOX News.

I single out FOX because while many news outlets clearly lean to one end of the spectrum or another (e.g. MSNBC leans left, as does the Washington Post and the New York Times), study after study has demonstrated that regular viewers of this particular network are the least aware of how far to one side their channel leans and they are the most uninformed on multiple tests of current political knowledge. One study also demonstrated that while regular viewers of MSNBC, CBS, CNN, and PBS tend to switch back and forth between their news sources, FOX viewers tend to only trust FOX. FOX News works hard at branding itself the sole conservative holdout amidst a bevy of flaming liberal networks, so that fear of “the other” fuels fierce brand loyalty. “Do you know why that FOX logo in the corner of the screen is always spinning?” a friend once asked me. “It’s because back when it used to sit still, people left the TV on that one channel so much of the day it burned a permanent image into the corner of their screens.” I’ve never verified that story, but you get the point. Where I live, that’s the only news anybody trusts, so anytime I’m near a television, FOX News is what I see. The people around me won’t watch anything else.

Besides the fierce brand loyalty, another way in which FOX distinguishes itself is in its cavalier attitude toward journalistic precision and integrity. When you flip back and forth between channels (Question: Do you ever actually do this?), you will encounter a noticeable increase in brazenness when you watch the people at FOX News. They seem to revel in stating their opinions in the strongest of terms, and the journalistic commitment to backing up assertions with supporting references is strangely absent. Seldom does FOX News issue a retraction when someone calls them out for a factual distortion (Greta Van Susteren will sometimes make minor corrections on details, but that’s all I’ve seen). Their certainty appeals to certain kind of person, and that’s part of what sells among their target audience. Others have noted that the FOX approach to news appeals to a certain kind of personality/temperament and these traits may even go a long way in explaining how people arrive at their political ideologies in the first place. Reinforcing this confident imbalance is a major component of the FOX News effect.

It would be easier to call them out on their imbalance, except that any news outlet still holding on to a strong commitment to equitable coverage wants to avoid looking imbalanced and biased themselves. It’s an unfortunate dilemma for any media outfit wishing to be even-handed about coverage: When one of two sides of a controversial issue is either significantly skewed or else is completely absurd, journalistic tradition dictates that the conscientious reporters treat both sides as if they are equally valid perspectives. But sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re not even close.

This became abundantly clear during the partial government shutdown last October, when Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives hijacked the budgetary process in order to force changes to the Affordable Care Act. Their rules committee rigged the legislative process the night before the shutdown began to ensure that total control over the process would be in the hands of the majority leader of the GOP. This unprecedented move even prevented other Republicans from calling a vote if Eric Cantor wasn’t satisfied with how things were going. This aggressive control tactic failed and congressional approval plummeted even lower than its normally abysmal numbers, which is really saying something (ripping on Congress is something of a national pastime). Most news teams were hard pressed to present this congressional stalemate as if both sides shared equal blame (as is so often the case, but clearly wasn’t this time), but they did it anyway because that’s just what you’re supposed to say. FOX, however, dutifully followed its scripted “spinstructions” and did what they could to make it look like the Democrats were the ones unwilling to negotiate (on a law, it should be noted, which was written by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld in the Supreme Court). This is unapologetically partisan news, and FOX’s faithful viewers don’t seem to mind the one-sidedness of it all. They sometimes reply that “the other side is just as bad,” but that’s not actually true. At a time when one end of the spectrum is jumping off the deep end, that statement is a false equivalence. They just don’t realize it.

So what does all this have to do with Evangelicals and how their opinions about politics are shaped? Both FOX News and the Republican Party (but I repeat myself) court Evangelicals like colleges court 6’5” linebackers and point guards. Every year FOX trots out its annual “War on the War on Christmas” and airs commercials about sending money and food to Israel. It employs former preachers like Mike Huckabee and outspoken Evangelicals like Sarah Palin because that’s what their target audience wants to see. Every story with potential shock value for Evangelicals is put front and center, usually sensationalized far beyond what the facts and the story merit (“They made those poor teachers take down their Christmas cards!”). FOX’s loyal viewers respond with the desired righteous indignation, and none of them seem to notice the strings above them being pulled by men in business suits with deep pockets. They’re being played.

For what it’s worth, I think we all are. People with money manipulate people on the left as well as the right. Democrats are not above reproach. Just follow the money and you can see who is filling their pockets. As the quote says at the top, “We are all either kings or pawns.” That’s the way it’s always been. The special interests vary, but the fuel that runs all the engines is the same: People with way more money and influence than most of us could ordinarily understand make deals behind closed doors and put on a show for the rest of us. Bread and circuses, as the Romans called it (and lately they’ve been cutting back on the bread).

What Then Can Us Pawns Do?

As Donny Miller said, “In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.” For starters, if we care at all about not being played like marionettes on strings, it behooves us to read up and stay informed about the issues that impact the world and our daily lives. We also should be wary of always getting our information from the same sources. I have always made a habit of collecting critiques of my own views so that I can challenge myself and not fall into the trap of complacent ideological stagnation. Sometimes I remain unconvinced by opposing views, but I’ve certainly changed my mind about some pretty major things, and this is a big reason why. It’s more work to live that way, I know, but to me it’s worth it. I hate feeling duped. Don’t you? If you do, then you should do what I do and actively seek out sources of information (or stimulating conversation) which challenge your views about as many things as possible. You may not change your mind about all of them, but you will have a more informed opinion in the end either way. Also you will be less likely to misunderstand or misrepresent opposing views because you will have seriously considered them for yourself. If more people would do that, our public discourse would be greatly improved.

Pay attention to how uniform your social networks are. It’s quite natural to utilize the internet to surround yourself with voices which reinforce what you already think and feel. We need that, in a way. But it’s worth it to put some effort into making friends who are different from you, and who don’t see eye-to-eye with you about everything. Having friends with very different belief systems can help keep you grounded so that you don’t fall off the deep end of one ideology or another. You can also learn to be aware of the political and religious biases of your sources of information so that you can be a more critical consumer of what you take in. Many of the sources I’ve linked to in this article, for example, came from left-leaning sources (who better to expose the extremes of the far right, especially when those in the middle won’t say anything for fear of looking partial themselves?). But knowing the biases of your news sources can help remind you to fact check and balance out what you’re reading by consulting other sources which might provide an alternative perspective. And finally, underneath all of this, we should do what we can to help maintain a free press, without which democracy cannot function. In some places government control is the greatest threat to freedom of speech, but in modern America it is corporate control which is the greater threat. Big businesses like the energy industry and the banking industry do far more to disguise their own propaganda in social and news media than most governments could (and the chances are, most government officials are in their pockets already anyway). So learn to detect those interests in your sources of information. Every bit of awareness helps to keep us a little less like the pawns they need us to be.

* The Seneca attribution above is due to the fact that his name is most commonly associated with this wording, even though it appears that Edward Gibbon said the closest thing to this himself, not Seneca. But this wording is the catchier of the two so I liked it better. It took all of one hour before my skeptic friends called me on the misquote, which is precisely why I like having discussions with skeptics. You can’t get away with anything.

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  • I can’t watch Fox News. It gets me too angry. I get my news from the daily newspaper (yes, I still read a daily newspaper), from The Week magazine, and from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” :-)

  • Empire1432

    The part of this article that is extremely enlightening is how evangelicals think when it comes to fighting inequality and poverty. I think to many evangelicals, believe their church has the power to really fight poverty and make a significant difference, but in reality the amount of time and money spent by churches to address poverty is very small in comparison to the money they spend to just do reach out to the community to get new people to come through the door. I think a point should be made that while evangelicals do believe in helping the poor, their route for trying to get that help to them is inadequate to do the job . The only entity with the ability to actually address poverty in this country is the Federal Government. Even state governments become strained when they have to try and deal with it to much. I have been to churches and, while I think their intentions are good, the time they spend trying to help the poor is really more a show for the church goers. I took part not that long ago in a program at the church my wife attends, where we package individual rice meals for hungry kids in Africa. While it made my wife and I feel good to try and help, all I could think about, was how this felt more for show then anything. The amount of packages we could create in a few hours would be dwarfed by a cheap mechanical packing unit, and the bags we used, were plastered with all types of christian messages. It felt more like we were trying to spread Christianity than were were trying to feed starving people.

  • David W

    “But it’s particularly jarring to see churches founded on the teachings of Jesus embracing the GOP’s disapproval of public assistance for the poor, the sick, and the elderly”

    I have spoken with my Christian family and friends about this at length.

    I have found that disapproval of public assistance for the poor increases with age; I believe that this is partly due to the fact that, in general, racism is more prevalent in those who grew up when segregation and racist policies were in place, and naturally, many of these people still harbor racist attitudes.

    These same people view the poor as a homogeneous group made up of non-whites, and they consider them to be lazy; so why would these ‘older’ people harboring racist sentiments want to give money to people whom they consider to be lazy non-whites?

    Second, there is the strange phenomenon of not recognizing ones own privilege. I have had this conversation with my own family when they praise my accomplishments, and yet in the same evening berate the lazy unemployed. I succeeded because of the incredible support I received from my family, as well as the advantage that my gender and race give me.(a sad reality.)

    I saw this meme sometime ago with the quote “I have the privilege of being totally unaware of my own privilege.”

    As long as people are totally unaware of their own privilege, they will have no trouble looking down on the poor and angrily saying “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” with complete sincerity.

  • Bill G

    I think this is a relevant article:

    When including religious organizations, the Bible Belt (and Utah) seems to be the most generous people on Earth. In fact, it’s often quoted that “Americans give more to charity than anyone else in the world!” When you factor out religious organizations it’s a different story and the blue states tend to give more than the red (not a surprise) to secular organizations.

  • “But it’s particularly jarring to see churches founded on the teachings of Jesus embracing the GOP’s disapproval of public assistance for the poor, the sick, and the elderly”

    I hear this a lot. What I hear most often is that conservatives disdain the idea that they are “forced” to do charity. It should be a choice and that it is the job of the church to provide it. I usually ask how much that particular person has given toward benevolence in their church. Which usually nets me a blank stare. Benevolence? What’s that? Then I usually point out that conservatives can easily rectify this perceived imbalance (yeah, right) by starting to do what it is that they claim is their job in the first place. If they all banded together and began helping the poor, the elderly, and the sick then the government programs that are in place could slowly be phased out. Problem solved. To which they say they don’t have the money to do.

    Really? Oh. That’s why there’s a government program for that.

    But, they say, that’s the reason they don’t have the money.

    What they really mean is they’d like for the government to stop these assistance programs because they’d like to be able to pick and choose who gets assistance, when they get that assistance, how they get that assistance, and what strings are attached to that assistance. “He who does not work shall not eat.” And those whores that keep having babies could rot along with their babies. And if they don’t start going to church somewhere and get right with god they can rot, too.

    I do switch between news sources. Though I can’t watch FOX News for much at the time because I really don’t like news opinion shows. All the people I’m around watch that as their news source much like you describe. They all seem to have a very Chicken Little outlook on life. Depressing.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    “What they really mean is they’d like for the government to stop these assistance programs because they’d like to be able to pick and choose who gets assistance, when they get that assistance, how they get that assistance, and what strings are attached to that assistance. ‘He who does not work shall not eat.’ And those whores that keep having babies could rot along with their babies. And if they don’t start going to church somewhere and get right with god they can rot, too.”

    Would you care to repeat that?

  • Bonnie

    “It’s particularly jarring to see churches founded on the teachings of Jesus embracing the GOP’s disapproval of public assistance for the poor, the sick, and the elderly.”

    I probably shouldn’t comment but this issue is a bone for me, so I’ll go ahead and bite.

    I’m tired of the mantra ‘republicans hate the poor’. In reality republicans, or at least conservatives, hate big government. They don’t trust it and with good reason. If I want to help the poor why should I hand over my hard earned money to the government and ‘trust’ that it will go to someone in need…. Is that really the ‘best’ way? Or are you worried, and it sounds like you are, that people won’t ‘choose’ to help the poor. You don’t trust them to be as moral as they should be. I don’t trust my neighbors’ morality but I would trust their morals over the politicians in Washington any day.

    Consider one of the reasons our government programs are so expensive is that they’re bloated with wastefulness. (did anyone even read ACA?) Consider how massive our government hand outs are (1 trillion a year) and what an issue poverty still is in this nation. Kind of like our schools. The more the government gets involved, pouring money into it and creating regulations the less educated our students end up. (BTW I know you’re a teacher and do not say this to offend you. I am a teacher too.) Hand outs do not fix poverty. They do NOT create wealth. They do not create jobs (unless they’re government ones which don’t count because they are tax paid)

    Then there’s also the issue that trickle up prosperity does NOT work. It destroys the middle class, the rich stay wealthy (because the rich will always be able to protect themselves) and the poor stay the same.

    The idea that the poor spend money so they create wealth is a very shallow understanding of economics. It is when the upper middle class (the 250k and over) have ‘savings’ that they are willing to take risks. Invest. Start new businesses. Hire new employees. Donate to a hospital. Our country and economy gets rich when there are savings in people’s bank accounts. Promoters of trickle up do not understand that SAVINGS create economic prosperity not spending. Spending creates a stagnant economy. Savings create slow and steady growth.

    Also, where do these poor get money to spend? Two places, a job or the government. Either way it’s coming from the demonized business owner. I’d much rather it come in the form of a job and so would your typical business owner. Hiring more employees means an expanding business which means more success for the owner. In this form, they work together in a symbiotic way. It’s a win win situation. It creates a healthy economy in which the worker has job options and the employer has a need for and money to pay new employees. However, taking money out of the wealthy’s pocket and putting it directly into the poor’s kills this relationship. It skips the job aspect for the poor individual and the business growing aspect for the rich. It throws off the economic balance.

    Now if you want to talk about BIG business corruption… I’m all for the government regulating monopolies and putting a stop to corruption. Unfortunately big business has lobbyists and takes care of itself just fine. All this redistribution business doesn’t effect those boys.

  • Was there some part of it you didn’t understand?

    I didn’t say there weren’t individual Christians who weren’t willing to help. But, collectively, this is what Evangelicals mean when they say they don’t think the government should provide “hand outs”. I know. I was one. I’ve heard the sentiment repeated often.

    Just yesterday I overheard a conversation between co-workers wherein they were bemoaning the sorry state of those girls havin’ babies and them being forced(through taxpayer dollars) to take care of them. These were conservative Christian women, by the way. The solution, according to these two ladies, was that these girls should be forced to have abortions and their tubes tied. I’d like to say this was a minority opinion, but it’s not.

    And I’ll stand by what I said. Republican/Evangelicals, by and large, want to be able to evangelize the people they help and if they can’t they don’t want to help.

  • Bonnie

    My neighbor is a hobby farmer. He’s an old man with nothing to do so he plants a farm every year. Squash, Tomatoes, Corn, pumpkins, strawberries… you get the idea. Anyway, he’s been having problems with getting rid of his food. Yes. He can’t get rid of it. We live in southern idaho, in a very low income area yet nobody wants to go to the trouble of picking his produce because they have food stamps and would rather go to the store. (their own words) His ‘farm’ gets smaller every year as the wastefulness makes him upset.

    So I don’t know… which comes first… the chicken or the egg?

  • Does he offer his bounty to people on public assistance specifically?

    I know a few people who are disappointed when their vegetables go to waste and people won’t go pick them, but the people they’re offering them to aren’t underprivileged. They’re offering them to their friends who have jobs, that prefer the convenience of the grocery store. The few people who have gone out to pick are poor.

  • “Consider how massive our government hand outs are (1 trillion a year) and what an issue poverty still is in this nation. “

    Do you have a breakdown on what makes up that trillion dollars per year?

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I’ve grown up surrounded by conservative Christians all my life. Many of them have made personal sacrifices for the cause of life. I’ve never heard any of them suggest forcing unwed mothers to have abortions. And the thousands of people across all denominations who showed up at the March for Life this month might have a word or two to add to that as well.

    I’m sorry you ran into some weird characters wherever you came from, but to say that 50% or more of conservative evangelicals across America favor forced abortion is ludicrous. You’re engaging in slander, pure and simple. This is not meant to spark a debate, I just get angry when I see good people getting slandered.

  • David W

    Heya, my father is a hobby farmer as well, he donates his extra produce to a local food bank. I don’t know if your neighbor has this option, but perhaps you could mention it to him.

  • I’m sorry that what I said angered you, but I think you’re taking some things out of context. I didn’t say that 50% of conservative evangelicals across America favor forced abortion. I re-read what I wrote to be sure that wasn’t the case. I used a real example, albeit extreme, of two ladies in my immediate area(although that isn’t the first time I’ve heard that). That’s hardly 50% of anything.

    What I said was that Republicans/Evangelicals want to pick and choose who they help. They don’t want their tax dollars to be used for social programs. I’ve watched it in the churches I’ve attended and heard it from the mouths of conservative evangelicals. I’m from pretty deep in the Bible Belt. A young girl will come in pregnant, scared, and in need of help. As long as she comes to church she’s lavished with all the help she could possibly need. When she decides church isn’t for her the help stops. She’s a project. And do you know what else she is? She’s encouraged to apply for Medicaid if she hasn’t already. Who is going to pay the hospital and doctor bills for her and her baby?

    I read the article you pointed to here and it is an example of what I mean. These girls are evangelical projects. What if the girls want to keep their babies, reject the spiritual teachings, and still don’t have any money? Even if they accept the spiritual teachings and keep their babies and have no money? I realize the article says they provide them ongoing support, but are they providing them everything they need or do these girls apply for that evil government assistance? Does Gimme Shelter pay the hospital and medical care for these pregnant women and the birth of their babies or does Medicaid do that?

    Collectively, as a country, we can help more needy people than individuals can do on their own. Will there be people who take advantage of that? Certainly. There will be people who take advantage of the generosity of individuals, too. It happens.

  • Great suggestion!

  • Esther O’Reilly

    He could always see if the government will pay him in exchange for burning the food. (I’m being wry but I wish I could say this was never actually done.)

  • Esther O’Reilly

    You said, “I’d like to say this was a minority opinion, but it’s not.”

    Also, why would you expect or want Christians not to evangelize? If you believed you had a message to give the world that could save their souls, why wouldn’t you view that as the most important thing you could give them, even if you were also meeting their physical needs?

  • That is a common refrain around here. It could be that it is extreme hyperbole on their part as these are the same people who would join a Pro-life march as they believe abortion to be murder. They believe abortion is murder, yet they think it an acceptable form of population control and a way to protect their own wealth? Odd, indeed.

    Also, I don’t expect Christians not to evangelize. That is your commission, is it not? What I expect is that it not be a prerequisite to gaining needed assistance. Thus I think a form of secular public assistance is necessary for those who don’t want to be evangelized just to get the help they need. Just because a person is physically needy doesn’t mean anyone gets to force their spiritual ideology on them to get help. If a man needs a meal he shouldn’t be forced to listen to the sales pitch to get a bowl of soup.

  • “But knowing the biases of your news sources can help remind you to fact check and balance out what you’re reading by consulting other sources which might provide an alternative perspective”

    Good advice — let’s start with Chris Mooney:

  • Also, like many liberals you seem to be confused about marriage — conservatives simply don’t want the state changing the natural law meaning of marriage for a small minority of sexual deviants. In other words, we don’t want to be forced, by the government no less, to publicly proclaim falsehoods.

  • Finally, I’m glad you addressed private charity in this post — at the very least you can hopefully understand that there is a difference between what the Bible teaches is our duty to the poor and the “proper” level of support (if any) for any particular government program.

    Of course, as a conservative (although I should qualify that I’m Catholic), I disagree with many of the assumptions and sources you link to in this post; however, I think we might be able to agree to some modest government assistance to the needy — for example I’m not opposed to helping the poor (even at the federal level) with healthcare. Obviously I would go about such a program 180 degrees away from something like Obamacare or the NHS, but that is because I like “science” and I know centrally planned, government-run welfare programs that ignore price signals are a recipe for failure!

  • How things have changed. When I was a kid, people with strict, orthodox or literalist religious views were called strict, orthodox or literalist. Conservative meant sober and cautious. Political conservatives were the guys with their hands up at the back of the room, reminding everybody not to get carried away. They still agreed that one of the functions of a society was to insulate its members from misfortune, even misfortune of their own making (Nixon would not have signed a bill reinstituting debtor’s prisons, how do you really think the members Tea Party caucus would vote if a properly worded bill were placed before them?). Now, conservative means strict, orthodox, literalist – not only in religious belief, but in law and cultural allegiance. And it means libertarian.

    For those who currently claim the conservative label, a social hierarchy is not a sad necessity, it is desirable. A competitive society exists to sort the wheat from the chaff, the elect from the condemned and condemnable.

    Americans toy with this ideology from time to time and it has always been an undercurrent in our culture. Rarely has it been advocated so systematically. But the degree of cognitive dissonance required to read about Jesus’ teachings and then cheer on Randian politics is unsustainable, I think. Maybe the faithful will recall their instruction in cheek-turning more readily than lessons on camels and needles’ eyes, once they wake up to the game that the realpolitik types have run on them. I kind of hope not, though.

  • I’ve heard way more evangelicals than I care to think about chirp that churches should just handle all the charity. And I couldn’t help but think back to all the times when I, when I was a fundagelical, asked for help from my very own church and got turned down. My husband was on the ministry team. We’d tithed for years. And when we asked for a little help with food, they couldn’t do it. When we needed a place to crash or face homelessness, they refused. I don’t honestly know how Christians can possibly say with a straight face that their churches could handle even the tiniest fraction of what our government does. It’s hypocrisy, nothing but the sheerest, rankest, most repulsive hypocrisy possible–or else privilege ignorance and blindness on a cosmic level, if they’re really that deluded as to think it could possibly work.

  • Thinker1121

    I have trouble reading these responses. Nobody is being duped. People are not naive or stupid or brainwashed. People support their moral causes, which are easy to view as evil if they are different from yours. I think that a liberal, by definition, focuses on compassion for victim groups as their primary moral concern. Conservatives, on the other hand, focus on personal responsibility as their primary moral concern…not being a burden on others. Liberals think that anyone who isn’t compassionate is being a jerk. Conservatives think that anyone who doesn’t demonstrate personal responsibility is being a jerk (by being a burden on others). Both are sides are right. And looking at it through this lens, it makes perfect sense how the two sides act and think. Both sides are composed of highly moral, good people. We just can’t agree on what morality should be. And unfortunately, in my opinion, there is no God to tell us whether one type of morality is better than another, so we struggle along…

    Sometimes I wish we would all lose some confidence in our own principles.

  • Conservative use religion to undermine equality of law. However, all to often we find that the basis of religious ideologies used to undermine equality of law are simply harmful and wrong. Secular law champions equality and eradicates mid-evil, outdated ideologies that do not sit well with modern culture.

    In other words, be skeptical and very careful about what it is exactly you wish our states and/or national leaders utilize to create and maintain laws. If we continue to adopt theocracy based laws, our democracy fails.

  • I don’t think I could agree with this more.

    I don’t exactly think I’m a bleeding heart liberal. Equally, I’m not a hardened conservative. There is a place in the middle. You know…that dirty, gray place called the middle.

  • Some are living out their long-standing values. Some have maintained a group affiliation as the position of the group has shifted. Do you think that conservative principles have not changed over the last 30 years? Do you think that present-day conservatives would say that their cultural/political position encompasses libertarianism? Do you think that libertarian principles are consistent with Christian principles? There is a line between telling a man that he needs to learn to fish and telling him to sink or swim – a line which the conservative movement in the U.S. crossed some time ago

  • mikespeir

    Good comment.

  • Thinker1121

    I don’t think there is any such thing as true “Christian principles.” Everyone has a pre-defined morality in their head (e.g., compassion or personal responsibility or something else). We then read the Bible and interpret it to fit our own morality. So everyone, in some sense, has a different definition of what it means to be a Christian. For example, liberal Christians tend to see the “true” Christians as those who embody the liberal values they see expressed in Jesus – namely compassion for the poor. Conservative Christians see “true” Christians as those who genuinely believe that Jesus is God and that he died for your sins. Whether you try to emulate Jesus in your life is of secondary importance. Who is right? I have no clue.

    In terms of conservative thought, I don’t think it’s changed much in the last 30 years. I think that conservatives want a world of “karma,” – that is – a world in which hard work, honesty, and personal responsibility pay off and laziness and dishonesty bring people to ruin. If you do good, you reap good results, if you do bad, you reap bad results. Since FDR, I think conservatives have seen liberal government as trying to revoke this “law of karma.” Don’t make people work, give them welfare! (In the ’60s there were no work search requirements and liberals wanted unlimited welfare payments for the poor). Had sex and forgot to use protection? No problem, have an abortion! And fast forwarding to 2008…royally screw up the whole financial system? No problem, we’ll bail you out!

    Now, all of these are exaggerations somewhat, but you see the point. Conservatives see liberals as constantly preventing people from facing the consequences of their actions. But the mistake conservatives make is that they sometimes automatically assume that if something bad happens to you, then it’s your fault and you deserve your misfortune. This is why liberals are such an important counterweight. Liberals, of course, have the opposite blind spot. In their quest to help people, they often fail to notice the cheaters that take advantage of their good nature. In my experience with conservatives, they tend to see liberals as “hopelessly naive” for this reason. But the bottom line is that we need people who vigilantly look for free riders (conservatives), and we need people who vigilantly look out for oppressed people and victims who need help (liberals).

    We couldn’t build a strong society without both, and demonizing any side as “evil” makes that side’s contribution seem unimportant.

  • Ken,

    Equality of law is fine — the question is whether or not we are treating like cases with like cases. If liberals want to redefine words, then we can throw equality out the window.

  • Empire1432

    Conservatives don’t want society to change the definition of marriage, for which religions believed they controlled. Marriage “legal contract” is what our courts decide it to be. Since our courts are suppose to be impartial and are suppose to operate according to a constitution that is based on the principals of equality, then the natural reality of this “Legal contract” is for it to be available to everyone. No matter what their sexual orientation. Very soon marriage equality will be in every state and it will be upheld by supreme court. You would be best to go ahead and accept marriage equality and move on to something else. You are on the wrong side of history.

  • Empire1432

    Would you care to explain to me, why republicans, just put out a Healthcare plan that basically mimics much of the ACA.

  • Empire1432

    Democrats are focused on personal responsibilities the same as any conservative. The real difference is conservatives seem to have lost the ability to understand how shared sacrifice and working together for the greater good can lead to the betterment of society for all of us. To many republicans believe that it was just themselves that got them to where they are today. While working hard is important and making the right decisions is even more important, conservatives seem to forget all about the governmental support systems that allowed them to reach certain levels of success

  • So, not ‘nothing but the text’, rather ‘nothing but the reader’s unformed psychology’. We may agree that the Bible’s cosmology is without merit, but the Bible itself is not without content, and that content is inimical to objectivism/libertarianism. Rand certainly held that position. I mean mysticism vs. naïve realism, come on, that’s two spiders in a jar! And yet you have perfectly smart fellows like Paul Ryan saying that they are Christians who admire Objectivist thinking. Something has led them to believe that they can hold both positions at once. If not libertarian lobbying, what has persuaded them? Surely not a logical progression from one position to the other? You seem to agree with me that a healthy dialectic is possible and has functioned, at times, in our political ecology. I’d mark the rise of supply-side economic policy as the transition from creative destruction to destructive destruction. That policy had a bit of the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ old conservative philosophy, mixed with the ‘greed – and social inequality – is good’ philosophy of libertarianism. The two positions have a superficial resemblance – enough to pass one off for the other barring close scrutiny – but they are different in principle. The difference is the difference between advocating markets as the best means to an end, and advocating markets as a moral imperative, for example. Is the latter view not ascendant in modern conservatism? Is it not inconsistent with the content of the new testament?

  • You identify as a Catholic. That identity immediate sets up alarm in my brain because I was raised Roman Catholic, went to all Catholic schools, and spent the first 2 years of my young adult life in the seminary (Augustinian). Catholicism warps one’s ability to think critically. Catholic clergy drive congregations to vote against their own best interests due to ONE issue that this nation settled back in 1973. It’s wrong and harmful. In addition, clergy should stay out of politics, preach whatever snake oil they want or need to keep their organization lavishing in money and gold, and stay the hell away from children!

  • Thinker1121

    Can you be more specific? You question whether Christianity is compatible with libertarianism; can you give me a specific tenet of Christianity that is in direct conflict with libertarianism? The problem is that without specifics, it is really hard to answer your question. The Bible does have content, but it varies depending on the author and the specific book you’re reading.

    As I understand libertarianism, they value liberty above all. So, for example, passing a law that requires you to pay money to help the poor is seen as wrong. Does that mean it’s in conflict with Jesus’ command to help the poor? It depends. I imagine that a libertarian would say that it’s wrong not to help the poor, but it’s equally wrong to make someone else help the poor if they don’t want to. Liberty trumps compassion, if you’re a libertarian. If you’re a liberal, then compassion trumps liberty, so you’d probably say yes, the libertarian is in conflict with the command to help the poor. But does the Bible say that liberty trumps compassion? I don’t know the Bible well enough to answer that question. :)

    My opinion of Jesus, however, is that he would definitely not be a libertarian. To me, he comes across in the gospels as a textbook liberal hippie who probably would resonate to the vision expressed in the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” I don’t get any sense that Jesus would argue that liberty should trump compassion. But I also think that Jesus would think of “liberty” as meaning “liberty from oppression,” so for him, pursuing a life of compassion would be “liberating” the disadvantaged. This is a different version of liberty than a libertarian would express, though no less valid.

    As for Paul Ryan’s beliefs, I imagine that he is probably a textbook conservative Christian who believes that Jesus is God and that he should follow his teachings about (among other things) helping the poor. However, he also values his liberty and doesn’t want the federal government telling him what to do, including telling him whether or not he should be helping the poor. So for him, he has a moral mandate from Jesus to help the poor, but that does not include a mandate to force other people to do the same.

  • Sam Daniels

    I will donate $100 to this website if you can document the instance of one family (father, mother, and children) dying from starvation in the USA since LBJ started the War on Poverty in 1965. (This does not include people trapped in isolation (e.g., mines, deserts, ice floes), but those who live anywhere other people would have at least been aware of their plight.)

  • Bonnie

    Sorry David, just saw this comment as I didn’t click to be notified of follow up posts. He does do this but our Foodbank here doesn’t get much use honestly. And yes he specifically offers it to the poor of his church, a congregation of about 500.

  • Bonnie

    Yes he does specifically offer it to the poor of his church. Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier.

  • No worries. This has been a while ago.

  • Bonnie

    Sorry. Just saw this.

    The Federal government spends 668 billion on welfare (over half of which is comprised by medicaid). Spending by state and local governments running these operations pushes it up to 1 Trillion. Is this the differentiation you were wanting? This number is backed by liberal and conservative sources.

    Government healthcare, which is replacing medicaid, is estimated to cost 1.3 trillion this year all on its own (not including state and local expenditures). Meanwhile government welfare expenditures are estimated to stay at .5 trillion. I don’t know how people aren’t outraged by this? The Democrats really genuinely want to help the poor? I don’t buy it. *source

    Still not sure how much the breakdown matters. Even if we cut state expenditures and only take into consideration the 668 billion spent, compared with the 50 million below poverty line in 2013…. even then the ratio is ridiculous. 668 / 50 = 13.36 billion spent per individual below poverty line. You could even throw in the lower middle class and still have well above what these people make in a year, hell what they make in a decade. All for programs to……. fix poverty. All because Americans can’t be trusted to spend our money in charitable ways BUT the federal government can. Thank you democrat politicians for making sure we spend an ‘appropriate’ amount on the poor. Otherwise, I’d just be buying myself a yacht and letting children starve right??? -okay maybe not a yacht maybe…. a car that runs reliably lol no even then I’d help out the starving children-

    I do care about the poor. It wasn’t that long ago my family was part of that 50 million. But I’ve seen in countless instances that these programs don’t work. And although I don’t consider myself a republican I think the message they preach of cutting spending on welfare and government over reach in general, very reasonable.

  • Bonnie

    because republicans suck too