By Lynn Paris
Joseph C. Phillips--my friend and fellow columnist--and I often take opposing views on an issue: health care having been the most recent example. But only rarely do I feel compelled to confront him directly as I am doing in this response to his current column. (Please click here and read first for maximum impact). I feel compelled, because while JCP normally makes clear and cogent points on behalf of the conservative right with which I strongly disagree, at least they always make sense to me. This particular column makes no sense to me on so many levels that it begs a response.
JCP begins his column by referring to a reader’s email that supposedly accuses him of Christian hypocrisy. In my opinion the email was correct; if JCP (or anyone else for that matter) doesn’t earnestly pray for our country and its leadership he IS being something of a hypocrite, at least according to the Bible. But that wasn’t the main problem, as JCP went on to explain. The problem was that JCP's individual failure to always be consistent with Christian principles was somehow proof to his reader, and by extension to the left, of the bankruptcy of all Christian principles.
Really? I can't figure out how he made that leap. As far as I know none of us is always consistent with Christian principles. We are ALL imperfect; we all fall short and commit sins of hypocrisy, arrogance, pride and every other human weakness every day. According to JCP, the “religious left” (Isn't that an oxymoron, JCP? I didn't realize you admitted that anyone on the left had religion) likes to seize upon individual weakness to prove that Christian principles are false.
Well, assuming that any of us who tend to vote on the liberal end of the spectrum also happens to be a person of faith, I beg to differ. I have NEVER allowed the hypocrisy or weakness of another Christian—from Ted Haggard to the guy cutting me off in the church parking lot—persuade me that Christian principles are themselves bankrupt. I can’t imagine why anyone would do that, since understanding our human imperfections in the face of the perfection of Christ is the very basis of Christianity.
And by the way, JCP seems to take issue with the fact that the "religious left" hang around with secularists. I must have gotten the part about being salt and light to the world wrong, because I thought that's what Christians were supposed to do. What example can they set if they only hang out with other like-minded people? To me, that would be like "hiding their light under a basket" instead of putting it on a lamp stand to give "light to all who are in the house." But I digress.
I went on to the next paragraph only to discover that the "religious left" supports candidates whose policies are in direct contradiction to Christian principles. Really? Which principles are we talking about? Because the ONLY principle I can figure out, other than the right to carry an AK-47, is that the majority of the "religious right" support a pro-life platform and the majority of the "religious left" support pro-choice. Since the law of the land remains pro-choice, whether or not that is consistent with an individual’s religious or personal beliefs is moot; politicians and even presidents must uphold the law and render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. What other Christian principles is the "religious left" incompatible with? Taking care of the weak . . . the sick . . . the poor? I don’t think so.
I will leave the question of moral and intellectual superiority to the reader and simply ask; who sounds as though he or she considers him or herself morally and intellectually superior to you?
But let's move on to the objective truth of God. JCP wants us to believe that because one misguided clergyman he happened to meet thinks that the Bible is a collection of books subject to interpretive choice that this is what all the so-called "religious left" believe. Personally, I don’t know any practicing Christian who believes this, but that’s beside the point. Maybe JCP was incorrect when he assumed that the question “what are Christian beliefs?” wasn’t an honest one. It certainly is a question I would pose.
So, what ARE Christian beliefs? I’d propose that one of the best places to look would be in the beatitudes; after all, a true believer would tell you that these are the words of Jesus. Certainly they clearly express what Jesus considered Christian principles.
Let’s see. Jesus said that the meek are blessed and will inherit the earth. Blessed means content, fulfilled, satisfied. But who these days wants to be thought of as meek? Well, what I’ve been taught is that Jesus didn’t mean “meek” as in being timid or doormat-like. He meant meek as in being restrained and not worrying about always having to defend your own territory . . . like having one’s strength under control. Hmmmm. Sounds more “left-wing” than “right-wing” to me.
Jesus also said that the merciful are blessed and will be shown mercy. What did He mean by merciful? Again, what I’ve been taught is that being merciful is having the capacity not only to feel compassion but also to act on it . . . to see others in need, others who are vulnerable and reach out to help them.
Is this ONLY a Christian principle? Of course not. But is it a definitive Christian principle? I’m pretty sure it is. It’s what prompts me to support health care for those who are currently uninsured, even if it means that I need to let the government do it because I can’t afford to. Even if it means I’m taxed a little bit more.
After all, the government already provides health care to seniors, and no one seems to want them to stop doing THAT. I find it amusing to see conservatives carrying signs that say "keep your hands off our Medicare." OUR Medicare? Really? Are they trying to be funny? Or do they really not know that conservative republicans labeled Medicare "socialism" and opposed it just as stridently back in the 60s as they now oppose the dreaded public option? Really.
On the other hand, if what JCP is proposing is that he personally sees to it that those he knows who are uninsured get health insurance even if it means he has to pay for it out of his own pocket, then I apologize. He’s far more merciful than I.
Now I’d like to proceed to my favorite paragraph, the one where JCP says that many who claim to be independent and choose their candidates on “the basis of intellect, moral compass, life experiences, sensitivity to ethnic diversity and a commitment to expanding the blessings of liberty" always vote for a Democrat. I simply don’t understand THIS one at all. Wouldn't that be a compliment? I mean, isn’t this how we're supposed to choose our candidates? And, don’t some of those people (like you, Joseph, for example)use the same criteria and always vote for a Republican? What makes that choice any better? And if those aren’t good criteria for choosing whom to vote for, then what are? Being pretty, winking a lot and saying "you betcha"? Help me out here.
Finally, JCP tells us that because of their unseemly preoccupation with poverty and injustice, the "religious left" have been led astray from redemption. Really? No one on the left is saved? Wow . . . I’m thoroughly unraveled by that one. First of all, I thought Christians were saved by God’s grace, and not through personal sacrifice and struggle. I thought that’s what that huge reformation deal about ‘grace not works’ was all about. The fact is I happen to believe, along with James, that faith without works is dead. But still, even James didn't take away our salvation.
Apart from that, JCP goes on to say that being virtuous is the way that God empowers individuals. I thought God empowered us through the Holy Spirit to help us in our efforts to be virtuous, but I could be wrong. Now, I agree that it’s far better to be virtuous than evil, and far better to have personal discipline than to have it mandated by some secular authority. (And by the way, JCP, I'm pretty sure you meant antidote, not anecdote; forgive me.)
But how does all of this play out? I mean, it seems to me that according to JCP, until each and every one of us achieves individual virtue there can be no equality, no impact on social issues like poverty or injustice. Really? That seems like a heckuva long wait. And while I subscribe to an objective morality, I don’t understand what’s so wrong about a few mandates for equity. Was it wrong to have a mandate to end slavery or give women the vote, or should we have waited until each and every person did what was morally right?
Furthermore, I don’t understand why protecting your private property makes you more moral than wanting to see some small, teeny tiny redistribution of the wealth. Especially the outrageous wealth of greedy rapacious profiteers who stole it from all the neighbors I’m commanded to love. And yes, I want very much to save my neighbor, but I don’t see what’s wrong with worrying about the planet too. The one we’re told in the Bible to be good stewards of.
Here’s the bottom line for me. I believe that following Christian principles really means trying, in whatever small and imperfect way you can, to follow the example set by Jesus. And I see Jesus displaying compassion for the disinherited, anger against corruption, and hope for a world where equality reigns. I DO believe in each person’s capacity to change his or her life through God’s grace. But I have no idea why a little help from the government for those who need it interferes with that, much less threatens it. In my mind it might even bring us a bit closer to the world God has promised us . . . “on earth as it is in heaven.”