The Monday to Friday morning drive is made much more pleasant thanks to the "Mensa meeting with fart jokes" that is the Stephanie Miller Show. As I avoided the bumper-car ride that our freeways became this rainy Wednesday, I found guest host Hal Sparks interviewing the Rev. Jim Wallis (as I recall, an occasional Kossack!) of Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace. Rev. Jim's organization is publicly calling for health care reform as a moral imperative, as exemplified by Jesus' ministry and admonitions to His followers.
As the show moved to commercial break, it struck me: Can that argument work in today's United States?
In a country where fundamentalism, libertarianism and objectivism have managed to combine in a horrible amalgam of selfishness, can "doing what is right and proper and morally just" fly?
In the interest of full disclosure: I am an atheist, but I was born and raised a barely-observant Catholic. That is: My dad attended Mass, my mom refused in protest of the hypocrisy and injustice and greed of the Church, and we kids made our own choice. I flirted with observance in collage, but couldn't accept the Church's condemnation of me being gay. And I still don't. I also realized I couldn't reconcile the promise of a protective, loving God who rewards righteousness and punishes wickedness with all the pain and suffering and random horrors of actual daily existence. Once I accepted the notion of existence as chaotic and random-- but with the possibility of making happiness for myself--, and once I accepted that I was a good person and knew right and wrong for myself and didn't need the threat of the Sky Daddy smiting me to avoid doing evil, I was (and am) much happier.
Now, let us frame the question a bit more concretely.
The traditional media in the US would have us believe that the country is moving inexorably toward a more fundamentalist religiosity-- mostly Christian. Even as the media report (grudgingly) that more and more people reject organized religion in their lives. These look to me to be contradictory statements; they also suggest that the ruling powers need the myth of increased religious fervor to maintain their power.
Jesus' ministry was focused most on the downtrodden in society: The poor, the forgotten, the occasional prostitute, the occasional footsoldier with an ill male lover (that's right, Jesus healed a gay man's lover AND didn't condemn the relationship, in fact blessed it-- it's in the Bible!). Nowhere does He say outright that society's "lesser people" are that way because they deserve their bad lot in life, because they're not religious enough, because they don't work hard enough, because they don't want it enough.
But that's PRECISELY what American Corporate Christianity tells us. All of the major Christian sects teach a capitalist/corporatist Christianity that supports a strict caste system in American society. And we are taught that the people on top deserve it by dint of hard work and strident, loud piety. And the people on the bottom deserve it because they're lazy and not pious enough. And the people in the middle can get rich if they pray hard enough, or alternatively they can slide into the horrors of poverty and social rejection by not being sufficiently religious and by not tithing enough.
So let's chat about this.
How can we frame this vital topic-- reforming Health Care delivery so that everyone can enjoy a healthy life without the fear of bankruptcy-- in moral terms, when our culture from the top (the People of Faith) teaches us that people who fail in life deserve their failure, and the successful folk don't have to help them because really, Jesus wouldn't REALLY have helped them, those pathetic losers...?
How can we bring the notion of helping one's fellow human back from the dead after so many years of selfishness being exalted as a noble American virtue?
How do we rescue charity as The Right Thing from being washed away in the sea of -isms (Objectivism, Fundamentalism, Moral Subjectivism, Libertarianism, Assholism)?