Render unto God and to US

For a nation of Christians, we sure are cheapskates.

I’m not going to get into the details of how we thirty years of politics have pushed us the debt ceiling crisis because nobody cares anyway. They’ve drawn their lines in the sand and they only care about today’s posture.

The Democrats will give up some aspects of entitlements, but not the programs themselves. They will settle for tax loophole reform if they can’t get tax increases, but they want to bring more money in. They’ve retreated to their line. In fact they’ve retreated past their original line and drawn this new one and I’m not sure they’re willing to go much further.

The Tea Party Republican line is total capitulation by the Democrats. They haven’t budged, and I can’t imagine they will.

More moderate Republicans are trying to resolve the crisis by removing the vote from Congress altogether and leaving it to the President (who will, of course, raise the debt ceiling). Then they can pretend they had nothing to do with raising the debt ceiling.

This is like those arguments where my wife or I say to the other, “Okay, you make the decision, but it’s your fault when it backfires.” Well, no, it’s my fault too because by allowing her to make the decision, I made the decision with her.

But the Tea Party members claim to be Jesus’ representative in politics, so I get to address this question to them. Why isn’t anyone asking WWJD?

In this entire debate I haven’t heard anyone ask WWJD? We can’t blame the Democrats for this because we all know they’re godless atheists, Moslem sympathizers and eagerly wait the second coming of Karl Marx. But how about those Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans who only want what Jesus wants? Why haven’t we heard WWJDATDC on Fox News, when Republicans appear on CNN and MSNBC to explain their position?

Probably because Jesus would answer, “Give God his due, and give the government theirs.” Oh, wait, he did say it. It’s Matthew 22. And readers who know the historical context know that the question was posed to get Jesus to come down one one side of the other on the issue of tax resistance. In other words, they were asking him if he supported the Jewish equivalent of the Tea Party.

Here’s the amazing part about how this verse applies in America. In America, we are the government. The US is us. When we give to the government, we give to ourselves.

Modern Republicanism, at it’s heart, is based on a modern spin of Adam Smith capitalism. It’s called “the profit motive.” It argues that people should be allowed to pursue wealth as their primary objective, and the most important role of government is to protect the pursuit of wealth.

And why should we not pay taxes? Because taxes interfere with the pursuit of wealth. And the subtext for less wealthy Republicans is “taxes make you poor.” Somehow, if you didn’t contribute a small portion of your check to defense, schools, roads, police and education, you would suddenly be as rich as Donald Trump.

Jesus made it clear that the pursuit of wealth was a destructive distraction from the pursuit of God’s realm. The writer of Timothy says, without equivocation, “the love of money is the root of evil.”

When we pay taxes we are paying for the country’s (our) defense, our education, our roads which we need to get to work and (more importantly in America) shopping, the police who keep us safe from the increasing numbers of the poor who will be stealing from us now that we’ve taken their welfare away.

To say, “I will pay no taxes,” is not only to slap Jesus in the face, but to steal from yourself. Jesus said, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” or, in essence, pay your taxes. He doesn’t equivocate. If you’re a Christian, you should pay your taxes.

But you’re also stealing from yourself. Let’s face it, you cannot afford to install roads and utilities to support your home. Not even if you’re rich. You may be able to afford to install the wiring, plumbing and driveway, but you can’t afford to build the road to work, the road to church and the road to school. You can’t afford to sink a well, purify the water and dispose of it. You can’t afford to raise an army to defend your home against terrorists.

Not if you want to maintain your standard of living.

Right now in the Oak Hill to Dripping Springs area new subdivisions are advertising themselves as free from county water taxes. This sounds like a good thing to Tea Party members. But people who move into those subdivisions will have to get their water from somewhere.

Where will they get their water? From private contractors who charge upwards of $200 a month. We pay county taxes and our water bill is far less, closer to $30 a month (a bargain even with the $75 annual tax added on). If the Tea Party managed to eliminate county water taxes we would be paying a lot more, and so would our tenants, who already have a hard enough time feeding their four kids.

So we help each other by paying taxes to do collectively the things we can’t do by ourselves. Now this may sound unAmerican and unChristian, but it’s not. Our founders didn’t fight the revolution to end taxes, but taxes “without representation.” In other words, taxes imposed by representatives we didn’t elect. They were never stupid enough to believe that governance, even self-governance, is free.

Early Christians turned over everything they owned to their local church to make sure every one was fed. Read the book of Acts. They even sent money to other churches where it couldn’t possibly be used to benefit them. They turned over their money to take care of widows (read social security) and the poor.

Here’s the WWJD wrinkle. Jesus would not only have us give, he would have us give gladly. This lies at the heart of the faith. Christians should want to support those less fortunate. To give to the poor is to give to the angels. We should not only give to Caesar (or in our case US), we should rejoice that God has given us a means of supporting the best government on earth-ourselves.

But Americans are so cheap we don’t even want to give to ourselves. We want to hold onto every penny even if it starves us. Jesus taught us to be of service to others. Americans want to give to themselves, not ourselves. Mine, mine, mine.

The truth is, if we stopped paying taxes altogether we wouldn’t be rich, we would just be less poor.

Or would we even be that? If we got rid of taxes, got rid of government, would we even have the standard of living we have today?

Imagine the country with no government at all, or one devoted only to allowing businesses to pursue profit without restraint. Do we really believe companies would start hiring more Americans? At least before we agreed to work for the same wages as laborers in the Philippines? (The same companies who are now shipping jobs from India to even cheaper labor in Indonesia?)

Do we believe the corporations would build roads for everybody, and provide the same policing for everybody? Do we believe the large corporations would encourage small businesses with potentially competitive products and services?

Many Americans and Christians don’t know that before the US government, at the request of the voters, established reforms and legalized labor unions, companies often forced their employees to live in company towns, buy from company stores and pay company doctors. After working twelve hours a day, six days a week (and sometimes six hours on Sunday) workers ended up in debt to their own employers.

I’m all for reducing the deficit, but to me reducing the deficit means paying our bills. And if you asked Jesus WWYD, he would also say, “pay your bills.” Oh, wait, he pretty much already did. It’s easy to say, we can’t incur any more debt, but we still have to pay the debt we owe. And don’t blame the politicians either because we elected them.

But you see, we’re cheapskates. We don’t want to pay. We don’t want to give to God, or US, just clutch on to every penny until it buys us nothing. And there’s nothing Christian about that.

Is Pro-Life also Pro-Damnation?

Hardly a week goes by in my peaceful reflections on the faith when I don’t find myself distracted by the Christian Charity of the Republicans. To be honest, I can already hear half of my two readers going, “There he goes again, Republican bashing for Jesus.”

That’s exactly how I feel whenever Republicans get indignant about some little thing, which is just about every half hour.

What would Jesus do? He would say, “Get over it. The kingdom of God is greater than this.” But I was raised a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK), where indignation is a product of both inbreeding and indoctrination. Not cousin inbreeding; indignant Christian inbreeding. The day we Baptists don’t find something to get indignant over is the day we die, and then we’ll probably get indignant if St. Peter doesn’t show up to escort us personally into God’s throne room.

Only Baptists don’t believe in Saints, that’s a Catholic thing. So, St. Peter’s definitely not going to show up for us, and we’ll have to be doubly indignant because the insult is our own damn fault, and even though we only have ourselves to blame, it’s easier just to blame liberals. (After all, Jesus forgives Christians. He doesn’t forgive the Left.)

Remember the story of the good Samaritan? The guy who took care of the sick and injured man when nobody else would? The Samaritan in the story would be the equivalent in today’s society of a Moslem or secular humanist. The nobody else in today’s society would be Christians, who just walked by willing to let the poor guy lay there and suffer or even die.

An example of this is the recent Republican rider in a Texas bill on hospital funding. The rider would deny funding to hospitals if they pay for elective abortions. In other words, in the name of Jesus and life, we will deny health care funding to those in need, mainly patients who have no influence on hospital policy, because we think that policy isn’t Christian.

And that means they would deny care to many fellow Christians. That’s right, Republicans would let their fellow Christians, not to mention poorer Republicans, lose access to hospital services because a not-quite baby might die.

But last week they hit a wrinkle. After the bill went to committee, it came back with an amendment. Hospitals could pay for abortions if there is “an irreversible abnormality that is incompatible with life after birth.”

According to the American Statesman, Republicans have split over this new language and that could jeopardize the bill’s passage. Rep. Brian Hughes has thinks this new language would create too big a loophole thanks to the powerful hospital lobby. A lobby that has been so powerful they couldn’t prevent hospitals losing their funding if they pay for elective abortions.

Hughes has a interesting rationale for his position. “We want to err on the side of life. The language is so broad that it would compel tax payers to pay for abortions on disabled children.” (my emphasis).

Well, not exactly. Isn’t that one of those super-superlatives like “most excellent” or “better than perfect?” Are we honestly going to say it’s worse to kill a disabled child than a child who would otherwise be healthy? This seems dangerously like mindless spin. It makes no sense whatsoever, but it sure triggers the heartstrings of faith.

It irritates many Christians to be reminded that the Bible is essentially silent on the question of abortion. Jesus never thought it was important enough to go on record (although, admittedly, he never went on record about anything) and, if he did express his thoughts on the subject, none of the Gospel authors thought it was important enough to write down.

Paul, who did go on the record by putting his thoughts in letters, never thought it important enough to mention. Nor did any other New Testament writer. Paul didn’t even list abortion in his long catalogue of sins (where homosexual behavior, adultery and gossip were all catalogued as equally culpable). So clearly Paul thought gossip was worth mentioning, but abortion wasn’t.1

I do know Jesus never forced his morality on anyone. His philosophy was, if they don’t like you, dust off your feet and move on.

I do know Jesus would have held Christians accountable for the children they brought into this world. And I suspect he would say, if we make a mother bring a child to term, we now become that child’s parent—which means we feed, clothe, educate and raise them in the faith.

Here’s what I don’t get about the supposed pro-life position. If a child doesn’t come to term, he or she is off the hook as far as salvation goes. God takes care of the unborn and infant children, welcoming them directly to his bosom.

But if Christians force a mother to give birth, and then fail to adopt the children and raise them into the faith, aren’t they, in essence, putting their very souls at risk? These children, often raised in poverty, also often grow into lives of crime.

Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, suggested a definite correlation between abortion and crime rates. The theory is controversial and he would be the first to say this is not an argument for legalizing abortion. Of course, a lot of people have suggested his study isn’t on the level.2 But if you were to ask anyone if they believed a child, especially a Black or Hispanic child born into poverty, isn’t at risk for gang membership, a life of crime and the chance of being killed in the barrio or hood, they would have to be delusional to say no.

Even worse, if the soon-to-be-born are the children of rich spoiled women too lazy to be mothers (assuming they won’t pay for their own abortions elsewhere), aren’t the children likely to grow up neglected, jaded and ultimately liberals?

In other words, there’s a good chance that this gift of life is also a ticket to damnation, forced into their hands after stealing their free pass to heaven. If God considers the souls we saved in the final accounting, should he not also consider the souls we forced into life and then abandoned on the highway to hell?

So I have to wonder why so many Christians feel it’s their responsibility to bring unwanted children to term, yet are strangely willing to abandon their physical and spiritual needs as living beings. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan realized it wasn’t enough to simply rescue the fallen man. He knew he was responsible for nursing him back to health and seeing to his needs.

And you, Rep. Hughes, and all of your like-minded representative buddies, should consider the morality of denying funding for health services to hospitals, denying children (including children forced to term), Christians, Republicans and Texans access to care for policies they have no power to change.


1Actually, Paul’s point was that sin is sin, and gossip is as heinous in the eyes of God as adultery. Or, to be more specific, without God’s grace we’d all be in deep shit, so don’t get on your high horse. Two church ladies clucking over Pastor Ellison’s possible indiscretions sin every bit as much as homosexual drug addicts stealing money from grandmothers to pay for the babies they want to adopt and raise into their flagrant flaming (or battle axe butch) lifestyles. back

2Nor should it be surprising that there are arguments about his methodology. In fact, I can’t recall a single controversial study that have people arguing over methodology from the Laffer Curve and Peltzman’s killer seat belt studies to studies linking tobacco to cancer and heart disease and studies on global warming.back


Thank you, Bill Maher,

For making a case Christians couldn’t make

Ever since the death of Osama Bin Laden, Christians who haven’t felt comfortable with the celebration have had to duck and cover. We have been made to feel that reservations about celebrating the summary execution of a man without trial or due process was not only unAmerican, it was unChristian.

Poor Katy Perry tried and only got ridiculed for being an airhead. Which, without a doubt she is. Her career isn’t built on rocket science, or even a grasp of elementary science. It’s about puff and fluff and increasingly outrageous costumes. Let’s face it, her career hasn’t prepared her to be a theologian either. And criticism from her mother about how bad a Christian she is probably isn’t helping.

But the truth is, whether or not Bin Laden deserved his fate, rejoicing in his death isn’t Christian and it took Bill Maher to say it. (And Katy Perry, but who really listens to her beside Russell?) Maher did so in his New Rules on Friday night’s broadcast. Hopefully it will show up on YouTube so Christians can actually hear it.

I find it ironic that a man who is so totally intolerant of faith understands Christianity better than most Christians do. And I have to admit, when he describes what Christians are supposed to believe, he’s usually right.

I’ve long believed that God speaks through unbelievers when Christians refuse to listen. There is Biblical precedent. When the prophet Balaam refused to listen to God, God had to speak through an ass. And Bill Maher is definitely an ass when it comes to religion. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen for the times he has something correct to say.

Judgment belongs to God, not to us. John of Patmos stresses this in the book of Revelation. Celebrating the downfall of our enemies is Old Testament thinking.

Back in the Bush administration I wanted to put out a bumper sticker that said “Jesus love George and Osama.” But with the little heart instead of the word “love.” Carol talked me out of it, and she was probably right to do so. It would have inspired more hatred than it would have encouraged clearer thinking. But the principle is, I believe, fundamentally Christian.

This is what bothers me about advocates of the Rapture. They seem to take too much joy in the prospect of God kicking the asses of everybody who they think slighted them and sending them to burn in hell.

This is my last preview before Righteous Indigestion officially launches on May 21, the official day of the Rapture. And this is the thought I want to leave you with. If you can’t wait for God to crush and destroy people who seek a path of righteousness that isn’t the same as yours—be it the righteousness of charity or the righteousness of enlightenment or the righteousness of social justice—how sure can you be that you want be left behind?