Building on Christian initiative

According to Michelle Bachmann, reelecting Obama would bring about Taxmeggedon. I find this a delightful and inventive turn of phrase, which means she probably got it from someone else. This is the same woman who appeared on Piers Morgan last week to tell everybody that states who require auto insurance aren't acting in the public interest but protecting the property values of car owners.

According to Bachman, there is no comparison between mandated auto insurance and health insurance because people choose to buy cars. So it's okay to mandate insurance on things we choose to have, but not on health, over which we have no control.

These are the same Republicans who want to mandate prayer in schools, mind you. In fact, they are fine with mandating Christian imperatives. For instance, they want to mandate women giving birth so long as women have to pay for it out of their own pockets. They want to mandate teaching Creationism in schools.

So I thought, as long as the Christian Right wants to mandate that non-believers practice commandments made to Christians, I should look up some of the other things the Bible commands and see what else the government should mandate. Here were a few that I found.

We should mandate taxes

Surprisingly enough, the Bible mandates that believers pay taxes. It's in Deuteronomy 26. Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK) I was led to believe that was a tithe to ministers, but it's actually to the Levites. And who were the Levites? The government.

I have also heard it argued that the tax was only ten percent, but that was ten percent before inflation. Based on the rate of inflation since the Old Testament, the Bible would have Christians pay 13000 percent of their income to the government. Even worse, when the Israelites demand God replace the Levites with a king, he reminded them that kings charge even more in taxes than the Levites. So that would make the Biblically approved tax rate closer to 56000 percent.

And, if we apply the mandatory prayer principle, every American should pay that much as well.

Give the same amount to the poor every three years

You heard it here. It's the same passage in Deuteronomy. Every three years you give as much to the poor as you give to the government. And in the Bible you don't get to write the donation off your other taxes.

That includes your worthless relatives, by the way.

Pay off lawsuits against you

Don't believe me? How about this? “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. (Matt. 5:25)”

I don't think it gets much clearer than that. Tort reform was just tossed out the window of faith. If Christians get sued, they pay up, and as long as we're mandating public prayer, we should mandate mandatory settlement.

Does that seem a little harsh? It gets worse. “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matt. 5:40-42)

If we were to extend Biblical injunctions the way we want to extend mandatory prayer, corporations, wealthy Republicans and Bain Capital would have to pay twice what any plaintiff demands. Without a trial.

The banks would be required by law, not just to loan money (interest free) to people who ask, but to give it to them. But the banks would go bankrupt, you might claim. Oh, ye of little faith. Don't you know that whatever you give, God gives back ten fold? The banks profitability would shoot through the roof and even the poor could buy houses without crippling substandard loans.

This might upset members of the Corporate Christian Complex (CCC), but in the end we're all Christians and I'm sure they'll come to understand that universalizing the commands of Jesus is more important than self-interest. In fact, universalizing the commands of Jesus, and writing them into law, is self-interest.

No more swearing

Jesus said: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne. “(Matt. 5:34 ) You can see where I'm going here. If we really want a Christian nation, we should eliminate oaths of office and swearing in court. In fact, it could be argued that pledging allegiance under God would be swearing as well.

Heal the sick

That's right. Luke 10:9 commands Christians to heal the sick. The Democrats just want to help pay their bills. But the Bible says we should heal them ourselves. Just in case there's any question, Jesus gives an example. The righteous person, who turns out to be a Samaritan by the way (Democrat by today's terms) take the poor wounded stranger home and feeds him and care for him personally.

If you ask me, health care is much cheaper.

Now for the killer commandment.

Love one another

That's John 13:34 by the way. So if we want to mandate public prayer, we might as well mandate love too.

Ironically, the Bible not only doesn't command Christians to pray in public, it commands them not to. And it doesn't mention abortion or teaching Creationism at all. So we need to move those items down the list and focus on passing laws requiring everyone to pay taxes and to love each other first.

That's WJWRD.

 

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WWJD? Stand his ground

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, Florida’s stand your ground law has come under fire by liberals and secular humanists across America. What better time to ask WWJD?

Before readers get all weepy eyed, like they did for Bambi, let us remember that Florida is the second most Christian state in the world after Texas. For four short years they were actually the most Christian state, but they lost that honor when the Buccaneers failed to draft Tim Tebow.

I hate to segue, but what were they thinking? By failing to trade for the right to draft Tebow, they set off a chain of circumstances that sent Tim to that cesspit of iniquity, New York. Sure, Tim could singlehandedly bring the city to Jesus, but why throw him into all that temptation when he’s so young?

Back to Florida and what Jesus would do.

I’m not going to come out and tell you what to believe, but I think it’s safe to ask a few questions.

First of all, every Christian knows the right to bear arms is the second commandment. So wouldn’t we expect Jesus to defend his ground?

Jesus said to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Anyone from Texas knows that if we were aggressive with others we would expect them to shoot us. It’s what we would do in return. So would Jesus do any less?

The Book of Revelations, as interpreted by the Left Behind series, makes it clear that Jesus intends to come back and kick the ass of sinners world wide. Shouldn’t we do our part to clear the road before he comes?

More power to you Florida. Just because you fumbled the Teball doesn’t mean you’ve given up the rush to the BCS championship of holiness. WWJD? He’d say, “Give us more good Christians, like George Zimmerman. (Bleep)ing A.”

Would Jesus rent a homeless hotspot?

Austin’s South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) hosted one more innovative event this year: homeless people as wifi hotspots. New York advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) paid homeless people $20 a day to carry mobile wifi hotspots at festival venues. People could use the hotspots for wireless access for a small donation ($2 suggested).

Wow, what a horrible idea. Exploiting poor homeless people for advertising. Or so we should believe when we listen to the outrage over the idea, expressed mostly by conservatives, including FOX, over the rank hypocrisy (or worse). BBH wasn’t helping the homeless so much as taking advantage of them.

That’s right, the same people who want to get rid of the minimum wage are furious that homeless people were underpaid for offering a service that people would actually give them money for. After all, they would do so much better panhandling.

Critics say the gesture is little more than a callous attempt by a large corporation to appear socially aware. And what do these critics offer the homeless in exchange? Why, they can stay homeless. Marie Antionette at least was willing to give the poor cake. Basically they seem to advocate it’s better to help no one and not be a hypocrite about it than to help someone in need when you have something to gain.

That has to be the most cynical equation I can imagine. I prefer this (and I’ve written it before): It’s better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones. Let’s face it, I can’t imagine a blind person asking Jesus for healing only if his heart was in it.

I might say that to my mother or Carol, yes. But family dynamics aren’t an issue in this scenario.

Where are the Christians asking WWJD about homeless hotspots? I suspect Jesus would ask, “What you have done for the homeless recently?” Consider this: People attending SXSW probably needed wireless connections to check in with home and office. After all, a cell phone call will no longer do since they show you are backward on technology. I’m not willing to wander around SXSW with a mobile router. If a homeless person feels it’s worth his or her time to accept donations providing the hotspot, everybody wins.

Would Jesus respect the Qur’an?

Do unto others as you would have them do means acting as they believe, not as we do. Far too often Christians, consciously or not, act out from our own values, even though we would be disturbed should others treat us according to their beliefs. We never stop to consider that Jesus’ command means we should apply others’ values as the basis for our actions toward them.

How would we feel if someone burned our Bible? Many would be (and have been) outraged. When I was raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I sat through many sermons on Bible burning and religious persecution in the Middle East and the Soviet Bloc. Our family donated money to ministers to smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union. Yet, when Afghans express outrage over NATO’s accidental burning of the Qur’an, many Christians respond with indignation.

We assume no responsibility since we don’t accept the Qur’an as a holy book. This attitude suggests a major disconnect. The Qur’an may not be our scripture, but it is scripture for the Moslems—a scripture based very much on stories in our own Old Testament and written to inspire reverence for our God. Allah is the Jewish God as well, whether we want to deny it or not, and, by extension, the God Christians revere as well.

Moslems may view God in a different light than we do, but we view God in a different light than Jews. To say that Moslems appropriated our God to fashion their own worship is to overlook the fact that Christians appropriated the Jewish God.

Christians are people of faith, Jews are people of faith and Moslems are people of faith. We would be incensed—or should I say, many Christians are incensed—when people of other faiths don’t place our faith on equal (if not higher ground) than theirs. In other words, we demand respect for our beliefs and expect others to step aside when the exercise of our faith inconveniences, or even offends them.

This, then, is one of the implications of the golden rule. We should treat the beliefs of others with the same respect we ask them to treat ours. In fact, since Jesus also said we should go the extra mile, we should be more tolerant of other faiths than we ask them to be of our own.

We know the apostle Paul would not have eaten pork or non-kosher wine in the presence of Jews or Christians who practiced kosher law, even if he didn’t follow kosher practices. I think it is safe to assume he wouldn’t have served alcohol or pork to Moslems (had there been any at the time).

If US or NATO troops burn the scriptures of a country our troops occupy, even if we do so inadvertently, we owe more than an apology. The White House and State Department should be consulting with Imams and Islamic scholars as to the proper way to make restitution to the people of Afghanistan for the disregard we showed to scriptures placed under our care.

We shouldn’t protest that they have killed our troops in retaliation, and believe that gives us the moral high ground. That they did so is criminal and the offenders should be prosecuted under Afghani law. But these offenders aren’t our responsibility. Our responsibility is to make whatever amends Islamic culture would request of us.

If they choose not to accept those amends, we are, as Christians, still compelled to forgive them. Whether we want to forgive them or not.

The real meaning of Christmas

This past Christmas was a first for Carol and I. Carol’s parents left us enough money to fly the grandkids down for Christmas and splurge on presents. As you may have guessed, blogging isn’t profitable (in fact, we lose money every time I write) and Carol’s retirement isn’t close to what she made before the Republicans forced dozens of career state employees into retirement so they could create new executive positions with twice the pay the Democrats allowed.Bryan lives in Michigan, which has an unemployment rate of just about everybody, and where high school students dream of going to college to become greeters at Walmart. Bryan was disabled while serving in the marines (fortunately, just before the Iraq war or he might have had it much worse) and given a medical discharge, which means he can barely afford to raise Eilonwy and her sister Cora.1So we flew them down and spent everything Carol’s parents left us on cool stuff for Bryan and the kids. We got a HiDef 3D TV and Blu-ray player, stereo surround sound system, iPads, iPhones, an X-Box, a Wii, dolls, clothes and, my favorite, a remote controlled velociraptor. Bryan assured me that the girls would love it. On Christmas Eve we treated them to dinner at Hudsons on the Bend, and then, when we realized the girls didn’t really like the espresso-chocolate-chili rubbed smoked elk back strap topped with jumbo lump blue crab and a lime chipotle beer blanc, or the grapefruit and avocado salad on butter lettuce with a buttermilk poppy seed dressing sprinkled with fresh pomegranates, or even the desert of ginger cheese cake with a blood orange marmalade, we took them to McDonalds for chicken nuggets and they loved it.(After we finished our grapefruit avocado salads, elk and ginger cheese cake, of course.)We watched Elf and Miracle on 34th Street (although the girls slept through most of Miracle on 34th Street since it was in boring black and white) then shuffled the girls off to bed. Then we stayed up until one o’clock setting up the new TV set, stereo system, iPad and toys, even though we knew we would tear it all down, repack it and ship it to Michigan when Bryan and the girls returned.With the girls sound asleep and the rest of us bone tired, we fell into our beds to dream of sugar plum fairies and sugar-fueled hyperactive children filling the living room with pile after pile of shredded wrapping paper. Around four in the morning I heard a clatter on our lawn and rose from my bed to see what was the matter.I ran to the living room to see Santa Claus climbing out of our living room window, and, what is more, our living room was practically bare. I followed Santa through the window and found him packing a Ford SUV with everything you were taken.”What are you doing?” I demanded.Too be honest, I didn’t exactly say, “What are you doing?” However, I shouldn’t repeat what I actually said in a column meant for Christian edification. Should you really want to know, I will refer you to a certain scene in the movie A Christmas Story. You know which one I mean.”What does it look like I’m doing?” Santa said, although at the time I doubted highly that he was, indeed, Santa. “I’m taking presents to needy children.””It looks like you’re stealing presents from my grandchildren,” I accused him.”Not at all,” he assured me. “But you know as well as I do that the economy’s bad. BP and Halliburton bought up all the shares of the North Pole and laid off all the elves. This is the only way I can get toys for children who are really in need.”In fact,” he assured me, “as soon as I leave I will be delivering most of this stuff to the School for the Deaf.”By this time I was furious. “At four o’clock in the morning?” I asked with no small degree of skepticism (or sarcasm).”Did you want me to show up when the kids were awake?” he replied.”What are kids at the School for the Deaf going to do with a state of the art, surround sound stereo?” I demanded. “They’re deaf.””They can turn it up real loud,” Santa assured me.”And I suppose the TV and Bluray player are for the School for the Blind?””Exactly,” he said. “At least they can listen to the dialogue. And the local cable service has descriptive services for the blind.”You might imagine that I had had enough by that time, and you would be right. To add to the excitement, our argument had roused Carol, Bryan, Eilonwy and Cora from their sleeps and they stood with us, albeit barefoot, on the lawn. It’s a good thing there is no white Christmas in Austin or we might have caught cold.Carol had her iPhone with her, as she always does, even in her sleep (in case a cat should need early morning rescue) and was about to dial the police when, lo, an angel of the Lord appeared before us in all her glory.None of us could agree as to what, exactly she looked like. In fact, Bryan didn’t even see the angel because he was trying to stop Cora from turning the hose on our neanderthal dog Chutney, which was something she seemed to find incredibly funny because Chutney would simply swell her chest to three times her size and then shake the water over all of us.I’m not even sure the angel was a she, but Carol, who didn’t see her either because she was trying to find a reception spot for her iPhone amidst all the trees in our yard, insists God would have never sent a male angel on a mission of such importance.Santa was trying to wrestle the TV into the back of the SUV. He might have seen her, but I didn’t ask.The girls, however, were delighted to hear that I saw a real live angel and insist they saw her too. Eilonwy, however, says she looked like Yvaine, from the movie Stardust, but with wings. Cora swears she looked like Dora the Explorer. With more wings.”Fear not,” the angel said, the night glowing bright around her. “It is better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones.” And then the she disappeared and the night went dark.I took her appearance as a sign from God, and even though Carol thought I was crazy, I helped Santa load the rest of the presents into the SUV and I waved as he pulled out of the drive way.I explained to Eilonwy and Cora that they were very fortunate to be able live with their dad, and that many kids in state schools didn’t even get to go home for the holidays. Some deaf kids don’t even talk to their parents because their parents refuse to sign and it’s very hard to read lips or hear adults—even when they’re mad and yelling really, really loud.So instead of the Christmas we planned, we hauled out the old 27 inch TV and watched It’s a Wonderful Life on one of the many cable channels that re-runs old movies all day long. We drank hot chocolate with marshmallows and ate Carol’s homemade chocolate orange pound cake. During the commercials I explained that, when Carol and I were the girl’s age, a 27 inch TV was just about the biggest television you could get. And that we didn’t get color TV until we were much older and our parents made more money.We planned to do Christmas dinner at Threadgills and all was right in the world except that just as we were leaving for lunch a county deputy showed up. He told us they arrested the Santa burglar and wanted us to press charges against him. It seems the Santa burglar devoted his Christmas eves to burglarizing houses while dressed as Santa, and even drinking the milk and cookie children left out for the real one. This was the first time they caught him with the goods still in his SUV.The deputy didn’t remember me, but I remembered him. You see, this was the same deputy that tried to break up a protest when an out of state company wanted to build a gravel plant in our neighborhood. “I don’t care what your beef is,” he told us, “these are legitimate business men and they don’t deserve to be hassled by the likes of you.” Then he said, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut up and go home and be good citizens and stop behaving like riff raff.”I suggested he arrest us all and explain to the JP why they were having to conduct bail hearings on two hundred local residents. The rest of my neighbors decided that was a good idea and only after he radioed the sheriff to tell him he was arresting us all and listened to shouting we could hear several yards away did he let us lose.A couple of years later he pulled me over for a rolling stop at my street corner. I explained that I had stopped completely, but he said, “If you know what’s good for you you stop, and count to ten, and then slowly accelerate. Otherwise, if I catch you, it’s a ticket.”Sometimes I don’t think before I speak and when he handed me the ticket I said, “Next time I see you that’s exactly what I’ll do. I won’t even wait to see a stop sign, just in case.”He ran my license plate and discovered I had an outstanding parking ticket. I assured him that I had paid that ticket, and I had the receipt at home to prove it. He could follow me if he wanted. At that point, he had me pull my car off the road, arrested me and hauled me downtown to the Travis County jail for outstanding tickets and resisting arrest. The entire drive he told me that the problem with guys like me is that we never knew what was good for us.Carol brought the receipt proving that I had, indeed paid the ticket, but the deputy wouldn’t release me on bail for resisting arrest because she only had her debit card. She had to drive to the bank to get cash. Before they released me seven hours later, the deputy personally came to greet us and told me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll pay the next ticket before I have to throw you in jail. I have no patience for riff raff like you.”The judge dismissed the case, but several times Carol reminded me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll just say ‘yes, sir,’ and ‘no, sir,’ the next time he pulls you over.And now, four or five years later, he stood at my front door and, believe it or not, he was still just a deputy. I probably would have gone ahead and pressed charges, except that before I could get a word in, he told me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let us put the riff raff away for good.”For some reason, when the deputy said those words, my entire history with him flashed through my mind. At the same time I pictured the angel telling me it was better to give for the right reasons than to not give for the wrong reasons. I knew what Jesus wanted me to do.I told him that I would not press charges. The so-called Santa burglar was delivering those presents for us to the kids at the School for the Deaf.”At four o’clock in the morning?” he asked with no small degree of skepticism.”Did you want him to show up when the kids were awake?” I replied.”What are kids at the School for the Deaf going to do with a state of the art, surround sound stereo?” he demanded. “They’re deaf.””They can turn it up real loud,” I assured him.”And I suppose the TV and Bluray player are for the School for the Blind?””Exactly,” I said. “They can listen to the dialogue. And the local cable service has descriptive services for the blind.”The deputy was furious, but I sent him off with no charges to press. Besides, I doubted he would remember me next time we met.Carol, Bryan and the kids had the best Christmas ever. Bryan did a really good impression of the deputy, and soon the girls were doing it as well. We found a deck of cards and I taught them a wonderful game called “Bullshit,”2 which involves guessing who’s lying about the cards in their hands. We found White Christmas on another cable channel and the girls were bored to sleep which was fine with us.I don’t know what happened to the Santa burglar, but I hope they gave him a nice meal before they let him go. It was Christmas, after all. I also pray that at some future Christmas the Santa burglar will visit your house and allow you to relearn the meaning of Christmas as he did with us.And the next time someone asks you for a dollar to catch the bus home or change for coffee, don’t rationalize that they will just spend it on drugs. That’s not what Jesus ever did. It really is far better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones.


1His wife didn’t divorce him because he insisted on naming his eldest daughter after a character in a fantasy novel only fans have read, but most of us would consider it sufficient reason for filing. Sorry, Bryan, but a little constructive criticism….Well, what am I thinking? Kids never listen.back
2Some people call the game “I doubt it” around their kids but to me that’s like telling them there’s no Santa Claus. Childhood should be spent having fun, not learning to behave appropriately around adults who will judge them harshly no matter what they do.back

Put your money where your faith is

In 1972, the first year I could vote, I proudly wore my McGovern for President T-shirt every where, even to the Well in Austin and the Morningstar Coffeehouse in San Marcos, two coffee houses where the Christian kids would hang out and evangelize to the generation of love.

The elders who ran the Well had no problems with the shirt, or at least they never expressed their concerns to me. On the other hand they also dealt with an international community of students at the University of Texas, an international community that included Israeli and Palestinian students, students from the liberal east and west (or so the mythology went) coasts, hippies, homeless veterans, hard core drug dealers and bikers.

The elders at Morningstar coffeehouse constantly suggested I leave the shirt at home because Christians don’t engage in politics. The college community they dealt with, I might add, consisted of primarily central and west Texas kids who grew up in farm communities and hippies rebelling against the farm communities they grew up in. In those days San Marcos was as much a farm community as a college community.

I would ask these elders if they intended to vote for Nixon. Not surprisingly, they were. I reminded them that voting was getting involved in politics too. They would laugh and tell me that voting wasn’t politics.

During the next forty years conservative Christians (and many of the charismatic students they embraced) evolved into the Moral Majority and then the Christian right. They no longer believed Christians didn’t get involved in politics. They now believe Christians have a responsibility to promote Christian values in the pursuit of governance.

Strangely, however, this agenda includes a number of platforms I find absent in the Gospels and New Testament. They want to eliminate taxation, even though Jesus clearly commanded us render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (i.e., pay taxes). They want mandatory public prayer in schools, even though Jesus said the faithful shouldn’t pray in public make a display of piety. They want statues of the Ten Commandments in public places, even though Jesus spoke out against idolitry.

They want to teach creationism as a legitimate science even though Jesus showed no concern whatever for public education. They want to ban abortion even though the Bible explicitly forbids the sacrifice of living children but never mentions the rights of the unborn. They want to stop medical research and deny health insurance and health care to the poor even though Jesus made it clear that one of the missions of Christians is to heal the sick.1

They do, however, make the case that it isn’t government’s responsibility to provide for the poor. The responsibility falls to private citizens and the faithful. And I accept that principle. It isn’t government’s responsibility as a matter of pure principle. But when the government represents the people, and twenty percent of the people live in poverty (and many more close to it), that government has a responsibility to everyone’s welfare.

If we accept the belief that private citizens are responsible to the poor, needy and sick, we must also recognize that Jesus taught his followers they were the private citizens responsible for the poor, needy and sick. We can rightly expect the religious right to step up to the plate and provide those services out of their own pockets. If, in fact, they want to do as Jesus did.

So we should also expect that, instead of pouring millions into political campaigns to unseat the Democrats, members of the religious right would be inviting the homeless into their homes, feeding them and paying their medical bills. If not that, they should be spending those millions on homeless shelters, food lines and free health clinics.

For some reason that isn’t happening. Where are the Palin sponsored homeless shelters? Where are the Salvation Army centers funded by Rick Perry’s wealth? Where is Michelle Bachman’s campaign to raise funds for medical care or to build free clinics? Why is it that the only Republican to show any desire to provide for health care for the poor is Mormon?2

When I was still a member of the church that founded the Morningstar coffeehouse, they sponsored a revival a few weeks after a flood that ruined the homes of several of the poorer members. During the revival they asked for clothes and food for those displaced by the flood. But they also collected thousands to help the visiting evangelist buy a private jet.

Several of the elders made sure to let members know how much they raised for that jet, but never mentioned the clothes and food. I even asked why they couldn’t have taken ten percent of the money raised for the jet and given it to the displaced families. I was assured that God would take care of the needy; the evangelist couldn’t spread the gospel without that jet.

Jesus walked on foot to spread the gospel, and collected money and food for the poor and starving. In 1972 (and now) I think he would have at least settled for driving to make sure those in need were clothed, housed and fed. And whether or not he would have voted for Rick Perry, Jesus would have told Perry and Palin and Bachman and Romney to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.


1Yes, I know I’m playing verbal sleight of hand here, since Jesus didn’t use doctors to heal the sick. But we could assume that it is not in the spirit of Christianity to deny treatment to those in need in order to make a political statement.back

2Sure, the Religious Right turns down the anti-Mormon rhetoric now that they’re all political bedfellows. But, trust me, deep down inside they believe Mormons are more like that weird spin-off program adopted by the SyFy channel than the official broadcast network variety of the faith.back


Is being mean becoming the social mean?

I know I’ve written about this before, but it just seems like American and Christian culture embrace an essential meanness I can’t recall experiencing previously in my lifetime.

This could be old fogey syndrome. I remember laughing at my father and grandfather when they complained how things were better when they were younger. But it seems that for all the members of the radical left who advocated violent action when I was young, there were as many, if not more of us who preferred peaceful resistance and fighting gun barrels with flowers.1

I also doubt that times are as contentious as the decades preceding the civil war when Congressman Preston Brooks beat Congressman Charles Sumner to the floor with his cane. Admittedly, Sumner compared one of Brook’s relatives to a pimp during a speech in the House, which was mean spirited in itself, but the caning may have been over the top.

Still, it seems to have been a week filled with incivility. The Florida courts decided that Casey Anthony should pony up court costs even though she was found not guilty of murder and served her sentence for obstruction of justice. These added penalties may make people feel good and that she got what she deserved, but it also seems like double jeopardy.

This is an interesting precedent in meanness. We don’t like the original verdict so we’ll make you pay for the cost of the trial. It kind of reminds me of schoolyard fights where the small kid nobody liked won, so everyone ganged up on him afterward.

An even meaner gesture may have been Lakewood, New Jersey’s lawsuit against members of a homeless camp because they “irreparably” ruined public property. The city claims they would never remove them until they have somewhere to go, but the homeless haven’t vacated the property until now precisely because they have nowhere to go.

In addition, homeless advocacy groups have already been working to find alternative shelter. But that isn’t good enough for Lakewood. In addition, they want to sue for court costs and attorney’s fees (as if they could collect).

Property damage is never irreparable. Trees grow back and lawns can be resurfaced. And if the homeless aren’t allowed on private property, where else can they go but public property? For Lakewood to say that they want the homeless to find shelter but that they’ll be suing them in the meantime reminds me of the passage in James: “If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (2:16 NIV)

But lately the pretense of civility seems to mask hostility. Lakewood is no longer saying to the homeless, “we’re sorry but we wish you luck,” they’re saying, “you’re destructive and we don’t want you.”

It’s tempting to say these two anecdotes are hardly indicative of an overall mean-spiritedness, except that I’m not the only one commenting. Incivility seems to be a constant theme on the news, with good reason. Nor am I speaking of ordinary Americans who risked their own lives to save a motorcyclist from a burning car, but of our leaders—many of whom profess to be Christians.

After promising to be more conciliatory and bi-partisan in the wake of the debt ceiling fiasco, Republican leaders have drawn the same lines in the sand, “No new taxes, keep the military, cut the programs your voters like.” Only now the President for the first time has removed his own olive branch and decided he won’t compromise on Medicare and Social Security.

Things could get a whole lot worse before they fall completely apart.

Although I wouldn’t be the first to predict such gloom. Both Yeats and Sontag feared that “the center wouldn’t hold” and predicted that the great beast was slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. Even though both are writers I love, the center still holds (shaky, yes, but it holds). So I’m not ready for the apocalypse yet.

But when Christians embrace this meanness of spirit, I find it deeply disconcerting. The most recent example of meanness of spirit is Pat Robertson, who claimed that Alzheimers patients are spiritually dead and therefore it would be not only Christian, but Biblical to divorce them. (Jesus only allowed marriages to end due to death or adultery.)

What disturbs me the most is not that he feels this way. His comrade in arms Newt Gingrich famously abandoned one wife as she was dying of cancer (which would be acceptably Christian since she was on her way out anyway). What disturbs me is that once again Christians who claim they accept only a literal reading of the Bible are perfectly content to create metaphors that contradict the literal meaning of scripture.

Jesus did not use “death” in the case of marriage as a metaphor for “mentally dead.” He used a good many metaphors and parables, but in this case dead meant dead. If anything, he would consider abandoning a sick spouse to be the worst kind of betrayal. As would the early church, who felt it their duty to take care of the needs of widows who couldn’t support themselves.

We do not abandon the living when they need us the most. To do so by claiming that you speak for Jesus is the worst kind of hypocrisy. It is also mean-spirited in the first order, the exact opposite of what Jesus would do by any reading of the Gospels.

The good news is that many of my friends who lived at the radical fringe in the sixties (including me) became swept up in the outpouring of love called the Jesus movement in the seventies.

The bad news is that the Jesus movement gave way to the Moral Majority who (in the gilded and nostalgic light of memory at least) look kind in comparison to today’s religious right.

I can only pray and have faith that we will experience another revival like the Jesus movement to correct the scales again, if only for a decade or two, to inspire a generation of hope and not another generation of spite.


1In fact, this statement is little more than a literary device. In the spirit of honesty, the more I think about it the more I can recall how mean spirited people—including Christians—have been all my life. They made fun of people they didn’t like or understand, and condemned them to hell from the pulpit. Christians loved calling boys with beards and a long hair “girls,” and even refused service to “dirty hippies” (not to mention Blacks and Hispanics). I even remember a particularly vitriolic sermon condemning rock and roll and the youth who listened (i.e., me) as communists and corrupt to the core.
The only redeeming comment in the sermon was the remark that we need more Christian and patriotic songs like Oklahoma Hills, which was written by socialist and labor organizer Woodie Guthrie. The song, by the way, has since become a personal favorite.
Literary devices aside, however, even though I feel the world is less hostile to me now, it certainly feels as though this country is experiencing an overt and sanctioned mean-spiritedness. Hate radio is no longer hate radio, it seems to be mainstream programming. The hate speech once relegated to fringe publications is now available to anyone on the internet. Nor does it matter, really, whether or not incivility is more common now than earlier so much as the fact that Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek and welcome their enemies with love regardless of the culture around us.back