Monday, December 08, 2008

Thought of the Day

Courtesy of Mrs. Huck Upchuck, who commented to me the other day that it struck her that, when it comes to superficial manifestations of religion, such as words on a monument or a coin, conservatives are all about aggressive and interventionist government action. But when it comes to living the gospel message of caring for the poor, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc., conservatives want government to have no part in that action. That struck me, too. Frankly, what should practicing Christians want more of: "In God We Trust" on coins? Or food stamps for the hungry?


Eric said...

I'm not a Christian, so I don't know the answer, but I'll say this to the conservative Christians: Thanks! I'll always prefer superficial statements of faith that don't effect me at all to laws that actually take money away from me and give it to others in the name of a religion I don't believe in.

Huck said...

Hi, Eric - One question, two points. Question: What "religion" don't you believe in? Points: 1) You are quite mistaken to think that these superficial statements of faith don't affect you. Partly because even superficial statements of faith cost the government some money to make. But also because the impulse behind these "In God We Trust" on the Dollar Bill movements are impulses that lead to government funded sexual abstinence programs and other "faith-based" initiatives. If you thank Christian conservatives for pushing faith in this way, be prepared to thank them for pushing God in other ways, too. What I think motivates these movements is to try to get government to expend its resources to promote faith in ANY way. The true fiscally conservative response would be to want to advocate against ANY government promotion of faith (and the expenditures to do so), whether superficial or otherwise. This leads me to ... 2) The dilemma is for Christians who use faith as a rationale for supporting state policy to carry out a religious mission. If the goal of these efforts is to promote the inclusion of the Christian faith in government, as a matter of defending faith-based public policy, then the achievement of this goal should be measured by accomplishing what are Christian faith ideals. The original posting suggests that, by using Christian ideals as the measure to evaluate successful "faith-based" public policy and government action, having "In God We Trust" on Dollar Bills is a far cry from the gospel message to feed the poor and clothe the hungry. And I think you are knowledgable enough about Christian ideals, even though not a Christian yourself, to be able to formulate some judgment on this point.

Howie Luvzus said...

Great stuff Huck!

Eric said...

While typing up a more argumentative response, I touched upon some thoughts that I think answer your question... so I started over. They key is looking at this issue in a broader and more historical context.

First, many conservative Christians DO favor more goverment programs. In fact, we've had a two-term President who has delivered the most robust series of social entitlements in 40 years, and were it not for 9/11, he would have almost certainly done more. Medicare Rx was Bush's baby from start-to-finish, as were the tens of billions of dollars we have spent treating AIDS patients in Africa, as was the doubling of federal funds spent on public education, and those policies and expenditures were rooted in exactly the kind of Christ-centered social grounding you are talking about here.

Mike Huckabee came very close to securing the GOP Presidential nomination, with a lot of Christian support, and he is even more committed to these types of programs than Bush. In fact, he has gone so far as to say there isn't room in the GOP for people who are not willing to use the government to help the downtrodden, and he frames his entire argument for such programs from within a Christian framework.

Much of the story of the Republican Party since WWII has centered around this issue. For most of the 60's and 70's the party was impotently split by socially consious Rockfeller Republicans and the more libertarian Goldwater disciples. It was Reagan who figured out how to split the political difference between these two groups enough to form a large coalition, and part of that compromise was that the socially liberal Republicans would have to give up their support for expensive and expansive welfare programs. The inter-party narrative you hear today all stems from that compromise. The conservative Christians who DON'T support government charity programs largely come out of churches that are very efficient at delivering these services within their communities and abroad, and they don't want to cede that job to the federal government (and of course, there are more than a few people who have become quite wealthy from administering this charity).

Anyway, just some food for thought.

Huck said...

Thanks, Eric. Good food for thought. I think you are right about the modern "compassionate conservatism" GOP of George Bush.

And you're probably right, too, that conservative Christians who don't support government welfare programs come out of churches that are efficient at doing that. But I'd add that it is precisely these very conservative Christians who insist that government also impose what I've called superficial manifestations of Christianity as a matter of public policy. And though you think these "superficial" displays don't cost the taxpayer, I'd disagree with that. Furthermore, I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that if some conservative Christian Senator or House Rep proposed that the government initiate a $250 billion program to put hand chiseled marble sculptures of the ten Commandments in every courthouse and every federal building, you wouldn't hear a PEEP of opposition to this from these conservative Christians. In fact, they'd leap for joy, thinking that this is precisely the kind of stuff the government should be spending taxpayer dollars on -- expenditures that REALLY do nothing for anybody. But a proposal of $250 billion to stock up soup kitchens for the homeless, forget it! Maybe government run soup kitchens are less efficient than church run soup kitchens, but I'll be damned if filling up the belly of a US citizen, no matter how inefficiently done, is not categorically better (not to mention more truly Christian) than spending money on a useless hunk of marble.