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Ah, Pagan America - Elf M. Sternberg
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Ah, Pagan America


Jesus would disagree with Calvin.

Before we get to what Jesus was really saying, I have to say that by this logic, the police officer is "forced at swordpoint" to guard the peace of your community; the fireman is "forced at swordpoint" to rush into your burning home and rescue your children; the municipal construction worker is "forced at swordpoint" to create the roads by which you get to and from work, and by which your goods get to market; the people who forged the Internet we're currently using were "forced at swordpoint" to come up with redundant, self-healing network hardware and software protocols.

Towns, cities, states and nations all have, to different degrees, the responsibility to see those public collective needs that we cannot manage alone or through private collective action. As a nation, we came together to defeat many major diseases. As a nation, we came together to defeat the Nazis. As a nation, we came together and defeated the Russians. As a nation, we came together and went to the moon. We used to grumble about taxes, but we understood that with them we bought peace, civil protection, municipal roads and bridges, and yes, we even bought public health.

The fact that so many in our country have become convinced that this collective action is somehow "socialist" is mind-boggling to me. Every nation, ever state does something to ensure that its people are happy and productive.

Which brings us to what Jesus said. In Mark 14:7, as Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) quoted, Jesus says, "For you will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want."

Now, I'm not Christian. I was raised as a Jew, but I know exactly what Jesus was saying there. So did the apostles he was talking to. They were Jews who had watched the pharisees pervert the temple and turn it into a bank. They were religious enough to be revolted by their corruption, and turned to a radical Rabbi. And sometimes he had to rebuke them. When Jesus tells them, "The poor you shall have with you always," he is quoting Moses. And they knew it.

And what did Moses say?

"The poor you shall have with you always, therefore the Lord God commands you to be openhanded to the poor and needy in your land.

If any are poor in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God has given you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Show no ill-will toward the needy among your fellow countrymen. Give genorously and do so without a gruding heart."

The rest of Deuteronomy makes it clear that this is not a personal commandment. This is an organizational principle of Moses' administration (and yes, Moses had an administration. It had a bureaucracy. Numbers talks about how it runs.) This how the State of Israel is to be set up. These are responsibilities by the nation to its people. Deuteronomy 14:22 is really freaking clear on this: if your harvest this year is great, you're supposed to give every increase to the state.

Yes, yes, if you have more than your neighbor, build a longer table, not a bigger wall. And yet, your reach is limited. Philanthropy is grey and unlovely; you pick and chose who gets your generosity, and by choosing you exclude others, condemn them. As God and Moses said, only the state is committed to the well-being of all the people. The United States Constitution literally constitutes the US on behalf of "the general welfare... of the people of these United States." Not on behalf of your local church, or some national group that represents your religious beliefs, or your ethnic beliefs, or whatever other arbitrary category that you treasure over others. All people. Whites, blacks, natives, men, women, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists.

Deuteronomy 15 ends with a sad repeat: "And still, the poor you shall have with you always." Moses knows the people of Israel will fail. Jesus knew that a few centuries later, both Israel and Rome had failed. When the apostles object to his spending money on soap and oil, Jesus quotes Moses at them to rebuke their short-sightedness. "You can feed the poor for a day, sure. But without a true revival, without a wholesale transformation of the spirit from one that loves your neighbors more than it loves money, you will have fed them for a day. Tomorrow, they will be hungry again, and you will have accomplished very little."

I don't know what has happened to the country I love that it has become so cruel, so stingy, so vicious. Its spirit of generosity is blighted and ill. We say we're generous, but we aren't; we are lost of grace and favor. Countries that have better health outcomes through state-run healthcare still manage to have more private per-capita giving than the United States. We are fifth in our generosity and aren't even in the top forty healthiest countries.

It's not my place to question Calvin's conscience or the relationship between his soul and God. But the God of the Old Testament was painfully clear about what he wanted. God told Ezekial that the sin of Sodom was that it had wealth and power, and yet its citizens refused to help the poor and needy. God commanded Moses, and Moses said it was the duty of Israel: See to the justice due the migrant, the orphan, and the widow. Educate the child, heal the sick, relieve the distressed, and when necessary, bury the dead.

Moses and Jesus both anticipated we would fail. Buddha, Muhammad, Zoroaster, they all say more or less the same thing. The fact that we're limited, vain, and selfish beyond any hope doesn't mean we should wallow in it.

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sirfox From: sirfox Date: March 11th, 2017 12:02 am (UTC) (Link)
They're better Christians than just about any serving in

- than any serving in Congress right now. (somehow lost that bit)
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