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by Peterr

On Worshiping Milton Friedman and Calling Him Jesus

6:52 am in Culture, Economy, Religion by Peterr

(photo: juicyrai)

From USA Today comes news of a survey by a group of Baylor researchers on the values and beliefs of the American public. The study examines the intersection of personal faith/religious expression and economic beliefs, views on gays and lesbians, spirituality and mental health, and other issues.

What leaped out at me from the USA Today write-up was the confusion that many folks on the conservative end of the religious spectrum have.

“They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work,” says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today by Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“They think the economy works because God wants it to work. It’s a new religious economic idealism,” with politicians “invoking God while chanting ‘less government,’” he says.

In other words, they’re worshiping Milton Friedman and calling him Jesus. Sorry, folks, but there is no commandment that reads “Thou shalt pull thyself up by thine own bootstraps.”

One of the things that always irritates me about the arguments about what the Bible says about homosexuality is that the Bible says very, very little about it at all. It just not a topic of conversation, and what little is said says absolutely nothing about a loving committed relationship between two people of the same gender. But to hear the religious right tell the story, you’d think that everyone from Adam to Jesus was constantly harping on the subject.

*sigh*

On the other hand, the Bible is filled — absolutely stuffed! — with commentary about how one ought to live from an economic perspective. In the stories and the laws and the preaching of the prophets, we hear constantly about caring for the poor and needy and widows and orphans, about proper government oversight of the marketplace (for instance, use the same set of weights and measures for all customers, not one set for your friends and another for the marks), about judges and rulers providing fair application of justice, about condemnations of bribery, about forgiveness of debts, etc. Money and commerce are a much larger topic than LGBTs and their sex lives.

(The sex lives of opposite-sex-minded folks do get discussed, though, like the story of King David, who set up one of his military leaders to be killed so that David’s affair with his wife wouldn’t be discovered, or Solomon and his hundreds of wives and concubines. But I digress . . .)

Government comes in for its share of criticism in the Bible, to be sure. But the criticism is usually that the ruling class — the kings, judges, priests, and wealthy merchants/landowners — is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. Jeremiah was a real pest, from the standpoint of the government, because he kept asking it to do its job. Ditto for Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and the others. And Jesus? Calling out hypocrites and self-centered players in the economy and government was part and parcel of his daily teaching. As I noted here at FDL last December, the Villagers of DC today are not so different from the Villagers of Jerusalem back then. Both are skewered by Jesus’ observation that one cannot serve both money and God, served up in a wonderful story that opens sort of like this:

Once upon a time, there was a rich man who lived in a nice gated community, with gold-trimmed plates on his table, with gold-plated flatware sitting on linen tablecloths woven with gold threads for trim. He had a fine private chef, who served only the finest meats from the best markets, and the freshest vegetables from the best farmers. Every day he and his friends dined on the most elaborate culinary creations.

Outside the gates was a poor man named Lazarus, who was sick and covered with sores. He watched the procession of groceries go into the house every day and the procession of half-eaten scraps go out of the house every night. “If only I could eat the scraps,” he thought, his mouth watering, as the neighborhood dogs came and tried to lick at his sores. . .

You can read my retelling of the story for yourself at the link, but (spoiler alert) it does not end well for the rich man. It’s about as anti-Milton Friedman a story as anyone could come up with.

Or look at Ezekiel, speaking to the rulers in Jerusalem. He calls them “whores,” because despite the fact that God raised up Israel from slavery in Egypt, the leaders in Ezekiel’s day had forsaken love of God for love of money and their own personal power. Ezekiel compares Jerusalem to the heretical region of Samaria and infamous city of Sodom (chapter 16):

Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: . . . Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

“More corrupt” than Sodom? That’s going to leave a mark.

The harsh condemnation of the rulers is not that government has done too much, but it has done too little to economically care for those on the margins.

*sigh*

I would say that this Baylor study (pdf) means that people ought to go to church more often, but digging into the details of it, that seems to be part of the problem. The folks most likely to confuse Milton Friedman with Jesus, who want less government, and who think the unemployed shouldn’t get any help, are most likely to be frequent attenders of church.

*beats head against desk*

Maybe it’s time for them to look for a different church — one that reads the whole Bible, and actually notices the parts about caring for your neighbor.

by Peterr

Speeches on Deficits, Then and Now

6:22 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Economy, Education, Elections, Iraq by Peterr

Way back in January 2008, a certain presidential candidate gave a speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the congregation once served by Martin Luther King Jr. . . .

. . . “Unity is the great need of the hour.” That’s what Dr. King said. It is the great need of this hour as well, not because it sounds pleasant, not because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exits in this country.

I’m not talking about the budget deficit. I’m not talking about the trade deficit. Talking about the moral deficit in this country. I’m talking about an empathy deficit, the inability to recognize ourselves in one another, to understand that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, that in the words of Dr. King, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”

Pause for a minute and let that sink in: “the empathy deficit is the essential deficit that exists in this country.”

We have an empathy deficit when we’re still sending our children down corridors of shame, schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education. We have a deficit when CEOs are making more in ten minutes than ordinary workers are making in an entire year, when families lose their homes so unscrupulous lenders can make a profit, when mothers can’t afford a doctor when their children are stricken with illness. We have a deficit in this country when we have Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others, when our children see hanging nooses from a school yard tree today, in the present, in the 21st century. We have a deficit when homeless veterans sleep on the streets of our cities, when innocents are slaughtered in the deserts of Darfur, when young Americans serve tour after tour after tour after tour of duty in a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged. We have an empathy deficit in this country that has to be closed. We have a deficit when it takes a breach in the levees to reveal the breach in our compassion, when it takes a terrible storm to reveal the hungry that God calls on us to feed, the sick that He calls on us to care for, the least of these that He commands that we treat as our own. So, we have a deficit to close. We have walls, barriers to justice and equality that must come down, and to do this, we know that “unity is the great need of the hour.”

These words were spoken in 2008, but they seem even more appropriate today. Those schools that were in trouble three years ago are in worse shape now, as every state in the country has been cutting back on funding, leaving every district to axe teachers and staff, raise class sizes, and defer maintenance. That “tour after tour after tour after tour of duty” has had at least one more “after tour” added onto it, and atrocities continue to pile up. Foreclosure fraud is rampant, the facts of the global financial crisis show serious legal problems for the bankers that created it, and yet the SEC is “taking a light touch” with the banks and bank executives apparently are getting Scooter Libby justice. (Have you heard the news? Goldman Sachs is likely to “face fresh embarrassment” over their role in the global financial crisis.) And as long as we’re talking about military action without congressional authorization, meet Libya.

If the need was great in 2008, it’s off the charts today.

But back to that candidate . . . skipping ahead in his remarks a bit:

However, all too often, when we talk about unity in this country, we’ve come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. . . We offer unity, but we are not willing to pay the price that’s required.

Of course, true unity cannot be so easily purchased. It starts with a change in attitudes. It starts with changing our hearts, and changing our minds, broadening our spirit. It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our own differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. What makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart, that puts up walls between us. We are told that those who differ from us on a few things, differ from us on all things, that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The Welfare Queen, she’s taking our money. The Immigrant, he’s taking our jobs. The believer condemns the nonbeliever as immoral, and the nonbeliever chides the believer for being intolerant.

[snip]

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The divisions, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame the plight of ourselves on others — all of that distracts us from the common challenges that we face, war and poverty, inequality and injustice. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing each other down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It’s the poison that we must purge from our politics, the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late. Because if Dr. King could love his jailer, if he could call on the faithful, who once sat where you do, to forgive those who had set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time and bind up our wounds and erase the sympathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

But if changing our hearts and our minds is the first critical step, we cannot stop there. It’s not enough to bemoan the plight of the poor in this country and remain unwilling to push our elected officials to provide the resources to fix our schools. It’s not enough to decry the disparities of health care and yet allow the insurance companies and the drug companies to block real reform in our health care system. It’s not enough — It’s not enough for us to abhor the costs of a misguided war, and yet we continue to allow ourselves to be driven by a politics of fear that sees the threat of an attack as a way to scare up votes instead of a call to come together in a common effort. . .

Boy, did he nail it on that one. As far as I can tell, the politics of fear is what makes DC run these days, not only on terrorism but on the budget, health care, social security, and everything else.

I wonder what ever happened to that guy. We sure could use someone like this in DC to take on the fear-mongers.

Say, did you hear that President Obama is going to give a speech on Wednesday, addressing deficit reduction? As the Washington Post headline writer summed things up, “Obama’s New Approach to Deficit Reduction to include Spending on Entitlements.

Before he speaks on Wednesday, maybe Obama should go listen to what that presidential candidate had to say at Ebenezer Baptist Church a couple of years ago.