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.
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.
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.