Five thoughts about a conservative court

The President’s selection of Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is getting the expected party line reactions this morning. Conservatives think it’s great. Liberals think it sucks, and so it goes. As one of the insiders who helped Pat Robertson shape his presentation of right wing news, I know well not only the religious zeal behind the conservative perspective but also what will come next. As usual, I have a few opinions.

One, the conservative majority that a Kavanaugh approval will make is built on an immoral and unethical foundation, and it will have consequences. Life will tolerate cultural manipulation only so long. This is not the will of the people, although that’s how it’s going to be presented. It’s the will of those who blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland by Barack Obama in 2016, those who also represent the 1%. Christian conservatives think it’s all about moral issues like abortion, the Ten Commandments, and school prayer, but a conservative court is more so a pro-corporation court. Folks, it’s always and always about the money.

Two, as a consequence of number one above, the kerfuffle about possibly overturning Roe v Wade is a productive sideshow for those occupying 1% status. Everything that the World War II generation and before fought to accomplish in the work force and socially will be shoved aside, in effect, granting license to corporations to do as they please in the generation of profit. How easily people forget, for example, that the entitlement of weekends is a gift of U.S. labor efforts in Congress and the White House. “Oh, Terry, they’ll never do away with weekends.” Really? Where’s the governor that will prevent it?

Three, assuming the sideshow produces fruit for Christian conservatives, Roe v Wade is only the beginning. There’s also pornography, school prayer and display of the Ten Commandments that need, um, “correcting” in the establishment of a Christian nation. And, let’s not be fools. Abortion isn’t about innocent babies losing their lives anyway; it’s about the act that created the unwanted baby in the first place. In this area, there is no end to the mischief that can be generated by a 5-4 or 6-3 conservative court.

Four, as a consequence to numbers two and three, the court will have to invade the institution of MEDICINE in order to make illegal what is at core a MEDICAL decision between doctor and patient. This precedent would have profound implications for the future, especially in the area of genetics and even its study. Think it can’t happen? We’ve already had the government take pain relief out of the hands of doctors and put it into the law and order category. A conservative court would also most certainly put caps on lawsuits against doctors were it not for the fact that our legislative branch is filled with trial lawyers.

Five, conservatives are all about order and the ability to manage it. It’s the top personality trait of conservatives, so look for a series of cases that present opposition as chaotic or without order. The arts, for example, will always lose out to law enforcement or the military in a zero sum, order-dominant atmosphere.

As I wrote earlier, the fascinating thing about this to me is the misuse of the “strict Constitutionalist” litmus test for conservative nominees, which is based on the view that the Constitution never considered laws being created by Supreme Court rulings. This is the judicial branch’s method of creating law, which according to the Constitution, is reserved for the legislative branch. It’s the result of judicial precedent, something we hear about all the time in our crime dramas on TV. In the conservative legal hierarchy, judges are supposed to decide the merits of individual cases, not actually make law that will impact decisions in subsequent cases. Pat Robertson hammered this concept home in program after program in attempts to help God fix what was wrong with the Supreme Court. However, this, it turns out, is not the case when it comes to decisions that leave conservative results, for then it’s all right for judges to “legislate from the bench.” Who knew?

If all this continues, one day we’re going to have to look at how the Supreme Court is formed. If it is the political instrument that both sides seem to think it is, that’s going to have to be changed. Perhaps we should elect four liberals, four conservatives, and one swing vote. That would require a Constitutional Amendment, so the likelihood is not good.

Sigh.

What the white Evangelicals really want

U.S. News & World Report photo

It’s all about abortion. Everything we’re witnessing with the Presidency of Donald Trump and his fervent – almost fanatical – support from white Evangelicals is, in the end, about abortion. You can add prayer in schools and display of the Ten Commandments, but the biggie is abortion. These issues have in common one thing – they became issues due to Supreme Court rulings – and the possibility of “fixing” these decisions through a more conservative Supreme Court is what allows certain Christians to look the other way through everything else about Trump, his character, and his dictatorial management of the government.

The “think” is that God put Trump in office, so that decades of cultural shifting to the left can be corrected. It’s a trap, an illusion seized by perhaps well-intended and exasperated people who long for what they think were better days. In their zeal to this end, they’ve become pawns in a bait and switch effort by the haves to seize the moment for themselves.

Here’s a simple description of what the (mostly white) Evangelicals want from a very good BBC report on the matter:

For decades the US Supreme Court – America’s highest legal authority – has been finely politically balanced. “The Nine” include four liberal voices, four conservatives, and one swing vote.

The idea, of course, is that changing the ideology of the high court will change the culture for at least a generation, but this is a very deceptive perspective. That’s because the underlying issue is the concept of case law, where legal precedents established through court decisions actually become law. Conservatives like to use the phrase “strict Constitutionalist” as a litmus test for court appointees. It’s a euphemism for “legislators make laws, not judges,” and while an argument can be made that case law isn’t in the U.S. Constitution, it doesn’t follow that our judicial system will ever rule against the idea that precedent is a factor in the judging of cases. And as long as our legislative bodies are dominated by lawyers, it’s nearly impossible to achieve any change through legislation. A conservative lawyer, after all, is still a lawyer. Never forget that.

Another phrase that conservatives use is “legislating from the bench,” which is just another way of saying the judicial system should not be “making” law. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

So, if judges shouldn’t be making law through precedent, what is their alternative? I got a deep education on this from Pat Robertson and the faculty of CBN University’s law school during my time as producer of The 700 Club in the 1980s. The alternative is that courts only make rulings on the individual cases before them and that no precedent ruling can be considered. Verdicts are decided on the merits of the case, period. If the issue is so important as to require the creation of law, then that is a matter for our legislative bodies, for they are our elected representatives, according to the Constitution.

However – and here’s where it gets a little nuts – if this is the basis for their argument, then why the need to shift the ideology of the court? After all, if rulings are limited only to the cases before them, then why worry about their ideological make-up influencing culture? Could it be that abortion is merely an emotional appeal for conservatives who wish really to influence culture on behalf of their true beneficiaries, the haves who control everything in the first place? Donald Trump has not influenced the outcomes of the high court, but he certainly has done well for the billionaires who dwell in the high places.

Nathaniel Rachman of the Oxford student paper, OxStu, published an insightful piece with the headline “The spectre of a conservative Supreme Court is a fantasy,” in which he notes that the ideology of the court has had little to do with the important issues that conservatives want fixed anyway:

Even if the court’s judges remain solidly conservative however, they can still produce the occasional surprising decision. Clarence Thomas, the court’s most fanatical conservative, recently helped strike down an attempt to suppress black voters in North Carolina, while Neil Gorsuch is now facing Trump’s criticism after rescuing the liberal justices in their attempts to strike down a vague immigration law. Sometimes such defections can be transformative; when Obamacare, the central prop to the US healthcare system seemed fatally threatened, the Chief Justice John Roberts saved it, and when the court found a fundamental right to same-sex marriage, it was Anthony Kennedy who authored the 5-4 opinion. Roberts’ court is concerned with how the world looks upon it, and the chief justice is keenly aware of the shadow of history looming over him. The reputation of his bench is vital to him. Even if Trump appoints a consistent hardliner, he has no guarantee that the rest of the court would not shift in response, fearing a legacy that will go down in infamy.

This is the problem when ideology attempts to shift the culture through managing it from the top. The culture isn’t shifted by ideology; it’s shifted by people and the energy of their social movements. Therefore, issues eventually finding their way to the high court isn’t by chance, and it’s nowhere near as simple as the right wants to make it sound.

Besides, as I’ve written before, abortion is really about sex and the Biblical position that fornication is sin. We have to be honest about this, for we always have to “play the tape to its end” when considering issues such as abortion. What would be the Evangelicals’ view of how people “should” behave in a world without legal abortion? I think we all know the answer to that. Moreover, anti-abortion law becomes harder and harder as the evidence mounts about how birth control reduces the abortion rate. Our current rate is now BELOW what it was in 1973, when it was made legal by the high court.

My daughter is about to pop with baby number three, and we’re all pretty excited about it. This is especially so after her experience with baby number two, who died of severe birth defects six hours after birth. She learned of the birth defects at 20 weeks and went through this despite the knowledge that she “could have” gotten an abortion. She made the decision – the choice – for herself not to do so, and it was remarkable to witness. For her, it was a moral issue, not a legal one, and she could not have made such a decision for herself, had abortion been illegal. This experience has firmed my resolve that the Supreme Court got it right with Roe v Wade.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I strongly recommend you read the linked materials.

The Remarkable Victory of Doug Jones

It was a heady night of poll-watching here in Alabama, and most of the world is rightly rejoicing over the stunning upset by Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate race. As one of the people who helped write the script in the early 1980s that defines modern Republican strategy, I’ve been especially sensitive to this particular election, and I breathed a deep sigh of relief before bedtime last night.

The analysis has already begun and will continue through next year’s midterm elections and beyond. While most observers are rightly looking at Roy Moore’s creepy past with young girls, it would be a serious mistake to chalk this event up entirely to that, for Doug Jones ran a brilliant campaign. With a well-funded PAC relentlessly pursuing character issues stemming mostly from Moore’s history as a home town district attorney in the late 70s and early 80s, Jones was free to take a high road in ads he “approved.”

These ads pressed three factors that spoke to Alabamians and, frankly, made for an almost perfect foil for the unusually-quiet Judge Moore. One, Jones calmly refuted the lies about him coming from hysterical right-wingers. He refused to be defensive, instead, he revealed a certain toughness in setting the record straight. Two, he directly talked about his own character, including the facts that he was a Christian and a supporter of the NRA. Three, he talked about his record, which is really quite remarkable and included prosecuting the Olympic bomber and the people responsible for setting fire to a black church in which four young girls were killed.

The combination of these three tactics presented Doug Jones as not only qualified but also as a good Alabama guy, not the Northeastern liberal that the Republicans accused him of being. Roy Moore came off almost cartoonish, while Doug Jones appeared smart, rational, and calm while still appealing to his good old boy nature.

The final two factors in this Christmas gift are perhaps the biggest of all. The first is the realization of enough people – write-in or not – thought what Judge Moore represented wasn’t Alabama but a self-righteous attack on the Godly people of this state who don’t march in lockstep with the white nationalist goals of religious fundamentalism. Oh, I’m sure that Roy Moore would be our senator this morning were it not for a past with underage girls (that he refused to talk about), but I’m equally sure that people here were absolutely sick-to-death of propaganda coming from those who only view senate seats as a means to manipulative and destructive ends. This is very much a response to Donald Trump but even more so a GOP whose interests so clearly don’t represent the people of this state whatsoever. This spells trouble for the assumption that’s been driving the Republican Party since Vietnam. States are not pawns that deliver to fat cats what they want for selfish gain.

The second non-candidate related factor was the whiny and condescending noise from Evangelical Christians who put their own witness on the line in harping for Roy Moore despite his obvious character issues. This, I”m afraid, is going to leave a permanent mark, for it invalidates the witness of these Evangelicals who just knew that God was voting for Judge Moore. The Johnny One Note nonsense that candidates like Doug Jones approve of abortion right up until birth – a.k.a. “late stage” – belongs on the ash pile of early Twenty-First Century propaganda. One hopes this will add weight to the bullshit that sits atop the Fox News building that threatens collapse.

A vote for Doug Jones yesterday, therefore, was a vote for sanity and common sense. At my polling place, there was a quiet resolve in the air as a bigger than expected crowd stood in one, two, and then three lines to get to an actual ballot. As I looked around, I saw a multicultural representation of the state, polite and loving people, and the no nonsense look of folks with a job to do. To me, upset was in the air at that place. It was a tactile reflection of the hearts of good people who were saying, “Enough!” I walked out into the cold air and was quite sure that it was going to be closer than most expected.

Okay, America. We’ve done our part. Now it’s your turn.

Is Christianity Under Attack? Well, yes and no!

The better question, perhaps, is “should” Christianity be under attack?

My granddaughter’s class Christmas concert 2017

I was fortunate to attend my five-year old granddaughter’s Christmas program at school this week. The place was packed with proud parents and grandparents watching cute little kids sing Christmas carols from a stage. It’s a big deal for them and a shot of seasonal love for us. Of course, it was very much Christmas, for Alina attends a pre-school program at a Baptist Church, and we’ve been very happy to have had her there. Soon it will be Kindergarten, and things will change.

One of the songs they sang was the old standard, Joy To The World (The Lord Is Come). My mind went immediately to something I’d seen on TV the other night, a holiday ad for Big Lots that used the old Three Dog Night hit, Joy To The World. The ad was all smiles and happiness with gifts, decorations, and a Christmas Tree. The theme was “share the joy with Big Lots.” I mean, it was a nice ad, but the use of an old rock & roll classic to reference the joy of the holiday – and make no mistake, this was a house celebrating Christmas – says a lot about our culture, where we’ve been, and likely where we’re headed. It also speaks to the disconnect between Madison Avenue and the people who caused such an upset in last year’s presidential election.

That’s because one of the most powerful motivators of the Evangelicals who support Donald Trump without question is the heartfelt belief that the Christian faith is under attack in our current culture. So persecuted are Evangelical Christians by a rotting culture, the thinking goes, that we need to fight back with everything we’ve got politically, rather than just give the nation over to the devil by saying nothing. During his campaign, the President assured a drooling Christian right that “We’re gonna bring it back,” “We’re gonna protect Christianity,” and that “Christianity will have power if I’m president.”

This issue of whether Christianity is under attack is complex and difficult to understand on every level. The parties involved have obviously differing views, but the arguments never really take place in the same contextual frame. It’s like competitors playing the same game in different arenas, never really meeting each other face-to-face. One side argues that America was created as a Christian nation by Christians who came here to colonize in Jesus name, while the other side argues that such a belief is irrelevant in modern times, because humankind has come such a long way in the last few centuries. One is a spiritual argument; the other is an argument of the mind. One touts Holy Scripture, while the other relies on education and knowledge. One is upstream with the saints of old; the other is downstream in a hundred tributaries. One believes the Bible is a “living document” while the other sees a certain anti-progressive rigidity in a set of archaic rules. One claims to argue faith; the other claims to argue logic.

Any reasonable, objective study of early American history makes a convincing case that Christianity was so enmeshed in daily life at the time that one must conclude its governance and institutions bore the mark of the cross. Arguing against this requires changing history, although there’s no real reason to do so. When English speaking people landed at Cape Henry Virginia in 1607, their very first act was to plant a cross and claim the land on behalf of their Savior. Any fair reading of early documents – including those of the Founding Fathers – can only be done using the language of the time, because the meanings of key words have changed over time. That means one must use the dictionaries of the era, Samuel Johnson’s classic of 1755 and Webster’s of 1828. When that is done, it takes considerable manipulation to conclude anything other than the truth of the claim that Christianity played a significant role in the formation of the U.S. It didn’t need to be specifically spelled out, because it was assumed at the time. This in no way means America was birthed as a theocracy, but rather a country based on the belief that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” meant that those same people were already self-governed through their faith. After all, it was John Wycliffe who first uttered the phrase when, upon completion of the first common English language translation of the Bible, he said, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This is why those same founding fathers saw the need to include the establishment clause in the First Amendment. No single representation of God could never rule a people educated in the truths of the Bible.

As the country has become more secularized, therefore, it’s pretty simple to understand the angst being expressed by certain Christians when, for example, academia and the government unilaterally decided that our most basic calendar headings had to be changed from BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – year of our Lord) to BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era). There was no debate. No hearings. No input from others whatsoever. Suddenly, textbooks that our children used to study everything were printed using only BCE and CE, and all devout Christians could do was to loudly cry, “foul.” There are also the matters of School Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the personal politics of gender. Is there a battle underway for the soul of the West? Isn’t it pretty obvious?

Google N’gram chart showing use of CBE in books over the years.

So one must conclude that the Christians are right on both counts: That the U.S. was planted and grew with Christianity at its core, and that there has been an attempt – conscious or otherwise – to remove that core from modern culture. However, none of this ends the argument, for there are a great many other cultural considerations to be weighed. Like most things in life, this is not black and white, and the strict Christian Nation crowd deserves its own blame for gutting the fatted calf it now wishes to protect. Besides, the more important matter is that even if we agree that this was birthed as a Christian Nation, what are we to do about it today? The wise answer is nothing.

Christianity is so divided into subsets that no one speaks on behalf of the whole. It’s just not possible. Each denomination makes a case why theirs is the path to righteousness and an afterlife in heaven. Therefore, there really is no such thing as the “Christian perspective” we used to espouse back in my days at The 700 Club. Is that the Catholic perspective or the Protestant perspective? Is it premillennial or postmillennial? Is it pentecostal or reformed? Is it liberal or conservative? Black or white? Judeo-Christian or just Christian. You can see the conflict, which is why the establishment clause is there.

Therefore, by self-division alone, Christianity has lost its influence on the culture, and the voice that’s complaining the loudest is the one that has the money and the resources to be heard, the Evangelicals, eighty-one percent of whom voted for Donald Trump in the last election. And so Evangelical Christianity is the branch that is trying to drag us all in the direction of the theocracy the founders hoped to avoid. This is the group who has joined forces with the Republican Party to “make” things happen that benefit their congregations and their point-of-view. God apparently doesn’t need our faith alone; He wants us to be a powerful political voice as well. This is the group that wants a war with Islam, because it leads to their one thousand years of glory in the name of Jesus. This is the group that needs Republican leadership in Washington to keep them tax free and thriving, so they can recruit support from the mountain top of the one percent. This is the group that wants their prayer to be in public schools, their self-centered gospel to govern programs for the poor, their self-righteousness to dominate human hearts when it comes to personal medical or relationship decisions, their way of life to be the norm and to frame the melting pot, their comfort to be the guiding light regarding who we allow into the pot in the first place, and their music, film, books, and art to be the only choice for all.

As my friend Jeff Jarvis said, “Sharia Law? That’s nothing compared to Armageddon.”

If there is but one truth about this particular group of Christians that should make us all wary, it is this: they will never be satisfied with just one victory in the culture wars. You can take that to the bank, and it represents the only tape that must be played out to the end for us to realize that – as a self-governing people – we cannot and must not let our guard down. The history of humankind is littered with the tragedies of those who fell for idolatry, the promise of magic, and the fallibility of human nature. You want civil rights rolled back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want women to return to the status of chattel? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want slavery brought back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want corporal punishment in the public square? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want a culture dominated by fascist fear and bayonets? Say nothing. Do nothing today.

Finally, from an historical perspective, there’s a great difference between a culture being overthrown and one that self-destructs, which is what’s really happening here. If, as the Evangelicals insist, they were the ones who built this country – and there’s considerable evidence to support that view – then its collapse must be birthed in the same womb. You cannot claim leadership for the one without responsibility for the other. This is the major blindspot of those who argue that the devil or the liberals or the communists or members of any other group are at fault. Therefore, positing that Christianity itself is the victim here is utterly self-serving, and it’s also useless in trying to do anything about the evils around us. A slipping culture needs no outside help, if the ruling class within that culture cannot or will not accept responsibility for the slippage.

The ruling class in America today, we must now conclude, includes certain powerful and vocal elements from within the entire Judeo-Christian Western hegemony. The nobility of yesterday has been replaced by panting thieves for whom license is the desire demanding to be fed. Thinking has been replaced by a mindlessness not found among past generations, who survived and even thrived despite having to solve real problems like slavery, sickness, world wars, and the rights of individuals.

Those past generations wouldn’t recognize the Christianity that’s “under attack” today.

The Religion of Conservative News

I met a woman this year who has the gift of personal prophecy. By that I mean that she’s genuinely very sensitive and able to offer wisdom and encouragement to people who benefit deeply from her words. We can argue over whether this is a real spiritual gift or whether she’s just good at reading people, but to me, it doesn’t matter, for both are the same thing. There’s no doubt that certain fundamentalists have taken this idea and used it for foolishness, but as a sensitive person myself, I can confirm that “reading” others isn’t a form of magic, nor is it all that unique. One can’t brag of specialness for self-centered purposes when such insight is spread around to many.

Nevertheless, a lot of gifted people simply keep their mouths shut, and this woman is a bit different in that sense. Rather than sharing publicly, however, she usually shares her thoughts only with the person to whom they’re intended. I like that. There’s a genuineness to it, and I respect her for that.

She’s very much a loving Christian and often provides uplifting posts on Facebook, but she also has a significant blindspot. She spreads false information about politics based on fake news sources that she consumes with regularity. When I pointed out to her recently that she was actually “bearing false witness” on one particular piece of delicious clickbait, she got angry and basically told me to keep my mouth shut. Fair enough, although I regrettably have no filter when it comes to such, so I’ve been known to really piss people off. I used to care, but I guess I just don’t anymore.

She actually pulled the post after a few days, and I appreciate that. We really don’t need stuff like that influencing others.

This woman is part of a large group of conservative Christians who struggle with my book, The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined The GOP, because they don’t like my position on so-called conservative news. I believe it’s propaganda, and I should know, since I was one of the people who helped create it. A full fifteen years before Fox News, there was The 700 Club and CBN News. We wrote the book on conservative propaganda as news, so any argument that attempts to validate it as real news isn’t really worth having. It’s a chasing of the wind, but it does reveal how far off the mark many of these Evangelicals have drifted. They honestly believe that the mainstream press openly supports a liberal agenda for the country and is their arch enemy in the flesh. They seem incapable of reason when it comes to certain things, and this is one of them.

Kaitlyn Scheiss

Some observers are beginning to see the ritual of nightly consuming Fox News as a solemn rite of worship, an idolatry so deceptive that it’s impacted most of Evangelical Christianity. Dallas Theological Seminary graduate student Kaitlyn Schiess offered such insight in an excellent New York Times article, How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism. It came in a discussion of Evangelicals leaping to the defense of Roy Moore, despite the nature and degree of his history with young girls and allegations of sexual contact.

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

This is a brilliant deduction, and I can verify that the devotion expressed by people such as my friend above borders on brainwashing, because it oversteps facts, truth, and logical thinking en route to its fallacious conclusions. Why not view it as a form of worship? After all, that’s what we did at The 700 Club. Here was a Christian talk show featuring Christian guests, Christian themes, and Christian prayers that was a bonafide substitution for church in the early days of the televangelist movement. When we began to weave news coverage into the mix, there was little question in our presentation that it was as much a part of being a Christian as prayer. When Fox News came into being in 1996, conservatives had already been nurtured and convinced of its necessity and its vision. We did that, and the worse thing we did was to believe our own hype. Pat Robertson is so lost today that he can’t separate the faith from his politics, and he’s still among the top influencers when it comes to the agenda of Evangelicals and the Republican Party.

God is judging this version of the church today, and I’m beginning to hear arguments to this effect from voices other than my own. We need to repent and turn from this wickedness, or the church has little hope for tomorrow. We steadfastly blame others – like those dirty liberals – for the sad state of our nation and the world today, when we should be examining our own hearts.

Ever evangelizing, we shake our fists up at those walking by, as we travel along the flow of the gutter toward the awaiting sewer. “Curse you, World,” is our cry. “You’re all going to hellllllllllllllll.”

Redefining Compassion

The Trump administration’s budget reveals a dramatic dismissal of programs designed to help the poor, including some, such as Medicaid, that have great favor with the majority in the land. This should surprise no one who’s taken the time to study the platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties, because much of conservatism has always been about the worship of the individual and the protection of wealth. Poverty is one of those sticky issues that clearly divides, for in the narrative of the GOP, poor people are takers who take from the pockets of the wealthy. This cynical view is best depicted in our current administrations attempt to “redefine compassion.”

In the name of decreasing government spending, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney made this remarkable statement in front of the House Budget Committee on Wednesday:

“We no longer want to measure compassion by the number of programs that we have, or the number of people that are on those programs,” he said. “We want to measure compassion, true compassion, by the number of people we help to get off those programs.”

takemefishing.org

Trump supporters, including Evangelical Christians, will see this simply as the old adage “Give a man a fish, and you’ve fed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for life.” This is part and parcel of the Gospel of Self and a very useful metaphor for those pushing a political agenda along with the faith. Unfortunately, the concept misses on two rather enormous assumptions. One, for it to be true in practical terms, the idea assumes an endless supply of fish for everybody, and the truth is that all resources are limited and mostly in possession of the top fishermen, those who also own the best lakes and streams. You can teach a man to fish all you want, but unless the supply is available to all, the story falls apart. Two, and this is a biggie for the Christian crowd, Jesus actually tied poverty to the unrighteousness of God’s people as written by Moses in the Torah in Deuteronomy 15. Therefore, the dream of redefining compassion by teaching people to fish directly contradicts the message of the Bible, which always includes restrictions on the rich getting too rich. Instead, the evangelical message offers the idea that humans can somehow “manage” their way out of poverty while others maintain a selfish grip on resources and income. Not happening.

So once again, I’m forced into the corner of declaring that the church is under judgment, not the nation of the United States, western culture, or “the world,” and it specifically relates to this issue. It’s not about visible “sins” that the faithful rail against and in so doing blame the victims of poverty instead of their own greed. It’s about a certain group of believers who espouse a formulaic version of life through their faith. That’s why this – and my book specifically – is a message for Christians, for the pathway to truth is the willingness to challenge one’s own assumptions, whether you call yourself a Christian or not.

Please do not interpret my statements as disrespectful, for I find nothing disingenuous about Mr. Mulvaney’s view or that of the many Evangelicals who subscribe to the fishing metaphor. I fully believe they believe this to be THE solution to poverty. The same day Mulvaney was testifying, HUD secretary Dr. Ben Carson – an Evangelical – was on Sirius XM radio being interviewed by his longtime ally Armstrong Williams:

“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody who has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street and I guarantee you, in a little while, they’ll be right back up there. And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world and they’ll work their way back down to the bottom.”

Dr. Carson went on to add that this mindset begins in childhood and is passed along by parents. He, too, favors the “teach a man to fish” model, noting that there’s both “economic poverty” and “poverty of the spirit,” what he called “that defeatist attitude.”

“I think the majority of people don’t have that defeatist attitude, but they sometimes just don’t see the way, and that’s where government can come in and be very helpful. It can provide the ladder of opportunity, it can provide the mechanism that will demonstrate to them what can be done.”

In my experience, this is the thinking that dominates the Evangelical Christian crowd who believe that their form of “salvation” includes prosperity of mind, soul, body, and pocketbook. This set of religious rules can be highly self-centered by providing future rewards in this life and in Heaven for teaching people to fish. So it’s not just about the teaching; it’s about the reward for so doing, which doesn’t depend on the outcome. Hence, it’s very easy to say “teach a man to fish,” because that’s where the responsibility ends.

It would appear the Trump administration is attempting to change the way Washington looks at spending by invoking the shallow thinking of certain Evangelical Christian teachings, which is, I suppose, exactly what Mr. Trump’s followers asked him to do. They will try and it will all fail, because those teachings are self-centered and conveniently bypass entirely the “love your neighbor” mandate. Oh I know the contrary arguments. I used to believe them and teach them myself.

Life is not manageable, no matter what you believe. Life is chaotic. Order is “the dream of man,” as Henry Adams noted long ago. And the book says that “time and chance” occurs to everyone anyway regardless of their faith and witness.

You want to redefine compassion through a spiritual message? How about “Thy will, not mine be done?” Living life on life’s terms (and not my own) is the greatest personal challenge we all face in the expression of our compassion for others.