Another example of a Christian who gets it.

I’ve said many times that I’d have no problems with most Christians if the majority actually practiced what they preach, but unfortunately those sorts tend to be the exceptions to the rule. Ironically not only do most Christians not understand or follow the tenets of their professed faith, but a good majority of the ones who don’t get it think they’re the only ones who have gotten it right.  Bill McKibben is another one of those exceptions as he demonstrates with an essay he originally wrote this past August titled The Christian Paradox – How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong. It’s a long, but well written essay that lays out how the most Christian nation on the planet acts in a manner that’s very unChrist-like.

Ours is among the most spiritually homogenous rich nations on earth. Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans—about 75 percent—claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 33 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration. In fact, there is nothing else that unites more than four fifths of America. Every other statistic one can cite about American behavior is essentially also a measure of the behavior of professed Christians. That’s what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity.

But is it Christian? This is not a matter of angels dancing on the heads of pins. Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers. What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. What would we find then?

In answering this question the first part of Bill’s essay sounds a lot like the recent study which showed that high religious belief is bad for society:

In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And it’s not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It’s also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose—childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool—we come in nearly last among the rich nations, and often by a wide margin. The point is not just that (as everyone already knows) the American nation trails badly in all these categories; it’s that the overwhelmingly Christian American nation trails badly in all these categories, categories to which Jesus paid particular attention. And it’s not as if the numbers are getting better: the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last year that the number of households that were “food insecure with hunger” had climbed more than 26 percent between 1999 and 2003.

This Christian nation also tends to make personal, as opposed to political, choices that the Bible would seem to frown upon. Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers. We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners). Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest. Despite Jesus’ strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate—just over half—that compares poorly with the European Union’s average of about four in ten. That average may be held down by the fact that Europeans marry less frequently, and by countries, like Italy, where divorce is difficult; still, compare our success with, say, that of the godless Dutch, whose divorce rate is just over 37 percent. Teenage pregnancy? We’re at the top of the charts. Personal self-discipline—like, say, keeping your weight under control? Buying on credit? Running government deficits? Do you need to ask?

From there Bill goes on to offer his theories on what the nature of the problem happens to be: That most American Christians have replaced the Christianity of the Bible with several competing creeds that tend to be focused more on themselves as opposed to their neighbors. After all, as Bill points out, when asked by the Pharisees what the core of the law was Jesus replied with:

    You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The focus is first on God and then on your neighbor, not on yourself. This is not the sort of Christianity most Christians seem to be practicing. Not surprisingly either as it’s a very difficult way to live your life, but then the Bible says that Jesus said as much at the time. I may not believe in Gods or that the history presented in the Bible is literal truth, but the core messages therein aren’t bad ideas. It’s just a shame so few Christians seem willing to even try to practice what’s in the Bible they profess to follow. Who knows? If more of them did the world might actually end up a better place after all.

20 thoughts on “Another example of a Christian who gets it.

  1. Nice article Les, I read it with interest, and it really confirms what most of us knew already. Christianity is in essence not a bad belief system, if only people would apply it to themselves, instead they choose to use christian values as a yardstick with which to judge and condemn others.

  2. Yes, as carrot-and-stick systems go, Christianity is not as bad as some and takes a lot of credit for getting us this far.  Given the fact that any larger social order is an ad hoc system bucking our selfish genes, it’s a moot point whether we’ll ever get to the point where godless, enlightened self-interest will be convincing enough for the majority to pay taxes and not pee in the pool…

  3. First, some glaring innacuracies in the article’s numbers: Americans give about $200 billion per year to private charities.  That’s only counting cash gifts—add in the 20 billion hours of volunteer work Americans give every year at the median US wage of $15 per hour, and you’re at half a trillion dollars—or almost $4,800 per US household.  How this guy got from there to 6 cents a day is something I’d like to see him explain.

    As a socialist, this guy would prefer that all charity be performed by Big Momma Government.  As a Christian, I would prefer my charity to actually help people.  To that end, I support an immediate halt to all government-funded foreign aid.  The US is out front on this issue by spending very little on foreign aid, but we can do better.

    To the extent that government-funded aid has any effect whatsoever, it generally serves to support dictatorships and worsen the lot of ordinary citizens.  Foreign aid is universally government-to-government aid.  When the United States gives $50 million in wheat “to Zimbabwe”, what really happens is that the wheat goes to blood-soaked dicatator Robert Mugabe and his cronies.  Not surprisingly, this does enormous harm to the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe.  Often, government officials will obliterate the American flag on sacks of free food aid, and sell it on the open market to fund their operations.

    Private charities, on the other hand, have to show results if they want to keep bringing in donations.  They tend to distribute their aid directly to those in need.  Occasionally, host governments will steal food from an outfit like the Red Cross, but the result is that further shipments are halted.

    In short, “What Would Jesus Do?” I’ll tell you what he’d do: he’d say “Stop stealing the hard-earned money of working Americans and giving it to people like Mugabe, Kabila, and Aristide!”

    Now a few numbers which have some basis in reality.  John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write for The Economist in London.  Here’s an excerpt from their new book studying the differences between America and Europe:

    The idea that wealth entails responsibility went much deeper than billionaires. Americans of all degrees of wealth have been unusually generous with their money. Even while he was a poor clerk in Cleveland, Rockefeller gave away a fixed proportion of his income. More important still, Americans have been unusually generous with their time. Voluntary organizations designed to solve society’s problems have flourished more lavishly in the United States than perhaps any other country. Today American philanthropic contributions account for about 1 percent of national income, compared with between 0.2 percent and 0.8 percent in Europe. Crucially, Americans much prefer to give away their money themselves, rather than let their government do it: foreign aid is a pathetic portion of government spending.

    Philanthropy Magazine:

    American philanthropist Daniel Rose observed last year that the French “are bemused to learn that American private charitable contributions this year will exceed $200 billion, equal to about 10 percent of the total federal budget; that some 70 percent of U.S. households make charitable cash contributions; and that over half of all U.S. adults will volunteer an estimated 20 billion hours in charitable activities.” Nor, Rose adds, are the French alone in their astonishment: “A recent German study reports that on a per capita basis, American citizens contribute to charity nearly seven times as much as their German counterparts and that about six times as many Americans as Germans do volunteer work.”

    It’s not surprising that this yahoo defines a “good Christian” in terms of government spending.  Liberals despise the idea of private charity because it contradicts their desire for the government to be Society’s Universal Problem-Solver.

  4. Here I am thinking the logical thing- what Jesus taught was a way to live. By following that way the “Kingdom of God” was not some far off thing that was a reward at the “end time.” Rather it was a “state of grace” that was to be given to us in the present.

    (Remember these Jews thought the “end time” would come while they were still alive. In some aspects they were a dooms-day cult.)

    Whatever you think the church is telling you, – salvation and its reward in the afterlife was not the intention of Jesus. Rather he preached a way of living that afforded us the “kingdom of God” here and now.

    Remember, living and showing by example leads to a “state of grace” while trying to convert others to your way of thinking, (Do as I say, not as I do!) could be called the proverbial “devils work.”

    This means evangelism is not the way, and to travel down that road is self- defeating from a spiritual point of view.

    To try and convert the “unbelievers” or the “infidels” is only the religious heirarchy telling us what to do. Believe me – anything they tell you is self-serving.

    If you want to find God, look inward, not outward. This is the real message of Jesus, -not the Pauline thought that morphed into the modern church.

    Your humble scribe;
    Allan wink

  5. Liberals despise the idea of private charity because…

    If removal of public/government charity and an increase of private charity (which is implied to be a better, Christian form of charity) would guarantee Christianity to get out of the public sphere and into the private, I am all for it.

  6. Uber Gaijin: If removal of public/government charity and an increase of private charity (which is implied to be a better, Christian form of charity) would guarantee Christianity to get out of the public sphere and into the private, I am all for it.

    One minor niggle: Private charity is not just better charity, it is the only charity.  Tax money is taken at gunpoint, on threat of imprisonment.  Nothing done with tax money can ever be considered “charity” in the Christian sense, because it is not voluntary.  Charity is always voluntary; that is why God praises it.  If a homeless man pulls out a knife and steals my wallet, the fact that he’s poor doesn’t somehow make it “charity”.  I didn’t give him my wallet, he took it.

    Your offer is certainly acceptable to me.  Unfortunately, liberals will have to be dragged to this point kicking and screaming.

    Give a welfare mom one year of having to support herself and her kids instead of living off the public dole, and it will do her more good than 100 years of people like me nagging her.  Without the welfare state to support irresponsible promiscuity, social conservatives wouldn’t need to tell people to stay celibate before marriage.  You think inner-city girls would be having 6 or 7 kids with 5 or 6 different fathers, if they had to pay to raise them?  They’d stay celibate as an act of self-preservation.  Deep down, liberals know this.

  7. moses: salvation and its reward in the afterlife was not the intention of Jesus. Rather he preached a way of living that afforded us the “kingdom of God

  8. Its all garbage and drivel your last two posts Daryl…but Humourous garbage!.Keep it up mate!.Its always funny when the red-neck god-botherers argue amoungst themselves.

  9. Daryl,

    Yes, there’s lots of great examples of how the government as helped people become more self-supporting by turning them out into the street or into the care of their overburdened families (think closure of mental health facilities back in the 60s and 70s).

    Why those schizophrenics, and mentally handicapped folk found a wonderful welcome on your local streetcorner. Do try to toss them a coin now and then—perhaps not. You’d only be keeping them from seeking gainful employment.

    As for the single (abandoned) mothers and their welfare children, I can only say, “are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses. Are they still in operation?”

    Oh, wait a minute. The prisons are FULL and the workhouses gone—what a pity. 

    I’ll tell you one thing, Daryl, if the threat of death or starvation kept people from procreating, there wouldn’t be a one of us alive. Our ancestor mothers faced those risks every single time they had another child. 

    Yes, there are people who abuse the system but they aren’t all single moms —nor are they the norm.  Exactly what do you personally know about the caseload in welfare offices. Have you ever worked there? Have you seen the poor and the disabled? Get a grip on reality. Talk to me about it when you’ve done some time there. The abusers may be the most frustrating, but that’s not the norm.

    In terms of government caring for their people, you Americans might want to take a look at the crappy job you do with medical care: Nearly 40 million people without coverage. And many WITH only minimal coverage—People who don’t seek treatment because of the cost and then die for no reason other than that there’s a sense that the government has no responsibility to ensure the basic health of the people.

    Just what do you think the government should be doing with your tax dollars? Invading yet another country? (for a peace-loving nation, you’re one of the most war-seeking nations around.) Lining the pockets of the wealthy? (Let’s hear it for more tax cuts to the upper income brackets!) Rebuilding after Katerina? (Let’s get rid of all those pesky labor rules. You wouldn’t want to burden Haliburton and buddies with fair pay for a day’s work—it’d cut into the massive profits that lie ahead!)

    Please point out to me how you care for the poorest of the poor, the weakest, the most helpless. Conservatives like to talk about how America is a “Christian nation” [sic] so please show me how the nation, and the government as representative of that nation, does its Christian best to care for those of its own who desperately need its help. 

    What frosts me (and many other heathens like me) is the complete hypocracy illustrated by those who claim to follow Jesus’ teaching but espouse beliefs that are completely inconsistent with his words. And then you have the gall to justify it all by blaming the poorest of the poor for their own state. Shame on you!

  10. Daryl;
    Let me set you straight on a few things my friend! Just because you have been so brainwashed by your religion that you can sit there and quote scripture to me in no way means that these “sayings” were actualy uttered by the historical Jesus.
    (Actualy I can say with certainty that they were not. We cannot treat the Bible as literal truth otherwise the earth would only be seven thousand years old as well.)
    As for the comments about welfare and single moms, that is a downright disgrace to paint them all with the same brush.
    I can tell from your statements that you are a dyed-in the wool Conservative who votes Republican. (Not that there is anything with that!) What is wrong is that you are a reacionary in the extreme.
    Allan W Janssen

  11. Interesting article, Les. 
    America is certainly not a Christian nation.
    Christians unfortunately do not always practice what they preach but the truth is that there was only one true Christian in the world-that is Jesus Christ.  The rest of us are sinners and so we look to his perfect life (and substitutionary death) for your righteousness.  It’s not about being good, but about being justified.  “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16)

    Well said, Daryll!

    Moses, that’s pretty amazing that you can say with certainty that Jesus did not say what the Bible says He said. Don’t worry-you WILL get a chance to meet Him face to face on judgement day and He will set you straight on the whole thing.  (Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. Hebrews 9:27)  You believe that Daryl was brainwashed by “his religion”.  Is there not a chance that you have been brainwashed by the things you have read and want to believe?  And about being “reactionary to the extreme”-I think that’s more of the pot calling the kettle black than anything else. 

    Frumpa, from Moses own mouth, he shows himself NOT to be a Christian so why do you like to hide behind the idea that there are 2 Christians who can’t agree?

    I could say more, but it’s all “foolishness to those who are perishing” anyway.  (1 Corinthians 1:18)  Hopefully you are those who come into the light…
    Blessings-Truly

  12. First, let me just say that I am surprised to be defending Daryl…very interesting…

    Daryl,

    Yes, there’s lots of great examples of how the government as helped people become more self-supporting by turning them out into the street or into the care of their overburdened families (think closure of mental health facilities back in the 60s and 70s).

    Their families would not be overburdened if the government would stop using force to take the fruit of peoples labor and using it at its whim.

    Why those schizophrenics, and mentally handicapped folk found a wonderful welcome on your local streetcorner. Do try to toss them a coin now and then—perhaps not. You’d only be keeping them from seeking gainful employment.

    It should not be the role of the government to take by force and redistribute as it sees fit. It should be the role of communities to donate what they can to help those in need. In fact, it was the role of family and communities around a hundred years ago. Government is not some magical entity that can do things man cannot. It is but an organization of man.

    As for the single (abandoned) mothers and their welfare children, I can only say, “are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses. Are they still in operation?

  13. From Daryl

    One minor niggle

    Damn…I forgot about that.  I wouldn’t even call that minor.

  14. Andrew Brown bleats: It’s not about being good, but about being justified.  “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.

  15. Religion, wish I had more time to play with you today—Instead I would say only that your attitude is one that suggests that you subscribe to the notion that all of the problems that people face emerge through their own actions or through laziness. Unfortunately, many people experience poverty, disability, lack of physical and emotional resources through no fault of their own. People can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they don’t own any.

    You help them?

    Specifically how?

    You show them how to make ends meet?

    Again, how?

    You make them ask for help?

    Huh?

    You refuse help if they are capable of working but refuse to do so

    Good idea. We work on that all the time. The problem is that a too restrictive system necessarily cuts many people truly in need. Better to give to someone who doesn’t deserve it than deny someone truly in need (Hey, I sounded a lot like a Christian there for aminute!)

    You do not just have the government rob the people and give handouts to people. That just promotes more of the same.

    I don’t believe that the government hands out money that way, and I’d be interested in seeing your reference for your contention that handing out help to people in need promotes need. (That is what you meant, isn’t it?)

    No one I know would refuse food to the starving or clothing or shelter to those in need

    Well, “many would rather die than ask [their friends and neighbors for it]for it.” Perhaps we’d best let them die so they can “reduce the surplus population.” (Quotes from Dickens, by the way—Union workhouses—see Scrooge.)

    …though many I know could not well afford to do either since the government steals a large chunk of their money

    You’ll get no argument from me on that score.

    It sounds like a great idea to teach men to be responsible for their children, but the reality is that many men do not behave responsibly. How would you fix that? You can’t complain about single mothers while simultaneously reducing access to sex education, abortion, morning after pills, day care and so on. Praying about it won’t work either, by the way.

    I don’t happen to believe in big government—the less interference, the better. But I still don’t see how your idea of a Christian nation takes care of the poorest of the poor—something Christians are charged to do.

  16. I have been listening to all these quotes from the bible and realized that there is enough ambiguity in the scriptures to satisfy almost any position, (right down to slavery)so let me leave you with two quotes of my own. The first is from my book “God-101, what the church doesn’s want you to know” and that is;
    *I’m thinking about all the people that tell me I am going to hell if I don’t conduct my life the way THEY want me to!
    These are the Creationists, the Fundamentalists, the Islamic Extremists, people from Kansas, short people, etc. etc. etc.
    Well! – The ultimate “get even” is that Judgement Day doesn’t apply unless you’re a BELIEVER!
    If you believe that the Bible or the Koran is the “literal” word of God then there certainly will be a judgement day for you! That’s because you brought it on yourself!
    Austa La Vista, Baby!
    * The next is a statement that probably sums up things far more succintly that I ever could. It’s from Cheech and Chong album where Ashley Roachclip says; “You’re all fucked!” 

  17. But I still don’t see how your idea of a Christian nation takes care of the poorest of the poor—something Christians are charged to do.

    Heavy cynicism alert:

    Hardships and tribulations are sent to those favored by the Christian deity. As long as they live a devout life, there will be ample rewards in heaven.

  18. Religion, wish I had more time to play with you today—Instead I would say only that your attitude is one that suggests that you subscribe to the notion that all of the problems that people face emerge through their own actions or through laziness.

    Actually, I believe that most problems do come because of peoples actions. However, I would qualify that by stating that their actions are poor because they are trained by our government to lack critical thinking and logic. I cannot realistically place blame upon those who have been the victim of mis-education.

    Unfortunately, many people experience poverty, disability, lack of physical and emotional resources through no fault of their own. People can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they don’t own any.

    Very true. I would like to see us go back to times when people had the means to help those in need…rather than having their gain stolen by the government to use as it sees fit.

    Me: You help them?

    Specifically how?

    As best you can. If the majority of the money I earn was not stolen before I saw it, I would be more than happy to give food, clothing, and shelter to those who need it. I do to a small extent anywise, but it is hard going when some months I can barely support my own family.

    Me: You show them how to make ends meet?

    Again, how?

    By giving them work in return for food, shelter, and clothing. By showing them how to save money and get help. By showing them why being responsible with money is the only way they are likely to get out of their current state.

    Me: You make them ask for help?

    Huh?

    If a person is unwilling to go out and seek help, then a person is not yet willing to help themselves. If they will not help themselves, then I see no reason to help them. Yes, this does not work for those who simply cannot request help for some reason, but such people generally have others who can and will do so for them.

    If someone is not aware of others in need, they need to be made aware of it before they can help.

    Me: You refuse help if they are capable of working but refuse to do so

    Good idea. We work on that all the time. The problem is that a too restrictive system necessarily cuts many people truly in need. Better to give to someone who doesn’t deserve it than deny someone truly in need (Hey, I sounded a lot like a Christian there for aminute!)

    We do not work at this. We rely on the government to do it. Instead, we would be better served by having local charities that help those in need and donating to them. Sitting back and letting the government provide to others (by taking from those who may not be able to afford it) is not the right approach.

    Me: You do not just have the government rob the people and give handouts to people. That just promotes more of the same.

    I don’t believe that the government hands out money that way, and I’d be interested in seeing your reference for your contention that handing out help to people in need promotes need. (That is what you meant, isn’t it?)

    What is not to believe?
    How is the taking of peoples earned money (under threat of fines, jail, and loss of property) not using force? Coercion is force.

    Handing out help with no required attempt at responsibility promotes the reliance upon such help without any attempt to force people to wean themselves from such.

    Teaching people that they do not neet to contribute to society to get food/clothing/shelter/etc is not going to fix anything. Welfare (as it is) is the taking by force from some to give it to others.

    Me: No one I know would refuse food to the starving or clothing or shelter to those in need

    Well, “many would rather die than ask [their friends and neighbors for it]for it.

  19. I agree with the post. Let me give you one example.

    For a long time, I was simply unconcerned about the issue of same-sex marriage. It was to me like a paper or plastic bag issue, something which I am sure concerns some people but I could not really care for.

    I once saw this Church which had a prominent sign outside saying “We support same-sex marriage.” I spoke to the person and after some research by myself, I realised how fundamental an issue of equality it is. So interestingly enough, for me, the formulation of my positive views of same-sex marriage stems from the Church.

  20. Speaking of the paper or plastic bag issue, happily I am bi-sacksual. And, yes, the same-sex marriage is a very fundamental issue of equality. But, so is the right to “life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness.” Where the government takes away any of these rights from some and distributes them to others which it chooses, it is “legal” robbery. But, the people have a responsibility to chose leaders and support leglislation that agrees with the Constitution (and with basic human needs) and, as Vaclav Havel said in his book, “The Art of The Impossible,” “The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we got used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore each other, to care only for outselves. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility, and forgiveness lost their depth and dimentions, and for many of us they came to represent only psychological peculiarities, or to resemble long-lost greetings from ancient times, a little ridicululous in the era of computers and spaceships. . . I am talking about all of us. We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unalterable fact of live, and thus we helped to perpetuate it. In other words, we are all—though naturally to different extents—responsible for the operation of totalitarian machinery. None of us is just its victim: we are all also its cocreators.” Mr. Havel became President of Czechoslovakia December 22, 1989. October 27 of that same year he had been arrested and did not know if he would be in prison for “for two days or for two years.”

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