One of the most exciting things about the internet when I first encountered it was the access to foreign points of view; to a truly international view of the world by getting, first-hand, the opinions of people in foreign countries. I remember finding the Irish Times website, and reading an article by an Irish Catholic in Belfast (if I remember correctly), and her first experience crossing the street into the Protestant section of the city, after the Good Friday accords. She crossed a city street, but she might as well have crossed into a completely foreign country familiar only because they still spoke the same language.
I thought that now, finally, we would all cross such streets. Sadly, no.
This article in Salon is so good, so much a matter of crossing that street, I almost want to announce it with trembling excitement. I will not quote much from it except to take these excerpts the article itself quotes, from the Christian Peoples Alliance of Britain:
“The Christian Peoples Alliance believes that Britain will return to economic prosperity when government chooses instead to put human relationships in right order. This requires power, income and wealth to be redistributed and for greater equality to be achieved. These are deeply spiritual convictions and reflect a Biblical pattern of priorities…By the end of the next Parliament, the CPA will establish the reduction of inequality as a national target, so that the ratios of the incomes of the top 20 per cent are reduced to no more than five and a half times the incomes of the bottom 20 per cent.”And this, from the European Christian Political Foundation:
“‘After Capitalism’ seeks to rethink the foundations of a market economy and argues that the Bible’s central theme of relationships is the key to rebuilding a system that promotes economic well-being, financial stability and social cohesion.”This is not what most Americans think of as "Christianity." Indeed, despite the "World Wide Web" most comments I encounter on Christianity (and occasionally Islaml and that link is just one example among many; comments at HuffPo's Religion page can make you tear your hair out) are remarkably parochial, if not just blinkered and ignorant. Despite access to the world wide web, we aren't expanding our horizons, we're contracting them.
Read the article, as I said. This is extremely refreshing thinking, especially after the drivel that passes for "Christianity" so commonly proclaimed in the U.S. press. This thinking is not unusual in America; it just largely goes unheard. The United Church of Christ, for example, says what almost every mainline American Christian denomination would say:
But things are a little simpler for people of faith. We measure the economy against one fundamental truth: the earth and all that is in it belong to God (Ps. 24:1). Moreover, God intends that we fully share God’s gifts (Exodus 16: 16-18). But we know that this radical equality is not reflected in the economic realities of our world. Some of us have very little while others have very much.Not a sentiment you would hear from the public face of Christianity in this country, a public face that is largely Mike Huckabee and Michelle Bachmann and occasionally Rick Warren. None of those people are famous for their compassion for the poor. Warren, to pick an actual practicing minister, specifically disavows wealth redistribution; he prefers wealth creation. But, as Stoker and Breunig say, that attitude isn't Christianity, it is:
As people of faith, before we begin working to change the economic system, we must first discern, as best we can, a vision of God's will for our society and our economy. For many people, this would be a world where no one is poor, homeless, living in substandard housing, or lacking the nutritious food needed for a healthy life. Everyone who wanted a job would have one.
just a particular flavor of right-wing political culture, one that opts for Christian language and rhetoric when communicating its message. ....[I]t is their freestanding political commitments that inform their Christianity, not the other way around.
Or, as Rick Warren infamously put it: "HALF of America pays NO taxes. Zero. So they're happy for tax rates to be raised on the other half that DOES pay taxes." As I've said before, Dorothy Day he ain't. Today I could add, he's no Pope Francis, either.
Now, are any of these sentiments from these European groups more widely publicized than the statement of the UCC? I honestly don't know, but it is ignored in this country because it is "socialism." Or because it simply doesn't blindly support American capitalism, and in this country money is our great green god.
The admonition of Romans 12:2 is that Christians should not be conformed to the world; John 15:19 puts the sentiment in the mouth of Jesus. Poverty is of the world; it is of human systems. Treating it as if it were God's will, God's plan, or simply as if THEY were trying to take from YOU, is a perversion of Christianity. It's the theology of scarcity. But despite the proclamations of infamously public "Christians," we are not a "Christian nation:"
It seems especially perverse that people purporting to be Christian, a religion that vows to help the poor and heal the sick, should be so violently against helping the poor and healing the sick. Followers of a religion that preaches forgiveness and turning the other cheek, demand the right for the outright insane to own more and more weapons. Nuts, I'm afraid.
It's the "purporting to be Christian" that's the key point here. The most public Christians in our national life, people like Michelle Bachman who says Obamacare is a sign of the Apocalypse, are simply insane. There's no reason to be nice about it, people who make statements like that are nuts. They're notion of Christian justice is much closer to "just us." There are plenty of such exclusionary denominations in American Christianity, but why they are presumed to speak for the mass of American Christians is the central mystery. So the question is less "Why aren't we more like European Christians?", the question really is: "Why aren't we Christian at all?" Because there really isn't anything Christian about "Screw the poor, they're the problem!"
But there's the reason we hear from Rick Warren and Mike Huckabee and not the UCC or any other mainline denomination: "Follow the money." Warren is a best selling author who used his fame to host a Presidential debate. Huckabee is a huckster, selling things just like the late Jerry Falwell did, just like Pat Robertson does. Michelle Bachmann relentlessly promotes Michelle Bachmann; the Christian crazy is just lagniappe. They get attention because they are rich, or famous; not because they are religious.
It's fairly easy to trace this back to American origins. The Puritans, judging by the documents they left behind, were as concerned with success as with spiritual matters. It is not that material wealth meant more to them than spiritual health, but the former did not always determine the latter. An ascetic lifestyle, in other words, they did not pursue; but they certainly pursued a publicly religious one. It was the latter that they lamented the loss of; you can see it in William Bradford's history of Plymouth Plantation, in Cotton Mather's history of the Salem Witch Trials, in the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne 200 years after the Puritans landed here. The connection of God's blessing and material wealth runs deep in American culture, and it wasn't long connected to the harvest blessing of Deuteronomy. Americans quickly accepted the assertion of Benjamin Franklin that "God helps those who help themselves," and that sentiment defined both their relationship to God, and to the poor among them. That the quote is actually contrary to Biblical teachings didn't slow down those who prefer their Bible to be as American as possible.
So maybe this really is a cultural thing. What is certainly isn't, is a Christian thing. It is taken up as a verity of American cultural Christianity (the kind practiced publicly by people like Michelle Bachmann and Sara Palin). It is a central tenet of the Christianity of some, even those in the churches. But it is no more Biblical than capitalism itself, and no more of God than racism or poverty.
We might have to cross the Pond to finally get a clear perspective on that; but whether we actually see and hear is up to us. "Those who have ears had better listen!" is a Biblical admonition; and that one does put the responsibility where it belongs.