Predictably, and with far more justification than at Thanksgiving, the Leesburg Daily Commercial exhorted readers of its Easter Sunday editorial to surrender their souls to Christ. Like many local rags in the Bible Belt, the appeal to the evangelical tradition was stronger than the quality of the writing. “Jesus,” we are told, “provides hope and salvation to a lost and corrupt world. Jesus provides light and direction in a dark, dismal world.” But inattention to verbal repetition was the least of the Daily Commercial‘s sins, for there was a far more offensive repetition on display on this “day the Lord has made” for us to remember the sacrifice of his son on the cross. Of all the days to fail to exercise some editorial discretion, today was a shocking occasion to allow the Republican fabulist Russ Sloan to indulge himself in yet another riff against the welfare state and thereby insult everything that the life of Christ represented.1 For while the editors of the Daily Commercial are quite correct to note that Jesus was not “the lunatic or the liar some religious critics assert,” they are horribly misguided if they think Jesus was also a plutocrat.
Russ Sloan’s Web of Deceit
Up to his usual tricks, both thematically and stylistically, Sloan derides the welfare state (such as it is) as a political web used to lure voting flies to the side of power-hungry donkeys, er, spiders. He neglects to mention that agribusiness corporations are the biggest lobbyists in favor of food stamps; that extended unemployment benefits provide a big “bang-for-the-buck” by keeping money flowing through local economies; or that a society without health care is economically inefficient as well as inequitable. There is no room for other points of view in Russ Sloan’s church: it’s Social Darwinism or else.
Thus, on the day that allegedly highlights the Christian calendar, we are treated to a passage from Ben Franklin:
“I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
[Sloan now:] This certainly sounds harsh by today’s standards but there is more than a grain of truth in Franklin’s observation for many who fall below the poverty level.
Ben Franklin could not, and Russ Sloan apparently has not, traveled to contemporary Scandinavia, where state action ensures a far more even distribution of wealth than that which obtains in the plutocrats’ paradise of the United States. Nor did they observe that these countries rank above the United States year after year in international comparisons of living standards. Norway, according to a profile in Inc Magazine that would blow every fuse in Russ Sloan’s brain, is actually a great place to be an entrepreneur precisely because of its social welfare system. But, heck, what are mere statistics in the face of ideology – or hypocrisy? For beyond Russ Sloan’s callous ignorance is his brazen misrepresentation of “entitlement mentality” as a disease that afflicts only the poor (with a particular emphasis on poor blacks for added Southern piquancy). As we have noted earlier, there is a larger entitlement crisis in America that has absolutely nothing to do with the poor.
Every time Russ Sloan bleats about disabled workers receiving Social Security benefits, one might want to pause and consider the magnitude of the disability benefits distributed to America’s banks. Whenever Russ Sloan echoes Bill O’Reilly’s barb about “free stuff,” we would be well advised to ponder the $13 trillion (and counting) that the Federal Reserve has created, by computer keystrokes, to purchase the banks’ toxic waste at face value, thereby converting a private liability into a public one. This, for some reason, is a form of social-welfare assistance to which Russ Sloan does not object. When General Electric receives a corporate tax refund of $3.2 billion (2010 tax year) in addition to bail-out money for its financing arm and other subsidies, and Boeing enjoys a negative tax rate despite years of profitability, we hear nary a peep from the Daily Commercial‘s self-appointed guardian of the public purse. Where are the cries that these corporations don’t have any skin in the game? Where is the accusation that their political support has been bought by a crafty little spider? Where is the denunciation of dependency, or the warning against feeding wild animals?
At this point, we really want to tell Russ Sloan to take a long walk off a short pier. But since it’s Easter Sunday, we will suggest instead that he read the Bible.
Christianity and Economic Inequality: An Inconvenient Truth
Except for the Calvinists, whose work ethic has been tied by some historians to the onset of the industrial revolution, and the contemporary televangelists with their conveniently self-serving message of prosperity theology, Christians who take their faith seriously face a dilemma on the subject of earthly riches. In the Old Testament, wealth was not necessarily frowned upon; indeed, it was seen as a gift from God. But there was a caveat:
Prophets such as Amos castigated the rich for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy…. The Old Testament saw wealth as something good but warned the wealthy not to use their position to harm those with less. The rich had an obligation to alleviate the sufferings of the poor….. The goal of these [Old Testament] commandments was not only to protect the poor but also to prevent the excessive accumulation of wealth in a few hands.2
Once we get to the New Testament, the attitude towards wealth becomes distinctly more chilly. Christ’s observation that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-26) refers not so much to the evil of wealth per se but to the difficulty that rich men have in giving it up. Man cannot serve both God and Mammon. And what would God have us do? Matthew 25:31-46 provides a clear answer:
31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” 35 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” 36 “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” 38 “When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?” 39 “When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
40 The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
41 Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” 42 “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.” 43 “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
44 They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
45 He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
The Gospel of Mammon
For the shock troops of the modern American plutocracy like Cal Thomas and his local epigone Russ Sloan, the Biblical call for charity is apparently answered by personal giving to churches and other organizations, not by any redistributive efforts of the state. This is part of the reason why their pitch against higher taxes on the plutocracy never ceases to mention that the rich would not be able to give so much to charity were their capital gains taxed at the same rate as ordinary income. The first problem with that argument is that it is not true: the poor in America actually give a higher percentage of their incomes to charity than the rich.
The larger problem is that, in a complex, post-industrial society such as ours, with a system of government in which power is (theoretically, at least) derived from the people, and in which massive wealth and income inequalities continue to widen, this argument against state action to help the poor is ludicrously and insultingly inadequate. To contend that Jesus would have accepted such an argument on the technicality that there was no such thing as a federal government in his day is to set oneself up for a rude awakening when the sheep and the goats are separated. In a representative democracy, the actions of the state are the actions of the people. On which side of the Lord do you wish to be counted?
- Regular readers of the Leesburg Daily Commercial may have noticed that, since Russ Sloan’s retirement from LSCC, a small disclaimer has appeared at the end of his columns, disavowing any association with LSCC. Apart from the fact that this disclaimer should have appeared before Sloan’s retirement, one notes that there is no statement disassociating Sloan’s rabid viewpoints from those of the Daily Commercial itself. Does this omission represent a tacit admission from the editors that such a disclaimer would be laughably incredible? ↩
- Extracts from the wikipedia article on Christian views on poverty and wealth. ↩