Friday, March 2, 2012

The Far Right vs. The Christian Ethic: Who is my Neighbor?

by Nomad

Parable Samaritan Christianity

Although I wouldn't classify myself as a devout Christian, I have been raised as one and am familiar, at least, with the philosophy of the teachings. One of my favorite stories from the New Testament is the one known as “The Good Samaritan.”

Most people think of this story as a call to charity for those less fortunate and in this narrow sense, I suppose that is true. However, there's a lot more to it than just being a "do-gooder" or being politically correct and or even about doing a favor for somebody when he is down on his luck. It's not about being a "bleeding heart."

The parable does have that aspect, of course, but, like many famous parables, there's more than what meets the eye.

How do You Interpret It?
Jesus often encountered skeptical audiences during his short ministry. There were many in the crowd that wanted to see this young rebel run afoul of the authorities, both the clerics and the Roman government.
And behold, a lawyer stood up and put him to the test, saying ,”Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?  How do you interpret it?”
And the lawyer answered, “You should love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. And you should love your neighbor as you love yourself. And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will have eternal life.” But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half-dead.  Now by chance, a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed to the other side.  So, likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, crossed to the other side of the road. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound his wounds, pouring on oil and wine and then set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and he took care of him.  And the next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I return.’
Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell amongst the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed mercy on the victim.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Samaritans were hated by the story's target audience, the Jews, to such a degree that the lawyer did not mention them by name but as "The one who had mercy on him." The Samaritans, in turn, hated the Jews.

The reason for all that enmity was religious and the entitlement of being a chosen people which both groups claimed. Both accused each other of worshiping in the wrong way. So you could say that there was an underlying message of the current religious and ethnic tension (not unlike our own political tensions). The parable brought home the message to the audience that, despite whatever differences might exist, we all have a duty to help one another.

"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than burnt sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).
So, it seems as though the story, rather than doing good deeds, was more about showing mercy to others and taking on the responsibility of giving assistance when others- even people of a higher social rank- turn their backs. Indeed, the Samaritan might have easily said, "It's not my problem" and continued walking like the others. Or, he could have said, "God is punishing that man for some evil he has done." 
A hundred excuses could have been found but the bottom line, if my understanding of the parable is correct, is that every man and woman has a duty.  And that duty is to be responsible for the welfare of his neighbor. As John Calvin wrote:
"mankind is knit together with a holy knot ... we must not live for ourselves, but for our neighbors."

The Parable of the Three Servants

It's not like that one parable was a unique teaching in the Christian faith. Here's another passage  from Mathew (called the Parable of the Three Servants) that makes it quite clear where Jesus stood when it came to helping the needy:
Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ "
Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
Then compare this remark by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly from February of 2012:
The mistake [Romney] is making is not dealing with the true causes of poverty, thereby showing real concern for the impoverished. That's what all politicians should do. And the causes are these: poor education, addiction, irresponsible behavior, and laziness. That's right, far-left people. Some folks are lazy.
Or Rush Limbaugh who, having heard a report that children might go hungry now that school lunch programs would be discontinued during the summer months gave this helpful advice. He proposed a regular segment on his show pointing out to children where they could find food:
Now that school is out, where to find food. We can have a daily feature on this. And this will take us all the way through the summer. Where to find food. And, of course, the first will be: "Try your house." It's a thing called the refrigerator. You probably already know about it. Try looking there. There are also things in what's called the kitchen of your house called cupboards. And in those cupboards, most likely you're going to find Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, Lays ridgy potato chips, all kinds of dip and maybe a can of corn that you don't want, but it will be there. If that doesn't work, try a Happy Meal at McDonald's. You know where McDonald's is. There's the Dollar Menu at McDonald's and if they don't have Chicken McNuggets, dial 911 and ask for Obama.
There's another place if none of these options work to find food; there's always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people? 
Limbaugh has, of course, made a career of being unrepentant, obnoxious and loud. As he wrote in 2005 in the Wall Street Journal:
I love being a conservative. We conservatives are proud of our philosophy. Unlike our liberal friends, who are constantly looking for new words to conceal their true beliefs and are in a perpetual state of reinvention, we conservatives are unapologetic about our ideals.
Everybody needs their own set of rationalizations, I suppose.
A frequent guest on CNN, FOX, and MSNBC, Neil Boortz is also a nationally syndicated radio talk show host made these statements about the victims of Hurricane Katrina:
Cries of the downtrodden, my left butt cheek. That wasn't the cries of the downtrodden; that's the cries of the useless, the worthless. New Orleans was a welfare city, a city of parasites, a city of people who could not and had no desire to fend for themselves. You have a hurricane descending on them and they sit on their fat asses and wait for somebody else to come rescue them. "It's somebody else's job to get me out of here. It's somebody else's job to save my life. Not mine. Send me a bus, send me a limo, send me a boat, send me a helicopter, send me a taxi, send me something. But you certainly don't expect me to actually work to get myself out of this situation, do you? Haven't you been watching me for generations? I've never done anything to improve my own lot in life. I've never done anything to rescue myself. Why do you expect me to do that now, just because a levee broke?"
That comes from a man named one of the “25 Most Important Radio Talk Show Hosts in America.” 
And yet, to hear these people, staunch defenders of the Far Right and the One-percent, you would be forgiven for thinking that they had some kind of monopoly on Christian values.

And Tea Party members with bumper-stickers of "What would Jesus do?"   and who salute "God, Family, Nation" with a hand over their hearts compose the majority of the audiences for such Far Right talk shows and Fox News. 

When I read some of the quotes of people from the Christian Right,  like Pat Robertson, I can't understand how they can even be considered Christian at all.  How they can reconcile their so-called religious values with the words of the founders of their faith is a mystery or perhaps, a shameful ignorance.

Still, they rationalize voting for a party that openly boasted of torture and has taken pride in cutting programs that help poor children and pregnant women. How these strange people can call themselves Christians is an undeniable hypocrisy. Or perhaps a sign of both a religion and a nation in decline.