Wednesday, November 5, 2008

If I were a religious man...

Note: the following post was written while I was "off meds," so please disregard anything that does not advance my thesis and appears to be pure assholery.

A friend of mine is a Christian liberal and frequently expresses her displeasure for Christian conservatives who oppose expansion of social welfare programs, as she does in this here post.

Because I am naturally contrarian, I decided to try to put myself in the mindset of a religious conservative, and after I got over my mental roadblock against treating ideas like "belief" and "hope" and so forth as anything other than the main source of humanity's problems, I think I got something, and even got a quote to help me out. (Sorry, no parable.)

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:21.

The Christian liberal views social welfare programs as people giving of themselves to serve the poor, as God told them to do. But the Christian conservative views social welfare programs not as serving God, but as serving Caesar. Caesar doesn't necessarily distribute funds according to God's word (I think there's a Holy Appropriations Bill somewhere in Leviticus); Caesar judges applicants for funding based on his own criteria, which occasionally include the good of society. The programs could be considered an attempt by Caesar to muscle in on God's "helping the poor" turf.

Furthermore, there's some question as to whether a social welfare program to which you are forced to contribute scores you any moral points at all. My friend and I have the same career and will likely make similar amounts of money. We'll contribute similarly to tax-funded social programs over the course of our lifetimes. She'll care a lot about the people the money is going to; I won't care much for them. Are we now equally holy?

And, of course, there's the issue over whether Caesar actually does a good job of running his programs. Many Christian conservatives think that social welfare programs could be run more efficiently and effectively by state and local governments or by private charities. Some will say that the reason we're still fighting Johnson's War on Poverty is because the government isn't getting the weapons they need: others will say that it's because the government's forces are following the wrong strategy.

So, that's my attempt to pretend to be a Christian conservative for a while. I did this to prove a point: that like it or not, people who disagree with you might have reasons for doing so other than being evil, stupid, or hypocritical. If you think you've stumbled upon some insight which is such a zinger as to destroy their entire worldview, it's likely that they've had that insight too, and have come up with an answer to it. For instance, I don't suppose that if I wrote something like "How does Obama reconcile his goal of 'improving relations with foreign countries' with his goal of 'reinstating tariffs on the things they try to sell us?'", my Democratic readers would freeze up, realize their entire lives have been based on lies, and renounce their faiths. They'd just tell me there was some sort of rational explanation (or dismiss me as evil, stupid, or hypocritical, but that's another story).

Personally, I've spent the last few years making a concerted effort to care less about things like poverty and the economy and justice and war and so forth, and I think it's the best thing I could've done. My stress level is much lower, I've lost 15 pounds, and I've learned the value of humility. After all, if the greatest minds in human history have been working on poverty and the economy and justice and war and so forth for thousands of years, and none of them have come up with a satisfactory solution, then what chance do I have?

(Oh, by the way, Litigious, I'm not as in-touch with today's slang as you are, so if you could fill me in on what a "bafoon" is I'd appreciate it.)

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