First there was this meme, challenging me to explain to my supposedly oppressed friends why I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton for President in 2016. A meme is that “unit of communication” invented in 1976 by the unregenerate Richard Dawkins.
Now comes another one, this time asking: “Why, when Jesus talks about feeding the poor, it’s Christianity but when a politician does it, it’s Socialism?” (Never mind that, as with almost all memes, this one too stumbles over grammar. Neither the word nor the concept of socialism is a proper name. It does not need to be capitalized. Or, to paraphrase Falkland’s maxim, which applies to the crafting of legislation but can be widely adapted: When it is not necessary to do it [capitalize], it is necessary not to do it.)
I have been challenged by variations of this meme, usually in phrasing like: “You want to separate children and parents at the border and you call yourself a Christian?” “You want to deny medical care to children and you call yourself a Christian?” “You object to feeding the hungry and yet you call yourself a Christian?”
Along the way it becomes obvious that the do-gooders in one particular political party in the U.S. have shrink-wrapped each of the party’s top issues into meme-ready non-sequiturs.
No, and No
Taking the last example above — a corollary to the first, and granting for the moment that it even deserves a response, my answers are No, and No.
No, I don’t object to feeding the hungry. And No, I don’t call myself a Christian. Christian is your word — which is essentially what Jesus answered when Pilate asked whether he was king of the Jews: “King is your word.”
“Christian” falls within the language of collectivism — grouping people according to some contrived characteristic or one vaguely held in common. (See Groupthink and Eric Hoffer.) This expedites the mission of social do-gooders: They can elevate, exonerate, or vilify all members of the group, the better to apply group solutions to problems not all members share or apply pressure and enforce restrictions that not all members deserve. It forces individuals, who do not perceive themselves as poor or distinguishable by skin color or harmed by derogatory epithets to line up like first-graders in the 1940s to be sprayed with the DDT of government protection.
I am a disciple of Jesus, the Christ — the Messiah presaged in the Old Covenant. And I am a creature — an individual creation, of El-Elyon, in awe of my God. I’ll confess straight up that Jesus deserves better disciples than I am. I don’t, however, fit your catch-all category under the heading of “Christian.”
So, No to calling myself a Christian. And No, I don’t think “we” should stop feeding the hungry or stop helping the poor or stop providing medical care to children. (It’s already illegal to deny medical care to children or emergency care to anyone of any age.)
What’s this “we” bullshit, anyway?
Here is where your memes disintegrate under inspection. There are two errors in the “we” part of your challenge. “We” is where you bring in coercion. And your “we” cannot answer Jesus’s challenge to me. I cannot participate in covering for you and whatever you and your friends do can’t fulfill the call issued to me, for Jesus challenged us as individuals.
I especially can’t fulfill the call issued to me by joining a mob that is extorting money from people you and your friends are jealous of and by giving that money to a gang of lawyers who will sprinkle a trickle of that cash over the heads of a few recipients who fit the mob’s profile of a deserving group. (As we already know, according to the accusers behind the meme, Christians do not deserve assistance of any kind, only exclusion and ridicule.) Jesus didn’t tell me to join a mob, then steal from one vilified group (rich people) and give it to a gang purporting to represent another group.
When Jesus talks about feeding the poor, he’s talking to me. He is watching what I do — with my money and my other resources — for someone I can reach out to. Jesus doesn’t care whether I funnel my charity through Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Jesus doesn’t call on me to first coerce someone else to open his purse so that I and my friends can redistribute the other man’s wealth. And Jesus especially doesn’t call on me to form or join some overwhelming mob/army/party/coalition and demand that others give to the poor at my mob’s behest.
So, yes, when a politician talks about feeding the poor, it’s socialism. It is grandstanding. It’s telling you that, if you vote for the right politicians, who will force the rich to fork over bigger “voluntary” income taxes to the lawyers in government — if you just agree with that tactic, you, who do not have the big bucks won’t have to contribute a dime but the poor will be fed and you will have met your Christian duty — if you call yourself a Christian.
But what if “we” don’t compel the rich to contribute more? What if we little people, collectively, can’t feed the poor just on the strength of our taxes and the taxes already seized from the rich?
In this country, the United States, the top half of taxpayers pay 97% of all federal income tax. And the top one percent account for 37.3% of total income tax revenues.* This isn’t their fair share? And, yes, we continually hear that this or that billionaire didn’t pay a penny in taxes last year. Really? And they aren’t in jail? Your trusted, innocent-eyed politicians have created the tax code. Crucify them, not the rich guys who used the loopholes the politicians created and kept their own money.
Jesus didn’t forbid us to contribute to organizations that we know are effectively helping people in need — a rare disease research foundation, the Soupman, the Red Cross — you can name several of your own. Jesus didn’t forbid us to work together to express our love for our neighbors, through a church, a local American Legion post, Habitat for Humanity, an ad hoc local committee to help a family who lost their home to a fire. For some generous people, a group effort is the most effective way to use their time, talent, and treasure. There is a chasm of difference between banding together voluntarily to help someone in need, and banding together to coerce others to pay for what you don’t want to pay for yourself.
Poverty in America
It seems to me that, before the welfare state was conceived and implemented in its modern form, there were the rich, there were the average folk, and there were the poor. It seems to me, also, that in the ninety or so years of continuous and lavishly-funded welfare in the western world, there are still the rich, the average folk, and the poor — in about the same proportions.
In the first 50 years of the federal War on Poverty, 1964 to 2013, taxpayers provided $22 trillion to be redistributed to poor people, adjusted for 2012 dollars.** (When the program began, a dollar was defined as 0.925 of an ounce of silver. That definition was rescinded with the coinage of 1965.) You can do the math on how much that $22 trillion amounts to per poor person who has lived during that period.
The big difference is the general state of poverty. What is now called poverty would have been pretty comfortable living conditions in this country a century ago. What was “middle class” (another collectivist term) when I was a kid is abject poverty today. It’s a matter of perspective. It’s not that the poor today lack food, although the truly poor do, and it’s not so much that those under today’s definition of poverty can’t meet the cost of rent plus other necessities, although the truly poor can’t. The state of poverty today in the United States is hugely a matter of community living conditions.
People who have been herded into victim groups and corralled in ghettos by the political system, and cheated of learning by the education system, are culturally, more than financially, deprived. The “solutions” arising from the instinct for collectivist intervention have solved nothing.
Public education suppresses individual inquiry. Labor law suppressed individual enterprise. Government funding of government-approved “arts” suppresses individual expression. And you wonder why people have not escaped the ghettos.
Before I listen to your argument that there isn’t enough money among us average folk to feed the poor in our individual, non-governmental efforts, I’ll wait for you to look into where all the money the rich are already contributing in taxes is going. I’ll wait for you to explain how nearly $42,000 per year per poor household of three, in food and subsidies and extra government services, did not make a dent in poverty in 50 years.***
In the novel, Cold Morning Shadow, one character points out that governments nowadays expend great sums to extract gold from the ground only to bury it back underground. It may as well not exist, he argues. It certainly does not exist for those of us who are supposedly in charge of our own government but can neither touch our gold or know where it is hidden.
Maybe we need to take the same attitude toward the ridiculously rich. Ninety-seven percent of our tax revenue comes from the richest half of the population. Maybe we just have to regard the rest of their money as we do our national hoard of gold — it’s beyond our reach. Treat it as if it doesn’t exist. Let them have it. (Never mind, for the moment, that it is actually what sustains our economy by sustaining the industries and jobs which provide further tax revenue; that’s Economics 101 and is evidently beyond the comprehension of most Americans, thanks to public education.)
I am a child of God and a disciple of Christ. I’ve been challenged by Jesus to look after others in need. I’m not called to tell other people what to do. I’m not called to join with dozens or thousands or millions of my friends to make other people do something I think they ought to do. I’m not in a position to judge that the rich aren’t doing enough. Jesus can judge them if he wants to, and I won’t criticize him if he doesn’t.
I don’t know what any particular rich person is doing beyond the lens of public scrutiny. I don’t expect the government (id est, you or me and millions of friends), under the leadership of self-righteous do-gooders, to steal from other people and do my duty for me. I have no influence in the world anyway except in two small ways: I may, on my own, relieve someone else’s pressing need from day to day, and I may, just may, improve the world by improving the one human unit over which I have control: myself.
Examine your sanctimonious memes before you wave them in front of me. I’m through responding to them.
*Citation for tax information based on 2018 federal income tax returns: https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2019/05/26/the-not-so-secret-reason-the-wealthiest-pay-the-most-in-income-taxes/?sh=781a4a49153a
**Citation for War on Poverty information: https://www.heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/the-war-poverty-after-50-years
***Using 1989 figures from https://usafacts.org as the mean between 1964 and 2014: Mean U.S. population – 246,819,230, percentage in poverty – 12.8% (31,592,862), mean War on Poverty spending per year – $440,000,000,000.