On Native Ground
JESU.S. CHRIST AND THE GOP
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- What does the term "moral values" really mean?
Does it mean opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and "filth" in popular culture? Or does it mean sticking up for social and economic justice?
Sex and economics always seem to be the divide on morality. There will always be people who fit into H.L. Mencken's definition of puritanism: "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." But the people who go into conniptions over sex don't seem to be as upset when you point out to them that the gap between rich and poor in the United States is now the widest it has been since the 1920s.
The question that needs to be asked is whether we allow "moral values" to be defined as concern about taking care of those that Jesus called "the least of my brothers" or merely concern about all things gonadal?
I come down on the side of the former. I am no longer a practicing Catholic, but I was profoundly influenced by the church's clear advocacy of social justice. Perhaps I was lucky to have been part of the church during the years immediately after Vatican II when Catholicism was at its most vibrant, and lucky to have been in a parish where the priests weren't hard-line conservatives. But I don't recall ever hearing anything from Leviticus at Sunday Mass. and very little of the wiggier books of the Old Testament. It was the New Testament that was emphasized. It was things like Chapter 25 of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and the words Jesus said in describing how God would ultimately judge us, that ultimately stuck with me:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food... . I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. ...Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these, my brothers, you have done it for me."
The New Testament is filled with examples of Jesus talking about economic justice and how the most important ethical/religious test is how we treat the least of our brothers. I don't think Jesus would be too happy looking at President George W. Bush's America.
Remember during the 2000 campaign when President Bush said Jesus Christ was his chief political influence? When you look at the things the President has done as president, you can see how empty that claim is.
It was Jesus who said that "it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" and deemed "the love of money" as "the root of all evil."
It was Jesus who tossed the moneychangers out of the temple, and flatly said that one "cannot serve both God and Mammon."
It was Jesus who turned a few loaves and fishes into enough food to feed the multitude who gathered to hear him preach him the Sea of Galilee, and didn't care who got fed.
It was Jesus who warned about the people who make a big show of their faith on Sunday morning and are less than godly the rest of the week. "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them," warned Jesus.
When you strip the teachings of Christ down to the essentials, they are about love for your fellow man and about an active display of that love. That is precisely what is lacking from the version of Christianity that currently controls the Republican Party,
It's bad enough that groups like radical cleric James Dobson's Focus on the Family are trying to push their version of morality onto the nation. It's even worse when they are trying to push their economic beliefs, too.
"Taxing the rich is such a negative approach," Charles Jarvis, a former Reagan administration official who now is executive vice president of Focus on the Family, recently told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The question (social justice activists) should be asking is what creates economic well-being."
The answer to Jarvis' question, in the view of the supply-side Christians, is more tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization of Social Security and the elimination of nearly all social welfare programs. Their free- market version of Christianity wants to the rich to be richer, and never mind pointing out that trickle down economics never works.
This isn't about Christianity. It seems to be the same old reverse Robin Hood scam that the Republican Party is so good at. For all the talk about the rise of the "moral values" voter, one of the best indicators of whether you voted Republican in 2004 was not how often you go to church but how much money you make.
Political scientist and blogger Phil Klinkler was cited in The Village Voice last month offering these choice statistics: in the 2004 election, 58 percent of folks making more than $100,000 a year voted for President Bush, compared to 54 percent in 2000. This income group made up 18 percent of the electorate in 2004, up from 15 percent in 2000. By comparison, the President got roughly the same amount of votes from heavy churchgoers (59 percent in 2000, 61 percent in 2004) with roughly the same turnout (42 percent in 2000, 41 percent in 2004).
All the constant nattering about morals does is obscure the real deal: Republicans have succeeded in replacing the words "conservative ideology" (or "class warfare," if you prefer) with the term "moral values."
"They (the GOP) have reworked the political calculus so thoroughly that liberal definitions of what is or isn't a moral value don't count," concluded Rick Perlstein in The Village Voice last month. "It's as if liberals didn't have any values at all."
And it worked. People voted for President Bush because they believed he shared their values. Even though the winning margin was apparently provided by the people who believed they would benefit economically from four more years of the Bush administration, the corporate press and the Democratic Party establishment continues to believe the so-called "values voter" made the difference.
If there was a real push for moral values, President Bush wouldn't be president. The real value that the President and his staunchest supporters seem to believe in is as long as someone other than them gets screwed, all their policies are good. Let Social Security be destroyed. Let the poor pay more taxes. Let some other family's son get blown to bits in Iraq. Love, tolerance and helping your neighbor is a sucker's game. Acquiring and maintaining power is all that matters.
That President Bush can wrap the most reactionary policies in American history in the cloak of Christianity is a perversion of the central tenets of that faith. That he can get away with it is even worse.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.