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8366NEWS -- 2013.11.17.Sunday School Lesson

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  • James Martin
    Nov 17, 2013
      Sunday School Lesson with treats after.

      The Gospel of Selfishness in American Christianity

      How the philosophers of selfishness came to use Christianity as their cover story.
      November 14, 2013 
      Anyone who has worked in the restaurant business will be happy to tell you that waiters always fight each other to avoid working Sunday lunch shift. Not because they want to sleep in, but because it’s a widespread belief that the post-church crowd is loud, demanding and unwilling to tip appropriately. In the food service industry, “Christian” is synonymous with “selfish”.
      Unfair stereotype? Probably. Big groups, regardless of affiliation, tend to tip poorly. More to the point, waiters probably remember the bad Christian tippers more because the hypocrisy is so stunning. The image of a man piously preening about what a good Christian he is in church only to turn around and refuse the basic act of decency that is paying someone what you owe them perfectly symbolizes a lurking suspicion in American culture that the harder someone thumps the Bible, the more selfish and downright sadistic a person he is. And that perception—that showy piety generally goes hand in hand with very un-Christ-like behavior—is not an urban myth at all. On the contrary, it’s the daily reality of American culture and politics.

      Bill Maher recently had a rant on his show that went viral addressing this very issue, bad tippers who leave sermons or notes scolding waiters instead of paying them what they’re owed. His larger point is a much more important one: It’s absolutely disgusting how the politicians who make the biggest show of how much they love Jesus would be the first in line to bash him if he returned with a message of clothing the naked and feeding the poor. The Jesus of the Bible multiplied the loaves and fishes. His loudest followers these day gripe about feeding people, claiming it creates a “culture of dependency.” They may even comb through the Bible to take quotes out of context to justify their selfishness toward the poor, as Rep. Steven Fincher did when he claimed the Bible says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” The fact that those jobs are unavailable didn’t give him a moment’s pause when suggesting this very un-Christ-like plan to his fellow Americans.

      There are plenty of progressive Christians who  genuinely try to live out Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself, described in the Bible as the root of Jesus’ entire philosophy. That said, statistics bear out the sense that people who are more invested in being perceived as pious also embrace the most selfish policies.  Self-identified conservatives and Republicans claim go to church regularly at twice the rate of self-identified liberals.  People who go to church more than once a week are far more conservative than the rest of the population. Indeed, the research suggests how often you report being in the pews is the most reliable indicator of how you’re going to vote. (Though it may not be a reliable indicator of how often you actually go to church. In the grand tradition of showy piety, people who claim to be avid church- goers often lie about it to pollsters.)

      The attempts to reconcile the correlation between displays of piety and support for selfish policies get complex on the right, with conservatives often arguing that hating your neighbor at the voting booth doesn’t count because church charities supposedly make up for it. ( They don’t.) In reality, the relationship between Christian piety and support for selfish policies is fairly straightforward. It’s not that being Christian makes you conservative. It’s that being conservative makes being a loud and pious Christian extremely attractive.

      Without Christianity, the underlying mean-spiritedness of conservative policies is simply easier to spot. Without religion, you’re stuck making libertarian-style arguments that sound like things cackling movie villains would say, like  Ayn Rand saying civilization should reject “the morality of altruism”. Since Christianity teaches altruism and generosity, it provides excellent cover for people who want to be selfish, a sheep’s clothing made of Jesus to cover up the child-starving wolf beneath. Since Christians are “supposed” to be good people, people who really aren’t good are lining up to borrow that reputation to advance their agenda.

      The fact that conservatism causes obnoxious Christian piety in American culture is most obvious when looking at some of the theological developments that have accrued since the philosophers of selfishness decided to use Christianity as their cover story. The “prosperity gospel” that has developed in recent years is a classic example.

      The prosperity gospel teaches, to be blunt,  that you can tell how much God favors you by how rich you are. While some on the Christian right reject this idea as a tad crude, it’s still wildly popular and its adherents, like Oral Roberts, are some of the major architects and organizers for the Christian right. It’s a perfect example of how conservative ideology leads to pious Christianity. People want to believe that the rich are better than everyone else and the poor don’t deserve squat, so they find a way to blame God for it rather than own their own greed and selfishness.

      Pope Francis may be entirely sincere when he says he wants Catholic clergy to deemphasize the right-wing political pandering in favor of highlighting values that are more in line with liberalism, such as compassion and generosity to the poor, but the odds are slim of this message making inroads with church leaders in the United States. The church needs conservatives who need to believe they’re good and holy people despite their selfish beliefs. Without them, who will show up and tithe? Liberals? Most of them are sleeping in on Sundays, secure that their commitment to social justice makes them good people regardless of how visibly pious they are.

      The fact of the matter is that the purposes religion serves in America are shrinking in number. Our cultural identity is increasingly shaped by pop culture, not faith or ethnic identity. Our holidays are more about shopping and having a chance to catch up with far-flung family these days, not showing devotion to a deity. Spiritual needs are often addressed through modern means like psychotherapy and self-help. People build communities through hobbies and interests more than through faith communities bound by geography, ethnicity and family.

      Increasingly, the only thing religion has left to justify itself is that it provides cover for people who want to have bigoted, selfish beliefs but want to believe they are good people anyway. As these social trends continue, we can expect the alignment between public piety and grotesquely selfish political beliefs to get worse, not better.


      Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.

      Don't miss the comments.  Some rightwingers are not happy!
      Typical rightwing bigot response ---
      Conservatives donate more money to charity than liberals, it's a fact. As a conservative what I don't like are the people who have made a living off the government teat, they don't try to better themselves, they just want someone else to take care of them. I don't know many people who are not willing to help out anyone in NEED. But when you are too lazy to work or study or try to make a better life for yourself, I don't have much sympathy for you.
      Here are three thoughtful comments --->
      comment posted from

      If someone were to ask me if I was a Christian, I'd have to answer "Which parts?" I see all sorts of sets of beliefs that take useful things out of the Bible, usually with a pair of scissors.

      In America, two major parts of the Bible usually get cut out. First there's the part about religion not being a den of thieves, thou shalt not steal, don't rob the poor when we're all in this country together, don't go after the widows, the orphans, society's vulnerable. If your church is silent about exploiting the labor of those poor kids halfway around the globe, and their children and grandchildren in turn, forever and ever, sometimes a real-life hunger games for child soldiers, then your religion is hemorrhaging its honesty, not to mention its younger members who get all upset about your church's silence.

      The second part is "Thou shalt not kill." If your government is killing way too many people for oil, if they're installing dictators-for-life in your name, and if your church supports these brave American freedom fighters, your church isn't reading its Bible that well.

      When Congress-buying crooks and their friends and hirelings wrap themselves in the Bible, and when the blood for oil machine wraps itself in the Bible, I tend to stay a mile away from those types of Christians. Yes they're "Christian" in the sense that they still believe their heavily redacted Bible, every single word of it, as a matter of fact. I encourage them to follow the Christian parts of their Christianity. However, I recommend that everybody around them desert that church, because there isn't much God inside. God mostly went somewhere else.

      Whenever God's own people steal anything (someone's land, our atmosphere, our health) away from God's other people who are just as good, and if God didn't expressly tell the first people to do the crime, that's a religion based on falsehood.

      Jesus didn't carry money. When he asked the Pharisees "Show me a coin," the Pharisees weren't supposed to carry any graven images on their persons. The Roman graven image was of the god Julius Caesar -- when you're the emperor you can claim to be a god and nobody will gainsay you. It's one of the perks of office. That part of Christianity really got redacted.

      comment posted from
      I have two issues:

      Hey, Jesus never said anything about tipping.

      You want a little wine, maybe some fish or bread, I’m your man.

      Otherwise, you’ll have to ask my entourage.

      Luke 8:3

      “And Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.”

      Second issue:

      And do Christians deserve our charity in the form of tax dollars?

      Jesus must be spinning in his grave…

      “Things changed dramatically in 2001. President George W. Bush unveiled a comprehensive “faith-based” initiative as a top priority of his administration. Under his plan, Bush sought to expand charitable choice policies throughout the federal government. Publicly subsidized religious charities would be allowed to engage in employment discrimination based on religion, and public funds could be used to pay for construction and repair of buildings used for religious worship.

      In a series of speeches, Bush asserted that faith-based groups are more effective and cost less than their secular counterparts. Although the president offered no objective data to support these claims, he and other administration officials repeated them over and over.

      But skepticism remained. Congress refused to adopt the Bush plan. Undaunted, Bush issued executive orders and regulatory changes carrying out much of his agenda without congressional approval.
      It soon came to light that under Bush, promises of faith-based money were being dangled in front of religious communities in return for political support.

      In 2002 and 2004, staffers from the White House faith-based office appeared at rallies alongside Republican candidates, implying to voters that the best way to get faith-based grants was to support the GOP.

      Faith-based grants were also used to win over administration critics. TV preacher Pat Robertson was an early opponent of the initiative, asserting that churches would become dependent on government aid, which would become “like a narcotic.” Robertson stopped voicing these concerns, however, after his Operation Blessing charity was given a $1.5 million grant.
      During the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Obama expressed many of the same concerns. In a speech in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama said, “[I]f you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them or against the people you hire on the basis of their religion.”

      When the president rolled out his version of the faith-based initiative in February 2009, however, he left the old Bush executive orders in place. That means billions in federal funds are being disbursed without much-needed safeguards. Administration officials have indicated that discrimination claims will be looked at on a case-by-case basis, instead of being barred by government- wide action. In November 2010, Obama issued an executive order making a few changes to the faith-based initiative, but leaving the discriminatory hiring policy intact.”

      An Insider’s Confession: David Kuo Blew The Whistle On ‘Faith-Based’ Fraud

      “You might remember Kuo from the George W. Bush presidency. He came to Washington in 2001 as an idealistic conservative foot soldier hoping to help the poor through the “faith-based” initiative. Two years later, he left disillusioned, convinced that the initiative was little more than a partisan political stunt.

      In 2006, Kuo penned a book about his experiences titled Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. Its revelations were explosive. Kuo maintained that the initiative was cynically manipulated by White House operatives in 2002 and 2004 to help the Republican Party solidify control of Congress.

      Kuo, who was the number two man in the faith-based office, was privy to many of these discussions. He detailed one meeting with James Towey, then director of the faith-based office, and Ken Mehlman, then White House political director. The three discussed ways to use the initiative to excite religious voters.

      The events were really about helping endangered GOP candidates, not the poor. White House strategists had drawn up a list of 20 House and Senate targets, among them Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, Wayne Allard in Colorado and Tim Hutchinson in Arkansas, all seeking Senate seats. House candidates included Melissa Hart in Pennsylvania, Shelley Capito in West Virginia, John Shimkus in Illinois, and Anne Northup in Kentucky.

      Towey subsequently appeared alongside many of the candidates at the events, and during the “conferences,” local clergy were led to believe that they could qualify for significant government grants. A special outreach was made to African-American clergy.

      On Election Day, 19 of the 20 targeted candidates won.
      In his book, Kuo wrote that White House officials were happy to take the votes of right-wing evangelicals – even if they thought little of them.

      “For most of the rest of the White House staff, evangelical leaders were people to be tolerated, not people who were truly welcomed,” Kuo wrote. “No group was more eye-rolling about Christians than the political affairs shop. They knew ‘the nuts’ were politically invaluable, but that was the extent of their usefulness.”

      Continued Kuo, “National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous,’ ‘out of control,’ and just plain ‘goofy.’

      ”Bush's faith-based initiative also privileges Christianity above all other religions. After sifting through every grant announcement I could get my hands on from Bush's faith-based offices, I couldn't find a single grant issued to a religious charity that wasn't Christian -- no Jewish charities, no Muslim charities, nothing. And when I spoke with Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, he confirmed that no direct federal grants from his program had gone to a non-Christian religious group. This kind of religious favoritism is exactly what the Constitution's establishment clause was put in place to prevent.
      When Bush first announced his Faith-Based Initiative, Falwell and Robertson were adamantly opposed to it, precisely because they worried that, in a democracy, those funds would have to go equally to all religious faiths. Robertson worried aloud that "aberrant" religions such as Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, and followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon might get federal funds, while Falwell singled out Muslims, saying "Islam should be out the door before they knock" -- disqualified from even applying for grants. Of course, as I noted above, all the grants have gone to Christian groups -- including $1.5 million to Robertson's Operation Blessing -- so now Robertson and Falwell back the program wholeheartedly.”

      “The Tampa Bay Times in Florida recently ran a series of articles about religiously affiliated homes that serve troubled young people. Some of the revelations have been nothing short of stunning.

      Because these facilities claim a religious tie, they are basically unregulated by the state. Many young people who were sent to these homes have raised horrific allegations of physical abuse and mistreatment. State officials have done nothing. They are allowing the homes to be overseen by a private Christian organization that applies lax standards.

      The principle of separation of church and state means that the government does not meddle in the private business of religion. But that principle has never been interpreted to mean that religiously affiliated organizations can break the law.

      In Florida, some of these homes have been accused of using extreme forms of corporal punishment on students as well as tolerating physical assault. There have also been allegations of sexual abuse.

      The government has an obligation to protect its most vulnerable citizens. One way it does that is by exercising reasonable oversight over institutions that serve young people. At a bare minimum, it must ensure that these facilities are safe and don’t engage in abusive practices.

      Florida officials have surrendered their responsibility in this area. Thirty years ago, legislators passed a law exempting religiously affiliated homes from regulation. Secular facilities are still subject to state oversight, but any home that claims to be religious is exempted.

      State officials still collect reports of abuse at religious homes, but they obviously aren’t following up. Despite the horrific tales being told about some of these institutions, not one has been investigated or shuttered by the state.

      Florida is not alone. In Alabama, religious child care centers are wholly unregulated by the state. They don’t even have to meet basic health and safety requirements. Other states have similarly lax enforcement of religiously affiliated institutions that serve children.

      Remarkably, some of these institutions are subsidized by the taxpayer. In Florida, many of the homes for troubled youngsters receive public support through a voucher program aimed at students with special needs. These institutions are getting tax support yet remain unaccountable to the public.

      Officials in Florida and elsewhere can find a way to apply judicious oversight of these institutions without meddling in the religious side of their operations. For example, the government should stay out of religious curriculum decisions but should crack down on homes that rely on pain and violence to instill discipline.”

      So with taxpayer money, Christians can beat and molest children, disregard health and safety requirements, and construct and repair their churches.

      And not even Christian politicians like other Christians!

      Finally, other religions are not welcome.

      They have to spend their own money to beat and molest children!

      comment posted from

      When it comes to dealing with LGBTQ people, most Christianists have a mean streak that is as wide as the River Jordan. They also seem to have issues with the waitstaff at restaurants. Friends in the food industry tell me that hey hate working the Sunday afternoon lunch shift; the followers of Jesus come out of church with a demanding, patronizing attitude and are notoriously lousy tippers.

      When the Southern Baptists held their recent convention in New Orleans, they actually had an opening presentation on the importance of being nice to employees in the service industry; they had had negative press about this during earlier conventions.

      When a preacher has to remind you to be nice, treat everyone with dignity, and tip appropriately for good service, you have obviously not internalized the teachings of Jesus.

      Treat after Sunday School ---

      Kenichi Ito Of Japan Breaks His Own World Record For Fastest 100 Meter Dash On All Fours

      Take home after Sunday School ---

      No, Obama Didn't Lie to You About Your Health Care Plans

      The claim that President Obama lied in saying that people could keep their insurance looks like another Fox News special.
      November 13, 2013
      If Only Right-Wing Christians Knew Where Their Ideas Came From
      Progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century; it’s making a comeback.
      My comment -- I have a lot of questions about this one.
      Reality after Sunday School ---
      Salvation Army says “Gays Need to Be Put to Death”