A Question for the Religious Right

I’ve been “hammered” recently by Religious Conservative Facebook friends on several of my Facebook posts, as well as my blog, when writing on issues that lean toward, what I would consider, social justice topics.

These posts over the last six months range from being critical of Governor Scott Walker’s handling of the Wisconsin unions, marriage equality, to the mere suggestion that we raise taxes on the wealthy to balance the budget (along with deep cuts in spending).  My opinions on these topics have been met with polite, for the most part, derision. 

Seems nowadays sharing a John Stewart or Stephen Colbert video clip is an open invitation for rebuttal.  Something about those guys really gets under the skin of conservatives.

Maybe it’s just me, but when one of these people share a choice piece of scripture, or a wonderfully edited video from Papa Bear O’Reilly, or Glenn Beck – I don’t see it as an opportunity to jump on their posts and press the BS button.  Maybe that’s just me trying to be polite.  And it’s not that I don’t mind debate and differing opinions – but there is a point of cutoff, and here’s what I mean by that:

In my experience, there is no such thing as an open mind of a ultra-religious conservative.*  Issues are either black or they are white – and if a gray does exist, it resides along a very narrow spectrum that hasn’t been the subject of a Fox News report or Rush Limbaugh radio show [my attempt at derision].  I think it’s an important distinction. 

* This is by no means a broad brush attempt to paint all religious peoples as heartless conservatives. 

Take my wife for example – she is a dyed-in-the-wool blue democrat – without apology.  As liberal as she is, on issues such as cutting federal funding for National Public Radio in the face of a $1.7 trillion budget deficit – she says cut away.  She recognizes that there are many good and worthy government spending programs that need careful scrutiny and dramatic cuts in order to balance the budget.

On the other side are our conservative friends.  Can they possibly look at the budget situation and make a similar concession – for example that our budget crisis is such that raising taxes on the wealthy by a mere 3% might be an appropriate short term measure to resolve our financial problems?  Obviously, if you’ve paid attention to the news, the answer is no way in hell.

Here’s the thing that I have a hard time resolving in my mind.  These religious conservatives are not bad people – and I am not using mean labels that some have used in their descriptions of liberals to describe their behavior.  They claim to be, and I believe them, devout Christians, guided by their love for Jesus. They would love to see this nation “return” to its’ Christian roots with all the trappings, but they seem to have no problem with the incredible wealth disparity and upward wealth redistribution that has taken place over the last decade or two.  Furthermore, they seem to have a callous heart toward the millions of Americans that have “slipped,” or more aptly dove, into poverty during this same time period.

  • 45 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009. 
  • One out of every six Americans is now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.
  • Household participation in the food stamp program has increased 20.28% since last year. 
  • As of June, the number of Americans on food stamps had set a new all-time record for 19 consecutive months.
One thing that I’ve learned in debating with conservatives, there are no such things as facts.  Facts are simply opinions – so I’m sure these facts, despite being sourced to US Census figures, Dept of Agriculture data, US Bankruptcy court figures, etc., will all be refuted to support a counter argument that conforms to the worldview that supports their counter-ideology.

Meanwhile, as literally a sixth of our nation is living below poverty, the wealthiest of Americans are enjoying a never-before-seen prosperity.  Mother Jones recently attempted to illustrate this disparity in wealth in American by providing a series of graphs to bring this issue home.  Here are a couple interesting examples:

The rich are enjoying the best tax rates since World War II.  Conservatives love to cry wealth redistribution as a reasonable defense against taxing the rich and even in the face of growing poverty and exploding deficits still call for additional tax cuts to “spur the economy.”  Now I know, every conservative friend I have will simply say “well – it’s Mother Jones – a liberal rag if there ever was one, so you can’t trust it.” But at some point you can’t help but call a fact a fact. [and these figures aren’t made up by Mother Jones, they come from the Tax Foundation and the Congressional Budget Office]

Stephen Colbert used these figures as the basis of a Word skit on his show:

So here’s my question to my religious conservative friends:  How do you square the knot in your ideological outlook between Christian charity and compassion for your fellow human beings (or at least countrymen and women) and your desire to fuel the income gap in America?  I don’t recall Jesus teaching that Rome should cut the capital gains taxes on the wealthy so that the poor will do better.  I’m not trying to be confrontational, or even disrespectful when I say I find the disconnect at worst delusional, and at best hypocritical.  It would seem that Jesus saying “blessed are the poor” is maybe the driving force – by making more poor people, we are in effect “saving” more people for heaven?

If you were atheist titans of Wall Street and had this worldview I could understand it 100%.  But you hold to a Christian standard that is supposedly, and maybe I’ve been away for to long and the bible has changed a bit, to love and care for your fellow man (and woman), but your actions, and words don’t seem to square with that philosophy.  So What Exactly Would Jesus Do about all this?
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10 Responses to A Question for the Religious Right

  1. Dan M says:

    Sean, Facts are facts, conservative or not. Christians believe that truth is not relative and not in the eye of the beholder. However, opinions about the meaning, cause or effect of the facts are just that, opinions. The facts and figures you show do not tell the whole story. First off, raising taxes does not increase revenue. It has been proven that lower taxes raises tax revenue. When you lower taxes on everybody, they have more money to spend or invest, that puts more people to work and then more people have money to tax. If you raise the taxes, especially on the rich they have no incentive to make more money spend or invest. Jobs disappear. If you think raising taxes on the rich will help, why not tax at 80, 90, or 100%? Will the rich have any incentive to work? Would anyone? The top 50% of the wage earners pay 97% of the taxes right now and the lowest 40% of wage earners don’t pay any taxes at all.It also has been shown that no nation can survive if it spends more than about 19.5 percent of its GDP. We are at 25 percent. That is the tax capacity. What needs to be done is to stop spending. Aside from that, do I have the right to take your money from you? Not unless you want to give it to me. So why does having the government take your money and give it to me make it any different. If a person is rich, why should he pay any more for taxes than anyone else? Does he get more services from the government? I don’t think so. Compassion for fellow human beings can not and should not be forced. Rich conservatives, conservatives who are poor, conservatives in general, give more money to charity than anyone other group. We think taking care of your neighbor is what GOD wants us to do. We do not think it is right to steal from your neighbor to give to the man down the street who refuses to work. Jesus would not steal a mans coat to give it to the poor person, he would give his own coat. Only God should decide if you are using what you are given in a way that is fitting. If a rich man does not help others then God will judge him accordingly. To whom much is given much is required (by God).If there is an income gap, it is because people are different; they have different gifts, talents, and motivations. The government’s job is not to make everyone equally rich, but to give everyone the opportunity to try, to achieve, or to fail and try again. When governments try to make everyone’s income equal they succeed in making everyone equally poor.

  2. harford says:

    yes jesus came for the poor, sick and infirmed…but when you recieve god in your heart your not supposed to stay poor,sick and infirmed….once you get god in your life he will make your dreams,aspirations come to past…it's not gonna fall in your lap, you have to work toward the goal, but in god your goal WILL be achieved…

  3. Sean Asbury says:

    harford – thank you for commenting.I'm not trying to imply that jesus wants everyone to be poor; even though Luke and Mathew wrote that jesus thought a camel would have the easier time getting through the eye of a needle than a rich man getting into heaven (Luke 18:25; Matthew 19:24) – so to each his own…If you came away from reading this thinking that I'm against compensation for hard work and innovation, then I failed to articulate my position. What I'm asking is when did jesus come out in favor of the Bush tax cuts? Taxes on the wealthy have not been lower than they are today since WWII while our debt and deficit have never been higher. I'm not advocating soaking the rich with high taxes – but it would appear that jesus views raising taxes on the wealthy by 3% akin to a mortal sin.

  4. Sean Asbury says:

    Dan – Thanks for commenting.I do however, have to completely disagree with your assertion — "The facts and figures you show do not tell the whole story. First off, raising taxes does not increase revenue. It has been proven that lower taxes raises tax revenue. When you lower taxes on everybody, they have more money to spend or invest, that puts more people to work and then more people have money to tax. If you raise the taxes, especially on the rich they have no incentive to make more money spend or invest. Jobs disappear. If you think raising taxes on the rich will help, why not tax at 80, 90, or 100%? Will the rich have any incentive to work? Would anyone? The top 50% of the wage earners pay 97% of the taxes right now and the lowest 40% of wage earners don’t pay any taxes at all."It's just historically inaccurate and not true.Marginal tax rates on the wealthy from 1944 to 1963 were over 90% each and every year. According to your thesis, America never would have survived, let alone prospered during the years we rose to superpower status.From 1964 to 1981 the marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans stayed consistent at 70%.1982-1986 the rate went to 50%Since 1987 the rate has bounced between 28 to 39.6% Holding at the current 35% margin since 2003.http://taxfoundation.org/taxdata/show/151.htmlAgain, see my comment – I don't suggest a "conservative" approach of returning the American tax rate to the time of our glory day of the 50s and 60s (90-94% MTR), but I hardly think that raising the MTR to 38% amounts to a massive redistribution of wealth. This is simply scare rhetoric.Spending must be cut, but revenues must also be raised in order to balance the budget.Your claim that raising taxes does not increase revenue is simply not true as well – as is historically shown. If this were the case, America would have been the poorest nation at a time our growth was exponential relative to the rest of the world.

  5. Sean Asbury says:

    As a follow on to your point on raising taxes doesn't increase revenue, I would like to offer you the following data points:In 1963, the last year the marginal tax rate on the wealthy was 90%, the nations' debt was just under $306 billion.By 1981, the last year the MRT was at 70%, the debt had risen to almost $1 trillion.The MRT was cut to 28-39.6% from 1987 to 2003 and the debt correspondingly climbed to $8 trillion during that time.The cost of entitlement spending, along with defense budgets, has surely grown during this time, but cash revenues have not kept pace with the spending. I understand the economic theory and school of thought you adhere to, but in economics, there are few proven "facts" and interpretations are aplenty. Just because you "believe" you are correct doesn't mean you are and just as I "believe" I am correct doesn't mean I am – this is why we debate the positions and leave it to voters to decide. I would simply leave it by noting that our economic health as a nation didn't go to hell overnight and you can easily track the historical data to see what has happened and how we arrived where we are today…

  6. capercaillie says:

    You say in your post:"It would seem that Jesus saying "blessed are the poor" is maybe the driving force – by making more poor people, we are in effect "saving" more people for heaven?"Here's what a quite known "saint" said on this subject: "Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you." – Mother TeresaChristopher Hitchens has made quite a few remarks on this whole weird idea Mother Teresa had and others have: bringer people closer to suffering (i.e. not helping) somehow brings people closer to "heaven" — but living a good life: helping others, caring and being considerate – but with the unforgivable "sin" of not accepting Jesus as "Lord and Savior": you're going to hell, buddy.

  7. Sean Asbury says:

    Capercaillie – It's an excellent point you raise and I had that thought in mind when I made the comment. Both Hitchens and Dawkins have referenced the remarks of Mother Teresa pointing out that rather than alleviate the conditions of poverty, it worked to her benefit to keep the poor destitute so she could continue to care for them – I agree, it is a "weird" idea.I also completely agree that the "sin" of not accepting Jesus binding you to hell (regardless of the quality of the person) is one of the great sicknesses of the Christian religion and goes completely against the idea of a loving, caring, just deity. In my opinion, if such a god existed, I wouldn't want to be anywhere near such a god – and my Christian friends will point out that, if they're right, I won't have to worry much about it 😉

  8. As someone that has been on teams as a player, and a coach all my life. I like to use a team as an analogy. This country is a team and there are many teams in this world that compete for resources we covet. There is no finish line, or time clock, but there is definitely a contest. When you are on a team it important that all of your teammates are as skilled as possible in order to be successful. If you have a teammate that is not as gifted as the others and left to their own devices to gain the skills it takes to be on par with all the other players there will be a gap in that team that can be exploited. In addition to having a chink in the armor the other players are then forced to cover for that player and taken away from the focus that they need to be most effective at their position. There are always costs in allowing a team member to suffer because they do not meet some ambiguous mark. This notion that everyone should be solely responsible for themselves is a fantastical notion at best and yet Republicans continue to espouse this theology. Life is just not that clean or disconnected.There is no easy or perfect way to help everyone and just giving handouts is not my solution, but the costs of allowing any disadvantaged folks to fall by the wayside must be weighed. There will always be those who fall through the cracks, but mitigation is in our best interest. This ideology that all folks should fend for themselves and there are no hurdles that require assistance is stunningly selfish and ultimately destructive.

  9. Anonymous says:

    "How do you square the knot in your ideological outlook between Christian charity and compassion for your fellow human beings"Easy. the more I have the more I give. The more the government takes the more pissed off I get because I want to decide where MY money goes, not some bureaucrat.Frank

  10. Sean Asbury says:

    Frank – Thanks for commenting! It's been a couple + decades!Your point is absolutely valid and one that is taking root more and more, especially among the uber-wealthy. For us common-folk, our charity outlays are very specific. I have pet causes that I donate to, through the Combined Federal Campaign, that end up being less than a tenth of a percent of available charities. My biggest contribution this year went to The Fisher House and Fisher House Walter Reed – which will serve families of wounded soldiers, but does little for anyone else.Given our financial straits and enormous debt, I think we need to cut spending dramatically, and every program the government puts money into should be looked at with scrutiny. My points through all this is that cutting spending alone does not resolve the issue and raising taxes, modestly, on the wealthiest Americans to boost revenues to assist in retiring the debt and balancing the budget has to be part of any serious proposal.As I laid out in the comments above – hiking the Marginal Tax Rate on the highest earners from 36% to 39% is hardly onerous and is still far below the 50% MTR throughout the majority of the Reagan years. How the GOP has co-opted so many lower-to-middle class support to not increase the tax rate is an amazing fete!

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