Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Theocrats’

Theocrats: Forgotten But Not Gone

In American Society, Religion and Government, Secular Humanism on May 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

This week marks five years since I first started this blog. I had lived abroad for over a decade, and returning home to the US, it seemed there were an alarming number of people on television or standing behind pulpits preaching that the cure for all of our ills as a country was more ‘God in government’. This blog was meant to be a way of refuting that argument, looking at religion, American Christianity in particular, from the secular point of view in which the American Constitution was written.

Furthermore, it seemed that many of the things the Religious Right were advocating didn’t necessarily line up with a close reading of the New Testament itself. So, my aim was two-fold: one, writing in defense of a secular government in which all religions have freedom and protection, and two, highlighting the many inconsistencies between this religious political agenda and the ideas put forward by the early Christian writers themselves.

It seemed at the time that turning the US into a ‘Christian Nation’ instead of a secular one (which is what our Constitution calls for) was one of the greatest threats to American democracy as we know it. As I continued to research and write, I decided that the abuses of our economic system, particularly the ascendancy of corporate control of government, poses an equal threat.

And then, along came Donald Trump. Placing such a uniquely unqualified person into the highest office in the land – maybe the  world – suddenly made the theocrats seem a lot less scary by comparison. Will he blunder us into WWIII? Give rise to a new American Fascism? Or simply continue the GOP trend of playing Reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor to give to the rich?

But while we may have temporarily forgotten the theocrats, they are still out there, and their faux-theology still lies at the root of some of the worst ideas bandied about in American political discourse.

One recurring worst idea is the old ‘he who does not work shall not eat’ red herring. Whenever there’s a discussion of money spent on the poor, whether it be welfare, food stamps, healthcare, etc., GOP politicians suddenly become amateur theologians, justifying cuts to such programs by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10. Representative Jodey Arrington (R-Texas, of course) is the latest to drop that piece of ‘wisdom’ into the debate.

Jodey Arrington

Rep. Jodey Arrington

He’s not the first; back in 2013 GOP lawmakers voted to separate funding for the SNAP program from the Farm Bill (first time since 1973) so that 40 billion US dollars could be cut from giving food to the poor, without having to make proportionate cuts to farm subsidies. As you might expect, none of those lawmakers were receiving food stamps, but thirteen of them were personally receiving millions in farm subsidies. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tennessee), on the receiving end of over 3 million dollars in subsidies over the years, quoted the Thessalonian axiom back then.

So, OK you might say, aside from the hypocrisy of some of the people saying it, isn’t it still a pretty good idea? Shouldn’t people contribute something to society instead of just taking government handouts? What makes it a ‘worst idea’?

Let me start with the red herring part. This ‘don’t work-don’t eat’ argument is meant to give you the impression that tens of thousands of con-artists are out there milking the system, and that handouts discourage people who can work from doing so. But that just simply isn’t true. Since 1996, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) have a very limited time-frame in which they can receive any kind of government assistance – for most states, 90 days in any given 3-year period. Yes, states can extend that time by granting waivers for job training, homelessness, etc. – and many did during the darkest days of the last financial crisis. But truth is, 42 states already have a work requirement for government assistance, and more people receiving food stamps today are working than at any time in the program’s history. In fact, SNAP may be the only thing keeping the working poor from becoming the unable-to-work poor.

So, like Reagan’s Welfare Queen, abuse of the system – either minuscule in scale or mostly imaginary – is used to justify wholesale cuts to what little safety net the poor may still have access to. It’s the most vulnerable in society that really end up taking it on the chin – children, the homeless, veterans, the aged. What’s the real agenda? I would guess freeing up money for more corporate handouts – like the nearly 10 million Fincher’s company has received -and more tax cuts for the rich. Forcing mothers with children and old people to work at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s for the sub-subsistence wages they are willing to pay – I guess that’s just a bonus.

As for why it’s a bad idea – well there are a number of reasons, starting with government officials using any scripture from any religion to support the writing of any secular law. Would you be happy if a congressman referred to the Koran or sharia law when debating on the House floor? I’m thinking you would not. I’m thinking that person would face death threats – probably from the same kind of Christian who would support 2 Thessalonians being written into statute. The laws of our government should not emanate from any religious document – the Bible and the Constitution are not complementary writings.

Even if we wanted to base laws on the New Testament, would we be looking to guys like Arrington, a career government employee, and Fincher, a cotton farmer, to explain to us exactly what the scripture is saying? Who appointed politicians to be the grand poobahs of deciding exactly how the Bible should be interpreted and then written into law? Even as reprehensible as some of the late Jerry Falwell’s religious and political views were, he at least had fake divinity degrees to back them up. From where do these amateur theologians derive their certainty?

But even now, as the GOP concocts a plan to ‘fix’ the Affordable Care Act, this kind of thinking is seeping into the argument about healthcare. Just a week or so ago, Arrington was doubling down on his ‘don’t work-don’t eat’ argument, and somehow using that as a justification for a work requirement for receiving health insurance as well! How can Thessalonians be used to justify a work requirement for healthcare? This is the problem with sloppy, hazy thinking – it leads to lots of conclusions for which there is no evidence whatsoever. This is also, incidentally, one of the main drawbacks of mixing religion and government.

As a nation, we really need to start relying on facts to guide us into the coming decades – not alternative facts, not worn out religious creeds. We need to be preparing for a time in the not so distant future when perhaps half of us won’t be able to have jobs. Moralizing about who ‘deserves’ to eat, who receives healthcare and who doesn’t – this is not the job of government.

I, for one, need no priest nor politician deciding what God thinks is best for my country.

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