May 25th, 2017

Why It’s All Right to Grind the Poor

Why is it so easy for people, many of whom profess to be Christians, to espouse policies that harm the poor, despite being adjured by the Bible to do just the opposite?

Jesus said: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:  43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
Gospel according to Mark, Ch. 25: 31-46 (King James Version).

That seems pretty unambiguous, doesn’t it? So, why are President Trump and his followers preparing to take food out of the mouths of children, to take away health care from those that need it, to refuse shelter to the strangers, to increase the population of the prisons? Not to mention a hundred other activities that expose particularly the poor to higher costs and greater income insecurity, for no corresponding benefits?

Of course, the “pious” answer is that government shouldn’t be in the business of providing medical care, food, or shelter for those that can’t afford it, and those duties should be taken up by charities relying on free-will donations.

Unfortunately, with the best will in the world, charity has never, ever, been sufficient to cover unmet needs.

However, government can do so, and there are many good reasons why it should. Taking just public health as an example, making sure the population as a whole has access to vaccinations and early diagnosis makes disease outbreaks less likely and more controllable, to everyone’s benefit. Want to reduce health care costs? Health maintenance and preventive care reduces catastrophic care costs down the road, costs that we are already paying, since they are being factored into the health insurance premiums and medical bills we get.

Instead, it’s alright to let the poor be sick, and let the poor die, because being poor is evidence of moral failing. That’s right, being poor is proof positive that you are a bad person and don’t deserve any better.

This goes back to the Old Testament. If you were right with the Lord, your children flourished, your flocks multiplied, your harvests were abundant. If the Lord hated you, it was Book of Job time for you, with no guarantee of a happy ending.

Despite Jesus saying that “sooner shall a camel pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter into Heaven,” there are Christian churches that have adopted so-called “prosperity theology” which holds that wealth and physical well-being are the will of God, and poverty and sickness are curses.

Alabama’s Representative Mo Brooks said of the proposed “American Health Care Act” that, “[The plan] will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people—who’ve done things the right way—that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

And, the not-so-subtext here is that “people who lead good lives” doesn’t just refer to those of us who exercise and eat right: it means you have to live a good life—i.e., a virtuous one. This is because, as we all know, people who exercise and eat right still get sick. Long distance runners still have heart attacks, and even ministers can get caught in a car accident, or trip and fall downstairs.

And that’s where it gets really insidious. We’ve all known people who were never sick a day, but get diagnosed with cancer one day. Well, that’s God’s will, they deserve it. If you can’t work because some fleeing carjacker hit your car, or you slipped on the ice and broke a hip, you had it coming, you must have done something wrong. Is your loved one like to die, and you have no health insurance coverage because you were laid off? That’s because you are a sinner and God hates you! No matter how far back you need to go in the chain of causation, everything bad that happens to you is ultimately your fault, because YOU don’t love God enough: which is obvious, because if God loved you, these things wouldn’t happen.

So, here’s the goats’ answer to Jesus, as it is practiced: “Starve, Jesus; freeze, Jesus; we don’t care about you. Die, Jesus, healing you costs too much. Rot in prison, Jesus, we’re afraid of you, and we hate you.”

Whether Jesus’ answer to the “goats” works out as promised above, remains to be seen.