Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Today’s Sermon: Whose Compassion?

 

Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10Nor shall you glean your vineyard, Nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 23)

A story: “In the middle of the Great Depression, the mayor of New York City was the five foot tall son of Italian-Jewish immigrants, Fiorello H. LaGuardia. LaGuardia was a seriously energetic little guy. It was not unusual for him to ride with the firefighters, raid with the police, or take field trips with the kids from the city orphanage. On a bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself—-something a quirk in New York City law enabled him to do.

Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told the mayor that her daughter’s husband had left, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving.

However, the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous hat, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day, New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered woman who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Fifty cents of that amount was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.”

That’s a good story, isn’t it?

It’s so good, it really ought to be true.

As many of you know, I’ve spent the past 18 months or so engaged in a project I began by calling my Year of Thinking Dangerously. I am…or at least, I was (I’m not sure any more) a liberal democrat.

But I decided that it was important for my intellectual and spiritual development to engage in substantive, meaningful conversations with conservative Republicans.

I’ve learned a lot through this project. The first thing I learned is that there were a lot of basic, important and not even particularly complicated or obscure ideas that I’d never really thought about before.

Like what it actually meant when I’d say something like “Oh, well, everyone surely has a right to decent housing.”

Here’s what someone had to explain to me—-a middle-aged woman who considered herself fairly well educated—-about what we in America mean by “rights.”

A “right” is not a guarantee that all Americans will have what any well-organized society should, at a minimum, be able to provide its members—-enough to eat, for example, or a job.

What the Founding Fathers spelled out in the Bill of Rights is a specific list of things that I, as a citizen of the United States, can expect my government to affirmatively protect and what my government will refrain from infringing.

In the experience of the FFs, governments by their nature have a strong tendency to infringe. It is a government’s power and capacity to infringe that feared most, and thus sought to constrain.

As an American I, for example, have the right to freedom of conscience — I have the right to determine for myself what is best, and to refuse to participate in activities I believe to be wrong. This, by the way, is the same right that allows Quakers and other sincere pacifists to avoid being drafted to fight in our nation’s wars.

Many early settlers to the colonies knew a little too well what it’s like to be subjects of a government that tells them just which God to believe in, what forms their worship must take and how, exactly, their faith could be exercised and demonstrated to the world.

Given that experience, the Founding Fathers were moved to take freedom of religion and freedom of conscience very seriously.

As they identified it, my right to freedom of conscience is exactly the same as your right to freedom of conscience. My right to be a Unitarian-Universalist is exactly the same as your right to be a Congregationalist, a Muslim, a Jew, a lapsed Catholic, a Gaia-worshipper, or an atheist.

When a person exercises his or her rights, there is often some cost to the rest of us. We Unitarian Universalists, for example, have to put up with the behavior of those we consider to be religious nutters — y’all, for instance! Or … remember the Hare Krishnas who used to solicit money in the airports? And the Mormon missionary who turns up at the front door, the Fundamentalist who swears he can turn away hurricanes with his prayer — but (and this is important) the Hare Krishnas, Mormons, and Oral Roberts (may he rest in peace) … they all have to put up with the Unitarians too.

Your Unitarian neighbor might be irritated or even alarmed should you put up a bright orange sign on your own front lawn that says “Jesus Is Lord” … but she can’t expect the government to send the guys with guns to come and take that sign away. Instead, she has exactly the same right to erect an orange sign on her front lawn that says “In My Opinion, Which I Impose On No One, Jesus Was Merely a Teacher and Moral Exemplar, To Be Honored But Not Worshipped.” (Unitarians need really big signs.)

If a right isn’t universal — if I have the right to put an anti-Trump sign on my lawn, but my neighbor doesn’t have the right to put a pro-Trump sign on his lawn — we are are no longer talking about a right. We’re talking about a privilege.

This logic — that a right that is not universal is not a right at all — is what eventually opened up those miraculous fruits of the Founder’s genius, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution — to black men, and then to women, so that all might seek happiness and enjoy the blessings of liberty.

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I had never thought that much about my rights as an American. I didn’t think of what it would actually mean if a government guaranteed a right to decent housing enshrined in the Bill of Rights. It’s not that it’s all that complicated … I just hadn’t thought about it.

Let’s ignore the problem of defining “decent housing” and declare that a “decent” house means four walls and a roof to keep out the rain … a heating system and a flush toilet.

Someone has to build the house. Any carpenters here? Someone has to install the heating system and the plumbing — anyone here know how to do that? Okay, so does my government-secured right to decent housing mean that carpenter, or roofer, or the plumber, and the furnace guy have to build me a house whether they want to or not? Do I have the right to their labor and materials? Will the government force them to do it?

Of course not!

The government will buy the materials and hire the workers for me … but that just means that the government will be forcibly taking the money from other Americans. We don’t usually think of paying taxes as something we are literally forced to do. But if you test it — if you stop paying — The guys with guns will show up. (Just ask Al Capone.)

Rights are not a zero-sum game. If a right is not universal — if I have the right to speak and you don’t, or if I have the right to take money out of your pocket but you don’t have the right to take money out of mine, we aren’t talking about rights anymore. We’re talking about privileges again … or maybe … we should be talking about charity?

Yup — I’ve been American for over five decades, and I’ve only just figured out what “rights” are. This makes me — or at least, should make me — really humble when it comes to criticizing anyone else’s grasp of basic civics.

In the story of Fiorello LaGuardia and the old lady who stole a loaf of bread, the shopkeeper is the bad guy, right? The greedy rich man who is willing to prosecute a poor woman to teach the other poor people a lesson.

The rich are always greedy and unkind in our stories — like the rich man in the Gospel of Luke who, having made poor Lazarus’s life miserable, finds himself suffering in hell for his sins. Lazarus gets to witness this, a little Biblical schadenfreude that most of us can sympathize with, at least if we think about the rich people we don’t approve of.

That is, we might dislike the Koch brothers while being warmly disposed toward George Soros … or vice versa. While those most enthusiastic about taxing the bejeesus out of millionaires seldom cite Oprah as one of those who has no moral claim on the fortune she is lucky enough to possess.

Vermont Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was questioning the nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price the other day, and he asked Price whether Price believed that Americans have a right to health care.

“Well,” said Price, ”We’re a compassionate society.”

“No, we’re not a compassionate society!” Bernie snapped. “We’re not compassionate in terms of our relationship to poor and working people. Our record is worse than virtually any other country on earth. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty than any other major country on earth … So I don’t think compared to other countries we are particularly compassionate.”

It’s funny how easily I would have accepted this assessment; how passionately, if automatically, I would have agreed with the Senator two years or so ago. Now, I was moved to Google it.

It turns out that America is the most compassionate country on earth, at least as measured by charitable giving by individuals as a percentage of GDP. In America, we give at 1.44%, nearly twice as much as our nearest competitor New Zealand at 0.79%, Canada at .77% not to mention the UK — which came in fourth globally at a measly .54%.

Okay, but what good is all that charitable giving if American kids are still living in dreadful poverty?

Well … it depends on how you define “poverty.” In a new article for the journal Education Next, researchers Michael J. Petrelli and Brandon Wright demonstrated that when cross-national poverty rates are calculated rationally by comparing absolute poverty rates, rather than relative to a nation’s overall income, it is clear that American kids aren’t significantly poorer than those of other countries. Indeed, a significantly lower proportion of American children live in poverty than those in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and our proportion of poor kids is about the same as Germany’s and even Finland’s.

Moreover, because the United States is wealthier than most of our international competitors, many of the US households that are counted as poor on a relative-to-American-Rich-People measure would be considered middle-class on an absolute measure, since the amount of money they earn would put them far above the median incomes of folks in other nations.

Misperceptions about the extent and severity of US poverty result from the odd way the Census Bureau reports on poverty. The Census Bureau defines a family as poor if its income falls below certain thresholds. But in counting income, Census proceeds as if programs such as food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and housing vouchers do not exist. This explains why a poor American is able to spend an average of $2.33 for every dollar of “income” they have.

The government’s own data show that the typical poor family in the US has air-conditioning, a car, and cable or satellite TV. Half of the poor have computers, 43 percent have Internet, and 40 percent have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV. The US Department of Agriculture reports that only 4 percent of poor children were hungry for even a single day in the prior year because of a lack of funds for food. And the average poor American has more living space than the average, non-poor individual living in Sweden, France, Germany, or the United Kingdom.

All of which is pretty darned good news, isn’t it?

America is actually pretty compassionate, and our compassion is working! It’s doing what compassion is supposed to do, namely helping children and poor people live better lives.

But let’s go back to the myth … the parable! about Fiorello LaGuardia, the widow, the grocer, and the loaf of bread. In the story, he is a failed Samaritan, a guy who had the chance to love his neighbor as himself by showing mercy, and he flunked.

What should he have done?

Let the old lady have the loaf of bread.

Just that loaf … or the next loaf? The loaf after that? Since man does not live by bread alone, maybe he ought to give her a chicken too, or a can of beans? Is the whole burden of this woman’s support, her grandchildren’s support, to be borne by the grocer?

How about all the other poor people in the neighborhood, the ones who have also been stealing stuff? We might say that all Americans have the right not to starve to death, but does that mean they all have the right to this guy’s bread? If so … how long before the grocer goes out of business, and the neighborhood becomes a food desert?

This is where the problem with the language of “rights” arises. If the old woman has the right to the grocer’s loaf of bread … to his flour and salt and time … it means the government will “secure her right” by forcing him to hand it over.

Okay, but what about the “fine” that LaGuardia collected. That spread the cost of looking after this women and her children more broadly didn’t it: the policeman, the petty criminals, the traffic offenders and the Mayor himself all pitched in.

In the story, it says the coins were handed over voluntarily, but let’s face it, you’re in a courtroom, with a police officer standing there and the Mayor of the city — the head of the government — is passing his hat around. That’s a tax.

The Bible tells us that, like the poor, taxes will always be with us and by definition we are forced to pay them. The force may be merely and politely implied — the cop in the courtroom didn’t actually pull out his gun and the IRS doesn’t post a SWAT team on your front porch in April — but if you fail to throw your coin in the hat or send in that check, it will reveal itself.

Charity, by definition, is not taken from you by force but freely given, like gratia gratis data. A truly compassionate country, therefore, can not simply be one whose inhabitants pay high taxes. Nor is a compassionate country one whose inhabitants have a government-secured right to take other people’s stuff, time and resources. A highly-taxed country whose government guarantees the right to free bread may be a fine and functional place … but it isn’t necessarily a compassionate place, and in time it will tend to run out of grocers and become a hungry one.

I don’t know about you, but I am glad to know that the United States does not have the highest rates of poverty of the major countries, and that poor people in America are actually doing pretty well in material terms.

Our taxes pay for at least some of this material well-being, along with the additional, purely voluntary giving of people … like you. The folks who do not reap to the very corners of your fields or gather all the fallen fruit of your vineyards, but leave the extra for the needy and the stranger.

We don’t have a choice about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s … and we don’t have to kvetch about paying taxes … well, not too much anyway.

We still have a choice about rendering unto God the things that are God’s, by giving charity, caritas, agape, love; by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Our neighbor doesn’t have the right to this love, the way he has the right to annoy us with his yard signs, or perplex us with his beliefs … but because ours is a generous country, he’ll get it anyway. He will receive our time and effort, the coins in our pockets, the salt in our cupboards and the strength in our hands.

In this time of transition and tumult, might I humbly suggest that along with the grapes and the grain, we extend the principle, and offer our neighbor another thing he has no right to: our understanding. Our interested inquiry and sincere listening. The respect that is expressed not just by nodding and smiling, but by taking our neighbor’s ideas seriously, challenging them thoughtfully — and, yes, by Googling his facts.

Since I have come to see political polarization and political tribalism as an obstacle to love, I consider breaking out of my personal polarization a spiritual project … and an urgent, patriotic duty. Talking to people we don’t agree with about important issues may be the biggest contribution you and I can make to the great American experiment, now 240 years underway, begun when the founding fathers agree to hold these truths to be self evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

God bless those brilliant FFs! God bless ‘em for their distrust of government, for they expanded and expandable definition of “men” and “freedom,” and bless them for their faith in us, in We the People!

God bless America!

There are 39 comments.

  1. Publius Inactive

    At the risk of beclowning myself more than usually around here, is this a transcript of a sermon that you delivered today or previously?

    Kate Braestrup: Your Unitarian neighbor might be irritated or even alarmed should you put up a bright orange sign on your own front lawn that says “Jesus Is Lord” …but she can’t expect the government to send the guys with guns to come and take that sign away. Instead, she has exactly the same right to erect an orange sign on her front lawn that says “In My Opinion, Which I Impose On No One, Jesus Was Merely a Teacher and Moral Exemplar, To Be Honored But Not Worshipped.” (Unitarians need really big signs.)

    We’d need a lot of billboard size yard signs if this were my neighborhood. If I saw that sign, I think I’d have to invoke Christopher Hitchens and put up one that said, “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

    Or maybe Evangelicals just need equally large sized signs or just really small font. :)

    • #1
    • January 22, 2017, at 10:38 AM PST
    • Like
  2. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Nicely targeted for your intended audience. Is there a link to a public version of this?

    • #2
    • January 22, 2017, at 10:43 AM PST
    • Like
  3. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude Post author

    Publius (View Comment):
    We’d need a lot of billboard size yard signs if this were my neighborhood. If I saw that sign, I think I’d have to invoke Christopher Hitchens and put up one that said, “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

    Or maybe Evangelicals just need equally large sized signs or just really small font. ?

    Yeah. Most Unitarian-Universalists don’t worry about being a Christian. They worry much, much more about whether people think they’re racist.

    • #3
    • January 22, 2017, at 10:48 AM PST
    • Like
  4. DocJay Inactive

    Nice article mam. Well struck.

    • #4
    • January 22, 2017, at 10:59 AM PST
    • Like
  5. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude Post author

    Mark (View Comment):
    Nicely targeted for your intended audience. Is there a link to a public version of this?

    No—sometimes I preach at churches where they record it and then post it on the web? But this is a very small, neighborhood church held in the original Congregationalist building, so we’ve got those square-backed pews (with gates) and big, clear windows and never quite enough heat. But I can walk there…I always go in my cassock, waving to people who slow down to stare. I imagine I look like Father Brown.

    • #5
    • January 22, 2017, at 11:02 AM PST
    • Like
  6. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):

    Mark (View Comment):
    Nicely targeted for your intended audience. Is there a link to a public version of this?

    No—sometimes I preach at churches where they record it and then post it on the web? But this is a very small, neighborhood church held in the original Congregationalist building, so we’ve got those square-backed pews (with gates) and big, clear windows and never quite enough heat. But I can walk there…I always go in my cassock, waving to people who slow down to stare. I imagine I look like Father Brown.

    And sound as eminently wise, prudent, and compassionate as he does, dear Chaplain Kate. :-)

    • #6
    • January 22, 2017, at 11:33 AM PST
    • Like
  7. Michael Collins Member

    There are two kinds of rights, that you might call negative rights and affirmative rights. For example if “I have the right to go to the moon”, it could mean that no one may prevent my going to the moon, provided I build the transportation system myself. Or it might mean, “The rest of you are obliged to provide me with a transportation system to get me there safely”. One is the right to not to be interfered with, in effect the right to be left alone. The second is a right to requisition the resources of others. In a healthy society, most of our rights fall into the first category. I can say what I want, live where I want, travel where I want, etc… -all on my own dime. Conservatives agree on this category of rights. But there are some legitimate rights belonging to the second category. Society has an obligation not to let people starve or freeze to death. Implementing rights of the second kind means that some of my limited resources must be requisitioned, even against my will, to care for others. But rights of the second kind become destructive unless they are limited. After all, human want is unlimited. Leftists of various shades fail to recognize the need for a limiting principle.

    • #7
    • January 22, 2017, at 12:15 PM PST
    • Like
  8. MarciN Member

    Great sermon.

    I’m curious about the story about La Guardia. Was this a tall tale that was commonly told about him?

    • #8
    • January 22, 2017, at 12:17 PM PST
    • Like
  9. Trink Coolidge

    Kate Braestrup: When a person exercises his or her rights, there is often some cost to the rest of us. We Unitarian Universalists, for example, have to put up with the behavior of those we consider to be religious nutters—-y’all, for instance! Or… remember the Hare Krishnas who used to solicit money in the airports? And the Mormon missionary who turns up at the front door, the Fundamentalist who swears he can turn away hurricanes with his prayer—-but (and this is important) the Hare Krishnas, Mormons, and Oral Roberts (may he rest in peace)…they all have to put up with the Unitarians too.

    Love this ^ Kate :)

    Kate Braestrup: Rights are not a zero-sum game. If a right is not universal—-if I have the right to speak and you don’t, or if I have the right to take money out of your pocket but you don’t have the right to take money out of mine, we aren’t talking about rights anymore. We’re talking about privileges again… or maybe…we should be talking about charity?

    Bingo :) 

    • #9
    • January 22, 2017, at 1:40 PM PST
    • Like
  10. AUMom Member

    Kate, this is an excellent sermon, certainly better than the one I heard this morning.

    You should know that you have more than given more than you’ve got while you have been here. You are a substantial member of of our group.

    • #10
    • January 22, 2017, at 2:18 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. Pony Convertible Member

    Congratulations are finally thinking about rights and what they are. Conversations with those who don’t know can be frustrating.

    You missed an important point about poverty in the U.S. Most people in poverty, aren’t there very long. There is a lot of movement from poverty to upper income levels and vice versa. The opportunity to get out of poverty is why people came here and continue to do so.

    • #11
    • January 22, 2017, at 2:20 PM PST
    • 1 like
  12. doulalady Member

    Very nicely done Kate.

    • #12
    • January 22, 2017, at 2:28 PM PST
    • Like
  13. Henry Castaigne Member

    Kate Braestrup: Since I have come to see political polarization and political tribalism as an obstacle to love, I consider breaking out of my personal polarization a spiritual project…and an urgent, patriotic duty.

    Politics isn’t derived so much from philosophy and reason as much as it is from tribalism and hatred. Partisan politics is basically racism for modern America.

    Researchers have long asked such questions about race, and have found that along important dimensions, racial prejudice is decreasing. At the same time, party prejudice in the U.S. has jumped, infecting not only politics but also decisions about dating, marriage and hiring. By some measures, “partyism” now exceeds racial prejudice — which helps explain the intensity of some midterm election campaigns.

    In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would feel “displeased” if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those numbers had reached 49 percent and 33 percent. Republicans have been found to like Democrats less than they like people on welfare or gays and lesbians. Democrats dislike Republicans more than they dislike big business.

    We will always need an outgroup to hate. It is rooted deep within our nature.

    • #13
    • January 22, 2017, at 2:52 PM PST
    • Like
  14. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude Post author

    Pony Convertible (View Comment):
    Congratulations are finally thinking about rights and what they are. Conversations with those who don’t know can be frustrating.

    You missed an important point about poverty in the U.S. Most people in poverty, aren’t there very long. There is a lot of movement from poverty to upper income levels and vice versa. The opportunity to get out of poverty is why people came here and continue to do so.

    Oooh! Future sermon!

    • #14
    • January 22, 2017, at 3:11 PM PST
    • Like
  15. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude Post author

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
    There are two kinds of rights, that you might call negative rights and affirmative rights. For example if “I have the right to go to the moon”, it could mean that no one may prevent my going to the moon, provided I build the transportation system myself. Or it might mean, “The rest of you are obliged to provide me with a transportation system to get me there safely”. One is the right to not to be interfered with, in effect the right to be left alone. The second is a right to requisition the resources of others. In a healthy society, most of our rights fall into the first category. I can say what I want, live where I want, travel where I want, etc… -all on my own dime. Conservatives agree on this category of rights. But there are some legitimate rights belonging to the second category. Society has an obligation not to let people starve or freeze to death. Implementing rights of the second kind means that some of my limited resources must be requisitioned, even against my will, to care for others. But rights of the second kind become destructive unless they are limited. After all, human want is unlimited. Leftists of various shades fail to recognize the need for a limiting principle.

    Very, very helpful. And probably too much nuance for a 15 minute sunday morning gig…. Y’all have made me a much better preacher.

    • #15
    • January 22, 2017, at 3:12 PM PST
    • Like
  16. SkipSul Moderator

    Well said!

    • #16
    • January 22, 2017, at 5:23 PM PST
    • Like
  17. Aaron Miller Member

    Well said. Charity can only be voluntary. And programs treat statistical objects, not unique and incalculable persons. It is what we do face-to-face that matters most.

    • #17
    • January 22, 2017, at 6:08 PM PST
    • Like
  18. Patrick McClure Member

    Brilliant analysis Kate.

    • #18
    • January 22, 2017, at 6:38 PM PST
    • Like
  19. Quietpi Member

    You are crossing the Rubicon, Kate.

    • #19
    • January 22, 2017, at 7:58 PM PST
    • Like
  20. Doug Watt Member

    Nice sermon, no, a great sermon. There is a lesson in the mote and the beam in one’s eye. In the confessional one is supposed to concentrate on their own sins, not their neighbor’s, spouse, or children’s sins. I’m well aware of the sins of others, but the danger is that there is some thing that is missed when I don’t examine my own sins.

    • #20
    • January 22, 2017, at 8:00 PM PST
    • Like
  21. MJBubba Inactive

    Thanks, Chaplain Kate. People of faith need to consider our actions for the spiritual consequences, and consider policy (such as tax law or entitlement programs) from the point of view of whether the tax or the program is actually delivering the improvements that are the original stated goals.

    If a program isn’t working, it is a conservative position to want to trim the program and look for tweaks that will have a greater likelihood of delivering the improvements that the program was intended to provide. It turns out that the Leftist position is that, so long as maintaining the program as sacred makes them feel good, then the program must not be touched, no matter how much it stirs up unintended counterproductive results.

    Results only matter to conservatives.

    • #21
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:04 AM PST
    • Like
  22. MJBubba Inactive

    Back around election time, we spent some Sunday School time talking about politics, because the kids kept asking political questions.

    One of my 6th grade girls said that her Social Studies teacher had told her that political liberals give more to charities than conservative Christians do. I asked her to elaborate.

    A subsequent internet search quickly revealed what I was looking for. A decade ago a book came out with the statistics to prove that Christian Americans and American political conservatives give more than anyone. They give more proportionally and they give more in absolute terms. (The research divided these two groups because the data sources did not provide the sort of breakdown they really wanted.)

    The Social Studies teacher was obviously reading a 2011 article that purported to debunk those findings. In order to reach their desired result, they simply said that giving to one’s own church or to church ministries was self-serving, and so they cut those contributions out of their calculations. See, we all like to belong to organizations, and more income makes our favored organizations stronger organizations, and since it is “self-serving” it should not count as charity.

    Hey, presto! Christians don’t give much if you don’t count giving to Christian charities. In fact, if you take out Christian ministries, it turns out that Christians actually give a little bit less than social liberals give.

    My Sunday School kids didn’t think that was a fair way to look at it.

    • #22
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:18 AM PST
    • Like
  23. Western Chauvinist Member

    Gee, has anyone ever told you “you should really be a writer, Kate!”? ;-)

    I think it was the great Thomas Sowell who said (roughly), “Liberals want to help the poor. Conservatives want to help the poor not to be poor.” I think he has it right.

    • #23
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:27 AM PST
    • Like
  24. Manny Member

    First, welcome to the conservative side! I hadn’t realized you were on some experiment all this time.

    Kate Braestrup:It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I had never thought that much about my rights as an American. I didn’t think of what it would actually mean if a government guaranteed a right to decent housing enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

    You addressed a lot here, but let me comment on rights and taking care of the poor. Absolutely no one per the constitution is guaranteed a right to housing and other basic needs. However, the constitution allows the means for (1) legislators to address these needs through legislative acts and (2) for states to decide in their own fashion and according to their local values how to address these needs. This is sometimes referred to as subsidiarity. While nothing is guaranteed as a right on a federal level, many states do guarantee some basic needs on a state level. Ultimately there is a moral ethic to take care of our neighbors. 50 out of 50 states, no matter what their political leanings is evidence that such an ethic is universal. No country could prosper without it. No country could be Christian without it. Certainly it is best for charities to be the primary means of alleviating the effects of poverty, but I have to admit it doesn’t seem likely that it could handle the entire scope of poverty.

    • #24
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:45 AM PST
    • Like
  25. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude Post author

    MJBubba (View Comment):
    Thanks, Chaplain Kate. People of faith need to consider our actions for the spiritual consequences, and consider policy (such as tax law or entitlement programs) from the point of view of whether the tax or the program is actually delivering the improvements that are the original stated goals.

    I was interested to note, @mjbubba, how anxious some people were at having these facts announced. In ordinary conversations (with fellow clergy, even!) I’ve had people get angry or crestfallen when I explain that poverty around the world isn’t getting worse, but getting much better, and the same people are unhappy if you tell them that, actually, America takes pretty good care of the poor.

    What this tells us is the usual thing: people’s attachment to issues isn’t about the issues, it’s about the attachment, that is, the bond between members of a tribe. As Haidt says, “follow the sacredness.”

    That’s why, when I got to the line about “this is good news, right?” it was a real question, addressed to those in the congregation who had that familiar suddenly-standing-on-Jello look of people who have just learned that they’ve been offering answers to questions that aren’t being asked.

    Why on earth would a sixth grade teacher tell her students that liberals give more to charity than conservatives? You really have to wonder about people like that. My son’s fifth grade teacher used to lecture the kids about how hunting is murder, and hunters are horrible, cruel people. Since this is Maine, she was telling more than half of her captive young audience that their Dads were monsters.

    • #25
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:45 AM PST
    • Like
  26. Quietpi Member

    I have fairly regular contact with people on the “wrong side of the tracks” by virtue of my occupation. I can state with certainty that well over 90% of children who go hungry at all, do so because their parent(s) are stoned. It isn’t the lack of food or resources to obtain it. In fact, there’s a heck of a lot of free food out there – all people have to do is to show a need. It’s the failure of the parent(s) to feed them. Well, that and the adults’ spending their money on drugs instead of food.

    Kate, you mentioned that our “poor” would be middle class in most other countries. I periodically visit a particular mobile home park where this couldn’t be more apparent. I can see inside the front windows of many of the trailers, many of which really aren’t fit for habitation. And I’m looking at the backs of flat screen tv’s, computers, mondo stereo systems, etc.

    And as it happens, tonight my men’s Bible study group is preparing and serving dinner for a local homeless shelter. We do this several times per year, in rotation with other church groups. It’s a fine dinner we serve. It’s at no cost to the shelter, nor in our case, even the rest of the church. Actually, I doubt any of the cost is even counted against our regular giving.

    • #26
    • January 23, 2017, at 7:39 AM PST
    • Like
  27. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude Post author

    Quietpi (View Comment):
    I have fairly regular contact with people on the “wrong side of the tracks” by virtue of my occupation. I can state with certainty that well over 90% of children who go hungry at all, do so because their parent(s) are stoned.

    Me, too, Quietpi: I am also given opportunities to enter into the homes of the poor, and I see the same thing. Not all the time. Sometimes I get to meet people who, though low-income and living on welfare, are doing a good job with their kids, keeping their houses and their heads clean, and my guess is that they won’t actually stay on welfare for long, though they will probably have to game the system—e.g. hide their savings accounts, pretend not to be married—in order to do it.

    When you google images of “poor people in America,” what you see are actually “homeless people” a strange euphemism for a group largely comprised of addicts and the mentally ill (but I repeat myself—mostly).

    The problem here is not a lack of food or even money, it is a lack—a huge, gaping lack—in mental health “beds” and a lack of willingness to correct the catastrophic effects of deinstitutionalization.

    When my loved-one was hospitalized, the other patients were there to be medically stabilized just as she was. Once stabilized, they would be discharged, in her case, to the arms of her loving family; in theirs, to the street. A mentally ill person has a tough time managing medications schedules and lifestyle discipline even with support and assistance. Without these, the result is a completely predictable cycle, in which sick people wheel expensively in and out of the hospital, with each round leaving them sicker and sicker, harder and harder to stabilize, more and more incapable of taking care of themselves.

    What we need is long-term care facilities for people with serious mental illnesses. Instead, we pretend we can fix this with a hike in the minimum wage.

    • #27
    • January 23, 2017, at 10:00 AM PST
    • Like
  28. MJBubba Inactive

    When looking at studies of poverty that compare nations, it is important to look for the definition of “poverty.” In America, our definition of “poverty” is much different than the criteria used in other parts of the world.

    I am in agreement with Quietpi. There are no “kids going hungry” anywhere in the U.S.A., except for those poor unfortunate kids whose parents are so messed up on drugs that the care of the kids goes lacking. There is plenty of food on offer, both from government and from religious charities.

    It might also be worth observing that government poverty programs were started because private and church charities were not keeping up with needs, because there are some rural areas and some urban neighborhoods who are so depressed that they lack the resources to help each other and the larger community is mostly unaware of the needs. However, it ought also be noted that the men who designed the Great Society programs were of an age to vividly remember the Great Depression, and designed programs to fit needs that didn’t much exist by 1964.

    By 1967 it was clear to close observers that the Great Society programs were producing counterproductive results. But those programs were already sacred, and have remained sacred, even though they have harmed many generations since.

    • #28
    • January 23, 2017, at 10:17 AM PST
    • Like
  29. Guruforhire Member

    If you really wanted to swing for the hills:

    1.) The moral necessity to ask

    2.) The religious perspective on obedience and proper conduct within hierarchy.

    • #29
    • January 23, 2017, at 11:27 AM PST
    • Like
  30. Doctor Robert Member

    Kate Braestrup: In the story of Fiorello LaGuardia and the old lady who stole a loaf of bread, the shopkeeper is the bad guy, right? The greedy rich man who is willing to prosecute a poor woman to teach the other poor people a lesson.

    No, he’s not. The shopkeeper needs to feed his children too.

    • #30
    • January 23, 2017, at 11:52 AM PST
    • Like