December 23, 2011

The New American Christianity

jesus compassionFor those of you who were forced by well-meaning parents to attend church as children, what do you remember about the alleged teachings of Jesus? I remember hearing in Sunday School that Jesus wanted us to care for the poor and that compassion towards our fellow human was virtuous. I was taught that Jesus was about love, forgiveness, and caring for the less fortunate. I vaguely recall something about him speaking with people that everyone else avoided and even washing the feet of people others considered beneath them. At the time, I thought this Jesus guy sounded pretty fantastic. And you know what? In a lot of ways, I still do.

Granted, I don't believe that anyone who did the things the biblical Jesus is supposed to have done ever lived. I recognize that the Christian bible is mythology in the same way the mythic nature of stories about the Greek gods. Still, the fictional Jesus character had a great deal going for him. Much of what he is supposed to have said was quite positive, even if it was not original.

Strangely, what I am calling "the new American Christianity," even as I realize it is neither new nor universal among Christians, does not look like anything of which the Jesus character would have approved. In fact, it looks an awful lot like what he was described as speaking out against.

Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, had this to say about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations going on in many American cities:
All of the Occupy movement starts with the premise that we all owe them everything. They take over a public park they didn’t pay for, to go near by to use bathrooms they didn’t pay for, to beg for food from places they they don’t want to pay for, to obstruct those that are going to work to pay the taxes to sustain the bathrooms and to sustain the park so that they can self-righteously explain that they are the paragons of virtue to which we owe everything.
Sure, he's missing the point entirely, and he's blind to the fact that many of the demonstrators are indeed employed, tax paying citizens. Hell, many of them are paying a higher tax rate than Gingrich does! But consider the attitude reflected here toward those he assumes are less fortunate than him. Not only is there no reaching out to help, as the biblical Jesus character almost certainly would have done; there is swift condemnation, much like those the Jesus character was trying to teach.

Gingrich went on to say:
Now, that is a pretty good symptom of how much the left has collapsed as a moral system in this country and why you need to reassert something as simple as saying to them, ‘Go get a job right after you take a bath.’
Again, this sentiment is about as far from those attributed to the Jesus character I remember from Sunday School as anything I can imagine. He's suggesting that caring for the less fortunate is immoral, and he's hardly unique in doing so. This, dear reader, is a central tenet of the "new American Christianity," a system for the haves to excuse their neglect of the have-nots.

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