Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dancing with Strawmen

A conservative friend posted this letter and asked his progressive friends to respond. I don't think my progressive friends claim me in their ranks, but I identify (with hesitation) as a democrat and I took the bait. After some back and forth, he suggested we get back to the point. This letter. 

This letter is, to my mind, emblematic of deep political divide. We are not talking with each other, we are talking about each other, and sometimes we're screaming. This letter is not aimed at me. It is aimed at similarly minded people who are also angry at me. It is not intended to wake my mind to new ideas, it is intended as a jeer. The reader, not me, is expected to laugh and pump fists in loud agreement about the idiots on the far side. 

But my friend, a thoughtful conservative, did not hear what I heard. Fascinatingly, he didn't even hear the insult aimed at me. So deep is the divide, that where I heard insults, he apparently heard truths. So, line by line, I wanted to make sure he read the same thing I read. 

Dear lazy, liberal “Christians”

The letter tees off with what is among the most offensive thing he writes. I'm not a "Christian." I'm a Christian. The scare quote implication is deeply (and deliberately) offensive. Rightly, faith informs politics, not the other way around. Using politics as litmus test for faith is, um, uncharitable. And wrong. And rude. 

who think it’s totes okay for government to be “charitable,”
Style. You are implicating youth, I suppose? We're totes diverse. Totes. We also don't think the government is charity. I assume this is an indirect reference to social safety nets. 

Stop it. You’re lack of understanding for how government works is just terrifying.
*Your. But I am a terrible editor and I make a thousand typos a day. I won't judge you for the mistake, tempting though it is when the following phrase is, "lack of understanding." 

Not terrifying in the peeing my pants kind of way, terrifying in the Pontus Pilate way. You know, the guy who cleaned his hands of the matter and allowed Jesus to be crucified. “Mob rule” won that day, logic did not.
*Pontius. Sorry. I will stop. It is the line by line thing. It makes errors pop out. I make 'em by the million. But then, I try not to call other people stupid. 

Anyway. Sweetheart, I am so glad you are not afraid of me. Coming from the side of the aisle which is currently imploding over the masses loudly choosing a barbaric mouthpiece over leveler heads, there is some irony. "Give us Barabbas!" It is so clearly and obviously the wrong choice, but your party is too angry to care. But you are not comparing us (me) to the masses, you are comparing us (me) to Pontius Pilate. He didn't choose evil; he allowed it to be chosen. 

Am I saying you crucified Jesus? No, of course not, but I am saying you’re wiping your hands of responsibility by allowing the government to be “charitable” on your behalf. Not only is that just plain lazy, it’s anti-Christian on principle. It also shows a complete lack of understanding for how Christianity works. Even if you do have a Jesus fish on your car. Lemme guess, you drive a Prius? We’ll address that in another post. But please, understand, if you take away nothing else from this column, the left lane is for passing!

OK. So, there are a lot of evils we could talk about. (There are even a few which might work in your comparison.) but you chose governmental charity. Can we talk about that? What exactly are we talking about? I assume you are not a complete monster and you do not oppose all social safety nets, right? You are attacking a category, but you wouldn't approve of abolishing it. That is because, rightly implemented, the category is not about charity but justice. Both/and not Either/or. Social safety nets and charity. We don't pick.

Jesus called his disciples to care for the least of these. The poor, the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit prisoners, etc. This is Christianity 101. We all know it. As Christians we’re called to be Christ-like, to be his disciples, to preach his word. All good things. Put a giant check mark next to your Jesus fish.
This is going to sound like a slight detour, but hang with me. Christianity 101 has been skipping a chapter- the same chapter for as long as I can remember. Everyone knows the list. There are not many places where Jesus says, "Do this or you'll go to Hell." Where he does, we should notice. Largely, we do. Your list: the poor, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner-- it is the right list. You are reciting, not quoting so I won't hold the omission against you. But let's notice anyway, because everyone makes the same omission and I cannot bring myself to believe that Jesus would approve. The verse in question says, "Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’" 

Did you notice? Hunger and thirst can be paired, so we won't call that an omission. Likewise, ill and in prison. Who are you leaving off the list? The stranger. Always the stranger. Go ask anyone to quote that verse and, the chances are unless they look it up they will make the same mistake. Who is the stranger and why is he on the list? Why does everyone forget? Scripture has a lot to say about this guy and it is uncomfortable. There is room for discussion, of course, but discussion isn't happening. Here is one place to begin: 21 Stranger Claims in the Old Testament.
Here’s the rub, though. Who did Jesus tell to take care of the poor, the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit prisoners etc.? His disciples. Okay, yeah, that does sound obvious, doesn’t it, what with me pointing it out all of one paragraph up? Welcome to the literary technique of “foreshadowing.” But for some reason you leftist Christians have confused Jesus’s teachings to his disciples, with instructions for government.I get it, sometimes Jesus used parables to make things easier to understand. In the days before Twitter, Jesus had to simplify a lot of things so people would remember his teachings and subsequently pass them down via oral transmission. Yet despite his over 140 character limit, Jesus never said “Blessed are those who believe the government should tax people, so that government can redistribute it and give to others. Because personal responsibility is overrated. #FeelTheBern” Unless I’m missing a beatitude.
 If you get to repeat, I get to repeat too. Both/and not either/or. Social safety nets do not replace charity. If you think they do, you do not understand either one. 

Jesus tells us to do all these things, but he doesn't say how. Is donating to a soup kitchen OK, or is the act too far removed? Is any cooperative action OK? There are fools on both sides who are spouting off about how Jesus would vote for their guy and we should too. Snopes even had to refute one popular idiocy saying that the pope had endorsed Bernie. So I get it. You are hearing nonsense. Here's the thing: Jesus wasn't a Republican either. In his great wisdom, Jesus did not come to a time and place where participation in civil society meant voting for one of two immoral parties. The whole WWJD thing nearly always sounds weird to my ear. The incarnation means we are both to act as Jesus and to see Jesus in each other, even when the other in question happens to be running for office. Diverse opinions and perspectives nearly always add value and sometimes more than one is true. So how are we going to do the things Jesus said we have to do? We are likely going to disagree about the answer, but that's OK, provided that no one thinks an appropriate answer at the Pearly Gates is, "I voted." You want that point? I'll give you that point. Voting, even voting for social safety nets, does not absolve anyone of the critical commands in scripture. 

Oh, but you say the government are the people because the government is actually funded by the people. Therefore the government, in the mind of you, is made up of Jesus’s disciples? Clever.Okay, let’s talk about that.
I'm not owning that garbage. Nope. But then, I also refuse to say that we are a Christian Country. 

In short, no. You’re wrong here too. Sucks, don’t it? See, in order for the government to give money to people who do not have it, or have not earned it, the money must first be taken from people. Yes, it is taken. Sometimes by force. Most people, if given the choice, would not volunteer their money to the government. Put simply, taxes are not voluntary, charitable donations. Still with me?
Ugh. Dude. With the tortured youth rhetoric. Whose voice are you mocking? Did you find some nitwit, redneck, Christian, Sanders-supporting, liberal millennial? Is that a thing? I guess I should count my blessings. If your strawman was a hipster we'd be parsing bespokes and perchances. 

But your point. No. Taxes are not charity. And no, they are not voluntary. We are with you, captain. Except for that quip about people who have not earned it. Do I sense poverty shaming? Foreshadowing again? Meh. I'll let you get there. 

 I’m feeling the Jesus theme, so let’s have ourselves a parable.Two men are walking on a street. One of them is a cis-gendered man, the other is a white transwoman. Multiculturalism. They come across a homeless woman, who has scrawled “Will Work for Food” upon her sign, probably with a pen which is toxic to the environment. One of the men says “This saddens me, someone should do something.” The other man agrees, responding “Yes, someone should do something about it.”A third person walks by. Gender neutral for purely illustrative reasons. Let’s call it/zi “Jordan.” Stay with me on this one, leftists. Both the transwoman and the cis-genered man stop Jordan. One pins Jordan to the ground, the other takes his wallet by force, removes 38% of the cash, pockets a large percentage for himself (administrative fees) then gives a few dollars to the homeless woman.Pleased with themselves, the tranny and the cis-man pat Jordan on the back and say “Thanks for being charitable.”In case that wasn’t clear, if you’re the “Christian” who thinks the government should give money to others, you’re the tranny. And possibly a sex criminal, we won’t know for sure until you meet a jury of your peers.That’s not transphobia, by the way,
YES IT IS. Did using a slur make you feel better? It is a huge distraction from your point. An illuminating and bilious distraction. But finish anyway.  
 I was merely distinguishing my parable from the many parables Jesus told about work, or being charitable to others, or the one about the mustard seed, but didn’t tell about the government redistributing wealth. Again, perhaps I missed that part. But I know for certain Jesus never used a transgender in his parables. Confusion averted.
Confusion is still dancing circles around your convoluted "parable." (See? I can do scare quotes too!) But, lets get straight to the point, shall we? In your story, two people assault a third to give a few bucks to a homeless woman and that, you think, is representative of liberal Christian voters? Let me just ask, what if we cut the homeless woman out of the story and insert, say, war. Does that represent conservatives? Of course not. Because no one sane actually thinks that taxes and robbery are the same thing. 

I don't actually know you. Maybe you are an anarchist or an idiot or both. But let's assume not. You don't object to taxes generally. You don't even object to legal ramifications for people who refuse to pay. You object to tax money being spent in specific ways. This "parable" is all bluster and steam. 

Now that we’ve established you’re being a miserly crapweasel,
Hang on. I have to talk to my friend who posted this for a second. J- See? The name calling is not "alleged." It is repeated. Did you really miss it? -B
let’s also take you to task for not giving at all. Across the board, regardless of income level or faith, Conservatives give much more personal contributions to charity than liberals do…
Conservatives give more regardless of income level. I have seen those numbers too. The same data set provides other tidbits. Gays give more than anyone else, for instance. The very stingiest of all are secular conservatives. Fascinating. But to your actual point, it turns out that religion, not politics, predicts donating habits. Religious liberals and religious conservatives give pretty equally. Faith is not irrelevant. Look it up. Then stop spitting on my Jesus fish. 

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.Because, as leftists of course, you think “charity” is a vote for Bernie Sanders. This is incorrect. See above parable. See also,the Bible. See also a dictionary which will outline the difference between charity and taxes. Cross-reference to see if they’re synonyms. Tell me what you find…
Oops. I responded before you finished. Sorry. See above. 
So please, for the love of what Jesus actually taught, stop voting for politicians who promise to raise taxes.
Get ready for non-sequitur in 3...2...1... 
You’re not being charitable, you’re not being Christ-like.
Bam! There it is. Maybe I am not. I am trying. In any event, my voting habits are not predictive. 
You’re just being an easily exploited rube with zero critical thinking skills. No, your Jesus fish will not absolve you of this one.
Name calling again, my friend? Rude. 

Listen. Reasonable people can disagree about taxes. What does a fair tax look like? How high or low? Progressive or flat? Reasonable people will also disagree about where the money should be spent. Defense spending or social safety nets? Veterans? Space programs? Education? What should the budget be and how should we allocate the funds? We will argue about priorities and budgets. These things matter and reasonable people will disagree with enormous emotional energy. If you want to have that conversation, I am listening. 

Reasonable people do not equate taxes and aggravated robbery. 

Oh! And by the way. The Jesus fish thing? I don't know why you keep bringing that up. We liberals more commonly sport COEXIST stickers. 


  1. Seems like the writer of this not very charitable letter hasn't read Mark 12:17. Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him."
    The whole thing makes me go to yi to yi yi! Thankfully you have a better way with words than I!

  2. The writer is a comedian. Apparently.

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