Check out this excellent excerpt from Bill McKibben’s article in the August 2005 edition of Harper’s Magazine.
The basic point is that although the overwhelming majority of Americans profess to be Christian, the USA is the least Christian in its behavior (compared to other “developed” nations).
A few nuggets:
“In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries.”
“nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose—childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool—we come in nearly last among the rich nations, and often by a wide margin.”
“Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers.”
“We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners).”
“Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest.”
Usery? Adultery? Deceit? Greed? Envy? Gluttony? Hey, take your pick.
“After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner.”
Think about it. The Christian message is NOT to steal from the poor, or to take water and other natural resources from others, or to abandon the needy, or to hate those who are unlike you or to rally for death. Those things are not Christian, and no manipulation by any false prophet will make it Christian.
God’s spirit and will – at least as it might have been expressed through Jesus, and I can think of some others – is a spirit of compassion, love and forgiveness. None of us are particularly good at living those values that Jesus modelled – but if you base your politics on a Christian viewpoint, you’re not really allowed to claim that the opposite of those values is a Christian moral ground.
I grew up as a hard-core fundamentalist, and later taught religion at the university level. Most students who think they are Christian don’t understand the texts and doctrines of their own religion. They have beliefs that are not a part of the understanding of their own denomination’s teaching, and sometimes not even mentioned in the Bible at all – supposedly the source of their authority. Of course, the bible is a highly selective and edited collection of diverse texts, with a political history of its own – and the idea of its being “inspired” came kind of late in that history.
Still – if you are a Christian, don’t you have to take into some consideration the actual teachings of your messiah? By your teaching, you must believe that you will be judged as you have judged, that you will be forgiven as you have been forgiving, that Jesus will consider all you have done toward the poor, toward the hurting, toward the powerless – as you having done it toward him.
Alas alas for you – hypocrites and Pharisees… making a big show of righteousness and it signifies nothing real at all.
The word repent means turn around. If you have not love (caritas – charity, compassion, caring), you have nothing at all.