This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).
Archive for gospel living
On Friday of last week, Nobel Prize Laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote an interesting piece titled, “A Tale of Two Moralities.” I have long admired Krugman, not simply because we tend to agree in matters of political and economic policy, but because he is certainly a brilliant thinker who often has a compelling point to make following a richly insightful observation.
Such was the case two days ago when his NYT column noted what Krugman believed to be at the heart of the divisive quality of our political discourse marked as it has been in recent years by increasingly polarizing rhetoric and disrespect. For, as Krugman opines, the problem isn’t policy-oriented nor is it simply a matter of partisan politics, but instead he suggests:
For the great divide in our politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.
The point that Krugman is making is that what is essentially at the core of the divide is really a difference in worldview and values, not just petty politics or policy squabbles. Later in the column Krugman makes an analogous reference to the issue of abortion and how each side of the Roe vs. Wade case views the opposing side as morally wrong, not simply politically affiliated in a different association.
This, he asserts, is the case with economic policies of political import. One side (the so-called conservatives, generally associated with the GOP) see a moral right to keep what is ‘earned’ and feel that people should not have to involuntarily give of their financial gain no matter how worse off others in society are. The other side (the so-called liberals, generally associated with the Democratic Party) see the plutocratic hoarding of money by disproportionately small group of the wealthy while others barely survive as unjust.
It is a difference between theft and greed. And neither side will budge.
Krugman is easily forthcoming about which of the two sides he is aligned. He wrote:
Regular readers know which side of that divide I’m on. In future columns I will no doubt spend a lot of time pointing out the hypocrisy and logical fallacies of the “I earned it and I have the right to keep it” crowd. And I’ll also have a lot to say about how far we really are from being a society of equal opportunity, in which success depends solely on one’s own efforts.
His alignment is not expressly based on religious principles, but I believe that as a Christian — and particularly a Franciscan — I must overtly state on which side I find myself standing, in it should be no surprise to those who have ever read the Gospels. The side that sees the requisite sharing of its profit for the aid of the poor and marginalized as ‘theft’ have no leg to stand on when it comes to Christian morality.
Whether it’s Matthew 25 or the entire Gospel of Luke or Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians, whatever passage from Scripture one wishes to invoke about discipleship will ultimately lead the honest believer to the side of the divide that sees it as everybody’s obligation to take care of the least among us. No one has the right to excess wealth when others are dying of hunger, illness, war or any of the other consequences of poverty.
Krugman is correct, I believe, in his assessment of the divide relating to a difference in moral outlook. But, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, there is a right and wrong moral outlook and only one of the two is right. I should say, only one is right for those who hold the Bible to be Sacred Scripture.
Actions speak louder than words.
But for some, like Senator-elect Marco Rubio (R-Florida), words are what really matter. This was what I immediately took away from Rubio’s opening comments in his acceptance address after winning 51% of the electorate in his state. He began with an explicit acknowledgment of God. Not just a brief “shout out” or thank you, but a rather lengthy and almost prayerful expression of gratitude to God and a seemingly homiletic exhortation to his constituents on the merits of trust in God.
Perhaps it’s helpful here to take a look at what exactly was said by Rubio this evening. Here is the transcript of the opening portion of Rubio’s speech:
Thank you so much, thank you…let me begin tonight by acknowledging a simple, but profound truth. We are all children of a powerful and great God. Of a God who isn’t always going to end — things aren’t always going to end up the way you want. His will is not always going to be yours. But I promise you this, no matter what you face in life, He will give you the strength to go through with it. I bear witness to that tonight as so many of you do in your own lives, and it must always be acknowledged in everything we do and everywhere we go.
That’s right, you too could be elected senator of Florida, if only you trusted in God (and/or bore greater witness to that trust) a little bit more!
Herein lies the problem and, frankly, the danger with this sort of exhortative invocation of the Almighty. What about all of those women, men and children who do trust in God (in part because they might have no one else to trust), yet find themselves in life situations that are deplorable or unjust? Where is their strength to get by? According to Rubio’s spiritual or theological advice all one need to do is trust in God and God will give him or her what is needed to get by.
That’s a minor “sin” (or, for those “old schoolers” out there, let’s call is a “venial” sin) as far as I’m concerned in his religious acceptance-speech prologue. I don’t mean “sin” in the theological sense, but rather an error or misstep that raises some serious questions for me. What really concerns me is this business about the correlative relationship between words and actions. Rubio, a self-acclaimed devout Roman Catholic, is a politician with Republican and Tea Party affiliation. Why is this significant? You may be asking. It is significant because of the expressly unchristian political views advanced by such candidates (including senator-elect Rubio). And, to be clear, this is not an exoneration of his opposing political party — each side of the partisan divide has its own need to be challenged. But here I think it’s important to hold our (newly) elected officials to high standards, especially when they bring their faith into the public and political sphere.
Whereas the Gospels continually show us the compassionate face of God in the ministry and message of Jesus Christ, Rubio and his Tea Party colleagues advance a political platform that is clearly exclusive, divisive and slanted against the populations that most need the benefits of economic and social reform. He is against many of the initiatives that affect the poorest populations of our country, including the repeal of the healthcare reform and limitation of government-run social assistance avenues.
In addition to being a big proponent of so-called “gun rights,” Rubio said in February of 2010 “the 2nd amendment is a cornerstone of our democracy.” I find it difficult to believe that Jesus, or the God to whom he attributed his senatorial victory, would agree with him on that point. Furthermore, he supported the increase of troops in 2007. What does Jesus say about war and violence? Something about those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and so on. Oh, and yes, Jesus passively submitted to crucifixion as a criminal.
When it comes to civil rights, Rubio and his Tea Party confreres often emphasize their disapproval of equal rights for all people. Those LGBTQ men and women who, like so many of the self-ascribed “Tea Partiers,” love their nation and are willing to serve in the armed services would be excluded from such service by Rubio and others. Rubio does not approve of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and additionally favors a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions.
Rubio himself begins his prayer-like comments with the admission that “we are all children” of God, yet his political platform does not seem to adequately reflect that belief. My hope is that those entrusted to the office of legislative leadership in this country — especially those bold enough to invoke God in their victory speeches — stand up for ALL of the Children of God, and not just those they selectively embrace. Rubio’s Catholicism demands more than prefatory acknowledgment of God, challenging him to move beyond the constricting strictures of exclusivity and platform polity.
May God indeed give him (and all elected officials) the strength he so boldly spoke of in order to effect real and beneficial change for ‘all of the Children of God.’
God came first in his acceptance speech, hopefully God will come first in his legislative work too.