Sunday, December 25, 2005

Cynthia Tucker in AJC: God helps those who help others

Cynthia Tucker in the AJC: "Though some self-serving ranters want us to believe in a phony 'war on Christmas,' I think most of us know that the season's deeper meaning has nothing to do with whether retailers hang banners saying 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays.' It has much more to do with how we treat one another — including the most vulnerable among us.

So let's talk about the poor. Let's talk about those among us who cannot afford basic medical care or decent housing. Let's consider those who, despite working 40 hours or more a week, still can't afford the prescription drugs they need. Let's talk about those who join the Army just to get dental care for their children.

Don't want to hear about them? You think they're stuck at the margins because they're lazy or dumb or inclined to crime? You think America offers prosperity to any man or woman willing to work hard enough to get it?


That political philosophy — which claims to be a hard-headed compassion rather than the hard-hearted selfishness it really is — has become the conventional wisdom. But it's an odd thing for a nation that claims to be overwhelmingly Christian. There is nothing in the New Testament that says that helping the poor merely makes them worse off.

Many of us may believe there is, of course. In the August 2005 issue of Harper's, Bill McKibben wrote: 'Three-quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that 'God helps those who help themselves.' That is, three out of four Americans believe that this �ber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture.

The thing is, not only is Franklin's wisdom not biblical, it's counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the Gospel message, with its radical summons to 'love [thy] neighbor.'

That's a theology not heard much these days from any pulpit — political, Catholic or Protestant. But it's worth thinking about."

Merry Christmas, y'all.


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