The Bible has some things to say about helping the poor. And Steven Colbert has said some things about that. There is a huge discrepancy between government programs designed to help the poor and what the Bible teaches regarding individuals helping the poor. One applies to principles of Godly stewardship and how believers personally respond to the LORD through their giving; the other applies to the socialist confiscation of an individual’s money and the government controlling how he spends it.
My article, “Steven Colbert And Jesus”, posted December 20, 2010 has received the most hits of all my articles.** [This is no longer the case. As of April 2013, my post of July 14, 2010, “Too Heavenly Minded?”, has received almost three times the views as my article on Steven Colbert.] I assume this is a product of Mr. Colbert’s popularity. From comments on that article, I have concluded there is widespread ignorance of what the Bible actually teaches. The general public appears content to remain ignorant of the facts, focusing instead on their feelings and prejudices. So, when distorted statements are made by those who have an audience, such as Mr. Colbert, they go largely unchallenged and his inaccuracies have not been noticed.
I have also found that when someone who actually does know the Bible confronts the person making such distorted statements, and refutes those statements from a Biblical point of view, you hear nothing but crickets. Ignoring any refutation of distorted statements avoids the embarrassment of having one’s claims examined in the light of truth. When liars try to defend their statements, they lose their footing and get dragged into deep waters, where their arguments sink. But by ignoring reasoned refutation, they don’t have to answer it. They can just pretend their statements are uncontested and above reproach. And their uncritical audience supports their fantasy.
Several years ago I encountered this practice of distort and ignore when I wrote a letter to Oliver Thomas, in response to his USA Today article, “Ungodly Hubris”. Read the article at: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20081027/opledereligion148.art.htm
I was deeply bothered, not only by Mr. Thomas’s assessment of Americans’ Biblical attitudes, but by his reckless, judgmental misuse of Biblical principles. I was outraged by his opinionated, sloppy and unreasoned writing. I was amazed at his qualifications, from
Oliver “Buzz” Thomas is an attorney and Baptist minister.
Expertise: Religion and law.
Background: Thomas has practiced at every level of state and federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He has been a parish minister, general counsel to the Baptist Joint Committee, special counsel for religious and civil liberties to the National Council of Churches, a consultant to the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and litigation director of the Knoxville Legal Aid Society. He has appeared as an expert witness before the Judiciary Committees of both chambers of the United States Congress as well as before state legislatures. He has been a guest commentator on major media outlets such as C-Span, CNN and National Public Radio.
Books: 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can’t Because He Needs the Job).
(He probably likes Steven Colbert, too.)
One would assume a person of his position would be passionate about what he believes — ready at all times not only to make pronouncements of his convictions but to rise to defend them when attacked. But when I wrote him my Biblical response to the unfounded opinions I found in his article, he simply ignored me. One might assume that he either considered himself too important a person to answer a “nobody” like me, or that he considered my points of argument to be beneath him. It is more likely that he simply knew he did not have the truth on his side. Had he engaged me in a debate in order to contend for the truth, he would have been forced to face his rational failings and Biblical ignorance.
Mr. Thomas is typical of many who hold positions of power and influence today. They think fast, read fast, complete volumes of work, please their superiors by remembering and spouting out everything they’ve ever been taught. But they lack good judgment and critical thought. And in their progressive view of life, they consider everything in a state of evolution toward perfection. They see anyone who holds to absolute values as a throwback and someone to ignore.
Well, I’m not a throwback. You can read what Oliver Thomas wrote, and you can read my response. But remember, Mr. Oliver did not reply. He chose to ignore me, but I’m not going away. If you care enough to think through what I have written, perhaps you will grasp the error of Oliver Thomas and Steven Colbert. Socialism does not express Christianity and government does not take the place of God or God’s authority.
October 29, 2008
To Oliver Thomas:
Thankfully, I do not often read USA Today. But on Monday, October 27, I read the complimentary copy provided by the hotel on a visit to the Portland area. Since the purpose of The Forum, as stated in the small, “On Religion” box is to “illuminate the national conversation”, I am putting in my two cents’ worth. I found your article, “Ungodly Hubris”, to be a political opinion piece, thinly disguised by your so-called Biblical perspective. By suggesting we read the Bible with “new eyes” you assume our national politics and foreign policy result from a uniquely American Biblical view; that we are in fact a Christian (or at least Biblical) nation with a national character that grows out of Biblical values, as we see them.
But as a Christian, I see things quite differently. The principles and ideals derived from Scripture, which were fundamental to our national identity and character in the past, have become increasingly irrelevant and even considered hostile to “progressive” government and politics. The Judeo-Christian ethic is one thing; gay rights, abortion and globalism (to name a few) represent quite another thing: godlessness. That you would rather ascribe our ungodliness to the hubris of our mind-set when we read the Bible is a real stretch.
In your generalizations you attempt to apply a Biblical perspective, but what you are really preaching is socialism. You say Americans are over-confident and over-consuming, using more than our “fair share”. But many of the patriarchs of the Bible were very wealthy because God blessed them. After all his difficulties Job ended up with more riches than he had at first. “Fair share” is not a Biblical concept. It’s a socialist concept. Jesus said, “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 25:29) Ecclesiastes 2:26 reads in part, “…to the sinner he [God] gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God…” There’s no “fair share” in the Bible.
You characterize most Americans as being citizens of two kingdoms. (A ploy to denigrate loyalty to our sovereign nation?) But while most Christians identify with the Kingdom of Heaven, the U.S.A. is not a kingdom. It is a Democracy, where ultimate authority is supposed to rest in the people. Unfortunately, the moral responsiveness of our elected leaders is doing a vanishing act because less and less of the people take their responsibility seriously enough to stay informed and participate by voting. Our citizens have become dumbed-down and apathetic. That certainly isn’t a result of how we read the Bible.
You also confuse citizens with residents. Much of the violence in our nation is perpetrated by illegal aliens. They have brought more than their “fair share” of violent crime to our nation, through gangs and drugs. Just look at the prison population. America has been made more violent by non-citizens — illegal at that.
Your sappy definition of patriotism makes no mention of the willingness to fight and die for the ideals this nation represents (something your father understood and acted upon). This nation stands for freedom. Apparently, you don’t think we, as a nation, should expect preachers to have freedom of speech. You gush, “…such a preacher would almost certainly be relieved of his pulpit duties, if not run out of town.” To the contrary, in America I expect preachers to be guaranteed freedom of speech. And true freedom of speech doesn’t reward political correctness. It is made for those whose opinions are in variance with those who are in power or authority. Reverend Wright said, “God damn America!” but wasn’t run out of town. Read Galatians 5:1.
Continuing to paint with broad brush strokes, you describe Americans as “greedy”, ignoring all the charitable work done by religious Americans at home and abroad. The folks who are most often responsible for helping others do so out of a motivation that comes from Biblical teachings. They are not the greedy ones. The people who are greedy don’t pay any attention to Biblical teachings.
In reference to your Marshal Goldsmith illustration, where you say, “I suspect we read the Bible much the same way.”, I suspect the real problem is that we don’t read the Bible much at all. You incorrectly cite, “To whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48) to justify unfair (“progressive”) taxation. You fail to represent this Biblical text at two significant points:
First, it is not the government or society that requires much. It is God. I utterly reject the idea than in reading the Bible we can substitute our payment of government taxes for our obligations to God! Matthew 22:21 makes clear that we are to “render unto Caesar” and also give to God. One cannot supplant the other. According to Philippians 2:12 and 13 we are to work out our own salvation, not leave it up to the government.
Secondly, the Bible teaches that our giving should be on a voluntary basis. It is not to be compulsory. See Exodus 25:2 (“…from each man whose heart prompts him to give.”) and 2 Corinthians 9:7 (“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…”). Certainly while godliness is characterized by a willingness of individuals to be generous in good deeds to the needy, we cannot hope to be “godly” by being compelled by the government to pay taxes to help the needy.
You further typify American attitudes toward the poor as being contrary to Biblical teaching when you write, “…the Bible time and time again admonishes God’s people to advance the cause of the poor and show hospitality to foreigners…”. The best way to advance the cause of the poor is to provide them with the opportunity to work out of their poverty and better themselves. And that’s exactly what America does — better than any other nation. Legal immigration to the United States exceeds the combined immigration of all other nations in the world!
**[UPDATE]** I have learned that this statement isn’t totally true. Due to the fact that immigration laws and practices vary greatly from nation to nation, direct comparison isn’t simple or clear-cut. However, I believe I am justified in making the value judgment that the U.S. is number one on the wish list of most immigrants. Why? Because in our nation people find opportunities for a better life that simply are beyond compare to what is available elsewhere. In our country, those who are poor have the opportunity to become rich. And many foreigners continue to come here for that reason.
Biblical teachings about how we are to treat the poor are not one-dimensional. Yes, we are to be (voluntarily) generous in helping the poor, but 2 Thessalonians 3:10 mediates that by adding, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Helping the poor doesn’t mean making them dependent upon government. In addition, we are not to favor the poor over the rich, but give the same consideration to both. When James 2 says not to give preferential treatment to the rich, it concludes in verse 9, “But if you show favoritism, you sin…” If favoritism is sin, it applies to both rich and poor. From Exodus 23:2 and 3 we are told, “…do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” Similarly, Leviticus 19:15 reads, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
1 Timothy 6:17-19 teaches that having the right attitude toward their wealth (not being arrogant, which is about the same as having hubris) those who are rich may please God through acts of generous giving. That is a matter of their own personal response to God and it isn’t something that may be achieved by the government taking their wealth and redistributing it for political purposes, such as “changing the world”.
Finally, when you write, “And if self-awareness is the beginning of wisdom…” You are either ignorant of what the Bible actually has to say or you are purposely deceiving your readers. It may be the teaching of some Eastern guru, but it defies Biblical teaching and true believers know that it is not true. Rather, it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom (See Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10.).
The wisdom of the Bible teaches, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” and, “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 16:8 and 18:12) Therefore by reading the Bible, a person would tend to eschew hubris. Your assumption that the American reading of the Bible somehow reflects a selfish, brutish, overweening attitude is without merit and does injustice to those few who in fact do read the Bible. More to the point, your perceived criticisms wouldn’t exist if more Americans actually read the Bible. And a little more Bible reading on your part wouldn’t hurt either.