Saturday, March 5, 2011
Was Cardinal George Espousing A Catholic Version Of The Prosperity Gospel Shell Game?
I have to admit I was stunned with Cardinal George's take on God's love. Stunned. As one commenter posted, I too wanted to bang my head with my keyboard. How in the world have we gotten to the point where a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church felt compelled to write that God loves some people more than others? Yesterday I wrote that this was a view of God that suspiciously mirrored an immature paternal figure. Although such a view of God is easily justified in the Old Testament, it can't be justified from the teachings of Christ. Yet we see this view of God continually portrayed by the Christian right to justify all kinds of policies which do in fact make it seem that God loves some people more than others. In Evangelical circles this is espoused as the 'prosperity gospel'. It's crap, but it's stench is pervasive in our politics.
A few weeks ago Huffington Post ran an op ed piece by George Lakoff entitled "What Conservatives Really Want". I think it helps explain what Cardinal George was up to with his pernicious take on God. I don't believe anyone's salvation or potential sainthood was on Cardinal George's mind. The following is an excerpt from Lakoff's piece.
"The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don't have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally. (And this father figure loves some of his children more than others, especially his sons, and especially his first born son. Unfortunately none of this is particularly true for today's fathers who seem to love their daughters as much as their sons and don't give much preference to one's birth order.)
The market itself is seen in this way. The slogan, "Let the market decide" assumes the market itself is The Decider. The market is seen as both natural (since it is assumed that people naturally seek their self-interest) and moral (if everyone seeks their own profit, the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand). As the ultimate moral authority, there should be no power higher than the market that might go against market values. Thus the government can spend money to protect the market and promote market values, but should not rule over it either through (1) regulation, (2) taxation, (3) unions and worker rights, (4) environmental protection or food safety laws, and (5) tort cases. Moreover, government should not do public service. The market has service industries for that. Thus, it would be wrong for the government to provide health care, education, public broadcasting, public parks, and so on. The very idea of these things is at odds with the conservative moral system. No one should be paying for anyone else. It is individual responsibility in all arenas. Taxation is thus seen as taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who don't deserve it. Taxation cannot be seen as providing the necessities of life, a civilized society, and as necessary for business to prosper. (This is true even as one drives on tax built roads and laughs at the sucker who was pulled over by the Highway Patrol for driving drunk.)
In conservative family life, the strict father rules. Fathers and husbands should have control over reproduction; hence, parental and spousal notification laws and opposition to abortion. In conservative religion, God is seen as the strict father, the Lord, who rewards and punishes according to individual responsibility in following his Biblical word. (And in that view, men have all the sexual rights and women have all the sexual responsibilities--otherwise known as complementarity.)
Above all, the authority of conservatism itself must be maintained. The country should be ruled by conservative values, and progressive values are seen as evil. Science should not have authority over the market, and so the science of global warming and evolution must be denied. Facts that are inconsistent with the authority of conservatism must be ignored or denied or explained away. To protect and extend conservative values themselves, the devil's own means can be used again conservatism's immoral enemies, whether lies, intimidation, torture, or even death, say, for women's doctors.
Freedom is defined as being your own strict father -- with individual not social responsibility, and without any government authority telling you what you can and cannot do. To defend that freedom as an individual, you will of course need a gun.
This is the America that conservatives really want. Budget deficits are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life.
I wonder though if the blinders aren't being taken off some people's eyes about the real agenda of the paternal conservative movement. If this model is being so thoroughly challenged and refuted in the Muslim world, proponents of such a view in the Catholic world have to be getting somewhat scared. They might even go so far as to insist God loves some people more than others as if to prod a reluctant flock into to sticking with a model of God that no longer has much relevance to the culture as a whole.
The conservative movement actually has two strains, neither one of which is truly Christian. I personally prefer the 'small government' libertarian group far more than I do the 'big government of big patriarchy' form.
The libertarian form is pretty prevalent out here in the West, which can be seen in the almost totally Republican Wyoming State legislature voting down intrusive abortion and gay marriage legislation. Small government means small government. It does not intrude in bedrooms, boardrooms, or doctor/patient relationships. Big patriarchy intrudes everywhere but the boardroom and the specific agenda is to keep the boardroom obscenely profitable and always in control. In the West, big patriarchy is no longer the sole province of men. We seem to have any number of political women willing to anoint themselves as the last best chance for big patriarchy. The presence of women does not make it less 'big patriarchy'.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I am not about to imply that the Democratic party is particularly Christian. It used to have the social justice thing down pretty well, but that got seriously diluted under the Clinton form of the party. President Obama appears quite willing to put aspects of 'big patriarchy' in play when it suits his agenda. As time passes it's an agenda which looks suspiciously as corporate in it's core as any Republican agenda. I suspect that's why we see on one day President Obama agreeing to the extension of the Bush tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and then a few days later he masks this over by deciding not defend the constitutionality of DOMA. Or one day he axes fifty percent of community action programs and then crows about cutting a few billion from the trillion dollar defense budget. Defense cuts which amount to finding a quarter under the seat of your car when you make a hundred thousand a year, while the community action cuts amount to finding your uninsured car stolen.
On the bright side I look at the fallout from the Wisconsin budget fiasco and I'm beginning to get a warm spot in my heart. I am beginning to take hope that the majority of middle class Americans are catching on to the shell game being played in our politics and looking across the artificially created divide between social liberals and social conservatives. The game for both political parties has never really been about abortion or gay marriage rights or any of the other social agendas. The game has always been about the wealthy staying wealthy at the expense of any one but themselves.
If any of this wealth had ever trickled down, like Reagan convincingly maintained it would, it might be a different story, but it hasn't trickled down. It's been a one way torrent up. It's no wonder that religious officials like Cardinal George, a man whose own career has benefited from what little does trickle down, would suddenly be spouting nonsense about who God loves and doesn't love.