When you go to the Christian Coalition’s website and click on “Issues,” the third item on the legislative agenda is “Making permanent President Bush’s 2001 federal tax cuts.” Concerned Women for America has, on its site, material speaking out against the Estate Tax (Excuse me, I meant “Death Tax.”). It would appear that a lot of religious conservatives have economic agendas coinciding with Bush’s. It’s important not to over-generalize here, as there are certainly Christians who oppose Bush’s economic policy, but there are also a number of large, well-funded groups, including the two mentioned above, that proclaim to be Christian and consistently argue against taxation at the same time. There’s an argument to be made that this is an incoherent position.
Bill McKibben, an author and scholar in residence at Middlebury College, recently wrote an excellent essay for Harper’s in which he argued that a genuinely Christian viewpoint would lead one to adopt economic policies antithetical to the Republican agenda. Jesus Christ, it turns out, felt a tremendous amount of compassion toward the poor. Of course, this is no surprise to anyone with a working knowledge of Christianity, but it is lost amid the din as Christianity is used over and over again by the Republicans as a gay-bashing weapon of judgment and division. Christ famously opined that it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it would be for a rich man to get into heaven. It’s quite hard to reconcile this with a program of tax cutting that primarily targets the rich and which will, in the inevitable bouts of belt-tightening that are to come, lead to cuts in programs that aid the poor.
This disconnect doesn’t just apply to economics. Many of the Christian groups that push the tax cuts are also staunchly pro-death penalty. Christ’s take? “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” How could anyone argue that Christ would approve the death penalty, given this clear refutation of the Old Testament passage that many religious conservatives use to defend it? McKibben argues pretty convincingly that people are taking American ideals and trying to find them in Christian teachings. This is borne out by the fact that three out of four Americans believe that the sentence “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible teaching (Actually, it’s Ben Franklin.). Christ, if his words are any indication, wasn’t about people helping themselves; he was more interested in people helping each other.
Republicans have for too long used religious imagery to their political advantage while at the same time promoting an agenda that, by most reasonable standards, is decidedly anti-Christian. Democrats tend to be very timid in the face of Republican talking points, which often focus on messages that are of an only slightly veiled religious nature. If they are going to have any success in the 2006 midterm elections, Democrats need to begin actively pointing out the hypocrisies inherent in the Republican platform. They have a window, now, in the wake of Katrina, Tom DeLay’s indictment and Bush’s mind-exploding decision to appoint Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court, to give the American people – finally wary of the dominant GOP – another option. Will they? If history is any indication, no. They will, as usual, remain on the defensive and fail to respond to even the most ludicrous Republican arguments. But at least there is some hope in the growing dissension among conservatives. The Democrats have a real chance here if they are smart and organized enough to capitalize on it.
Politics should be completely atheistic. There should be absolutely no faith involved in judging a candidate’s track record or an incumbent’s performance. Most democracies in the world do not require an outspoken belief in God as a prerequisite for leadership positions. This reliance on religion is incredibly harmful to the discourse, as arguments about who “really” speaks for God never end well (Just check the history books.). But in a country where millions and millions doubt evolution and most seem to think only a man of God is fit to run things, an important first step is to hold those who cling to the cross accountable. Republicans have for too long been allowed to toe the line, appealing both to fiscal conservatives (not that they are actually fiscally conservative in any manner other than cutting taxes) and to religious conservatives. If any of their highbrow proclamations about morality and faith are actually about Jesus and not simply manipulative ploys to attract more voters, then they should realize how untenable their position is and explain themselves.
Singal can be reached at email@example.com.