Friday, October 21, 2011

Old-Time Religion: What the Baggers ain't got

Disclaimer: I am not a follower of any religion, although I count myself among those informed by the Episcopal rubric which dependsmore than most, I thinkon a common-sense approach to the valuable insights and teachings of a very important Jewish rabbi of antiquity, Joshua Ben Joseph of Nazareth. One of his mentors, Joseph of Arimathea, is thought by many to have taken Joshua to southwest England to study with druids, a reasonable thought considering the mysticism that permeates the teachings of Joshua Ben Joseph. And contrary to the beliefs of the uniformed, there was abundant trade between the southern Mediterranean and the British Isles back then.

St. Benedict of Nursia (Fra Angelico; Wiki Commons)

It is a shame that the religious right knows so little about religion. From their actions, it seems doubtful that most Tea Baggers have ever heard of The Rule of St. Benedict. It might surprise the Tea Baggers that both St. Benedict and the Gospels they claim to love encourage socialism. For example, Acts 4:35 notes that, “Distribution was made to everyone according as he had need.” Sounds socialist to me.

The early monasteries, particularly those in Ireland as chronicled by Thomas Cahill in his book How The Irish Saved Civilization, were the western founts of learning for hundreds of years. The monks, in all that time, must have figured out a thing or two. With or without the ‘god parts,’ the Rule of St. Benedict, venerating as it does a sober, sanctified, charitable, wisdom-bearing approach to daily life in a coherent community, might well be a road-map for a modern approach to otherwise almost insurmountable problems, the problems of lack of work, lack of health care, lack of food and clothing, lack of respect for others. In short, charity in all its guises. If only the “godly” right wing recognized the Rule, or any part of it.
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (The New Testament, King James version, Matthew 22:37-40)
The best Benedict, whose Rule informs thoughtful lives today
St. Benedict (a far cry from the current Pope of that name) was a Roman Catholic monk of the sixth century who set forth the totality of ways monks were to behave and the manner in which the self-sufficient monasteries were to be run. In times of economic stress, it would seem his Rule might have much to say to modern populations. The thrust of the Rule was to care for others before self. There are at least half a dozen specific instructions which, if the right-wing pseudo-Christians knew their importance and attempted to follow them, might change the landscape of current political discourse in the US.

Those few important rules are:
  • To relieve the poor
  • To hate no one
  • To visit the sick
  • Not to be arrogant
  • To guard one’s mouth against evil and vicious speech
  • Not to abandon charity
Those are among about 75 rules in all, including the ten commandments as the very first ones. But perhaps the one I like best of all is the last of those six, as it covers all the rest.

Charity begins…one hopes
Abandoning charity is the very thing the pseudo-Christians who inhabit the right-wing of political America have done, and done very nearly completely. A rundown, rule by rule:

Relieve the poor
The right wing does not wish to relieve the poor, especially not if those poor come from afar (like Mexico, for example), rather than within their own state at best, or the nation if they must be that generous. If they must. Not by choice. Never.

Hate no one
Far from hating no one, they seem to hate just about everyone. They hate them so much that foolish men like Herman Cain can, with a straight face, tell people that if they don’t have a job, it’s their own fault. Inanely, he can tell them that in an economy that fails by a good ten percent or more in providing jobs for all workers.

Visit the sick
Even if one or two Baggers occasionally visit people in the hospital, they do not, for all intents and purposes, visit the sick.  These days, visiting the sick might be taken to mean providing for the care of the sick, since medicine is far to complex for most of us to do anything ourselves except provide ways for professionals to attend to the problems.  They seem to have taken a vow of ignorance regarding understanding the true horror of a large community lacking universal access to health care.

It is unthinkable that a monk or even those who worked as lay people in the monastery, or even travelers or visitors would be turned away by the monastery’s infirmarer. No abbot worth his salt would have tolerated such a state of affairs. 

Whether health care consists of the herbs and leeches of the middle ages, or the sophisticated diagnostic equipment and medications of today, it is intolerable that a cohesive communitythe United States, for instanceshould not provide care for its members.

It is unchristian, for one thing. For another, it is just plain stupid. A community with a number of sick members and no help for them is asking for contagion and plagues, a breakdown of work life, a diminishing of the community sooner rather than later. Sick people can worship neither God nor mammon; sick people cannot build  a community that serves all, and they  cannot expand that community and help others. Failing to care for the sick is, at any level since contagion may affect all equally, just plain stupid.

Do not be arrogant
The Tea Baggers are arrogant in the extreme.

Without any visible powers of discernment, without benefit of a belief in anything except their own short-term gain, without a frame of reference to the historical failures and successes of the universe in human terms, they nonetheless think their self-referential desires should determine how a community/nation runs. In their arrogance, they believe others to be less worthy than they. Among those they regard as less worthy, they include younger people, artists and craft workers, the marginally self-employed, the low-paid, those they see as lazy, the infirm, those of other beliefs, those of other colors and backgrounds ad infinitum. The Baggers are, indeed, the Philistines of our age, denigrating culture, art, and most of all, spirituality.

Guard against evil and vicious speech
They do not guard their mouths against evil and vicious speech. Indeed, the celebrate and heap honors upon those who might be chosen as role models for how NOT to live a thoughtful, Christian (or Jewish or Hindu, etc.) life. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, to take two sterling examples, trade on their own arrogance in consigning to perdition any person who disagrees with them in the least trifle. Vicious hardly begins to describe Coulter’s speech; evil is inherent in almost every opinion Limbaugh utters. And yet, they both think they are good Christians. I doubt they’d want to debate that with St. Benedict. Although I’d love to watch them try.

Charity: The idea that giving…in every way…is better for everyone than taking
The religious right in America has abandoned charity, in the particulars above and many more. Charity is far more than giving your old clothes to the Purple Heart. It is far more than putting a dollar in the collection plate during the one day a year you go to church, hedging your bets against the possible actual existence of god. It is more than refraining from commenting on your friend’s horrible new hairdo. It is more than passing by a Mercedes with a man slumped over the wheel and doing nothing because, “Hell, he’s rich; he can just dial for an ambulance on his own cell phone.”

Charity is the practice of finding out what help you can render, and doing that. Period. The Jews call it a mitzvah, a good deed. Not a deed done for your own good. It must be selfless, and doing it anonymously is a plus. It includes donating to causes you believe in; it also includes praising others for donating to causes they believe in even if those causes are not yours. Baggers have bashed me for supporting animal rescue organizations before human-oriented ones, forgetting that by giving us dominion over the animals, as their god said, we are also given responsibility for them. They fail to understand that by donating to any helping organizationwhether it is people or animals being helpedone is increasing the net supply of kindness in the world, decreasing the net experience of suffering, and actually attending to their god’s business.

Baggers just plain fail to understand, because they fail to empathize. They fail to embrace charity at its most basic. How do the supporters of draconian anti-immigration laws know what an illegal immigrant might have faced at home? They don’t. Worse, they don’t care to know. They insulate themselves from the suffering of immigrants, as well as the jobless and those who need medical care they cannot get. Their arrogant is clear in the ways in which they wrap studious ignorance around themselves like an impenetrable cloak.

No illusions
I have no illusions that one Tea Bagger will recognize himself or herself in any of this; I have no illusions that a Tea Bagger will read it. So I am preaching to the choir. 

If I were a Christian, I might chide myself for saying it is not likely the godless religious fundamentalists will take any of this to heart. So it’s a good thing I’m not a Christian, though I don’t imagine I can say that with impunity. I expect, actually, to be pilloried from both the right and the left on this, no matter how many times I insist that I am actually an existentialist informed via an Episcopalian background, and leavened by a soupçon of intense exposure to the ideas and community of classical Judaism.