Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party 2Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) gives an interview to Pajamas TV in front of a “Kill the Bill” sign after addressing the Tea Party crowd at a protest on March 21, 2010. (photo: The Q/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The deficit and budget battles in Washington make clear that the divisions between us are deep, even spiritual. The fight is not over the size of the deficit, nor even about expenditure cuts. It is about taxes as the lifeblood of government.

Why are taxes so important? The playbook is no secret. Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform and the driving force behind the “no-tax-increase” stance, said it over 20 years ago: “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bath tub.” The way to do that is to cut taxes.

The George W. Bush administration supported this goal. It happily organized the political religious right concerned about social issues: pro-choice, sexual orientation, sex education, and school prayer. Many of the religious right feared that secular values were eroding their fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Their numbers swelled Republican ranks.

Those seeking to limit the size of government surely continue to welcome this faith-based support, but they now have a new moral underpinning: Ayn Rand as their resident philosopher. We do not need to tackle her 800-page novels to get her message. The title of one of her shorter essays says it all: “The Virtue of Selfishness.” In it she writes, “Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights. One cannot combine the pursuit of happiness with the moral status of a sacrificial animal.” For her, the Great Commandment to love your neighbor is tantamount to “moral cannibalism.”

Michele Bachmann brings another clear spiritual perspective. She received her legal training at Oral Roberts University School of Law. The curriculum was based on Christian Reconstructionism, which argues that “God granted certain jurisdictional authority to the government, the church, and the family — therefore any government action exceeding its God-granted authority is in violation of God’s commands.” Under this view, it is not within the government’s “authority” to take care of the poor.

Recalling her own family’s struggle against poverty as she was growing up, she has said, “We had our faith in God, we depended on our neighbors, we depended on ourselves, and we just did without… And we were just grateful for what we had. We knew that one day things would be better than they were. And God was faithful, and they were better.”

Her view of government, perhaps shaped by her law school training, may explain her questioning of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in a congressional hearing over federal bailout programs. She asked, “What provision in the Constitution could you point to that would give authority for the extraordinary actions taken by the Treasury since March of ‘08? What specifically in the Constitution?” In the current Iowa primary she is calling for the abolition of the Departments of Education, Energy, and Commerce: “Wherever we can cut and abolish, we should cut and abolish.”

Those who believe government has a role in providing society’s safety net think it is essential to give a hand to those whom society counts least. Protestants for the Common Good, for example, supported the recent tax increase in Illinois because we were both saddened and shocked at the cuts in human services. Aid to children, the elderly, the mentally ill, and the disabled has been reduced by $3.1 billion since 2002 and $600 million in the current year alone.

Protestants for the Common Good believe that freedom exists in two forms: we are free from loyalty to anyone or thing other than God; and we are free for the opportunity to serve all whom God loves. We are free to care for, and love, others. That’s what our faith calls us to do.

The political religious right may argue that they want the same things we do. But they would say that it is freedom from government that makes it possible for people to flourish. The best way to help others is to get government out of the way.

Those who are for smaller government rarely express concern for people in need, even though almost 20 percent of Illinois children live in poverty, only about half of the people who need treatment for mental illness receive it, and after health care reform, there will be over 700,000 Illinoisans without health coverage.

Those of us who think government is central to establishing community and serving others have been enablers in this debate. We have not insisted that the political religious right, and those who oppose raising the debt ceiling, explain why the current deficit is so high. We have not pressed for a public discussion of how the economy performed under the tax cuts and financial deregulation starting in 2000. How can the views of Ayn Rand be reconciled with Jesus’ concern for the poor?

There is no Christian answer to complicated matters of public policy, but there are spiritual values that should inform how we think about such questions. They are expressed as ideology and pursued through politics and the media. But they have an underlying spiritual basis that is as profound and explicit as it was at any time in our national history.

References

Sarah Posner, “The Perry vs. Bachmann Primary at Liberty University,” Religion Dispatches, July 11, 2011.


The Rev. Alexander E. Sharp is the founding executive director of Protestants for the Common Good, a faith-based education and advocacy organization in Illinois. He received his M.Div. from the University of Chicago Divinity School and has a Masters of Public Affairs from Princeton University.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


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16Reflections

Reflections

I just finished reading The Evolution of Faith by Philip Gulley.  He has a very relevant quote on page 195:
".... It is therefore incumbent upon us to create heaven on earth for those who have known only hell.  This was the heart of the prayer Jesus taught his followers, to work for God's kingdom on earth."  It seems to me this fits into how we approach our political life as well as spiritual.  If that is our job (to create heaven on earth, how can we cut the supports to help the poorest among us? 

The problem here is caused by trying to give meaning to life, or what I call "trying to fill the void", with a blend of two ways, with money and all the stuff it can buy, and with religion, in this case, Christianity. None of the eight ways we can try to fill the void can but we not only all try to some extent, some try to fill the void by attempting to justify the effort. The results we can see, are absurd. The solution which sadly is not the mission of this covert Christian blog is to persuade humanity to discard the ways we try to fill the void so that we are free to live the ideal reaction to it. http://www.thelastwhy.ca/poem/

I'm not a Republican, but I wonder...if Michele Bachmann is an Ayn Rand fan, is one who extols the "Virtue of Selfishness", why she mothered 23 foster children. Obviously, she sees a different way to healthy, whole living that is more about opening one's heart and home to those in need and less about issuing government checks.

"Those who are for smaller government rarely express concern for people in need..." Rev Sharp, you can't be serious...

PS Dear Being Blog, I thought On Being was endeavoring to create civil discourse,
bridge gaps, create dialogue. This post is divisive, misleading and
polarizing...even demonizing a large segment of Americans.

The concept that caring for "the needy" is better left to religious organizations than to government is at least prima facie valid. It has the advantage that much more of the charity is delivered face to face by those who know. That advantage is lost in the anonymity of urban living and the magnitude of the function overwhelms religious institutions. The argument can be made that particularly Protestant churches lost much of their raison d'etre when charity was taken over by government.
We see now that when government in Gaza lost its capacity to meet the needs of the people, Hamas took over.
It is up to us to make the Being Blog a dialectic. Civic dialogue should not only tolerate disagreement but  build on it to come up with the next better idea and concept.

Dear Jodi:
What is wrong with 'divisive'? If someone voices an opinion that differs from mine, I cherish it. I would not wish to drown the other in the bathtub. I don't see what makes it polarizing. Unless, to criticize one Christian stance from another Christian point of view breaks Christian unity beyond repair. As to the issues, we should never forget that we do elect our government and hold it accountable. If government checks go into the hands of the needy--so be it. If not: how can we stop that? I disagree, as you do, with the statement that those who want to keep government small are not compassionate. Unfortunately Ayn Rand has created this image. She wanted her views to be incompatible with Christian love. On the other hand, if charity and charitable work is left to individuals and to churches, who is controlling them?

"As you do unto the least of these my children, do you likewise unto me".
And Ayn Rand is a liar, because she says how incompatible altruism is with capitalism, BUT all her heroines and heroes DO things that benefit others! That is the way an honest capitalist makes money; we do something that somebody else wants or needs badly enough to be willing to pay for it! We get oil out of mile deep oceans because we will pay to put gasoline in our car. This whole debate is a straw man! Greed is not good; enlightened self interest is the engine that runs the world. The difficulty is finding the enlightenment! But when we do THERE is where we return to do business.
There are obvious functions of society that we cannot do as individuals. For some of these we create corporations or cooperatives or churches or governments or civic organizations or foundations to do together. The REAL challenge is to determine which functions belong where, and how to determine which of those organizations deserve our support and which ones are ripping up off! And sometimes each of those organizations falls into either category.
The only thing worse than government bureaucracy is corporate bureaucracy, and the only thing worse than either is religious intolerance and dogmatism. What makes government bureaucracy so unbearable is that it is so difficult to overcome. Some bureaucrats will be obstructionists only because they can! They won't sign the form because once they sign they have lost their power over you. Others bureaucrats are great facilitators and it is such fun to find one! These last are the people who make instituions work. Thank God for them.
John R. Dykers, Jr. www.dykers.com

I can't believe how much time is wasted by the religious right in America arguing about how is the best way to do things for the poor.  Here in Canada we are lucky enough to have taken democracy seriously, in that we are able to see the democratic process and the governments and legislatures the people elect as an expression of the community that is Canada.  One of our main concerns is that every Canadian person has access to health care, regardless of their ability to pay.  We certainly don't have our doctors share medical records with the government or have "death panels" deciding if grandma should be put to sleep.  In my own personal opinion, freedom is not being able to do what ever you want, it is loving service to your community.  I would argue that the idea of the churches and charities looking after to poor and needy actually is depriving the poor of freedom and is undemocratic.  Care of every member of society should be the concern of every member of society.  In a democracy that is possible like no other system.  When Christians realize democracy as a way to express love for their neighbour, things will get much better. 

Ian, lots of good points there  but we DON'T have death panels in the United States!

Sorry i didn't mean to imply that you did, it's just that i saw ads saying that death panels would be a reality if Obama's health care bill passed.  I wanted to let my American brothers and sisters know that we have socialized medicine and it has problems, but overall has a been a great success!

"As you do unto the least of these my children, do you likewise unto me." This is a matter of belief.
Ayn Rand professes a conflict between altruism and capitalism, but her characters, both heroes and heroines, do well for themselves by doing things that are good for others. That is the way honest capitalists make money; we do things that other people want or need badly enough to pay for. Unmitigated Greed is not good; enlightened self interest is the energy that makes every economy function well.
Many of the poor are simply of minimal intelligence, and they function as well as this will allow, and that function level may be improved by training and special work situations. Many are simply uneducated and that is remediable. Many are unmotivated and what Ayn Rand (and truly most of us) derides is the taking from the worker to give to the unmotivated so they stay unmotivated! "Work habits" are real and can be taught, but some level of deprivation is usually required to get us off our duffs! The most altruistic among us must admit that any "handout" is a disincentive to work. That is why we distinguish a "hand up".
Altruism IS incompatible with individual rights and individual freedom. That is the essence of civilization; our individualsm must be balanced by our cooperative genes that enable us to survive. R/PxT=Q, Resources, Population, Technology, Quality of Life. Q would be maximum if P were one, and this is the ultimate in individualism and obviously absurd, We humans are creators as well as consumers of Resources and we require a critical mass of Population to maintain a desired Quality of Life. (JRD, Sex and the 21st Century)
Technology includes our capacity to organize ourselves, and the squabbling over the "size" of government is a straw man used to dodge the decisions over which functions we do best as individuals and which we do best in some organization, governmental, religious, civic, corporate, philanthropic. The synergy sought in any effort to organize is often dissipated by the dysfunction of bureaucracy. Some bureaucrates procrastinate and obstruct just becaue they can and we hate them; others make every effort to facilitate the project at hand and THESE are the people the cause institutions to FUNCTION and thank God for them!
Maximizing the function of "the least of these my children" should also maximize their capacity utilize and pay for the creativity of Ayn Rand's heroes and heroines. This is my best effort at dialectic for the Being Blog, a synthesis of dialogue into a more acceptable concept.
John R. Dykers, Jr. www.dykers.com

Like Ayn Rand, Michele Bachmann intellectually stumbles over her own experience  growing up in poverty; "We had our faith in God, we depended on our neighbors, we depended on ourselves, we just did without."
Since she survived, she can tell the tale.
She accepts the community she defines as "our neighbors". If the neighbors become organized as church, I'm guessing she accepts that, but it appears (not necessarily so) that she has difficulty if that organization is government, and there is a qualatative difference as governments, county, state or federal, have the power of taxation, a prodigious power indeed and one of which to be very wary. But she does embrace depending on her neighbors, a similar contradiction as Ayn Rand having her creative hero/heroine do good for others.
John R. Dykers, Jr. www.dykers.com

I dont understand why some people are so confident in the governments ability to assist the poor. I have been a federal social worker for over 22 years and to be honest with you I find the federal government to be inefficient. We try to create affordable housing and we create housing projects run by gangs. We try to deliver health care and we get certain areas where poor women cannot get ob/gyn care. We try to deliver basic services and we make is so cumbersome, difficult, and overwhelming that people who need services spend more time trying to get and keep services instead of trying to support themselves.  I think so many people are so concerned about the folks on the right, that they lost focus. Whats wrong with cutting budgets to get rid of waste and focus efforts on helping people instead of creating big fat budgets for some administrators to build little fiefdoms...cynical? Maybe but maybe i see more the the average person.

Dear Dakota:
Can you tell us the root cause of waste in public service? Is it the public service as such or the lack of control? What makes it possible that gangs and administrators seem to highjack social work?

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I was truly surprised when I realized a few years ago that those on the Religious Right truly believed that government should not be in the business of providing for the poorest of us. I really struggled with that until I read Isaiah 10:1-2: "Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the ppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. ". Government, according to Isaiah, is definitely in the business of at least protecting the poorest of us. I no longer struggle with the government's role; my faith informs my opinion.