Sunday, February 27, 2011

Diana Butler Bass and Jim Wallis: Moral Dimensions of Wisconsin Story

And, turning from Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee to some real and substantial moral analysis of the current American political scene: two good commentaries as the week ends by Diana Butler Bass and Jim Wallis about the situation in Wisconsin.  Both touch on the significant moral-religious issues involved in what's happening there.

As Bass notes, though a large number of religious leaders, including several Catholic bishops, have condemned Gov. Scott Walker's attack on labor, Walker does not intend to relent.  Butler's explanation of why Walker remains obdurate in the face of strong opposition from faith leaders is compelling: as she indicates, he is firmly ensconced within a particular kind of evangelical spirituality strongly represented in some areas of the U.S., with strong political influence.  This kind of American evangelicalism stresses biblical inerrancy, sin (viewed in narrow individualistic and moralistic ways), exclusive salvation through Christ,  eternal damnation for unbelievers and the immoral, and and individualistic "Jesus and me" approach to salvation.

And so issues like how corporations or governments treat working people are not, in the view of this individualistic, moralistic kind of evangelicalism, even moral at all.  Morality has to do with what one pelvis does to another pelvis, or with what women who are outside male control do with their bodies.  It doesn't have to do with what happens to workers, with the oppression of the weak by the strong or the poor by the rich.

Moreover, in this form of American evangelical piety, it's considered a virtue to be defiantly stubborn in the face of opposition--including or even particularly opposition coming from other religious groups.  You and you alone, your group and your group alone, has the corner on the salvation market and the bible-interpreting market.  And Butler's conclusion: 

Walker and those who stand with him in this particular (and powerful) corner of the religious right are dangerous--dangerous to all the rest of us, because they do not intend to dialogue, compromise, listen, have any checks placed on a power they regard as handed to them directly by God: Unlike the Roman Catholics and traditional Protestants who have spoken on behalf of the laborers, Walker has no spiritual "check" on him, no authority other than the ones he hears in his own head, and no moral culpability in this situation. He's the good Christian soldier, just following God's lead.

And this is why Scott Walker's religion is actually dangerous in the public square. Because it lacks the ability to compromise, it is profoundly anti-democratic. Many faith traditions actually possess deep spiritual resources that allow them to participate in pluralistic, democratic, and creative political change. But those sort of traditions tend emphasize the love of God and neighbor over strict obedience to an unyielding Father God. Despite anything Scott Walker might say, the confident dictum of the old hymn, "Trust and Obey" is not the best way to govern a state.

And Jim Wallis's take--also from an evangelical standpoint, but fan evangelical standpoint that recognizes the obligation of all followers of Christ to do justice in the public square: programs that target the weak and vulnerable, and seek to transfer the burden of balanced budgets onto the backs of the poor while giving the rich a free ride, are not and cannot be called moral.  Not ever:

The Republican governors' counter parts in the U.S. House of Representatives are also not cutting spending where the real money is, such as in military spending, corporate tax cuts and loop holes, and long term health-care costs. Instead, they are cutting programs for the poorest people at home and around the world. This is also just political and not genuine fiscal conservatism. It is a direct attack on programs that help the poor and an all-out defense of the largesse handed out to big corporations and military contractors. If a budget is a moral document, these budget-cutters show that their priorities are to protect the richest Americans and abandon the poorest -- and this is an ideological and moral choice. The proposed House cuts, which were just sent to the Senate, are full of disproportionate cuts to initiatives that have proven to save children's lives and overcome poverty, while leaving untouched the most corrupt and wasteful spending of all American tax dollars -- the Pentagon entitlement program. This is not fiscal integrity; this is hypocrisy.

What Jim Wallis says here, and his subsequent observation that American military spending now constitutes 56 percent of all military spending around the world and is more than the military budgets of the next 20 countries in the world combined, brings me back to the ongoing discussion of the attack on Planned Parenthood on this blog.  As I've said in that discussion and will repeat again: until my brother and sister Catholics who are calling for elimination of federal funds to a program 97% of whose services are medical services to poor women begin talking about withholding their tax dollars used for military expenditures, I will continue not to find the Catholic pro-life movement credible.

Though many Catholics have allowed themselves to be duped by the lie that their tax dollars support abortions through Planned Parenthood, no tax dollars may be used to support abortions.  This is expressly forbidden by law.

But all of us are funding that out-of-control military budget through our tax dollars.  All of us are buying weapons and assisting wars through our tax dollars.  Even if the question of war is morally debatable, there is something extremely troubling, in moral terms, about the selective blindness of the Catholic pro-life movement in the U.S.--and, now, about its willingness to collude in and egg on a cynical politically motivated attack on an organization providing much-needed medical services to poor women.

While those applauding the attack on Planned Parenthood aren't talking about how their tax monies fund the production of weapons and the waging of wars.  If pro-life means anything at all, pro-life means pro-life.


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