Last week I posted a quote by Stephen Colbert on my Facebook page:
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
My post stirred my niece, Rudi, to righteous indignation:
“We should force everybody to be as righteous and charitable as we are, at the point of a gun. Because it’s what Jesus would do . . . . Your method of helping the poor is really just feeding a scheme of graft and corruption, without doing much to help the poor.”
A couple of minutes later she added,
“The people of the United States already give far more to charity than so-called enlightened people of Europe, so I don’t know why everyone complains that we are selfish. It really is quite offensive.”
While I didn’t expect everyone to agree with Colbert’s thought, I didn’t think it was offensive. Since I don’t check Facebook religiously, my daughter Jaycee called to tell me about Rudi’s response and to say, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ve got your back covered.”
Jaycee’s comment on my Facebook page said she is now relieved from feeling selfish when she buys a latte’ grande instead of helping the poor. By taking care of herself instead of the poor, she’s not feeding schemes of graft and corruption. That’s the most activity on my Facebook page ever. I hope it will boost the company’s stock.
I did not post a response to Rudi. Were we able to meet for a one-on-one chat, I might have assured her that I really haven’t proposed “a method of helping the poor.” Possibly Stephen Colbert has proposed a method which Rudi knows about and assumes I agree with it—more likely she is placing words in my mouth—a hazard of emotional argument.
Part of my reason for posting Colbert’s quote is in hopes it might stimulate thought and constructive discussion. In a constructive discussion, I would acknowledge the reality of graft and corruption (G&C) in government social programs. I would also point out that G&C occur in the programs of charitable organizations as well as those of churches. Even the Mormon welfare system is not without problems. I’ve seen able-bodied men receiving Church aid for their families because, “I can’t get a job in my field.”
G&C are hardly limited to aid for the poor—dare we say Wall Street and the financial institutions? Congress is rife with corruption caused by corporate campaign contributions. Why single out programs for the poor as potential sources of G&C?
Another thing I would point out to Rudi is that, in my mind at least, right and righteous are not the same thing. It is right to obey traffic signals and doing so makes us safer without necessarily making us righteous. Voluntary obedience of traffic signals would create hair-raising adventures on every city street. Likewise, voluntary donations to help the poor won’t do the job.
Preventing hunger and disease for others is the right thing to do. Keeping my neighbors alive and healthy so they can work and pay taxes benefits me as well as them. There is nothing particularly righteous in trying to see that American children receive adequate nutrition, health care, and education so they can grow up to be productive citizens. We all benefit from that—and pay the consequences when it doesn’t happen.
Rudi is right about surveys showing that Americans give more to charity than Europeans. What she overlooks is that churches receive the majority of American charitable donations—and not all the donations received by churches are spent on charity. The lion’s share of Mormon tithing funds goes into three areas—temples, missionary work, and Church education. These areas of focus are important for the organization but could not be defined as charitable works.
I don’t have the answer to our modern social problems, but I wish we were having a constructive conversation about the issues instead of tossing barbs on Facebook.