Theologically speaking, God can be found in all situations. In even the most heinous of events, we can trust God to be at least suffering with those who suffer, mourning with those who mourn and crying with those who cry. So even in this trying economic time, we can envision God’s concern for those who are worst hit by our unfolding system of commerce – the worst hit, of course, being the poorest of the poor and not particularly those whose fortune may have been trimmed by a few billion. Given this, I find interesting the results of a Pew Forum survey of religious people in which they were asked where President Obama and the legislature should concentrate their efforts. Additionally interesting, although I have yet to find an explanation, is the fact that the categories include only white religious people. We are left to surmise the purpose of that decision.
Since the questions were posed and analyzed specifically along religious grounds, I would like to examine the results theologically – that is, to discern how or why God might be concerned with each category. The result of that analysis will likely say something significant about religious people in the U.S. and faith.
As I have posited in “The Economy of God“, I do believe God is concerned about economics – I just doubt it is in the same way as our religious survey respondents. My reading of scripture, specifically the prophets and the words of Jesus when it comes to economy, would tend to lead me away from worrying about strengthening the economy and propel me towards making sure the economic system is more egalitarian and just, especially for those among us who are the most vulnerable. The economy has all but collapsed because greed pushed the rich to make more money poff the backs of the poor – to lend money, at exhorbitant interest rates and with onerous terms, to those who could barely afford to make the payments. This kind of preying on the poor is specifically decried in scripture. Restructuring the nation’s economy – now there’s an issue I can see God championing.
Improving the job situation is so vague I will just have to accept that people are most concerned about the working poor and un/underemployed. People, especially religious people, would certainly not be primarily concerned with their own job prospects when there are so many working for so little – would they?
“Defending the U.S, against terrorism” and “dealing with U.S. energy problems” seem similarly self-serving and irreligious. In response to some supposed weapons that could be used – could, mind you, not have – the U.S. invaded a sovereign territory and in doing so directly or indirectly caused the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women and children, along with economic, medical and social upheavel for most of the remaining population, and did this all in the name of “protecting” the U.S. from terrorism. This, inadvertantly I am sure, guaranteed a supply of oil for the world’s most energy hungry nation at prices well below those of any other developed nation on the face of the earth. I am constantly wondering where God sits on these issues.
Sitting below the 50th percentile when it comes to religious concern, generally, are those pesky little problems of crime, moral breakdown, God’s good creation and those darned unwelcome immigrants. Now, let me think – where have I heard discussion about these things before? Oh, yes – scripture.
Most specifically, the issue of “dealing with moral breakdown” sticks in my craw. The best we can manage as far as interest goes is an average of about 45% saying that this is even an issue in the firstplace. What we don’t dig into is what “moral breakdown” is. “Moral breakdown” is not the deterioration of a cultural sense of ethic that would decry excessive profit-taking and further stratification along socio-economic lines. No, it isn’t about the absolute immorality of a growing population living in poverty, lacking adequate healthcare, living daily without food or shelter security or having extreme racial differences with regard to imprisonment and childhood morality. Neither is “moral breakdown” the invasion of a sovereign county and the slaughter of innocents. “Moral breakdown” does not refer to U.S, based multinationals procuring lands and resources of indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans from governments in ways that leave entire communities with no ability to survive without sending their sons and daughters across a dangerous border to work at menial jobs for substandard wages. And “moral breakdown” certainly has nothing to do with raping and pillaging God’s good creation so we can continue to more, more, more for less, less, less.
What does “moral breakdown” refer to, then? Oh yes! The truly important stuff like what people do in the privacy of their own homes – the absurdity of people wanting to marry their partners to gain equal civil and benefit standing with their heterosexual sisters and brothers – the ubiquitous argument between pro-life and pro-choice.
The moral breakdown has occurred because we have lost a basic ethic of living in right relations with one another, and with God, as is indicated by the other items on the list. While they are very closely related, there is a basic difference between morals and ethics. Ethics are those pesky ideals by which we judge our own actions, individually and corporately – hopefully before we invade, acquiesce to greed or otherwise act unethically. Morals are those ideals by which we tend to judge others behaviors and actions. Is it any wonder that we are concerned about moral breakdown – other people’s sins – and not the least bit concerned about our own ethics. I guess it’s that log in my eye thing.