In a recent study it was discovered that Christians are more likely to ascribe negative attributes to the poor than any other group of people. Christians are more likely to use the word lazy, crooked or derogatory than, let us say, atheists. I believe this demonstrates a cultural shift in Christianity that has steadily moved away from a social gospel to an individual gospel. In other words Christians are now influenced more by Libertarianism than the words of Jesus.
No longer are we convinced of institutional sin and corporate guilt. We no longer look to save our institutions from greed, neglect and other evil things. The goal is no longer to build a shining city but to keep the shining city from interfering with our lives and give us more freedom. Less government means a better society. Of course as we learned from the Libertarian Rand Paul that means if we have to live through a few more decades of segregation that is okay. The important thing is that government does not impinge on the shop owner’s right to be bigoted. He would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act he said, based on this principle of individual rights.
This change in Christian thought was bound to happen. Institutions are hard to change and it can cost you jobs, societal prestige, and make you an outsider in your neighborhood. So I see why you would want to change your thinking to “it only matters how I am” and the social ills of society are created by an individual’s choices and not by the conditions with which society has surrounded them. So there must be something wrong with the poor. I am making it. So anyone can make it. Now I may have come from a middle class family and attended better schools, lived in better housing, ate better food, had more opportunities outside of school than others, but that does not matter in the new Christian thinking.
All of this leads to an emphasis on how am I doing and not how are we doing. Which in turns leads to a fractured and partisan society. I only care about what makes my life easier, not what makes your life work better. So you gather only with people who agree with you and will work for your causes. Everyone else is the other or does not matter.
The power of this thinking is it has a little truth in it. We do need to work on ourselves and the government does need to interfere as little as possible with my day to day life. But nobody believes the government should keep entirely out of lives. Christians do not want the government to engage in monitoring our businesses and social groups. But in a duplicitous turn of thinking many Christians do need to have government interfere in private issues such as who we sleep with or a woman’s pregnancy.
The larger truth is that we all need to grow and live more spiritually, economically, intelligently, mentally, and physically. Society needs to enhance this, not hinder this growth. But institutions are needed to move us on in these efforts. No human is an island and no one (Sorry Emerson) can be totally self-reliant. And it does matter what values we promote as a people. And these must constantly be revised and challenged. We live in a society where the gap between the rich and poor is the largest it has ever been and the gap continues to increase. Our society still does not have universal healthcare for our workers. Our society does not demand a living wage from its employers of any size and wealth. Our society still has glass ceilings and redlining for housing. Our school systems in many districts are lacking. College costs continue to grow. In this environment it is almost criminal and definitely biased to say the poor are lazy.
Maybe we should return to Christian teachings. We should listen to the Sermon on the Mount and the great prophets of justice Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. We should revive gospel that demands salvation for the nations as well as individuals. Strangely, the group who most have Jesus’ view of the poor, according to this study, are the atheists. Could it be Christians are the ones who have forsaken god and the atheists have embraced what little of God is left in our society?