Selfish Children

Matthew 20:1-16

“1For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around…

…9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

You might be curious why an avowed atheist is opening a blog post with a passage from the Bible.  Well, first off, I figure if there are any Christians in the audience, they probably haven’t read it.  But the main reason is because I find a lot of good, wise teaching on equitable and charitable living in Jesus’ words, and I’m dismayed that so few people (especially those who claim to follow him) live by any of it.

The Protestant Work Ethic used to mean you did your work without complaint and you felt guilty if you didn’t put in your fair share.  Now it seems to mean you’ll only work as long as no one taxes you higher than you want and you’ll throw a fit if somebody else doesn’t put in their fair share (based on an economic calculation of your own creation).

When the economy is struggling, it’s understandable that people become concerned about how much of the money they’ve earned is being taken in taxes and where that money is getting spent.  Every penny counts, after all.  But as a society have we really become so selfish that we have to pinch pennies from the poor, all the while ignoring the billions squandered by bankers and “job creators” (because taxes and rules and regulations stifle growth)?

This seems to be the heart of fiscal conservatism this day: Helping the poor will only lead to them abusing the welfare, but the rich never, ever take unfair advantages from tax breaks and abuse the system.  Because the rich are good and the poor are bad.  That’s why the rich are rich and the poor are poor, duh.

And here’s the gauntlet being thrown down: A Fiscal Conservative is not a Christian.  Now, I define Christian by that archaic definition, being Christ-like.  I realize that’s not the modern definition of Christian, which is “I’m an Ahmurican, aren’t I?”

I’ve always said I understand Fiscal Conservatives, I just don’t agree with them.  Because a fiscal conservative is pretty much a selfish child who sees someone else playing with their ball, gets mad, yanks it away and runs off to hide in the corner of the playground.

Obviously I’m going to ruffle some feathers with my explosive rhetoric, and for a reason.  There was a time as an atheist when I thought the best thing we could do in this world was get rid of religion.  Imagine it.  It’s easy if you try.

But now I’m thinking I’d rather just focus on forcing Christians to consolidate their faith with their actual beliefs.  Because one is a button they wear on their lapel and one actually guides their actions, and the two are rarely compatible. 

If you take the above parable on its own, you could twist it around to argue that your fiscal conservatism is just you demanding what is fairly yours (ironically missing the whole point), but when you combine that story with Jesus’ other teachings on taking care of those in need, the rich and even taxes, it becomes pretty clear that the God you believe in cares very little whether or not you keep “your” money.

If you’re not a Christian, then all I can say to you is stop being a selfish asshole.  Pennies of your tax dollar goes to welfare while hundreds of billions are spent on the military every year.  If you think cutting the safety net for those in need is going to save you thousands of dollars each year, remember that Air Drones cost a lot of money to develop.

But if you are a Christian, well… Consider the lilies.

10 thoughts on “Selfish Children

  1. Love love love this & agree 100000%. I’m sending this out to lots. I myself was that selfish asshole Christian & now I’m trying to actually match my declared faith with my actions. Thank you for these words.

    • You’re welcome, and thank you for your comments. I imagine there will be plenty of people who are offended by it, but I think it’s something that has to be said. Like a constant reminder.

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly. What kind of society are we if we can’t help our poor, disabled, elderly and sick? There have been so many tax cuts to these programs that actually help people that are one step removed from homelessness. It is shameful that this is happening while greedy bankers, corporations, etc. find legal tax loopholes. You have stated your case very intelligently. I don’t understand how anyone can call themselves Christian and promote these policies. I ask anyone who disputes this to look up the shameful poverty rates in this country. How can we call ourselves a mighty nation when there are so many poor, homeless children? Our crime rates are directly linked to these statistics. We are all in this world together. We shouldn’t turn our backs.

  3. What I will add to this is that some Christians who are fiscally conservative feel that it is the church’s role to help those in need- not the governments. If Christians were doing what Jesus commanded, then there would be no need for programs like welfare, social security, etc. The American Christian church has an insane amount of wealth, but sadly we hold onto most of that money. 1 percent of those who claim to be Christian give 1 percent of their income. Horrible. Another issue is that you touched on in this post is that there are a lot of Christians who carry that label but I don’t think are actually Christians. I think the term “Christian” is starting to mean more of a cultural identity more than a faith-based identity. For example a lot of people consider themselves Jewish but don’t actually have any of the Jewish beliefs. I think people say, “yeah I’m a Christian” and what they really mean is “yeah I’m an American and I’m not Jewish or Muslim and I believe in something bigger than myself but I still want to live my life the way I want to live my life and Jesus seems cool so….”

    • Oh yeah this is my reference to what I rambling about above- Acts 4:32-35

      32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

    • That argument that the church (or private sector) should be in the business of helping the needy, instead of the government, sounds good on the surface, but it’s pretty flawed.

      For one, it’s never going to happen. I mean, obviously there are churches and charities doing great work, but they’re a drop in the bucket and there are far too many churches more concerned with building a bigger, plusher rectory than helping the poor. Human nature is as true inside the church doors as it is outside.

      But, more importantly, the national government has the reach and influence to help the population throughout the country, something no private entity can say. With that size comes unwieldy results, and the system has its flaws, but better to fix the system we have in place than burn it all down and hope someone comes along to fill in the vacancy.

  4. ‘Prosperity theology’ is practically a cornerstone of most major Christian denominations these days. It’s the notion that belief in God and doing things like tithing every week will lead towards personal prosperity. This is considered good, as God wants people to be happy, and that money can then be used for charity.

    It’s not really a new thing. Guys like the first John D. Rockefeller used a version of it (“if I get as much money as I can, I can donate a lot more money to charity”) while absolutely destroying other peoples’ aspirations.

    But it has become very prevalent since WWII, when a lot of social welfare programs were in place, after years of struggle and gains by unions, and after a booming economy helped to launch the American middle class. Nothing backs a belief like seeing it actually working. Whole groups of people from poor or lower-middle backgrounds suddenly found themselves as upper-middle or even upper classes.

    Money in such a situation becomes a function of the Divine. A secular institution taking that money, like the government, then becomes a direct threat. When the government is viewed as antithetical to God, the threat is magnified. It’s why a lot of these trends weren’t seen as much from 2000-2008 as from 2008-now. It also why the last major push for welfare reform was seen during the Clinton years.

    The passage you mention, though, isn’t really about money. It’s about those who spread God’s message. There are some who do it from day 1, and there are some who do it in the final days of their life. The message is that God will reward both equally, and both should be happy about that.

    One thing you’re also missing in the logic is that most Christians feel they are better at donating to the needy than the government. Whether this is true or not, it further justifies their attitudes towards taxes. And as you say, the government is quite guilty of spending on corporations more than the needy.

    As for cutting the welfare programs, chopping up unions, the insistence on cutting taxes to the wealthy – personally, I think most of “middle America” has been co-opted by the neo-conservative agenda, and this has bled into religious beliefs. Instead of writing forever about that, I think Adam Curtis’s documentary “The Power of Nightmares” does a really good spelling that out.

    I just found your blog via the conspiracy theory post from June 6 (agree 100% on it). What a neat concept about 10 years/10 cities! Best wishes.

    • That’s a huge generalization to say, ‘Prosperity theology’ is practically a cornerstone of most major Christian denominations these days.” I think if you polled every single Christian church you would not find prosperity theology in the majority. Unfortunately people like Joel Osteen make it seem that way. Maybe I’m wrong, but I desperately hope I’m not. Also, people like David Platt are becoming popular in the Christian world (he wrote a NYT bestseller book that is the polar opposite of the prosperity gospel). What I’m seeing in the world o’ Christians is that more and more are turning away from the false gospel (i.e. prosperity gospel). I think people that are attracted to the prosperity theology are those that pick out the parts of the Bible they like and ignore the rest. I’m not God so I can’t judge their relationship with Him, but I’d go out on a limb and say they are not true Christ-followers. People like Joel Osteen gain a wider audience b/c what he’s preaching is a lot easier to swallow. He preaches a watered down version of the Gospel which makes me sick and there are lots of others like him. They’re the ones with tv shows and inspirational cards sold at Walmart. It’s gross but I don’t think it’s a cornerstone of major Christian denomination. Actually, I know for certain that as a whole Southern Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc do NOT have that as a cornerstone of their belief system. Maybe some individual preachers teach it but as a whole that is not that case. Joel Osteen’s church is non-denominational. The Southern Baptists kicked him out if I remember correctly.

    • As with your comments on my “Citizens United” post, I appreciate your thoughts and information here. I will have to agree with Casey and say that I do not think the ‘Prosperity theology’ represents a majority view among Christians (even American Christians). However, I think that while it might be considered theologically suspect (or downright heretical) by a larger portion of the Christian population, that doesn’t mean that it’s not how the majority of Western Christians live.

      As you’ve done an excellent job of articulating, Christianity in recent history has become all too tied to the idea that God is blessing America, and those blessings are revealed in wealth and status. It’s not necessarily a theology, but it’s definitely a mindset.

      As far as the Workers in the Field parable goes: I realize it is meant in reference to heaven and everlasting rewards, but I think it’s important to understand that Jesus’ parables aren’t meant to have one literal interpretation. It’s not just a matter of saying, “A = This and B = That.” The parable is meant to encourage a way of thinking (I’m saying this as if we’re to believe Jesus actually spoke these exact words, which is questionable), and, as I pointed out in the original post, if you take that ‘way of thinking’ along with Jesus’ other teachings on money, I think it becomes clear that his message was that one’s reward was in Heaven, and anyone ‘storing up treasure’ on earth was not living by God’s edict.

      Otherwise, I very much enjoyed your input and I’m glad that you have stopped by to provide some additional knowledge on the subject. Thanks for the wishes, I hope you’ll continue to drop in.

Comments are closed.