Holy Amos, Holy Micah, Pray for Us

The semesters when I teach the prophets invariably find me filled with a holy rage toward injustice of all stripes. Unfortunately there is plenty of cause for basic human indignation caused by greed, cupidity, and elitism. I see New Jersey, my current home, as a microcosm. In this little version of the universe, a highly diverse population with over-crowded highways and endless financial woes, I see reflected some of the great challenges facing the human race. When such a delicate balance is guided by a self-serving government the human cost will always be high.

Our current governor, Chris “Slash” Christie, has made himself a national reputation by cutting the basic services required to buoy up a state where the underprivileged seek an opportunity to get ahead. The governor’s favorite target, naturally, is public education. Public school and university funds have been chopped with a zeal to impress Vlad the Impaler (the governor’s children attend private school, thank you). The Associated Press today, however, reports that the number of the governor’s staff who “earn” more than six figures has nearly doubled since our last governor’s term ended. We the taxpayers are being asked to fork over an extra two million dollars to the state budget to support those who live in comfort while our children are being systematically targeted as luxuries the state simply can’t afford. When will people say “enough is enough”?

The Republican Party, since it has shamelessly crawled into bed with religious conservatism, has flouted the message of the Bible in the name of the Bible. Only by ignoring the biblical characters known as prophets, and one guy from Nazareth who went by the name of Joshua, is it possible to see any right in feathering the nest of public “servants” while stealing from the children of their constituencies. I am glad Amos and Micah are dead. If they were alive and in New Jersey they would be suffering torment beyond words.

I Have a Daydream

I don’t often comment directly on politics because I don’t like to get beaten up. I’m not a poly-sci major who has statistically verified evidence to present, and many of the issues are simply too complex for a guy like me. I’m left scratching my head like a confused ape. Nevertheless, I’ve just finished covering Micah in my Prophets class, and the eighth century prophets have a way of firing up even the most passive of souls on the issue of social justice. Also, newspaper stories continue to demonstrate that most elected officials, living in their world of privilege and power, have lost touch with the average citizen. After reading the prophets and dreaming of a better world, I have a proposal to end oligarchy and institute democracy.

No person who earns more than $100,000 a year should be eligible to run for public office. Now I live in New Jersey where the cost of living is high. I have survived here for over three years with an income far less than half of that figure, so I know it can be done. Observing the abusive tactics of bishops first-hand, I had suggested a similar measure for the church some years ago. To become a bishop an individual should be forced to take a pay-cut, bringing their income below that of those they serve. Politicians are “public servants” who’ve grown fat on the generous salaries they devise for themselves alongside their perks, kick-backs, and expense accounts. The same also applies to politicians in higher education. You want a really excellent university president? Reduce the funding for the post. Only those truly committed to the ideals of education would be willing to take on the job. Posers and playboys would have to step down.

Corporate-style greed has a strangle-hold on democracy. Most people are content to let the wealthy rule as long as they are left alone – freedom in exchange for accepting the demands of the self-indulgent. My daydream is of a world where people can free themselves from the never-ending greed of the corporate climber. And my system would not exclude anyone for seeking office. All the wealthy would have to do is be willing to live on a middle-class or lower salary for a few years. Politicians have forgotten (if they ever even knew) what is like to struggle, worry, and fear that any month, week, or day you might not be able to meet your obligations. They don’t personally watch the prices increasing at the pump or at the grocery store or on the electric bill. Their Olympian existence is beyond human suffering. It is once more time to ask, “what would Micah do?”

False Profits

December’s edition of the Atlantic Monthly features a disturbing article by Hanna Rosin entitled “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” What is disturbing about this article is not the insinuation that many conservative Christian groups have caused far more problems than they’ve solved (“guilty as charged”), but the utter duplicity of the movement. The deception begins with the claim of the Prosperity Gospel pundits that they are holding true to biblical principles. In reality they rewrite the Bible to make it fit their vision of personal gain at the expense of the weak and needy. You can hear the sounds of Amos and Micah being ground beneath their wingtip heels.

The Prosperity Gospel is a particularly virulent disease in the United States, a nation of incomprehensible contrasts. The clergy of the Prosperity Gospel (churches of this stripe are among the largest and fastest growing in America) demand tithes on the part of their sometimes poor but always hopeful congregants. Most of them are being set up for failure. But it will be failure with a smile. As I read Rosin’s article, I was saddened that a growing number of those buying into this “Gospel” are those among the exploited Hispanic community. The message they are being given is the worst kind of blasphemy. One such believer, according to Rosin, claimed “the rich are closer to God.” A message farther from the actual Gospels would be difficult to concoct.

Prosperity Gospelers, decidedly not mainstream Christianity in theological outlook, judge a book by its glitzy cover. Its leaders, often fabulously wealthy, hold out unrealistic hope to their gullible and disappointed followers. It is so easy when a congregant looses everything simply to blame it on a lack of faith. This bogus idea of material payoff for spiritual righteousness is not only dangerous, but it is redefining the religious scene in North America. The article follows the story of Fernando Garay, the leader of Casa del Padre, a Prosperity Gospel church. When asked by Rosin about buying a house (a sign of God’s blessing) he tellingly replied, “Ten Christians will say that God told them to buy a house. In nine of the cases, it will go bad. The 10th one is the real Christian.” Americans have a fondness for snake-oil and entrepreneurs. Now the hucksters are the ones claiming the right to define what Christianity really is. It is a religion that even Jesus would fail to recognize.