Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Join Jesus' General's Army...

It's kind of like the Homestarmy, but you don't need guts, determination, or five bucks... Basically, the ubiquitous Salvation Army bell ringers do good things. But at the same time their activities at the holidays cover the fact that the Salvation Army is a barely disguised Christian hate group. The targets are the usual folks: immigrants and teh gays.* Now, let's set aside the anti-gay sentiment for the moment, since if it weren't for "gays bad!" and "abortion wrong!" the religious right would have nothing and both sides of the debate talk past each other (which is a feature, sadly, not a glitch. I'll working on a post about that, but related to the evolution debate). So let's talk about immigrants. Let's talk about immigrants in the Bible. Like, say, Leviticus 19:10: Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. So maybe we can't just assume that "stranger" is the same as "foreigner" or "immigrant." But that's the NASB, which was my favorite translation. The NIV, that favorite of the evangelicals and the mega-church movement, says "alien." The KJV and NKJV retain "stranger," while the NLT (which was gaining traction the last time I checked, which was admittedly many years ago) says "foreigners." Even so, Leviticus 19:34 makes a much more on-the-nose statement: The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. I'm sure that's Lou Dobbs' favorite verse right there... And since we live in a nation where a lot of people seem to think the Bible is the underpinning of the Constitution (those of us who have a grasp of history have a word for them: morons), there's this fun little verse: There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God. (Lev. 24:22) Leviticus later reverses this, in the process explaining the Salvation Army's mission (which on the general principle of the thing, is a good mission). Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. (Lev. 25:35) Then there are the rules against selling countrymen in to slavery, the basis of which is quite simple and straightforward: If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave's service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale. (Lev. 25:39-42) Note that the foreigner is to be treated as a friend. Note, also, that a countryman who is in financial trouble is to be treated as a foreigner. Since the stranger is not to be taken advantage of, then that means that the countryman shouldn't be, either. It's ironic, I suppose, that we can point to the book of Leviticus, which is the basis for so much Biblical hatred and bigotry to see a shining example of the world as it should be. But that's what makes it so great to be able to point to this and say, "No, you're wrong," to an organization that's supposedly engaging in Christian mission while selling out the principles of its Bible. Moreover, this is a good thing to remember when we hear about people who say we need to bring more of the Bible in to the Constitution. They don't see the Bible as a document that can be used to support proper treatment of immigrants or the poor. They see the Bible through a deeply partisan, political lens and are really saying, "We want the country and the Bible to be what we want them to be." Of course what's the impetus for those commands against treating the Israelite as a slave? Remembering that they were once slaves in the land of Egypt. It's too bad that America is so far removed from its own ideals. For outside of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution the United States has a few other words of near-holy writ. Some of my favorite are found on the base of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Those huddled masses passed beneath the lamp of liberty on their way to Ellis Island. Some stayed in New York, others spread throughout New England and the east. Some made their way to Ohio or Kentucky or Chicago. Some traveled all the way west or south. They were taken advantage of by the rich and powerful who were already here, used as cheap labor until they could work no more, then left to rot in dirty tenements surrounded by starvation, want, screaming children, and greedy landlords. They were poisoned by the factories in which they worked, rendered invalids by dangerous machinery, and made sick by the horrible, disease-ridden condition of their world. And they were, in the end, exploited by the robber barons whose own families had been immigrants a generation or five before, an earlier class of huddled masses yearning to breath free in the heady air of the American continent, separate from the European continent worn thin with religious and feudal baggage. Those European immigrants were matched on the west, too, by droves of Chinese and Japanese immigrants from Asia, looking to earn a living. They were insulted and marginalized (even as late as WWII, when Japanese-Americans were interred, which did not happen to Germans in WWI or WWII). But the thing we forget is that when they first arrived the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island were treated no better than the ones coming through San Francisco. The Irish were regarded as little more than drunkards (there's a reason the police wagon was called the "paddy wagon..."), the Italians as fools, and the Eastern Europeans as barely human. America calls itself a melting pot and a nation of immigrants. But if you scratch the surface an odd pattern comes up: America hates immigrants. I don't understand it, but think I can explain it. See, the vast majority of Americans arrived on the decks of tramp steamers as the huddled, wretched masses. Some became the most powerful of all, some disappeared, but the majority figured out how to hang on and build a life. But those first generations remembered the hard times, appreciated the difficulty of making it out, and feared the fall back to despair and hopelessness. That's why the cliched "American Dream" is secretly sad: a little house in the suburbs, a chicken in the pot, a car in the garage, and now a 56" LCD TV, a PS3, and a bitchin' stereo. It's why Americans care more about the "rat race" and "keeping up with the Joneses" than they probably should. It's why we run up massive amounts of credit card debt buying shit we don't need just to prove we have the money to do it. It's also why more and more Americans are insular, ignorant, and uncaring. Americans are secretly terrified of going back to the docks of Ellis Island. So when a fat-bellied, florid-faced fool on TV shouts that the Mexicans are coming to take our jobs there's a secret jolt of fear. Those words touch on the deepest insecurities of our nation of immigrants. The idea of nationalized health care, welfare, and food stamps means that people might actually be able to live and eat for another week without "having to" work (when the reality is that it's "being able to" that matters. If there's a hell I hope that Reagan is there right now living the exact life his imagined and oft-maligned "welfare queens" lived in outside of the fevered imaginations of a privileged movie star turned politician). And if those poor actually get to live, they, too, might take our jobs and make the privileged poor again. All the while the gap between rich and poor has increased. Since 2000 the United States' GDP has climbed while its median household income has decreased (at least, that's what people keep telling me. This is one of those "how to lie with statistics" moments, though, where "decreased" could mean "actually less than before" or "relatively less than before." This is further confused by the fact that there are a minimum of three ways of calculating such things out and the presence or absence of the words "adjusted for inflation" are a pretty big deal. What I do know is this: the US GDP jumped from $10 trillion to $15 trillion between 2000 and 2008. That's a 50% increase. Per capita income and household income did not increase by 50% by any metric I've seen. Also, there's the deeply important question of, "How much was that increase in GDP caused by people moving money from one account to another and doing all the fun financial tricks that brought the economy to a screeching halt last year?" The numbers I've seen indicate that the middle class and lower class are losing ground [or, perhaps, the upper class is gaining ground, which isn't exactly the same concept], although it's far more complicated than simply seeing two sets of numbers and seeing that one is smaller than another). Where's that gap going? To those same latter-day robber barons who remind us every day to hate the immigrants for coming in to take our jobs and try to take our money using the tax man while they live off the money given to them by the Bush and Obama Administrations, line up lawyers to find every single loophole in the tax code and figure out how to hide their money from Uncle Sam in Cayman Islands accounts. But who is to blame? The immigrants. It always has been. As long as Americans hate Mexicans they don't align with them to stop the corruption. As long as Americans hated the Italians, Irish, and Lithuanians the deadly slaughterhouses of Packing Town could keep humming day and night and put money in the pockets of the heads of the Armour Corporation. The saddest thing is that the so-called Christians are the ones leading the charge. They're trying to turn this nation even more Christian when they don't even understand what their book says about the stranger, the foreigner, the downtrodden. The Bible does no say, "Pull yourself up by your boot straps." The Bible does not say, "The Lord helps those who help themselves."***** The Bible says "the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." On that, if not much else, the Bible and I can agree. I also wish that some of the people who wanted to make America a more Christian nation actually noticed the verses like that. Of course they might realize that in making it possible for strangers to live as countrymen the United States was a lot closer to a Christian nation than the insular, Bible beating country the bigots envision. Either way, ol' Jesus' General has a helpful tip for dealing with the Salvation Army: leave them a note. Most of the time those activities don't actually get anywhere. But actual officers in the Salvation Army (yes, they have officers and uniforms and everything. It's rather creepy, really) will actually be there when the actual money is actually counted and might actually see the protest. If there are enough of those notes, who knows what will happen next? Maybe the American Salvation Army will even try to live up to its own declared mission... --------------------------------- *Weird anecdote: I've now spent twenty-one and a half hours in Dallas. Well, pretty much Irving, but I had a fantastic view of the Dallas skyline from my 16th floor hotel window.** Also, it was more like 22 hours, since my return flight was delayed. More on that some other day. Anyway, I discovered that Dallas has a rather, shall we say, open and vocal gay community, centered in an area known as the "Gayborhood."*** This is something I consider to be, of all things, a strong selling point for Dallas. It's one thing to hear a bunch of people say, "No, we're not the insular, bigoted, hyper-religious Texas stereotype." It's another thing entirely to learn that the homosexual community in Dallas apparently doesn't feel it has to hide from the nightly sodomy police.**** **Also, I almost put "skyline" in quotes there. It's a little hard to consider the difference between being able to look out a conference room in my current office and see Chicago and looking out a window and see Dallas without thinking, "Really?" It's...um...it's a different view... ***Chicago has Boys Town and Girls Town. This is one metric by which Dallas beats Chicago hands down. I simply can't get over how awesome that nickname is. ****Very high on the list of things I've never understood: sodomy laws. What kind of crazy fucker enforces that? I mean, the entire point of law enforcement is to catch people engaging in criminal activity in the act of doing something illegal and then punish them. I mean, that's the entire point of the plot of pretty much every single episode of every single procedural cop drama, is it not? So unless two dudes are doing each other in the city park at noon on a bright sunny day, how likely is anyone to enforce the sodomy laws? Moreover, if a married couple were having Biblically ordained pen-vag sex in the missionary position in that same park they'd be arrested, anyway. So, I guess the question is, WTF? Also, I tossed this one in because the idea of a footnote with three footnotes of its own amused the hell out of me. *****Common misconception, sadly. The originator of the phrase was Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanac. Also, inasmuch as we remember Franklin as the jovial statesman and whatnot, in reality he was pretty much a gigantic, self-important jackass. On some level he was the perfect person to symbolize the attitude of so many who do pull themselves up by their bootstraps, then turn around and ask why the person who couldn't do it is such a failure.

7 comments:

jessa said...

I had no idea people actually thought the Bible says, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps." Seriously? That is a very American attitude and not at all thematically consistent with the Bible (not that most of these people would recognize that). You are right. That is very sad.

Geds said...

I don't think anyone thinks the Bible says that. I have run in to more than a few who think it says, "The Lord helps those who help themselves," though. The point is that the Bible most definitely does not say that, but the proponents of unchecked free market capitalism and the myth of the rugged American individualist who doesn't need help from anyone does. And the credulous religious folks have abandoned their Bible for politicians.

Joshua said...

The Leviticus context isn't so clear cut. A reasonable interpretation of the verses makes them only talking about people who had converted to pro-Judaism/Judaism.

Of course, that should by the same logic then apply to Christians. So maybe they should be checking if the immigrants are Christian?

Geds said...

That's a good point, but it depends to a large extent on whose reasonable interpretation we're using. From a Christian or Muslim perspective you could easily limit it to those who have converted to the religion in question. Judaism has never had a strong evangelical drive, however, so you could argue that for the Jewish context the stranger doesn't have to be a Jew.

Of course the bastard sons of Judaism aren't too good at studying from a Jewish perspective, so that's probably a non-starter. And there's all those other places where Yahweh tells the Israelites to kill everyone who's not them, so there could still be plenty of room to say that it's only foreigners who are willing to play by the rules.

But the primary question is really, "How do we get people to stop being assholes?" So if we can start from a point of saying, "The Bible says this, why aren't you living up to it?" we might be able to start an actual productive conversation. That's got to be worth something, right?

Fake Al Gore said...

Dallas?!

Let us know when you're here for a bit. We'll take you to some good Tex-Mex. Mi Cocina would be a good start.

BeamStalk said...

Geds, don't forget the Bible also states that Jesus agrees with you. Jesus was asked what the two greatest commandments were and he answered, 'love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.' Which immediately prompted the question 'who is my neighbor?' To which the parable of the Good Samaritan was told. Samaritans to the Jews would be like atheists or Muslims to Christians.

Geds said...

Fake Al Gore:

I figured I'd hold off on telling the world I was going to be in Dallas until I was going to be there for more than 22 hours, mostly for meetings that had a direct impact on my future...

But fear not. I'm pretty sure that I'll be there a lot come January.

BeamStalk:

Dagnabit! I totally had the Good Samaritan thought somewhere in the middle of that post, but then apparently totally forgot about it.

Thanks for picking up the slack, though. Somebody's got to keep track of the cogent arguments.