Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Three Optional Sidebars

These are additions to my "Try To Make It Worse" post below.  They are not strictly necessary, but they may be worth following.

BTW, I plan to make this even worse soon.

Optional Sidebar I:

If your thought is that this community is not that high on Jesus’s list, please at least consider it and ponder scriptural references that support it.  I will start you off: the importance that the Church in Acts placed on it; Jesus’s statements at the foot-washing, the Last Supper, and in the garden; the choosing of Israel as a people and the NT echo of this.  There are many others.  All attempts to refine the gospel to “its most important part” – including this one - should be viewed with suspicion, as the various facets of the faith are not understandable except in relation to each other.   Thus I don’t insist on putting my formulation at the top of the list.  But it’s big, and I think it is largely under-emphasised in an American church culture where denominations have split and folks moved to greener pastures throughout our history.  Tracy and I have been well to the high end of the continuum on this matter of community ever since we were first married.  But still, I think, not quite believing how insistent the scriptures are on its centrality.  I even had an early copy of Hal Miller’s book on community (friend of a friend) and didn’t get it – though Miller was focused on living in physical community which is only one possibility.

Optional Sidebar II:
I understand that a suggestion that Matthew 26 does not automatically apply to all earthly creatures seems like an abdication of Christian responsibility.  I know it looks that way.  Yet I claim the opposite is true.  I think it’s the harder path.

I think the social gospel is generally the easy way out, and community the harder way. I say this because of how often I find it easier to write a check than deal with difficult situations (or people).

Just a touch of my thoughts on that matter – some of this is a repeat, I know.

The Matthew 26 reference does specify “brethren,” a distinction not heard by modern brotherhood-of-all-mankind ears but quite clear to original hearers. It is not insane that Team A understands Jesus’s directive as applying to the secular community, swelling ultimately to the whole nation, because it is descended from the social movements of the early 19th C, which in turn came from Puritan identification of the local secular and Christian communities as one and the same. (But note: not until the nationalist, marxist, and socialist creeds got under weigh in the late 19th C did anyone extend this to a national level.  Even expanding responsibility from the town to the state level came pretty late.)  Prior to that, the European nations, with their state churches, also defined all inhabitants as Christians – though neither the king nor the church hierarchy were responsible for the poor.  Those were parish matters.  And prior… and prior,,, the identification of The Church with All Of Us Here is consistent in western thought, because it overwhelmingly was so.  We did not have the pluralism of Persia, or even Turkey and the Levant.  It goes back to the first secular power of the church, when it took over governance of empire from the Romans.  Church=Everyone. Additional: The Romans also fed the poor.  They did not see themselves as responsible for the poor of all the empire, but they did feed the poor of Rome for their own safety

It isn’t surprising that many modern Christians make the automatic assumption that Jesus’s command applies for the whole nation, if not the world. It’s just an overreach of real history. Commands to generosity abound in Christian history, often coupled with enjoinders that the Christian embrace poverty.  But we don’t find examples of this “find a way to feed the poor everywhere” thinking until very recently.  There were some in the Christian church from the start who tried to extend charity to their entire local community, believers or not, especially in times of famine or disease.  But the first church would not have had that understanding at all – and it’s not in the text.

If you want to start applying it as a natural extension of the text, supported by the development of the church in Western Civilization, I agree in part.  But once we have breached that wall, we must abandon all lines of argument that imply those who aren’t going along are being disobedient to the gospel.  That becomes revealed as an insulting and self-congratulatory attitude to take.

Optional Sidebar III

I am mindful of Sam’s comment about efficiency.  Utilitarianism isn’t Christianity, but it’s darn hard to argue with the claim “Yeah, but this way feeds more people.” (Not government, but the broader category of division of labor).  I am in fact mindful enough of the idea that I wrote it - rather the opposite of what I’m saying now - a few years ago.  So I don’t think I’m on top of these Chestertonian furious opposites just yet.


Texan99 said...

I'm not convinced that this way feeds more people. We have fewer hungry people now, but our society is so much richer overall that that's to be expected.

We have more people dependent on strangers. That's not necessarily a good thing.

Having no children myself and coming from a loose-knit family, I experienced my most intense community when my now-husband and I lived for many years in a communal household with a dozen or so others. It was a formative experience for both of us, particular since we're both so disinclined otherwise to bond with people. I think we'll never stop being a bit nostalgic for it.

karrde said...

I'm not sure where I should land in answer. (Either to this sidebar set, or to the original question.)

My political instincts are that centralized responses, though apparently efficient, undermine the human-interaction-part of charity. And, when done poorly, government-driven charity can really mess up the incentives for poor people who might be able to help themselves.

For in-the-church charity, we have warnings against giving free help to people who may be able to provide for themselves. (See 2 Thess. 3:10, or 2 Tim. 5.) This leads me to believe that while giving to people who are poor is a good thing, the people giving the help need the ability to decide which cases are more-worthy-of-help and which are less-worthy-of-help.

Jesus' teaching in Matt. 26 is about something that is important.

I notice that the needs he describes are, in most cases, extreme. Lack of clothes, lack of food. Did He mean any thirst, or only dying of thirst?

What about visiting people in prison? Can that be industrialized/collectivized?

At this question, I stop. The list feels as if it is tied together by a common trait. They are things done face-to-face, not deeds enabled by sending money to the right organization.

That gives me another reason to pull back from collective solutions.