When Is Religion Not Religion?

At last week’s National Prayer Breakfast President Obama invoked Scripture in vindication of his taxation policy. “As a Christian,” he proclaimed, his policy “coincides with Jesus’ teaching that for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’”

This has as much theological integrity as right wingers maintaining that Paul’s injunction in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “If a man will not work, he shall not eat,” justifies reduction or abolition of unemployment benefit.

Left or right there appears to be a political propensity to take the words of Scripture and use them in a attempts to justify economic policies.

Let us be charitable and assume that Obama’s theological excursion was the expression of a deeply held faith commitment to a social gospel which sees state intervention on behalf of the poor as a core facet of Christian activism; and not the tactless duplicity of a politician in the midst of an election fund-raising cycle.

What, Me Duplicitious?

As far as I am aware Jesus was pretty neutral concerning the paying of taxes, seeing it neither as an imposition of the sate to be avoided or as an alternative to personal charity to be welcomed.

The Christian tradition commends generosity to the poor, but stresses the personal and not the governmental level. There is always a human connection between the donor and the recipient, a voluntary giving out of compassion which is completely absent from state imposed taxes. Christian charity and state taxes are differing actions with differing results. One promotes human interconnectedness and compassion, the other promotes indifference and resentment.

In the story of Ruth we find her gleaning after harvest. In accordance with Leviticus 19:10 the edges of the field were left unharvested for the sake of the poor who were free to come and recover any wheat left behind. This was personal charity and not state mandated garnishing of income in order to effect the redistribution of wealth.

Like all amateur theologians Obama gets himself in a muddle. On the one hand he claims religious sanction for his tax system; whilst he on the other hand, in his latest pronouncements on the proposed American health system, he specifically excludes religion as a motive for good works .

Obama wishes to force all employers to provide free contraception and abortion to their employees. This may cause a problem to some atheists who fail to see why Americans are unable to purchase their own contraceptives, but they are probably so brow-beaten by the government that they will stump up for tax-payer Trojans anyway.

Not so the Roman Catholic Church. They hold this view that contraception is morally wrong and that abortion is a sin, murder actually, and that they are pretty much against both on an institutional level.

America has this document called the Constitution which, in its First Amendment, has what is termed the Free Exercise Clause. Progressives busily trumpet the first part of the First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” and blithely ignore the rest of the sentence, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

It would drive a coach and horses through the First Amendment if the government were to require by law that Roman Catholic institutions were obliged to provide ‘health care services’ such as contraception or abortions.

The Obama White House recognises this difficulty and so has  found a way around this problem. What if the institutions which might object to the government’s policy were not religious? Then they could be forced to provide contraceptive or abortion services.

Thus they have decided that to be deemed ‘religious’ an institution must have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” and that it must be one that “primarily employs” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

Gotcha!

The purpose of Roman Catholic hospitals and other charitable institutions is not to inculcate their religious values but to give succour to the sick and needy. Therefore, according to the Obama White House, they don’t qualify as ‘religious’ and can be forced to provide services which go against their deeply held beliefs.

Roman Catholic charities such as hospitals do not “primarily employ” Roman Catholic doctors and nurses, their soup kitchens do not demand that before you can hand out sandwiches to the homeless you must affirm papal infallability. Likewise they do not require that to be treated for an burst appendix or given a meal you must first convert to Catholicism. Therefore because it doesn’t primarily serve “persons who share its religious tenets” a Roman Catholic charity is not a ‘religious institution’ and is obliged to provide contraception and abortion.

To get his religious guests on side Obama proclaims his tax policies to be Christian good works. He then turns around and tells Roman Catholics who do engage in good works because of their faith that what they are doing is not religious at all. Religion happens on Sundays and if they want religion they should sit in pews.

Now, how could this be described as duplicitous?

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About Campbell

Now retired but once upon a time a parish minister in Glasgow, before that the South West and initially the Black Isle. Been a prison chaplain and lecturer. Still am constantly bemused by the weird world around me.
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2 Responses to When Is Religion Not Religion?

  1. Pingback: Even liberals and atheists are outraged at this attack on religious freedom « Trutherator's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Obama and 1st Amendment | A Taxi Dog Diary

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