It is that time again – that one day when as a nation we deliberately turn our attention to being thankful (until, of course, we turn our attention to shopping). We gather family and friends and with our traditions, we remember all the things for which we are grateful – we count our blessings, many or few, and we feel good. I like Thanksgiving, I love feeling thankful, and thankfully, I have much for which to feel thankful. Thankfulness, feeling gratitude, is an awesome emotion – the more you feel it, the more reasons you have to feel it. A spark of gratitude can quickly turn into a burning ember, which can ignite within us a firestorm of gratitude. Feeling grateful is such a powerful emotion that feeling it takes up a lot of space in our hearts and minds leaving little room for negative emotions to find their way in. We feel generous (meaning charitable, big-hearted, kind, giving) towards our fellow human beings rather than miserly (meaning stingy, tight-fisted, miserable). We feel compassion (empathy, concern, kindness) for those who are suffering and struggling, rather than indifference (disregard, unconcern, mercilessness.) When we open our hearts to gratitude and allow the human dignity that is inherent in each human being to touch us, we cannot help but feel generosity towards and compassion for humanity and our shared journey on this earth. Sadly, the feelings of gratitude, compassion and generosity are not that much in favor right now and nowhere is this more true than in our politics.
We have become a nation of takers and feelings of entitlement have quite obviously infiltrated our society. Those in positions of power and influence, the top 1% and the politicians who serve them, self-righteously believe themselves to be the entitled elite. After all, they feel entitled to take tax breaks, entitled to tax subsidies, entitled to preferential treatment in the law. They feel entitled to have the governing rules of society bent in their favor. They feel entitled to be unconstrained and unregulated in their efforts to make more money and bigger profits. They feel entitled to take from society and they selfishly are very reluctant to give much back. Feelings of generosity and compassion are being lost; they are losing the capacity to feel empathy. Our elected officials and some in the media who are helping to create the entitled elite are also fostering an environment of blame and resentment. As people in the ever-shrinking middle class feel squeezed, those at the top of the food chain along with their acolytes tell them that it is the fault of the people at the very bottom – it is all those “lazy” people who are the real takers; they are to blame for the country’s economic hardships.
There is a mean-spiritedness spreading across our land and within our politics. If anyone has doubt that this is true, just check social media where mean-spirited posts and comments on Facebook are quickly liked and shared, and similar tweets on Twitter are instantaneously re-tweeted. This mean-spiritedness is sad to see happening in our culture, but in the world of politics and policymaking it is not only sad, it is detrimental to the moral fabric of society; we are deteriorating towards becoming an unkind, ever more unequal nation, wallowing in hostility and resentment. As this is happening, I wonder – why aren’t more Christians in Congress doing something to stop this? Obviously, this deterioration is not only the fault of Christians; however, I believe there are legitimate reasons to hold Christians in positions of power and influence especially accountable.
As most elected officials on the national stage profess to be Christians of one denomination or another, and claim this to be a nation rooted in Christianity, what they say and do deserve special scrutiny. To me, the mean-spiritedness and antipathy directed towards the less fortunate does not feel very loving, and as far as I know, to be loving is at the heart of what Jesus taught; it is the heart of Christianity. What many politicians are saying and doing appears to me to be in direct conflict with the teachings of their faith.
I am not a Christian, but I have learned what Jesus taught and “loving thy neighbor as thyself” was considered by Jesus to be the second most important of all the commandments. Jesus also said, “So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you,” which of course is known as the Golden Rule. You do not have to be a Christian to recognize these are beautiful values worth having but, for a Christian, these are also moral imperatives. To live according to Jesus’ words means it is wrong to shame, mock, belittle or judge those who are different from you or who are less fortunate and need help. It means a society, if truly rooted in Christianity, has an obligation to help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick, without prejudice and without judging whether they “deserve” to be fed, clothed or healed. I have to say that it amazes me that so many Christians in public service feel such umbrage about providing assistance to the less fortunate- they are outraged to the point of wanting to dismantle an entire welfare system because there are some people who take “advantage” of the system. Really, if taking advantage of the system truly is a cause for indignation and outrage, well then let us all be indignant and outraged with corporations taking advantage of the system; with government officials taking advantage; with Wall Street taking advantage; with rich individuals taking advantage. I do not believe you can in all sincerity call yourself a Christian while at the same time heaping scorn and ridicule and shame upon the poor – calling them “takers” because they require government assistance. I am sorry, but you cannot call yourself a Christian and deliberately hurt the poor by withholding food stamps, housing subsidies, or Medicaid coverage in the name of fiscal conservatism while at the same time, you ignore the negative impact on society of individual and corporate greed and gladly continue to support corporate welfare. This is not Christianity; this is stunning hypocrisy.
Pope Francis just recently issued an “apostolic exhortation” which is the official platform of his papacy. In it he called upon global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, calling upon the rich to share their wealth and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare.” While I do not agree with the Pope on everything, I do agree with his assessment of unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny.” The Pope wrote that growing inequality and poverty inevitably leads to violence, and “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” These are very strong admonitions from the leader of the Catholic Church and I hope the good Catholics in Congress, like John Boehner and Paul Ryan, for example, take the Pope’s words to heart.
It may be a bit naïve to believe it can happen, but I hope that when our elected politicians sit down to their Thanksgiving dinner, surrounded by family and friends, with a bountiful spread of food before them, in the comfort and warmth of a beautiful home, they genuinely feel grateful for what they have. Then, I hope they feel a wee bit of compassion for all those who have not. I hope they think about the people who are hungry on this day and people who are living on the brink of despair, threatened with losing their homes; or people who are sick and cannot afford the care they need to get well. I hope those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of making policy that directly affects the lives of their constituents, take a moment, in the midst of their celebrations, to feel what it must feel like to see your child hungry, or sick, and you – a mom, a dad – do not have the means to help them. I hope our elected officials spend some time on Thanksgiving remembering what they swore to do, which is “faithfully discharge the duties of the office.” I know, this is a lot to hope for, but I cannot help it; despite everything, I have hope!
It seems to me that right now, at this moment in time, we are in desperate need of a better nation, a nation a bit more loving – we really do need a kinder, gentler nation. We need people in positions of power in all spheres of society who more than pay lip service to their faith, but who actually live a spiritual life – a life of gratitude that is both compassionate and generous. There is a slogan making its way around the internet that says do not take Christ out of Christmas. I agree. However, it would have greater impact and would lead to a better nation and a better world for all of us, if Christians did not take Christ’s teachings out of their politics.