One of the things that is particularly reprehensible about right wingers these days is their insistence on Bible-thumping assertions that we are not responsible for our fellow citizens. The recent cut to food stamps and the asinine GOP talking points that we are running up the debt of the country by helping to provide for our poorest citizens is the worst kind of demagoguery. Not only is it patently untrue, it is completely wrong-headed. Over and over we look at what Jesus Christ said about the hungry, and there is not one place mentioned in the Bible that He said something, anything to the effect of “What the hell, guys, these lazy assholes just don’t want to work. Let them starve.”
Strong language, Apostate!
Yeah, well, The Apostate is a little irritated with the hijacking of the Bible to foment Christians into acting against their own spiritual best interests. The Political Right Wing has every intention of leading the nation off a cliff into a strange new world of Corporate special interests, and the dystopian ideal of a purely capitalist society is not one I’m interested in living.
Today’s post, however, isn’t about governmental economic policies, but about Old Testament law and poor people. Paul asserted in Romans 6:14 that we no longer live under the law, but under grace. This has led to the cherry-picking of the Bible, in which any opinion given any verse anywhere in the Bible is spouted off by someone as fact, whether or not said verse is directly contraindicated somewhere else.
The verse that Right Wing conservative ‘Christians’ love in this case? 2 Thessalonians 3:10, in which Paul states: Even when we were with you we were giving you this command: “If anyone doesn’t want to work, they shouldn’t eat.” (CEB)
I have no idea what was going on in ancient Thessalonika when this was written. I do know that the early Church lived in a rather commune-like environment, and I can make some guesses about human behavior and how some people like to do less work than others. This letter was written to a specific group of people at a specific point in time about that group of people’s specific behavior. Other writers in the Bible, including James (the brother of Jesus), John and Peter advocate the support of the poor. One can speculate that James, John and Peter knew Jesus the man significantly better than Paul did (Paul never met Jesus while he was alive), or one could simply say that at the Council of Nice the Priests putting together the Bible really liked Paul and his consistent misogynistic, poor hating attitudes and used them to keep people in their place.
So what does the Old Testament say about feeding the poor? Well, basically, there’s a SNAP program for people that can’t afford food. Wait, what? Yes, the Torah provides an out for people that don’t have personal property to raise their own food (in that time, property and wealth were equal). Property owners were not allowed to harvest all of their grain for sale. They had to leave the corners and edges of the fields so that people too poor to own property could attain enough food to make it. They were not allowed to harvest all of the grapes on the vine. They were not allowed to harvest the olives off an olive tree more than once. If anything fell off the cart and was left in the field, it remained there for the poor to come and pick up. I’m sure that not everyone followed this group of laws the same way, and given human nature I’m sure there were generous landowners (as was spoken of Boaz in Ruth) and I’m sure there were significantly stingier ones.
Leviticus 19:9: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.”
Leviticus 23:22: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”
Deuteronomy 24:19: “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
Leviticus 19:10: “And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”
Deuteronomy 24:21: “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
Deuteronomy 24:20: ” When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
(All English Standard Version for easy understanding)
So what we have here is essentially (hold the Megyn Kelly jokes) that Old Testament Law had a Supplemental Food Program for the poor. I guess even the ancient Israelis understood that a really unhappy starving lower class ended up with a guillotine after being taunted by the queen. “Let them eat cake.” It worked out so well for Marie Antoinette, eh?
I see the attack on SNAP, WIC, and other programs by the ‘Christian Right’ who would have us believe that Paul’s words to one group of people at one specific point in time should be doctrinally obligatory policy of the United States and it makes me physically ill. Actual disciples of Jesus Christ can look at the gospel, and see what is correct. Jesus never turned away people in need of food. Jesus understood that refusing people food and handing them a copy of the Torah wouldn’t work. Jesus understood that hungry people aren’t nearly as concerned about their eternal souls as they are about where their next meal is coming from, and what they are going to have to do to get it.
These types of policies are ruinous for society as well. What parents will watch their children starve? These types of policies cause increases in crime rates, exploitation, sickness, and suicides. What, precisely, is Christian about policies that increase crime rates? What is Christian about making people sicker? What is Christian about forcing women to exploit themselves sexually to feed their children? There’s nothing Christian about supporting a policy that will make people hungrier, more criminal, more desperate, and less educated. There is nothing about any of this policy that is safe, sane, or humane.