Christianists, David Barton, Enlightenment, fundamentalism, John Locke, Matthew, minimum wage, religious right, Rousseau, Vineyard owner
I haven’t posted much here lately of a religious nature. And I usually describe this blog as part political commentary and part religious commentary.
Yet, I’ve been sensitive (probably too much so) to the fact that a good many of my readers are either agnostics or atheists and have little or no interest in things spiritual.
But, of late, I’ve been thinking hard about David Barton and his awful pretense of “historical” revising. We all know of course, his proclivity to proclaim that America was “founded on Christian principles.” While we agree that most of the Founding Fathers were Christian in some form or another, it is equally clear that the dangers of a religious-political union were well-known from history and there was a deliberate determination to not allow that unholy alliance to be the government of the new nation.
Barton, who has a BA from Oral Roberts University (which tells you a lot in and of itself) in religious education, has the temerity to hold himself out as “expert on historical and constitutional issues.” What he actually does, is cherry pick statements from historical documents and the bible and create a web of arguments that favor his view–that America is meant to be a nation ruled by Christian principles (supposedly as defined by him and others who agree with his fundamentalist notions).
Ironically, the Founding Fathers were steeped in exactly the opposite philosophy. The long history of the Roman Church and its marriage with the kings of Europe served an object lesson in how not to govern. Moreover, the FF were men of the Enlightenment, and any high school student in the US knows that they were deeply influenced by John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, both Enlightenment thinkers, who posited that man was more than capable of learning the secrets of nature and governing himself. One’s personal belief in a deity, was just that, personal.
One of the dangers of people like Barton is that they use their “talents” to create a history that favors their agenda and that of the party they affiliate with. In this case, Barton provides the “philosophical” underpinnings to the Republican notions of free market economies unfettered from regulation of any kind. In other words, toss out all the anti-trust, anti-child labor, minimum wage, safe working conditions legislation. This is God’s will.
Of particular interest to me as of late is the continuing claim that “Jesus opposed the minimum wage.” Setting aside for a moment the obvious idiocy of this, since there is no reference to “minimum wage” in the bible, let us examine the crux of the argument.
Most often cited in this discussion is Matthew 20: 1-16. In this parable, a wealthy vineyard owner seeks day workers for his fields. In the morning he finds some and agrees to a wage, and sends them out. At noon, some more are found, and they too are sent to the fields. Late in the work day, a few more are found and sent for a hour’s work.
As the men line up for payment, those who worked a full day are chagrined to see that the owner is paying those who worked only an hour the same wage as those who worked a full day. They complain. The vineyard owner points out that they agreed to their wage before they began working. What is it to them how he deals with others? And here is the phrase that the Christianists hang their hat on:
“Have I no right to do what I like with my own?”
To the so-called Christian who wants to protect his/her own wallet, more lovely words were never spoken. Why God says that a business owner has the right to do with his money as he wishes! The government has no right to order them to pay people any set sum of money!
Such greedy and selfish people virtually ignore the obvious point Jesus makes, and see nothing but that one sentence; that along with various verses strewn throughout the psalms and scriptures which talk about not placing undue emphasis on wealth. (Except the wealthy I guess did place a lot of emphasis on money in order to become so.)
This is then married to the “Jesus never said that Rome should care for the poor” and “it’s the job of charitable works to take care of the poor” (the poor being those people we conclude are deserving). There you have it. A perfectly constructed argument that allows “Christians” to keep their money in their pockets and the government out of social safety-nets. (An amazingly high percentage of these fools do take their Social Security and Medicare when they reach retirement. Shocking isn’t it?)
Actually the clear import of the parable is this: The vineowner was a good man. He recognized that all those who worked for him that day had to eat and probably had families they had to feed. He had no idea what may have prevented the later arrivals from getting to the town square earlier. Who knows how far they traveled to seek work?
He provided a decent wage to all who worked because they had themselves and their families to support. He recognized the need to make sure that all were cared for. If you struck an agreed-upon bargain, what was it to you if the owner struck more favorable bargains with others? The implication is, that the long-day workers were the greedy ones! They wanted more if the owner was paying the latest workers a “living” wage.
This is the kind of thing that fundamentalists do with scripture, twisting and dishonoring it in order to serve their personal desires. And of course, in doing so, they dishonor God, the Bible, and other Christians.
And sad to say, Barton continues to be the darling of the likes of Bachmann, Huckabee and Gingrich and others who play to the fears and greed of the “religious right.”
- Liars for Jesus: Exposing David Barton and Other Revisionists (atheistrev.com)
- GOP’s Favorite Fake Historian Spins The New York Times (alternet.org)
- Lying: A Virtue (aafwaterloo.wordpress.com)
- David Barton Claims Founding Fathers Debated Creation/Evolution (jonathanturley.org)
I’m amazed at the Religious Right’s ability to twist scripture so as to justify greed and intolerance.
It is shocking isn’t it? I am ashamed that people who call themselves Christians can justify their own selfishness.
Surely this parable is about coming to God and not about wages at all. No matter when one turns to Christ they are welcome to the same portion of Divine love whether early or late. There is no holiness scale dependent on how long you “worked.”
I think renzinthewoods got it right. Biblical parables where simple teaching tools to explain deeper spiritual principles. But if you take the Bible literally, then it can be twisted into whatever shape you desire. I’m certainly willing to pick up the first stone and cast it at Barton 🙂
So you believe also that there is only one interpretation? So if you take that interpretation to the fullest extension you might well support the early practice of not being baptized until on your death bed, since God will grant you full “citizenship” if you are the johnny-come-lately as the early bird? Again, who is being the literalist?
The joy of scripture renz is that there are layers upon layers of interpretation. Surely your interpretation is most appropriate. My point was to suggest that this twisted interpretation is actually and ironically the very opposite of what could be argued. Scripture is a living thing to me at least and can always offer us a way of examining the troubling issues that face us today. Thanks for your contribution.
Sorry, I actually liked your counter to the other interpretation. A fine example of how the argument can and should be made. I must have sounded more pedantic than I intended. mea culpa (I really enjoy your blog)
Oh I certainly didn’t object to your comment. It was correct in every way Renzi. I am a believer that there is an “exegetical” interpretation and untold numbers of “pastoral” interpretations. I see the fundamentalists as claiming their interpretations as literal and for all eternity. They are wrong, as you demonstrated. I was too unclear I think, and you pointed that out. Thanks for your help.
Snoring Dog Studio said:
I can think of few more dangerous presidents than Michelle Bachmann. She’s too stupid and too selfish to see the larger context in which these verses were written. She and her other religious nut friends can wrench one sentence from the Bible and use it to formulate economic, social, and foreign policy. That should frighten us all. Can you imagine her as POTUS dealing with nations whose religious beliefs are far different? Can you imagine her negotiating and making decisions based on her distorted view of Christianity? What a disaster. I don’t care if our President reads Bible verses, but they shouldn’t justify bizarre distortions that go against sound economic policy and disenfranchise large groups of taxpaying citizens. She should be an embarrassment to the Tea Party if they had integrity enough to admit it.
Unfortunately the far right religious really are scary. Take for instance their “support” of the Israelis. It is based deeply on the fact that they believe an Israeli state is necessary to the final days in prophesy. Of course that also means the death of most unrepentant Jews, but they don’t care about that. And of course it means they are singularly uninterested in “justice” as it relates to the Palestinian/Israeli issue.
A fine post Sherry.Shakespeare had it right about people like that David Barton when wrote:
” The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness Is like a villain with a smiling cheek.”
Amen to that!
Unfortunately organised Christianity seems to have twisted and distorted Jesus’ original meaning(s) since its birth. That said, how can we be sure the scriptures at our modern disposal are not also politically (or otherwise) influenced distortions of the pure truth? The mind/soul boggles at the possibilities… which is why I tend to use my own moral/spiritual compass, consulting Christian scripture and other religious references as a guide; signposts on my own self-constructed road, as it were…
I think if we read with a loving heart, we will be more likely to get the basic message correctly. It’s when we look for stuff to support our own dislikes and fears and downright hatreds that we go wrong I think. Then we better be very careful to follow good exegesis lest we corrupt the text to make it what we want it to mean.
That said, I do instinctively believe that Jesus believed in looking after those less fortunate than ourselves and always questioning authority. Most of my “Christian” sensibilities revolve around these points!
As do I.
“I think if we read with a loving heart, we will be more likely to get the basic message correctly.”
Agreed! And with an open heart and open mind.