When President Obama used the occasion of the National Prayer Breakfast to say that for the fortunate to pay a little more to help the less fortunate "coincides" with Jesus' teachings, he must have touched a nerve.
How else to explain the volcanic eruption of hate that has spewed from the right in response? Exposure to the pyroclastic flow of rightwing political lava for more than a moment can cause severe brain tissue burns, so I'll offer a few quick samples.
Geoff Ross, a retired naval man and self-styled president of the Rogue Patriot Group, writes:
I am correcting the record, Sir. You [are] a degenerate immoral hack that has no values or moral fiber or glue. ... It is not your job to give Americans a fair shot at anything. It is up to us Americans to be able to go out and find prosperity and happiness and financial independence. It is you sir with your BOOT on the neck of this nations carotid artery that is shutting off blood flow to freedom and liberty we used to enjoy. When you remove your boot then we will prosper. ... You stated Mr. President "Living by the principle that we are our brother's keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers. And they are values that have always made this country great." You make this statement yet you remove millions of dollars in federal aid from Catholic charities because they refuse to bow down to your demand that they send rape victims for mandatory abortions...
Mandatory abortions? I guess they must have been authorized by the Obamacare Death Panels when we weren't looking. Now, you might be tempted to dismiss the above drivel as just typical Internet raving. But that would be a mistake. For the fanatics of Old Time Religion, this is mainstream stuff. Here's Fox News regular Steven Crowder:
OK, you might say, this guy with his "Obama's Burning Taxpayer-Funded Incense To Whatever Pagan, Foreign Deity He's Worshiping" nonsense is just another attention-seeking rightwing rent-a-ranter. But it doesn't stop there. On the floor of the Senate, Orrin Hatch of Utah took up the cudgels to berate the president about the Gospels.
Short version: Hatch blasts the president for injecting a "tax-the-rich scheme" into the prayer breakfast, says the Gospels are concerned about "weightier matters," and cautions him to remember that only one person ever walked on water. Apparently, in today's GOP to even mention making a little financial sacrifice to help the poor is to compare yourself to the messiah. See for yourself.
Why are the reactions so venomous? The answer, I think, lies in an asymmetry of belief. For mainstream believers across the political spectrum, religion is an important but limited dimension of their lives. It fosters altruism, a sense of community and a reassurance of meaning in their lives.
The hotheads of the Christian Right have a completely different orientation to religion. Forget about charity, mercy or love. As far as they are concerned if Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor," he must have meant in the afterlife. As they see it, this life is all about war. Theirs is a tribal god who bears a remarkable resemblance to the angry, vengeful and often merciless Yahweh of old. The defenders of Old Time Religion see themselves in an existential fight to the finish with Satanic enemies. And clearly they believe that Satan's plan is to tax them into hell.
It is a worldview strangely detached from the Gospels. Otherwise, you might think that when President Obama says, "if I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that 'for unto whom much is given, much shall be required,'" it might ring true.
But then again, maybe that would come uncomfortably close to reminding them of something else Jesus is quoted as saying, in the Gospel of Matthew:
...for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in ... Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.
Or this: "...sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Or, worst of all, this: "Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
No, that will never do. Better book some TV preacher on Fox News to explain it all away.
Follow Clay Farris Naff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/claynaff