A reader called my attention to an article written last week, and asked that I respond to it. Frankly, I found the article boring--a predictable diatribe by a self-described feminist, apparently an atheist and leftist half of whose oeuvre seems to be attacks on those who claim to be Christians who are Republicans. I hate to call attention to it. The heart of the message was that politicians claiming to be Christian were shutting down foodstamp programs, claiming it was the "Christian" thing to do, and that she, in her enlightened atheism, has a better understanding of what the "Christian" approach should be than these politicians. That is the more remarkable, really, when she tips her hand to suggest that she has bought the intellectually foolish notion that the New Testament documents are unreliable accounts of events (I am surprised at how many supposedly intelligent people are completely unaware of the evidence supporting these), and describes Jesus as a "mythological character".
We will give her the benefit of the doubt, that when she referred to Jesus as a "mythological character", she meant it in the same sense that one might use to describe Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, or Elvis Presley: someone around whom stories grow, who to many people is more an image than a person, an idea. (Denying the reliability of the accounts is perhaps forgivable; denying the existence of the historic person entirely is nonsense.) The charge is no doubt true for many, that Jesus stands for what they themselves believe to be right, as He is to them more an image than a teacher; and that they confuse for His teaching other "American" values they have adopted. He certainly never taught that America was a Christian nation, or that wealth was an indicator of God's favor.
On the other hand, I have trouble with someone avowedly not Christian telling me either what Christians believe or how we ought to act.
Do I agree that many conservatives who are Christians confuse their political opinions with the teachings of their faith? Certainly; and I do not agree with everything claimed as a "Christian" policy. Certainly I agree that Jesus fed the hungry and taught us to do likewise, and indeed the Church has been a leader in feeding the hungry throughout the world. World Vision, Feed the Hungry, and The Salvation Army are just some of the most visible Evangelical Christian relief organizations working to bring food, water, and assistance to people in need here and abroad. It is a mandate.
However, food stamps are a more complicated question. By and large they are not wealthy people helping poor people, but wealthy and powerful people forcing poorer people to help yet poorer people. It is one thing if you decide you are going to give your money to feed the poor; it is quite another if you decide you are going to do this with my money. As Linus Van Pelt said, "I want to be a philanthropist with somebody else's money," and that is what government welfare programs are doing. There is no "charity", in its original sense, in such giving, and the fact that so many of these programs are now called "entitlements", as if there were some merit in being poor that earned the right to demand the kindness of the wealthy, only underscores this.
For the record, on balance I favor government assistance programs. They are imperfect, and they are abused, but there are people who genuinely need help, either because life has been hard on them or because they have been ill-equipped for it. Yet I do not see it as an obviously "Christian" position, either for or against, and I cannot (as a trained theological scholar and Bible teacher) fault those who would have concluded that forced charity is not a biblical principle. On the other hand, relying on the generosity of those who have more leads to the problem faced by the beggar in Fiddler on the roof: "So, if you had a bad week, why should I suffer?" When times are hard for everyone, they are hardest on those most dependent on the kindness of others.
As to allowing our religious beliefs to influence our politics, it is something even atheists do, and it is neither possible nor desirable to eliminate it. It would be better if only intelligent thoughtful people participated in the political process; but that boat has sailed, and now everyone gets a say, even those who cannot see beyond their own irrationally-embraced beliefs (whether those of conservative morality or those of liberal feminism or of any other stripe of beliefs). I will vote my conscience as informed by my religion, and attempt to help others better understand what that religion teaches. It will probably help if those who do not believe our faith do not alienate us by pretending to know what we should believe better than we do. Such attacks cause otherwise sensible people to become defensive and reactionary, leading to irrational decisions on both sides rather than rational discussion and mutual understanding.