So often when we talk about religion, folks get stuck in debates about science and evolution. Was the universe created by God or a void? Can the Bible be reconciled with a modern understanding of reality?
Thinkers on both sides spend a large amount of time splitting hairs addressing these issues. But what gets lost in all the nerdiness is the beauty of Christianity, the soundness of its teachings.
If you are looking to build a modern society, you can’t really get any better than the Old and New Testaments. More specifically, two crucial ideas burst forth in those texts that make the heart sing: God declares that every human being deserves a safety net for their bodies and a safety net for their souls.
The first notion, which appears in a countless number of passages, is the biblical command to always take care of the vulnerable. There’s no qualification to this instruction. Scripture doesn’t say the poor must work in order to deserve help, or stay off drugs. Our responsibility to be compassionate is absolute.
If our neighbor is falling, we must catch them. Or as Moses wrote in Deuteronomy, “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be … Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”
On its face, that’s such an astonishing passage. The books of the Old Testament were authored sometime around 500 B.C, during an era of scarcity, famine and countless other terrors. Yet still the Jews established a safety net that was complete and open to all.
They had so little to share with one another, but were profoundly charitable anyway. What an embarrassment to read those words in this present time. We Americans, citizens of the richest nation in world history, are still unable to build a social system comparable to what existed so long ago.
Furthermore, notice that the scriptures don’t get lost debating about the appropriate method for helping the poor. God’s command is simple: Get it done, by any means necessary.
Human need must be abolished. Anything less than that is sin.
Imagine living in a community where no one lacked food, shelter, or what’s required for a dignified life. Every citizen would be enabled to pursue their wildest dreams, free from fear.
Instead of simply working any job in order to survive, one could follow a path that fulfilled their potential, in the arts or philanthropy, science or commerce. The genius of the human mind would be liberated, to bloom with fullness.
Next, the second major premise of Christianity is equally as important: Everyone deserves a safety net for their souls.
More specifically, Jesus told us to love one another, always, and never hate. When someone does wrong, they must have a chance at forgiveness and transformative grace. Judging others harshly is unacceptable, since human flaw is universal.
This principle is just as liberating as the idea of abolishing poverty in the Old Testament. In the era of cancel culture, so many of us live in fear of making even the tiniest mistake, knowing the possibility of severe consequences in our personal and professional lives. We self-edit, contort and mangle our spirits to try and fit the latest expectations. In the process, so much joy is lost.
Under the Christian system, all that goes away. Instead, screwing up is seen as a part of the beauty of being alive.
Rather than living with anxiety, one is taught to be courageous and let their hearts breathe. If a person says something politically incorrect, makes a clumsy pass on a date, or offends in some other way, it won’t be the end of the world.
The broader community won’t forget everything good about them, their acts of courage and devotion, love and charity. For everyone will need mercy one day.
In a most basic sense, the idea is, human beings ought to receive the same respect as wildlife.
We all love lions, right? Their beauty and power is one of the marvels of the world. But sometimes they lose control, and the same ferocity that makes them gorgeous leads to some poor sap getting eaten.
Now in response to such a tragedy, no one would suggest taking the creature’s teeth out. That would be downright wicked.
Sure, you’d greatly reduce the risk of future danger. But it would also never be a lion again. To truly love an animal, one must understand their beauty is inseparable from their flaws.
In the Gospels, Jesus tells us to apply the same idea to our neighbors – to hold the fullness of another human being in our hands – knowing all the while we are carrying something incalculably precious.
The self-righteous activist who rips you to pieces on Facebook? Trust me, I know how tiring those types can be. But that same moral passion that leads to excess is also what changes the world.
The boy in class who says weird things? Yes, he can sometimes make others uncomfortable. But his beautiful brain is also responsible for an endless amount of delicious humor, sharp insights and memorable stories.
Your Trump-supporting neighbor who thinks every Gen Z and millennial is a whiny snowflake? He’s rough around the edges, no doubt – but that’s what made him an excellent Marine in Vietnam.
This is what it means to see one another with the holy spirit, the spirit of democracy. If America ever decided to implement real Christianity, our country would become a special place to live in.
It would be damn good politics, too. The last major leader who tried such an endeavor – Franklin D. Roosevelt – launched his Democratic party into a series of victories that lasted for 50 years.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.