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  What Ann Coulter Would Learn If She Actually Studied the Bible
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COMMENTARY:

What Ann Coulter Would Learn If She Actually Studied the Bible

by CELESTE BECKENDORF
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”
There’s nothing in the Bible to comfort a free-marketeer who believes society magically benefits from his wealth, or someone looking for a portrait of Jesus as a moral crusader.
In the 1920’s, author Upton Sinclair read the above to a group of Chicago businessmen, saying they were the words of anarchist Emma Goldman. The men were aghast, “That woman should be deported at once.” Mr. Sinclair then confessed the passage was from the Bible, the words of the apostle James. If they were shocked, they shouldn’t have been. Someone looking for a nice justification for free-wheeling, profit-driven capitalism, won’t find one in the Bible. This is why Ms. Ann Coulter, having produced a book with both “Church” and “God,” in the title, does not quote from it.

A wise choice on Ann’s part. There’s nothing in the Bible to comfort a free-marketeer who believes society magically benefits from his wealth, or someone looking for a portrait of Jesus as a moral crusader. Open up the New Testament, and what you actually find is this socialist-sounding claptrap about loving your enemies, and your neighbor as yourself.

You can imagine poor Ann, realizing this omission—a book supposedly about religion that fails to quote that religion’s central text—so she sits down with the Good Book to correct the glitch. What she found probably put her in a sour mood. It turns out that when Jesus came upon a man of means, he didn’t chuck him under the chin and praise his entrepreneurial spirit. He told him to give away his wealth. When Jesus came upon people with deviant lifestyles, he didn’t turn to the crowd and lecture them about Rome’s decaying morals. He took those people into his fold, usually with a snarl or two at the gawkers nearby. Ann Coulter thumbs through her Bible looking for references to Christians trying to pass laws against offensive lifestyles, and finds not a one.

How disheartening that must have been for our intrepid commentator. What’s more, America's basic tenets, the right to a government that does not encroach on personal freedom, the individual's right to pursue happiness, “let a man live his own life,” are not in the Bible. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Not at all. It’s just not appropriate to doll them up in church language. I think Thomas and Benjamin and George would agree with me.

Now, Ms. Coulter may feel a little uncomfortable roaming around the Good Book to support what she’s saying, but me? I got noooo problem with it. The Christian’s first religious duty is to help the poor:
Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Is. 58:10. "And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday.

Luke 12:33. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."

Luke 6:20-21. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

Is. 58:66ff. Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
The Bible’s clear bias towards the poor always comes as a surprise to my non-churchy friends, who’ve long witnessed the priorities of Christians around them, and assumed the Bible must be a massive tirade against gay marriage and abortion.
The Bible’s clear bias towards the poor always comes as a surprise to my non-churchy friends, who’ve long witnessed the priorities of Christians around them, and assumed the Bible must be a massive tirade against gay marriage and abortion.

Yes, I’m a wild-eyed liberal, and I go to Bible studies, fairly fundamentalist ones, at that. And contrary to Coulter’s book, liberals are not bent on transforming America into some sort of pan-sexual Amsterdam. We don’t preach abortion as birth control, nor do we think the ACLU should busy itself with protecting quirky behavior at the expense of common sense. We don’t think courts should take over the rightful role of parents, and surprise, surprise, our opposition to the war in Iraq is just as motivated by the death of American soldiers as it is by the death of Iraqis.

Ms. Coulter likes to paint a monolithic portrait of two camps: God-hating evolution-believers in one, and God-fearing creationists in the other. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Now, this Bible study I go to has its share of Clinton-bashers, as well as a few liberal fellow-travelers like myself. Once the bashing starts, we quietly roll our eyes, and wait to say our piece. Yes, people know I’m liberal, but except for Coulter, no one has ever called me Godless. She’s one of the few who seem to think that a belief in science makes you anti-God. Around this nation are many believers in Christ who recognize that fossils show the evolution of species, but not transmigration. There’s evidence that indicates changes within a species over time, but not fish to fowl, fowl to mammal and so forth. This is important because Ms. Coulter likes to paint a monolithic portrait of two camps: God-hating evolution-believers in one, and God-fearing creationists in the other. Nothing could be further from the truth.

That Bible study I go to represents a spectrum, where we each place differing emphasis on private vs. public morality. You might say a liberal Christian places more emphasis on decisions made as a society: “We ought not to go to war.” “We ought to take care of the poor,” whereas a conservative Christian shifts the emphasis to private life, “A woman ought not to have an abortion.” “A man ought not sleep with another man.” But these are not absolutes. There are plenty of conservative Christians who think Bush’s policies in Iraq are disastrous (it makes it harder to preach the Gospel abroad), and quite a few liberals who don’t appreciate seeing women on TV parade around in their underwear.

Of course there is a division in society, a divide along church and class lines that Coulter’s writings help to foster, but it is not a natural one. First, a little background:

In early American Christianity, morality and justice were intertwined. In fact, the division that Coulter helps to inflame today did not exist in the least.
Until the beginning of the last century, most Christians believed that redistributing wealth and helping the poor was just as important as personal moral behavior. To turn one’s back on the hungry was considered just as much a sin as anything you might do in the bedroom. Struggles against slavery, child labor and unsafe working conditions were all fueled by fiery sermons from the pulpit, complete with all the Bible-thumping and moral certitude that today we associate with gay-bashing. The fiery revivalist preachers of yesteryear excoriated the rich for neglecting America’s growing class of street children, and economic conditions that forced women into prostitution. In early American Christianity, morality and justice were intertwined. In fact, the division that Coulter helps to inflame today did not exist in the least.

What caused the division was urban migration, but mostly, the Scopes Trial. The attorney that prosecuted the Tennessee science teacher for teaching evolution was William Jennings Bryan, three-times presidential candidate and the greatest orator of his time. A fervent Christian as well as an early believer in a world body to arbitrate disputes, he was appointed Secretary of State under Wilson, but resigned to protest the growing drumbeat to enter WWI. His Cross of Gold speech is considered to be one of America’s top oratory masterpieces. Bryan’s faith represented the prevailing “pitchfork populism,” that put justice and morality on equal footing, and was broadly represented across America.

But when called upon to prosecute Mr. Scopes, Mr. Bryan was clearly past his prime. During the trial, he frequently sounded befuddled. The science was a little above him, and his opponent was the sharp and urbane Clarence Darrow, who was content to let Bryan’s ignorance do the talking. The trial, broadcast daily over the newly-minted medium of wireless radio to an audience of millions, left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Mr. Darrow, with his big-city arrogance and snobbish condescension, appeared to take pleasure in publicly humiliating a great American icon, smirking while a hero twisted in the wind. Mr. Darrow lost that day, won on appeal, but lost the hearts and minds of regular Americans. Pretentious, know-it-all book-learning had bested simple heartland faith. But the Scopes Trial was only battle one of what we now call the Culture Wars.

Ms. Coulter’s anti-liberal hate-talk is a distraction, because in reality, both sides are working towards the same general goal: a better world to live in, a better place for our kids to grow up in.
Today, Coulter’s anti-liberal hate-talk is a distraction, because in reality, both sides are working towards the same general goal: a better world to live in, a better place for our kids to grow up in. Ann does not want you to recognize the church schism as a historical misunderstanding, two strains of faith that were once united. For her own reasons, she wants you to see "liberalism" as a monolithic, irrational state of mind, hoping you’ll disregard everything we say. According to her, all liberals are cut out of the same defective material. Skilled at the time-honored technique common to all hate literature, she de-personifies her target, referring to us liberals as one indistinguishable group. We’re all unchurched, unpatriotic, amoral, and never met a government program we didn't like. If you were to download any of the famous works of hate literature, for example, "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," replace "Jews" with "Liberals," the resulting book would seem oddly familiar: One target, one enemy, scheming as one to undermine all the nation holds dear.

Seeing Coulter’s books for sale makes you wish humans were born with a built-in crap detector, something inside us that buzzes when commentators use phrases like, “they always,” “they never,” “they all hate America.” At such times, it should kick in: “What do you mean ‘all’? Where did you learn that? How many liberals have you really met, sat down with and talked to?”

There exists reasonable commentary that suggests American supremacy is not such a horrible thing, just as there are books on my side of the fence that warn of America’s conservatism without sounding like some goofy spy novel. One thing’s for sure. Our nation is at a crossroads, at a critical juncture deserving of better guidance than Coulter’s simplistic rants.
Celeste Beckendorf, of Baltimore, writes end-user computer books and provide technical support for a web site that sells school supplies. She helps raise funds for OXFAM and Medical Aid to El Salvador. She is a Mennonite, a faith that espouses non-resistance and non-violence. Mennonites are one of the three historic "peace" denominations, along with Brethren and Quakers.


Copyright © 2006 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on July 28, 2006.
 

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