I admit, I look at the world from a certain perspective. As I've mentioned elsewhere (and earlier) in this blog, I approach medicine as a service career. I trust that I could make more money in other careers or, even if I stay in medicine, could make more money working elsewhere. But I don't feel that is my calling. I feel a need to work with patients who need care and who would have trouble accessing care elsewhere.
As a result of this, I look at marginalized and impoverished individuals as being worthy of our help and our care. I feel it is society's responsibility to help those who need help and, because I see the need as being so great, I believe that government and society has a critical role to help. These individuals usually come from communities and families that have become entrenched in poverty. I acknowledge that some people make poor decisions--but so do well-off people. The well-off just have more wiggle room if they make a mistake, and live in a society where tax policies, investment plans, etc are weighted to their benefit. (If you disagree, let me ask you whether mortgage interest deductions or deductible IRA contributions are more likely to benefit the wealthy or the poor)?
The counterpoint claimed by conservatives is that the public sphere, and public money, should not be used to help the poor and underprivileged. They claim that private citizens, churches and charities can provide the necessary help. In their vision, marginalized people are helped by kindhearted individuals and organizations with a mission to do just that.
So how do they explain Glenn Beck's recent nonsense? (It's an MSNBC link, b/c I can't bear to find the original clips on Fox.) Here is an individual beloved by many conservatives and who acts as a mouthpiece of the conservative movement calling on his fans and listeners to abandon and run away from any church that supports social justice and economic justice.
So, apparently there is a part of the conservative movement that believes not only that public money should not assist the poor, but faith communities shouldn't either. So where does that leave the poor? Apparently up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Couple this with the fact that the charitable organizations that do so much to help the less fortunate are badly hurt by the economy at the same time that their services are needed (link here) and you have to ask yourself: exactly what to conservatives want the poor do to?
Last time I checked, Jesus preached social and economic justice and called on followers to care for (and about) the poor. It takes precious little bible study to see this--the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount make an easy starting point.
So, Beck is wrong in calling on people to abandon churches that promote social and economic justice. And he shows a critical flaw in conservative thought (if you can call him a conservative thinker--I think his current comments show that the jury is still out on that). If the poor are supposed to rely on churches and charities when those churches and charities are already strapped, and if "leaders" of the movement are calling on parishioners to leave their churches, then again: what are the poor supposed to do?
I readily acknowledge that there are may Christians who will disavow Beck's comments, and that many churches and secular charities will continue to do strong work to benefit the underprivileged. That doesn't change the basic fact that conservatives' answers to these questions are woefully inadequate.
And this is why we need to sustain a viable and meaningful public safety net.