An excerpt from President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning:
When I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, 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 mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.
Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us.
And as important as government policy may be in shaping our world, we are reminded that it’s the cumulative acts of kindness and courage and charity and love, it’s the respect we show each other and the generosity that we share with each other that in our everyday lives will somehow sustain us during these challenging times. John tells us that, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
Recognizing that the context is very, very different, his pitch reminds me of a line from Lincoln’s second inaugural address, “strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” Of course, Lincoln also imposed the first income tax, so he probably wouldn’t have seen any irony in it.
My support for the National Prayer Breakfast has always been qualified; on the one hand, I think it’s valuable to affirm a common spiritual grounding, mercurial though that may be, among the nation’s leaders. On the other hand–and this is probably nothing new–using the forum of a power-obsessed civil religion group to push religious justifications for raising taxes (while a newer civil religion group glomms on for publicity) makes the whole thing seem like an opportunistic sham, on all sides.
(A small aside: The Fellowship is famous for the fact that they don’t refer to themselves as Christians, preferring to describe themselves as “of Jesus.” Endless expansion of government power is entirely congruent with their strategy of targeting the rich and powerful who will in turn lead the rest of us toward a bright and virtuous dawn. So the anti-institutional stance–one I’ve always understood Jesus to have–supposed in their avoidance of the term “Christian,” is belied by the way they go about recruiting and retaining members and the way they seek to redirect power in the world. In other words, this is like modern-day liberals calling themselves “of liberty.”)
For more on the subject of bringing the Heavenly Kingdom to Earth be sure to check out Gene Callahan on Eric Voegelin in this month’s issue, in which he sees gnostic impulses in both progressivism and neoconservatism’s tendency to “immanentize the eschaton.”