Common Good

Why Drinking Coffee is Good for the Soul

I confess. Although I drink coffee in the morning, and sometimes at night, I like a good cup of tea in the afternoon. I used to think it was good for my health and my diet. Then came the Tea Party. No, this is not the disconnect some might think. Hopefully it is a successful play on words that allows us to look at our current political environment in light of the Gospel. By the way, one does not need to believe in Jesus (or even God) to comprehend the principles involved. One just needs to be a person of good will.

There is much to bemoan in the current U.S. economy, as well as that in other parts of the globe. As a result, pundits from across the spectrum are analyzing this past Tuesday's election, spinning the outcome to support their own biased perspectives. That is not what I intend, although I would suggest that the U.S. election was more about economics and unemployment, than anything else. The Tea Party, of course, believes the election was about economics AND the "anything else"--particularly their desire, nay, their demand that they be allowed to pursue their individual passions and the rest of the country be damned. It is precisely here that the Tea Party runs smack against the values of the Gospel.

For months the American public has been subjected to Tea Party activists who have espoused a philosophy of government and economics that has gone largely unchallenged in principle. Those who have opposed the Tea Party have done so primarily by focusing on policy and arguing about the value of the stimulus bill, the financial and health care reforms, etc. While acknowledging the dismal employment statistics, they have suggested that things would be worse without some of the emergency legislation passed by Congress. But there are deeper issues at work in the country, issues that go to the heart of the Gospel, and this is where I believe the Tea Party must be challenged.

We frequently hear activists speak of smaller government, using phrases such as "keeping the government out of our pockets." A very careful analysis of the language and issues of the Tea Party unveils a thinly disguised self-centeredness that demonstrates no concern whatsoever for others. In reality, it is simply another incarnation of the "me" mentality, but from a different generation. They want to get everything out of life and keep it for themselves. The hubris of this approach was on display during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The same people who were decrying government spending and regulation of industry were demanding more and faster federal response, not to mention their demand for federal dollars and prosecution of the responsible parties. I guess that when your world revolves only around yourself, you don't need to be rational or consistent.

It has been a long time since politicians have spoken of the common good--or at least a long time since using that specific language. Even President Obama, with all the hope of a new future that he brought to national politics, does not use the term. I realize that there are multiple ways of interpreting the Scriptures. How else could anyone preach the absurdity of literalism! Still, at the heart of the Gospel is the concept of the common good, so it is baffling how the core of the Tea Party movement, those Christians who claim religious superiority over others, can dismiss with such apparent ease everything that Jesus stands for.

Take, for example, the miracle of the loaves and fish. A quick side note: this is the only miracle that occurs in all four Gospels, so it is uniquely significant. Whatever explanation one offers for this miracle, it is a demonstration of sharing with and caring for those in need. When Jesus told the disciples to give food to the multitude, they objected. In a phenomenally prescient expression of Tea Party politics, they protested against spending their own money to feed the others--those people who did not have the foresight to bring their own food! Sounds like a page out of Sarah Palin's, and by extension, the Tea Party's handbook. The problem is that their handbook is not the Gospel.

It has become practically a national sport to attack any idea that sounds "socialist" such as the redistribution of wealth. Of course, that is pure ignorance and exactly what the Tea Party preys upon. Pity the poor Christians who do not recognize the socialism in the words of Jesus, or the redistribution of wealth in the miracle of the loaves and fish. In this miracle, with just a few loaves and fish, Jesus demonstrated what happens when people do not think only of themselves or put themselves first. Not only did everyone eat their fill, but there was food left over.

For the record, Jesus did not preach that we should take as much as we can from this world and everyone else be damned. This kind of self-entered individualism inevitably leads to division and a sense of superiority or disdain. It also leads to a misguided independence. Sadly, though, like cholera it is highly contagious and possesses the ability to infect an entire nation. The Tea Party are among those people who believe that America is the best in everything and does not need anyone else. As much as I love my country, this is delusional. We certainly have much to offer the rest of the world, but then we also have much to learn from the rest of the world.

The Tea Party takes its name from the 1773 revolutionary protest in Boston when colonists threw English tea into the harbor. Instead of tossing it overboard, it seems that today's tea party has been drinking the stuff. The story of the loaves and fish does not tell us what Jesus gave the people to drink, but it's a good guess it was not tea!
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