Because of an e-mail exchange with an acquaintance, I’m now thinking about my late dad, a man with a compassionate heart, a small business owner and moderate Republican, who endorsed the things my acquaintance mentioned were conservative values — balanced budgets, small government, no foreign entanglements.
I think my dad, erroneously, thought all the caring could be done through individuals and on a voluntary basis through non-profits like the church.
Being a “bum” alum having ridden the rails during The Great Depression, he faithfully went to the downtown Chicago missions to preach the gospel to his fellow “bums,” as they stereotypically were called, who had to endure the worship service to get a meal, the goal being that they would walk the sawdust trail and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior — a uniquely, individualistic brand of Christianity more akin to the American ethic of rugged individualism than the covenant gospel. I recall, as a kid, sitting on a folding chair listening to the fellows snore through the mandatory chapel attendance.
Even there for all the good intentions (which I sometimes questioned having met the leaders of the missions and their gruff treatment of those who came for a meal) there were conditions imposed on the needy. Why couldn’t they just offer the meal and bless the boys? As inadequate as that may have been, at least there wouldn’t have been that additional piling on of humiliation.
The problem with striving for those conservative values is that corrupt motives invariably get in the way, which, ever and always, advance the greed of some to the detriment of others, meaning those in society most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves. Small government, code for small domestic programs and a big military budget, inevitably means the safety net is always in danger of being shredded.
Greed leads to fear which leads to BIG defense systems which leads to scapegoating the vulnerable (the poor, the minorities, victims of racism, nativism, jingoism, xenophobia) and labeling them as unworthy welfare moochers when the real welfare moochers are the corporations jostling in line for government handouts in the way of tax breaks /incentives/giveaways which ultimately will bleed the federal and state coffers in lost revenue and benefit the stockholders who then will set outrageous salaries and hand out equally outrageous bonuses and while nothing ever trickles down except contempt for those labelled as unworthy drags on society. This all gets vaunted as the necessary and uniquely American free-enterprise system, something of which every American should be proud and which will solve all economic problems as opposed to vile and corrupt socialism.
John Calvin who helped advance the cause of capitalism emerging from feudalism lived voluntarily a near poverty level life and urged others to do the same so that no one would be left out of the benefits of the system and assisting the vulnerable to climb up and out so they, too, might participate freely.
I think old Johannes Calvinus was a bit naive for all of his theological and practical and organizational acumen. Unjustly stuck on the fly paper of misinterpretation of depravity, he was, in reality, a bit of a softy who assumed, on occasion, people would voluntarily do the right thing. To his credit, he also believed the government should act justly on behalf of all citizens especially the vulnerable members.
Oh, and back to my dad? He became, in part, a victim of the very system he advocated. The system finally got the small government Republican. The believer in “pulling yourself by your own boot straps” had a heart attack when he was 55 and because he could no longer work in his sole proprietary business as he previously had, income dwindled, there was no safety net for him or his business, insurance policies were cashed in, he sank into deep depression, saw no other way out and took his own life at 56. I was seventeen.