Friday, August 21, 2009

I Am Your Keeper, Brother

As your master, I am worthy of your respect. And to the extent you know me to believe this as a core moral and ethical value, then so you ought work all the harder for me.

I've taken some liberty there with chapter 6 of 1st Timothy in the New Testament to shed some light on how I'm feeling with Obama's irreligious religiosity.

I do not take the President to be a religious man, or a believer in the Christian faith, nor do I care that much. America, however, is populated with a heavy number of religious and faithful people. It seems to me that Obama believes it's worth a shot at using the faithfulness of America's religious as a lever to shove them toward his side in the healthcare debate.

Obama turns to faith leaders
Holy O Turns Faith Healer
Amend the Constitution to Include the Separation of God and Obama

It causes me to wince when I see religion manipulated to then go out and try to manipulate people. The line he uses, "I am my brother's keeper," extended into political-correctness with the further addition, "-I am my sister's keeper.", is once such wince-inducing agent.

What's he getting at here? On the surface it's the common-sense sensibility that we each have a certain ethical duty to help out those needing help around us, if we can. I think that just about goes without saying, and I further think that scarcely anyone in the whole frakkin' world would disagree!

By couching that sentiment in apparently biblical phraseology, he's seeking to add weight and imperative to this obligation, and to elevate its stature in the minds of religious Americans. To shift responsibility to fulfill this obligation from the individual to the state, he's attempting to attach some of the bible's authority to his own cause, and he does this by simply making stuff up.

I think one steps onto a vast ocean of quicksand when one attempts to debate the meaning of the Bible. It's broad and contradictory enough to mean almost anything to anyone at anytime. But, for the sake of my indulgence, I shall now see if I can swim in quicksand.

The only mention of "brother's keeper" in the Bible comes out of Genesis 4:9, where Cain indignantly responds to God's query as to the whereabouts of his brother Abel (who Cain has just murdered), "I don't know, am I my brother's keeper?"

God never appeared to imply at any time that Cain was the keeper of his brother. In fact, it was that God appeared to favor Able instead of him (for reasons that appear to have been beyond Cain's control) that drove Cain to murder.

The charge by God, "You are your brother's keeper." doesn't exist in the Bible; Obama's public injunction to that very end is simply something he's made up for political expedience.

Most religious traditions somewhere advocate for families and more broadly members of social orders to look out for one another. But I argue that this moral precept didn't arise because religion taught it to us. Though religious expression can be reflective of it, we did not receive our inbuilt sense of morality from religion. Rather, we evolved it.

To me, it makes perfect sense. Our species (and its progenitors) had a better chance of surviving (as individuals, families, orders, and even a whole species) if it was magnanimous toward other members whenever possible. This serves as a helpful buffer against the uncertainty of daily life and experience. If I'm strong and can assist someone who could use the help, if fate should ordain that I get into trouble at some future point, it will be all the more likely that I will then receive the help of others too. By being magnanimous and practicing reciprocating behavior, we help better the total odds of our survival as a whole.

Now such a population would also be vulnerable to the parasitism of freeloaders, and so that does happen, and a freeloader can exist or even exploit the charity of his social group to his own advantage. But only to a point. If the parasite load becomes too heavy, the parasites will threaten to kill off the host and both parties will die off. So past a certain threshold, the charity flowing toward more parasites will end. Both the hosts and the parasites have an interest in keeping the parasite population under control. (For more on this, I recommend Richard Dawkin's, The God Delusion.)

In this way we evolved an inbuilt ethical sense. It's natural, and while certain religious practices reinforce this, we weren't given it by religious edict.

Let me wade into the quagmire of the Christian holy book once more: regarding 1st Timothy again, chapter 5:3-4 obliges the able children of widows to help support their family's needs, repaying the support given them by their parents and grandparents. Further along in verse 16, women with widows in their family are also compelled to help them out, so as to free the church to help those others who are truly in need!

You can interpret this to convey the sort of sentiment Benjamin Franklin made famous on early American coinage, "Mind Your Business!"

It's both a command and a retort. You can think of "mind your business" in the usual way you might rebuke someone interfering in your affairs. But you can also think of it as an obligation to put yourself first.

Think about that for a second.

Doesn't it make for the soundest of advice? It's far from selfish. If you've seen to your own interests (not at the expense of others, mind you) to make sure you can live in a self-supporting manner, then you won't be dependent on others for support. Moreover, you will then have the ultimate freedom to be magnanimous to others who need supporting around you. You can judge for yourself who is most deserving of your charity and sponsor those, the better they might be able to soon regain their footing and again become self-supporting. By making yourself up the best you can, you'll also have the freedom to take pity on some lost-cause case if you choose.

There are always those among us who will never survive without our charity, but perhaps deserve that charity out of basic human dignity. Or the promise, however fleeting, that they might be able to contribute to someone something of noble value.

Our modern, progressive-inspired government has wed itself to the idea of a social-contract with the governed in which it will care for the needs of the people if the people will see to its needs, taking a perverse abstraction on the principle of individual reciprocal support.

I do not believe this slowly built-up development had been the intention of the framers of our system. They labored to extricate themselves from such an overarching government, whose demands upon them were increasingly preventing them from becoming self-supporting, and had coerced them into a sort of co-dependence. Because they couldn't support themselves, they had to depend on the government to help them out, and the price of that support would be their willingness to become chattel for the government.

President Obama has made a crutch of his "I am my brother's keeper," line. He brings it out anytime there is a need to reinforce his notion of a social-contract wherein the government shall provide for you, so long as you provide for it.

2004, 2006, 2008 (1) (2) (3) (4), 2009

He massages the speechifying to suit the audience, becoming more suffused with religiosity when before faith-based groups or clergy, and appealing more to simple secular progressivism elsewhere.

But underlying this is an implication to each group that government will step in to ease your burdens if you help it forward its agenda to coerce property from the others who aren't yet committed. And, some are motivated simply by that prospect alone (i.e. Wal-Mart, which very surprisingly acquiesced to the Obama healthcare plans only because it offers them an advantage by forcing expenses up for their competition).

I think our framers were trying to craft a system which left the business of social-contract making to society itself, collectively and individually. It would have no role here, except to protect the ability for this to naturally arise by protecting property rights (you have title to what you've earned).

Only by each of us first looking to our own self-interest, will there ever be any surplus with which to be charitable. The extent to which each of us achieve success in this regard, makes for one less person which government needs to support.

And by moving in this direction, we deprive the government of this role of "keeper" its taken for itself. Without the depredations of an impossibly capricious and inefficient government largess machine, we regain the ability to more readily satisfy our own necessary self-interests. In the surpluses we accumulate, we finally reserve the individual freedom to be charitable to those few of us who might remain to seek out our help minding their business.

Then, brother, I can be your keeper.