Doing Right

 Some people have concluded that the United States is evil. They believe that God is bound to judge our nation because of our rampant pornography, illicit sex, abortion, or homosexuality. They believe that their criticisms of America are based on the Bible. Odd, really. Because when God condemned ancient Israel and sent it into Babylonian exile, it wasn’t for any of the things that worry these good people.  Instead, consider God’s words to the prophet Isaiah:

“Declare to my people their rebellion

and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;

they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right

and has not forsaken the commands of its God…

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

‘and you have not seen it?...

 “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

and exploit all your workers….

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?...

 If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your night will become like the noonday.” (from Isaiah 58)

Isaiah is not alone in expressing this concern.  In fact, the focus of all the Old Testament prophets prior to the Babylonian captivity came down to just two things: how they worshipped idols and how the rich and powerful treated the poor and weak. 

Since idol worship is relatively rare nowadays in the United States, to keep God from judging America perhaps all we really need to do is stop treating our poor and disadvantaged so wretchedly.

Except that mistreating the poor and disadvantaged is kind of rare in America, too.  Consider some statistics:

According to the government’s definition of poverty (those who make about 28,000 dollars a year or less), about 50 million Americans are poor: 15 percent of us.

In 2011 the United States Federal Budget was 3.6 trillion dollars.

20 percent (731 billion dollars) of that was for the Social Security Program.

21 percent (769 billion dollars) went to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

13 percent (466 billion dollars) went to Safety Net programs: that is, aid to individuals and families facing hardship. These programs include the refundable portion of the earned-income and child tax credits, which assist low- and moderate-income working families through the tax code; programs that provide cash payments to eligible individuals or households, including Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor and unemployment insurance; various forms of in-kind assistance for low-income families and individuals, including food stamps, school meals, low-income housing assistance, child-care assistance, and assistance in meeting home energy bills; and various other programs such as those that aid abused and neglected children. 

Therefore, 54 percent of the Federal Budget—1.97 trillion dollars—is devoted to social welfare of various sorts: care of the poor, the weak, and the elderly. That works out to around 39 thousand dollars per poor person.

How’s the rest of the Federal money spent?  Booze, drugs, sex, and rock and roll? Nope.

7 percent goes to federal retirees and veterans.

3 percent for transportation infrastructure.

2 percent for education.

2 percent for science and medical research (So for instance, less than 0.5 percent of the budget goes to NASA).

20 percent for defense and international security assistance.

6 percent for interest on the national debt.

1 percent for non-security international and 4 percent for miscellaneous (okay, so maybe that’s where the profligate living is hiding).

And this is only what the federal government spends. 

It does not count what the individual states, such as California, spend on social programs: more than 230 billion dollars a year. The trillion dollars of state spending beyond that is divided among education, highways and public mass transit, police and fire protection, financial administration, housing and community development, utilities, and sewerage.

On top of all that, Americans donate another 304 billion dollars or more to charities annually.

So it puzzles me when I hear people tell me that the United States is evil.  Based on the measure God used for ancient Israel, we don’t seem to be doing so badly.  To argue that the United States doesn’t care about the poor and disadvantaged is to ignore reality.  Based on the money we spend on the issue, we Americans in fact seem to care a great deal. 

Could we do more?  Of course.  We could always do more.  We could pray more, exercise more, work more, and study more. But should we feel guilty all the time and do nothing but criticize ourselves because we don’t always do “more”? Probably not.

On the other hand, should we pat ourselves on the back?  Probably not. But at the very least, we should recognize that we are focusing a lot of our attention on the right things. And so it’s possible that God doesn’t entirely hate us.