Monday, July 18, 2011

The "Compassion" of Paul Ryan and The Right: "The Poor You Will Always Have With You - We'll See To It"

NOTE: Although I've posted this article under stressful circumstances  (see postscript below) the perspective presented is definitely appropriate and shared by many people in this country. I may not be writing for a week or two, so I hope that this article is passionate enough to suffice for a while. 

"But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.'"
— Luke 10:30–36, World English Bible

On Tax Day, April 15th, Rep. Paul Ryan had this to say about "his" budget:

Our budget offers a compassionate and optimistic contrast to a future of health-care rationing and unbearably high taxes. We lift the crushing burden of debt, repair the safety net, make America’s tax system fair and competitive, and ensure that our health and retirement programs have a strong and lasting future.[1]

There are people who would beg to differ with Ryan's statement, notably the people fighting his expansive social welfare cuts on Capitol Hill and in the White House. The fight has extended to the matter of the national debt and the next several weeks will be grueling ... and revealing. If you look at the fight in a simplified perspective, it becomes a battle for the existence of compassion: should it be sustained now (in a diminished form), or in the future? Republicans are already naming their form of "compassion" by calling it INTERGENERATIONAL JUSTICE. 

But whatever the outcome of the fight, we must not lose sight of the fact that the economic and financial  crises we now face are about people: some people will benefit, while others will not. Cost cuts to social welfare agencies are already showing results: the poor are not only getting catastrophically poorer because they have less money, but also because they have less access to housing and necessary subsidies. It is the same with healthcare reform: while decrying imagined atrocities of "Obamacare", not one conservative member of Congress has put forth any real solution for the uninsured. Republican actions in the House have, in fact, ensured us that none will ever be forthcoming. 

The conservative image has never taken such a beating as in this Congress. 

In the past, the conservative rich have always trotted out the defensive statistic that conservatives actually give more/do more for the disenfranchised than liberals because the liberals want the government to do their giving for them. They chafed when George Bush's "compassionate conservatism" was met with the label of "oxymoron." What liberals have always realized, however, is that most conservatives tend to give only to their own causes and many times those causes not only leave out whole groups of Americans, but actually sustain the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Conservatives must control where their money goes. Liberals do it too, but conservatives do it more often and on a larger scale.


Giving to those in need comes down to true compassion. But what is "true compassion"? Who is more compassionate - a church elder making a cake for a church bazaar held for the homeless or the man who off-handedly gives a man on the street a dollar because he asked for it? Both are compassionate, but the church elder KNOWS to whom she is giving her time, money and effort to, while the anonymous man cares not who the needy person is (or even if the person is, indeed, needy at all). Conservatives would not call the latter's gesture compassion, but the mere foolhardiness of a "bleeding heart liberal."

In biblical terms, one could associate the Good Samaritan with true compassion: when the priest and the Levite saw the man they both passed by. Why? Perhaps because when they saw them they judged him immediately as not worth their efforts. Now, notice that Christ's story did not say that the Samaritan knew he was helping a Jew.[2] In other words, the Samaritan did not judge, nor did he know who he was helping. The Samaritan just did what he felt was the right thing- the human thing -to do.

In another belief system (not really a religion), there's the story of  bodhisattva  Quan Yin (correction: stories - hundreds of legends, but all of their central themes involve her compassion). The most popular is the one that after she was made an Immortal, Quan Yin started her ascent to Enlightenment (heaven), but heard the cries of people still in need, forsook heaven and descended to help them. There are many parallels given to Quan Yin's Christian counterpart, Mary, the mother of Jesus. (Aside: it is interesting to note that much of the non-denominational and Protestant denominational Christian Right consider prayers to St. Mary to constitute "Mariolatry" or idolization of the Virgin Mary. They are loathe to think of any intercessor to Christ for mercy.)


Just as true compassion does not need judgment, it does not need a reason except for helping someone to survive in the best way possible. Compassion need not come in the form of the Christian thing to do, nor even the right thing to do, but simply as the human thing to do. People in need do not have the luxury of determining from whence compassion comes.

The above statement of Paul Ryan is, to say the least, dripping with the disingenuous patronizing to the poor that many conservatives today deal out: the belief that capitalism in all its glory will ultimately benefit everyone.  The conservative mindset also believes that individual investment, individual charity, individual compassion will also prove supreme. 

They will not. Individual charity is subjective and can be manipulated. It can be focused on a number too few to benefit as many as possible. Philanthropy and charity have given the public many blessings, to be sure, but no matter how generous, they have always benefited only a portion of the truly needy. In most cases, the giving has been focused. In addition, many faith-based organizations are unfortunately too focused and their charitable agendas can be skewed: catastrophes, for example, have been used by what might be called "God's Ambulance Chasers" more intent on conversion to religious beliefs than relief.[3]

Of course, individual charity can be the most valuable adjunct to a society's governmental social services: it lets us know that - coupled with government - our society is doing everything it can to aid in our people's survival. Budget-slashing by the likes of Rep. Paul Ryan, however, puts a burden on individual charity that it cannot possibly sustain ... without neglecting hordes of our country's citizenry. Perhaps the truly sad part about the likes of  Mr. Ryan is that he knows it, and doesn't seem to care - hence the disingenuous statement above. Of course, he may not be entirely to blame, since his party is, after all, controlled by a very powerful group: the coalition of religious entities known as the Christian Right. 


From what we've seen these last twenty years, can anyone truly say without a doubt that social conservatives (the Christian Right)possess true compassion? Their own "agenda" of condemnation exposes how they pre-judge people and groups, vehemently prejudicing against segments of society: for example, we have seen the great Southern Baptist Convention try to harm businesses that have supported the LGBT community and treated it with respect. And while some within the Christian Right community describe their compassion as "tough love" (Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association comes to mind) others beg to differ on that point: can "love" of any kind be borne of bigotry? [4]

So now our country's compassion is at a crossroads because of a budget crisis: should it be government (liberal) or individual (conservative) compassion? According to people like Ryan, America cannot have both. We could, but that might mean raising taxes while giving more to charity. A blogger at put it well::
There are two kinds of compassion in this country. The compassion of the left and the compassion of the right. The compassion of the Democrat and the compassion of the Republican. The compassion of the government and the compassion of the individual.

Whichever one you choose, put your money where your mouth is.
With "slash and burn" Republicans goaded by Dominionists and corporations, the compassion of the Democrat may be gone entirely. And the other kind of compassion will be meted out to a select few. 

God help us.

1.The new terminology for Ryan's futuristic "compassion" is INTERGENERATIONAL JUSTICE. (!?)

2. Remember, the Jew was stripped and therefore not recognizable by any particular clothing. Also, Samaritanism and Judaism were very similar Abrahamic religions and shared the tenet of circumcision. 

 - The story of the Good Samaritan poses a conundrum for many in the Christian Right because it is sited as the epitome of compassion by many evangelicals and therefore is something they strive for; however, the Samaritan does not evangelize or proselytize in any way, leaving the audience of the story to wonder why evangelizing is necessary in order to do good.
3. In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, a faith-based organization spent $100,000 erecting electronic Bibles (60 loudspeaker systems from which Biblical verses were broadcast) among people who were still not receiving adequate medical treatment. Another example: after the horrendous Asian Tsunami, Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church sent food and clothing, along with 600,000 Christian scripture tracts (the cost of which totaled more than the emergency goods sent). Since the victims were mostly Buddhist and Hindu, the tracts were considered insultingly superfluous and respectfully sent back.

4. The concept of "love the sinner, hate the sin" is especially egregious: no other moral precept has ever been so misused as some ridiculous band aid for guilt. The phrase is always used while knowing that it goes against human nature: just as Jesus Christ new that the concept of "love thine enemy" was a hard sell, so to does the Christian Right know that LSHS falls on deaf ears, but it needs the phrase to sound more benign.


Parts of this article have been written while my former partner and best friend of fourteen years lies dying of liver cancer.  I have been his caregiver for six of those years, aided by his current partner and soul mate.  We live in San Francisco, (that bastion of liberalism and perversion!) certainly the most compassionate city in America. It was here that he was nurtured as an artist (award-winning theater director) and came to nurture other artists as well. It is in San Francisco that he is now comforted and cared for by an incredible extended family of friends, hospice workers, physicians, and therapists - many made possible by San Francisco and the caring state of California. I firmly believe that he could not have gotten greater "comfort care" anywhere else. He is passing in dignity as well. 

While there are conservatives who can be regarded as compassionate, I sincerely doubt that those in Congress (guided by today's Christian Right) would be as wonderfully human as the people I see around us. Ironic, isn't it - that such love and humanity should exist in the city they castigate most. 

We are put on earth to thrive from the knowledge that we have helped everyone else survive as best as possible. It is unfortunate that others do not see this purpose, because by being confined within boundaries of their own kind of compassion, they are depriving many people of the thing they need most: 


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