Democracy Under Assault
Theopolitics, Incivility and Violence on the Right

Michele Swenson

Prosperity Theology:
‘God’s Chosen’ v. the Undeserving Underclass

Marvin Olasky’s book The Tragedy of American Compassion provides the theme for the Republican holy war to end benefits for the poor. Mirroring 19th century thought that held poverty and homelessness moral shortcomings, Olasky cites the biblical imperative of the Apostle Paul (Thessalonians 3:10): "…if a man will not work, neither let him eat." Prosperity theology ("pray and grow rich") advanced by some justifies the notion that the rich deserve wealth, and the poor deserve to barely subsist. It is common wisdom that evangelicals are prosperous because God "blesses their faithfulness to the gospel." William Kristol warned fellow Republicans not to be sidetracked by concerns about the poor: "The politics of growth trump the politics of compassion"—greed trumps mercy. "You cannot in practice have a federal guarantee that people won’t starve," declared Kristol.

And if you care, you’re a "compassion fascist," broadcast Rush Limbaugh." The poor in this country are the biggest piglets at the mother pig and her nipples," feeding off the largesse of government, accused Limbaugh. "The high rate of poverty in the United States is nothing more than a statistical trick, a dirty little liberal secret."* Enthused Newt Gingrich about Limbaugh: "Every day he educates about six million people around the country, who then become centers of communication."

Those most vocal about private morality facilely sidestep public morality. Marianne Williamson describes how the bottom-line needs of the market place have come to supersede basic values at the core of democracy—balancing the freedom of the individual with the collective good and advancing the goal of equality for all. The market thrives on inequality, observes one-time Kennedy administration policy advisor, Theodore Sorenson. Therefore, government should be an instrument to do the things that the market cannot do in providing for the general welfare.

Perhaps most cynical, religion that is intended to inform the moral conscience has been wielded as an instrument to advance the fortunes of a political movement. Language of spirituality and ethics is subverted in the service of selfishness, materialism and power gain, writes Michael Lerner. While demanding that the poor live up to a higher moral standard, the right overlooks the impact of selfishness and materialism on economic, political and social institutions. Conservative assumptions are committed to maintaining existing systems of power, unequal distribution of wealth, and the primacy of the competitive market driven by greed. Lerner notes the focus on personal morality to the exclusion of marketplace morality a false distinction between values and economics.

*Note: At the time that conservatives targeted the total $67 billion of all social welfare programs in the mid-90s, they left untouched $167 billion of corporate welfare.