25 May 2012

Cal Thomas's pagan ethics: ants, grasshoppers and ravens

It wasn't my plan to go after Cal Thomas again so soon, but it's a slow news day and yet a busy one in my office, and I haven't read much comment-worthy today. Thomas has a fresh column in one of the local papers in which he compares the modern welfare state to the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants. You know the story, and it's been part of American right-wing folklore ever since Walt Disney made a Silly Symphony of it to the tune of "The World Owes Me a Living." Cleverly, Thomas doesn't identify the feckless Grasshopper with the beneficiaries of the welfare state, but with the government itself -- even though it's hard to envision the energetic, busybody government of Thomas's night-terrors "singing and hopping and having an all-around good time." In any event, the columnist warns that the Ants, i.e. the taxpayers, may deny aid to the Grasshopper government, as they did in Thomas's version (though not Disney's) of the fable, at least on the state level by moving from high-tax to low-tax states. In Thomas's view this would be a just rebuke to liberal governments for "'spreading the wealth around' rather than teaching and encouraging individuals to build wealth for themselves." None of this is new from Thomas or his ilk, but I detected a false note somewhere. It actually came right at the start of the column when Thomas credited the grasshopper story, correctly, to Aesop. But I thought Thomas was a Christian. Aesop, or whoever contributed this tale to the collection we attribute to Aesop, was not. Now I know that Thomas has said that Christians shouldn't try to change people's hearts through political action, but I didn't realize all the implications of that disavowal. Apparently it entitled Thomas to become an ethical pagan in the socio-political sphere by invoking the authority of an idolater whose moral, one might argue, is contrary to the values of Jesus of Nazareth. Consider this evidence from a book widely believed to tell a faithful version of Jesus's life, the Gospel of Luke. Following tradition, we print Jesus's words from chapter 12, verse 24 in red.

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?

Of course, a Republican believer can remind us that it's God, not the government, feeding those ravens. But wouldn't God feed grasshoppers, too? It seems that God does not punish the improvident the way Aesop imagines, so why should a Christian want the grasshoppers to suffer. To borrow from Jesus, how much better are they than the grasshoppers? I don't offer Jesus's remarks as an allegory of the welfare state, but to point out that those folkloric, commonsense sentiments Thomas cites are, on the evidence, un-Christian. But were you surprised?


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