Cross posted at FreeThoughtBlogs
It's ironic when a non-believer has to take a self professed born-again Christian to task for misusing the Bible in the service of what any reasonable person would call evil, but that is my duty today. You may have heard of folks in Congress parroting the words, "He who will not work shall not eat," or some variation of them. They are taken out of context from Thessalonians 3:10, in the most odious manner, to justify profiting at the expense of shaming and hurting the most vulnerable people in our nation.
The ring leader seems to be one Stephen Fincher from Tennessee (R-Hypocrite) who somewhat reinvigorated this particular practice back in May, a man who incidentally received more than $70,000 in farm subsidies in 2012 alone and has racked up over $3 million in taxpayer loot in the last decade. He's not alone on that score either, there are a dozen more fundie House hypocrites on the dole just like him. Of course, most of those who receive food stamps or who are eligible do work or are children.
But does it even mean what the congressman thinks it does? Short answer, not even close. Here's some context below:
Link -- 2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
2 Thessalonians 3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you,
2 Thessalonians 3:8 nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
2 Thessalonians 3:11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.
There are many interpretations of this. Some of which go back to an obscure, ongoing battle between those who really wish the more GOP-like Paul was the Savoir and not hippie Jesus. But most scholars agree that it was a specific recommendation to Christians made in a specific place by the Apostle Paul
, some of whom were apparently running around sticking their noses in other people's business all day long, causing arguments and other problems between members of the congregation, instead of just minding their own. It's a practical solution offered by Paul to resolve a problem in a Christian community when its charitable mission is being taken advantage of by a few assholes; keep the gossiping busybodies working and they can't plant rumors and fuel discord.
These people causing the problem weren't poor children or scam artists in a booming economy, they had work available. Based on the time and place Paul spoke, they presumably just blew some of it off because they liked playing Machiavellian games. Back in those days, with no social media or Internet, no phones, not even mail, if you wanted to be an irritating social butterfly, or the modern day version of an Internet troll, you had to spend hours trudging around from one farm or market to another to get the juiciest stuff and pass it on, to serve up the subtle backhand compliments and quietly stab others in the back, leaving little time for your own house and work.
What's important to under stand is working was secondary in this context, this is not so much a moral decree about work, the main message is a warning not to take advantage of the Christian obligation to feed the hungry, especially if you are screwing up the church and community tasked with doing that by behaving like a twelve year-old socialite. A more modern version might read like this: 'Yes, normally the Church and your Christian neighbors have a responsibility to feed you if you are hungry. But if you keep this divisive shit up you're gonna go hungry this time around as a punishment, because I hereby relieve the local church and the entire community of its standard Christian obligation to help you out if you come up short, at least until you quiet down and get back to your own business'.
Here's an even more sophisticated take from comments:
In the previous chapter of his epistle, Paul warned about those who were teaching that the second coming was imminent (2 Thes. 2:2), and this had apparently misled some in Thessalonica into ceasing from earning a living, since they expected the Lord to return at any moment. Paul made it quite clear in chapter 2 that such teaching was in error, and he details events that must first take place before Christ could return (2 Thes. 2:3-12). This is why Paul did not live off the resources of the church in Thessalonica, because he was setting an example, to reinforce his teaching that the second coming was not near.
Many verses are vague or two millennia out of context and thus irresistible for past and present conman to seize on, to better cloak their own greed and exploitation in the words of the Bible. Thessalonians is no exception. But there is no doubt what the core principles of Jesus Christ were, he stated them very clearly, again and again and again: feed the hungry, help the poor, heal the sick, give your money away. Jesus was an upstart progressive, bordering on a full blown socialist. As such, he became a bigger and bigger threat to the existing wealth centers of his ancient world as his influence grew.
Seen in the proper context in which Paul spoke, and the greater context of the New Testament and the teachings of Christ, Thessalonians 3:10 is not a pass to take food out of the mouths of hungry working families and poor children; far from it! The Gospel in general and Thessalonians in particular both directly state almost the opposite of what these devout posers in Congress would like it to mean, or would like you to believe it means.
It might apply in this modern circumstance in one way though, with Fincher and his pals as idle culprits much like those Paul warned: as in if only those conservative clowns would keep their noses out of other people's personal lives and private bedrooms, and instead follow their clearly stated Christian obligation to help the least fortunate, least influential, least powerful people in modern day America. The very ones that Rep Fincher and his band of fellow sociopaths bully and scapegoat at every opportunity for fun and profit.
This focus on social equality and income inequality was a big part of why Jesus was hassled by the powers that be and eventually put to death. It's hard to see how the wealthy Stephen Finchers back then would have been among the masses of oppressed people crying as Jesus was nailed to a cross. But he sure might have fit in among those lucky rich few relieved that the execution was carried out and the gruesome spectacle made public for all the riff-raff to see.
At least that's my take, then again, I'm just an atheist.