God is opposed to food stamps? Let’s try an evidence-based approach to hunger instead.

More local produce coming soon to SNAP recipients in Michigan. (Jessica Tefft for The Washington Post) Recently, I wrote about … Continued


More local produce coming soon to SNAP recipients in Michigan. (Jessica Tefft for The Washington Post)

Recently, I wrote about a Democratic Representative of Congress who used biblical arguments for doing something about global warming to counter a Republican Representative’s biblical arguments for doing nothing about global warming. I advocated for evidence-based decisions rather than faith-based decisions, which put me on the do-something side.

Now we have a Republican who used biblical arguments against food stamps to counter Democrats who used biblical arguments for food stamps. During a meeting of the House Agricultural Committee, Tennessee Rep. Stephen Fincher quoted from Matthew and Thessalonians that the poor will always be with us and that those unwilling to work shall not eat. Fincher acknowledged that caring for the hungry might be something for Christians to do, but not with government money. While I strongly support separation of church and state, I think that’s a rather bizarre framing of the concept. Private support for the least among us can be for religious or secular reasons, but I hope we will never have a government that ignores the least among us.

Unfortunately, biblical arguments have become so commonplace in politics that they are hardly worth noting. This one, however, has an added dimension. Although Fincher complained about Washington stealing taxpayer money from some and giving it to others, he had no problem with Washington giving him $3.48 million of taxpayer dollars since 1999 for farm subsidies. Last year he reportedly received over $70,000, which I assume he needed more than those low-income people he wants to cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

It’s easy for powerful members of Congress to help themselves to such largess and justify it biblically with “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not really in the Bible, but no matter. It sounds like it could be, and that’s good enough. If Rep. Fincher were to read his Bible carefully, he might find a word or two about hypocrites.

Interdisciplinary courses, especially those that can lead to good jobs, are popular at colleges and universities. So I propose one that combines political science with religious studies. The course would have four components:

Choose about a dozen hot political issues such as taxes, healthcare, education, science, environment, gay rights, women’s rights, homeland security, immigration, war, foreign aid, religious freedom, church/state separation, climate change, gun control, capital punishment, drugs, etc.

Take a side on each issue and write a persuasive position paper, using only biblical arguments. You may add other holy books to reinforce your case.
Take the opposite side on each issue, and do the same.

Finally, write papers for and against each side based solely on evidence.

Successful completion of the course might lead to post-college placement as an intern or a political consultant, and maybe even a career in politics.

Speechwriters regularly insert biblical phrases to justify political positions. It’s easy to cite a biblical source for any stance, but I hope students who can’t find good secular arguments for a policy will end up embracing an alternative policy. Otherwise, perhaps they should consider ministerial careers.

One of my favorite political quotes comes from Jamie Raskin, a law professor who testified at a Maryland State Senate hearing in 2006 about gay marriage. At the end of his testimony, Republican State Senator Nancy Jacobs said: “Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?”

Raskin replied: “Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

If I believed in a God with a sense of humor, I would think such a God had something to do with Jamie Raskin later becoming a Democratic State Senator from Maryland. And as a Constitutional law professor as well as a humanist, Raskin obviously knew when he swore to uphold the Constitution that he was not obliged to place his hand on a Bible or on any other document.



Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.

Herb Silverman
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  • rsawran1

    Jesus fed the masses with fish and bread.
    He promises to judge those who oppress the poor (Deut 27:19, Prov. 17:5, 21:13, 22:16, 28:27; Isaiah 10:1-4; Eze 18:12-13, 16:49).

  • inreasonitrust

    Religion was made by the clever people to rule the mass (the sheep). So, religion thrives on poor and uninformed. If there is no poor, religion will disappear.

  • ThomasBaum

    So it is your opinion that religion will never disappear?

    The question is, is it about religion or is it about God?

  • lucretius

    I know that conservatives worship the Founding Fathers,
    but this is going too far…..

  • tpaxton27

    God doesn’t need food stamps. He generally converts water into wine and stones into bread and skips the middle man.

  • Jessica Rae

    What amazes me, that most of our politicians that sit nice and “well fed” in their offices, were brought up on food stamps by the working poor, or the handicapped parent. Their parental figure wanted better for them. Now they are in office, how conveniently they forget where they came from and why they wanted to make it a better nation for us.

  • KammaRama

    You can have the Bible say whatever you want it to. That is why it has been around for so long.

  • notthedroid

    Claiming that the government should let people starve because the magic sky weasel told them so isn’t exactly a rational basis of thought, or a rational conclusion. It’s crazy straight up.

  • Tyler Janzen

    Hmm so some Christians care about the poor and some don’t. I can tell you from my own experiences that you will find the same variability among non-believers. It seems Jesus is irrelevant.
    Thanks for the good values mom!

  • itsthedax

    The only reason for a society to exist is to protect and care for its weakest members. If a church has a different agenda, then it has no purpose in society.

  • UpperLeftCorner1

    The Bible disagrees that it can mean whatever you want it to. It can only man whatever I want it to!

  • UpperLeftCorner1

    Other historic uses [edit]
    The Canadian society Aide-toi, le Ciel t’aidera (Help yourself and Heaven will help you too) is credited with introducing the celebration of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day for French Canadians, and was founded by Louis-Victor Sicotte
    Aide-toi et Dieu t’aidera (God helps those who help themselves) was the motto on the ship’s wheel of the famous UK-built Confederate sea raider CSS Alabama, captained by Raphael Semmes during the American Civil War.
    Trust in God But Tie Your Camel is an Arab proverb with a similar meaning. It is also one of the reported sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. According to Tirmidhi, one day Mohammed noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I placed my trust in Allah.” At that, Mohammed said, “Tie your camel and place your trust in Allah.”[9]

  • UpperLeftCorner1

    Good old Wikipedia:

    The phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is a popular motto that emphasizes the importance of self-initiative.
    The phrase originated in ancient Greece, occurring in approximately equivalent form as the moral to one of Aesop’s Fables, Hercules and the Waggoner, and later in the great tragedy authors of ancient Greek drama. Although it has been commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the modern English wording appears earlier in Algernon Sidney’s work.

    The concept is found in many Greek tragedies. Aeschylus in his play The Persians wrote, “Whenever a man makes haste, God too hastens with him.”[1] Sophocles wrote, “No good e’er comes of leisure purposeless; And heaven ne’er helps the men who will not act.”[2] Euripides wrote “Try first thyself, and after call in God; For to the worker God himself lends aid.”[3] The Greek proverb “Along with Athena, move also your hand” (Greek σὺν Ἀθηνᾷ καὶ χεῖρα κίνει, Sỳn Athēnâi kaì kheîra kinei) is similar.
    The same concept is found in the fable of “Hercules and the Wagoner”, first recorded by Babrius in the 1st century CE. In it, a wagon becomes stuck, or falls into a ravine, but when its driver appeals to Hercules for help, he is told to get to work himself.[4] The French author Jean de La Fontaine also adapted the story in one of his fables, Le chartier embourbé (VI.18), which draws the moral Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera. (Help yourself and Heaven will help you too).[5]
    The poet George Herbert published a collection of proverbs, Jacula Prudentum (1651), which included “Help thyself, and God will help thee.”[6] But it was the English political theorist Algernon Sidney who originated the now familiar version, “God helps those who help themselves”,[7] apparently the first exact rendering of the phrase. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, used it in his almanac in 1736 and has been widely quoted.[8]

  • PhillyJimi1

    Protecting our weakest members of society isn’t the ONLY reason for society to exist. Collectively we can accomplish much more working together is the reason society exists even if individuals don’t reap all benefits evenly.

    Also a church does have a purpose in society. Secular organizations can accomplish the same exact roles a church fills.

  • jack824

    Those who use the Bible as a club to maltreat their fellow man are Christian in name only.

  • lanbr1

    We long ago reached the point where the “weakest members” decided they could ride the gravy train for years, decades – and then pass it on to their kids.
    People need to have brains enough to know the difference between “helping” those that need it and “getting screwed” by those who will never get off the system until they are kicked off.
    I know people, not disabled, who have been in subsidized housing for over 30 years. Other people, also not disabled, who have been on food stamps for over 20 years.

  • SFMichele1

    There are people out there, otherwise fairly well-educated people, and a number of outspoken folk who align themselves with religion, who DO claim that this phrase DOES come from the Bible. I’ve heard this claim made on several evangelist radio programs, but the programs are – almost always — pre-recorded and it’s impossible to call in to challenge any of it. Emails that take on this nonsense are, of course, ignored.

  • itsthedax

    So, they’re really not the weakest members.

    Is your solution to allow the poorest, sickest and oldest to just go ahead and die, so that you can have that 60 inch TV?

  • sciencelady1

    Herb, you’re the reason I view WP.

  • voice of reason

    You know, honestly speaking, the Republicans Are going to have a heap of sin to answer to if people and children start dying off because of GOP intransigence and cold-heartedness. I want no part of that! To prove it I reregistered Progressive yesterday at city hall. I had no choice. Heck, we’re dealing with children and people here, not intangibles that one can just dismiss as inanimate stats! . . . Have you GOP people thought about your reckoning with my Lord Jesus Christ when its time for you all to settle up? You can’t just give every darn dime away to the already rich because they’re taken good care of you and yours! You have a duty to Americans! And The Lord will never turn his back while you let them wither on the vine to aggrandize your own greedy desires! . . . My God You Republican People Better Think About What It Is That You Are Doing To This Country! And May God Have Mercy On Your Souls. . . . .

  • pelicanwatchcb1

    Some people will always find a way to use the Bible to justify the very worst in human nature.

  • veginpost

    The wonderful thing about God for those that constantly choose to refer to him is that he can be invoked to support any argument. Just go through a few chapters of the old testament and you can forgive or murder at your whim. Give me the rational approach any day. Thinking rationally might not be perfect but at least it is based in what we accept as the existing reality.

  • veginpost

    I didn’t know there was another reason.

  • veginpost

    Children in not perfectly are generally innocent. Many in our country are victims of being born in the wrong family. Perhaps they are victims of an imperfect existence. Homeless, without parents, no insurance etcetera. Many of our senior citizens through no fault of their own find themselves down on their luck. Maybe their insurance company has dropped them and they have lost their home at a time in their lives where it is difficult to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. The father or mother who had a good job might be victimized by the recent corruption on Wall Street and the resulting collapse of our economy crushing a families dreams as they are driven into the street by the sheriff at the request of the banks who have taken from all of us without giving back. “God helps they who help themselves”. Bulls#*t.

  • veginpost

    First sentence should read, Children if not perfectly are generally innocent. Bad enough as is without a typo to boot.

  • veginpost

    Religion or God? Exactly what is the difference. Do you really think that if there were no religions there would be any Gods?

  • smtsm

    Scripture (Galatians 6:2) states that we should “bear one another’s burdens” – in other words, help with the catastrophic and unexpected, but that “each should carry his own load” (Galatians 6:5), a load being the normal issues of life. But Paul was clear: if you are not willing to work, you should not eat. He stated this after making it clear that he worked in each city he came to, rather than depend on handouts. By profession he was a tentmaker. But he also stated that each family in a Christian community should give everything to a common good, and all should benefit – rather socialist, don’t you think? So, you can find whatever you want.