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Stephen Colbert on helping the poor

January 31, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Since I don't get cable, I'm not all that familiar with the comedian Stephen Colbert or his show "The Colbert Report," though I've thought he was hilarious when I have seen clips of his work.

Apparently Colbert also has a more serious side. One of my Facebook friends posted a quote someone has attributed to Colbert that I think should inspire some soul searching: "If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it." Colbert is apparently a practicing Catholic and CCD teacher, which I would guess has some impact on his private political views, which are probably those of a typical progressive liberal Catholic concerned with social justice causes. The Facebook quote sounds like it could have been delivered by a priest during the homily at Sunday Mass.

Colbert isn't a serious political candidate, but his remark addresses a lot of the themes that are going to come up again and again as we move into the full swing of the presidential campaign season.

More people are poor now than were four years ago. Even in North Dakota, which is experiencing unprecedented prosperity, there are more people who are hurting financially, struggling to find housing or pay for necessities in communities where prices have skyrocketed. All over the country the Occupy Wall Street protests have been ongoing.

What does it really mean to help the poor? Does it mean welfare or programs that assist the poor to buy health insurance? Would the poor be better helped if we focused on helping them to help themselves and how should that be done? Should such help come from private resources or does the government have an obligation to assist its citizens? Can the country afford to provide federal assistance to the poor given the state of the national economy? It may not be as simple as saying "We just don't want to do it." In some cases, maybe it's "We want to help, but we don't know how or we just can't do it." In other cases, it really means we don't want to help, particularly when the poor are particularly despised or unadmirable. But based on what I remember, it was those most despised, the least worthy, that Jesus would have walked among.

Whatever your political slant, though, Colbert's comment is worth some consideration.


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