A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension – and the descent into inequality

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., May 11, 12 or 13

This Thursday is Christianity’s ecumenical Feast of the Ascension – also called Ascension Thursday or Holy Thursday – marking the physical ascension of Jesus into Heaven 40 days after the Resurrection.

Although Scripture details are thin in passages of the books of Luke and Mark, Acts has a slightly more detailed account. As I read it now, I’m reminded of being a day-dreaming adolescent imagining a smoky “launch” of the Messiah (or a cloudy “beam-up,” in “Star Trek” parlance), my mind wandering to picture an angelic “away team” dressed in spacesuits then basically shooing away the stunned apostle witnesses.

The occasion also offers an opportunity to reflect – with shame – on the eerie parallels of today to 18th century conditions of wealth and want. Poet William Blake in 1794 wrote the following verse, titled “Holy Thursday,” or “Ascension Day”:

“Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.

For where'er the sun does shine,
And where'er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.”

More than 14 million American children live in poverty, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s about 1 in 5 kids. Also, 16 million kids live in homes without adequate food required for healthy lives. Yet Republicans in control of Capitol Hill say society can’t afford to raise the minimum wage, extend jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed, or maintain food stamps – despite such needs.

Indeed, the House of Representatives last month passed by a 269-179 vote a measure to eliminate the Estate Tax, offering a $269 billion giveaway to about 5,400 estates, according to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation – about 0.2 percent of the country. Seven Illinois Congressmen signed on as co-sponsors of the bill (which would be vetoed by President Obama if the Senate passed it – which is doubtful).

Still, repealing the Estate Tax – misleadingly dubbed the “death tax” by the GOP – would blow a pricey hole in the budget despite affecting so few Americans – because almost everyone is exempt. This year, individual estates can be as high as $5.4 million (married couples’ estates can be $10.8 million) before the 40-percent tax becomes effective.

Back to Ascension. As the Founders intended, no government should establish a state religion or mandate a certain faith for its citizens, of course, but how can those who cite the Old Testament’s Leviticus, or a few remarks in New Testament writings by the Apostle Paul, to condemn gays and prevent them from openly, legally loving on the one hand, choose to ignore Jesus’ words of mercy on the other?

Some conservatives fall back on Jesus’ comment, “You will always have the poor among you,” but He didn’t add, “Tough!” He repeatedly said people should care for each other. Christianity specifically instructs us on works of mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, free the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

Even some conservatives are starting to feel uncomfortable with ignoring the needy to serve the rich.

Conservative columnist Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post scolded Republicans as “a party working to reduce the taxes of the rich while cutting food stamps for the poor.”

Americans must demand our elected representatives arrange an economic ascension.

[PICTURED: Graphic from]

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