Friday, July 23, 2010

Evangelicals Take Aim at Liberty

The Washington Post has an article entitled, "Is the Tea Party unbiblical?" My first reply is: So what if it is?

There seems to be this move by the Left to invoke the Bible to justify their big governmentalism. Now I personally think they are firmer ground than free market types who think that a book rooted in primitive tribalism can support their views. But I have to ask the Left why they are bothering. First, most of them don't take the fables and myths of the Bible seriously. Second, they are leaping onto the religious bandwagon just as the American public is, as Afrikaners would say, "gatvol" of the mixing of religion and politics. The Left rightfully ignores the screed of dead tribalists when it comes to homosexuality and a host of other issues, so why invoke this outdated morality when it comes to so-called "social justice" issues?

These types are as transparent as the Religious Right which tried to impose their biblical values on society through the use of coercive government. If it was wrong for Falwell why is it right for the socialist types in Christianity?

The second thing about the article is that by "Tea Party" while they target the gaggle of right-wing, neanderthals ranting about immigrants and taxes under the Tea Party banner, their real target is the rather unrelated creed of libertarianism. The Tea Party is not libertarian. It shares some libertarian sentiments but the views of Tea Party types is only for small government some of the time. When it comes to social issues they tend to support big government all the way.

The Post article quotes some professor of Christian ethics who is involved with a Left-wing lobby group called "New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good." The name alone is a clue that these are people are collectivists. But that is what I would expect. The Bible is a tribalistic book and tribalism is another form of collectivism. I don't deny there is a common good but that good is the protection of the equal rights of all. What the Left means is a redistributive state where some are penalized for the sake of others. By definition that is not the common good since some are sacrificed for the well-being of others. Telling the sacrificed, as they are economically raped by the state, that it is good for them is absurd. Big government always acts on behalf of some while the other are the "acted upon."

This professor, David Gushee, says: "This kind of small government libertarianism, small taxes, leave-me-alone-to-live-my-life ideology has more in common with Ayn rand than it does with the Bible." I would have to agree there. Biblical government doesn't leave people alone. Ask the "heretics" who were executed by God-fearing biblicists! Ask gay people who are on the sharp end of the biblical sword when it comes to marriage equality and basic civil rights.

At all times in history the Bible has been mostly invoked to oppress not to liberate. The orthodox Christians in the South had plenty of Scripture to back up their slave-owning practices. Individuals who opposed equality of rights for women had no shortage of biblical references at that call. In his dissection of socialism Mises wrote that "no movement against private property which has arisen in the Christian world has failed to seek authority in Jesus, the Apostles, and the Christian Fathers, not to mention those who, like Tolstoy, made the Gospel resentment against the rich the very heart and soul of their teaching." Mises said, and I concur, that the Christian church "has prepared the soil for the destructive resentment of modern socialist thought." Mises claimed that: "Any would-be destroyers of the modern social order could count on finding a champion in Christianity."

The Post does quote some Tea Party officials who claim "Jesus was not for socialism," and these people are right as well. How can this be the case?

The point Mises makes is not that the New Testament advocated socialism because it didn't. It didn't advocate any kind of economic order at all. Certainly the church in The Book of Acts practiced a form of collective ownership where each contributed their worldly goods into a common pool for redistribution. But it was not a common ownership of the means of production, which is what socialism really is. Redistribution of wealth is just part of the socialist gospel, not the entire thing. Prof. Anthony Waterman wrote that early Christianity "had no recognizable body of social thought" whatsoever.

What it had, however, was utter contempt for material existence and wealth. These believers accepted the promise of Jesus that he would return to earth before the last of them died and establish his kingdom. He told them to not worry about production at all but to wait in anticipation for the end of the world. There was no emphasis on economics because there was no need for an economy—the world was coming to an end. Mises wrote:
It is only in this way that we can understand why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus recommended his own people to take no thought for food, drink, and clothing; why he exhorts them not to sow or reap or gather in barns, not to labor or spin. It is the only explanation, too, of his and his disciples’ ‘communism.’ This ‘communism’ is not Socialism; it is not production with means of production belonging to the community. It is nothing more than a distribution of consumption goods among the members of the community—’unto each, according as any one had need.’ It is a communism of consumption goods, not of the means of production, a community of consumers, not of producers. The primitive Christians do not produce, labor, or gather anything at all. The newly converted realize their possessions and divide the proceeds with the brethren and sisters. Such a way of living is untenable in the long run. It can be looked upon only as a temporary order which is what it was in fact intended to be. Christ’s disciples lived in daily expectation of Salvation.
Church father Tertullian put it this way: "I have no concern in this life except to depart from it as speedily as possible." Edward Gibbon, whose work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, showed the detrimental impact of Christianity, wrote:
The ancient Christians were animated by a contempt
for their present existence, and by a just confidence of
immortality, of which the doubtful and imperfect faith of
modern ages cannot give us any adequate notion. In the
primitive church, the influence of truth was very
powerfully motivated by an opinion which, however, it
may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity, has
not been found agreeable to experience. It was
universally believed that the end of the world and the
kingdom of Heaven were at hand.
What the socialists found useful in the New Testament was contempt it expressed for this world and material possessions, which often expresses itself in the oddest of places. When Mary is told that she is with child, supposedly through some miracle, she exalts God and denounces the rich, saying that God "hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away." Jesus said that it was the poor who were blessed. His brother James warned: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus we learn that poverty-stricken Lazarus dies to awake in Abraham's bosom, while the rich man burns in hell. The only crime mentioned appears to be his wealth.

Paul, the real founder of Christianity, said that the poor aren't tempted to abandon God but that the rich "fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which some coveted after, they have erred from the faith." Jesus was more direct. He said that you "cannot serve God and mammon" and told his followers to avoid work, toil or wealth-building. He urged them to "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take things of itself."

This contempt for wealth and the wealthy energizes much of the resentment behind socialism. As the pro-market theologian Michale Novak admits: "The gospel accounts amply supply the liberation (socialist) theologians of our day with a rhetoric to be employed against riches and the rich." Barbara Ward, in her work Faith and Freedom, wrote: "Communism owes its immense vitality more to its biblical vision of the mighty put down and the poor raised up than to its theories of value or its interpretation of history."

Conservative sociologist Peter Berger says that the roots of western socialism "are undoubtedly in the communitarian tradition of Western Christianity." And pro-capitalist Catholic Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn said that "the ethical content of Christianity" fosters and promotes "the temptation toward socialism." He wrote: "Along the path of the socialist utopia lies a day of judgement when the humble will be exalted and the rich and mighty brutally dispossessed. And from the Socialist-Communist utopia itself can be gleaned the picture of paradise lost—and regained; a new age of innocence, of peace and brotherly love, with envy, crime and hatred banished forever."

So both the Christian Left and Christian Right are correct to a limited degree. Christianity, as the Right says, didn't exactly preach socialism. But, as the Left notes, it was contemptuous of wealth and the wealthy. It had disdain for material existence and preached an apocalyptic judgement against the mighty and wealthy in favor of the poor and dispossessed. Marxism leaned on Christian mythology to make its points. After centuries of the Gospel, the soil was well prepared for Marx's secular version of the same thing. Unlike Jesus, however, Marx didn't promise revenge and paradise in the future, but in the here and now.

If one must pick which of these two odious arms of religious statism is more correct, as far as which way the New Testament leans politically, I would have to go with the Left-wing Christians. And that is how most Christianity, over the ages, has leaned.

Eventually the Christians realized that Jesus wasn't coming back when he said he would. Eventually they needed a system of ethics in regards to production and distribution. And when that ethic was formed it was rooted in the envious attitudes of the New Testament with its contemptuous views of material existence and wealth. That pushed the Church in a statist direction economically.

The Religious Right is correct in that neither Jesus, nor the New Testament, had a particularly socialist economic policy. It had no policy whatsoever. But it did have the attitudes that the socialists have used for a couple of centuries now to inspire contempt for depoliticized markets, private property, and free exchange.

Labels: ,