Thursday, October 08, 2009

Does religion lead to small government or stonings?

The conservative, hence socially statist, Acton Institute ostensibly claims that it wishes to promote sound economics to the religious people. One wonders how much success they have. But they certainly are also pushing a religious agenda to libertarians. Consider a rather absurd attempt to convince libertarians that the only dike holding back the waters of socialism is religion.

They published a brief essay by Anthony Bradley. Bradly’s credentials are theological. He attended the ultra-fundamentalist Covenant Theological Seminary and the Westerminster Theological Seminary. Both institutions are hard-core Calvinist institutions. This branch of Calvinism is the birthing center for doctrines promoting theocratic rule in the United States and is closely tied to the Reconstructionist movement—one of the most religiously authoritarian movements in America.

Bradley notes something this blog has reported on previously—that there is a dramatic increase of young people who reject religious theories and mythology. Bradley argues that this means that American will go socialist, especially if men become unbelievers—women don’t count for much in these circles. Bradley says that society will “reap the consequences of high numbers of male Nones (those who define their religion as None). He says: “If more and more men are abandoning the religious communities” we will see an “explosion of demand for morally reprehensible products” such as meth and male prostitutes—oops, sorry that was Rev. Ted Haggard’s preferences.

Bradley says that if men don’t buy into the imaginary stories of the Bible then we will find “strip clubs, more misogynistic rap music (as opposed to misogynistic Bible stories), more adulterty and divorce, more broken sexuality, more fatherlessness, more corruption in government and business, more individualism, and more loneliness.” Did you catch what they slipped in there? Right in the middle of all these “sins” is the sin of “individualism.” Yep, that’s a list of libertarian virtues alright.

Bradley’s article was titled “Less Religion Means More Government.” Sure, the evidence for that claim is astounding. Consider the deeply religious libertarian utopias in Saudi Arabia and Iran, for instance. Hey, in Iran they execute gay people and lots of preachers in Bradley’s movement advocate the same thing—Gary North prefers it be done with stones, the way Jesus would kill. Reason magazine reported on how many would be eligible for stoning in a Christian theocracy:
Those who would face execution include not only gays but a very long list of others: blasphemers, heretics, apostate Christians, people who cursed or struck their parents, females guilty of "unchastity before marriage," "incorrigible" juvenile delinquents, adulterers, and (probably) telephone psychics. And that's to say nothing of murderers and those guilty of raping married women or "betrothed virgins." Adulterers, among others, might meet their doom by being publicly stoned--a rather abrupt way for the Clinton presidency to end.
If less religion means more government precisely why is the movement that most promotes liberty, libertarianism, also one of the least religious political groups in the country? If you were to randomly pick out major libertarian theorists in history you would be quite unlikely to find one that was anything more than superflouously religious. Most, in fact, were non-believers. Take the pantheon of libertarian thinkers like Rand, Mises, Hayek, Friedman, Mencken, Rothbard, and Spooner. Not a religious nut among the bunch.

On the other hand the modern socialist movement in America, which got its starts during the misnamed Progressive Era was then led by the likes of the fundamentalist Christian, William Jennings Bryan. The crusading Frances Willard, founder of the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, was both a born-again busybody and a socialist. She was the first major campaigner for the Nanny State, advocating a “Do Everything” policy.

What this meant was that in a new moral order the reformers, like the WCTU, would leave nothing to chance. The new social order would shape every aspect of man’s life from the spiritual to the physical. Professor Dana Robert of the Boston University School of Theology summarized Willard’s philosophy. She said Willard was a “woman suffragist, Methodist activist, Christian socialist, political prohibitionist, and president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union from 1879 to 1898.” Robert says that Willard “was on the cutting edge of social reform, and she took the WCTU with her. She was a Fabian socialist....” Contrary to modern perception the WCTU was not “a single-issue movement, temperance was the glue that held social reform together.”

Willard, an associate of evangelist Dwight L. Moody, said that the three systems of slavery in America were “whiskey slavers,” “white slaves,” and “wage slaves.” She thought that alcohol was produced by “capitalists” to “keep the people down.” She preached, “In every Christian there exists a socialist; and in every socialist a Christian.” She wanted a national “department of amusements” to make sure that all entertainment was moral and uplifting.

Bryan, the anti-evolutionist, proposed laws which would allow government to take over any industry it wanted. He said: “The right of the community is superior to the right of any individual.” I would think, since Bradley lists individualism as a sin, he would be partial to that viewpoint.

The headline of Bradley’s article is patently absurd. Recently I was at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in Los Angeles. A prominent libertarian among the atheist community told me he guessed that 1 in 4 atheists was a libertarian. That seemed correct to me. Michael Shermer, of the Skeptic Society, who is also a libertarian said the same thing. I’m told that an informal survey was done at the The Amazing Meeting, sponsored by James Randi, and that 25% of the people present at one session said they were libertarian.

Compare that to virtually any church in America. Do the same survey in your typical Christian church and it would be highly unlikely that you’d get anywhere near those percentages. What you find throughout the American religious community is a deep affinity for Big Brother and the Nanny State. One of the most, religion-on-the-sleeves president in history was Dubya, a radical advocate of big government.

Bradley’s claims that religion is the seed of limited government goes against common sense and history. But the fundamentalists of the world, and Bradley is a fundamentalists, have always been inclined toward the irrational and the false. Every single major Christian political campaign in the United States has been a campaign for bigger government.

The Religious Right, with which Acton Institute is allied, says that gay people should either have fewer rights than everyone else, be criminalized and imprisoned for their “crimes,” or executed in accordance with God’s word. They want to ban abortions and institute widespread censorship of sexual material. Many would ban birth control, contraception and criminalize “adultery” and “fornication” as well. Some of the fundamentalists would even ban dancing, television and women teaching males. Yet Acton Institute wants us to believe that a society dominated by people like this would be one of small government.

Consider, as an example of the Big Brotherism of Calvinism, the views of a “Adjunct Scholar” from the Acton Institute, one E. Calvin Beisner. Beisner wrote: “In enforcing the Seventh Commandment, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ government properly prohibits rape, incest, and other sexual relations outside marriage and protects the sanctity of the family. In economic application, this means government may properly use its coercive power to prohibit and punish prostitution, the production and distribution of pornography... Laws restricting divorce also fall under this commandment.” Beisner wants Biblical law imposed on Americans, with all that it entails. He said, “my use of Biblical Law presupposes simply that the same moral Law that was perfectly suited to mankind’s need for moral instruction four thousand years ago is perfectly suited to mankind’s need for moral instruction today. It imparts wise, important, and clear instruction for the economic activities of individuals, families, churches, societies, States, and the whole human race.” Remember he is an Acton Institute “adjunct scholar.” Now you can see why they listed individualism as one of the evils that God wants eradicated.

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