Friday, November 2, 2012

How Can Evangelicals Embrace Capitalism and the Republican Party?

Over the past 30-40 years, the Religious Right has gone from total noninvolvement with politics to total involvement to partial domination.  As a general matter, and more specifically in recent years, they have endorsed capitalism and the concept that each person is responsible for himself, they have endorsed a limited role for government, and they have tenaciously fought for the right to life of the unborn and against same-sex marriage or any kind of gay rights that gives homosexuals the approval of society.

As Christians who believe in Jesus, Evangelicals are fond of saying that we need to bring morality back into our government and our private lives, and that we need to bring God back into our government.  But do they practice what they preach?

What is the most central ethic of Christianity, or indeed of all the world’s great religions?  It is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It is, “Love they neighbor as thyself.” It is viewing the community of man as one of shared responsibility.  From the Old Testament’s, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to the many affirmative answers to that question in the New Testament such as that we are to “love one another” and that we are to “serve one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” and “consider one another,” there is no question that to be Christian is to support the idea of a social contract among the citizens of our country.  

In ancient times it must be said that these sentiments were confined to relationships between those who were believers.  But in more modern times, as the world and its religions (not all) have become more progressive in their thinking, these concepts have been broadened to include a responsibility towards all humanity.  For if man is created in the image of God, then are we not all his children, regardless of our religion or lack thereof?  It is in this light that I will examine the positions taken by Evangelicals on several key contemporary issues.  

First, let’s look at capitalism.  While the commonly used phrase “Godless communism” refers to the fact that Marxist communism denies the existence of God and is, or at least used to be, totally against all religion, is capitalism any less Godless in fact or in practice? While it is true that capitalism is not against religion, history shows that the very premise of the capitalist enterprise is Godless in the sense that it is all about making the most money one can for oneself and ones associates regardless at what cost to others.  This is surely not behavior that Jesus would endorse.

In the first half century of the industrial revolution, unfettered capitalism showed it for what it was ... a rapacious system that would stop at nothing to make money.  Whether it was having no care for their workers’ safety, beating them, producing products that could harm the user, or fowling the air and water, capitalism showed a total disregard for the welfare of both its workers and the broader community.  

It is only the presence of government regulation, which began in the early 20th century and has grown over the years, that has resulted in corporations [capitalists] being able to claim to be responsible members of society.  But they are not reformed.  Even today with all the regulation we have, if there is an area where there is no regulation, or it is hazy, or they dislike it, capitalists will do whatever they can get away with regardless of its impact on the broader society or their workers.  It is simply the nature of the beast.  

Bottom line, capitalism has no soul, and since it has no soul it is Godless.  As such, Evangelicals and other Christians should not embrace it uncritically but insist that if it be allowed to continue that it be strictly regulated in order to insure that workers, users, and the broader community are protected.  The role of government here is critical.

Then there is the issue of public morality.  When this issue is raised by Evangelicals, as in “the culture wars,” this means that they are against any rights for homosexuals and they are against abortion. Before commenting on their stands on these two issues, what is troubling is that Evangelicals do not seem to think that public morality includes the concept of doing to others as you would have them do to you, of loving your neighbor as yourself, of feeling a shared responsibility for the welfare of their fellow Americans, if not for all of humanity.  

This is clearly the position that Jesus would take, but not his most righteous followers today. Their emotional, if not rabid, fight on the issues of homosexuality and abortion seems to have blinded them to the true admonitions of their faith.  And so they have become the front line soldiers of the Right, backing the most radical Tea Party and conservative Republicans ... the new Republican Party ... because they have these two causes in common, even though their partners have no interest and disdain government involvement in the broader social welfare.

As regards their campaign against homosexuality, it is troubling on so many fronts that one hardly knows where to begin.  But perhaps most troubling is their, and others’, misuse of the Bible, much as the Bible was used for years to support slavery, segregation, and the submissive status of women.  

The Old Testament certainly has some bad things to say about “men lying with men as with women.”  But one must put this in context.  

The same sections of the Bible also have equally bad things to say about many other acts. In fact, the Bible terms more than 60 actions an abomination.  Included are:  lying (Proverbs 12:22), eating food that isn’t kosher (Leviticus 11), a proud look (Proverbs 6:16), lying with a menstruating woman (Ezekiel 18:6-13), and what is highly esteemed among men (Luke 16:15).  Likewise, it is not the only sin singled out for death.  The Bible says that anyone who curses his father or mother should be put to death (Leviticus 20:9) and that a man and woman who commit adultery should be put to death (Leviticus 20:10.)  In Exodus 35:2, it says that anyone who works on the Sabbath shall be put to death.  

Clearly, Evangelicals and the Catholic Church are against homosexuality ... plain and simple.  And so they conveniently pick sections of the Bible to use in support of their campaigns, ignoring the fact that no one today, except perhaps the Jewish ultra-orthodox, would call these other acts an abomination and seek to ostracize perpetrators.

The issue of abortion is a far more complex one.  If one truly believes that life, in the legal sense, begins at conception, then one can understand why that person feels that abortion is murder and should not be allowed.  The problem is that while it is a scientific fact that “life” biologically begins at conception, there is a major disagreement as to when a legal status attaches to the fetus ... when the fetus becomes a human life ... resulting in abortion being illegal.  There really is no resolution to this disagreement.

My take on the issue is more sociological.  There are few things worse then a child being born to parents that do not want the child, for whatever reason.  There are few things worse then children being raised in our chaotic foster parent system, since the majority of unwanted children carried to term are not adopted.  

Evangelicals, however, do not deal with this issue.  They speak merely of God’s gift of life.  And so if their will were law, hundreds of thousands of children each year would be sentenced to a living hell while their parents would be dragged down into a variety of wrenching problems.  It’s all fine and well to speak of the responsibility of the mother or parents.  But ultimately, the burden of the Right to Life position would fall most squarely on the children.  And I for one would say that it is better not to be born, than to be born unwanted.  Life is hard enough without that burden.

But the issues of abortion and homosexuality are digressions.  The point is that if one wants a more moral nation, a more moral government, a nation under God, then many aspects of our system need to be changed.  First and foremost would be changing from a capitalist system in which everyone is chiefly out for themselves with no sense of responsibility for their fellow citizen to a system of regulated capitalism and a commonly accepted social contract with government performing its function of leveling the playing field, guaranteeing that all have the opportunity to pursue their “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  

The Democratic Party, in its own sometimes fumbling way, is trying to reach for that more moral nation.  As such, it deserves the support of all God-believing people and secular humanists alike.