Thursday, June 26, 2014

Misrepresenting Christianity, Capitalism, and Libertarianism

So I saw this article shared by a friend on Facebook.  It is basically a piece from the New York Times about how Christianity is incompatible with both free markets and libertarianism.  These kind of hit pieces are common, especially among the more smug Left-wing elite who like to use religion to justify their political motivations.

Before I break down the article, I would like to point out a few things: first of all I don’t believe that Christianity is apolitical and that the teachings of Jesus are.  This is a common defense that many right-wing pundit take when attacked by the Left for, in the Left’s eyes, not following the teachings of Jesus.  If anything, I would argue that the Left has a lot to answer for in this day and age given their promotion of sexual depravity, envy, and strife.  They are, in many ways, modern day Pharisees.

That being said, I don’t believe that the Right-wing is righteous.  Just not as wicked as the Left wing.  At the very least, they are seeking to be more like Jesus, while the Left openly mocks Him and His teachings.  There is no political ideology that brings one closer to God, but there are some that will turn you away from Him.

Now, to understand my disagreements with that article, you have to understand that all political ideologies boil down to how the government should interact with its citizens.  The range is from total and absolute control to no government at all.  The former is communism and the later is anarcho-capitalism.  And just about every political ideology falls in-between.  In this context, however, none of them are inherently bad ideas if every person on the planet was a “perfect” Christian.

But that is impossible for everyone.  And as power increases along the spectrum, so does the possibility of it corrupting the individuals in charge.  In the Soviet Union, for example, the head of Stalin’s secret police, Beria, was known to have raped women under threats of having them arrested.  He got away with it because power was too centralized under the control of a few elites.

Back to the article.  It was written by Professor James K.A. Smith and he demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of Christianity, free markets, and libertarianism.  Firstly, he seems to think that Christianity is about equality.  That equality is a virtue to be found listed alongside other fruits of the Spirit.

He could not be more wrong.  God never refers to everyone as equals.  If anything, He treats people the exact opposite throughout the Bible.  Moses, as an example, is chosen to be the greatest prophet of the Old Testament.  And every time he was challenged, God intervened and punished those who disagreed with Moses as that was a disagreement with God.

The “equality” he refers though seems to be “income equality”.  Again, this more specific definition is still not a virtue.  In the Bible, we see how God rewards certain people with riches and wealth while leaving others to fend for themselves.  And even the faithful are not always rewarded.  If you are looking for income equality, it is not found in the Bible.

As for free markets, Professor Smith claims that while capitalism brought many poor people out of poverty, a fact that only a fool would deny, it has ceased “to be an engine of the common good, it is inconsistent with Christianity”.  In that quoted statement, he has clearly misunderstood both Christianity and free markets entirely.

Christianity is not about the common good.  Fundamentally, it is about individuals acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died a perfect sacrifice for all of us in order to redeem us before God as we are steeped in sin.  The Nicene Creed pretty much sums up Christianity.  Nothing about that creed has to do with economic theory or political theory.

As for the current “contemporary capitalism” as he calls it, he clearly does not understand what true free markets are.  A free market system is one where there is no government intervention in any good or service and that all economic transactions are completely voluntary.  To that end, we live in a country where money is printed and distributed by a public-private company and any attempts to compete with it are met with prison time, where health insurance is forced upon us or we face incremental fines, and where nearly every aspect of food, fuel, shelter, labor, and clothing is heavily regulated to ensure that only large companies can even hope to compete.  None of these things represent capitalism or free markets by any stretch.

The United States is not a free market country.  I daresay it has not been so since at least the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of the late 1800s but I suppose the argument could be made that going back even to founding of the modern governmental system that we were not free market.  George Washington fought a war based on a 3% tax on tea then as President turned around and imposed a 25% tax on hard liquor and squashed a rebellion against it.

He also argues that Christianity is critical of greed.  This is true.  But he argues that greed is measured by income, which it is not.  The poor in this country are just as greedy as some of the wealthy.  In many cases, I’d argue that the poor would rather remain in poverty-level incomes in order to keep more disposable income, which means the middle class ends up paying for their lifestyle.  That is a great evil, according the wisdom of King Solomon.  Like most sins, greed is a matter of the heart and income measurements alone are not a good indicator of greedy man’s heart.

Finally, Professor Smith argues that Christianity is incompatible with libertarianism, claiming that it is “an ideology rooted in social atomism that pits all against all in a war of wills”.  Here again he demonstrates his own ignorance of what libertarianism really is and instead applies his own view.

In truth, the root of libertarian ideology is the non-aggression principle, which asserts that aggression is inherently immoral.  Aggression in this case means any unsolicited actions of others that physically affect an individuals property or person, no matter if the result of those actions is damaging, beneficial, or neutral to the owner.

In other words, the root of libertarian morality is nearly identical to the Second Greatest Commandment, which is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Libertarians just apply their root morality to everyone, even to people who work for the government.

So while Christianity is certainly not compatible with the whole of the political spectrum, it does not mean that it is incompatible with any of it.  I always enjoy it when a Leftist will openly attack the right wing by openly stating that they aren’t good Christians.  Because the Left-wing believes that truth is subjective and that there is no objective truth, any time they judge others should be met with mockery.  This is because if you have no objective standards, then you have no moral standing to judge others.