Regular readers of Townhall may have noticed a column penned last week by this writer questioning the easy expectations of many observers that most liberal Catholics will abandon President Obama over the birth control mandates. Quite a number of commentators claimed that Obama achieved the impossible by uniting liberal and conservative Catholics into a united “tribe” hotly opposing the new HHS mandates. Some of the commentators claimed that this misstep would cost Obama the November elections.
The aforementioned column took issue with the easy assumption that left wing Catholics would rally to Mother Church and desert Obama, and suggested that most of those Catholics would vote Democratic in November, proving that social liberalism trumps religious orthodoxy nearly every time. Liberal clerics, however, placing social activism above theology and praising it as the highest possible virtue is certainly nothing new. It is, part of a continuum which has marked Anglo-American history for at least the last century-and-a-half.
The earliest strains of this tendency to replace traditional religious piety with the social reform impetus can be seen as far back as the mid-1820s with the spread of Unitarianism. The Unitarians preached a flexible and rationalist theology, and combined it with a low-key ritual, which attracted many upper class types, scientists, and intellectuals. In the words of Paul Johnson, the British historian, Unitarianism became for many intellectuals, “…a halfway house on the long road to agnosticism”.
This trend led, in the late nineteenth century, to the emergence of what became known as the “Social Gospel”. Theologians like Dwight Sunday and Mary Baker Eddy all sang from the social reform hymnbook. Washington Gladden coined the term “Social Gospel” by which he meant the churches promoting social reform, aiding the poor, and remaking the world for the supposed benefit of the ordinary citizen. Many of the Social Gospellers vigorously criticized the American economic system, saving particular scorn for competition and the profit motive, condemning them as wasteful and mercenary.
In point of fact, this movement and the entire habit of confusing theology with social reformism could be seen in much of Christendom by the early Twentieth Century. Efforts to use Christianity as a means to transform the social order could be seen in continental Europe where the development of “Christian Socialism” took an overtly political turn after 1910. In Britain high clerics including Archbishops of Canterbury Cosmo Lang and William Temple fully supported the idea of religious social activism. Lang often quoted the line credited to the American political humorist Finley Peter Dunne, stating that “…the purpose of religion is not to comfort the afflicted, it is to afflict the comfortable.” William Temple, for his own part, became the first avowed Socialist to head the Anglican Church.
The turn of American religious denomination away from theology and toward social activism continued apace throughout the Twentieth Century. The growing secularization of society, both in thought and action, led many traditional mainline Protestant Churches including the so-called “Seven Sisters” (United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church-USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Episcopal Church-USA, American Baptist Churches of the USA, Disciples of Christ) to blithely follow along by liberalizing and secularizing themselves. While these changes alienated some church members, the new secular emphasis fully engaged numerous clerics and considerable numbers of younger members of church congregations.
The Catholic Church fell prey to these same secularizing and liberalizing tendencies. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) institutionalized many of the generally Social democratic ideas which had taken root in the church by the late 1940s and the propagation of such ideas proceeded apace, as formerly conservative Catholic religious orders, particularly the Jesuits, radicalized during the 1960s. By the early 1980s Catholic priests and the lay religious played a central role in the nuclear freeze movement, critiqued capitalism (and found it wanting) and adopted a permissive, even encouraging, attitude toward homosexual conduct, even among their own officially celibate membership.
Today the social activist strain among American Protestants can be seen in the sense that most denominations began ordaining women priests years ago. The Episcopals and the United Church of Christ have waged very public internal battles recently over the installation of openly Gay bishops. Finally, the African Methodist Episcopal Church serves as a bully pulpit for the lunatic Anti-American ranting of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
On the Catholic side, the radicalism of the 1980s has been tamed, to a certain extent. Still, among a sizable segment of lay Catholics and among some nuns and priests there exists open support for birth control and support for legalized abortion, although this is carefully qualified as “…only when medically necessary”. Catholic congregations regularly hear sermons supporting mildly socialist ideas, criticizing Republicans, and counseling “peace” even when confronted with the conclusive evidence of radical Islamic intent to wage war on Christianity and the USA.
The point of this column is not to impugn the integrity of the often dedicated and selfless people who comprise the Religious Left in America. These folks deserve commendation for the fact that, in an increasingly nihilistic world, they have values and they largely stick to them. The point, however, is to state that among the Religious Left, their leftism generally trumps their religiosity. Few of the Protestants who support women priests, Gay bishops, or the anti-American hysteria of the Reverend Wright will disown the Democratic Party in November. Likewise, one would be wise to refrain from betting that the pro-abortion, pro-birth control Catholics will permanently stray from their home in the Obama wing of the Democratic Party. They may be making a little noise right now, but they will return home this coming Fall.
In a world that now equates social work with piety, and rallies, demonstrations and “occupations” with theology, the activist side gets the upper hand. Among liberal Christians their liberal side usually takes the measure of their Christianity. This is a grim fact that those who predict a massive religious defection from Obama and the Democrats would do well to remember.
The 'Fairness' Fraud
During a recent Fox News Channel debate about the Obama administration's tax policies, Democrat Bob Beckel raised the issue of "fairness."
He pointed out that a child born to a poor woman in the Bronx enters the world with far worse prospects than a child born to an affluent couple in Connecticut.
No one can deny that. The relevant question, however, is: How does allowing politicians to take more money in taxes from successful people, to squander in ways that will improve their own reelection prospects, make anything more "fair" for others?
Even if additional tax revenue all went to poor single mothers -- which it will not -- the multiple problems of children raised by poor single mothers would not be cured by throwing money at them. Indeed, the skyrocketing of unwed motherhood began when government welfare programs began throwing money at teenage girls who got pregnant.
Children born and raised without fathers are a major problem to society and to themselves. There is nothing "fair" about increasing the number of such children.
A more fundamental problem with the "fairness" issue raised by Beckel and many others is the slippery vagueness of the word "fair." To ask whether life is fair -- either here and now, or at any time or place around the world, over the past several thousand years -- is to ask a question whose answer is obvious. Life has seldom been within shouting distance of fair, in the sense of even approximately equal prospects of success.
Countries whose politicians have been able to squander ever larger amounts of a nation's resources have not only failed to make the world more fair, the concentration of more resources and power in these politicians' hands has led to results that were often counterproductive at best, and bloodily catastrophic at worst.
More fundamentally, the question whether life is fair is very different from the question whether a given society's rules are fair. Society's rules can be fair in the sense of using the same standards of rewards and punishments for everyone. But that barely scratches the surface of making prospects or outcomes the same.
People raised in different homes, neighborhoods and cultures are going to behave differently -- and those differences have consequences. The multiculturalist dogma may say that all cultures are equal, or equally deserving of respect, but treating cultures as sacrosanct freezes people into the circumstances into which they happened to be born, much like a caste system.
While talk about "fairness" may provide a fig leaf to cover politicians' naked attempts to grab more and more of the nation's resources to spend, there is no assurance that raising tax rates on "the rich" will result in any more tax revenue for the government. High tax rates have too often simply caused wealthy people to put their money into tax-free securities or to send it overseas.
Four years ago, TV interviewer Charles Gibson pointed out to candidate Barack Obama that raising capital gains tax rates had on a number of occasions led to less capital gains tax revenue being collected -- and, conversely, lowering the capital gains tax rates had on other occasions increased the amount of capital gains revenue collected by the government.
Obama readily admitted that. But he said that "fairness" justified a higher tax rate on "the rich." Yet how does a higher tax rate on paper, without a real increase in the amount of taxes actually collected, promote fairness?
However, raising tax rates on "the rich" pays off politically, even if the government loses revenues when the rich put their money into tax shelters.
High tax rates in the upper income brackets allow politicians to win votes with class warfare rhetoric, painting their opponents as defenders of the rich. Meanwhile, the same politicians can win donations from the rich by creating tax loopholes that can keep the rich from actually paying those higher tax rates -- or perhaps any taxes at all.
What is worse than class warfare is phony class warfare. Slippery talk about "fairness" is at the heart of this fraud by politicians seeking to squander more of the nation's resources.
Newest Government Magic Trick: Disability Fraud Holds Down Unemployment Rate
Looking for another reason for an artificially low unemployment rate? Consider disability fraud, people claiming disabilities they do not have such as mental illness. Prior to the great recession 33% of applicants claimed mental illness. The number is 43% now.
There was fraud before, of course. There is even more fraud now. Please consider: Jobless disability claims soar to record $200B as of January
Standing too many months on the unemployment line is driving Americans crazy — literally — and it’s costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
With their unemployment-insurance checks running out, some of the country’s long-term jobless are scrambling to fill the gap by filing claims for mental illness and other disabilities with Social Security — a surge that hobbles taxpayers and making the employment rate look healthier than it should as these people drop out of the job statistics.
As of January, the federal government was mailing out disability checks to more than 10.5 million individuals, including 2 million to spouses and children of disabled workers, at a cost of record $200 billion a year, recent research from JPMorgan Chase shows.
The sputtering economy has fueled those ranks. Around 5.3 percent of the population between the ages of 25 and 64 is currently collecting federal disability payments, a jump from 4.5 percent since the economy slid into a recession.
Mental-illness claims, in particular, are surging. During the recent economic boom, only 33 percent of applicants were claiming mental illness, but that figure has jumped to 43 percent, says Rutledge, citing preliminary results from his latest research.
His research also shows a growing number of men, particularly older, former white-collar workers, instead of the typical blue-collar ones, are applying.
The big concern about the swelling ranks is that once people get on disability, they’re unlikely to give it up and go back to work.
What's the Number?
The above article says there were 10.5 million individuals receiving disability checks. A quick check of Fed data shows there are 27.5 million Civilian Noninstitutional Population - With a Disability, 16 years and over. Unfortunately the data only goes back to mid-2008. I would like to see the pattern before the recession began.
We can see a brief recovery for a year following the end of the recession. However, since mid-2010 the number of people with disabilities has risen by 1.5 million.
All of them dropped out of the labor force and are no longer counted as unemployed.
Is the Obama administration trying to expand federal collective bargaining?: "Expanded collective bargaining at any level of government would be bad news for taxpayers, as it is the mechanism government employee unions use to gain for themselves compensation and benefits -- and ironclad job security -- well beyond those prevalent in the private sector for similar work. This is a bad enough problem at the state and local level."
Voter ID laws are growing; so are challenges: "Thirty-one states have voter identification laws, including eight -- in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin -- that were enacted or toughened last year. Of the 31 laws, 27 are expected to be in effect for the general election this year, says Meagan Dorsch, spokeswoman for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a bipartisan research group. One has been blocked by federal action; three have later effective dates."
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