Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Was old Karl right?

Marx pointed out that communism could easily be presented as Christian and the mainstream churches are mostly Left-leaning. Even Papal encyclicals make some concessions to socialist thinking. See both "De rerum novarum" and "Centesimus annus".

In that context a recent report from Britain is not inherently surprising. The Guardian summarizes:
People with faith are far more likely to take left-of-centre positions on a range of issues, including immigration and equality. The research, revealed in a new report by the thinktank Demos, undermines the widely held view that members of religious groups are more likely to have conservative tendencies.

The Demos report suggests that the example of the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury, who combines deeply held progressive beliefs with his religious convictions, is not unusual.

"Rowan Williams may be far more representative of the religious community than many have suggested," said Jonathan Birdwell, the author of the report. "Progressives should sit up and take note. Their natural allies may look more like the archbishop of Canterbury than Richard Dawkins."

The report found that 55% of people with faith placed themselves on the left of politics, compared with 40% who placed themselves on the right. The report also suggests that people with faith are more likely to value equality over freedom than their non-religious counterparts. It discloses that 41% of people with religious views prioritise equality over freedom, compared with 36% of those without faith.

The report, based on an analysis of the European Values Study, also finds evidence that people who belong to a religious organisation are more likely to say they are very interested in politics, to have signed a petition and to have participated in a demonstration.

There are some large caveats to be attached to that report, however. England is generally an irreligious country and the survey was based on the 13% who report that they belong to a church. It did not ask which church, how often the respondents went to church, or how strong are their religious beliefs. Usual Sunday Attendance at church in England is less than one million out of a total population of about 55 million -- which is about 2% (to be generous) -- so we see some gap between the 13% and the 2%

And even that 2% is no indication of religiosity. Attendance at the Church of England in particular is often motivated by broadly social reasons rather than by any real religious convictions. And any influence the C of E had would be of a Leftist character -- as is shown by their totally unbiblical acceptance of homosexual and female clergy.

So what does the survey tell us about religion in Britain? Very little, I am afraid. It's entirely possible, though not probable, that all the genuinely religious people in England are conservative.


What Jesus said about capitalism

BOOK REVIEW of "The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics" by Ched Myers, a Californian theologian

The name sabbath (the seventh day) is a reference to the biblical injunction - mainly honoured in the breach - that the Jews practice "jubilee". Every 50th year (the year following the passing of seven times seven years), slaves were to be freed, people were to be released from their debts and land returned to its original owners.

So sabbath economics involves an "ethic of regular and systematic wealth and power redistribution". You can see why this is an uncomfortable topic (for me as much as anyone else).

Many Christians would argue this Old Testament stuff was superseded by the New Testament, but Myers counters that the New Testament reveals Jesus as preoccupied with jubilee ideas.

"There is no theme more common to Jesus's storytelling than sabbath economics," he says. "He promises poor sharecroppers abundance, but threatens absentee landowners and rich householders with judgment."

It's certainly true that Jesus was always blessing the poor, challenging the rich, mixing with despised tax-gatherers and speaking of a time when the social order is overturned and "the last shall be first".

It's also true, as Myers reminds us, that many of Jesus's parables deal with clearly economic concerns: farming, shepherding, being in debt, doing hard labour, being excluded from banquets and the houses of the rich.

Myers alleges that many churches handle the parables "timidly, and often not at all". "Perhaps we intuit that there is something so wild and subversive about these tales that they are better kept safely at the margins of our consciousness," he says.

"Most churches that do attend to gospel parables spiritualise them tirelessly, typically preaching them as 'earthly stories with heavenly meanings'. Stories about landless peasants and rich landowners, or lords and slaves, or lepers and lawyers are thus lifted out of their social and historical context and reshaped into theological or moralistic fables bereft of any political or economic edge - or consequence."

Myers devotes a chapter to the incident of Jesus meeting the rich man, who asks "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus neither welcomes him into the club nor outlines the things he must believe to gain admission.

Rather, he tells the man to go and sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and then come back and follow him. But the man, unwilling to give up his wealth, rejects discipleship and goes away.

Jesus responds, "how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God … It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

"The clarity of this text has somehow escaped the church through the ages, which instead has concocted a hundred ingenuous reasons why it cannot mean what it says," Myers says.

His interpretation? Jesus is simply saying the kingdom of God is a social condition in which there are no rich and poor. So, by definition, the rich cannot enter - not with their wealth intact.

Myers says that in first century Palestine, the basis of wealth wasn't possession of consumer durables, but land. And the primary means of acquiring land was through debt-default. Small agricultural landholders groaned under the burden of rent, tithes, taxes, tariffs and operating expenses.

"If they fell behind in payments, they were forced to take out loans secured by their land. When unable to service these loans, the land was lost to the lenders. These lenders were in most cases the large landowners," he says.

This is how socio-economic inequality had become so widespread in the time of Jesus. It's almost certainly how the rich man ended up with "many properties", according to Myers. And these are just the circumstances the jubilee is intended to correct.

"Jesus is not inviting this man to change his attitude towards his wealth, nor to treat his servants better, nor to reform his personal life," he says. "He is asserting the precondition for discipleship: economic justice."

Myers offers his explanation of a much-quoted saying from which today's prosperous Christians derive comfort: Jesus's observation that "the poor will always be with you".

This doesn't mean Christ accepted poverty as an inevitable characteristic of the economy, or part of the divine plan. Rather, he says, the divine vision is that poverty be abolished, but as long as it persists, God and God's people must always take the side of the poor - and be among them.

"Privately controlled wealth is the backbone of capitalism," Myers says, "and it is predicated upon the exploitation of natural resources and human labour. Profit maximisation renders socio-economic stratification, objectification and alienation inevitable.

"According to the gospel, however, those who are privileged within this system cannot enter the kingdom. This is not good news for first-world Christians - because we are the 'inheritors' of the rich man's legacy.

"So the unequivocal gospel invitation to repentance is addressed to us. To deconstruct our 'inheritance' and redistribute the wealth as preparation to the poor - that is what it means for us to follow Jesus.'


I think Myers reads more into the words of Jesus than is really there but his ideas are an interesting challenge. There is no doubt that Christian practice does differ in many ways from what the Bible commands. Matthew 5:39 made me a pacifist in my teens but most Christians seem to have no trouble with it. I comment on some of the issues involved in the latter part of my 2002 article here -- JR

Comment from a reader:

The biggest flaw in the Myers claims, at least according to my view, was the misuse by the author on the application of Jubilee. Aside from the fact that it was almost never, if ever, honored by the Hebrews, it ignores the major context of the command: Land was apportioned to Hebrews by family as a permanent possession. So when a Hebrew “sold” land, it was understood that the land was not being transferred, but the value of the crops until the year of Jubilee, when the land reverted back to the own. Far from fighting capitalism, God’s command to the Hebrews affirmed the importance of private property. Likewise, Hebrews were freed during the year of Jubilee but not foreigners. The land and the families were supposed to stay together.

As the Myers claims depend heavily on Jewish law, I was hoping that one of my Jewish readers would offer some perspective. I am therefore pleased to offer a comment received from one:

I was struck by this idea that capitalism has to be "exploitive" in terms of natural resources and labour. This is bunkum.

I don't remember seeing these things in any real definition of "capitalism". However, I will admit business people often did exploit in order to achieve wealth, but it's not a perquisite of obtaining wealth. The Torah and Talmud both speak of rules that obligate business owners as well as even customers to act in a moral fashion when doing business. There were formal rules that obligated the owners to treating their employees in certain fashion, including paying them in a timely fashion. Customers could not be cheated (and the Talmud relates that the first thing a business owner is asked when he dies is...were your weights honest?). Whether one really followed the rules, the point was to give a blueprint that could be used by business people in order to deal fairly. Oh, and there were even environmental rules (tanners couldn't be too close to a city because of the smell and pollutants!).

Ethics and morals can be part of a capitalist society. It takes TEACHING people to HAVE those morals and ethics, but capitalism need not be inherently exploitive. If anything, socialism and Marxism have turned out to be almost always evil. (The one exception I can think of. Kibbutzim. Why? Simple. They were VOLUNTARY and small, so if one didn't want to continue along with the socialist lifestyle...they simply signed out and left! No one shot them as they tried to leave. While even the kibbutzim have now at least picked up some aspects of free market capitalism; the socialism still doesn't inherently work-who cares if someone is nutty enough to go there, as long as the same garbage is not imposed on the rest of the denizens of the country (and in fact, Israel, a very socialist economy in its early years, has at least embraced more capitalism than ever).

The other problem with money and business...money ends up being POWER. And it is power that corrupts, not the money itself. But even then, it doesn't have to. I used to walk every week to synagogue with my dad and the scion of a family that had made enormous amounts in the dairy products business, cream cheese and sour cream and the like. This man was unassuming as could be, and while I later learned he was no one's patsy, in business, he gave enormous amounts of charity, without being asked, treated his workers fairly, without the need for union "persuasion" and was just an all-around decent human being, as was his wife. THEY were the model for me for what rich people could be like. Wealth did not corrupt them or make them inherently bad.

But this entire idea that capitalism and the acquisition of money makes one evil and exploitative is an old and immoral meme of the socialists and Left.


Big government is the real extremism

One of the most time-honored tricks in politics is the act of accusing your opponent of your own worst crime. Doing so confuses the mass of the population. It allows the trickster to assume the mantle of righteous indignation, wrapping their stern lectures in the aura of high morality. And, of course, it is all a lie, nothing more than a device to try to escape accountability.

This came to mind as I read the ravings of the hard-Left in the “main stream” press. From Krugman to Dionne, the arbiters of what is acceptable socialist thought in America have screamed their buzzword – “extremists.” What has them all worked-up is the possibility that the Supreme Court will follow the Constitution and as much as 69 percent of the American people and throw the Obama healthcare takeover into the trash where it so richly deserves to be.

“Extreme” they yell! Where are the “good Republicans” of the past, those quisling souls who always agreed with the underlying assumptions of the all-powerful centralized state, those “moderates” who were the first to concede to the demands of the Left, who only wanted to make the state “run efficiently”? Where are they? I can tell you – they’re hiding, worried about being defeated in primaries or run out before there were defeated. They never represented the conservative movement.

Dionne can try to rewrite history all he wants but the facts remain – the “good Republicans” he longs for were never more than a fraction of the GOP and today are far less.

For a generation or more, the Left has worked to spin the illusion that there was a consensus in America in favor of the all-powerful, unrestrained, ever-growing federal government. The only debate was a matter of degree, mere nuance. Any true alternative was by definition “extreme.” But this was the greatest lie perpetrated on the American people in the post-World War II era. There was no such consensus and there was in fact no constituency inside the GOP for it. The deep alienation of millions of Americans – Republicans, Independents and yes, Democrats – from their government is a direct result of government pushing the policies of the Big Government Illusion to the exclusion of policies that actually have the support of the people.

Krugman and company view a Supreme Court decision over-turning Obamacare as radical. Millions of Americans view the expansion and distortion of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution as radical bordering on a coup. If this Supreme Court pushes back against the obscenity of the Filber decision and returns the federal government to a limited role in commerce, that is just good common sense.

Likewise, the Left views the budget created by Paul Ryan and passed by the Republican House of Representatives as draconian, they look at a budget that doesn’t result in a balanced budget for more than 25 more years and shed oceans of crocodile tears. Most Americans think spending $1 trillion more than we take in every year as radical to the point of insane.

For most citizens, the size of our national debt is the very definition of extremism. So for Mr. Krugman and his pals, just so you know, the Ryan budget does not cut. The Tom Coburn “Back in Black” budget that cuts $1 trillion a year for the next decade – that’s a cut.

As the “moderates” Dionne and others on the Left so adore have been driven out of the GOP, what has been exposed is deep ideological divisions in America.

The mouthpieces of the status quo want to paper over those divisions, pretend they don’t exist. Failing that, they will engage in drive-by character assassination of the kind we have seen of late. But the divide is real and will continue to grow.

What really scares the Left is the knowledge, deep in their hearts, that the vast majority of Americans oppose and hate their agenda. America wants a truly limited government with harsh restrictions on its powers. America opposes the radical redistribution of resources from those that work to those that don’t. America is sick to death of the race-baiting and poverty pimping from the same people whose policies create poverty and further divide the races. And, America is adamantly opposed to the mutation and distortion of our Constitution for the ideological gain of a few at the price of lost liberties for the People.

So yes, there is extremism in the land. But it lies with the radicals from Harvard and the other elitist brainwashing factories and the self-appointed “experts” of the punditry, not with the American people or those in the GOP who have finally decided to listen to them.



Socialism and Social Darwinism

Posted by David Boaz

The arbiters of appropriate expression in America get very exercised when conservatives call Barack Obama a “socialist.” They treat the claim in the same way as calling Obama a Muslim, Kenyan, or “the anti-Christ.”

But headlines this week report that President Obama accused the Republicans of “social Darwinism,” and I don’t see anyone exercised about that. A New York Times editorial endorses the attack.

Is “social Darwinist” within some bound of propriety that “socialist” violates? I don’t think so. After all, plenty of people call themselves socialists — not President Obama, to be sure, but estimable figures such as Tony Blair and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Members of the British Labour Party have been known to sing the socialist anthem “The Red Flag” on the floor of Parliament.

But no one calls himself a social Darwinist. Not now, not ever. Not Herbert Spencer. The term is always used to label one’s opponents. In that sense it’s clearly a more abusive term than “socialist,” a term that millions of people have proudly claimed.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says that social Darwinism is"

"the theory that persons, groups, and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection as Charles Darwin had perceived in plants and animals in nature. According to the theory, which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the weak were diminished and their cultures delimited, while the strong grew in power and in cultural influence over the weak….The poor were the “unfit” and should not be aided; in the struggle for existence, wealth was a sign of success. At the societal level, social Darwinism was used as a philosophical rationalization for imperialist, colonialist, and racist policies, sustaining belief in Anglo-Saxon or Aryan cultural and biological superiority."

Not a pleasant idea. And a pretty nasty thing to accuse someone of. It’s always used as a smear of conservatives and libertarians — by the historian Richard Hofstadter, by the fabulist Robert Reich, and now even by the president of the United States. (Damon Root noted that the real eugenicists were not the laissez-faire advocates that Hofstadter accused but the “Progressive reformers” that he admired.)

As Dan Mitchell pointed out, Paul Ryan’s budget proposes to make the federal government substantially larger than it was under Bill Clinton. Does that make Clinton a social Darwinist?

Those who deploy the charge are, first, falsely implying that Republicans support radically smaller government, which neither Ryan’s budget nor any other Republican plan actually proposes. And second, they are accusing both Republicans and actual supporters of free markets of believing in “the survival of the fittest” and, as Wikipedia puts it, “the ideas of eugenics, scientific racism, imperialism, fascism, Nazism and struggle between national or racial groups.” “Social Darwinism” is nothing more than a nasty smear.

The president should be embarrassed, and those who call for civility in public discourse should admonish him.



There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


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