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Friday, November 12, 2010


Stan Gibilisco

In my opinion, the sentiment will actually grow if liberalism survives and thrives in the United States. However, we must always remain aware of the tremendous difference between the meanings of the terms "liberal" and "leftist." All too often, I hear leftists defined as liberals. Not true!

Our founders were true liberals, and many Democrats, most Libertarians, and a fair number of Republicans are too. However, in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century the world saw the rise of leftist philosophies and doctrines, culminating in totalitarian "communist" states such as the Soviet Union and the Peoples' Republic of China.

For a time in the 1990s and just after the turn of the millennium, I had convinced myself that leftist attitudes were in full retreat in most of the world. No longer. Once again they advance, using the weaknesses of capitalism to further their agendas. No room for religious tolerance exists in the Utopia imagined by the committed leftists. They have no God but the State.

As always, the price of freedom, religious or otherwise, is eternal vigilance.

Bill Fleming

Recent studies indicate that the "Millennials" generation (age 18-29) are significantly less "religious" yet more altruistic and egalitarian than the generations that proceed them. Thus rendering Schaff's argument "impeccable" in style only perhaps, since it appears to be unsupported by the evidence.

Further, the idea of people being equal in society as certainly not a uniquely Christian value (or invention) by any means, but rather an attribute of tribal societies that are in general more matriarchal than patriarchal.

The anthropological evidence is that any pre-agrarian society will, in, general be more egalitarian.

But of course, none of this will make any difference to people who have already made up their minds.

Never has, never will.


Bill Fleming

Finally, the argument that most of the American founding societies were Christian
is no more significant than the fact that most of the Founders of Australian society
were convicts. In both cases, the colonizing entities upset indigenous societies that
were far more democratic than they were... societies that were persecuted primarily
because they weren't Christian, not because they weren't democratic.

In other words, KB and JS, I find your arguments laughable.

Truth Teller

I think Jesus invented Socialism...

Jesus spoke remarkably often about wealth and poverty. To the poor he said, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God," (Luke's version). To the rich he said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth," and "go, sell what you have, and give to the poor." When the rich turned away from him because they couldn't follow his command he observed, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

For Jesus, helping the poor and the outcast is not optional: it is the essence of what it means to love God. In the parable of the last judgement he welcomes the righteous into heaven saying, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." When the righteous answered that they didn't recall doing any of these things, he said, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

We are to "forgive our debtors" and "give to every one who begs from you." But don't handouts contribute to moral decay? Jesus was more concerned about the moral decay in those who are so attached to their wealth that they would hoard it for themselves. In our better moments most of us recognize that giving does not corrupt. We sacrifice to give good things to our children and do our best to provide them with years of carefree existence as they grow up. We do this to give them a sense of security and a foundation for growth. People who have been devastated by misfortune, or for whatever reason are down and out, may need even more help because they may not have what it takes to recover on their own. Many of us will help a friend in hard times, even though we know we will never be repaid. It is when dealing distantly with people in the abstract that we fall back on the "moral decay" argument.

What's wrong with trickle-down economics? Every time I hear that phrase I think of the story Jesus told about a rich man and the beggar Lazarus "who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table." Needless to say, the story ends with Lazarus going to a better place than the rich man. Trickle down theory is about crumbs. Those who say we should settle for crumbs would make us a nation of beggars.

Greed may be a driving force for the economy, but Jesus saw it is as destructive to community. Greed may leave a few crumbs behind for the poor, and it may do some unintended good, but it destroys compassion. Compassion is in short supply in our society today where workers are being downsized in the name of efficiency, prisons are being expanded to insulate society from its underclasses, and the middle class is abandoned by the rich to fight it out with the poor for the table scraps.

Jon S.

I will pick one bone with the otherwise fine post by Ken. He says the founding was an Enlightenment project. I only half agree. The American founding was a combination of Enlightenment liberalism and Puritanism. It is no mistake that Tocqueville begins his study of American with the Puritans, or that Chesterton called American a nation with the soul of a church. I think what came out of that is better than the squinting at theocracy ofthe Puritans or the rule of Pure Reason of the so-called "enlightened." Peter Lawler calls this the "building better than they knew" thesis. I think it largely true. Our struggles in the past, oh, 60 years or so over the relationship between church and state, in my opinion, stem from the attempt by some (namely the courts) to enshrine one half of that founding, the Enlightenment half, while the nation still contains more than a residual dedication to the Puritan half.

Truth Teller, limiting Jesus to one political and/or economic program does him a disservice. It is dangerous, in my view, to equate Christ (or any religion for that matter) with one's own political/economic preferences. I could say the same to more than one conservative Christian, by the way.


Bill: It is not clear at all that the "tribal societies" you speak of had any idea of equality at all. It is true likely true that pre-agricultural societies were basically egalitarian. They had no choice. There was no surplus to redistribute. I know of evidence that such societies generated resistance to domination by the powerful individual. That is another egalitarian element. But did hunter-gather societies have any idea that all human beings have an essential dignity? Did one tribe think that members of another had any worth at all? Very unlikely.

You seem to have a very naive view of the tribal societies that were displaced by colonialism. The more technologically sophisticated of them were extremely stratified and practiced slavery among other non-egalitarian things.

As for your comment that "the argument that most of the American founding societies were Christian is no more significant than the fact that most of the Founders of Australian society were convicts", I have to say that this is one of the most dunderheaded remarks I have read on any comment to this blog. My friend, I love you and salute you, but you can't seriously believe that the Christian culture of the founding had no influence on the development of modern liberal democracy. No one here is arguing that the Founders were good Christians. The United States has a lot to answer for, as do all human societies.

The point here was simply that the idea that every human being is worthy of concern had its origins in Christianity. Have you never seen a film version of A Christmas Carol? Your concern for "indigenous societies" is not a common thing in human history. The powers that governed Hawaii before the arrival of Europeans could scarcely have understood it. The Aztec priests who ground human hearts into the mouths of stone idols would have found it utterly laughable. But again, the issue here is not whether the conquerors were bad (they were bad enough), but where we Americans ever got the idea that we ought to care about all human beings. We got it from the Bible. That is a simple historical point. It doesn't tell us whether Christian theology is true, or Christianity is necessary to reinforce that view.


Jon: I don't question the puritan influence on the Founder's culture. I continue to think that the founding, a very deliberate act, was an enlightenment project.


Dr. Blanchard:

You write, "Why do modern American liberals think that the poor are important and as worthy of concern and respect as the rich and powerful? Because they were born in a culture that takes that largely for granted. That is an inheritance from Christianity. If Christianity continues to fade, will the sentiment survive it?"

If Christians are right, then Christianity will not disappear, as God can make stones worship him if necessary. But suppose Christians are wrong. Then are we sure that such sentiments are really right? Maybe the poor are not as worthy of concern and respect as the rich and powerful. Maybe, Christians have been mistaken and the fading of such sentiments would be a good thing.

Bill Fleming

From the Magna Carta to the US Constitution, the precepts of modern liberal democracy
were formed in opposition to the church/state social structure, not because of it, KB.

To miss that essential point is to misunderstand the American revolution.

Bill Fleming

Also, KB, yes, as I said, the more agrarian (technological) the less democratic,
and the more stratified the society. There is no contradiction there with my assertion,
only that you didn't read what I wrote.


Bill says:

"societies that were persecuted primarily because they weren't Christian, not because they weren't democratic."

Well....nice try at re-writing our history, but indigeneous people were pursecuted because of the idea of "Manifest Destiny." Can you point to writings where the founders and later leaders intent was religous prosecution?

Bill Fleming

Well, you could start by trying to dispute this guy, Jimi.

...and it continues to this day:

Bill Fleming

An interesting additional note to those last documents... as per numerous scholars, the indigenous
native Americans were immediately enslaved to work for the Europeans. When the demand
for sugar grew so high that the number of available laborers to work the cane fields
additional laborers (slaves) had to be imported.

The European Christians originally intended to enslave Muslims, but were subsequently steered toward
other African tribes BECAUSE they were not of any of the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Chistians or Muslims).

In fact, the Muslims themselves had been enslaving these people for centuries.


Bill: you are confusing democracy with equality. The ancient Athenians believed in the one but surely not the other. In revolutionary America the idea of equality was primary and democracy was derivative. Since no man ruled another either by God's authority or by nature, consent was the only foundation for legitimate rule.

I am not sure what you mean by the "church-state structure" but the principles of modern democracy were certainly not formed in opposition to religion. As often as not, they were championed by people who wanted the freedom to practice religion as they saw fit. It took quite a while for the dissident religious communities in America to recognize the rights of dissenters in their own midst. During the revolution, the pulpit was center of a lot of our political rhetoric. Christian ideas and liberal ideas were deeply intertwined.

I am not sure who you are arguing with in your last note, but to be sure both Christians and Muslims enslaved Africans. That is not the surprising thing. Africans were enslaving Africans long before the Europeans got there. Slavery was the rule among most premodern civilizations in Africa, America, and everywhere else.

The surprising and unprecedented thing in modern times was the rise of anti-slavery movements. The founders are frequently accused of hypocrisy for owning slaves, and well they should be. But again, the surprising thing, historically, is not that Jefferson owned slaves but that he recognized slavery as a fundamental injustice because he really did believe that all men are created equal.

Modern liberalism secularized the idea of a universal human dignity. That was both possible and necessary because the idea first presented itself as a religious idea. Christianity spread first among the Roman underclass. This is a simple historical point. It doesn't mean the Christian mythos is true, nor does it absolve any Christian for his or her crimes. It just happens to be the case that Christianity is where the idea of human moral equality comes from. Maybe it arose spontaneously somewhere else among some other people, but this is where European and American liberalism got it.

Donald Pay

The earliest Christian communities outside of the Holy Land were a mixture of Jewish and Gentile merchant classes not a Roman underclass. It was a literate community, reading Greek, and thus fairly prosperous. These were people who knew of the world through their own travel or through trading relationships, who knew how to organize, and who were very politically sophisticated. They developed local congregations that provided social services and mutual aid. This would bring in the underclass elements, but the spread of Christianity required a fairly free, sophisticated and prosperous core.


Miranda: As usual, you bring us back to a fundamental question. Should we care about the poor because God commands it, or does God command it because we should care about the poor? I think that the latter is plausible. We will all be better off if all of us care about the worse off. Christian apologists have often argued that Christian morality pays social benefits. I am backing their play here.

Bill Fleming

By "church/state structure" I mean the European monarchies of course, KB.
And before that any alliance of religious and political power.

Clearly it has led to the Orwellian construct that "some people are more equal than others."

If what you're saying is that our government has those types of pseudo democratic
underpinnings as a vestigial function of the (failed) Roman/Catholic state, it would
be difficult to argue otherwise. It's a hard habit to break.

As for the origins of our notions of equality, one could argue that it comes from nature itself —
our animal nature — and is not a religious concept at all. In fact, I think that's what many
of the founders DID argue, to the degree they were able to do so in pre-Darwinian times.

Note that the only references to deity in the founding documents are to "Nature and Nature's God."
And also the conspicuous absence of any reference to "Christ our Lord."

Bill Fleming

Natural law:

Bill Fleming

As the above link demonstrates, attempts to delineate and codify "natural law" have been a time honored practice throughout the ages with mixed success*. The Founders, in their wisdom, chose to remain silent in this regard as they announced their intent to liberate themselves from the British church/state — an ongoing process apparently, not a fiat accompli, as demonstrated by the continuing need for discussions such as these on this very thread — and simply referred to the "truth" of natural law as being "self evident."

*The net effect of such endeavors is typically to diminish — rather than expand — liberty, equality and fraternity.

Bill Fleming

To sum up, I've noticed that neither JS nor KB care to address the effect of increased liberty, equality and fraternity facilitated by the information explosion in general, and communications technology via new media in particular.

I'll pick up my first paragraph from far above and provide the links again for their perusal and edification:

"Recent studies indicate that the "Millennials" generation (age 18-29) are significantly less "religious" yet more altruistic and egalitarian than the generations that proceed them. Thus rendering Schaff's argument "impeccable" in style only perhaps, since it appears to be unsupported by the evidence."



A fair answer! That question still troubles me. But I will admit to being more inclined to choose the former than the latter. But I am interested in your reasoning.

Does the fact that something might make society worse off necessarily make it wrong, and does something that makes society better necessarily make it right?
One might argue, for instance, that killing Asia Bibi helps society by discouraging blasphemy. Is it, then, right to kill her?

And are we really all better off when we care about the worse off? If we
think that it is good for our souls, I suspect that we are. But what if we don't consider souls?

Suppose I have $1000. I could use it for home repairs or I could use it to feed the hungry. If I use it to feed the hungry, my roof will leak. Meanwhile, my neighbors are upset about my house's condition, as it makes homes nearby harder to sell. Am I really better off? Is my community?

Bill Fleming

Miranda, fix your roof, then invite some poor people over to your house and feed them. Do this on a daily basis. That will really tick the neighbors off. ;^)

(Boy, at this rate, pretty soon were going to be talking about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.)



Like any good liberal, you are assuming that I have an unlimited supply of cash!
However, in this scenario, I do not and I can either choose one or the other.

On the angel question: Two! One to dance and the other to screw in the light bulb!

Bill Fleming

Miranda, when I worked with the Campesinos in the San Joaquin valley, they would always share whatever food they had with whomever was there. Many of them lived out of the backs of their station wagons as they moved from crop to crop across the US. My main point is, only someone affluent would be faced with the dilemma you posit. The poor and hungry would not hesitate with their answer. We have two tortillas, a half pint of frijoles, a little chrizo and two cervesas. And five people. We're rich! Everybody eats! Si se puede. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBc_7APD_dI


Bill: I like your story, and you may well be right. Maybe only the affluent do have this dilemma. However, the question is not, "Do rich people and poor people face different dilemmas?" Rather, it is, "Does helping poor people actually benefit all of us?" I am suggesting that it might not.

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