Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cramer on "Christian Nation" and Its Implications for Social Policy

In an article for Pajamas Media, Clayton Cramer argues how the idea that America is a "Christian Nation" has policy implications. In particular, he examines how a "Christian Nation" might deal with welfare.

A taste:

Social conservatives argue that this is a Christian nation and that it is both appropriate and reasonable for the Christian majority to make laws that reflect its moral code. As social conservatives became more successful in gaining office and influence a few years back, liberals began to argue that if this was a Christian nation, didn’t Jesus call us to help the downtrodden and suffering?

Who’s right? They both are, but it seems that many liberals and social conservatives are missing some important history....

William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the most popular law book in the American colonies when the Revolution started, listed the rights that every Englishman enjoyed because they were a gift from God — including the right to life. And this even applied to “an infant, even before his birth.” This included not simply protection from criminal attack, but also:

The law … furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life, from the more opulent part of the community, by means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor.


Libertarians who want the government to not be in the business of caring for the poor are free to promote their beautiful theories all they want. But I would prefer if they emphasized that their position is not necessarily a conservative position. In spite of the best efforts of the ACLU, this is still predominantly a Christian nation. Yes, there are lazy people who take advantage of the welfare state (although it isn’t as easy as it used to be, since the 1995 reforms). But there are an awful lot of people who are dependent on the government because they have no choice in the matter. There are a fair number of single mothers out there trying to raise kids on their own because the father ran off, is sitting in prison, or is otherwise not being responsible.

And yes, some of these single mothers made really bad choices that put them in these situations. This is why whatever system we come up with to help those in need must not incentivize bad behavior. Inevitably, we need a system that has enough discretion to punish destructive behavior and reward improvements in behavior....

Over at my other blogs I put Mr. Cramer's thoughts into some "libertarian" perspective. Since that is not the call of American Creation, I will direct you there if you want to read the rest.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Very nice "libertarian" take on the issue, Jon. Indeed, there were Christian objections to the welfare state in that coerced charity, via the state, isn't charity at all.

And Jesus never said, "Go to the rich man's house, take all his stuff, and give it to the poor."

Still, FDR's [let's use a non-pejorative] "communitarianism" undeniably had large Christian support, especially among Catholics, and the development of Europe's welfare state had the support of various Christian Democrat parties.

Christian Salafia said...

Following on to Tom's comment on "communitarianism", I've had these thoughts kicking 'round my head lately, especially with all the debate over health care reform.

In scripture, there are a great many more teachings on bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth over going to Heaven. From the economic system set up by God for the Israelites in Deuteronomy (Jubilee, debt forgiveness, forbidding economic exploitation), all the way through the early Acts church, the focus was on making sure that nobody suffers because they were poor.

This wasn't an individual responsibility, this was the society's responsibility.

Now today we have the prevailing opinion that "coerced charity isn't charity" or what I like to call "Of course we should take care of other long as I don't have to pay for it!"

To me, looking theologically, the "coerced charity" argument is an absolute cop-out. It runs counter to the lesson that you only need what you need, and taking more is sinful.

That's why the manna rotted.

That's why Elijah got fed from the ravens every day.

That's why kings were punished for taking from others in excess in the OT.

So when I see people who support the Christian nation meme standing adamantly opposed to any form of social justice, especially if they have to contribute, it just really gets my knickers in a knot.

It's missing the whole point, IMO.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd like to see you flesh this out a bit, Christian. Your touchstones like Deuteronomy [wasn't Israel a theocracy at the point?] are touched on only in passing, so it's difficult to evaluate your argument.

And it seems to me that if the welfare of the poor is "society's" responsibility, that "society" would be Judeo-Christian, eh?


Christian Salafia said...

Was Israel a theocracy? Yes. That's undeniable.

I want to be clear, tho, that I am in NO WAY advocating this country become a theocracy.

One of my biggest beefs with the "Christian Nation" proponents, especially those who say America needs to "turn back to God" is that their idea of Christianity typically ends with gay marriage and abortion.

Prior to the anointing of Saul in 1Samuel 8, the societal structure was communal. There were rules against usury, compensatory awards for certain offenses, rules regarding slavery and debt, etc. And, something rarely talked about, the Jubilee every 7 years and the Jubilee of Jubilees every 49 years (Lev 25).

The point of the economics of this society was to eliminate the idolatry of money that tends to come hand-in-hand with the pursuit of stuff. The focus was to be on each other. This is fairly evident with the Jubilee years in which nobody was to work, slaves were to be freed, and property returned to the original owners. Wealth redistribution in 2nd millennium BC.

Now people often argue that the Jews never really lived that way, but since when does not following what God says and excuse to ignore it?

This was also, coincidentally, the first message Jesus preached...a Jubilee message.

The lesson of the Manna in Exodus 16 is that each should have only what they need, and hoarding is bad.

Elijah (1 Kings 17) was fed by ravens daily with exactly how much he needed to survive.

There's another story, and I can't put my finger on it, where God commands the King of Israel to attack their enemies, but also to NOT take anything from them.... when he does, bad things happen.

The story of the Rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matt. 25....the list goes on and on.

The lesson repeated over and over is that we are to take only what we need, and greed keeps us from truly being in community with one another.

That's the theology behind the Lord's prayer..."Give us this day our daily bread.....Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.."

Now some will argue that it's supposed to be personal, not governmental, but we all know from Paul and Romans 13, we're supposed to pay our taxes and rulers, just and unjust, advance the goals of the Kingdom.

In fact, there's more scripture about bringing the Kingdom to Earth than there is about getting into Heaven.

So, the hesitance or aversion to social justice, even using the Government to promote it, is, IMO, a rejection of the most basic tenets of Christianity.

Even if one moves away from a Judeo/Christian influence, the theme is still repeated. In Buddhism, one of the 4 Noble truths is "Suffering is caused by craving or attachments to worldly pleasures of all kinds." and "Suffering ends when craving ends, when one is freed from desire."

I know this may seem a little convoluted, but I hope it made at least some sense.