Monday, February 11, 2013

Economics and Christianity

Everyone is eager to get Jesus on their side.  Even secular liberals.  They like to assert the opposition of Jesus to the money-changers in the Temple and the message of His Sermon on the Mount to show that Jesus was a socialist.

On the other hand there is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which the German Max Weber noticed the development of the idea of "work as a calling" and its connection with the Protestant Reformation among the bourgeoisie in the early modern period.

On this reading of Christianity, God wanted Christians to love Jesus and work hard.  By the time that John Wesley came along, taking Christianity to Industrial Revolution mechanics and the saintly Dinah Morris of Adam Bede, the idea had boiled down to "work all you can, save all you can, give all you can."

In politics religion started out in the US as the water that politicians swam in, but by 1900 the parties had divided out so that, in the North, the Republicans were Protestant and the Democrats were Catholic.  Today, of course, the Republicans are the religious party and the Democrats are the secular party.

So it isn't surprising that Christians of all kinds are coalescing in the Republican Party and bringing their  concerns with them.  Liberals have not been slow to label this movement as the Religious Right, which they mean as a pejorative.

The thing about political parties is that they are coalitions.  The Republican Party is a coalition of six different kinds of conservatism, according to Ken Blackwell.  They include:
  1. Social conservatives
  2. Christian conservatives
  3. Second Amendment conservatives
  4. Economic conservatives
  5. Philosophical conservatives
  6. National security conservatives
The thing about being in a coalition is that you start to listen to the other folks in the coalition.  Economic, philosophical conservatives like me start to listen to Christian conservatives.  Hey, these guys are getting the business from liberals just like me.  That's why economic conservatives have been going pro-life over the years.

And the opposite is true.  Christian conservatives are signing on to basic Reaganite economics.   They are deciding that big government is not just hostile to them as Christians and as families but as workers and savers.

Here's an example of what I mean: the video series Economics for Everybody produced by R. C Sproul Jr. and Thomas Purifoy.  There's a two hour version on YouTube.

What do Sproul and Purifoy have to say?  That God calls us to stewardship, work as a calling.  That government is all about force, punishing evildoers.  Then they dive into basic economics: prices, private property, division of labor.  And how only a government with a capitalist economy allows people to produce for their families and to worship under freedom.  Then it's on to the redistributive state and its two poles, the welfare state and the corporate state.

Nothing remarkable here.  Christianity began two thousand years ago in the Axial Age when religions were all responding to the emergence of the "responsible self," the idea that the individual could make a difference in the world.  Responsible selves were differentiating themselves out of the undifferentiated "we" and asking what their individual role is in this world, this universe.

On this view, of course, the welfare state is a regression, turning the clock back to the age before the emergence of the responsible self.  On this view you identify yourself by race, class, gender or sexual preference, not as an "I", a responsible, purposive ego.

My view is that the history of the last 2,000 years is the history of successive groups emerging as responsible selves.  First it was the "rich bitches" like the Indian prince Gautama Siddhartha.  Then it was the city folks in Roman Palestine, then city folks all over the Roman Empire.  Then it was the early modern bourgeoisie, then the industrial mechanics.  Now, of course, in Pentecostalism, we are seeing Christianity breaking out in the favelas of Latin America and the shanty towns of southern Africa.  Then there are the house churches in China.  

But when will the spirit bring the 47 percent out of their welfare state hellhole in these United States, and shake off the chains of victimhood for the apparel of the responsible self?  Then they can join the conservative family as the seventh member, minority conservatives.

When that happens people will speak of the new minority conservatives "as waking from the sleep of ages, to the astonishing idea that they can be responsible beings, called to a life of purpose by a God that will never forsake them."

For that, we can only hope and pray.

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