Sunday, December 19, 2004

When Jesus Met Grover 

It is a common observation among lefty bloggers that while right-wing fundamentalists are forever keen to put the Ten Commandments on public display outside courthouses and inside schoolrooms, they show no such enthusiasm for the Beatitudes of Jesus -- perhaps because the latter might inconveniently expose Our Savior's pacifistic, socialistic, dare we say liberal leanings to a shocked populace, and thereby cut deeply into His red-state support. We have spent far too many hours wondering exactly how our fundy friends manage to reconcile the Logia of Jeshua (if they have read them) with the 2004 platform of the Grand Old Party (if they have read it), and we are therefore grateful to our esteemed colleague Max Blumenthal for directing us to the website of a Christian Dominionist outfit called the Chalcedon Foundation, where we found a couple of clues. First, the "vision statement" describing the organization's philosophy:

The role of every earthly government—including family government, church government, school government, vocational government, and civil government—is to submit to Biblical law. No government in any form can make men Christians or truly obedient; this is the work of God' sovereign grace. Much less should civil government try to impose Biblical law on an unbelieving society. Biblical law cannot be imposed; it must be embraced.

A guiding principle of Chalcedon, in fact, is its devotion to maximum individual freedom under God's law.

The feature report for December is "The Christian and the Social Agenda," in which the Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony, president of the foundation, manages to put forth, by our count, exactly one practical suggestion as to what good works Christians might be expected to undertake in the social arena: evangelizing criminals. Beyond that, it's all gaseousness and generalities: "Christian social action must pass certain tests, or it will degenerate into a humanistic endeavor"; "Christian social action must be governed by Biblical law, which is the basis, the strategy, and the goal"; "Christian social action must therefore begin in the believer’s understanding of himself as a new creature. Life in the Kingdom of God involves all aspects of our lives in every circumstance (hence the necessity of Biblical law)." (You will not be shocked to learn that selling all you have and donating the proceeds to the poor does not appear as an option, much less an obligation.)

By contrast, when Rushdoony elaborates on what the secular state ought not to do, he is positively Norquistian in his specificity -- and guess what? It's all about the Benjamins:

We ought not to forget, however, the humanistic faith-sponsored motivation behind much of the West’s social action in its quest for a new world order.

The social action of modern statism is easy because it uses other people’s money through taxation and redistribution. This sham generosity is a false virtue based upon theft. Socialism represents neither love nor charity but rather a statist drain on productivity. Social action based on theft by taxation can never improve a society.

Statist social action is often driven by guilt as a tool for manipulation. False guilt is used to justify the demand for the redistribution of wealth. The use of guilt for manipulation is anti-Christian to the core. Guilt is real, but it has an equally real resolution in the atonement and forgiveness of sins. False guilt has no such resolution; it can never be resolved. Christianity’s core message is about the resolution of man’s guilt; its use as a means of manipulation is an insult to Christ and His gospel. False guilt binds us; Christ came to free us.

Blumenthal links to an internet push poll in which visitors to the site are invited to regurgitate Rushdoony's opinions. "I think it might have been a more valuable poll," says Blumenthal, "if it didn't consist almost entirely of mindless, leading questions." But that's exactly why we think it's interesting -- for the insight it offers into methods of Christian Reconstructionist indoctrination:

Some equate the words "social action" with a radical leftist agenda.
This proves that Christ would endorse the left's agenda. 15.4% (18)
This is why Christians should shun "social action." 0.9% (1)
Reconstruct "social action" along truly Biblical lines. 83.8% (98)

What is the proper mechanism for implementing social action?
The state has the moral obligation to heal social ills. 9.0% (11)
Social action legitimately proceeds from individuals & groups. 82.0% (100)
As long as people are helped, the mechanism doesn't matter. 9.0% (11)

When social action is a matter of state action...
The state fulfills a legitimate and needed function. 21.4% (25)
The state has become the true god of that nation. 63.2% (74)
[other position not listed] 15.4% (18)

The state uses taxpayer money to implement social action.
This is the only way needy people will ever get help. 18.8% (22)
This is a false generosity based, in effect, on theft. 81.2% (95)

Is it legitimate for the state to redistribute wealth to help the needy?
Yes, the state transfers wealth from the guilty to the needy. 18.8% (22)
No, the state in this case is the one that's guilty -- of theft. 81.2% (95)

Wealth redistribution by state force is not sanctioned in Scripture.
We must go beyond the Scripture to be truly compassionate. 7.7% (9)
We must reject the Scriptures as inadequate to our needs. 8.5% (10)
We must follow the Biblical pattern without exception. 83.8% (98)

God has outlined many non-statist provisions for social action.
It's not realistic to count on these; the state alone can be trusted. 15.4% (18)
Biblical social action can shrink the state to proper size. 84.6% (99)

Non-statist Biblical social action exhibits smaller scales than statist agendas.
This proves the moral superiority of state-sponsored social action. 14.5% (17)
It's more important to pursue godliness than utopia. 85.5% (100)
We cannot help but ask what exactly Rushdoony means by "wealth redistribution by state force," because even small children are familiar with the cliche taken from Luke 20:21-26:
And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly:

Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?

But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me?

Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's.

And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.

And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.
Jesus quite specifically prescribes that Caesar is to be paid his tribute, for the wealth that Caesar demands (i.e., redistributes) is of the secular world. Rushdoony cannot, therefore, realistically claim that there is any Biblical prohibition against paying taxes, or against "redistributing the wealth" of the citizens to the state. What he seems to be arguing is something more subtle and insidious: that the state, by demonstrating charity and compassion; by redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor, rather than the other way around; by acting in a fashion that comports with the teachings of Jesus, and embodies the sort of "moral values" he might have endorsed -- is in fact defying God by usurping his authority. (Don't think so? Reread the third question above.)

Any good works the state might accomplish are at best irrelevant, at worst offensive, and at all times suspect. Because Rushdoony imagines -- desires -- a complete disconnect between the state and "the Kingdom," the notion of participatory democracy is foreign to him: he never imagines that the state might function as an instrument of the people's will, or express the people's nobler instincts (and in anno domini 2004, we ain't sayin' he's wrong).

Slick, pernicious shit. These guys do know their sheep.

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