Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What Happened to Craig Carter?

All over the internet the buzz is "What happened to Craig Carter?" Well, OK, that is a slight exaggeration. Would you believe an obscure blog ranted at me last week and one or two others said "Yah!"? Adam Steward is disappointed in me and Halden Doerge notes it but is waiting to see "how it plays out," though he has tended to be quite critical of my recent writing.

Adam hurls the ultimate "hipster" insult my way - "He's gone all First Things." Nothing is more calculated to hurt a guy in certain regions of the blogosphere than to associate him with that magazine. First Things is the most intelligent and interesting read of any magazine I know, but it has one fatal flaw that more than compensates for all its wit, insight and humour, not to mention poetry and cultural criticism, in the eyes of some. It endorsed George Bush and his modern, liberal war against Iraq in the name of Enlightenment values like liberty, equality and democracy. And that is the unpardonable sin - except I can't figure out if it is really Bush's Enlightenment beliefs or his waging of an unjust war that is the real problem for some people. But everything gets tarred with one gigantic brush - like this:

1. It was an unjust war according to just war theory (not last resort, aggressive).
2. It was launched by a Republican president who allowed the American Empire, neo-conservative, cabal (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc.) within the party to have their way.
3. Social conservatives and the Religious right vote Republican because it is the only party that opposes abortion.
4. In this case, both the social conservative and the Religious Right (AND the Democratic Party, including most of its current leadership), chose to close ranks behind the President and supported the war. First Things, (along with just about every other magazine and newspaper in the US), did the same.
5. Therefore the social conservatives/Religious Right (symbolized by First Things) are completely discredited forever on all issues including abortion, euthanasia, marriage & family, etc.
6. Therefore, for Craig Carter to criticize the left from a conservative perspective is for him to align himself with a discredited neo-conservativism.

I think the Iraq War was wrong. I opposed it from the time it was first suggested until today. I opposed it on the basis that it was unjust and the perpetrators professed to believe in the Just War Theory and were not practicing it.

But I do not think it is fair or reasonable to assign blame to the soc. con./RR for initiating the war or pressuring Bush to go ahead; i. e., point 5 does not logically follow from points 1-4. Another wing of the Rep. Party should be blamed for pushing for that war. What the soc. con./RR group can justly be blamed for is putting party unity ahead of principle and not opposing it. But this can also be said about the Democrats who voted for the war as well. So there is no moral high ground in either party on this issue; there is plenty of disgrace to go around. I do not think that the issues that the the soc. con/RR caucus in the Rep. Party stand for (sanctity of life, marriage, etc.) are unimportant or rendered somehow obsolete by the Iraq fiasco. In other words, to be clear: I am not defending anyone's support for an unjust war, but I am saying that to write off all that First Things stands for, because of its failure on this point, is unreasonable and no one would do it unless they had other reasons for doing so and the war was just the excuse.

During the last election campaign, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, and others formed a new Religious Left (the original one embeded in liberal Protestantism having fallen on rather hard times) to rally Evangelical support for Obama and the Dem. Party. They thought it was all right to compromise on the life and marriage issues in order to get the Dem. Party into power so it could expand the welfare state. For them to continue to use the Iraq War to beat the soc. con./RR over the head is disingenuous. Sure they are politicans and they know when they have a sure-fire winner of a sound bite, but that is all they are. They are gigantic hypocrites for doing themselves exactly what they blamed the soc. con./RR people for doing: compromising their basic Christian principles for the sake of gaining influence in a political party - all for the noblest of causes, from their point of view, of course. But if it is wrong for one, it is wrong for both - and it is.

The fact that First Things has become a sort of symbol of compromise in certain quarters means that it now takes its place alongside Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority and other such symbols of - something - the question is what? What exactly is being rejected? I would suggest that what is at stake here is a conflict between two positions that Christians take in contemporary politics.

On the one hand is an economic left-wing committment to social equality through re-distribution of income. For those on this side, equality requires some (or a lot of) levelling out of income and a great deal of social engineering to achieve ideologically-motivated goals (such as that women should be economically independent of men and so must be in the workforce and competitive with men in income). This philosophy tends to think in terms of the individual and the state and is not much concerned with civil society or the family, both of which it often frankly regards as oppressive because they place limits on the autonomous individual. I will refer to this philosophy below as left liberal thought (even though it incorporates much of the Marxist critique of capitalism into itself.)

On the other hand are those who see human equality in terms of equal value and worth, but who have less concern for re-distribution of income and more concern for equality of opportunity. For those on this side, social engineering is highly suspect and the emphasis is on protecting human dignity through the rule of law - this, rather than income redistribution, is the primary function of government. This philosophy tends to focus on how best to strengthen the family and civil society so as to make continual expansion of bureaucratic management of daily life uncecessary. I will refer to this philosophy as conservative thought (even though it often makes common cause with neo-conservativism, which is too smitten with capitialism to be true conservatism).

Now, I suggest that First Things, has become a symbol of all things conservative, the primary fault of which is the rejection of left liberal philosophy. But I distinguish between neo-conservativism and true conservativism. What I call true conservativism is a political philosophy that historically and logically precedes modernity and calls into question all the nominalism, individualism, rationalism and materialism that flows from the Enlightenment and is expressed in the two great Enlightenment religions: Capitalism & Marxism. True conservatism emphasises the family, localism, agrarianism, tradition, religion, duty & natural law. Both neo-conservatism and true conservatism are represented in First Things and I contend that it is wrong to reject both because true conservativism, unlike neo-conservatism, is a genuine alternative to modernity and the Enlightenment. So it is not logical to derive point 6 above from points 1-4.

Now in the process of trying to reject the Enlightenment, a group of people, (most of whom are currently unhappy with me) has been attracted to Yoder as a way out of what they see as the trap of having to choose between the secular left and the secular right. They embrace postmodernism and pacifism in an attempt to extricate themselves from the modern dialectics between equality & freedom, left & right and empire & revolution. Through their reading of postmodern philosophy they encounter neo-Marxist critiques of global capitalism and they embrace these eagerly. They see themselves as at once hovering above the left-right political battles and, at the same time, are utterly convinced that some sort of left liberal economic redistribution of wealth is necessary for a just society, which means that the right must be defeated. Thus they see themselves as simultaneously detatched and engaged - but they fail to detect any contradiction in such a stance. Well, I do.

What has happened to Craig Carter? It is really very simple. For the past 20 years I have described myself as left-wing on social issues and conservative in theology, although my pro-life and pro-marriage postion has always made me uneasy in left-wing circles. But in the past few years, I have lost my faith in liberal progressivism altogether. I no longer would call myself left wing on any issue. I have come to realize that to claim to be a Christian who is neither left wing or right wing is one thing, but to think that one can embrace left liberalism and still remain untainted by modernity is just not logically possible. In fact, I think that most of the Yoder-loving, neo-Marxist quoting, pacifist/anarchist, postmodern philosopher-reading crowd are just upscale liberal progressivists at heart. They are not "fundamentalists with Ph.D.'s," as the early Evangelicals were described, they are "community organizers with Ph.D.'s" - Jim Wallis dressed up in pastmodern jargon.

The great hero of this crowd is Mr. Bushy Eyebrows himself, Rowan Williams, also known as "the Great Undecided One" (the perfect foil to G. W. Bush, the self-proclaimed "Decider-in-Chief.") R. Williams is a nice man and by all accounts an excellent professor who embodies the Peter Principle, which says that in any organization employees will be promoted to the level of their incompetence. As Archbishop, he has displayed a talent only for making the ecclesiastical train wreck that is the Anglican Communion happen in slow motion. But that is not what I want to point out about him here. Williams embodies a common type in modern theology. He embodies the intellectual who is characterized by fair-mindedness, wide scholarly acumen and a talent for self promotion that combines more than a dollop of commendable orthodoxy with a standard, left liberal ideology. This endears him to the "upper class with a social conscience" types who facilitate his social promotion and it compensates in their eyes for his orthodoxy. One of his articles of faith is the Trinity; another is socialism. Redistribution of income is the sine qua non of social justice. The problem with the Labour Pary is that it is too right-wing. (N. T. Wright is another one of this type.)

The fact that the same people simultaneously like Yoder (the ultimate outsider) and Williams (the consumate insider) and think of themselves as radical in so doing is an incongruity that causes the oneness and threeness of the persons to pale in comparison as a source of wonder. What am I trying to say? Simply that I understand why I'm being excommunicated from this circle, but I'm not sure the excommunicators understand what they are doing.

What has happened to Craig Carter? I have come to believe that the only truly radical (getting to the roots) way of being a Christian in late modernity is to embrace a pre-modern conservatism that challenges all forms of liberalism (left liberalism & neo-conservativism alike) by challenging the fundamental, bedrock assumption of modernity common to all strands of modernity and postmodernity, which is the priority of the autonomous self. True conservativism hearkens back to a time before the priority of the autonomous self, a time when family was fundamental, civil society was robust, tradition was sacred and the state was limited. It does not want to go back to that time (which is impossible), but it does want to mine that tradition for resources that can help us rebuild a church that has been decimated by modernity.

What resources does it offer? It offers such treasures as a metaphysics of a universe in motion moved by the love of God (C. S. Lewis, John Milbank), virtue ethics (A. MacIntyre, S. Pinckears), proper confidence in reason's ability to know truth (St. Thomas Aquinas, Benedict XVI) and a way of reading Scripture for its spiritual meaning (H. de Lubac). These are just the examples that come to mind first.

I find Adam Steward's critique of me as being characterized by "resentment" to be hilarious. He thinks I am a fundamentalist who secretly believes that the powers of the world are ultimate (although how a true fundamentalist could believe that is difficult to understand) and he dismisses my critique of liberalism as envy. Adam, on the other hand, hovers serenely above the fray "content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss" while smiling knowingly about my preoccupation with "the things of this world." Who is the real fundamentalist here? The really funny part is that he quotes a neo-Marxist in his critique of me! So I'm pre-occupied with the powers of this world and a neo-Marxist analysis proves it! Stop the irony - I can't stand it!

What I observe about the Yoder-Williams crowd is that the only way they know to overcome or at least mitigate the incipient gnosticism to which they are tempted (the perennial Protestant temptation) is to declare their indifference to party politics, political issues & this-worldly debate until at last they can take it no longer and they succumb to a fit of liberal progressivism, after which they immediately go back to pretending to be so different from the Religious Right because they know that all that political stuff is irrelevant in the context of the great cosmic drama of redemption through the crucified Messiah. Finally, then, my rejoinder to Adam and Halden and co. is clear: I think the way of embodied discipleship in this world is true conservativism and I think the reason they find that distasteful is that they have bought into a typical Protestant attempt to marry a gnostic streak with a liberal progressive default position. That is why you never find them marching against abortion, but always ready to mock those who are.

76 comments:

Halden said...

For the moment I will simply clarify two of the manifold overstatements/errors here. First, when I said I would wait to see how it plays out, I simply meant this particular blog discussion, not how you would "play out."

And second, I defy you to provide an instance of me mocking anti-abortion demonstrators.

Ad hominem doesn't become you, Craig.

a. steward said...

Prof. Carter -

Thanks for the lengthy response. A few notes:

- Not sure what passes for a hipster up north, but here in Portland I certainly don't qualify. For me, associating you with First Things is not intended to be anything other than a cipher for my observation that you seem to have hitched the kingdom of God to the North American political movement.

- As I read Yoder, the Christian political option is the church. I still find that to be a compelling summary of the biblical call to discipleship.

- Whether finding a great deal of truth in certain marxist critiques of capitalist society makes me (and co. (!!)) a liberal–well, maybe so, but who the heck knows what that word means? The fact that such a reference would in your eyes be an indictment of me as a believer in enlightenment individual rights theory just means you haven't read Zizek. Which is fine, just so long as you're not trying to be dismissive.

- Williams is a great leader of the church today. I don't think I follow your critique. Perhaps you mean to say that the Anglican communion is a flawed ecclesial organization, which does not provide the structure necessary for the church's process of discernment, and as such, a great man is caught in a contradictory position. I wouldn't disagree with you there. I've been thinking of blogging on his essay "The Body's Grace" as a means of clarifying my own thinking on how heterosexuals ought to relate to their fellow Christians who happen to be attracted to persons of the same sex. Maybe we could pursue some dialog on the issue there.

- I believe a socialist government would be, in most ways, preferable to the current rule of the unrestricted free-market in the US. I believe we advocate for such an arrangement in that political sphere by practicing it in our political sphere-the church.

- Your blog was a bit rambly, so you'll have to forgive me if there were points I neglected to address which you felt were important.

a. steward said...

Read: North American conservative political movement.

Craig Carter said...

Halden,
I have felt attacked personally many times by your mocking of Evangelicals and the Religious Right and I've really tried to understand what is going on in your mind. When I reached for a typical RR issue, I came up with abortion - what could be more natural?

If you respect the anti-abortion position, why join in the general left-wing blanket condemnation of the RR that we have to listen to all the time from so many directions? Who else stands up for the unborn outside the Catholic Church today? Give them a little credit and I'll be inclined to give you some too.

Halden said...

I've critiqued elements of evangelicalism where I felt and still feel that was warranted. Why you should take that as a personal insult is beyond me. What I do take as an affront are straight up lies about my own conduct that have specifically posted, for what reason I don't know. If anything this only lends creedance to Adam's observation that your politics are based in resentment rather than critical, measured analysis.

But again, I will repeat my request. Show me where, specifically I have ever mocked people for marching against abortion.

Frankly Craig, unless you're willing to admit that you wrongly overstated yourself on this I say that you are being dishonest and intentionally so.

Craig Carter said...

Adam,
Think about what you are saying. I take a conservative position and you use the FT reference as a way of accusing me of "hitching the Kingdom of God to a North American political movement," whereas for you the church is the political option. Then, apparently without irony, you say:

"I believe a socialist government would be, in most ways, preferable to the current rule of the unrestricted free-market in the US."

So at this point am I supposed to accuse you of hitching the Kingdom of God to a European political movement?

Modernity (in the form of capitalism) has destroyed local culture and then modernity (in the form of socialism) comes along and claims to be able to fix everything up even better than it was. I reject that and you accept it. Yet you take this to mean that for you the church is your politics, whereas I am a sell-out to "a NA political movement"? whatever that means. (I assume you mean neo-conservativism, which I reject.)

Honestly, I think it is the pot calling the kettle black. If I am a sell-out, then so are you, in exactly the same way only with a different political ideology. You seem to assume that making the church our politics entails socialism and I find that highly objectionable.

This comment is getting too long. We can discuss the other points later.

Craig Carter said...

Halden,
So you are calling me a liar. Well, well. In a recent post about the conservative backlash against the evangelical left for supporting the appointment of Sebellius you wrote:

"In other words, its all about ideology. Even if her policies reduce the number of abortions it doesn’t matter because she is ideologically in favor of abortions. This seems to smack of what McCarraher spoke of regarding the way pro-life Christians have tended to make fetuses into a fetish. What matters is not whether or not some abortions get prevented, but whether or not our leaders, both ecclesial and political regard the fetus with the same sort of sacrosanctness."

I find this comment outrageous and offensive and I ask you to retract it. To accuse pro-lifers of putting ideology above reducing abortion is only valid if Sebellius were an effective and ardent abortion-reducer, which she is not. You admit in the post that you don't know the facts about whether she had anything to do with reducing abortions as Governor. But does that stop you from launching a gratituous attack on pro-lifers who dare to criticize the evangelical left? Oh, no. So much for "critical measured analysis."

And she is a pal of George Tiller who specializes in the most hideous late term abortions performed in the US, which all by itself makes her unfit for public office.

Do you even know the dictionary definition of a fetish? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "an inanimate object worshipped by primitive peoples for its supposed magical powers." So we conservative, evangelical pro-lifers worship the "inanimate object" called the unborn child or fetus? We are primitive peoples too stupid to know it is just a blob of tissue? We equate human life with magical powers? Is that what you meant? Because it sure sounded like it. On every level, in every way, by every standard of logic this is the most untrue and unfair statement I have ever heard. And you wonder why I accuse you of mocking those opposed to abortion?

I'm not making this stuff up. Anyone who wants to can read the post "Fetus Fetishes" here: http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2009/03/11/fetus-fetishes/

R.O. Flyer said...

I assume that I have the honor of being included in the "co" of "Halden, Adam and co?"

I just wanted to point out that Milbank, Yoder, Barth, MacIntyre, and de Lubac all self-identify with some form of socialism.

Halden said...

That post references a description made by Eugene McCarraher, a practicing Roman Catholic who is staunchly anti-abortion as am I. I will concede that I should have qualified my comments as only applying to some pro-life Christians. I also described as a tendency, not as a fundamental feature of being pro-life.

Also if you actually read the comments I make clear that I have no sympathy for the argument of the evangelical left that I was referencing here. If the truth about what I think about this issue even matters to you at this point.

I await an actual example of me mocking people for marching against abortion. Until then my complaint about your intentional dishonesty stands.

Halden said...

In point of fact, in that very discussion I refer to abortion as a holocaust.

But whatever, Craig says I'm liberal, so it must be true...

Hey, lets make fun of Rowan Williams' eyebrows some more!

Craig Carter said...

Halden,
You are trying to wiggle out of it instead of manning up. You wrote:

"In the midst of conservative backlash against the evangelical left supporting Barack Obama’s cabinate [sic] appointment of Kathleen Sebelius something strikes me as odd. Now, no one could deny that Wallis, Sider, et al are not toeing the standard evangelical party line on this. They are making a different argument about what it means for them to allegedly be pro-life. They claim in their press release that abortions were reduced by 10% in Kansas under Sebelius’ leadership. Now I don’t know if this is true, or that, if it is it has anything to do with Sebelius. However, what’s interesting is that none of the conservative backlash (that I’ve seen anyway) takes up this point.

In other words, its all about ideology . . ."

I criticize the evangelical left regularly for giving Obama cover on the abortion issue, so what reason could I possibly have for assuming you weren't talking about me or people I agree with?

The only thing I concede is that I don't have a post where you actually mention the word "marching." (I was using that metaphorically anyway, so it is neither here nor there.) But you deliberately and clearly mocked me and/or people like me for attacking the evangelical left on this issue. Why don't you just admit you were wrong? This isn't about McCarraher's religious affiliation; it's about the use you made of his words - even to the point of using "Fetus Fetishes" as the title of your (not his) post.

I do not worship an inanimate object by opposing abortion and I resent your implication that I do just because I criticize the evangelical left.

Halden said...

The word fetish has a broader semantic range than the OED. As I said, I concede that I should have qualified my comment to not include all. I do think and do not apologize for joining McCarraher in noting that many pro-life Christians engage in a functional fetishizing of the fetus. That is not mocking people for marching against abortion. Believe it or not I have actually been in such marches.

If anyone is not "manning up" here it is you. You made a false baseless accusation that was cowardly and dishonest. If you wish to deny it further then fine, but my conscience is clear. I have never ever mocked anyone for opposing abortion. That does not mean that pro-life people are beyond critique about certain ways they express and embody their platform.

Your lies do not become you, Craig. Why don't you just humble yourself enough to admit that you care more about lobbing accusations at me than about the truth of what I actually think about abortion or any other issue? Because guess what, its totally obvious to anyone who might be reading this obscure blog.

Halden said...

But more importantly, how ugly are Rowan Williams' eyebrows?? That's the real thing we should be discussing here.

That nincompoop.

Craig Carter said...

Halden,
So in your opinion I am to blame for not seeing the obvious difference between "functional fetishizing of the fetus" and "mocking people for marching against abortion." I'm afraid the over-subtle distinction escapes me. I don't doubt you are against abortion; I just find it sad that when it comes to conservatives, you can't resist mocking them even when they agree with you.

I stand by what I said. You and I are on the record and I'm happy with that.

You are welcome to go back to your much more famous blog where you can correct the OED and pontificate about anything else you like.

By the way, you are beginnig to sound like a politican (I only meant some, I just said tendency, McCarraher is a Catholic you know, etc.). Maybe you are thinking of running for office. (: You would be quite good at explaining what you meant all the time.

It's too bad that you are not interested in engaging with the real issues we disagree on. But accusing people of lying when you feel insulted does nothing to promote debate.

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm late for fetish worship.

Halden said...

Sorry that pointing out inconvenient facts about what I've actually said makes me sound like a politician to you. But if you must simply malign and complain rather than argue or reason, that is your prerogative.

I see that Canadians love cop-outs just as much as anyone else. That's lovely.

Until you provide me an actual example of my mocking people for being pro-life, my protest against you intentionally false statement stands. And you know it. You made an accusation without doing your homework. Then, rather than be humble and admit you just posted something when you were pissed off you felt the need to dig in and insist on your own fictive immaculacy. Whatever. Any reader can judge this for what it is.

a. steward said...

Craig, you seem to be saying that because I believe Socialism to be a less unjust arrangement than Free-Market Capitalism I am therefore a liberal. That's like saying that because I recognize that the A's are a run in a better fashion than then Yankees (which is manifestly the case, even if their record this year doesn't quite reflect it) I am therefore an Oakland A. But this is not a question of admiration, but of birth. And as it turns out, Portland doesn't have a baseball team, so my only (vicarious, albeit) athletic affiliation is with the Blazers. The analogy should be clear enough – politics is a matter of birth, and I've been born in to the kingdom of God (Portland), not any nation-state (Oakland/New York), and so the degrees of respect I may have for various social units unto which I have no been born does not say anything about my affiliation with them.

I should add that I feel silly explaining myself to you like this, since I learned it in part from books that you wrote. Yet it seems that since those writings one of two things has happened:

1. You continue to share the same convictions as Yoder (with the trappings of Jesus's kingship, the sermon on the mount as a political agenda, the church as the proleptic inception of the kingdom of God, etc.) and have come to believe that the most logical way of living into this political vision is to advocate the success of the conservative political movement and harp on every blowing wind of the fallen, sinful kingdoms of the world.

2. You have come to believe that Yoder (in spite of his belabored efforts to join Niebuhr in his denunciation of the optimistic belief in human nature of the pre-war pacifists) is a liberal, and as such must not be looked to as an ally in the struggle against modernity, which seems in your mind to have become determinative of Christian identity.

I still have not hear a clear answer from you as to what happened.

Halden called your blog obscure because you called mine the same. Such subtlety...

And seriously, "First Things is the most intelligent and interesting read of any magazine I know"? You guys don't get Newsweek in Canada?

Craig Carter said...

Adam,
I'm sorry for calling your blog "obscure." It is probably part of the natural law that one person with an obscure blog should never refer to another blog as obscure. I actually was only trying to mock myself - as if my opinions were of widespread interest and worthy of headlines Beliefnet or First Things or some other famous one!

As for Newsweek - Adam you just crack me up. Newsweek!!! Oh yeah, that is the very first source I turn to (other than the Jesus Seminar) when I'm in doubt about the exegesis of a passage dealing with homosexuality. Is there a greater biblical scholar in America than Jon Meacham? Oh sure -Newsweek! You are too funny!

Serious answers later - I've got things to do tonight.

R.O. Flyer said...

Craig, here is my interpretation of "What happened to Craig Carter?"
http://rainandtherhinoceros.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/how-to-talk-to-a-liberal/

Peter Dunn said...

Craig:
Extremely interesting post and commentary discussion. But it's like dropping in on a conversation in the middle. Were Halden and Steward fans of yours at some point and now feel betrayed? Or is it that they can't abide anyone who is anti-war but not a liberal? That is like Timothy, neither Greek nor Jew, Paul had him circumcised to make him one or the other.

Or are they Obama worshippers and you have crossed the line by criticizing Obama's appointments and policies?

As for saying Halden ridicules the anti-abortion position, I am with you. He makes capitalism a greater evil than abortion. Now this baffles me. What does he mean by capitalism that it has become a greater evil than a genocide of 45 million (in US since Roe vs. Wade)? Abortion is a much greater evil than the involvement in the Iraq war (which by the way I was for and expressly voted for Bush--so you and I disagree on that issue; but otherwise I've largely become your fan, but only since your "apostasy" from the Left). Even the highest estimates of deaths on both sides in Iraq is many times lower than the number of abortions that took place since the beginning of hostilities.

So my question: Why does Halden think that Capitalism is a worse evil than abortion? (He wrote: "Long story short, you can’t rail about abortion and in the same breath deploy your theology to legitimate capitalism." --well actually, I see all forms of socialism as a greater evil than capitalism as a political/economic system; I am in favor of any economic system which allows producers to keep a large percentage of their productivity, and the part taken from them in taxes is used for the good of all--not redistributed to non-producers; such a system is biblical, socialism is not).

By the way Halden, your idea that Sebellius is acceptable because abortions declined in her state is actually silly. You are arguing that she is just in favor of genocide but her policies have made the genocide levels manageable and acceptable. You are stunted in your moral growth (excuse me, I think the PC term is "challenged"). (Well I thought since I am like Craig, a fetus fetishist, I thought I should also give him my 2c worth). I agree with Carter: You don't seem to be against abortion at all, just another socialist.

Craig Carter said...

Peter,
It is difficult to understand, but in the worldview of these folks all intelligent and right-thinking people are socialist. It is just something to be taken for granted as obvious and anyone who dares to disagree is a country hick or uneducated or an apologist for the multi-national corporations which exploit workers all over the world. They don't even see themselves as taking an ideological position by advocating socialism: any more than it is an ideological position to be in favor of traffic regulations. That is why Adam thinks I've suddenly gone all ideological because I question socialism, whereas he is just a normal right thinking person with no ideology.

At the same time, they also seem to be convinced of the inevitability and permanence of global capitalism, which is curious, given that they believe in Providence. They don't really think about what socialism would actually entail as an economic and political system because they never expect to see it. (Don't look now but Obama is running GM.) They aren't even that interested in the details of socialist theory and practice. You won't catch them discussing the labor theory of value or whether labour unions would be necessary in a socialist society.

They use socialism (neo-Marxism really) as a stick with which to beat on the current system. They are much more into "rage against the machine" than building the new socialist order. Pressed for details, they will claim that they are not intrerested in "running the world" yet they get very upset when the Religious Right tries to exert influence on how the world is run. The Religious Left - well the only thing wrong with them is that they aren't numerous enough to totally crush the right.

They are much more interested in excommunicating anyone who questions socialist orthodoxy than excommunicating anyone who departs from biblical and historic orthodoxy. So Rowan Williams is a hero for trying to keep The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion instead of disciplining them for going against Lambeth 1998.

For them Yoder's work implies socialism, as does all right thinking theology. For a Yoder scholar to question that is what this is really all about.

Craig Carter said...

Adam,
You seem to be asking how I can think Yoder's theology and social ethics is good, when I reject socialism and embrace a conservative political position?
You are assuming, I think, that Yoder's work implies being anti-capitalist and pro-socialist.

The answer is that I do not think that last assumption is valid. Yoder would not want to be labeled as a socialist or a capitalist (and neither would I). Yoder's approach to social ethics was to focus on one particular issue at a time and work for incremental (not utopian) improvement. He was always warning against the person who would seek to reform society with one giant blow or one masterstroke.

So here is what is hard for many people to understand about Yoder. He could take 10 particular, specific positions on 10 particular issues in a row and every one might well be the same or similar to you or some doctrinaire socialist. But if you asked him to endorse socialism as an ideology, he would say no.

(Someone called Barth a socialist on this thread. Barth tore up his socialist party card after WW I. What I'm saying about Yoder would also apply to Barth.)

It seems to me that you are different from Yoder at this point. You may not really be, but this is how it comes across to me. It seems that you want to enlist Comrade Yoder in the socialist revolution and, while he has sympathy for many of the issues you care about, he would also have misgivings about many others.

Lancaster Co. PA, with its very high concentration of Mennonites, normally votes Republican (even though the Amish don't vote). That should tell you that a simplistic equation between Mennonite pacifism and liberal pacifism is not right.

If someone wants to be a Yoderian while simultaneously endorsing wide open legalized private killing of the pre-born, sick and elderly and the plain destruction of the family through no-fault divorce, cohabitation, same-sex marriage and so on, then I think they are imposing a pre-existing ideology derived from elsewhere than Yoder's writings, on Yoder rather than really following him.

One last point. Yoder would definitely have opposed the Iraq II war, but he would have done so by calling the Bush admin. to live up to the just war principles they profess. He would not call on the state to be pacifist all the time necessarily because the state is not the church. Liberal pacifists want the state to be pacifist and think this is a legitimate political goal. This is the difference between Yoderian pacifism and liberal pacifism.

Peter Dunn said...

Craig:

Thanks for your response. I find it remarkable.

You've become an advocate for hard-working Christians who work with their hands so that they have something to give (cf. Eph. 4.28).

Obama's socialism is insidious. He promises hope and change, but he has given us class warfare. So not only is his plans for wealth redistribution a further violation of the sixth commandment against stealing, the class warfare incites the violation of the 10th commandment against covetousness. That is perhaps why the leftists couldn't abide by Roy Moore in Alabama and his monument to the 10 commandments--it calls into question the very foundation of socialism: envy and stealing.

Halden said...

Peter, in response to your first comment that links to my blog, if you read that post you'll find that I never say anything like "Capitalism is a worse evil than abortion." Nor do I think that. I do think however that to simply decry abortion without calling into question the social, cultural, and economic system that produces, offers, and promotes it is rather short-sighted.

Also, in point of fact, I have never advocated for socialism in any form. Why you and Craig assume I must be a socialist, without any basis whatsoever is baffling to me. It appears to be just the sort of binary logic that thinks "Well, you're not X so you have to be Y."

As for Obama, as long as you're mining my blog for any possible "gotcha" comments, try finding one positive thing that I've ever said about Obama. Just one. I've done nothing but criticize him on numerous fronts. For goodness sake, I've even devoted critical posts to the current policy changes on stem-cell research! Don't I get any conservative street cred for that?

Or is it really just the case that if someone questions the current incarnation of global capitalism at all they must be liberal socialist Nazis in your eyes?

And, if you care, here's some of my other posts:

http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2009/03/05/plutocracy-ideology-and-the-age-of-obama/

http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2009/01/22/choosing-our-history/

http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2009/01/20/a-plea-for-anti-empire-polemics/

http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2008/09/05/messianic-politics-mccain-and-obama/

Yeah, clearly I'm totally just an Obama lover. I'm off to see what Michelle's wardrobe choice for the day is now...

Halden said...

Also Peter, I never in any sense said that I thought Sebelius was "acceptable." I absolutely do not. All my post did was raise a question about why conservative responses to her did not engage an (erroneous) argument that was levied by the evangelical left. It was a question about why the argument was unfolding in a particular way. That is all. None of that should be taken as an endorsement of her, or of abortion. I would have thought that would be obvious, but I guess not.

Again, I have never said anything that is pro-abotion. I despise it, lament for, consider it a great evil. I once landscaped a huge yard almost singlehandedly for a crisis pregnancy center that I regularly volunteered at. Don't tell me what I think about abortion, sir.

Craig Carter said...

Halden
Since you have so vehemently proclaimed your anti-abortion creds, let me ask you a question.

Suppose that Roe were overturned (say Bork had been confirmed or Souter had turned out the be the reliable anti-abortion vote many though he was when Bush Sr. appointed him). Now the issue is at the state level. The long term goal of the pro-life movement is a human life ammendment to the constitution, but right now there is a Prop. 8 style plebicite going on about whether your state will have a more or less restrictive abortion law. (If you want to specify the exact nature of the law, you can. I'm leaving it as a general pro-life, no legal abortion law, probaby with a few narrowly defined exceptions that would reduce the legal abortion rate by 99%.)

All the usual suspects are lined up on the pro-life side: the National Right to Life, the US Conf. of Catholic Bishops, Focus on the Family etc. Randall Terry has already been arrested - you know, the usual stuff. On the other side also are all the usual suspects: NARAL, Hilary (Margaret Sanger is my Hero) Clinton, the Obama administration, The local Episcopal Church bishops, etc.

Now, what would you do?
a) Keep quiet and hope no one asked your opinion.
b) Hold you nose and support the pro-life coalition even though you disagree with many things many of them believe
c) Announce your intention not to vote and then procede to skewer both sides on alternate days in your blog
d) Declare that your local church is pro-life and that is the only politics that matters.
e) None of the above. Explain.

Anyone else who wants to chime in is welcome to do so. I'll go first. I pick b, although I wouldn't have to hold my nose.

Peter Dunn said...

Halden: thanks for these answers.

I still think my comment was fair, based on the quote. Even your response verifies that my appreciation of your priorities is correct--capitalism causes abortion--so it is necessary to go after the cause rather than the effect.

Your position is far too subtle and nuanced for a simple guy like me. You have to remember when you are speaking with Fetus Fetishists that they tend to have pretty simple, black and white view of the world. We look at the numbers and the helplessness of the victims, you know.

So why blame capitalism if you aren't a socialist? I think you are being terribly imprecise. What is capitalism in your view, and why do you think it causes people to have abortions? Is capitalism practiced in China? Is that why they have so many abortions there? You will have to excuse me if I concluded you were in favor of socialism if you are not; but since I don't know what you mean by capitalism, then perhaps the socialism that you are against also remains undefined. And what alternative economic system would you suggest that would keep us from committing abortions? Would you prefer African kleptocracy?--there aren't that many abortions in sub-Saharan Africa yet. Personally, I don't think it is because Christians are capitalists that there is this scourge. I think it is because our culture doesn't value the human life of babies in the womb, and in this respect, Africans are more advanced than we are.

As for Obama, my question was for Carter. But part of the criticism of Craig has been that he has been critical of Obama's abortion policy and Christians on the left who supported Obama. This comes out clearly in Steward's post which was the focus of this blog post in the first place. Sorry if you got shot in the crossfire, if that's not your position.

You'll therefore have to forgive me if I am not a regular reader of your blog and don't know your positions on every issue. Indeed, one could too easily conclude that you were not anti-abortion and that you were supportive of Sebellius from your "Fetus Fetish" and "McCarraher" posts. I supposed that you agreed with your whole heart with McCarraher.

Halden said...

Dude, I live in Oregon. That bill wouldn't have a chance. But sure, I'd totally vote for something like that.

Halden said...

Peter, I'm not a full-fledged supporter, ideologically speaking, of any particular theory of government. I do somewhat like the distributism of Chesterton and Belloc as a "third way" economy. Not in all respects, but there's something there. Sheldon Wolin's proposals for radical democracy strike me as helpful, too.

Peter Dunn said...

Hi Halden: Thanks for the answer. I don't have a single degree in political theory or in economics. So I don't know the people nor the terms that you mention. "Distributism" sounds like socialism to me. Words like "capitalism" and "socialism" means something to me.

Craig Carter said...

Peter
Distributism means having property widely distributed among the population as possible and having many family farms, small family businesses, high rate of home ownership, etc. It is what many people mean when they say "capitalism." Distibutism was developed by H. Belloc and G. K. Chesterton in the early 20th Cen., as Halden says, out of Roman Catholic Social Teaching. It is as suspicious of monopoly capitalism as it is of socialism because in both cases too much wealth is concentrated in too few hands. Chesterton is an excellent example of what I mean by "true conservatism."

You might be surprised to know that I am with Halden totally on this one, even though I don't think he should use neo-Marxist rhetoric to attack "capitalism" because people like you and I take him to be saying that the government should totally control the means of production and independent small business owners and the middle class should be serfs.

Here is a link to the American Chesterton Society. You can find info on Distibutism on that site.
http://chesterton.org/

Craig Carter said...

Halden,
OK. If you really would vote that way, (and I take you at your word), then I withdraw anything that I said that implies that you are not pro-life. You would take major heat for a public stance like that and would need the courage of your convictions. Anyone willing to stand up for life like that is to be commended for sure.

However, I still disagree that any prolifers (and certainly any Evangelical prolifers) deserve to be described the way you did in your post "Fetus Fetishes" and I am still disappointed because that post gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Any help they can get in painting prolifers as ignorant exptremists helps their cause and is part of the political process.

If you want to criticize Evangelicals, there are plenty of legitimate issues on which we can be criticized without inventing ones out of thin air. Criticize our theological shallowness, our lack of reverence in worship, our addition to "bigness" and our preoccupation with celebrity. Criticize our worldliness and hypocrisy - fair game. But on this one point - abortion - I think Evangelicals deserve a lot of credit. And at a moment when well-known Evangelical leaders are seducing younger Evangelicals into a New Religious Left, I don't think we can afford to let this sort of thing pass. It really isn't personal.

Peter Dunn said...

Thanks Craig for your answer. When you say that's what many people mean when they say "capitalism", I think that's true of me. I am also against using free market to gain monopolistic power. In that sense, I don't think that laissez faire means that anything goes, but it means to let natural market forces run their course while being reluctant to employ government coercion.

I notice that Belloc and Chesterton are both British. Having studied there, I didn't think that wealth is distributed as well as here in North America (I live in Canada now). Opportunity here is so great compared to most places in the world, I would think that we have largely lived up to the distributist ideal.

If Halden had attacked "consumerism" I might have been on board with him. If he had said something like: we kill babies because we're not ready to stop being selfish consumers of goods. Or, men use women like consumer goods. As evangelicals, I would agree it is problematic to fight abortion without being cognizant that we belong to a consumer culture that leads to the acceptance of abortion. Yet that doesn't render the efforts of anti-abortionists null and void.

Craig Carter said...

Peter,
Distributism is mostly dead in modern day Britain. It was not crushed by capitalism, but by the socialist policies of Labour from WW II on. The Thatcher revolution actually promoted a bit of the Distributist philosophy, but not much of that has survived 14 years of Labour rule.

I read recently that in the North of England the % of the GDP that is government spending is near 70% in places and actually higher than some Eastern European states had at the time of the fall of Communism. So don't look for Distributism in the UK.

Peter Dunn said...

Craig: I agree. I was in England while John Major was Prime Minister. Even after all the years of Thatcher, England did not have as good a distribution of wealth as what we have here in North America. Not visibly in any case. What I am trying to say is that perhaps distributism as a third way may have seemed profound in England back in the day, but for us in NA, it has been a largely realized ideal. My grandparents and my wife's grandparents all started as poor people (originally from Korea, Scotland, and England), and look at us all now! Perhaps Halden could explain how distributism differs from the economic conservatism that I and many other Christians would subscribe to as the best system.

a. steward said...

You've got a knack for roughshod attribution, Craig, I'll give you that. Observe that capitalism is worse than socialism, and you're pro-socialist. Hold that the government is not the cause or the solution to the problem of abortion, and you're pro-abortion. Be unconvinced that a Christian is permitted to kill if only the government tells him he can, and you're a liberal pacifist. Conversation is hard to keep up if you have to explain and caveat everything you say.

Like the Newsweek comment. It was a joke. First Things (a somewhat informative, occasionally provocative, and generally disagreeable magazine) isn't as good as Newsweek (a completely worthless magazine that is only useful if you run out of toilet paper). Get it?

At any rate, am I right in assuming that for you the whole coercion issue isn't a problem any more, and that you now encourage Christians to make use of the coercive methods of majority rule to advance their cause?

Craig Carter said...

Adam,
I think you are still reading me through your PC lens and can't understand what I'm really saying.

1. I'm saying socialism is far worse than capitalism. Get it? We disagree.

2. The government is partly the cause and partly the solution to the abortion problem. Again we disagree.

Rom. 13:4 says: "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Yoder never said this was not true just because Christians are not to be magistrates or wield the sword and neither would I.

3. A Yoderian pacifist says that the Christian cannot take up the sword, whether the government orders him to or not. A liberal pacifist wants the govenment to disarm and stop using force and thinks this could actually happen given the right political arrangements.

I'm not sure what you think here because I find this sentence rather hard to decipher: "Be unconvinced that a Christian is permitted to kill if only the government tells him he can, and you're a liberal pacifist."

Now your last comment is classic liberal pacifism - a textbook example. You equate democratic process with killing. Apparently coercion is coercion for you - whether it is sending my 7 year old to her room or the judge putting a drunk driver behind bars or the civil rights act giving black people voting rights or the police arresting a abortionist or Bush going to war in Iraq.

Yoder is exlicitly in favor of using the democratic process of democratic countries plus the pressure of public opinion, prophetic witness and reasoned argument to try to change laws so that evildoers are coerced into not doing evil. So am I. In fact, I'm Mr. Coercion in every example in the preceeding paragraph except the last one.

And by the way, the right to life is not "our" cause; it is simple humanism. It is everyone's cause, just like the crusade against slavery. BTW, do you have a problem with the government using coercion to stop slave trading?

a. steward said...

Now we're getting somewhere. I've got a hot date with my other job, though, so I'll get back to you in the morning. Sorry for my obfuscatory prose - I could parse it for you, but I think you got the idea.

Thom Stark said...

I'll jump in and say where I stand:

We all agree that war is wicked.

I agree with Craig over against Adam on the participation in democracy issue and the idea of such participation being construed as "coercive." I've written about this at length on my blog. Not only does he read Yoder right here, he's right here.

I disagree emphatically and profoundly with Craig on just about everything else.

a. steward said...

Just to be clear, I'm not advocating pacifism as an option for the secular nation state. Pacifism only works in a social order grounded in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Which I encourage the state to become. I recollect someone saying something somewhere about Christians not doing their ethical thinking from positions of power...

I just want to make sure I understand your position on violence, Craig. Are you saying that Christians themselves should be pacifists, but there should nevertheless be a secular military obliged to kill and die for justice and order? And that Christians should expect this, when they themselves are not willing to kill and die for (as your man Alasdair MacIntyre puts it) the telephone company?

Craig Carter said...

Adam,
Most definitely I am saying that (along with Paul, Augustine and Yoder). The kingdoms of this world will only become the kingdom of God when Christ returns in glory. St. Augustine is the one who made this clear and whose theology of history in "City of God" is a remedy for all forms of utopianism from the Eusebians/Theodosians of the early Church to the Anabaptists at Munster to the Marxist revolutionaries. To the extent that liberal Protestantism (and heretical forms of Roman Catholicism such as Liberation Theology) think that the State can be converted and turned into the Church, they have denied original sin and the need for Christ's return. Also, they have fallen into the temptation of Constantinianism.

You ask: "Are you saying that Christians themselves should be pacifists, but there should nevertheless be a secular military obliged to kill and die for justice and order?" Do you really think the answer to this question is our choice, as if we can decide among ourselves whether this will be the case or not? Do you not believe that this world is fallen into sin and that the fallen powers tempt fallen humans in such a way that there will always be some using violence to rule over others? Read Romans 13. Yoder didn't remove it from the canon; he just distinguished between the church and the state, which is also St. Augustine's great acheivement.

You need to read Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamozov" and especially his treatment of the Grand Inquisitor. The book, "Remembering the End: Dostoevsky as Prophet to Modernity" by T. Kroeker and B. Ward is excellent in showing how Dostoevsky, foresaw the coming socialist tyranny in Russia and warned against it. This tyranny was launched by people with the highest ideals and hopes for peace, justice, equality and progress and it turned into hell on earth.

Constantinianism is primarily a left wing problem, not a right wing problem, ever since the dawn of modernity. That is why I'm so against socialism. It is Constantinian through and through. Sinful men with absolute power is the most horrifying thing in a fallen world.

Thom Stark said...

"Most definitely I am saying that (along with Paul, Augustine and Yoder)."

Craig, this reflects a very naive reading of Paul. I don't think it's wise for you to hang your position here on a surface level reading of Romans 13. See my research on 13:1-7 here.

"The kingdoms of this world will only become the kingdom of God when Christ returns in glory. St. Augustine is the one who made this clear and whose theology of history in 'City of God' is a remedy for all forms of utopianism from the Eusebians/Theodosians of the early Church to the Anabaptists at Munster to the Marxist revolutionaries."

This is a pretty sweeping "analysis" of utopianism. Not much room for dialogue here, in keeping with your recent tenor. It also displays a general ignorance with regard to the development of Israelite thought on the doctrine of the "day of Yahweh." Paul was closer to the prophets than to Augustine, and there's a giant world of difference between the prophets and Augustine.

"To the extent that liberal Protestantism (and heretical forms of Roman Catholicism such as Liberation Theology) think that the State can be converted and turned into the Church, they have denied original sin and the need for Christ's return. Also, they have fallen into the temptation of Constantinianism."

Wow! You could've saved Ratzinger a hell of a lot of time if you'd written these two sentences a couple decades ago. You perfectly encapsulated liberation theology in one masterful stroke. Of course, it's a completely egregious and terribly disingenuous mischaracterization of liberation theology to say that they ever thought "that the State can be converted and turned into the Church." That just shows how thoroughly captivated your mind is by pseudo-Yoderian categories (Yoder was much more sympathetic to liberation theology, never dared call it "heresy," and his critique of Constantinian tendencies in liberation theology was a lot more nuanced and positive: hence, "psuedo-Yoderian") and how impatiently you've read liberation theologians, if much at all. Liberation theology, mind you, was critical of Constantinianism too. They just had a better understanding of what's "constantinian" than you do.

"You ask: 'Are you saying that Christians themselves should be pacifists, but there should nevertheless be a secular military obliged to kill and die for justice and order?' Do you really think the answer to this question is our choice, as if we can decide among ourselves whether this will be the case or not?'

This is a disingenuous response to a probing question.

"Do you not believe that this world is fallen into sin and that the fallen powers tempt fallen humans in such a way that there will always be some using violence to rule over others? Read Romans 13."

Why don't you re-read it? It doesn't confirm what you think it does. Romans 13 is a critique of Roman violence if it is anything. It doesn't tell us anything one way or another with regard to Paul's view of the "legitimacy" of such an anachronistic concept as "secular" violence. I'd stop using it as a proof-text if I were you.

"Yoder didn't remove it from the canon; he just distinguished between the church and the state, which is also St. Augustine's great acheivement."

Yoder has some pretty significant critiques of Augustine's distinction between the church and the state, so I'd be careful about lumping them together. But you probably know better than to do what you did anyway.

"You need to read Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamozov" and especially his treatment of the Grand Inquisitor. The book, "Remembering the End: Dostoevsky as Prophet to Modernity" by T. Kroeker and B. Ward is excellent in showing how Dostoevsky, foresaw the coming socialist tyranny in Russia and warned against it. This tyranny was launched by people with the highest ideals and hopes for peace, justice, equality and progress and it turned into hell on earth."

Is this the slippery slope argument? Hm. Convincing.

"Constantinianism is primarily a left wing problem, not a right wing problem, ever since the dawn of modernity."

Oh, what rich anachronisms! Anyway, can we move beyond these categories please? They're yours, not anybody's here.

"That is why I'm so against socialism. It is Constantinian through and through. Sinful men with absolute power is the most horrifying thing in a fallen world."

Oh. I just realized that when you say "socialism," you mean (along with the right wing pundits) "Stalinism." That explains why your claims about socialism are so dead wrong. I thought you could do better than this. Yoder was always insistent that the reason pacifism isn't taken seriously by states is not because it isn't effective but because it has never been tried. The same damn thing is true of socialism (in Marx's vision socialism = all the way down democracy) and you really should know that, Craig.

I used to respect you a lot, but these problems and others with your logic of late just makes it hard for me to take you seriously. Not that you care whether or not I can take you seriously. And you shouldn't. Just try to take more care to make a decent argument.

Halden said...

Welcome to the "co.", Thom.

Craig Carter said...

Thom,
The substance of your long post seems to be that you think I'm naive, ignorant, superficial, disingenuous, anachrostic and illogical. No argument - just ad hominum attacks and fevered assertion. The most substantive thing you said was "Can we move beyond these categories, please?"

We obviously are coming from very different places, but that does not make you automatically right on all things just because you assert it loudly. If you hate Augustine and love Lib. Theology than I totally understand where you are coming from. Problem is, I was there a long time ago and I never want to go back.

a. steward said...

Thank you for the recommendation of a wonderful book. I read it while holed up for two days in the New Delhi airport during a flood a few years ago. While it does have a strong critique of the growing communist movement in Russia at the time, I'm not sure how you could gather that because Dostoevsky is against socialism, we all should be for capitalism. Weren't we all agreeing that Distributism would be a dandy sublation? At any rate, you clearly learned his rhetorical strategy well, casting your ideological opponents as Kolyas: snot-nosed, little, too-big-for-their-britches, close-minded bunch of know-it-all liberals. Who love socialism.

Could you give us a specific example of a good liberation theologian (Cone, Guttierez, J. Kameron Carter) that operates with a constantinian methodology? Because that is precisely the thing they have understood themselves to be struggling against, as Thom notes. Carter especially gives some important reflection on the relationship between his work on whiteness and Yoders.

Thom Stark said...

Craig,

If you mistook what I was doing for argumentation, I apologize. My point was to make sure that you understood that YOUR ad hominem attacks and YOUR bald assertions required argumentation, which you haven't been giving, and that I think your bald assertions when faced with the requirement of argumentation are going to fall quite flat. Don't accuse me of stuff you've been doing this whole conversation, and just about every conversation you've had in the past six months. It's, dare I say it, disingenuous.

Also, I did refer you to an extensive argument I made on Romans 13, which you can read at your leisure, or not, if you're interested in understanding why your appeal to Romans 13 is naive and spurious. So, while you make theological claims by appealing to prooftexts, I have in fact appealed to an extensive argument which have as yet failed to engage. That's the problem: you want to use the scriptures but you don't seem to be all that interested in exegesis. That's all I was pointing out. The same is true of your use of Yoder at times, as anyone who's read Yoder's discussion of Augustine, and liberation theology, respectively, will recognize.

Forgive me if I don't have the patience to be polite with you. But don't mistake that for "ad hominem" attacks. It's not an ad hominem in the slightest to say that references you make are anachronistic, that readings you have are naive or superficial. These are observations based on exegetical work, which I referred you to.

And when I called you disingenuous for an uncharitable reading of Adam's question, that wasn't an ad hominem argument against your position. That was an appeal for you to offer more charitable readings of your interlocutor Adam.

Halden said...

I have no stake in "socialism," as I have said above. But I will say that dismissing it as pure evil on the basis of Stalinist Communism strikes me as the logical equivalent of condemning the game of football on the basis of the conduct of Michael Vick. Or the institution of motherhood on the basis of Britney Spears maternal abilities.

Craig Carter said...

Adam and Thom,
See, this Constantinianism thing get to the root. As I understand you and the mainstream of liberal Protestantism that you apparently are in sympathy with, you seems to think that you can utilize neo-Marxist theory and call for socialism knowing that you will never achieve power and never have to answer for the impact socialism actually has when it is implemented. That is why you cannot conceive of anyone calling you Constantinian.

The word "Constaninian" has been utterly ruined because it has come to be used popularly to mean "having a right wing agenda." The Religious Right is Constantinian. The Religious Left is rational and compassionate. Capitalism is evil and unChristian and all around us is the evidence. I'm amazed by what gets blamed on capitalism. Everything is the fault of capitalism. (I'm not defending capitalism, just noting how it is used rhetorically. I already said,as you noted Adam, that I favor Distributism).

But when it comes to historical socialism, none of its faults are fairly attributed to it because it has never been fully implemented yet. That is like someone arguing that capitalism has never been implemented properly yet according to their particular version of what capitalism really is so you can't blame capitalism for anything.

So if I say that socialism has helped destroy the family in Scandanavia - well, it wouldn't happen here because it would be different. If I say that Soviet socialism put all the power in the hands of the government - well, that isn't really socialism, it is Communism and that is different. No possible empirical or historical evidence can count against socialism, yet all sorts of historical evidence counts against capitalism. I'm just pointing out a double standard.

We don't have the choice to start a utopia here and now. We live in a fallen world and a division of powers, wide distribution of property, smaller government and policies to strengthen the family and civil society are the best practical ways to ensure freedom. I don't call that capitalism, although many do. But whatever it is called it is incompatible with socialism, as Chesterton saw long ago.

Real freedom is obedience to God's will and acting in accord with our true human telos. We need freedom from the kind of socialism that entices us with promises of equality and security and a debased form of personal, especially sexual, freedom in exchange for true freedom to choose the good. When the Berlin Wall came down, one piece of graffiti referred to the Grand Inquisitor. Someone in East Germany got what Dostoevsky was talking about.

But look, there is no need to fight. Just regard me as an unreliable comrade and move on. I just honestly don't find liberal Protestantism or liberal modernity or socialism at all appealing from any angle. If you do, its a free country - well it is where you live anyway - well for now anyway. And when it is no longer free, I guarantee that the Dear Leader won't be channeling Jerry Falwell because Falwell's side will have to lose in order for that to happen.

Thom Stark said...

Craig,

"As I understand you and the mainstream of liberal Protestantism that you apparently are in sympathy with..."

Your first four words were your first mistake, apparently. I'm not sure where you're gleaning that Adam or I have sympathy with liberal Protestantism, but I'm frankly not surprised to hear such loose-lipped accusations come from you. It's become a sort of trademark of yours. You're getting better and better at name calling. Meanwhile, your ability to have a genuine conversation, where you do more listening than accusing, has seriously diminished lately.

"...you seems to think that you can utilize neo-Marxist theory and call for socialism knowing that you will never achieve power and never have to answer for the impact socialism actually has when it is implemented. That is why you cannot conceive of anyone calling you Constantinian."

No. Not really. This is just another baseless accusation, one of many that I find rather amusing since you really have no idea who you're talking to. You tend only to ask questions when they're rhetorical or sarcastic. That being the case, I don't expect you to know much about Adam, or me (who after only two or three quick posts you've already slotted neatly into one of your demonized categories).

Anyway, to the "substance" (I use that word analogously) of what you're saying above: you're still assuming that "socialism" is "Stalinism," and there's only one way for it to be implemented: tyrannically. Seriously, your scare tactics are going to be more effective in a conversation with Bill O'Reilly than with me. You bemoan (below) the ruin of the word "Constantinian," but you use it more than anybody I know, and misuse it all the time. You acknowledge with one hand that democratic participation is not Constantinian, but then you tell me that when I advocate for a more thoroughly democratic society (i.e., one that is not controlled by corporate elites but by the majority of society) that I'm a closet, unconscious Constantinian. You seem committed to the position that anybody who advocates for anything called "socialism" is--whether they know it or like it or not--really advocating for Stalinism. Well, not only is this absurd at the level of theory, it's just nonsense in practice, as hundreds of examples throughout history have attested. Again, I submit that the reason socialism isn't trusted is because it is so rarely really tried. Stalin was not a socialist in any sense Marx would have acknowledged, and certainly not in any sense Rosa would have acknowledged. And many third world countries that are today motivated by socialist ideals are coming up with programs that are about as far from Stalinism as you can get. You just can't admit it because it doesn't fit your categories. Fine. Forget the word socialism. Replace it with democracy--that's all Marx meant by the term anyhow. Now the conversation isn't about Stalinism. It's about the rights of everyday citizens to shape their own polis in a way that fits their interests and aspirations.

You also mistake me for someone else when you think I'm someone who's not interested in achieving power. I'm a disciple of Jesus, and he achieved a lot of power. So much power, in fact, at the populace level, that the ruling elites could not touch him without breaking their own laws. I follow the guy who used that power to advocate for a more just society, one that honor's God, especially with regard to its economic structures. If you're going to tell me that Jesus wasn't really interested in inciting a revolutionary overhaul of the economic and political structures of Israel, I'm going to argue you've got a naive, thoroughly Augustinian reading of Jesus (which I guess you'd take as a complement). I believe that Jesus believed that true power was the possession of the majority who are oppressed by the minority. So in nowise will you catch me saying that I'm not interested in achieving power. And that's not Constantinian! It's Constantinian to let the world make the church over into its image. It's not Constantinian to exercise nonviolent means to seek to transform the world into the world God has always been calling us to make it. But I doubt your theological categories can even compute that data. Or rather, you seem to admit this on the one hand, and deny it emphatically on the other.

"The word 'Constaninian' has been utterly ruined because it has come to be used popularly to mean 'having a right wing agenda.'"

What nonsense! You and I both know full well that the vast majority of people who use the language of "Constantinian" are what you and I would probably call apolitical. They see just as well as you do (probably better in a lot of cases) how captivated both the left and the right are by the idolatry of the state. But it's not enough to point out that you're preaching to the choir. The fact that you don't recognize us as the choir just displays how little care you care to put into reading Halden and Adam (and now me).

"The Religious Right is Constantinian. The Religious Left is rational and compassionate."

You're the only person I've ever heard say anything remotely like this. And certainly no one here has said anything remotely like this. So stop projecting and have a real conversation! Or else, why don't you just disable commenting on your blog and make it read only. That would be more honest than what this is here.

"Capitalism is evil and unChristian and all around us is the evidence. I'm amazed by what gets blamed on capitalism. Everything is the fault of capitalism. (I'm not defending capitalism, just noting how it is used rhetorically. I already said, as you noted Adam, that I favor Distributism)."

Whatever. Again, you're not speaking to Adam or Halden or me but to people "out there" who say things (that only you seem to hear). Nobody here has said that everything is the fault of capitalism. Some of us have suggested that maybe the ideals of socialism (not as implemented under Lenin/Stalin) are a clear step above the ideals of capitalism (as UNDERSTOOD and ENUNCIATED by Adam Smith and other capitalist theorists). I doubt you've read much Marx at all, and if you have, I challenge you to read him (or someone like David Harvey) without any of the Stanlist anachronisms or misconstruals you seem to want to insist are helpful exegetical guides.

"But when it comes to historical socialism, none of its faults are fairly attributed to it because it has never been fully implemented yet. That is like someone arguing that capitalism has never been implemented properly yet according to their particular version of what capitalism really is so you can't blame capitalism for anything."

Nonsense. Adam Smith capitalism and Milton Friedman capitalism have both had their long, hot days in the sun. Capitalism as understood by Smith is precisely what is the problem, as Marx spent such great effort displaying. Yes, there are problems with Marx. There are problems with the Bible too! That doesn't mean we're committing to playing each of those problems out every time we want to look to Marx or to the Bible (or whatever tradition) as a guide. That's nonsense. You know it's nonsense. But it serves your purposes to pretend like it makes sense.

"So if I say that socialism has helped destroy the family in Scandanavia - well, it wouldn't happen here because it would be different. If I say that Soviet socialism put all the power in the hands of the government - well, that isn't really socialism, it is Communism and that is different. No possible empirical or historical evidence can count against socialism, yet all sorts of historical evidence counts against capitalism. I'm just pointing out a double standard."

No you're not. You're pointing out your own ignorance of the broad spectrum of Marxist approaches and ideals. You're missing a fundamental point. When Stalin (and others following in his footsteps) centralized power, his political structure ceased to be socialist/communist as understood by Marx and his heirs in Luxemburg, etc. (By the way, socialist is not to Marx as communist is to Stalin. Marx understood socialism as an interim period on the way to communism, but that's really neither here nor there.) It was fundamentally opposed to Marx's ideals of a democracy all the way down.

But when capitalism does its damage, it's because it's working the way it's supposed to. Capitalism was a system designed to preserve the wealth of the minority against the threat of the majority working classes and slaves. All the havoc capitalism has wreaked is not a sign of its betrayal but of its success. If you think I have a double standard here, you need to read Adam Smith and Karl Marx all over again.

"We don't have the choice to start a utopia here and now."

Exactly! It's not a choice, but an obligation, according to the prophets.

"We live in a fallen world..."

True, but cynical.

"...and a division of powers, wide distribution of property, smaller government and policies to strengthen the family and civil society are the best practical ways to ensure freedom."

You fail to see that policies designed to "strengthen the family" have always historically served the purpose of supporting a larger, more centralized government. Read Jack Goody here for starters. Also read Engels, who was mistaken about when this "focus on the family" began, but was largely right about the dynamics involved and its political significance.

You also use the word "freedom" like we're supposed to know what you mean by it. Whether you realize it or not, the rest of what you described is Marxism, and if you read Marx more thoroughly you'd see that he has displayed how capitalism is inherently ill-equipped to pull this off.

"I don't call that capitalism, although many do. But whatever it is called it is incompatible with socialism, as Chesterton saw long ago."

Chesterton? Oh, there's an authority on economics! Again, you're displaying an unfamiliarity with anti-Stalinist Marxist literature, beginning with Marx himself.

"Real freedom is obedience to God's will and acting in accord with our true human telos. We need freedom from the kind of socialism that entices us with promises of equality and security and a debased form of personal, especially sexual, freedom in exchange for true freedom to choose the good."

I didn't realize socialist theory had a stake in sexual liberation! Which socialists are you reading? Seriously though, Craig! How are you failing to see that "promises of equality" are (more or less) precisely what the prophets and Jesus called God's people to promise they'd do for God. You said it yourself. "Real freedom is obedience to God's will." But your vision of a smaller government, etc., can't be sustained in a capitalist economy in which true political power is invested into the hands of corporations. Shareholders and corporate executives routinely make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people they never see, usually in a negative way. How is that democracy? How is democracy possible in a society that not only permits but protects precisely the rights these corporations possess to make by themselves what in a better society would be considered political decisions? "Focus on the family" isn't going to cut it.

I don't even know why I'm bothering with this. I guess it's because I still want to have some respect for you. But I don't think you're capable anymore of seriously engaging these sorts of questions, to be quite honest.

"When the Berlin Wall came down, one piece of graffiti referred to the Grand Inquisitor. Someone in East Germany got what Dostoevsky was talking about."

Now you're preaching to a demolished wall. This "observation" has absolutely nothing to say to Adam or Halden or me.

"But look, there is no need to fight. Just regard me as an unreliable comrade and move on."

Read only. I think you should make the shift.

"I just honestly don't find liberal Protestantism or liberal modernity or socialism at all appealing from any angle."

More lumping together of pejorative appellations which I'm sure possess some vague applicability to somebody out there, but nobody here.

"If you do, its a free country - well it is where you live anyway - well for now anyway. And when it is no longer free, I guarantee that the Dear Leader won't be channeling Jerry Falwell because Falwell's side will have to lose in order for that to happen."

Do you fancy yourself a prophet, Craig? You're certainly an apocalypticist. I saw you under the acorn tree.

Thom Stark said...

"You might be surprised to know that I am with Halden totally on this one, even though I don't think he should use neo-Marxist rhetoric to attack 'capitalism' because people like you and I take him to be saying that the government should totally control the means of production and independent small business owners and the middle class should be serfs."

This is about as far from a definition of socialism as one can possibly get. I don't think you know what "Neo-Marxist" means either.

Peter Dunn said...

Thom: I see that you are a "student". Does that mean that you have the luxury of sitting around reading books and writing papers but that you never have to venture outside your door? I have traveled around the world--I've been to some of Africa's poorest countries. I was also in Eastern Germany just after the Berlin Wall fell. Your condemnation of capitalism is unrelated to the real world (and this is what Craig is saying, isn't it?). Where the economic policies of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman have had a chance to operate freely there has been unprecedented prosperity. People in Africa aren't dying from too much capitalism but too little. Perhaps you want to blame the French or the Americans. But I assure you they are not ultimately to blame. African collectivism is socialism woven into the fabric of the culture itself, and people remain in their poverty because there is no incentive to produce more than a minimum necessary to survive.

You live in the wealthiest nation in the world and that's because there is freedom and capitalism. You want to take that freedom away from people and create some sort of perfect society. Taxing productive people not for the common good but to benefit the non-productive is slavery, and (Halden) it is evil. It is done through fear of punishment: do you think I pay my taxes because I love working to support the social programs in Canada or because I fear the Canada Revenue Agency?

I fear people like you, even more so because you claim to be a Christian. But you don't even understand the 10 commandments: "Thou shalt not steal" prohibits even governments from taking from some and giving to others. Every attempt at "Marxism" so far has led to horror, because people won't give up what they have unless you kill them. I urge you to humble yourself and to stop toying with murderous philosophies.

That's the main point of Craig's criticism is that these ideas have all been tried and it leads to horror, poverty and slavery.

Thom Stark said...

Unfortunately I don't have time to engage in a conversation with an apparent colonialist with a revisionist historical agenda or an accomplished ignorance of the history of capitalism in the third world. I also don't have time to engage in a conversation with people who presume to know how little of the world I've seen and how myopic my perspective must be based on such presumptions.

For clarity, this time I'm not referring to Craig Carter.

Peter Dunn said...

That's brilliant. For all my points I made, your best response is to call me an accomplished ignorant, revisionist, and apparent colonialist? All I've done is observe social customs in Africa and remark how their collectivism is an impediment to economic prosperity. I also notice that communism, where it is tried, leads to murder and desperate poverty. I don't know where you've been, but you're darn lucky to live in the US.

ndansmith.net said...

"All I've done is observe social customs in Africa and remark how their collectivism is an impediment to economic prosperity." ~ Peter Dunn

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort."

"I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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."

Halden said...

Oh snap.

Peter Dunn said...

Mr. Smith: Can you please explain how the scripture verses that you quoted apply to what I said? And may Halden could explain why he thinks it's "snap".

ndansmith.net said...

Sure. When it comes to evaluating political and economic systems from a Christian perspective, I don't think the primary criterion should be economic prosperity. That principle comes from my understanding of Jesus' statements on wealth - namely that it is of no spiritual value and is indeed a hindrance.

Now, it very well may be that you do not use that as your primary criterion. If that is the case, then my comment is misdirected.

Peter Dunn said...

That is not all the Bible says about poverty and wealth. Wealth is also a blessing in the Bible, as in Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Job; in the NT, 1 Tim 6.17-19.

While there is no perfect economic system in the world today, people vote with their feet. During all the years of the cold war, many millions of people sought to escape from the Eastern bloc to the West, and from Cuba for Florida. Today, millions of people escape the poverty and despair of Africa for the western capitalist countries; and the oppression of the Middle East for Canada and the US.

I can't see how any economic system that is based on coercion and stealing can ever lead to a prosperity which maktes it possible to provide decent food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to children. Is that not a good thing? Do you think Jesus would be against that? If you really do, go live in the forest with the pygmies and let the fleas bite you all night long. You too can suffer from river blindness, chiggers eating your toes, and malaria, and like them, your children will suffer from 80% infant mortality. But it would be a spiritual blessing, right?

ndansmith.net said...

I agree that providing food, clothing, shelter, and medical care are aspects of neighbor-love and therefore laudatory. That being said, I think I would still rather phrase my critique of political systems in terms of love of God and neighbor rather than directly in terms of prosperity. After all, "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."

I myself know little about economics, so I am probably not qualified to comment on your assertions about global capitalism, collectivism. However, I think it is worth noting that some people would characterize capitalism by "stealing and coercion" as well.

Halden said...

Nice obfuscation there, Peter. You mention only one specific reference, which does not in any sense say that material wealth is a blessing and completely ignore dealing what what Jesus actually says in the verses quoted to you.

How cheap and disingenuous.

Peter Dunn said...

In capitalist countries, laws are supposed to create fairness and to stop coercion and stealing; so if killing and stealing occur, it is in spite of the system. In socialist system, the government itself does the stealing through coercive wealth redistribution.

I agree with Paul that the love of money is the root of all evil. But it is not the sin only of the rich. Indeed, the poor who are filled with envy and covetousness are also highly susceptible to the love of money. Gehazi was not wealthy, but he was destroyed by love of money (2 K 5.23f.). And a rich person can be indifferent to money; some do not crave what they already have in abundance.

Halden: If you say to a rich person, "God ... richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy" you are saying that wealth is a blessing whose source is God himself. But how can you not read Deuteronomy and not see that poverty is part of God's curses and wealth his blessing (e.g., 28.1f.)? And Proverbs gives a advice that will lead people to wealth and happiness (e.g., 3.1-10--God will multiply your shalom and barns and wine vats bursting). The produce of the land is seen as a gift from God and therefore in the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to give back to him 10% in the form of a tithe.

But I am not sure what it is about Jesus' words that should make me favor socialism, despising Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. Could you please explain that to me?

Thom Stark said...

I doubt it.

Peter Dunn said...

You doubt what?

Halden said...

Deuteronomy lists specific blessings and curses for Israel as God's covenant people. Moreover, Israel is about as far from Capitalism as you can get. Ever hear of the year of Jubilee? Sounds like redistribution of wealth to me. The stuff in Proverbs and Deuteronomy should be read in that context.

And everything should be read in the context of Jesus's statements above all.

Peter Dunn said...

Christians affirm that God is a good creator who gives material blessings to the covenant people, but this blessing is also affirmed for non-covenant people: So Jesus says that God makes it to rain and sun to shine on the good and the evil alike (Matt 5.45), as a sign that God loves and blesses his enemies.

The year of Jubilee protects private property, family rights and individual freedom, by making it possible to find complete freedom from debts. I don't think it is far from capitalism as you have suggested, because it affirms a family's right to property which cannot be annulled by indebtedness. If anything, it is a hyper-capitalism. Laws like the Year of Jubilee are not foreign to contemporary capitalism. Personal bankruptcy laws have a similar effect in that the individual can escape otherwise enslaving debts and make a new start in life.

If you are in favor of a biblical form of wealth redistribution, you may send me your next pay cheque (or as soon as you can) and I will make sure that a poor African will receive it. I'd happily do this as a favor to you: I would make sure that it would go to Bayaka Pygmies, Orphans in Bangui, or to Sudanese refugees. The New Testament doesn't continue the Year of Jubilee, but Christians who are filled with the Spirit give spontaneously and under no compulsion (Acts 4.35-37; cf. Acts 5.3-4). The Year of Jubilee was not enforced by a coercive bureaucracy like the IRS or CRA, but it was intended to be a voluntary community practice that the people did out of love of God and neighbor. Written into the tax code of Canada and the US, are laws for enforcing redistribution. But God was the one who enforced the year of Jubilee, no human authority.

One way that USA could apply the Year of Jubilee, therefore, would be to abolish inheritance taxes so that when farmers and business men die, their holdings could more easily pass on to their families instead of redistributed by the government. Taxes after death can be very hard on families. My father-in-law has a huge insurance policy so that when he dies, his company can remain in the hands of his children. This is not right. To apply the biblical principle of behind the Year of Jubilee in our day, you would have to have less redistribution not more.

Thom Stark said...

"Christians affirm that God is a good creator who gives material blessings to the covenant people, but this blessing is also affirmed for non-covenant people: So Jesus says that God makes it to rain and sun to shine on the good and the evil alike (Matt 5.45), as a sign that God loves and blesses his enemies."

"But how can you not [sic] read Deuteronomy and not see that poverty is part of God's curses and wealth his blessing (e.g., 28.1f.)?"

Note the incongruity here between the worldview of the Deuteronomist and that of Jesus, an incongruity Peter obviously misses. The Deuteronomist believes in a cosmos in which the good are rewarded with prosperity and success while the wicked are punished with poverty and ruin. Peter also lumps Job together with the Deuteronomist, failing to see that Job is a critique of precisely the worldview held by the Deuteronomist. Moreover, Jesus' view clearly contradicts that of the Deuteronomist, saying that God gives indiscriminately to the good and the wicked alike. Therefore the Deuteronomistic idea that wealth is a sign of special blessing while poverty is a sign of sin or some shortcoming was wholesale rejected by Jesus.

"The year of Jubilee protects private property, family rights and individual freedom, by making it possible to find complete freedom from debts. I don't think it is far from capitalism as you have suggested, because it affirms a family's right to property which cannot be annulled by indebtedness. If anything, it is a hyper-capitalism."

The implicit critique of socilialism here betrays further unfamiliarity with the tenets of Marxism and perpetuates the unhelpful conflation of the "socialisms in name" (like Stalinism or State Capitalism) that have made it so much more difficult for the more authentic socialist experiments to get off the ground running. In Marxist thought, communism is not the eradication of private property like cars or houses and such. The primary meaning of "private property" in Marx is the private ownership of the means of production in industry. The only "theft" involved, therefore, in a Marxist vision of socialism is the retrieval of the means of production by the proletariat from the wealthy ruling classes who obtained ownership of the means of production (land, patents, equipment, sometimes labor power itself, etc.) through theft or exploitation in the first place. So the redistribution of wealth in the Marxist vision is precisely what's envisioned in the biblical year of Jubilee. Bankruptcy is not at all an analogous system to Jubilee as Peter claims. Bankruptcy doesn't redistribute property back to the original owners but simply eradicates the debt of the hapless soul who is rarely free to "make a new start in life." Bankruptcy results in stigmatization. It frequently requires the relinquishing of all valuable assets, so that after bankruptcy the victim is often worse off in terms of private property ownership than when s/he was still in debt. It disables the victim from being able to freely navigate the economic world. There's a more obvious difference. Bankruptcy is considered failure, whereas Jubilee is considered justice.

"If you are in favor of a biblical form of wealth redistribution, you may send me your next pay cheque (or as soon as you can) and I will make sure that a poor African will receive it. I'd happily do this as a favor to you: I would make sure that it would go to Bayaka Pygmies, Orphans in Bangui, or to Sudanese refugees."

Yes. This is A biblical form of wealth redistribution. It is certainly not the only form. So I'm not sure what point you're trying to make, other than just to be cute.

"The New Testament doesn't continue the Year of Jubilee."

Wrong. Jesus called for the restoration of the practice of Jubilee in Israel. It never happened because they killed him, but I don't think he was just kidding around with them. Luke 4 and the Sermon on the Mount are both examples of Jesus' call to renew the practice of Jubilee. This was argued first by Trocme, then regurgitated by Yoder, and affirmed by real exegetes like N. T. Wright and others.

"But Christians who are filled with the Spirit give spontaneously and under no compulsion (Acts 4.35-37; cf. Acts 5.3-4)."

We're not talking about the church, though. We're talking about broader society. Aren't we? The discussion revolves around what's best for broader society. Conservatives love to go on about how the law of the land reflects the morality of the people in defense of their policy positions on abortion and homosexual marriage, etc. And though they all seem to affirm the moral force of voluntary collectivism (at least, that is, when they're talking about Acts 5, not necessarily subsistence groups in Africa), they go ballistic the moment its suggested that collectivism be enshrined in the law as a societal value. (This is true predominantly in the U.S., and with the one exception of Craig Carter in Canada.) This is a contradiction. It's all right to enshrine some values into law, even when not everybody shares those values--just not when it comes to money. Sex values: public. Money values: private. Interpretation: bourgeois morality.

"The Year of Jubilee was not enforced by a coercive bureaucracy like the IRS or CRA, but it was intended to be a voluntary community practice that the people did out of love of God and neighbor."

Wrong. It was intended to be enforced by the Israelite judicial system. It probably wasn't ever enforced, but that's only because the Israelites (namely, the rich ones) failed to live up to Yahweh's demands.

"Written into the tax code of Canada and the US, are laws for enforcing redistribution. But God was the one who enforced the year of Jubilee, no human authority."

Wrong. It was meant to be enforced by Moses, judges, and then kings and their systems of governmental control.

I find it funny that on the one hand Peter says that Jubilee is perfectly compatible with capitalism and gives a legally enshrined "parallel" (according to him: bankruptcy) as an example, but then goes on to feel obliged to say that the biblical idea of Jubilee was not something that was meant to be enforced. I'd say Peter has at least got one aspect of Jesus' ethical teaching down: he doesn't let his right hand know what his left hand is doing.

"One way that USA could apply the Year of Jubilee, therefore, would be to abolish inheritance taxes so that when farmers and business men die, their holdings could more easily pass on to their families instead of redistributed by the government. Taxes after death can be very hard on families. My father-in-law has a huge insurance policy so that when he dies, his company can remain in the hands of his children. This is not right. To apply the biblical principle of behind the Year of Jubilee in our day, you would have to have less redistribution not more."

Yeah. Or not. Or we could read the practice of Jubilee correctly and admit that an analogous practice today would be the handing over of land to the natives, the dissolution of NAFTA followed up with a contract with indigenous Mexican corn farmers (after first restoring their corn farms to them by taking them away from the moneylenders who took them away when the corn farmers went out of business because of NAFTA) making them one of the primary suppliers of corn to the U.S., and that sort of thing. Jubilee isn't just about a fresh start. It's about a fresh start with all the means they had at their disposal before the powerful came in and took advantage. Jubilee is not compatible with capitalism. Capitalism fundamentally depends upon the illusion of the legitimacy of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by the wealthy elite. Jubilee undermines the legitimacy of this private ownership, thus undermining one of the basic pillars of the capitalist myth.

Peter Dunn said...

Thom: you seem very self-assured of your interpretations. Your first suggestion assumes that there is no coherence between Deuteronomy, Jesus and Job. I believe in divine inspiration, while you don't seem to think that Deuteronomy is inspired at all. Besides, I was answering the question of why prosperity is good, and why if capitalism leads to widespread prosperity it is a better system than Marxism, which leads to misery. As a better working system, it is therefore one which Christians can support, work in and thrive. But you want to do social experiments; how many people will die in these "authentic" experiments. Isn't 100,000,000+ and counting enough already?

You tell me that I know nothing of "marxism". But from your words I see that I was right to fear you. You will remove my wife's company from her and "give it to the rightful owners" (BHO). And you think that the Year of Jubilee enshrines Marxism in the Bible. You shrug when I suggest redistributing wealth to projects which are dear to me, in a callous way. I am beginning to understand now very well the tone that Carter uses with some of you people. You make me shudder. You are very dangerous, and your ideas are not all to be taken lightly. And also, you are even more dangerous than an atheistic marxist, because you think that you can justify your theft with the Bible; but it is still theft, and ultimately God enforces his laws.

Wealthy people have rights too. Your views disgust me, because the means of production in most cases are earned not stolen. All the wealth that my family has is earned at great risk and with hard work. Stealing the means of production is what people like Hugo Chavez do in nationalizing the oil industry.

Thom Stark said...

Oh snap.

ndansmith.net said...

Peter, back to my original post: do you believe that economic prosperity is the primary criterion which we as Christians should use when evaluating political/economic systems? Your posts indicate that you would answer a resounding "yes," but I would like to hear from you directly.

Peter Dunn said...

Mr. Smith:

Thanks for the question.

The Ten Commandments are perhaps a good place to start. In them, are our basic duties to God and rights before man. I would favor a political system which respects property rights (You shall not steal; you shall not covet), whether monarchical or democratic, which allows the freedom of individuals to work to obtain and keep property (hence, capitalist), and is fair in its meting out of justice. Such a system, all other things being equal, will lead to greater prosperity than socialist, marxist, or kleptocratic systems. Experience teaches us that when property rights are jeopardized by seizure or high taxes, productivity goes down, because as Adam Smith suggested, individuals working in their own interests in a free market benefit the society as a whole.

But experience teaches us over and over again, with every failed Marxist experiment, with every klepotcrat, or with every example of highly collectivist cultures, that if the individual is forced to benefit the collective, productivity goes down. I am a living example of lower productivity because I do not taxable work that benefits the GDP, because my wife works until June for the Canada, Ontario, and municipal governments, why should I also give them six months of my life?

So to answer your question, prosperity is more the measure than the criterion of a good political/economic system. The US and Canada are more capitalist by protecting private property and fair business dealings than Central African Republic, North Korea or Cuba, and as a result are far more prosperous.

Thom Stark said...

In Peter's revealing non-answer, he helpfully displayed that not only does he not know what socialism means, he doesn't know what capitalism means either.

"I would favor a political system which respects property rights (You shall not steal; you shall not covet), whether monarchical or democratic, which allows the freedom of individuals to work to obtain and keep property (hence, capitalist)."

I think it's silly that this conversation has been hijacked by Peter when Peter's position doesn't really represent Craig Carter's in the slightest (their joint rejection of their own mis-definition of socialism notwithstanding.)

Peter Dunn said...

I've become a follower recently of this blog and I've appreciated Prof. Carter's views. Obviously we don't agree on everything. However, our interactions have been respectful and I am not here to tell him how wrong he is about everything.

Peter Dunn said...

I've become a follower recently of this blog and I've appreciated Prof. Carter's views. Obviously we don't agree on everything. However, our interactions have been respectful and I am not here to tell him how wrong he is about everything.

LeVon said...

Craig Carter wrote:
"Lancaster Co. PA, with its very high concentration of Mennonites, normally votes Republican (even though the Amish don't vote). That should tell you that a simplistic equation between Mennonite pacifism and liberal pacifism is not right."

This example is fraught with complexities and variables - too many to be used the way Craig is using it. I lived there for almost 40 years, and I would consider the strident Republican support given by many Mennonites to be an erosion of Mennonite pacifism. I would make the claim/observation that right-leaning Christian radio has had (and still does) a huge influence on Mennonites who became a little embarrassed about being the "quiet in the land." And their wealth and affluence lure them in that direction as well.

Thom Stark said...

I mean seriously, what happened to Craig Carter? It's like he's gone all "First Things" on everyone.

Stephen said...

not to take sides but I think this is appropriate:

http://xkcd.com/386/

Dr. Evangelicus said...

I declare Peter Dunn the winner of this debate. He has certainly been the most respectful (with Thom Stark the opposite).