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A Head for the Poor

There are two primary socio-economic issues currently dividing Christians (especially those under the age of 30): the environment and social justice.  The theological concept of stewardship lies at the heart of this intellectual and ideological divide.  The question, “How can we best utilize the resources God has graciously bestowed upon us?” is one we all ought to be asking ourselves and each other.

American Christians with the best of intentions and genuine desire to live their lives according to the teachings of Scripture disagree in very real and pronounced ways over how best to address poverty, injustice, and pollution.  But are good intentions enough?  Does a desire for the idea of helping others supersede the actual ideas that have been proven to actually help others?

With such an obviously leading line of questioning, you already know my answer: no!

We need a head, not just a heart, for the plight of the poor and the stewardship of the planet.

I am supremely convinced that free market enterprise is the socio-economic system most compatible with Scripture.  The fact that facts and data generally support my conviction is comforting, but it is not conclusive.  If my biblically-directed worldview pointed me in other directions when it came to deciding upon strategies for tackling poverty and addressing environmental concerns I can only hope that I would have the faith and courage to pursue those instead.

And I think that it is here where we can begin to see the divergent intellectual/ideological paths split off between Christians who embrace collectivist, big-government principles and those who embrace free enterprise ones.

Some who “go Left” do so because they believe that the Bible’s teachings on socio-economic matters are antithetical to “capitalism.”  Some do so because they believe that the Bible’s teachings promote (or point to) what we describe today as “liberal” or “progressive” policies.  Some, thanks principally to a comprehensively anti-free market sentiment throughout much of academia and the entertainment industry, believe that social scientists have proven free enterprise to be ineffective and lacking in all of the most important ways.  Still others have some sort of ideological hybrid of some or all of these rationales.

There is certainly much to wade through – much to explain and defend – when discussing this subject, and things only get more complicated and complex when one is attempting to integrate such a personal and emotional thing as someone’s faith and understanding of Scripture into any discussion.  With that in mind, all I hope to do today is this: in clear, unmistakable terms, express the fundamental reason I think that liberal, progressive, and collectivist Christians are wrong.

The facts are not on their side.

In his classic work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton explains his own fundamental reason for concluding that faith in God is right and agnosticism (and atheism) wrong.  While I would never dare to compare a Christian being liberal to a human being rejecting God – the latter being of infinitely more importance than the former – when I recently re-read the excerpt from Orthodoxy below I was struck by how shockingly close it came to articulating my objection to Left-of-Center Christianity.

In Chapter IX (“Authority and the Adventurer”) Chesterton states:

The modern intellectual is often attempting to pick-and-choose certain Christian teachings or beliefs that, when combined, create the impression that Christianity is something weak and diseased. First, for instance, that Jesus was a gentle creature, sheepish and unworldly, and one who made a feeble appeal to the world; second, that Christianity arose and flourished in the dark ages of ignorance, and that to follow the Church now would only drag us back to such un-enlightened times;third, that the people who are still strongly religious or (if you will) superstitious – such people as the Irish – are weak, unpractical, and behind the times.

I only mention these ideas to affirm the same thing: that when I looked into them independently I found, not that the conclusions were un-philosophical, but simply that the facts were not facts.

After addressing his specific refutations of each of the three examples above, G.K. continues:

I have dealt at length with these three arguments given for “why men doubt” in order to convey my main contention – that my own case for Christianity is rational; but it is not simple.  It is an accumulation of varied facts, like the attitude of the ordinary agnostic or atheist.  But the ordinary agnostic has got his facts all wrong.  He is a non-believer for a multitude of reasons; but they are untrue reasons.

He doubts because the Middle Ages were barbaric, but they weren’t; because Darwinism is clearly demonstrated, but it isn’t; because miracles do not happen, but they do; because monks were lazy, but they were very industrious; because nuns are unhappy, but they are particularly cheerful; because Christian art was sad and pale, but it was picked out in peculiarly bright colors and joyful with gold; because modern science is moving away from the supernatural, but it isn’t, it is moving towards the supernatural with the rapidity of a runaway train.

In all these cases, therefore, I came back to the same conclusion: the skeptic was quite right to go by the facts, only he had not looked at the facts.

Liberals have said for half a century that more welfare and a perpetual increase in entitlements for “the poor” will change things in the inner cities of America, but it hasn’t.

Liberals have said that allowing people to take financial risks, with the understanding that the risk-takers (aka “entrepreneurs”) will be able to reap the lion’s share of any subsequent reward, is counter-intuitive and, well, too risky – but it isn’t.

Liberals have taught that, on the whole, the things that make America great come from government intervention and/or regulation, but the y haven’t.

The Left, whether religious or not, has for two consecutive generations in this country confused the individual immorality possible in a free society for the collective immorality (and suffering) imposed from the top-down under a secular, collectivist-minded government.  They have mistaken the need for a strong, well-defined government with an over-reaching, over-bearing Nanny State.

Examples of my qualms with modern American liberalism abound, but in closing out this post, I restate (in my own words) the enduring wisdom of Gilbert Keith Chesterton: religious liberals are right to point to the facts of what causes (and what can help to relieve) human suffering, poverty, and pollution – they simply have their facts all wrong.