The Religious Left's Moral Fallacy
President Obama is pivoting once again to decrying the alleged sin of income inequality -- the left's perennial and favorite class-warfare theme. At the same time, the religious left is becoming more vocal in American politics, couching its opposition to income inequality in theological rhetoric.
When Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin took shots at Pope Francis for his apparent critique of capitalism, leftist religious scholar Reza Aslan pounced.
Writing in The Washington Post's "On Faith" section, Mr. Aslan contends that Jesus preached "revolutionary social teachings" whereby "the rich will be made poor, the strong will become weak, and the powerful will be displaced by the powerless."
He writes of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin:
[I]f these "culture warriors" who so often claim to speak for Jesus actually understood what Jesus stood for, they would not be so eager to claim his ideas for their own. In fact, they'd probably call him a Marxist.
To his credit, Mr. Aslan acknowledges that most modern Christians don't interpret these ostensibly radical pronouncements literally, but treat them as "abstract ethical principles." But then he summarily rejects this interpretation, presumably because it doesn't conform to his own radical leftist views.
The underlying theological doctrine advanced by Mr. Aslan, the popular leftist pastor and writer Jim Wallis, and the nascent left-wing political advocacy group "Nuns on the Bus" is that Jesus would have undoubtedly supported left-wing economic policies, such as wealth redistribution and high taxes.
In his book God's Politics, Jim Wallis -- the godfather of the contemporary religious left -- goes so far as to argue that true Christians should vote Democrat because Republicans favor cutting taxes for the rich (actually, Republicans support cutting taxes for everyone who pays taxes, but that's an inconvenient truth the left chooses to suppress). According to Wallis, tax cuts help the rich and hurt the poor. Ergo, the Republican platform of tax-cutting (and by extension smaller government) is antithetical to the Christian ethic of caring for the poor.
This theory is grounded in two false assumptions.
The first is that tax cuts and smaller government automatically help the rich and hurt the poor, while higher taxes and a larger welfare state do the opposite. This is the quintessential leftist attack on capitalism in general, and it has been empirically debunked in every corner of the globe that has abandoned socialism and radical wealth redistribution in favor of free markets and economic liberty. The infusion of capitalist policies, including lower taxes, has lifted people out of poverty and improved the standard of living for the average person exponentially.
Conversely, every nation that has embraced socialist policies has experienced declining standards of living and increased poverty, not to mention unsustainable levels of debt.
A massive welfare state advocated by Aslan, Wallis, et al. is not a recipe for alleviating poverty and improving the economic wellbeing of the masses. As history teaches us, it is a recipe for economic stagnation, or worse, economic calamity.
The second demonstrably false assumption is that Jesus's lesson that we must help those in need was actually a direct call for left-wing economic policies -- if not outright Marxism, as Aslan gleefully implies.
Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast last year, President Obama echoed this tripe when he invoked Jesus to support redistributionist policies.
Notwithstanding Aslan's literal understanding of Jesus's premonition that the fortunes of the rich and the poor shall be reversed, at no point in the Bible does Jesus advocate for a coercive government that confiscates wealth from some citizens to give to others.
Jesus was a moral philosopher, not a political philosopher. He preached what the moral individual ought to do and how individuals ought to treat one another. That is decidedly different from advocating a political system in which the government determines what portion of their incomes individuals must forfeit to the state.
The religious left's false assumptions about the free-market economy and Christian duty stem from their conflating voluntary moral action with the government coercing individuals to act "morally." This is a perversion of the very essence of morality.
An action is moral only if the individual, endowed with the gift of free will, chooses to act morally. If you strip the individual of choice, forcing him to give up his income to a cause the state decides is moral, it cannot be said that the individual has acted morally.
Moral action via coercion is a paradox. Only voluntary action can be deemed moral or immoral.
By the same token, leftists conflate society with government. Whenever President Obama and the Democrats celebrate the virtue of people coming together to help those in need, they purport to espouse Christian, and indeed, basic human values. But invariably, they're talking about government force, not voluntary cooperation among individuals. The former is statism; the latter is the cornerstone of a free society.
Beyond confusing voluntary charitable action with state coercion, there's perhaps an even more fundamental point: the more power the state has over the individual, the less likely the state is to act in the best interest of the greatest number of people. To quote Lord Acton, "all power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
That is why every socialist regime that has ever existed has been tyrannical. In other words, even if you believe that forcing an individual to be "charitable" at the point of a gun is consistent with Christian theology or general principles of morality (it isn't), the inevitable outcome of state coercion will be not a more charitable and prosperous society, but a more economically depressed and despotic one.
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