by Charles Toy
It’s time for us Christians to catch a clue. The modern conservative agenda is anathema to everything it means to be a Christian. It’s based on Randian Objectivism, which isn’t a far cry from LaVeyan Satanism.
Let the current state of affairs speak for itself. The poor and destitute have suffered the most under laissez-faire capitalism. The rich and powerful have emerged predominantly untouched. Now, when it’s time for everyone to ‘tighten their belts’ as a result of ‘conservative’ policy, it’s the poor who will have to sacrifice. Many have nothing left to sacrifice.
The stock market is soaring. Corporations are making record profits. Resource inequality is at staggering levels. The wealthy are more than fine, and yet conservatives will not make them share the burden of the fiscal conundrum created by foolish policy, exorbitant greed, and excessive militarism.
We have been deceived for far too long. These are not the ways of Jesus. Feeding the rich and powerful while starving the poor and destitute is a recipe for spiritual disaster. The majority of Christians in this country are supporting just that, and we need to wake up.
We're not against the free market here. The free market has its place. When it fails large groups of people, as it often does, we must have a vibrant social safety net to compensate. And we need to make access to health care universal to all. Health care is not a privilege. To think otherwise is barbaric and selfish.
The modern conservative brand of Christianity likes to blame the poor. They call them 'lazy,' and 'a bunch of freeloaders who refuse to work.'. Did Jesus ever call the poor lazy? Never once. Demonizing the poor is not Christian. It's akin to an anti-Christ philosophy. It's social Darwinism. The resounding majority of poor people are not lazy, and they don't refuse to work. They work harder to survive than most do in society.
Isaiah 10 and Jeremiah 22 are two examples of the prophets issuing harsh admonishments to wicked kings who abused the poor and marginalized. Conservative Christians insinuate that ‘it’s not the government’s job to care for the poor.’ They couldn’t be more wrong. They go on to imply that ‘the downfall of our great nation will be abortion and gay marriage!’ What a joke. Jesus said nothing about these two issues.
Jesus spelled out exactly what his priorities are in Matthew 25: 31-46. Conservative Christians would do well to learn those priorities. If the ‘downfall of our great nation’ occurs, it will be because we ignored them. It’s happened before: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” ~ Ezekiel 16:49
We’re completely against any kind of State religion. In the “land of the free” everyone should be able to worship or not worship as they see fit. State religion just leads to persecution of those who don’t agree with it. That said, if we want to behave like a “Christian Nation,” maybe our elected representatives should start acting a little more like Jesus (that guy at the center of our faith). Maybe they should be out in the streets talking to real people who struggle every day to survive. Maybe they should be looking for ways we can collectively help them. Maybe when they give a banquet, they should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and give them the best seats in the house.
We’re no “Christian Nation.” We worship wealth, power and force. Our elected representatives coddle billionaires and arms dealers. Even among Democrats, only 30% of them (at best) are true progressives. We treat those who are, like Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich, like kooky, pie-in-the-sky dreamers. Let’s just get real about this whole “Christian Nation” thing, unless we really want to see our government officials acting like Jesus.
The marriage of the Church and modern conservative politics has produced a dark and ugly entity, and it’s time for Christians to come out from its grasp.
In a recent post (“The New Left”, 7/20/11) we issued a declaration that we were going to reclaim the term “Left” and redefine it in terms of who Jesus is and how he calls us to live and reflect his heart. I’d like to add a little background to some popular ideas (and misconceptions) of “the Left”, since the term that we want to reclaim has had quite a convoluted history, and has generated a lot of misunderstanding, for quite a long time. So ........
Ready for a jaunt through some history?
Where did all the “left/right” dichotomy come from in the first place? The terms first showed up (in politics) in France during its Revolution of 1789, when members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king to the president's right and supporters of the revolution to his left. The terms went through a history as complex as the politics in France over the next century and more (including the appearance of more nuanced terms such as “center-left” or “extreme right”), but by 1947 historian Robert McIver noted in his book The Web of Government:
“The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the center that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged. Defense and attack have met, under democratic conditions, not in the name of class but in the name of principle; but the opposing principles have broadly corresponded to the interests of the different classes.”
That ought to sound familiar: it’s pretty much identical to the battle going on today between Left and Right in this country — and it describes perfectly the principles that The Christian Left takes, in line with Christ and the rest of Scripture on defending justice and supporting the less advantaged.
“We’re the ‘left’”. “No, we’re the ‘left’ ...!”
So what should be the problem with that? Well, the problem comes from the competing political and social forces that have wrangled for control over how “the left” (or its professed support of “the people”) ought to be put into practice. Early “liberals” were actually from the middle class, aiming to protect themselves against aristocratic power (and “conservatives” arose to defend aristocratic privilege, in reaction to liberals — hence the idea of “reactionary”); later in the 19th century, socialist groups, at first allied with liberals, broke away when workers and “lower” classes sought more control of their work and political futures, since the middle-class capitalists held most of that control (at least, in the workplace). The very idea of socialism — an economic system, not originally a political one at all — arose from the ideal of the society (“we the people” would be another way of putting that) controlling material wealth and production, in order to promote more equality across society as a whole.
But as you can imagine, all sorts of disagreements about how best to apply that led to the competing political groups I mentioned just above. In the middle and later 19th century, socialism in turn led to the development of communism (a more extreme form, which held that only revolutionary change could bring about an ideally socialist society). Various forms of “socialism” ranged from the more democratic, to the more “statist” or centralized-control versions. Popular unrest over Russia’s involvement in the First World War paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution, in which the Communist Party seized power (and set the standard for “communism” as involving centralized state control, as separate from socialism as allowing for more democratic elements). The great tragedy of the 20th century, of course, was that autocratic groups so easily seized control in the name of “the people”, but then committed horrific genocides and instituted oppressive regimes in which “the people”, of course, had no control at all.
McCarthy era: no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
All that, of course, left a deep distaste in the more democratic-capitalist West, and naturally was the source of legitimate fears of “socialist” or “communist” infiltrations into democratic societies, especially in America. (The author of the Pledge of Allegiance, Baptist minister and Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy, ironically was booted from the pulpit in 1891 shortly before the Pledge was published, over his socialist views.) After the Second World War, and with the start of the Cold War — with the Soviet Union now our competing superpower, and an even greater threat — fears of communism and socialism reached fever pitch, climaxing with the McCarthy-era inquisition and “witch hunts” of suspected Communists throughout the U.S.A.
And behold — the image of communism, and of socialism (with few people distinguishing between the two) were fused in American popular understanding as: fiendish plot to destroy Moose and Squirrel! As they pretty much are seen to this day. So on a political level, anyone who identifies with “the Left” is still automatically assumed, by most in this country, to be in league with forces that wanted to impose autocratic, centralized control over all aspects of life, threatening to turn America into the kind of nightmare, totalitarian state that cast such darkness over the world during the 20th century. And because totalitarianism took so many ugly forms during that century, popular thinking also usually doesn’t distinguish between communists, socialists, fascists, Marxists, Maoists, or Nazis: to many people, those are all different names for the same horrors. (See the signs that often sprouted at Tea Party rallies in recent years, for plenty of examples of that!)
What about the “religious left”?
What about the “religious left”? That’s a whole different arena, of course (which may wait for another blog post to look at more deeply). But briefly, since the 19th century, especially during the last half of the 20th century, a whole host of views — ranging from fusions of Christianity and socialism, to “unorthodox” ideas that merge with some of what are often known as “New Age” beliefs, but often also aligning with ideas on the political or social left — have convinced much of conservative Christianity that, well, the “Christian left” doesn’t often have much to do with historic Christianity at all. That’s why, in most references to the “Christian left” in conservative Christian publications, the general perception is that “lefties” are probably not Christians at all.
Okay ... so what about The Christian Left?
So where does that leave our group, The Christian Left? Following Jesus, of course — at least, that’s always been and always will be our stated intent. Politically, we see the overwhelming theme in the Bible to support justice and defend the rights of the poor, the sick, and all the disadvantaged — which is at the original heart of what political groups on “the left” have always advocated. Religiously, we don’t take a doctrinally narrow view (or impose a religious “purity test”, nor exclude anyone from joining us, no matter their views on religion) as some groups on the Right tend to do; but neither do we have a problem with the heart of historic Christianity. Instead, again we want to emphasize the heart and life of Jesus himself, along with the rest of Scripture, as supporting justice equally for all in society (especially the poor, sick, or disadvantaged) — including the biblical insistence that it is most certainly the business of government, not just individuals or churches, to provide for the poor and needy — and we recognize the Bible’s strong call that all who consider themselves Christians “must live as Jesus did” (1 Jn 2.6).
So, to the political Right: sorry, but we are not out to impose fiendish plot to destroy Moose and Squirrel (or otherwise promote centralized, state control)! And to the religious Right: sorry, but we actually love Jesus Christ and want to follow him, as you profess to do also. We just take utterly seriously that walking our talk means applying the Golden Rule in everything, and that, as Scripture emphatically declares, it is government’s business to practice that as well.
To all our readers, then — the next time someone squawks at you over your involvement with something incongruously (as they think) called “The Christian Left”, you’ve got the chance for a little good old American value, freedom of speech, and maybe can educate some people out of misconceptions. You’re in pretty good company when you do that: Jesus is a teacher too, you know.
Sources: you can read a lot more about the histories of Left and Right, and about socialism, communism, and related topics, at these Wikipedia pages:
(Post submitted by featured blogger, Roger Smith, who also blogs at Roger’s Shrubbery.)
About TCL Blog
We’re not about Dogma here. We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong.
Charles Toy is the founding member of The Christian Left. We're sure you will enjoy his passion as well as his wit. Guest bloggers featured often.