Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist, spoke to Christian conservatives at Liberty University. That speech would require an entire essay to analyze and refute. But the key takeaway was Sanders’s appeal to Christian ethics to support his attack on economic inequality, a cover for hatred of individual achievement.
As the New Jersey Star-Ledger aptly observed, Bernie Sanders finds common ground with religious right. The Star-Ledger writes:
Sen. Bernie Sanders gave a fired-up speech this week at what some might consider enemy territory: Liberty University, the evangelical, Jerry Falwell-founded conservative Christian school.
He didn't pander or soft-pedal his views on abortion or same sex marriage. But as he spoke before the crowd of thousands, he met the students where they live. He challenged them to re-think their political allegiances by invoking the Bible's golden rule.
"Do to others what you would have them do to you," said Sanders, who is Jewish. Then he wanted to know: Do their Christian principles compel them to act on economic inequality?
Are you content, he asked, that 20 percent of the children in this country are living in poverty? That almost all the income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent? Do you think it's moral?
I left these comments:
It makes perfect sense for Bernie Sanders to seek validation for his political agenda in Christian ethics. This does not mean Sanders is right, but that Christian ethics is wrong.
Christian ethics—the ethics of altruism—teaches that self-sacrifice for the needs of others is the essence of personal morality. If someone has a need, those who have more are morally obligated to sacrifice for those needy—without judgement, without principles, without ideology, without limits, and regardless of personal loss to the giver. Is this any different from “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need?”
This ethics fits perfectly with the Left’s egalitarianism. Egalitarians hold that every one of us must sacrifice not just for the needy but for anyone who has less, for the sake of eliminating economic inequality. While Sanders rails against “the 1%,” there is no way to avoid the logical consequence of egalitarianism; that every productive person owes his earned property, whether his income is $1 million or $50,000, to anyone who has less, because anyone who has less, or has unfulfilled needs, has an automatic moral claim—a mortgage—on the lives and wealth of anyone who has more. Once you’ve leveled down “the 1%,” then the next economic group becomes the new 1%, and the process continues and continues. If inequality is bad, then a steady downward pull toward universal poverty and dependence on government is the only path that can result. As proof, I give you the $trillions already spent on the War on Poverty, which has given us even more poverty and needy, coupled with calls for an even bigger welfare state. Egalitarianism creates poverty, not as an unfortunate, unforeseen consequence, but by ideological and moral design.
The Star-Ledger noted that “One student later argued that poverty should be solved through church charity, not government action.” I continued:
It is ineffective to argue, as that Liberty student did, that charity should be private and voluntary, rather than government enforced. It’s true that there is a fundamental difference between voluntarism and physical force, but not fundamental enough—no fundamental moral difference. Once you’ve accepted the principle that others’ needs morally trump any claim to your own property, there is no way to argue that others’ needs shouldn’t legally trump any claim to your own property, and become the basis of law. A society’s political system, after all, is the application of morality to social organization. If the principle of the primacy of need and economic equality is right, then Sanders is right, and government should do whatever it takes to fix it. As Pope Paul VI sternly commanded in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio addressing this very subject, “All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle.” With allies like Pope Paul VI, is it any wonder why Sanders seeks to tie his politics to Christian ethics? If self-sacrifice for the needy is a virtue, then your rights must logically be the first thing to be sacrificed.
The Star-Ledger offered, as Leftists typically do, that private charity isn’t enough:
What matters most is results -- that old people don't die penniless, that people can go to the doctor when they're sick, that millions of children don't go to bed hungry. If church charity were enough to ensure that didn't happen, fine.
The problem is, it's not. Without Social Security, the poverty rate among the elderly would be 50 percent today. Without Medicare, millions of them would die without adequate medical care. That's why the government has stepped in, with these hugely successful safety net programs.
But at the end of the day, what matters most is who can get the job done. The truth is our economy, as Pope Francis recently said, needs to be fundamentally restructured to deliver more justice for common people. We're a long way from that, and charity is not enough to ensure that all people can live in dignity.
It’s time to ask: Even if true that, without Social Security, 50% of seniors would live in poverty, is it right to sacrifice the other 50%—those responsible enough to plan for their own old age—to those who don’t? This is the essence of Social Security and Medicare—the sacrifice of the responsible to the irresponsible, and the sacrifice of struggling young people to seniors—based on the principle that need is a moral claim on the property of others; which means that to the extent that you have earned wealth, is the extent that you are chained to those who have earned less or nothing at all—without judgement, without principles, without ideology, without limits, and without the individual’s consent.
In fact, there has never [been] a time when people “died in the streets,” as the Star-Ledger claims. Prior to the welfare state, the vast majority successfully took care of themselves and, in times of need, each other. For those few who couldn’t, charity was plentiful in myriad ways, as rising general standards of living in the first 150 years of this republic created more and more surplus time and wealth for people to donate or pool together to meet unforeseen emergencies. The myth of widespread destitution as the norm before the welfare state is peddled by the Left to advance their state supremacist agenda.
Finally, the Star-Ledger, perhaps sensing that someone may attempt a moral counter-argument, said, “[T]his shouldn't be about ideology.” Very convenient. I continued:
It’s disingenuous for the Star-Ledger to demand that “this shouldn't be about ideology.” If so, then why does the Star-Ledger cling so dogmatically to its ideology of egalitarianism, and laud the Christian moral ideology of altruism and self-sacrifice that supports it? Because the two go hand-in-hand, and the opposite ideology that the Star-Ledger wants not to be named is the moral principles implicit in the Declaration of Independence; the rationally egoistic principles that people have inalienable rights to their own life, their own liberty, and thus to their own property in pursuit of their own personal well-being—and a right to expect a government that protects your property, rather than a government that is your enemy and takes your property to satisfy whatever the Bernie Sanderses of the world decide are someone else's—or society’s—needs. The issue is not whether you should or shouldn’t help others. The issue is whether you do or do not have a moral right to say no, and put your own goals, needs, and values first.
The Star-Ledger concluded, in part:
The truth is our economy, as Pope Francis recently said, needs to be fundamentally restructured to deliver more justice for common people. We're a long way from that, and charity is not enough to ensure that all people can live in dignity.
Today, as millions of Americans struggle to feed their families at a paltry minimum wage, the richest of the rich — the top one-tenth of one percent — own as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. What would Jesus say to that?
Even if Sanders doesn't pick up a single vote from evangelicals, he was right to engage them in real dialogue, right to question their moral priorities. Instead of writing off religious people, progressives should be reaching out to them.
. . . Ultimately, this is about the direction of our country. We must make it harder for those who quote the Bible to ignore its calls for justice.
Francis’s “fundamental restructuring” means omnipotent government that crushes freedom and controls all wealth and wealth producers. It can mean nothing other, as the only way to achieve economic equality is to destroy political equality. Remember that when the Left rails against the rich, it is any productive person living above poverty who is their ultimate target. What would Jesus say if he could see the today's world? Given the lack of economic knowledge of his time and given that the subsequent capitalism-enabled widespread rise of prosperity among “common people” was a long way off, it’s hard to say. The standard of living we enjoy today, thanks to the system of mutually beneficial, mutually selfishly-inspired trade, would have been unimaginable in Jesus’s time. But one thing is certain: Regardless of what Jesus would think of socialism, his ethics enable totalitarian socialism. I ended my comments:
I suggest a new interpretation to the Christian commandment, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Rather than viewing this principle as a requirement to sacrifice for others so you could then be free to prey on the sacrifices of others—a predatory moral principle of man-eat-man that leads to socialism—I suggest instead the following fundamental transformation of its meaning: Respect the lives and property of others, as you would have them respect your right to your own property and your life—and demand the same of our politicians. This leads to political and economic liberty and limited, constitutional government—the original American system.
But first we must reject the ethics of altruism and self-sacrifice, lest we hand Bernie Sanders and his ilk the moral high ground, a sure path toward the Left’s destructive ideals; “ideals” that drip with the dreariness and blood of the socialist systems of the past century. This is Bernie Sanders; a prosperity-hating, poverty-worshipping demagogue whose agenda aims at leveling everyone down to the lowest level of grinding need; needs to be satisfied by an omnipotent government that controls our wealth, and thus our lives. A chain gang of poverty, dominated by a totalitarian state. This is the fundamental economic restructuring that Sanders, echoing Pope Francis regarding the world, seeks—a socialist equality-of-destitution America, not right away, but ultimately down the road.
The leveling down of everyone to the status of equally poor is peddled as “economic justice” by people who preach, in Sanders’s words, “treating all people, no matter their race, their color, their stature in life, with respect and with dignity.” It’s time to recognize the utter fraud of the people who are attempting to smuggle in their poison under cover of those noble words.