Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Obama's Christian Strategy

Two recent events have, I believe, solidified my hypothesis that President Obama is and has been making a concerted effort to break the Republican electoral hold on the Christian vote. The first event was his Commencement Address to the graduating class of Notre Dame University, a leading Catholic institution. The second was his nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

The Notre Dame speech set off a firestorm of protest against the university’s president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, for inviting him. Many of Obama’s supporters wondered why he would venture into the lion’s den, given his “pro-choice” abortion views. But both Jenkins and Obama understand the stakes as being much higher than the abortion debate.

In that speech, Obama sought to soften the abortion divide, vowing “to honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion”. The key to understanding his real motive, though, is in seeing how deeply he plumbed the depths of the Christian faith. Said the president:

"In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

Unfortunately, finding that common ground – recognising that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a 'single garment of destiny' – is not easy. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man – our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin."

These comments make it obvious how tying capitalism to the Christian faith presents a profound and fatal contradiction for Religious Rightists, such as Mark Levin and Paul Johnson. Our selfishness (the pursuit of one’s own individual happiness), our pride (confidence in one’s own moral worth and ability to achieve one’s goals), our stubbornness (consistent adherence to one’s own judgement and principles), our acquisitiveness (one’s quest for knowledge), our egos (one’s self-esteem, or the confidence in one’s own mind and its ability to cope with existence), are all of the “cruelties” that flourish when people are left free under capitalism.

Those “cruelties”, which are actually among man’s highest virtues and are the antidote to “our insecurities”, are incompatible with finding “a way to live together as one human family”…i.e., world collectivism. In an obvious, implied reference to the Christian antipathy to wealth and to the Sermon on the Mount, Obama attacks “immediate self-interest and crass materialism”. “The strong too often dominate the weak”, he said, “and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice.”

It is not capitalism, the only system that protects the individual rights of all people, that the “weak” have to fear. “Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law”, eliminating the forcible domination of anyone over anyone. Indeed, it is the so-called “rich and powerful” who are vulnerable under capitalism…to the allegedly “weak” members of the economic “underclass” who are simultaneously protected and freed to rise as far as their ambition, talent, ingenuity, and intelligence will carry them. The regulations, controls, and taxes of an overbearing “mixed (or worse) economy” government tends to entrench the established “rich and powerful” moneyed and corporate interests. The upward mobility of a truly free, capitalist society that enables entrepreneurial upstarts to constantly challenge the economic leaders is stifled…in a regulated economy…by the smothering blanket of politically-connected industry leaders. But it is not capitalism, the great liberator of the “weak”, that is Obama’s driving passion.

Notice his equation of wealth with “power”, without defining the nature of that power. It is not political power – the power of physical force – that he is condemning. It is the “power” of production...i.e., earning one’s own wealth by providing to others values they are voluntarily willing to purchase through trade.
(Never mind the “power” that comes with buying political influence. Under laissez-faire capitalism, this method of converting economic power to political power vanishes. Laissez-faire means the separation of economics and state. No private economic power can legally force anyone, without the political connections possible only under a mixed economy.) What “manner of justification” does one need for one’s “privilege” (one’s earned wealth)? Under capitalism, property rights are sacrosanct. Without the right to earn, keep, and dispose of one’s own property, there is no right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Without the means to sustain one’s life, no freedom is possible. The Rights of Man are the justification for one’s “privilege”…i.e., one’s earned wealth and “power”. But what are rights – this “manner of justification” – “in the face of poverty and injustice”? It is for the sake of those who did not earn it…those lacking in all of those sinful “cruelties"...that your rights, wealth, and “power” are to be sacrificed. Obama upholds the reign of the unearned, and connects it to fundamental, deep-rooted Christian dogma. “[W]e are not making a gift of our possessions. We are only handing over to him what is his. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich." – St. Ambrose said. President Obama fully concurs, in defiance of actual justice.

E.J. Dionne, a very astute observer who understands better than most on the Left where Obama is going, said the following about the Notre Dame speech:

"Acknowledging the Roman Catholic Church's role in supporting his early community organizing work, the president drew on the resources of Catholic social thought. It combines opposition to abortion with a sharp critique of economic injustice and thus doesn't squeeze into the round holes of contemporary ideology.

Yet his argument drew on very old ideas, notably original sin and the common good."

Original Sin is a fundamental justification for the sacrifice of the individual to “the common good”. It is a view held by pro-capitalist Christians. "In the civil society,[man] is free to discover his own potential and pursue his own legitimate interests, tempered, however, by a moral order that has its foundation in faith and guides his life and all human life through the prudent exercise of judgement." (Mark Levin, Liberty and Tyranny, Page 3) “I'm not saying that a businessman should primarily pursue moral aims. That would be asking too much, and I suspect it wouldn't work. [I]t is desirable, to my mind, that all business activities be rooted in Judeo-Christian teaching…” (Paul Johnson, Pursuing Success is Not Enough)

Those two concepts, Original Sin and “the common good”, fit quite nicely into Obama’s socialist agenda, and leave capitalism in the moral wilderness, at best. With which social system, then, does “Judeo-Christian teaching” morally align? Who can claim the moral high ground...Mark Levin and Paul Johnson, or Barack Obama? Can you envision Obama declaring that each American has a right to his own life, his own liberty, the pursuit of his own goals, welfare, and happiness – free from coercive interference by government – in order to justify imposing socialized medicine on us all? Absurd? No more absurd than upholding the moral doctrine that “we are all our brothers’ keepers” while advocating the system of the selfish pursuit of personal happiness.

The Sotomayor nomination is even more interesting. Rush Limbaugh recently shocked his listeners by seriously declaring that “I can see a possibility of supporting this nomination…” At the same time, the Left became angry and disillusioned by the fact that Obama nominated someone without the unequivocal record of support for Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized unrestricted first term abortions. Indeed, in an article in the NJ Star-Ledger, Paul Mulshine wrote:

There's an old saying that goes, "Be careful what you wish for. You may get it."

After all the hosannas to the first Latin-American female nominee to the high court died down last week, someone noticed that there is no evidence that Sotomayor supports abortion rights. There are even a few hints her empathy might be on the other side of that issue.

[A]s a federal appeals court judge, she wrote an opinion dismissing an attempt by a group that supports abortion rights to throw out the so-called "Mexico City Rule." This was a Bush administration initiative that banned funding for groups in foreign countries that permit abortion.

Obama may have overlooked the fact that Latin-Americans are not generally known for favoring abortion rights. (Emphasis added.)

But did he? I don’t think so. As in the case of his choice of Pastor Rick Warren for his inaugural invocation, and his extension of Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative, Obama’s vision for America renders the angst of his constituents irrelevant. While the Left grumbles about “broken promises”, Obama understands the value of key Christian tenets to his attempt to correct what he sees as the “fundamental flaw” in our founding documents. Whether Sotomayor is ultimately “pro-choice” or not is beside the point. What is the risk of overturning Roe v. Wade next to Obama’s grand strategy to overturn the American Revolution?

President Obama’s political strategy is clear, a philosophical masterstroke, and potentially devastating for capitalism and freedom. His grand strategy for remaking America into a nation ruled by the collective should be obvious to anyone who understands the power of ideas and of morality.

But to advocate socialism openly and honestly is and always has been a loser in America. After the tyranny, wars, and unprecedented mass murder wrought by the socialist regimes of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Red China, and the many smaller variants of the 20th century, socialism is dead as an intellectual force. Notice how Obama and the American Left run from the socialist label as from the plague, despite the obvious socialist (albeit through the fascist back door) underpinnings of their agenda. How, then, to pursue a socialist agenda in America?

Enter what one might call Obama’s “Christian Strategy”. The President, a philosophically astute man (unlike most of his GOP rivals), is and has been attempting to forge an alliance with American Christianity based upon a common moral foundation…altruism. Unlike socialism, religion is a live and growing force in America, and Christianity is the dominant religion. Since socialism and Christianity share the same ethical premise…that the good consists of living for others or putting others above self…Obama’s brilliant strategy is to hitch his socialist agenda to Judeo-Christian ethics.

America was founded on the opposite ethical principle, though those principles were never explicitly defined until the 20th century. The Founding Fathers created a nation based upon the supreme value of the individual possessing the unalienable rights to his own life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. They rejected the tribal view that man must live for others (i.e., the collective). But it was philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand who comprehensively defined the philosophical underpinnings for the American Revolution. Through her classic novels The Fountainhead and especially Atlas Shrugged…and through her philosophy of Objectivism…she presents the moral case for the American Revolution and capitalism.

It is only Ayn Rand who provides the vital intellectual ammunition to counter the accelerating collectivist trend in America, and thus save our individual freedom, because she can defend the individual’s right to exist for his own sake…and prove it. She offers the anti-dote to the doctrine that “we are all our brother’s keepers”, the moral root of Obama’s policies and the root of all variants of socialism. If Obama is to be stopped, Capitalism must be discovered. For Capitalism to be discovered, our Founding principles must be rediscovered and fully understood. For our Founding principles to be fully understood, Ayn Rand and Objectivism must be discovered and embraced.

The President is right that we are at “a rare inflection point in history”. He intends to steer America away from its Founding ideals by hitching his socialist car to the engine of Christianity. With the Christian Left already in his pocket, he has taken aim at the Christian Right, as well as the politically neutral or inactive “middle”. With this strategy, he and his minions mean to isolate the Mark Levins and Sean Hannitys as the “extreme Right”. .

It remains to be seen how successful he will be. But Obama understands fully that morality is the key to the direction America will take. It’s time that Capitalism’s defenders understood that, too.


Christine said...

What non-Christians, and even many Christians, don't acknowledge, however, is that Jesus advocated a separation of church and state. When asked about taxes he said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's", and in answer to people's desire for him to overthrow the governing forces of his day he stressed that his kingdom is not of this world. Christianity, therefore, should be a separate movement from government. In many cases in practice it is not. The desire Christians have to serve others cannot compare with socialism in that there is no force for others to comply.

Harold said...

"These comments make it obvious how tying capitalism to the Christian faith presents a profound and fatal contradiction for Religious Rightists, such as Mark Levin and Paul Johnson. "

You're absolutely correct on that. Since politics are derived from morality, a morality informed by mysticism will be reflected in policy decisions--"saftey nets", the banning of certain substances, treating non-procreative sexual activities as criminal, and so on. Galt's speech has an excellent section on Original Sin.

"Notice his equation of wealth with “power”, without defining the nature of that power."

A common package deal. We see the same thing with "monopolies".

In case you hadn't heard, in a particularly galling move, the Pope has come out with a missive calling for a new world order with real teeth to control and regulate financial markets and fight "inequality".


Render to Caesar? Ok, and what if what is Caesar's is a military dictatorship? That's a separation of church and state, isn't it? A better question might be: By what right does Caesar take our money in the first place? As far as a kingdom being not of this world, that is not a strategy for dealing with actual problems. That as an escape from responsibility and reality.

"The desire Christians have to serve others cannot compare with socialism in that there is no force for others to comply."

As was stated in the article, the essential moral principle of socialism and all other collectivist political-economic systems is that man has no right to exist for his own sake. Whether one views that as duty to the poor, the incompetent, the monarchy, the race, or a being in another dimension is immaterial.

Mike Zemack said...

In his historical book Property and Freedom, Richard Pipes writes on the early Christians:

Christians exhort their followers to give away their own wealth, whereas socialists call for the seizure and distribution of the wealth of others. The economic doctrines of the Christian Churches did not go beyond the voluntary renunciation of one’s own wealth. (page 17)

Pipes believed that this church position had to do with property rights rather than the doctrine of church-state separation, a much broader political principle rooted in the Enlightenment. In addition, this would be consistent with Jesus’ belief in the individuality of man and the idea that each is responsible for the salvation of his own soul.

So Christine is right here in regards to the issue of force vs. voluntary giving. And yes, Christianity should be a separate movement from government.

But Harold’s point that “politics are derived from morality” is crucial. The ethics of self-sacrifice predates Jesus, who got it from the Romans, who got it from the Greeks, who got it from Plato. Altruism, a term coined in the 19th century but which has been the dominant morality in various forms for the past 2500 years or so, transcends Christianity and religion in general. It was the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant who secularized it (in a quite virulent form). The so-called “New Atheists” cling to altruism.

The point is not to claim that all those who espouse altruism necessarily advocate force. Nor is it the point that one is not entitled to one’s own personal ethical beliefs. The point is that the political direction of a country is determined by the dominant philosophical ideas of a culture, and morality is the most powerful force in the field of ideas. Morality is not and cannot be “a separate movement from government”.

Today’s acceleration of the statist/socialist/collectivist trend in America is making it increasingly clear that freedom and altruism are contradictory positions. Either freedom must be abandoned…or altruism must. Self-sacrifice as the supreme virtue is simply incompatible with the belief in the individual’s right to his own life and pursuit of happiness. As Harold says, the Catholic Church has already abandoned freedom (and Christianity’s original antipathy towards forcible redistribution) in favor of world collectivism, and more and more non-Catholic Christians are gravitating towards altruism’s logical political end. President Obama seeks to cash in.

Christine said...

Harold, you're missing my point in the Jesus quote about taxes. He was not addressing the morality of taxes as a practice but the separation of the Christian's loyalty to God and the responsibility to still acknowledge earthly authority, regardless of the kind of authority to which they were subject at the time. As far as the kingdom quote is concerned, I'm not interested in getting into a debate about the presence of a spiritual element in the human experience. I simply used it to illustrate my point.

And, Dad, I completely disagree that one's personal compass (morality) cannot be separate from one's beliefs and actions concerning government. My personal sense of morality and personal goals, firmly grounded in my spiritual experience and practice, are separate from my beliefs and actions concerning government. I seek to live a certain way, not to force anyone else to do the same. I do not see those as being mutually exclusive.

Michael Gold said...

Nice analysis, Mike. Food for thought there; we'll see how things go in the coming months and years.

On a side note, I liked this formulation: "The Rights of Man are the justification for one’s 'privilege'…i.e., one’s earned wealth and 'power'. "