Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Theocons: Secular America Under Siege

The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege
Damon Linker
Doubleday, New York, 2006

Many believe the secular separation of church and state as we have known it is over. President Bush believes cultural change is a function of the federal government and he is willing to use taxpayer funds for this. Theoconservatives believe the traditional values the country was founded on make no sense outside a religious context (1). Apparently they have never read atheist Ayn Rand or religiously neutral Ludwig von Mises or Murray Rothbard.

Richard Neuhaus and Michael Novak were both left-wing radicals in the 1960s (2) but became friendly to the “conservative” Republicans right around the time Nixon was president. Of course, Nixon's political philosophy (like President G.W. Bush's) was actually far left, if “left” means big-government socialism (or national socialism or some other kind of socialism).

They were disappointed at Nixon's 1968 election. I guess later they learned he was really in their big-government camp.

Novak decided, after he actually got out into the field and met some real live entrepreneurs, that the free market works best. There didn't seem to be any definition of “free” on the part of the author, but possibly the market at that time fit his definition of free. Novak did complain that under capitalism there was no meaning to life handed to you by anyone; you had to seek your own belief system and meaning of life. He thought this was a bad thing, and that government should step in and do it for us all.

But Novak knew some economics. He knew how jobs come about. He recognized this as “God's work,” fighting poverty and fostering across-the-board prosperity. And, indeed, I believe this is what God intended for mankind. Individuals see to their own self-interest; obviously your first responsibility is you, for if you don't look after yourself first, how can you look after anyone else?

However, Novak's primary interest seems to be that the trade and cooperation in the marketplace serve communal interests, community or society. Of course they do, but it is not really about that. It is really about relieving individual discomfort. Individuals feel; groups do not. It is very altruistic, Novak claims, and the “invisible hand” is really the hand of God.

I guess it is really how you look at it. When individuals benefit, society benefits. So, he is not technically wrong. I won't object, until he pulls government into the picture. What he seemed to be looking for in the end was a free (or at least partially free; it depends on if you define “free” as a libertarian like me would or as most people on the street would) market coupled with religious conservative social beliefs. What I'd want to know right away is this definition of “free” and the role of legislation in social or morality policy.

Chapter 2 was interesting as it talked about the Catholic Church’s embracing of “capitalism,” after bemoaning the lack of welfare and universal health care here. I had to shake my head as the author (a leftist) and the theocons he was discussing have no clue what real capitalism is. The church may have finally embraced it because our “capitalist” economic system has finally become socialistic enough. They consider it “capitalist” if there isn't socialized medicine and a big welfare system.

But, then again, if the Catholics (where the author says theoconservatism started) want to Catholicize America, they have to accept what we have of a free market. The author seems to think it's a sellout, believing that taxes are low and regulations minimal here. Well, compared to Cuba, maybe so, but in an absolute sense that's ridiculous.

Legislation of morality is definitely part of the theocon agenda. They cannot differentiate between immoral acts that infringe on the rights of individuals (such as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research that infringe on the rights of these very young, pre-born human beings to live) and immoral acts that do not infringe (such as same-sex “marriage” or drug use). The policies they want are based on the teaching of Pope John Paul. The author believes their goal is to Catholicize the country, not necessarily meaning everyone becomes Catholic, but meaning a ruling Catholic ideology.

Only theists, they believe, can be good citizens because the majority of citizens here are theists. (My response: Since when is being in agreement with the majority important?) The citizenship of minority atheists is questionable. The public schools, they believe, are to be used as an instrument of indoctrination regardless of the opinions of those paying for them.

The Catholics and conservative Protestants (fundamentalists and evangelicals) joined forces in the 1990s (3) to form an agenda. It took a few years while they waited for the right presidential candidate, and then in rode G.W. Bush, their hero who would save us all from secularism whether we liked it or not. And, while they were waiting for him, others in high government positions worked at enacting this agenda into law.

The theocons, of course, opposed court rulings contrary to their positions. One thing they had entirely backwards: They supposed that rights were infringed if their philosophy was not codified. “The People” wanted it codified, so it should be. They apparently believed in the rights of the collective to have it codified, not of the individual to decide for himself and take responsibility (4). And, like the neocons, they believed that the Founders agreed with them.

The situation in the Clinton era was alarming to theocons and they believed that this was the end of democracy. It reminds me very much of what freedom-lovers (and the left) are now saying about the theo/neoconservative Bush administration.

The theocons issued a statement (5) that said that the threat was not from without, but from “disordered liberty within,” which they believe was the antithesis of the “ordered liberty” the Founders affirmed.

The theocons are clueless about the Founders' ideas, I believe. What the theocons are saying sounds to me very much like “freedom to obey,” even an advocacy of divine right.

George Weigel, who published, in First Things, the most significant neoconservative statement, “Moral Clarity in Time of War,” made the case for war (6). (This is significant because of his implications regarding the United Nations.) His premise is “rogue” states and terrorist organizations that possess (or are said to possess) weapons of mass destruction must be stopped. Ideally, Weigel says, the U.N. should stop them from using force. The use of military might is characteristic of a government, so it looks as if he is advocating the U.N. become a world government. But, he says, the U.N. is not doing so, therefore the U.S. will and should, as its status as the world's greatest power makes it responsible to do so. (My response: Why?) This implies world government from Washington, which I think is what Bush desires. That would be good for everyone, Weigel seems to think. I guess this “everyone” includes dead kids in Iraq and the hapless taxpayers who are forced to finance their deaths. Weigel implies (7) that the elite in power have what amounts to a hotline to God and that is why they can see the wisdom of war when the rest of us cannot.

The war against Iraq is, of course, a dismal failure. (Nevada Senator Harry Reid said the same thing in April, 2007. I don’t usually agree with anything he says.) So, as 2004 approached, the theocons turned to domestic agenda to re-elect Bush. Conquering the Middle East (then the world) was not the cakewalk they thought it would be.

It was Christianity (their brand) versus Islam (as they saw it, and I really don't know who is right about that).

The theocons worry about an Islamic takeover of Europe, because of the decline in Europe's birth rate and participation in Catholicism, so Weigel wants the U.S. to generously fund the challenge to secularism in Europe (another move toward world government originating in D.C. as funding always causes the recipient to become, at least to some degree, “kept”). This would make the U.S. government a missionary to Europe. The Europeans are not about to change even if this is done.

The theocon agenda has done much better at home. The president started to push it, good and bad parts alike, as soon as he was inaugurated. Author Linker, being on the left, emphasized the withdrawal of federal funding (a good part, I believe) as he, like most on the left, don't seem to care that federal funds are money stolen from taxpayers. Of course, the author trots out the omnipresent abortion issue of theocon agenda. This is before pointing out the censorship and the subsidy of church-related charities (part of the bad element).

Actually, as I have repeatedly shown, these subsidies, and promised-but-not-delivered subsidies, are among the main methods by which the Bush administration is greatly harming the church.

The glaring contradiction between all these theo/neocon efforts to save unborn babies (good) and their lust for killing in “justified” wars (bad) is apparently overlooked by both neocons and the left.

Richard Neuhaus (8) said politics was the deliberation of “how we are to live together.” This is collectivist. All decisions are ultimately individual. The purpose of politics is really to deliberate on how we are going to see to individual liberty, or how we are going to work towards preventing people from carrying out decisions to infringe on rights. But, with the neocons, it's one size fits all.

In the case of euthanasia on the part of someone who actively wants it, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and other things that are or might be sinful, they just don't “get” individual choice, sovereignty, or responsibility. Maybe if they carry their pro-government philosophy far enough they can get a law passed compelling the acceptance of Christ and baptism, or at least make them mandatory for certain government licenses, permits, or permission to work in certain areas (9).

It is also akin to the divine right we are presently moving toward with authority increasingly vested in the executive.

One thing on which the author and the left are in step with the establishment is they have the controversy about teaching the theory of evolution in public schools backwards. None of them on any side of the issue even question whether it is the job of government to teach students. This is assumed. I, along with the vast majority of the libertarian movement, dissent from that belief.

But, as far as evolution is concerned, this is one area where Bush and the theocons are right. Usually when they are right it is for the wrong reason, but in this case they are right. They want all different theories presented to students, so students can make up their own minds. However, the author and the left regard evolution as “fact,” not even a theory, and that any effort to teach anything else is “anti-intellectualism” (10).

This is one of the main reasons I advocate the separation of school and state. Private schools can supply a variety of methods and content of education to the marketplace, and parents have a wide selection, including home-schooling, giving them control over their children's education. As students mature, they have increasing input themselves.

The author then points out the theocon defense of the “traditional” family. While I, too, believe the family is the only good way to raise children, I have a couple of major issues: One is the idea that the differences between the genders are fixed and innate. This view is counter to my firm, and I believe Biblical, belief in the free will. While there might be some differences (How the heck am I supposed to know?) the free will trumps both nature and nurture, unless a person is so passive as to decline full use of the free will. The other issue is law. Why should laws be on the books enforcing traits that do not necessarily exist in a given individual? Or, traits that are natural and do not need enforcement? Would it really be to keep non-conformists in line?

The book didn't mention anything about laws except to complain about the rollback of government programs that “help” non-traditional gender roles such as daycare programs. Of course, no mention is ever made of a reduction in taxes to help families.

Dr. James Dobson, a pro-Bush, pro-government, and very well-known Christian conservative leader was on “Larry King Live” on November 22, 2006. Asked what gay “marriage” would do to Dobson's marriage, Dobson replied that the Christian right's activities on this front were based on their thinking of the “greater good.” Usually, when someone speaks of the “greater good,” they mean “society,” and are placing “society's” good before that of individuals. On the separation of church and state, he said the original intent of the Founders was to protect the state from the church. When asked why not separate marriage from state and was marriage not a religious thing rather than a government (meaning political) thing, Dobson said it was both and did not really answer why it should not be separate from the state. The upshot of all of this is that Dobson is definitely in favor of strong, active government and that Larry King can ask really good questions.

Getting back to the book: Linker points out something really important about Catholicism (and also, to an extent, Protestant denominations, particularly the very fundamentalist churches), the teaching that one must submit to the church. This is a manifestation of the belief in hierarchy, or that some people are more qualified than others to make decisions, just because of their position.

Now, there is a natural elite. The only equality we have is equality of value in the eyes of God and equality of God-given rights. The civil law should treat us all the same. But, some individuals have more of various talents than others. One area might be your strong suit and my weakness. Another area might be vice versa. This is the reason libertarians read Rothbard and Rand. This is the reason musicians study Bach, Beethoven, Paul McCartney, and Brian Wilson. This is the reason Christians study the apostle Paul. In fact, we believe Paul's writings were divinely inspired. These people are ten-talent people who have been given this talent (ability) by God and have used it to the fullest. People like that are “authorities” in the sense that they know more than most of us, and while we are using our God-given abilities to think things through for ourselves we need to study their work as an aid to thinking things through.

However, Neuhaus and the theocons are saying “submission to authority” means to do and think what they tell you. I believe this is not only non-Christian, but downright anti-Christian, and this is one reason I am a non-denominational Christian.

Submission to authority (earthly authority) is what keeps people in line, according to Neuhaus and Weigel (11). There was a lot of discussion in the book about the issue of child sex abuse by priests. The priests' lack of self-discipline was not to blame, but their dissent was, according to them.

All this was said about obedience to human beings in the church, but nothing is said about obedience to human beings in government.

The author points out in the last chapter something I, being a decentralist, am inclined to believe. If there are many religions or many persuasions of all sorts, they kind of check and balance one another, ensuring peace. Society needs to be broken down into parts so that no one part can become strong enough to dominate.

This is one important reason many smaller sovereign states in the world ensure peace a lot more than one or two major powers, certainly more than a world government. There are many other reasons for being a decentralist.

Now, does this mean that I claim to be a born-again Christian, but yet I want others to believe in what I consider non-truths? No. Not at all. What I think is this: True Christianity is a-political. It does not have anything to do with civil government, or, more correctly, civil government is a-religious. Civil government is secular. Lots of things are secular, and should be. The people in these things might or might not be religious. I do desire that individuals accept Jesus Christ as personal savior, but still, if every employee in my local supermarket were a Christian, it would still be a secular business. I would be more inclined to shop there, but it is still a secular business. There might be many Christians among government bureaucrats, but it is still, or should be, a secular government. Christianity (or any other religion) is an individual matter; Christ died for individuals, not for groups, and individuals, not groups, step forward to be baptized.

After decades of reading the Bible, hearing some brilliant sermons and lectures, and applying my own God-given (and very generously, all credit going to God) ability to reason, this is what I believe, and this is what I think the Founders, only some of whom were Christians, believed.

This is very far from the theoconservative and neoconservative point of view.

It is my purpose in this essay to show that the theo- and neoconservative agenda, while the destruction of the church is certainly not its conscious aim, is the very agenda that would be used if the destruction of the church were its aim.

It has given the church a very bad name among thinking non-Christians, and has closed many minds to the possibility of becoming Christians.

As a Christian, I believe this is very serious for obvious reasons. As a libertarian I believe the stepped-up assaults on liberty by the Bush administration are alarming. Both of these trends have gone on for decades, but I fear the Bush administration has all but finished off our Bill of Rights. The recent Democratic sweep of Congress may give us a reprieve via “gridlock,” but this is only a pause in our fall to despotism.

It is too bad the left does not recognize that an unborn baby or an embryo is living and is human (cells multiply and therefore it is alive; the chromosomes are those of a human and therefore it is human), so is a living human. The left does not seem to realize that to prohibit talking to God in school (whenever talking at all is permitted) is counter to the First Amendment. Leftists seem to want to disallow privately funded Nativity scenes and other religious holiday decorations on public property, when they are more than happy to have “patriotic” or pro-government decorations that I do not agree with placed there with tax money taken from me against my will.

And, worse, the left considers the hypothesis of evolution (not even divinely-guided evolution, but random-chance natural selection evolution) for the origin of man as hard scientific fact, and any other idea as superstition! Now, that is really loony! Additionally, according to many reputable scientists, the left's other sacred cow, global warming hypothesis, isn't much better, but there is no need to touch on that just now. They want the government to be the sole educator of our children and young adults, and they want this stuff taught along with conformity and obedience (“good citizenship,” or even “good world citizenship” ... good thing I have a strong heart), sex “education,” and other such.

I never hear the left complain about numerous school rules, teacher frustration, student misbehavior, lockdowns, the handcuffing and arrests of children as young as six, evacuations, low graduation rates, inability to read, school shootings (12) or anything else. They are too busy advocating higher taxes to support public schools, and more government involvement in private ones.

The purpose of that tangent was to illustrate that the left is no knight in shining armor. Rather, as I demonstrated in my last project, The Roots of Neoconservatism, the left is only a variation on the same big-government theme as the right.

Therefore a takeover of government on the part of the Democrats will not roll back any incursions on freedom. Rather, government will keep growing and freedom will keep shrinking. It might be more secular and therefore less harmful to the church in the sense that a Bushite theocracy is harmful, but the church cannot benefit in the absence of freedom.

The author (13) says, and seems to think it's important to his points, that Christians believe that God came to earth as a person (that person being Jesus Christ, and we do indeed believe that) in a body, so they want to place God in the body of the government in the same way. My first impulse (after saying “What???”) is that this is crazy, and my second impulse is to identify this with “divine right” which, of course, is heresy.

But, heresy or no, this seems to be what the theocons are about: theocracy, or rather an attempt at theocracy. If God looks upon this favorably, then my brand of Christianity and the libertarian philosophy are entirely wrong.

The belief in divine right among Christians is not new. However, these days among non-denominational Protestants (one of which I am), the “back to basics” attitude, along with ever-more accurate translations of the Bible and a higher degree of education among the boomer generation of Christians, this idea has fallen along the wayside along with the idea that the earth is flat. So I thought. Like a bacterial infection when antibiotics are stopped too early, the divine right falsehood is back, more vicious than ever.

At the end (14), the author points out it is possible the theocon politicians are saying what they are saying only to get the Christian vote, and their true ends are less noble. I would not doubt that at all.

(1) Linker, Damon: The Theocons Secular America Under Siege, Doubleday, New York, 2006, P. 2-4.

(2) Ibid. P. 27.

(3) Ibid. P. 83.

(4) Ibid. P. 95.

(5) Ibid. P. 109.

(6) Ibid. P. 130.

(7) Ibid. P. 131-132.

(8) Ibid. P. 179.

(9) Second only to the God-given right of all individuals to offer whatever they have on the market, this kind of thing is the main reason libertarians deplore government licensure.

(10) Linker, P. 187-188.

(11) Ibid. P. 201.

(12) The whimpering for more “gun control” does not count as a complaint but is merely a cover-up for a way to expand government power. They know as well as I do that to allow people to keep and bear arms will be a deterrent to crime. For instance, had the coach at Columbine High had a loaded gun, he and some of those students would have been alive today. This is not rocket science!

(13) Linker, P. 222.

(14) Ibid. P. 223.

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