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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How A Christian Fundamentalist Became A Socialist Too

How quickly things can change. Back in 2000, my politics were as conservative as my religion--I am a Christian Fundamentalist and a Calvinist and I voted for George Bush. But then came 2004 and 2008. The only Presidential candidate I could vote for with a clear conscience then was Ralph Nader. And this year, I am deciding between Stewart Alexander, who is a Socialist, and Jill Stein from the Green Party. What changed?

My change began while I was still a political conservative, before I voted for Bush. It came after meeting a person who is now my best friend. She was outside my narrow circle of faith and yet she did the most Christ-like things for people. Her compassion was deep and wide. Because it was deeper and wider than most, if not all, of the people I knew at church, I realized that perhaps we, those in my circle of faith, need to listen to others.

My listening to others came in the form of reading. During the summer of 2001, I decided to read a couple of books from what most people would consider the Left. One of the books contained some of the writings and speeches made by Martin Luther King. The other book was about the Middle East and was written by Noam Chomsky. What I noticed about King's writings was that he had a passion for winning people over. What I noticed about Chomsky's book was  that he had a passion for fairness. These two passions seemed very Biblical to me as well as most of what I read. This left me with the questions. Why hadn't I been reading King, Chomsky, and other likeminded writers before and why didn't my church direct me to writers like them?

Though the first question was unanswerable, the second was not. The reason why my church had not told me about King and Chomsky was because it was, and still is, enslaved by the chains of authoritarianism.  This affected our reading lists by guiding us to read from people with the proper credentials while we are to avoid being contaminated by those with the wrong credentials. This is because to the authoritarian mind, truth is determined more by the credentials of the source than by the facts and logic in question. This way of determining truth holds minds captive as there is a push to filter statements according to the source. Thus, many of my fellow fundamentalist tend to burn books from those with bad credentials less what reasonable things they have to say leads to a greater hearing.

As I continued to read, I learned that Socialism is about sharing power and wealth as well as expanding one's circle of compassion to include others regardless of nationality or ethnicity. Here, everything seemed Biblically kosher except for sharing power. That was questionable because we Fundamentalists are an authoritarian lot. We just love to either exercise or follow authority. It is our safety net when thinking. And we have Biblical reasons for being that way. In Romans 13, Paul tells us that since all authority comes from God, to resist any authority is to resist God. Unfortunately, we have reduced how we are to relate to those in authority to just that part of the Bible. We forget about those parts in the Old Testament prophets challenged the authority figures of their day to repent.

So what is shared power? It simply means that we all share in the decision making of our communities, our places of employment, and country. This means that we demand from those above us to share decision making with us and we share decision making with those below us. This means that we follow Jesus' prohibition against "lording over" others. So, rather than relying on authority figures with impeccable credentials to lead us, we lead ourselves by extending democracy. That means that we should have a more democratic voice besides voting every x number of years. Of course, some things would have to change to give people more opportunities to participate. For example, we cannot keep the current economic system that demands so much time and effort from people so that they are too spent to be more involved in their democracy.

Shared wealth is often deridingly called redistribution. But it is called that by people who are unaware that our wealth is already suffering from a redistribution to the top. The idea of shared wealth comes from Biblical values. Values that say that we both care about those who have less and we place a high enough unconditional value on human life that we want to ensure that everybody has what is necessary to live. Of course how wealth is shared is to be determined by shared power.

Finally, we have the emphasis on the international over the national or local. At this point, some of my American fellow fundamentalists would worry about my support here. They would be scared that I am supporting the coming AntiChrist's one world government.  At the same time, such people promote a double standard for while they assert America's right to do what it wants because it is a sovereign nation, they deny the right of all other nations to do the same--that is unless they agree with the American government. But such Christians also neglect some basic Biblical facts such as that all people are made in the image of God. They also overlook the fact that God gives no preferential treatment. Finally, they shield themselves from the fact that when America acts against another country, the Christians in those countries will be targeted.

Please note that not one aspect that has drawn me to the Left was the raised fist. Though I understand that it is a symbol for resistance, it goes against what my initial teachers taught me whether it was my best friend with her compassion, Martin Luther King with his seeking to win people over, and Noam Chomsky with his wanting everyone to play by the same set of rules. And as one of my fellow activist friends notes, it threatens and thus squelches the curiosity of those on the outside which limits the number of those who would join. The raised fist plays into the hands of our critics.

I am a Christian Fundamentalist who is also a socialist because the 3 above mentioned values of sharing power, sharing wealth, and support for others regardless of nationality or ethnicity are Biblical values. They are also human values. These values demand that we treat each other as equals regardless of our differences. These values require that we treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves. So how more Biblical can we get?


TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
Biblical ideas do not lead to Socialism. Your idea of 'sharing power' seems strange. We live in a republic, where everybody has one vote. I agree with you that we should hold our representatives more accountable, but I do not see how Socialism would do this. How does your idea of Socialism perform the task of governing?

Your idea of sharing wealth is fundamentally flawed. We, as Christians, are commanded to share wealth personally, but linking it to a system of government 'lords it over' others and violates both religious freedom and the creator-redeemer distinction.

What do you mean by your statement, "expanding one's circle of compassion to include others regardless of nationality or ethnicity"? Is this enforced by government? If so, it also violates religious freedom and the creator-redeemer distinction.

Curt Day said...

Strange or not, you haven't shown how sharing power in society is unbiblical. All you have done is made a declaration.

The same goes with sharing wealth. Here, as in your first contention, you make declarations but do not back them up. And tell me, what is the creator-redeemer distinction let alone how is it violated by recognizing that we are interdependent so that we cannot claim sole responsibility for what we earn.

Finally, that we care more about the international rather than national seems to me to be a biblical notion especially when we consider Galations 3:28 and that God does not show preference. The question for the Christian is not as much as who will enforce it but is it more Biblical than the nationalism we practice.

For the socialist, the international is both who to care for and who can help you when your own gov't is being oppressive.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
How does your concept of Socialism perform the task of government? All the living examples of socialism I am aware of were ruled by cruel dictatorships, which I do not think you support.

When I spoke on sharing wealth, I was referring to doing so through government. The Bible does command us, as Christians, to share our wealth with those in need of it. However, to use government or any other means to force this sharing on others is wrong. The creator-redeemer distinction says that all men are under God in a creator-created relationship, and God requires certain things of them; further, Christians are under God in a redeemer-redeemed relationship, and God requires more of them than He does of non-Christians. In essence, it is equivalent to the original meaning of the phrase "separation of church and state". Christians are required to give generously by the Bible, while others are not. Since government is over everyone, any attempt to help the poor through government using government money forces all those in the nation to participate.

Galatians 3:28 refers to the church. When I dispute your statements on international compassion, I do so from the perspective of determining the role of government. I heartily agree that Christians should care for others, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or any other cause for bias. However, once again, government should have no part in this. Government's care is to be that its own people are protected (from others, not themselves in a 'babysitting' sort of way), not worrying about justice in other countries.

Curt Day said...

No, not all practiced forms of socialism have been led by elites. The earliest forms were but consider the context. They were emerging from European or Asian, in the case of China, dictatorships.

But if you look up the Paris Commune or the Spanish revolution of the 1930s, you will find examples of non-elite run societies.

If you look up America during that time, you will also find an elite-run "democracy" that did not offer an equal voice to many people--Blacks, Women, and children were abused as laborers. In addition, you were seeing the beginning of the American overseas empire as well as the jailing of dissidents such as by Wilson during WWI. Constant protests and activism helped temporarily reduce the ways in which people were abused.

As for my form of socialism, it must be applied everywhere including the workplace. This is where workers gain control of the means of production and determine how the company is run democratically. This is already being done on a small scale here with engineering firms, bakeries, and different types of co-opts.

Obviously the bigger the group, the greater tendency to use representatives to decide things. Today's problem is that our representatives are first determined by financial contributions by people whose sole moral value is to maximize personal profits.

So the real question is how to get representatives to represent all of the people of their district rather than just their financial sponsors. Here you must allow people to live in autonomous collectives and to take the public square, such as OWS did. That will allow people to exercise democracy in other ways than voting and thus to exert their influence on their representatives.

An alternative is to break things up into voluntary collectives. This recognizes that size is an enemy of direct democracy.

A change in the economic system is a must so that people can make liveable incomes and still have time to devote to family and democracy.

All of this requires changes in cultural values and the economic system. Past the time to earn a living, the more we put into work and pleasure, the more we rely on others to rule over us. Of course the exception here is if we have enough money, those who rule over us are on our payroll.

WIll address your other points in the next comment

Curt Day said...

Now for the other parts of your note. It sounds like your concept of the creator-redeemer distinction implies recognition of a two kingdom theology. That is good. I hope you realize those implications as you think about legislating personal morals.

There are certain things in which God does expect more of Christians than nonChristians. Yet, moral values that affect the rights and lives of others are not included. That is unless in the parable of the sheep and the goats, both groups are Christians. Of course that would leave the Christian goats to a disappointing end.

And tell me, why is a government restricted to being responsible to the welfare of its own citizens only? That doesn't match with what is taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. That sounds more like a pharisee who would say that they would like to help someone in need but the law forbids it.

This is where the concept of the international is far superior to a strong devotion to nationalism. The latter encourages people to treat others with preference. That is something God does not do. And that is regardless of your view of Galations 3:28. The fact is that since people of all nationalities are made in the image of God, how we treat and regard them shows how we treat and regard God.

The Socialist concept of the international is more consistent with the concept of equality, regardless of the base, than what nationalism provides. Nationalism says that national identity makes one person made in the image of God more important than another. I don't think that is biblical.

In addition, Governments are responsible for the welfare of those from other countries in as much as their policies affect those people. This is especially true when it comes to governments that are prone to exercise extreme violence like our own gov't.

Curt Day said...

To my capitalist friend:

I would recommend the article linked to below for you to understand your own position better.


TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
Why do you keep saying that we need to change the economic system in order to give people time to participate in government? Standard work times are 8 hours a day, five days a week. This is very low compared to historical precedents.

You mention devotion to family. Have you ever heard of Kevin Swanson? He supports a family-based vision for economics, where every member helps and contributes.

In your second comment, you imply you support a two kingdom theology. Yet, you apply the parable of the Good Samaritan to government. The parable is intended to show Christians how to treat others. This does not apply to all society, as not all in society are Christians. Since government derives its power from society, it must act for all society. Since it is not biblical to require all society (which includes non-Christians) to act like the Good Samaritan, therefore government cannot act like the Good Samaritan, as the government acts for everyone. Further, since government derives its power from the governed, extending its influence over those in other countries, who have no say in it, for good or ill, is overstepping the bounds of government and is therefore tyranny. Finally, if you take the time to think about it, it is a really bad idea for anyone to take responsibility for something they have no authority over (see Proverbs 6:1-5 on cosigning loans). If our government takes responsibility for what goes on in other countries, it will not be long before it claims authority over what goes on those countries. And your comment concerning the American overseas empire assures me that neither you nor I want that.

I do not support government intervention across national borders. However, I do not believe this because I think those outside our nation are less important than those in it. I think it is a curse to those outside a country as well as those in it when the country's government tries to intervene across its borders.

I have a question about your example of socialism in your first comment. How do you propose to take over business as you described? Would the workers themselves take it over violently, or would the government force the business' hand?

A common misconception about capitalism: regardless of what Ayn Rand or others may say, the focus of capitalism is not greed or selfishness. The center of capitalism is the creation of wealth, a distinctly Biblical concept.

Curt Day said...

But the historical precedence of those hours implies nothing regarding people's ability to be involved in a more participatory democracy.

Second, since when is the good Samaritan parable limited so that it only tells us how Christians should treat other Christians? Wasn't Jesus responding to a question regarding the summation of the 10 commandments? He was asked who is one's neighbor.

At this point, you might have to ask whether you are too committed to a political ideology to give an honest reading to some of these Scriptures. Apparently, you have a limited concept of Capitalism because, first of all, it, like Socialism, is not a monolith. Second, regardless of the models I am aware of, all of them have greed as the prime motivation for producing wealth. This is true whether you look at today's neoliberalism or the Bretton Woods System, which was its predecessor, or what existed beforehand. The difference was that different degrees of greed were tolerated. Adam Smith wrote about greed when he talked about the moneyed interests of his day.

Also, you have a set heros you are bound and determined to defend regardless of the evidence. You sanctify those heros by claiming they follow the Bible. But your main concern is not to investigate the Bible but to defend those heros. And, not by coincidence, those heros share your ethnicity and national identity.

Please realize that claiming to be special is normal.

Finally, though I can't give much detail here, the strategic goal in making businesses worker owned and democratically run is not to devalue the owner but to recognize the equality between the owner and the worker, that is to rightfully elevate the status of the worker.

Curt Day said...

To my Capitalist Friend,
I did partially misread one of your notes regarding the Good Samaritan parable. However, this does not affect the conclusion. The parable does not apply solely to the Christian, it applies to all. It is an illustration of the law by which everybody will be judged.

Yes, I accept the two kingdom approach. And my interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable does not contradict that. The division line between what should only be applied to the Church and what should be applied to society depends on how one's actions affect another person. Does one's action interfere with the rights of others? Personal morality where one's decisions do not infringe on the rights of others. In addition, we see Paul implicitly recognizing the need for living space for those who are outside the Church (I Cor 5).

BTW, I don't see how your creator-redeemer model does not imply the 2 kingdom theology.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
How can you claim that the Good Samaritan parable applies to everyone, as an extension of the Ten Commandments, when, in an earlier post, you claimed that the seventh commandment does not apply to everyone, through your implication that homosexuality should not be prohibited by government?

You attack capitalism by stating "all of them have greed as the prime motivation for producing wealth." First, how does Socialism, or any other model for society, motivate the production of wealth? Second, when God created the world, He made something out of nothing. This was the ultimate creation of wealth. We, being made in His image, have the ability to create wealth, not out of nothing as He did, but we are able to take something already in existence and increase its value.

Curt Day said...

To my capitalist friend,
First, I never said that the 7th commandment does not apply to everyone. Both the 7th commandment and the Good Samaritan parable apply to all. The question is not whether they apply to all but whether or not all commandments that apply should become the law of any society.

So take the 1st 4 commandments and the 10th commandment for examples. They apply to all but should society pass laws that punish those violating those commandments?

So please read my previous note regarding the division line I draw.

Also, I wouldn't reduce creation to being mere wealth. In fact, I would check yourself and see why you are so fixated on wealth. Wealth is important but it is not the only thing. And considering that socialism would not only create wealth but would balance the creation of that wealth with the democratic process so that the purpose of employees is reduced to make some bean counter happy.

Socialism isn't there to compete with capitalism in terms of how much wealth one can create though a minimum amount is necessary. Socialism is there to provide an alternative way of being together as fellow workers that both creates wealth and empowers more and more people in a participatory process.

Steven Sleight said...

Oddly enough, I've realized many of the same critiques you make of the church and our nation, but this instead has lead me to become a Libertarian or Anarchist. I mainly fall in the line of anarchist, which means the economic system is a secondary concern because in this view, the best option is for people to be allowed to use whatever economic means they believe is applicable, whether it is socialism or capitalism. In my view the "golden calf" is the very existence of the State, for all end up consumed with the desire to acquire it's reigns in order to forcibly control others according to their ideal instead of sharing their ideas with others in the hopes that they will be freely adopted. It is not so much that Capitalism is the culprit, but rather that the State is the culprit that is the means by which greedy men manipulate the natural rules of the economic system to their advantage. The basic idea of a free market is to produce things that help others, for then you can trade with others for things that help you in return. This is completely twisted through the State in that it exists as an artificial unjustified monopoly over the use of force. I am all for the egalitarian idea, but this means tearing down the very structures that are used by sinful men as the tool of the State that is used for oppression. This would reduce the ability of the giant corporations to insulate themselves from actually making things that satisfy the needs of the people, for they would have to actually be successful at it or go out of business without the protection of the State that they currently have via the revolving door. I understand where you are coming from which is the charge in the Bible to show compassion to the poor and oppressed, and like you my desire is to see an end to this corrupt system, but where I differ is that for me that entails the end of the State, for then people will no longer be alienated from the sufferings of one another through the legal barriers of the State and it's programs that supposedly help the poor, but really only minimally sustain them so that we don't have to be confronted by them in the streets.

Curt Day said...

I am not sure whether you oppose the State in principle or a particular state. In that the state represents the people as a whole, I have no problem with because there are some things that the state can do that anarchistic communities cannot. Here, I am arguing for the state in principle.

In addition, I think you oversimplify Capitalism and the Free market. The more we support both, the more we take away the rights of individuals and communities to stand against another abstract, the democracy. Free Markets are far more than providing goods and services that people need. In addition, the term free market is often measure by how many restrictions put on the market. It is not that we should overburden the business community with restrictions, at the same time the opposite is not true.

Finally, we cannot adequately discuss the plight of the poor without including a fellow-stakeholder, the business world that provides and pushes for people to be un or underemployed.