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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


Friday, October 18, 2013

The Tea Party's Lines In The Sand

Today's link is from Acton Institute's blog and is posted by Marc Vander Maas (click here for the link). It consists of a video interview of Dr. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute and was done to promote his book, Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case For Limited Government, A Free Economy, And Human Flourishing. The contents of this review, however, will be what was covered in the interview and the blog discussion afterwards between Marc Vander Maas and myself.

There were two lines drawn in the sand during the interview. The first was what should we do about the worldwide but silent persecution of Christians particularly in Syria. This persecution is resulting in over 100,000 Christians being killed in one year alone. We are calling this persecution silent because of the lack of attention it draws from the media and politicians. The second line in the sand here is one over small government and less interference between government and business.

My fellow Christians are in a horrible dilemma in Syria. They are being protected by an abusive tyrant, President Bashar al-Assad. The 2011 Arab Spring, Syria style, morphed into a bloody and brutal civil war. The Christian community in Syria is receiving a large part of the violence by some rebel forces because of the longterm Christian support for the government. Their enemies are the varied groups of Islamic extremists who make up only part of the rebellion. In this interview, Gregg makes a point of the lack of media and political attention to the persecution and killing of Christians worldwide. And as if some of the world was listening, the USA Today posted an article in September on the targeting of Christians occurring in Syria (click here for the article). In addition, the European Parliament just publicly condemned the attacks on Christians in Pakistan, Syria, and Iran (click here for the article). Note that these seemingly contradictions to Gregg's claim occurred after the interview.

Some of the persecution Christians face in these countries revolve around the approach some Muslims take to Islamic religious laws while Christians are also attacked because of the friends they have chosen to hang around with. The latter point applies to the Christians in and out of Syria. We have already mentioned the Syrian Christians' ties with an oppressive government. Outside of Syria, one only needs to note how America, which is perceived representing Christianity by some, has provided an unbalanced support for Israel such that in most cases, the US has Israel's back regardless of how Israel treats the Palestinians. We could also note how the US has also supported tyrannical leaders, like Saddam Hussein during the 1980s, because of the financial benefits such support has provided.

Anyone who has an inkling of past history can then easily see the association that a few Muslims might understandably make between Christianity oppressing the the vulnerable with what Mohammad witnessed between the polytheistic religions of his day and their treatment of the poor. 

Thus, the longterm solution for the current persecution of Christians is to change one's friends. Instead of Syrian Christians buying their safety by supporting the government, they should do what they can to join in opposition to their government. That opposition does not have to be violent. There is nonviolent opposition to the government in Syria (click here for more information). Just for conscience's sake, Christians should oppose tyranny even when they benefit from it.

Likewise, American Christians must push their country toward providing a conditional, balanced support for Israel. That is, support for Israel must be based on their treatment of the Palestinians and the land. When Israel abuses the Palestinians or continues to steal Palestinian land, Christians must call on America to oppose Israel and do all it can to nonviolently stop Israel from harming the Palestinians.

Such changes would not eliminate all persecution of Christians in the Middle East. But what these changes can bring is an example of or setting the precedence for being more committed to principle than partisanship. Without such a commitment, tribalism rules. And as long as tribalism reigns, relative morality gives way to barbarity and the cycle of violence continues. In contrast to tribalism,  Christians can provide a good influence in the Middle East by speaking against tyranny and oppression regardless of who its practitioner is. This applies to Christians both in and out of Syria.

The second Tea Party line drawn in the sand is one over the size and power of the government. What provides a dilemma for the Tea Party here is the use of the Constitution to call for a small government that practices a laissez-faire relationship with business, which is what Gregg calls for in the interview, is that the Constitution was originally written and sold to provide a stronger federal government than what existed before. James Madison points this out in Federalist #10 when he writes
Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic, -- is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it. 

This statement made by Madison is an argument supporting a stronger Union in contrast greater states' rights -- though we could argue that Madison opposed any government effort at disturbing the financial status quo. We could also point to my quotation of Madison from the Constitutional debates in favor of insulating the Senate from public opinion. 

But what should also be pointed out to Tea Party supporters is that any call for a smaller government is also a call for a more limited democracy. Though the call for a weaker democracy definitely fits the purposes of many of our nation's founders, it also allows for more tyranny to be practiced by elites in the private sector. For the less a democratic government can provide checks on business, the greater the power of those in the private sector not only to create their own wealth but to gain that wealth by exploiting customers, communities, the environment, and workers.

The Tea Party call for a smaller government is nothing more than giving in to a fatalism regarding how government will rule. The Tea Party's limited vision of government is that it can only act as an alien force for its own interests. Certainly, that is how government appears to work today. But we should ask if the government acts that way because the population is minimally involved in the democratic process by reducing democracy to voting every x number of years. In any case, the Tea Party's warning about the dangers of government is aided by the lack of involvement by public.

Instead of calling for as small a government as possible, we should involve ourselves as much as possible so that government is adequately pressured to act for the welfare of the people more than for its own interests or the interests of private sector elites.

The points about Christians associating with the wrong people and about the pitfalls of too small a government because of to little interest by the people are missed by Tea Party Catholics such as Dr. Samuel Gregg. And what we see in this interview is an age old 
alliance of conservative authoritarian religion with conservative authoritarian politics. Here, the politics is authoritarian because it revolves around elites. The fact that these elites are from the private sector does not negate the fact that any time power is consolidated, we have authoritarianism. So we should not be fooled by the call to reduce government. Such a call does not work against the consolidation of wealth and power because it simply moves the power out of the hands of an elected government and puts it in the hands of non-elected, private sector elites instead.

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