Saturday, June 15, 2019

Capitalism and Conservative Christianity: the Biblical Roots of the Fraud

What led from the New Testament’s tales of the earliest Christians sacrificing their lives to establish a socialist paradise in preparation for humankind’s imminent judgment by God, to the late-modern Christian’s celebration of the dehumanizing hierarchies entrenched by capitalism?

The Bible mocks the disciples for misunderstanding Jesus’s message and for failing to see why he had to die on the cross. Once they saw Jesus in his resurrected form, they realized Rome’s occupation of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE served the divine purpose of creating a new covenant with God, one that opened up the best of Judaism to the gentile, as Paul explained in his epistles. Jesus’s defeat at the hands of Rome was only an illusion, since God used the crucifixion as the means by which sin and death could be overcome for humanity. So the earliest Christians kept alive their faith in Jesus and the dualistic message: natural injustice is only apparent, and we should adopt the transcendent ideal that inspired Jesus to sacrifice his life. Eventually, the Christian dualism that was inherited from Eastern spirituality (from Hinduism and Zoroastrianism) was watered down when the failing Roman Empire co-opted Christianity in the fourth century and the so-called Catholics drove out the anticosmic Gnostics. Many centuries later, after presiding over the Crusades and Inquisitions, Christianity congealed into the American perversions—Fundamentalist, Southern Baptist, and Evangelical—that idolize monstrous Trumpism and tout Nazi-like social Darwinism. Thus we have the absurdity, made infamous by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas?, that poor and middle-class “conservative Christians” in the United States beg the Republicans to make life harder for themselves by transferring political and economic power from the public to the private sector.   

Rendering unto Caesar

There are two biblical justifications the phony Christians use to conceal their hypocrisy. The first is the story of Jesus’s shrewdness in answering opponents who tried to trap him into denying that Jews should pay taxes to the Romans. Jesus ducks the question by asking the foes to find a coin, notice that the coin bears the image and name of Caesar and not of God (since there are no images of God in Judaism), and to pay to Caesar and to God what they’re each due (Mark 12:17). The coin evidently belongs to Caesar, but the coin can be made to stand for the whole earthly domain, as the Gnostics especially would have emphasized. Thus, Christians could run with that dualism as an excuse to compromise their spiritual aspirations and to submit to secular expectations and authorities. Not only should those who would prefer to live in God’s kingdom pay their taxes and follow their earthly nation’s laws, but they should divide their loyalties between Jesus, for example, and the pursuit of fame, money, or political power. Although Jesus reserved his harshest rebukes for hypocrites, so-called Christians could pay lip service to Jesus and the Bible, while acting as though they were concerned only with succeeding in secular terms. After all, Jesus appears to grant that there are two masters, two domains, and two loyalties.

Notice that Paul’s monism steps all over that rationale. Paul agrees that Christians should pay taxes and respect “thrones” and “principalities,” but the reason he supplies differs from Jesus’s. Jesus appears to concede that part of the world doesn’t belong to God, when he holds out the possibility of rendering unto Caesar what’s his and not God’s, whereas Paul affirms that God owns everything. Col.1:16: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Thus, says Paul, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which is from God. The authorities that exist have been appointed by God. Consequently, the one who resists authority is opposing what God has set in place, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves…This is also why you pay taxes. For the authorities are God’s servants, who devote themselves to their work” (Rom.13:1-6).

If we interpret Jesus’s statement on taxes in the Gnostic manner, Jesus is saying the natural realm is ruled by profane powers, such as by empires like the Roman one. That semi-Gnosticism would provide the Christian the maximum excuse to effectively ignore Christianity until the end of earthly life, as Homer from The Simpsons once proposed, and to recant on his or her deathbed to live as a follower of Jesus only in the afterlife. The Christian could say that God’s kingdom hasn’t yet arrived, that nature is presently ruled by demonic powers, and that those powers should serve as our earthly models in the interim. Along with war and other blasphemies and atrocities, capitalism, the selfish, unsustainable struggle for profit and domination that reflects the animal’s red-in-tooth-and-claw fight for survival is a more fitting plan of action, given God’s absence, than any quixotic quest for socialist utopia or for heaven on earth. A Christian kingdom would require the miracle of God’s divine judgment of humankind, but until that happens Christians are obliged to give the devil his due, to follow suboptimal standards set, for example, by Caesar or by Trump, who may be the demonic powers’ agents or slaves. For example, if nature is governed not by God but by blind or evil forces that favour psychopaths and con artists, Christians had better compete on that unchristian terrain rather than pretend the moral, transcendent God has direct control over his creation.

By contrast, Paul is saying that Christians should submit to earthly rulers because these rulers serve and represent God who appointed them. The coin that appears to belong to Caesar must really belong to God, which nullifies the Gnostic interpretation of Jesus’s statement on taxes. Indeed, since Jesus was trying to evade the duplicitous opponents who sought to entrap him, Jesus might have added that the opponents are fools for taking the mere image and name stamped into the coin as proof that the coin belongs to the human emperor. Obviously, that secular ownership can be superficial and temporary. So Jesus trapped the trappers, demonstrating that they’re all-too ready to defer to idols. A godly critic should have answered Jesus in the Pauline manner, by saying that you can’t pay the emperor what allegedly belongs to him, because ultimately everything belongs to the highest authority who is God. By paying taxes, you’re only doing what God wants since the earthly powers stand in for God.

Paul himself, however, had to resort to Gnostic theodicy to distinguish the good rulers from the bad ones. Hence Eph.6:11-12: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Paul’s advice on taxes raises the question, then, whether a certain political authority represents God or the devil. Was the Roman Empire doing God’s will or the devil’s? How about the Nazis? How about President Trump? Should the Christian submit to the governing authority or struggle against it? The answer evidently depends on which supernatural master that authority in turn serves. But that question only raises the deeper one: Are there ultimately two masters, God and the devil, or only one, namely God? Should there be any trace of dualism in monotheistic Christianity? If even the devil inadvertently serves God, as Paul suggests in Colossians and Romans, then struggling against the devil, as Paul urges in Ephesians, would make no sense since that struggle would only frustrate God’s plan. If God’s using the devil as his instrument, perhaps the Christian should serve the devil to serve God, just as the Christian should pay taxes to the superficially antichristian authority who’s appointed by God.

To illustrate the problems with this biblical rationale for social Darwinian capitalism, here’s how a dialogue might go between a conservative American Christian and a skeptic:

SKEPTIC: I understand you’re a conservative Christian who advocates free-market capitalism.

CHRISTIAN: I am, indeed. As the Bible says, we have to render unto Caesar, right?

SKEPTIC: How is that biblical passage relevant to a Christian defense of capitalism?

CHRISTIAN: Well, we need to recognize there are secular powers and authorities that have a claim on our loyalties. We can owe people debts and be obliged to pay them. For example, we owe it to ourselves to strive to be happy and productive in natural, earthly terms, and that’s where capitalism excels.

SKEPTIC: Shouldn’t loyalty to God outweigh any secular loyalty if they come into conflict? I mean, is Christianity polytheistic?

CHRISTIAN: No, it’s not. Ultimately, we need to serve God. Indeed, by serving secular powers and living in accordance with certain natural standards, we end up serving God, because God created all things.

SKEPTIC: So the Americans were wrong to fight in WWII, since God created the Nazis? I guess there’s no such thing as freewill. So much for the moralistic interpretation of salvation by faith in Jesus’s sacrificial death that allows us to avoid punishment in hell for our sins.

CHRISTIAN: Nonsense! God created the people who became Nazis but he didn’t appoint them to destroy Europe and exterminate Jews. If anything, God uses evil people to teach us what not to do.

SKEPTIC: What you’re saying, then, is that God created the natural world, but we shouldn’t always submit to natural processes. Indeed, we should rise above some of them, because we’re special creatures, bearing in us as we do the image of God and all of that. For example, men shouldn’t submit to the urge to rape a woman. Nor should we submit to all political authorities, since some might be wrongheaded or even evil or demonic. Likewise, some economic systems might be ungodly regardless of how well they comport with our natural instincts. After all, according to Christianity, nature’s a fallen place, right?


SKEPTIC: So God created nature, but that doesn’t mean he wants us to live purely as natural beings, as though we were common animals. Didn’t Paul say as much in 1 Cor.2:12-15?
We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is not subject to anyone’s judgment.
According to Paul, God wants us to be spiritual people, not natural. So if capitalism is natural, because at its core is a selfish struggle for domination by way of accumulating private profit at other people’s expense, that hardly means Christians should be capitalists. Or am I missing something?

CHRISTIAN: Well, you’re missing where Paul says that Christians should pay taxes and even that slaves should obey their earthly masters (Eph.6:5). He says slaves should do so “as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart” and that if you’re a slave, you should “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (6:7-8).

SKEPTIC: Didn’t Paul also say Christians should put on their spiritual armor, because they struggle against demonic powers in earth and heaven (Eph.6:10-18)? So which is it? Fight fallen nature as “spiritual people” who see their higher calling as godlike beings? Or submit like animals to evil or amoral behaviours as though we had no potential to improve on nature? Was Paul just a hypocrite, then, advocating rebellion in word only, while currying favour with the Roman Empire? Pay taxes even when ruled by an oppressive regime, submit to your earthly masters, and work like a dog in a capitalistic system that leads to plutocracy, economic enslavement, and even the destruction of the biosphere? Or be spiritual and christlike, that is, Christian in resisting the ways of fallen nature?

CHRISTIAN: Paul was no hypocrite, since he was martyred in Rome. And the Christian has to do both, because we live in nature but intend to live in heaven. Submission to brutal regimes, servitude to human masters, and the protection of private property and the hunt for profit can all be means of pleasing God if they’re done in a Christian manner.

SKEPTIC: Paul’s martyrdom is legendary, at best. In any case, what is the Christian manner? Winning at natural games, as it were, by being the best at playing by nature’s rules or demonstrating that nature is fallen by playing by a higher set of rules, by rebelling against nature out of loyalty to the kingdom to come? Jesus died because he taught an uncompromising morality that makes nonsense of all human empires, including Rome’s. He died, stirring up criticisms of war, oppression, slavery, and the pursuit of wealth. He was crucified to show there’s a supernatural world that’s possible for us.

CHRISTIAN: No, it was the fallen angels who rebelled against God’s creation. Christians trust that God knows best and that nature fell for a higher reason. Christians shouldn’t emulate the demons who rebelled against God’s plan! God created the natural world and currently that world isn’t ideal. Still, Christians should participate in natural processes, because God made them for a reason, and Christians should do so with the higher values in view. That’s why Paul said the slave should obey his master, because the Christian slave knows that God will reward such suffering in the next life.

SKEPTIC: In effect, then, the Christian gets to have it both ways, because the Bible contradicts itself on the subject, and it’s up to the Christian how to rationalize her hypocrisy in a Machiavellian rather than in a christlike manner. She can pretend she cares about spirituality even while she wallows in animal routines, such as in competition for dominance and in the weak creature’s submission to the strong. If you can’t see that capitalism—meaning the competitive drive to accumulate private property and wealth—violates Jesus’s ethical standards, you’re not even worth talking to.

CHRISTIAN: Of course Jesus wouldn’t approve of capitalism, but that means only that there will be no capitalism in heaven. Capitalism violates God’s standards, since God wants us to act out of love for each other, not out of fear and selfishness. But until God returns to Earth, we have to settle for doing the best we can under natural conditions.

SKEPTIC: And who runs nature, God or the devil?

CHRISTIAN: God does via deluded or inhuman intermediates such as the devil.

SKEPTIC: Are you sure it’s the devil who’s deluded? Wasn’t Christ supposed to return in the lifetime of his earliest followers? Weren’t Jesus’s ethics motivated by that imminence? So if God rules nature, why is he so delayed in judging us all and bringing heaven to earth?

CHRISTIAN: How should I know? Ask God.

SKEPTIC: Well, you’re a Christian and a Republican proponent of “free-market” economics. And of course, “free-market” is a euphemism to make Americans happy; it’s like calling French fries “freedom fries.” The kind of American capitalism in question is utterly antichristian on its face. Yet you say Republican, social Darwinian, plutocratic capitalism is in line with Christianity, because those economic views are natural and God ultimately governs nature. But as far as the evidence is concerned, you’ve abandoned Christian values, because the Christian God has evidently abandoned the natural plane. That would leave you only with earthly masters, who are led, if you like, by the devil. So that would make your brand of Christianity a form of inadvertent devil-worship. Or have I missed something?

CHRISTIAN: Yeah, you’ve missed an awful lot.

SKEPTIC: Uh huh. See you in the rat race, rat.

Original Sin and Capitalism

Richard Land, "conservative Christian"
The Christian’s other excuse for the practice of antichristianity is the doctrine of original sin. Take, for example, Why capitalism is the most biblical economic model, by Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC, former president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention in the US, and Oxford graduate. Land’s argument is that as a Christian he has to adhere to what the Bible says; the Bible says, “The heart of man is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick—who can understand it?” (Jer.17:9) and “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23); thus, says Land, ‘If it is true that human nature is fallen and selfish (i.e. “desperately sick”) then some forms of economic theory or economic models will never work.”

All Land has to do, then, is assess whether capitalism or socialism, for example, best suits our depraved nature. Writes Land,
The Bible tells us men are fallen, sinful and selfish. Socialism is based on the premise that individuals in particular and as a whole are at best good, and at worst neutral. Thus, Socialists believe men will work according to their ability and receive according to their need. But the overwhelming majority of human beings only do that grudgingly and then only when forced by government coercion. Such coercion never produces the productivity and innovation produced by a capitalist, free market system…Socialism doesn't work because it is incompatible with the true nature of humanity as it is, not as we might wish it to be. Unlike Ayn Rand, who contends selfishness is a virtue, Christians condemn such selfishness, but acknowledge it as a reality which must be controlled, and channeled—not desired.
By contrast, ‘Free-market capitalism “capitalizes” on this essential truth and produces substantially more wealth for all while socialism just ends up trying to ever more equitably divide a never-growing pie. Capitalism bakes a lot more pies to be sold, transported, distributed and eaten.’

Land points out that “labor leaders and their union members, as well as government bureaucrats, are human beings and thus prone to selfishness and corruption themselves. Consequently, just as big business had too much power and disadvantaged the comparatively less powerful in the Robber Baron era, you had Big Labor and big federal government possessing too much power in the middle decades of the 20th century, leading to suppression of productivity and wealth production.” Thus, “When government over regulates or labor over demands through having too much power, it is just as corrosive to the overall wellbeing of the community as exploitation by unrestrained big business interests.”

What’s the solution to these excesses of selfishness? According to Land,
America's federal government system of checks and balances is an instructive example of how to resolve the inherent conflicts caused by human selfishness. Each branch of government checks and balances the other, diffusing the power among the several branches. In a similar fashion, America's modified capitalist system has management (capital), the workers (unions), and government (laws and regulations), diffusing the power through checks and balances. Our economy gets into trouble when one or more of these three entities get too much power in relation to the others.
The Incoherence of Republican Christianity

Probably the telltale clue that Land’s argument is a species of antichristian Americanism is his appeal to what “works” when he says early on that “some forms of economic theory or economic models will never work” if they conflict with human nature. “Never work”—to achieve which goal? In comparing socialism to capitalism, Land holds out productivity, innovation, and wealth-creation as the standards that favour capitalism, given our supposed innate depravity, but since when should a follower of Jesus be preoccupied with those standards?

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matt.16:24-26). Even the context of Jeremiah 17:9, quoted by Land as evidence of original sin, would make foolish Land’s secular standards: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives” (17:5-6).

Productivity, innovation, and wealth-creation are fine goals if you’re in the business of gaining the whole world or trusting in man. Alas, that’s explicitly an antichristian agenda. According to Jesus, his follower’s goal should be gaining eternal life with God. If Land thinks the capitalist’s worldly goals can be accomplished in a spiritual way, recall when Jesus disappointed a rich man who kept all the commandments but was sad to learn that God expected him also to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor. That prompted Jesus to remark, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt.19:24). Jesus then says that salvation is impossible for man, but that “with God all things are possible” (19:26). So if you’re focused on productivity, innovation, and the creation of wealth, rather than on loving your fellows, avoiding hell and spending eternity in heaven, you’re not interested in miracles (what’s possible for God) so much as in cooperating with other people to exploit natural resources to care for ourselves in earthly terms. Land would thus fall squarely on the side of the disappointed rich man, and Jesus implied that such a man with his this-worldly interests cannot possibly enter the kingdom of God.

Notice, further, that Land’s profane economic standards presuppose the falsehood of Christianity. After all, the reason Jesus’s ethical expectations were so radical was that he prophesied the imminent end of the natural world. You have to perceive the nearness of God to be willing to give up on your natural life, as Jesus did when he sacrificed himself on the cross (according to the New Testament). If you can’t feel that God’s kingdom is near, you’re unsaved and a “natural person” in Paul’s sense. In Gnostic terms, you’re captive to the deluded archons who rule nature and who mean to distract us with earthly baubles so that we fail to live up to our divine potential. Economic productivity, innovation, and the accumulation of dollar bills are evidently just such baubles, compared to the prospect of spending eternity with God after physical death.

By contrast, the reason you’d prefer now to pursue such secular goals is that Jesus and the earliest Christians were evidently wrong! God’s kingdom never arrived and the natural world’s still going strong two millennia after Jesus supposedly lived, so we’re compelled to put aside Jesus’s radical ethics as being irrelevant to the necessary business of doing well in earthly terms. And an ancient text that was wrong about when the world was supposed to have ended could easily be wrong also about whether Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Capitalism “works,” therefore, in secular terms, given that Christian eschatology and morality have been falsified. If there’s no hope of gaining our soul, the best we can do is to gain the world. And if that’s Richard Land’s implicit reasoning, the capitalist’s pretense of being a Christian is merely obnoxious. Granted, if natural standards have to replace Jesus’s supernatural ones, because the heart of Christianity is obviously erroneous, we might be wise to adopt Machiavellian tactics and attempt to con each other, hiding our selfish plans and so forth. Clearly, Christian rhetoric could serve in such a con. However, the incoherence I’ve just laid out renders the pretense weak, and it’s that weakness, above all, which is obnoxious.

Also, even on Christian, biblical ground, Land’s characterization of human nature is a gross oversimplification. Christians trumped up our fallenness and innate depravity in their attempt to glorify Jesus’s death. If Jesus was God, the death of God had to serve a mighty purpose, and so the sin Jesus strove to atone for with his suffering had to be as infinite as the preciousness of his divine life. Unfortunately for Land, Christians need also to make the opposite point to avoid the conclusions that God’s love is arbitrary and that human life is absurd. Ask yourself this: If we’re so depraved and helpless, why would God seek to redeem us? Why not kill himself on the cross to spend eternity with snails or sea gulls or ants? Why not leave such depraved creatures as us to rot in hell? The biblical answer, as already indicated above, is that God made us alone in his image on earth, meaning that we’re godlike persons, not animals. We have reason and freewill and a special creative capacity, but that godlikeness counts against so-called original sin.

Notice that directly after Jeremiah has God say, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” God’s made to say, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve” (17:10). If human nature were fallen, wholly depraved, and incapable of saving itself, why would God spend even a moment “searching” the human heart to determine guilt or innocence? The answer is that unlike animal behaviour which is more thoroughly programmed by the genes, we have freewill and thus can change our conduct at a moment’s notice, vetoing our impulses. Evaluating our conduct is therefore complicated, contrary to Land’s Calvinist oversimplification.

As the context makes clear, when Jeremiah is talking about the heart that’s deceitful beyond cure, he’s talking about the heart that trusts in man to the point of turning away from God (17:5). Because we have freewill and are made in God’s image, according to the Bible, Jeremiah holds out the opposite possibility and so he says, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him” (17:8). Thus, whereas Land wants to say our nature is beyond cure, the Bible says we have the godlike capacity to change our mind, to recreate ourselves and to turn away from wickedness even as we recreate nature with our industries and technologies.

Just as the Christian who appeals to the “render unto Caesar” passage to justify her embrace of the antichristian consequences of unrestrained capitalism lands in incoherence, since the New Testament also teaches the opposite (that we should struggle against the demonic powers that hold sway over nature), and the Christian is enjoined to muddle her way through in perpetrating her con, Land has to balance the original sin doctrine against the made-in-God’s-image doctrine. If we’re made in God’s image we can freely change our ways, whereas animals are defined by their genetic programming. In that case, we’re not so hopelessly depraved, after all, which is, of course, the Jewish view. If we’re not godlike in that respect, there’s no reason to think the Creator would stoop to elevate such worthless creatures, since he could just as well favour any of the other animal species. If God’s favour is arbitrary, as Calvin would have it, Christianity has no moral foundation and the Christian is led to existentialism and to Rudolph Otto’s conception of God as a terrifying but fascinating mystery, as opposed to a loving father figure.

The Antichristianity of Republican Capitalism

We can go further, since Land’s very economic values (productivity, innovation, and wealth-creation) are crucial to modernity, which means they presuppose the humanist conception of historical progress. Our godlikeness allows us not only to improve our goals and character, to some extent, but to progress, collectively speaking, as a result of human effort. That’s evidently what has happened, thanks largely to improvements in critical thinking and technological advances which are antithetical to religion’s naïve, often more intuitive traditions. Capitalism initially improved on feudalism because of the reemergence of Classical values in Europe’s Renaissance that were refined throughout the Age of Reason. Those values were humanistic and altogether opposed to the Christian concept of original sin. Rather than trust in the divine right of kings to rule over the masses, we gained confidence that we could progress by looking to ourselves, not to God, and specifically by discovering how the world really works and using that empirical knowledge to improve our earthly life, using our inherent potential for cognitive mastery which Christian dogmas had smothered for centuries. During the medieval period, most of Europe was like a battered child that’s lost her pride because of years of neglect and abuse. Catholicism was the domineering parent who never tired of shouting that pride is a sin and that any improvement in human welfare requires a miracle. How ironic, then, that a Christian like Richard Land should give three cheers for capitalism, when the Enlightenment mindset behind the advent of free trade and of the Industrial Revolution makes Christianity obsolete.

Mind you, capitalism is no longer so obviously an agent of historical progress, because its present form especially in the United States is just as rapacious as that which produced the robber barons in the late nineteenth century, an earlier form which Land agrees was oppressive. Given the comparable income inequalities, Land should call for greater support of unions to balance the power of corporations. Instead, he says “the Reagan revolution pulled the balance back in a healthier direction” after government officials “were tempted by too much power, and their oppressive regulations and high tax rates were stifling innovation and productivity in the last half of the 20th century.” By way of an example, Land offers Detroit: “The economic shambles that was once the proud city of Detroit stands as graphic testimony of the ability of unrestrained union power to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Union growth in Detroit did help to provoke the Big Three auto makers to decentralize, to move their plants to southern states and to Canada and Mexico. But to scapegoat the union as the cause of Detroit’s decline and more generally of America’s industrial deterioration (which produced what’s known as the Rust Belt) would be asinine. The reason the Big Three could so easily decentralize is that Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors formed an oligopoly, which is proper procedure under laissez faire capitalism. Moreover, competition from Japanese auto makers and the rise of automation are much bigger contributors to the general decline of American manufacturing. Competition and increased productivity through the replacement of human workers with machines are laudable, according to Land’s stated three economic goals, so he should have no complaint about the American Rust Belt. He says, “America does have a thriving automobile industry, it's just far from Detroit. Instead it is in Tennessee (Nissan and Volkswagen), South Carolina (BMW), and Alabama (Mercedes Benz), which are all right-to-work states.” Notice how none of those auto manufacturers is American; they’re all Japanese or German.

Here’s a more comprehensive list of the reasons for America’s industrial downturn:
From 1979 to 1982, the US Federal Reserve decided to raise the base interest rate in the United States to 19%. High interest rates attracted wealthy foreign “hot money” into US banks and caused the US dollar to appreciate. This made US products more expensive for foreigners to buy and also made imports much cheaper for Americans to purchase. The misaligned exchange rate was not rectified until 1986, by which time Japanese imports in particular had made rapid inroads into US markets. From 1987 to 1999, the US stock market went into stratospheric rise, and this continued to pull wealthy foreign money into US banks, which biased the exchange rate against manufactured goods. Related issues include the decline of the iron and steel industry, the movement of manufacturing to the southeastern states with their lower labor costs [the only reason Land provides], the layoffs due to the rise of automation in industrial processes, the decreased need for labor in making steel products, new organizational methods such as just-in-time manufacturing which allowed factories to maintain production with fewer workers, the internationalization of American business, and the liberalization of foreign trade policies due to globalization.
The reason the Fed under Paul Volcker raised the interest rates, by the way, was to combat the Great Inflation of the 1970s, which had been caused by the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 (by an oligopoly) and by Nixon’s creation of the fiat currency in 1971, which prompted the embargo. Also, according to Investopedia, “Nixon wanted cheap money: low-interest rates that would promote growth in the short-term and make the economy seem strong as voters were casting ballots.” As could be expected in the American oligarchy, Nixon’s Fed Chairman Arthur Burns complied.

Taking all of these causes into account, then, and dismissing Land’s prejudice against unions, the overall culprit of Detroit’s decline is roughly American-style capitalism, not “socialism.” The Christian leader Richard Land would prefer to blame socialism (socialism being the Christian economic option, as is obvious from the New Testament) and to promote capitalism even though the practice of American capitalism has clearly had wildly antichristian results. These include the widening of economic inequality in the US over the last few decades, to robber baron levels; the opioid epidemic (America’s deregulated medical industry empowered drug companies to incentivize doctors to overprescribe painkillers to get the patients addicted; of course, the demand for the painkillers, in turn, is caused largely by America’s economic woes, brought on by globalized capitalism); and the prison industry (the US has the world’s highest incarceration rate because of a ghoulish profit motive). In addition, this form of capitalism has been un-American or anti-humanistic, since it’s led to the decline of democracy around the world, following largely from America’s political hypocrisy (wealthy donors in the US have captured the political process and turned the country into a plutocracy). Richard Land’s confusion and hypocrisy on the subject are apparently boundless.

Turning briefly to Land’s compliment to the American government’s separation of powers, notice that that wisdom of the Founders likewise refutes Christianity. The point of dividing government into conflicting branches is to prevent the rise of an absolute power, as in a monarchy, the assumption being that power corrupts. Christianity is supposed to be monotheistic, which means the Christian looks to an all-powerful deity as the source of all that’s good. But if absolute power corrupts, why isn’t God a tyrant? The Christian can say that power corrupts only finite, fallible creatures, whereas God is perfect, but that would be arbitrary since the difference between God and his creatures would be one only of degree, given the biblical doctrine that we’re similar to God. America was founded more on Enlightenment philosophy than on biblical principles, which is why that country’s government was designed to be anti-monarchical and thus implicitly anti-monotheistic. (The Christian would be free to interpret the Trinitarian conception of God along Enlightenment, American lines, as a balance between competing powers, which would render Christianity polytheistic. That would only move the religion’s incoherence elsewhere, calling for another series of rationalizations to make good on the conservative Christian’s con.)

Finally, as I’ve shown, the type of capitalism championed by Republicans is hardly the stable, balanced kind proposed by Land. On the contrary, Republican capitalism tends to generate plutocracy, boom-and-bust cycles, oppressive monopolies, grotesque income inequality, and the planet’s despoliation. So Land’s Baptists and Evangelicals should be expected to side with the Democrats who alone, between the two major parties in the US, speak favourably of unions and against the capture of the financial regulatory bodies by lobbyists and special interests. Of course that’s not so: for the most part these “conservative Christians” are full-throated, long-time Republicans. Their capitalism is of the shamelessly amoral, social Darwinian, utterly antichristian variety. Again, what’s most obnoxious is the transparency of their fraud.  


  1. Ben,

    The dialogue between the Christian and the skeptic is a great and definitive way to demonstrate Christian hypocrisy and its inconsistency.
    "you're not even worth talking to". That's right: let's not waste time debating with faithful practitioners of any doctrine.

    The analysis of the collapse of Detroit, the interest decreed by the Fed under Paul Volcker, the decrease in steel production, not only in the United States, but in Europe and in "developing" countries (euphemism not to say underdeveloped), followed the same path.

    "the prison industry" that many "experts" from countries with a high level of corruption admire and try to copy and install in their countries, as is the case of Brazil, is hateful and anti-human.

    "America was founded more on Enlightenment philosophy than on biblical principles, which is why that country's government was designed to be anti-monarchical and thus implicitly anti-monotheistic".
    Today's monarchies are quite different from those of the 1800s and early 1900s. There is no longer a super-powerful monarch, but a prime minister who falls, is replaced, and democracy and institutions continue, without major upheavals, crises and even revolutions. in countries that adopt some form of democracy. And they are secular states.

    The pictures you used are worth a thousand words each, but the best ones, for me, are "We can't dismantle industrial capitalism; without it, we wouldn't have anti-depressants", and Calvin's comics.

    This confrontation between Christian democrats and the skeptic reminded me of another philosophical work (would it be yours?) on the impossibility of understanding good and evil, which can never be resolved. Do you have a paper on this? If not, could you write it?

    Thanks for posting, no adjectives; lest you come to understand that I am a flirt.

    1. Thanks. This is a rather elaborate article, and I don't remember all its details. But the subject here is also low-hanging fruit. So-called conservative Christianity, as in the White Evangelical, Republican kind is an appalling disgrace. There's an embarrassment of riches, in terms of the arsenal that can be brought to bear against that disgrace.

      I used to write more dialogues. They're fun and challenging to write, but they never did so well for me on Medium. Maybe that's because they got to be too long or the format is too literary for the casual reader.