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by Peterr

On Worshiping Milton Friedman and Calling Him Jesus

6:52 am in Culture, Economy, Religion by Peterr

(photo: juicyrai)

From USA Today comes news of a survey by a group of Baylor researchers on the values and beliefs of the American public. The study examines the intersection of personal faith/religious expression and economic beliefs, views on gays and lesbians, spirituality and mental health, and other issues.

What leaped out at me from the USA Today write-up was the confusion that many folks on the conservative end of the religious spectrum have.

“They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work,” says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today by Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“They think the economy works because God wants it to work. It’s a new religious economic idealism,” with politicians “invoking God while chanting ‘less government,’” he says.

In other words, they’re worshiping Milton Friedman and calling him Jesus. Sorry, folks, but there is no commandment that reads “Thou shalt pull thyself up by thine own bootstraps.”

One of the things that always irritates me about the arguments about what the Bible says about homosexuality is that the Bible says very, very little about it at all. It just not a topic of conversation, and what little is said says absolutely nothing about a loving committed relationship between two people of the same gender. But to hear the religious right tell the story, you’d think that everyone from Adam to Jesus was constantly harping on the subject.

*sigh*

On the other hand, the Bible is filled — absolutely stuffed! — with commentary about how one ought to live from an economic perspective. In the stories and the laws and the preaching of the prophets, we hear constantly about caring for the poor and needy and widows and orphans, about proper government oversight of the marketplace (for instance, use the same set of weights and measures for all customers, not one set for your friends and another for the marks), about judges and rulers providing fair application of justice, about condemnations of bribery, about forgiveness of debts, etc. Money and commerce are a much larger topic than LGBTs and their sex lives.

(The sex lives of opposite-sex-minded folks do get discussed, though, like the story of King David, who set up one of his military leaders to be killed so that David’s affair with his wife wouldn’t be discovered, or Solomon and his hundreds of wives and concubines. But I digress . . .)

Government comes in for its share of criticism in the Bible, to be sure. But the criticism is usually that the ruling class — the kings, judges, priests, and wealthy merchants/landowners — is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. Jeremiah was a real pest, from the standpoint of the government, because he kept asking it to do its job. Ditto for Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and the others. And Jesus? Calling out hypocrites and self-centered players in the economy and government was part and parcel of his daily teaching. As I noted here at FDL last December, the Villagers of DC today are not so different from the Villagers of Jerusalem back then. Both are skewered by Jesus’ observation that one cannot serve both money and God, served up in a wonderful story that opens sort of like this:

Once upon a time, there was a rich man who lived in a nice gated community, with gold-trimmed plates on his table, with gold-plated flatware sitting on linen tablecloths woven with gold threads for trim. He had a fine private chef, who served only the finest meats from the best markets, and the freshest vegetables from the best farmers. Every day he and his friends dined on the most elaborate culinary creations.

Outside the gates was a poor man named Lazarus, who was sick and covered with sores. He watched the procession of groceries go into the house every day and the procession of half-eaten scraps go out of the house every night. “If only I could eat the scraps,” he thought, his mouth watering, as the neighborhood dogs came and tried to lick at his sores. . .

You can read my retelling of the story for yourself at the link, but (spoiler alert) it does not end well for the rich man. It’s about as anti-Milton Friedman a story as anyone could come up with.

Or look at Ezekiel, speaking to the rulers in Jerusalem. He calls them “whores,” because despite the fact that God raised up Israel from slavery in Egypt, the leaders in Ezekiel’s day had forsaken love of God for love of money and their own personal power. Ezekiel compares Jerusalem to the heretical region of Samaria and infamous city of Sodom (chapter 16):

Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: . . . Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

“More corrupt” than Sodom? That’s going to leave a mark.

The harsh condemnation of the rulers is not that government has done too much, but it has done too little to economically care for those on the margins.

*sigh*

I would say that this Baylor study (pdf) means that people ought to go to church more often, but digging into the details of it, that seems to be part of the problem. The folks most likely to confuse Milton Friedman with Jesus, who want less government, and who think the unemployed shouldn’t get any help, are most likely to be frequent attenders of church.

*beats head against desk*

Maybe it’s time for them to look for a different church — one that reads the whole Bible, and actually notices the parts about caring for your neighbor.

by Peterr

Michael Gerson’s Grasp of Evangelicals is Slipping

6:40 am in Conservatism, Culture, Government, LGBT, Military, Religion by Peterr

To judge by his column in today’s Washington Post, Michael Gerson has little grasp of the evangelical world.

It is true that evangelicals are generally not libertarian. They admit a place for government in encouraging values and caring for the needy. Yet they do not believe that governmental elites share their values or have their best interests at heart. Among conservative Christians, government is often viewed as a force of secularization — a source of both bureaucratic regulation and moral deregulation. By identifying with expanded government, Obama fed long-standing evangelical fears of the aggressive, secular state.

Michael, here’s a news flash. Evangelicals may make common cause with libertarians from time to time, but overall they are about as far from libertarians as you’re going to find. Their concern is that the state is too secular, not that it is too aggressive.

Instead of a limited government, evangelicals want an expanded government. They don’t simply want it, but they’re working hard to make it happen:

  • Abortion? Get government into every woman’s womb, as soon as possible.
  • Sex education? Force states to teach ‘abstinence only’ and don’t talk about contraception and STD prevention via condoms.
  • Evolution? Require schools to teach creationism alongside it.
  • Homosexuality? Use all the power of government to stamp it out and otherwise express disapproval of it — DADT, DOMA, laws/constitutional amendments to sanction discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation, etc.
  • The Military? They want to turn it into a literal Army of God, spreading the Good News at gunpoint.

To say that evangelicals fear big government is laughable. They love big government — as long as they get to run it.

If this column is any indication of Gerson’s grasp of religion and politics, his new book should be on the fiction table.

by Peterr

No, Cardinal Mahony, Judge Walker Got it Right

3:26 pm in Judiciary, LGBT, Religion by Peterr

Dear Cardinal Mahony,

I saw your recent blog post entitled Judge Vaughn Walker Got it Wrong, in which you wrote:

[Walker's] decision fails to deal with the basic, underlying issue–rather he focused solely upon individual testimony on how Prop 8 affected them personally. Wrong focus.

There is only one issue before each of us Californians: Is Marriage of Divine or of Human Origin?

Judge Walker pays no attention to this fundamental issue, and relies solely upon how Prop 8 made certain members of society "feel" about themselves.

Those of us who supported Prop 8 and worked for its passage did so for one reason: We truly believe that Marriage was instituted by God for the specific purpose of carrying out God’s plan for the world and human society. Period.

That may be what you and many others believe about marriage, but that belief has no standing in court. Judge Walker was not placed on the bench to decide whether laws and conduct in the United States match up to the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or other religious writings. His job is to measure the disputes that come to his courtroom against the laws and constitution of the United States of America.

Period.

Maybe even Exclamation Point.

The sacred text for Judge Walker is the US Constitution, and nowhere in the Constitution and its twenty seven amendments is God mentioned. Nowhere. Not even once.

Religion gets only two mentions in the Constitution. Article VI says there can be no religious test to hold office, and the First Amendment restrains Congress from establishing an official religion and abridging the free exercise of religion. That’s two mentions of religion, and both in the negative.

If the defendant-intervenors in the Prop 8 case tried to raise the issue of the divine institution of male-female marriage, any federal judge would have been right to throw the argument out. Judge Walker summarized this in two sentences in his decision (pdf p. 10), distilled from two of the most on-point Supreme Court cases:

A state’s interest in an enactment must of course be secular in nature. The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose. See Lawrence v Texas, 539 US 558, 571 (2003); see also Everson v Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 US 1, 15 (1947).

The state is not in the business of making religious judgments — and I’m surprised that you, the soon-to-be-retired Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic church would want a secular judge to be passing judgment on whose religious views are correct. You and your brother bishops seem very passionate about claiming that kind of authority only for yourselves.

Cardinal, if you don’t like Walker’s ruling and want someone to blame for it, you might look in the mirror. It was likely money from Roman Catholic and Latter-Day Saints individuals and institutions that paid for the work of the defense-intervenors, and from where I sit, they did a pretty poor job.

Judge Walker gave them every opportunity to lay out a non-religious rationale for their position, and they failed. Miserably.

They did not build a case on facts, but merely asserted that one existed. They did not put forth credible expert witnesses, they did not bring forward peer-reviewed scientific studies, and they did not put forward a single convincing secular purpose for the kind of discrimination Prop 8 sought to enshrine in law. Wrote Walker (pdf p. 11):

[Prop 8] proponents in their trial brief promised to “demonstrate that redefining marriage to encompass same-sex relationships” would effect some twenty-three specific harmful consequences. Doc #295 at 13-14. At trial, however, proponents presented only one witness, David Blankenhorn, to address the government interest in marriage. Blankenhorn’s testimony is addressed at length hereafter; suffice it to say that he provided no credible evidence to support any of the claimed adverse effects proponents promised to demonstrate.

That’s the sum total of the case put forward by the defenders of Prop 8. One witness, and not a particularly good one at that. Walker weighed that poor excuse for a case against the strong, vigorous, and well-supported arguments of the plaintiffs, and (surprise, surprise) sided with those seeking to overturn Prop 8.

Indeed, your blog post proves the wisdom of Judge Walker’s ruling. You declare that there is one and only one reason you and others backed Prop 8 — your religious beliefs about the divine institution of marriage. Indeed, by the end of Walker’s decision, he seems to agree that this *is* what the case is about. After dismantling the six purported rationales for Prop 8 put forward by the DIs, Walker writes (pdf p. 134):

what remains of proponents’ case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. FF 78-80. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate. See Romer, 517 US at 633; Moreno, 413 US at 534; Palmore v Sidoti, 466 US 429, 433 (1984) (“[T]he Constitution cannot control [private biases] but neither can it tolerate them.”).

Walker believes that you and your fellow Catholics believe that gays and lesbians are "objectively disordered" and sex between people of the same gender is a "grave depravity." He’s read the materials put out by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (see Finding of Fact #77, points i and j on pdf p. 104). By the end of his decision, he agrees with you that this is why you want to enshrine this belief in law.

Thank God, however, that he believes this is "not a proper basis on which to legislate."

You may be free to discriminate against gays and lesbians within the Catholic church as a matter of faith, but the state of California is not free to do the same as a matter of law.

Thank God.

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Peterr