An Expose of American Conservatism – Part 2
This, the second of a three-part expose, uses the same quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience used in the first expose, the case that American conservatism is un-American (See “An Expose of American Conservatism — Part 1). Only this time, different words from that quote are used:
Why does it always crucify Christ…?
Remember, the “it” in the quote refers to the ultra-conservative US government of the 1840’s, Thoreau’s day. I am asking the same question of 21st-century American conservatism. The position of this second expose states that modern American ultra-conservatism, and possibly some not-so-ultra-conservatism is not only un-patriotic (Part 1), it is also non-Christian; not necessarily anti-Christian, but basically not Christian, in a heretical sort of way.
Briefly, heresy can be benign, sort of a-Christian, if you please. Once Christianity was defined (for simplicity, let us say it was defined by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD or CE,) a lot of benign, a-Christian modifications (heresies) have come along over the millennia because Judeo-Christian Scripture’s apocalyptic content did not anticipate major events in human history, like the Black Plague of the 14th century, the discovery of the New World in the late 15th century, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the scientific revolution, and the rise of democratic rule. Christianity had to tweak itself in order to adjust to these unexpected changes, but in a way not counter to the definition of Christianity based upon Scripture.
But there have been not-so-benign heresies arise, heresies that became part of Christianity’s record that counter and are in conflict with the teaching found in the Old and New Testaments; certain groups and movements have altered the definition of Christianity over the centuries. Examples are the spread of Christianity by the sword (by Pepin, Charlemagne, et. al.), just as the Moslems did with their beliefs, and the horrible attempts at settling differences on Christian theology by war (e.g. the beginning of The Thirty Years’ War). Another, modern example is requiring believers to disavow the theory of evolution, or disavow all of science, in order to be a Christian. American conservatives are infamous today for attaching their own proviso that one must be pro-life, or anti-abortion in order to be a Christian. Still others are exemplified by the extension of Christianity to include the people of the New World in Christ’s mission, as expoused by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Modern conservative political philosophy has modified the definition of Christianity in the wake of the rise and triumph of modern capitalism; Christian conservatives play dangerously with a non-Christian heresy.
This conservative heresy is not directly Adam Smith’s fault. We have only human nature to blame. In An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations Smith assumed capitalism and the free market system would be a boost to Christian charity and philanthropy, and, thereby, the humanist teachings of Jesus (the Beatitudes — the blessings in the Sermon on the Mount, the rest of the Sermon, the Sermon on the Plain — all in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke). In other words, capitalism would be in-step with the essence of Christianity. Of course, Smith erroneously assumed mankind tends toward a charitable nature. (This is similar to the erroneous assumption of Karl Marx that mankind can be molded into altruistic servants of the common good.) By the 19th century and into the 20th, the dark side of capitalism had sparked mankind’s propensity to be greedy, and verses of Scripture like the one concerning the eye of a needle and the rich man and similar other verses (Matt. 19:23-24; Mark 10:24-25; Luke 18:24-25) seemed damnably applicable to American capitalism. (Remember, my position has always been that capitalism is the best economic system we have, despite its problems in discussion here.)
What conservative capitalism can do to Christian charity is clearly demonstrated in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol. Scrooge’s heart and soul were shriveled to almost nothingness by the pursuit of profit; his greed, which flourished in a world created by capitalism, almost cost him his humanity, his Christian charity. Despite warnings such as A Christmas Carol, American capitalism has taken upon itself, beginning with the post-Reagan conservative movement, the force of religious-like conviction, clothed in Christian wording and symbolism. For a while now, I have half-way expected conservative “pontifications” speaking of Jesus’ portfolio, or that Jesus played the stock market in Jerusalem! Wealth is nowadays seen as God’s blessing, not as chains around the ghost of Marley.
This, then, is the heresy conjured by modern American conservatism — ignore the body of the Gospels and concentrate only on the theology of the Passion week, following the example of the Apostle Paul. (See “Sorting Out the Apostle Paul” [April, 2012]) Jesus’ teachings are no comfort for the rich and greedy, so it is convenient to “sweep them under the rug.” For conservatives, it is better to focus on his crucifixion; by omission, the rich and greedy, in their own way, crucify Him. Hence, Thoreau’s quote above.
It is possible to be rich and Christian; it is not possible, in my opinion, to be rich, greedy, and Christian. Any pretension that Jesus would approve of the behavior of so many modern American conservative capitalists is to me a form of heresy. American conservative capitalists today are often like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day; these two groups were like spiritual Scrooges sapping the humanity out of the religion of 1st century Palestine; remember what Jesus called them?! Like Scrooge, The Pharisees, and the Sadducees, greedy conservative capitalists of today are non-Christian; many are pretenders to the label “Christian;” they are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing — malignant heretics.
I would like to submit a modern paraphrase to the camel/eye-of-needle verse: It is easier for a Ford pickup truck to go through the eye of a needle than for a greedy conservative capitalist to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Thoreau is once again right: wealthy, greedy, conservatives, motivated only by profit and not by serving their fellow man, are no more Christian — in fact are as guilty as those who crucified Jesus — than Scrooge before he was visited by the ghost of Marley and three other ghosts. May God have mercy on their conservative souls; they are going to need it!
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