Jesse Jackson has rightly called Barack Obama’s presidential bid a “theological campaign.” Indeed, in the primary season, the leading Democratic candidates all correctly emphasized that spiritual values play a legitimate role in shaping political values. That’s thanks in part to your influence, Jim. Congratulations.
Liberals and conservatives alike have claimed the mantle of religious authorization for their views. There’s a debate, however, that needs to be had. Americans have so far avoided clarifying the politics of the Bible on a systematic issue-by-issue basis.
That’s where I come in. My book, “How Would God Vote? Why The Bible Commands You to Be a Conservative,” takes the top 20 political issues of our day and applies the wisdom of the Bible to each of them – from health-care and immigration reform to global warming and Islamic terror. Taking the Bible seriously is more than a matter of accepting theological abstractions or ritual obligations. It implies an entire worldview, a deeply conservative one.
What is conservatism? It starts with a reverence for the wisdom of our ancestors, and insists above all, as Russell Kirk put it, on “Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.”
I’ll vote for John McCain, if without a great deal of enthusiasm, because he possesses the elementary respect for the past that marks him, broadly, as a conservative.
If we were to try to crystallize the lesson from ancestral wisdom that underlies all the seemingly unrelated political questions dividing Right from Left, I would say it has to do with moral responsibility and agency, whether human beings are captives of Nature or whether they are free.
The most important word in any discussion of the Bible must be “commandment.” God commands us to choose right over wrong because we are not captives of Nature.
Almost every liberal view can be explained as deriving from skepticism about whether people are truly responsible for their actions. Thus liberalism pushes off responsibility to higher and higher levels of organization – from the individual or the family to the national government or, better yet, an international body of governments.
Let’s start our debate somewhere concrete and practical. Conservatives, like the Bible, oppose high taxes because people should be responsible for deciding how to spend their money. This year, the average American will pay 30.8 percent of personal income for taxes of various kinds.
Yet Genesis 47:24-15 equates a tax rate of 20 percent with the condition of being a “serf.” In 1 Samuel 8:15-17, the Jews are warned not to ask for a king because he’ll turn them all into “slaves,” imposing a tax burden of 10 percent!
A great tragedy recounted by the Bible, the rebellion of the northern kingdom of Israel against the southern kingdom of Judah, was occasioned by the onerous tax burden imposed by King Solomon’s callow son and heir, Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1-19).
Low taxes mean a minimal state, which, in turn, clears an arena for free moral action. Of course there are exceptions. The Bible isn’t libertarian. Where a policy (like legalized narcotics) would cripple the free exercise of the moral personality, God would be against it. Where it would allow the victimization of the truly helpless (abortion), there too the Bible would have us draw a line.
What do you say, Jim?