The classic understanding of the relationship between
social and economic conservatives is simple: Social conservatives are
often understood as dupes who let their obsession with controlling other
people’s sex lives convince them to vote Republican, often against
their own economic interest. This was what President Obama was getting at when he said that working-class whites who vote Republican “cling to guns or religion.”
some truth to that, but if you start to dig a little deeper, it turns
out that the Christian right doesn’t just bait believers into voting
against their economic interests. On the contrary, the Christian right
works fairly hard at trying to create theological arguments to support
economic policies Republicans champion, such as slashing the social
safety net or allowing unfettered capitalism to rapidly expand income
inequality and environmental damage.
Here are the
various ways Christian right leaders glaze over the Jesus of the Bible
and push their followers to worship one who looks a little more like a
Nazarene Ayn Rand.
1) Arguing that Jesus was a capitalist.By
and large, the “loaves and fishes” man portrayed in the New Testament
can in no honest way be reconciled with the aggressively capitalist
attitude of modern Republicans, which holds that profit should never be
constrained by concerns such as human rights and basic dignity for all.
So conservatives are usually just elusive on the subject. However, Pope Francis’s recent comments regarding the excesses of capitalism have created some pushback on the right.
favorite argument is that the Pope just doesn’t understand
Christianity, which is totally pro-capitalist, no matter how excessive
it gets. Ramesh Ponnuru blithely suggested
that the Pope’s remarks show that the Pope just doesn’t understand
“markets could instead enable a creative form of community” and that
more “evangelizing still needs to be done” to convince the Pope that
real Christians should embrace capitalism. Never mind that Pope Francis
is from Argentina, where the “creative form of community” brought on by
an eagerly capitalist, anti-socialist government was expressed through
the creative disappearance of people whose left-wing politics were a threat to the capitalist community.
Jonathan Moseley at WorldNetDaily joined in on the fun, claiming Jesus was a capitalist
by redefining “capitalism” to basically mean some kind of imaginary
tax-free governmental system. He also asserts that as long as Christians
generally disapprove of “crony capitalism,” they’re free and clear of
any moral responsibility for supporting the lack of laws and regulations
that lead to income inequality, mass poverty, and abuses of human
rights in the name of profit.
2) Labor unions are anti-Christian.While
many liberal Christian churches support labor unions, on the Christian
right there’s a number of leaders trying to use religion to bully
believers out of standing up for worker’s rights. Many major Christian right leaders are leading the charge in the fight to destroy the right of workers to organize,
including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and James Dobson
of Focus on the Family. The arguments against unions are illogical and
strained—they’re often coupled with the “Jesus was a capitalist” claims,
as if capitalism somehow obliterates the right of workers to demand
better wages within the system—but sometimes there’s a little effort to
claim theological underpinnings for an anti-union argument.
Reed argued that Christian calls for submission require workers to just
take whatever their bosses dish out without pushing back. David Barton tries to stretch a Bible story about a vineyard owner hiring different employees to argue that God hates the idea of collective bargaining. Indeed, this parable comes up a lot,
to the point where it’s even suggested that good Christians should
never try to better their work situation after the initial hiring phase
3) Jesus wanted poor people to starve.
There’s a lot of stories in the Bible of Jesus being generous and
prescribing that his followers give up their possessions to the poor,
but the Christian right is good about ignoring those verses and digging
around for one or two to argue that actually, Jesus was on their side
about the importance of starving the poor out. When Republicans were
trying to cut the food stamp program and Democrats pointed out how that
runs against even the most basic reading of the Christianity they claim
to hold so dear, Rep. Stephen Fincher petulantly quoted 2 Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
4) Religion means your employer should be all up in your business.Hobby
Lobby has a case before the Supreme Court in which it's arguing that in
order to preserve the company's religious freedom, its female employees
should not be allowed to use their own insurance plans to purchase
contraception. Even though the plans belong to the employees—they are
part of their compensation package, just like their paychecks—Hobby
Lobby is arguing that in order for its “religious freedom” to be
preserved, it needs to be able to exert this kind of control over its
employees’ private healthcare choices.
This case is a
perfect example of the Christian right using its victimization complex
to advance the increasingly strong hold that capitalists have over lives
and our democracy. If Hobby Lobby prevails in court, it's established a
scary precedent, allowing your employer to say he can control how you
use the compensation that should rightfully belong to you. This ability
to exert power over a worker’s home and private life is something
capitalist power structures have been dying to establish for decades
now, and thanks to the Christian right, they now have a legal path to
try to make that happen.
5) God doesn’t want you to preserve the environment.As
with relieving poverty and pushing for income equality, preserving the
environment is one of those things Christian theology should cause
believers to prioritize, but unfortunately, it runs directly against
Republican priorities for maximizing profit regardless of the ill
effects. Particularly on the issue of global warming, there is a real
danger that some creeping sense of morality might actually cause
conservative Christians to start thinking the planet might actually be
more important than the oil companies’ quarterly profits—indeed, some of that leakage is actually happening.
Enter groups like the Cornwall Alliance,
which boldly try to turn Christians to climate change denialists by
arguing that if you believe climate change is real, you're not showing
enough trust in God. It’s a nasty way of manipulating people by preying
on their insecurities in order to get them to set aside their moral
considerations. Unfortunately, it’s working. Only 7 percent of Republican-voting Christian pastors agree that climate change is real and manmade.
Most politicians who identify with the Christian right
are eager to pounce on the theological arguments against protecting the
planet, trying to recast their selfish desire to protect corporate
profits, even at the expense of the planet and the human race’s health,
as nothing but God’s work.
What all these examples show
is the inherent danger of mixing politics and religion, because religion
can be whatever the believer wants it to be. It might seem like an
aggressive misreading of the Bible to imagine, as the Christian right
does, that Jesus was a laissez faire capitalist who wasn’t bothered by
poverty or pollution, but since religion is a matter of asserting belief
instead of making logical arguments, in the end it doesn’t really