As the pastor of a politically “purple” congregation, I need to tread lightly on the controversy surrounding Mitt Romney’s remarks about 47% of Americans not paying income tax. I am trying my best to transcend the superficial “issue” level of our increasingly absurd political conversation so that I can yank out the theological roots of the bad weeds that we find in our commonly held assumptions. I really believe that America’s problem is fundamentally theological (and it’s utterly bipartisan). One dimension of it is the impoverished understanding of “individual rights” that Ross Douthat and others have linked to the corrosive impact of secularism (which John Milbank correctly categorizes in Theology and Social Thought as a self-disavowing sect of Christian-rooted thought that has gone atheist). Paul Ryan was right to observe that our “rights” have become dangerously stripped of their bark if there is no longer an assumption that we are “endowed by our Creator” with them (and not by whichever majority of Americans happens to be in power). But the irony is that many of the very people who cheer when they hear lines like, “Our rights come from God and nature, not from government,” actually embrace secularism when the question is framed differently. To say that we are a society of “makers” and “takers” is a profession of disbelief in the relevance of the one true Maker. If I believe that everything I have and everything I have used to gain what I have is a gift from God, then He is the only Maker and we are all takers with one Father who commands us to care for each other as brothers and sisters. Continue reading
Ayn Rand Institute senior fellow Onkar Ghate did something very bold last summer. He wrote an op-ed on the Fox News website contrasting the political philosophy of Ayn Rand and the teachings of Jesus Christ, saying that what America needs is Ayn Rand, not Jesus. You would think that such a statement would have caused a scandal among Christians in America like when John Lennon said the Beatles are “bigger than Jesus” in 1966. Yet I haven’t heard of any church youth groups making Atlas Shrugged bonfires as they did with their Beatles records back in the day.
In a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos, Congressman Paul Ryan said that he had a basic philosophical difference with the Democrats: he believes that rights come from God while they think rights come from the government. Setting aside the question of whether this distinction is fair, I think it captures the source of the visceral rage of Teavangelicals who have made Paul Ryan their hero. They have defined their battlefield as a contest between Christianity and secular humanism, God vs. government. If government support programs for the poor are not wasteful, enabling, and unfair, then God might lose His relevance. Continue reading