By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
President Biden has argued that more government spending and socialism will cure what ails America, but our nation’s illness is more moral than economic. Altruism is lacking in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture, and socialism is no substitute for altruism in politics. In religion altruism is expressed in the greatest commandment to love our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.
Biden’s proposed $Trillions in increased spending will not promote altruism but only exacerbate an unsustainable national debt that will be a burden on future generations. On Memorial Day President Biden reminded us that we have a moral obligation to provide future Americans with the same benefits of freedom and democracy left to us by our forebears.
David Albertson and Jason Blakely have correctly diagnosed America’s problems as more moral than economic. America needs a moral reformation based on altruism rather than a political and economic transformation from neo-capitalism to socialism. Albertson and Blakely suggest that the church can lead such a moral reformation, but that’s probably wishful thinking.
America’s churches are clannish social institutions that promote exclusivist religious beliefs and measure success by their popularity. The stewardship of our democracy requires a politics of reconciliation in a nation of increasing religious diversity. Unless Christian exclusivism is replaced by universalism, the church cannot reconcile America’s increasingly divisive culture.
Most churches are racially segregated, with most White Christians voting Republican and most Black Christians voting Democratic. The altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment emphasize reconciliation, but America’s churches have subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist doctrines of Christian belief.
Jesus never addressed the stewardship of democracy since it was irrelevant in his ancient time and place; but unlike the people of Jesus’ day, American voters are the masters of their political destiny. Their stewardship of democracy requires balancing individual wants and rights with providing for the common good; and so far voters have failed to strike that balance.
In a democracy, socialism and capitalism can be morally good or bad. Voters determine the moral quality of justice in a democracy. Socialism doesn’t justify excessive spending that imposes burdensome debts on future generations, nor does capitalism justify the greed on Wall Street that creates vast disparities of wealth. Voters define the moral standards of their politics.
James Carville once described the moral priority in politics--it’s the economy, stupid. If President Biden and Democrats create another $6 Trillion in government debt for socialist programs on top of a $28.3 Trillion national debt, it will create an oppressive economic burden on future Americans. As stewards of democracy, American voters have a civic duty and moral obligation to protect our nation’s economy from such partisan largesse.
On Memorial Day “President Joe Biden...urged Americans to honor the fallen by strengthening and protecting the nation's democracy. He said, "Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world. What we do now -- what we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen will determine whether or not democracy will long endure. ...Our willingness to see each other not as enemies, neighbors, even when we disagree, to understand what the other is going through. ...This nation was built on an idea, the only nation in the world built on an idea...the idea of liberty, an opportunity for all," Biden said. See https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/31/politics/biden-memorial-day/index.html.
In From Here to Utopia: What religion can teach the Left in Commonweal Magazine, David Albertson and Jason Bradley criticized the Left’s preference for big-spending socialist politics. “An emphasis on civic belonging and cultural transformation tends to be neglected on the American Left. [It mostly confines itself] to fighting large-scale social inequities with redistributive programs, ceding family, community, and existential meaning to the Right. For example, shortly after Trump’s election, two editors of the socialist magazine Jacobin made this error  with accidental precision. It is single-payer health care and similar programs that will restore communal belonging in American life, they promised: “Programs that benefit all Americans will foster the sense of solidarity and political engagement necessary to building a lasting progressive coalition.” Their analysis is exactly backward. Material goods do not magically generate a sense of social belonging in people. Rather, renewed cultures of solidarity must accompany policy success. Without a commons, there is no common good. Many democratic socialists erroneously believe that structural change will guarantee revolutionary change. ...Without substantive ethical transformation the Left risks succumbing to [an] openly dictatorial view of power. Ironically, …[it] maintains the dangerous illusion that technocrats can enact a massive change in culture by manipulating the levers of the state. But this purchases socialism at the cost of democracy, paying little heed to the dignity and freedom of the human person. ...Trying to change impersonal structural forces without an equally powerful humanism threatens to repeat the mistake of Stalinism. Dostoevsky foresaw this perennial trap over a century ago: the love of humanity in the abstract that in practice generates an intense hatred of actual humans with their frailties and limitations. In the words of the fanatical atheist Shigalyov in Dostoevsky’s Demons, “Starting from unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism.” ...One of the most discussed democratic-socialist manifestos in recent years—Martin Hägglund’s This Life—is programmatically anti-religious, yet concludes by imagining future solidarities on the analogy of religious faith. Hägglund ultimately attempts to convert Martin Luther King Jr.’s Christian socialism into an atheistic form. But what does it mean if the most enduring models for social renewal on the Left remain those led by people of faith? If capitalism occupies the “horizons of the thinkable,” the new solidarities offered by religious faith provide an alternative horizon. They are incubators of a new society, transforming the old from within. As American social democracy matures, it has much to learn from religious movements, as it supplements cries for change with the fine-grained work of ethical transformation. In the early 1990s, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, founded what would become the most successful gang-intervention program in the country with the help of women from his parish, located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Boyle and his parish defied the logic of capitalism by adopting the logic of the Church, a logic of radical inclusion. They founded Homeboy Industries by collectivizing capital (charitable donations) from churches and non-profit foundations. Today Homeboy consists of multiple businesses exclusively staffed and run by ex-gang members, including a bakery, café, and silkscreen company. Homeboy rejects the economic model of a supposedly meritocratic labor pool coordinating supply and demand. Instead, as Boyle prankishly says, at Homeboy “we only hire hoodlums,” pursuing a full-employment policy for former gang members seeking work in good faith. Workers are also offered free job training, counseling, tattoo-removal services, and a chance at camaraderie with former enemies from rival gangs. See https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/print/41703.
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