Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Jesus said, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24) If loving God requires that we love our neighbors as ourselves, especially the poor and weak, then we cannot love God and love the money and worldly power that exploits the poor and weak. That is a principle of faith common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
It is a stretch to describe the U.S. as a Godly nation given its materialism and hedonism. And the consummate love of wealth, pleasure and power is not unique to the U.S. It is prevalent wherever humankind has the freedom to choose between the love of God and money. If the two are considered competing masters for our souls, then most people seem to have put the love of money and the pleasures and power it can buy over the love of God.
Does God Bless America? We hear that mantra from politicians as they campaign for money and votes, but it is an offense to God to claim blessings for a nation that worships money, pleasure and power. Some young Muslims have been so offended by the decadent values of libertarian democracies that they have left them for the oppressive idealism of ISIS. And many people of faith and reason in the U.S. also seem to be losing faith in the capitalistic and political structures that control the nation’s wealth and power.
The unlikely popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as presidential candidates is evidence of widespread public dissatisfaction with the political status quo. They are at opposite ends of the political and economic spectrum: Trump personifies Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy that sanctifies unrestrained greed and self-satisfaction at the expense of the public welfare, while Sanders represents the socialist ideal of government as our brothers’ keeper. Rand’s objectivism sacrifices altruism in free enterprise for vulture capitalism, while socialism sacrifices individual freedom for an unrealistic altruistic political ideal.
The U.S. is at a crossroads of religion and politics, with freedom and democracy at risk. The evolution of U.S. democracy has resulted in an emphasis on individual rights and wants at the expense of providing for the common good. Plato predicted as much, favoring a benevolent dictator over self-rule since the majority of people could not be expected to act in their own best interests; and Edmund Burke warned Americans that in a democracy we forge our own shackles. Pogo affirmed them both, observing that we have met the enemy, and it is us.
Libertarians have long warned of the dangers of big government to freedom, but today neo-libertarians condemn big government and ignore the greater dangers to freedom represented by the big banks and businesses of Wall Street, whose insatiable appetites for cheap money are fed by the Federal Reserve. Those capitalists who control the wealth and power of Wall Street are Rand objectivists, and government seems either unwilling or unable to stem their power.
A healthy democracy depends on a strong middle class, and in the U.S. the middle class has been exploited more by Wall Street and the easy money policies of the Federal Reserve than by big government. But most conservative Americans have not seemed to notice and consider the welfare programs of big government the main enemy of the middle class, even though most of those welfare programs are Social Security and Medicare entitlements that benefit a shrinking middle class rather than the poor and needy.
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has made health care a government entitlement, and has come to illustrate the conflict between socialism and capitalism. When campaigning for President, Obama promised to provide for cost controls for health care before making it a universal right, but that never happened. As a result, vulture capitalism has corrupted public health care, as evidenced by astronomical increases in pharmaceuticals, demonstrating the need for cost controls in government entitlement programs.
To protect the U.S. middle class from further erosion, Americans must acknowledge that big business can be as much of a threat to the middle class as big government. Both are part of the problem and both must be part of the solution, and that will require political initiatives that provide a viable balance between individual freedom, free enterprise and providing for the common good. Neither Trump’s objectivism nor Sanders’ socialism can succeed in America, but something in between must be done to prevent further erosion of the middle class by the rich and powerful vulture capitalists—otherwise, individual rights and democracy will be at risk.
A healthy democracy requires balancing individual rights with providing for the common good, and that requires regulating the big banks and corporations of Wall Street that have been flourishing while the rest of the economy (Main Street) has been languishing. The problem is not free enterprise but the unrestrained greed of vulture capitalism that limits competition rather than encouraging it, and the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve and the lack of regulation of the banking industry since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 that have favored the rich and powerful conglomerates of Wall Street over the smaller businesses of Main Street.
A strong middle class must be sustained by a form of free enterprise free of the vulture capitalism that exploits the weak to benefit the rich and powerful. That is an imperative of faith taught by Moses, Jesus and Muhammad that is summed up in the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor. It is ironic that most neo-libertarians claim to be evangelical Christians but do not see how the love of money and power is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus.
Our faith is in what we love most. If we love God more than money then we must put the value of God’s love over the value of money, and that should be reflected in the priorities of our politics and our pocketbooks. People who love God share God’s love with others, while people who love money exploit others to promote their selfish interests. In politics the love of God requires that we find a middle ground between the extremes of Trump’s objectivism and Sander’s socialism, balancing our individual freedom with providing for the common good.
Notes and References to Resources:
Previous blogs on related topics are Faith and Freedom, December 15, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Wealth, Politics and Religion, March 8, 2015; The Power of Humility and the Arrogance of Power, March 22, 2015; Liberation from Economic Oppression, May 31, 2015; Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities, August 9, 2015; and Religion, the Pope, and Politics in the Real World, September 27, 2015.
For commentary on Matthew 6:24, see Faith God and Money at pages 117-119 of the J&M Book; also Lesson #8, Riches and salvation (Mark 10:17-27) and Lesson #9, the Widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44), at pages 45-50; and Treasures and the heart(Luke 12:33-34) at pages 235-238.
On Why Bernie Sanders Can’t be President, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/10/12/why-bernie-sanders-isnt-going-to-be-president-in-5-words/?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_evening.
On the need to find a political middle ground between the extremes of Trump and Sanders, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-sanders-trump-magical-mystery-tour/2015/10/13/d9fdfc3e-71e9-11e5-8248-98e0f5a2e830_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_opinions.
On the need to reveal the huge gap between CEO pay (in big business) and worker pay, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2015/08/04/this-new-rule-could-reveal-the-huge-gap-between-ceo-pay-and-worker-pay/?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On an egregious example of vulture capitalism in the pharmaceutical industry, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/23/pharma-bro-martin-shkreli-and-the-very-american-debate-over-maximizing-profit/?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_evening.
On how the Glass-Steagall Act effectively regulated banks from 1933 to 1999, see http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-intelligence/2012/08/27/repeal-of-glass-steagall-caused-the-financial-crisis.
On why the Federal Reserve and other central banks can no longer save the world with easy money, see http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/10/us-imf-cenbank-idUSKCN0S40VE20151010.
On Ayn Rand’s self-centered objectivism, see https://www.aynrand.org/ideas/overview.