Stop Calling Jesus a Socialist (Unless You’re Into Things Like Reality)

Socialism gets slapped with a pretty bad reputation in conservative circles, and that’s putting it nicely. Most of us have seen people rant and rave about it and post skewed memes on social media here and there. To be fair, if we only consider a definition of socialism that limits it to the worst and most extreme examples (vis à vis communism), then its negative reputation is probably deserved. Untitled 3 symbpls.jpeg.jpegI wouldn’t exactly hold China or the former Soviet Union up as examples for us to emulate. Nevertheless, the United States and its application of capitalism deserves criticism too. Whether we are able to admit it or not, capitalism has major problems, especially if you aren’t in the top 10% of our nation’s wealthiest individuals, and all the more so if you aren’t in the top 1%. Be that as it may, it wouldn’t be fair to throw out the worst examples of socialism and then press a case against the worst examples of capitalism. The reality is that both capitalism and socialism have embarrassing and praiseworthy examples that ought to be avoided and embraced at different points. But as much fun as it would be to explore the details, nuances, and anecdotal virtues of each economic model, the purpose here is to advance socialism as the model which best reflects the biblical ethic of an entire community looking after a society’s most vulnerable people.

The underlying principle of socialism is that the whole community is responsible for making sure that the marginalized (e.g., the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, disabled, elderly, widow, immigrant, child and orphan) are cared for, not merely on a subsistence level, but on a level that anyone else would want for themselves and members of their immediate family. Is there any support for this type of arrangement in the Bible? Yes. Lots of it.

In the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures, from the major prophets through the minors and to the end of the texts, it is when the Jews continually neglect their society’s most vulnerable members and focus only on building fortunes, power, and prestige of the privileged that God momentarily gives up on them and lets the Assyrians and then the Babylonians destroy Israel and Judah.

The Old Testament also commands that debts be cancelled and that property and lands be returned to their original owners after a specified number of years so that people get both a fresh start and the resources to engage in a successful livelihood once again. In our day, that would be like telling Monsanto that they had a good run taking over family farms, but now they had to give them all back, or saying to Texas that it was time to return the southern half of the state back to its rightful owners (the Mexicans), or to the rest of the Western hemisphere that it finally had to make things right with the Native Americans. And if we refuse, that’s fine, God won’t force us, but there will be consequences. Specifically, we’ll be kicked out of the land ourselves. In an oversimplification, that’s pretty much what happened in the Holy Land in the second half of the Old Testament.

Then we get to the Jesus days in the gospels. And Jesus don’t play nice with the selfish big-deals of his day either, namely, those with wealth and prestige. He has a lot of very critical things to say to (and about) the “haves,” especially regarding how they treat their wealth and the “have-nots.” One of the more shocking moments in the New Testament is when Jesus loses his temper in the Temple courts after he sees entrepreneurs capitalizing on a vulnerable constituency (price gouging poor folks who didn’t have the means to bring their own temple sacrifices/offerings). If you don’t know the story, Jesus kicks over their tables and in no uncertain terms tells them to get the F out of the Temple. Occupy that! It’s beautiful.

Jesus also commands that his people love their neighbors as themselves, and he doesn’t make any exceptions based on how much money or resources anyone does or does not possess. Jesus also seemed to think that everyone should have free access to food and healthcare as he fed and healed everyone who came to him. No insurance or proof of citizenship required.

After the hippy-dippy liberal Jesus and the gospels we get to the New Testament book of Acts, which chronicles the formation of the church after Jesus’ resurrected departure. In verses 4.32-35 of that book we get an unmistakeable endorsement of an economic model identical to socialism. Seriously, listen to what it says:

Acts 4.32-35Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (NRSV).

This scarcely requires additional commentary, and if readers were to continue with their Bible reading, they would discover an alarming end to this endorsement of socialism which includes a story of two Christians who decided to keep some resources to themselves while trying to persuade everyone else that they had given all. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well for them.

Of course I get it that my blog post’s title is an eyebrow raiser. Any Bible interpreter worth her salt should bristle at drafting Jesus to a contemporary economic or political platform. I also understand that for Christians, it is our ideologies and systems that should be conformed to the mind of Christ rather than pressing him into service of ours. Nevertheless, it’s imperative to ask which of our contemporary options best reflect biblical values, particularly when it comes to honoring the most vulnerable and disadvantaged or “least of these,” in the words of Jesus. It’s pretty obvious to me that the strongest case can be made not for capitalism, but for socialism, especially if it’s a less extreme and more nuanced brand like the one that Bernie Sanders advocates for.

I mention Bernie Sanders because what inspired this blog entry in the first place was a conservative article I came across attempting a take-down of him and progressive Christians’ understanding that Sanders’ socialism reflects a New Testament ethic. I’ll spend more time on the anti-Sanders article as an addendum in the comments section, but let me reiterate my present argument and line of reasoning for the claim that Jesus and the entire Bible best aligns with socialism over and against capitalism:

In view of the entire Bible (Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament), it is more accurate to say that God esteems societies which show compassion to their most vulnerable and powerless members rather than those which do not. In terms of socialism vs. capitalism we should ask which type of government and economic model honors God the most: one which mandates that even its wealthiest, most hard-hearted, and selfish members make significant contributions to care for the least of their society, or one that simply rewards misers for being misers and asks nothing of them concerning the plight of the least of their fellow creatures? Christian Scripture and reason tell anyone willing to set aside their biases that socialism comes much closer to a biblical ethic and the person of Jesus than does its rival.

I am certain that critical voices have more than a few criticisms of my argument, so for those willing to go further, I’ve included some of the common objections I have heard (along with my rebuttals). These are culled from real conversations I’ve had with conservative Christians.

Happy reading.

-Corbin

Responding to Objections:

Objection 1: “Acts 4:32-37 is not an example of a political governmental system. It is individual members of a church acting voluntarily. The giving featured in this passage was out of changed hearts, not governmental edict.”

Rebuttal: The question is about which of our contemporary options best reflects a biblical ethic. It would be odd for Christians to argue that an economic model reflecting a biblical ethic should be rejected just because a government has adopted it, especially when that government is itself an extension of the peoples’ will.

 

Objection 2: Socialism violates New Testament calls for believers to give cheerfully without coercion. Instead, socialism forces people to give thereby impinging on their ability to determine what, how, and when to give.

Rebuttal: The Bible asks people to give cheerfully, but it does not imply that being grumpy releases them from the obligation to give. To suggest otherwise is a misunderstanding of Scripture.

Furthermore, participating in a socialistic economy and mandating that a portion of taxes and resources support the poor and disadvantaged does not alter nor impinge upon a Christian’s call to give freely or cheerfully at all. The fact is that giving voluntarily and sending a portion of taxes to assistance programs are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Liberty is not sacrificed, and generosity is not eliminated. If a Christian’s voluntary and cheerful giving evaporates just because some of their tax dollars go to the disadvantaged, then the problem is with that Christian, not the system they participate in.

 

Objection 3: Where does God tell his followers to advocate for specific forms of government? iu-3.jpeg

Rebuttal: I wish conservative types would remember this objection every time they try to tell us that the United States is a “Christian nation.” Nevertheless, its question implies an argument from silence. We might as well ask: Where does God tell his people that they should not advocate for specific forms of government? It strains credibility to imagine that Christians claiming to value the marginalized should not want their government to reflect their values on some level, even if theocracy is not in view.

 

Objection 4: Socialism requires that Christians transfer the moral dependency of faith onto government. There aren’t any biblical examples of this.

Rebuttal: Of course there aren’t any biblical examples of people transferring moral dependency to the government. The objection is a misunderstanding of socialism. Socialism does not require that a Christian (or anyone else) becomes morally dependent on the government, either for giving or for receiving.

 

Objection 5: Due to corruption, there is still unequal wealth in socialist economies. It just so happens that the ones with the wealth are likely to be those in power or those in favor with people in power.

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Rebuttal: Socialism, especially that which is promoted by Bernie Sanders, does not mandate “equal wealth.” It requires that the wealthy and the society as a whole take responsibility for the marginalized and vulnerable.

 

If this objection were actually concerned about corruption, slavery, and wealth being married to power, then the same complaint ought to be levied against capitalism, which arguably makes the wealth-power-corruption combination much more egregious, especially considering the supreme court case that allows unlimited and anonymous dark money to flow into political campaigns (Citizens United).

 

Objection 6: Socialism leads to the “haves” being bitter and eventually deciding that hard work isn’t worth it. 

Rebuttal: It strains credibility to believe that a couple in the top 10% of earners in our nation (making $240k per year or more) would decide that it’s not “worth it,” and choose instead to become welfare recipients.Ignoring the fact that most people on welfare don’t have the ability to make the opposite choice, even these top earners will benefit from the socialist program Medicare when they hit a certain age.

It should also be pointed out that IRS brackets only tax the portion of income at certain levels which exceed minimum amounts. If that makes your head spin, what that meant in 2016 is that a couple in a 35% tax bracket only pays 35% in taxes on the amount they make over $413,351. So if they make 413,352 dollars in one year, the only money subject to a 35% tax rate is $1, and it would still be in their best interests to make that lonely extra dollar because it would add $0.65 to their bottom line. In that sense, it’s in this couple’s best interests to keep making more and more money until a maximal tax rate exceeds 49.9% (which we don’t even have in the USA).

 

Objection 7: Socialism leads to the “have nots” becoming entitled and spoiled and thinking that they shouldn’t have to work at all. Untitled.jpeg

Rebuttal: Claiming that all disadvantaged people will become “spoiled” fails to connect with reality, namely, that most people who are able to work and improve their situations do exactly that when they have the opportunity. Focusing on the extreme “welfare kings” steps into a logical fallacy known informally as the hasty generalization, which tries to convince people that since some individuals fit this description, everyone else must as well. They don’t, thus the argument fails.

This objection further implies that all social assistance programs should be ended just because a minority of people abuse the system. I wonder if these same objectors would argue that capitalism should be ended becauseof its worst abusers. I suspect not, and that raises a consistency issue which in itself raises concerns about conservative Christians’ priorities.

 

Objection 8: Where does Jesus say, when you see a person in need, find someone in government to help them? It is the Christian’s job to serve the needy, not the government’s.

Rebuttal: This is a valid point when it comes to Christians’ orders to serve the needy (cheerfully or otherwise), but the objection fails to apprehend the unmet needs of our reality. If everyone’s needs were already being met, then the government wouldn’t have anything to do. Unfortunately, the vast needs and inequality created in our present economic system are greater than the individual Christian or church can address, especially when not everyone is giving of their resources (in the church or external to it). The advantage of socialism is that it works to address needs more effectively by mandating that the entire society (both private individuals and corporations), is responsible for its most vulnerable people. Nobody gets to check-out on this responsibility.

The better question to address this objection is: “Do you really think that if no individuals are helping a person in need, then Jesus would recommend that the government ought to ignore them too, and that Christians should vote against any  efforts to do otherwise?Is that really what so-called “Christians” ought to want? It strains credibility. Again, the Bible is clear that God favors societies that look after their most vulnerable neighbors.

 

Objection 9: Socialism forces people to surrender goods and services and undermines the most basic right to liberty and self determination.

Rebuttal: This objection confuses socialism with its worst and more extreme version, communism. The type of socialism advocated by Bernie Sanders does not involve anything like confiscating peoples’ good and services. Constructing a caricature of socialism and trying to refute that instead of the actual thing being considered is an informal logical fallacy by definition. This is commonly referred to as a straw-man argument, and it renders this objection irrelevant.

The same can be said of the objection that socialism “undermines the most basic right to liberty and self determination.” Not only is this false, its exact opposite is true. Socialism enables the most vulnerable members of society to be free from fear of losing their housing, having enough to eat, worrying about medical needs or having to choose between their children and their jobs. Because people are not enslaved by these basic needs, they are better equipped to pursue liberty and self-determination under socialism.

 

Objection 10: When does God call believers to force people who don’t share their faith to act like believers? 

Rebuttal: Democratic socialism (a la Bernie Sanders) should not be confused with theocracy or the forcing of non-believers to live according to Christianity. The only thing left for this objection to focus on is the socialist mandate that resources (taxes) be collected from everyone, even the unwilling, in order to provide assistance to a society’s most vulnerable people. It has to be pointed out, however, that while care for the have-nots is included within “Christian” values, it is not a uniquely Christian value any more than are laws against murder. Nobody argues that banning murder is forcing Christian morality on the government or its people. This is not to say that murder and charity are moral equivalents, but rather that they have something in common, namely, that they are God-honoring and marks of good governance that Christians (and everyone else of good will) ought to want regardless of what religious views they or others hold. It is a human value that everyone should encourage their government to pursue.

Again, no sane person laments that Christians are imposing their religious doctrines on the government when that authority outlaws murder or makes efforts to alleviate hunger, homelessness, and lack of education and medical care. No beneficiary of these laws and services shouts out, “Curse those Christians forcing their values on me!” Unfortunately, the opposite is not true. When conservative capitalist Christians fail to meet the needs of their fellow humans and simultaneously push an agenda that refuses to let the government help, they are rightly seen as hypocrites, and they bring disgrace to the very values they claim to profess.

Speaking of hypocrisy, an inconsistency came to light in a recent discussion on Facebook regarding this topic. As indicated in the objection above, some Christians believe that other Christians’ voting for Bernie Sanders (on the basis of his socialism) are wrong for trying to force the value of caring for the disadvantaged on non-Christians. As I’ve already pointed out, the imperative to serve the poor is not unique to Christianity, but the issue with consistency here is that these same voices are quick to claim that it is important to vote according to their so-called “Christian” values when it comes to opposing same-sex marriage and abortion. Using their version of faith as an excuse to deny gay people equal rights and force women to have children against their will seems perfectly acceptable, but as soon as it comes to requiring a society to take corporate responsibility for its already-born vulnerable and disadvantaged neighbors, they suddenly change their minds and declare such faith-based governance to be inappropriate. There is only one word for this: Hypocrisy.

Final Thoughts:

I cannot help but wonder that conservative Christians go to great lengths to denounce socialism because, perhaps subconsciously, they know it calls out their duplicity for what it is. Whether they can allow themselves to acknowledge it or not, I’d like to think that the most reflective conservative Christians are intelligent enough to know their fealty to political and economic power at the expense of others cuts against the entire trajectory of the Bible, from Moses through major and minor prophets, right on through the gospels to the end of Revelation. Nowhere does Jesus or the Bible esteem an economic system anything like capitalism.

The same can be said of the Bible’s assessment of good governments. Nowhere does it esteem military and business interests or reinforce our modern notions about personal liberties or rugged individualism. Nowhere in the Bible are these things prioritized over and against the health, vitality, and basic human rights of its people and their neighbors, especially those who are not wealthy, nor powerful, nor natural born Israelites. No, without equivocation the econo

mic systems the Bible does advocate are quite similar to what we would call “socialism” in our own linguistic parlance. There are a plethora of Scriptures that make this case, but one need not look any further than th

e previously referenced Acts 4.32-35 to see the clearest example. Conservative evangelical Christian types might not like socialism, but that has more to do with their political and economic dogma than it does with Jesus and the Bible.

Thanks for reading me,

-C. Lambethiu-1.jpeg

Special thanks to J. Black for providing the Bernie Sanders .gif video.

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Posted in Politics, Questions for Christians, Theology | 1 Comment

Trump and Obama are Not Equal Opposites

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It’s an unmistakeable trend in conservative political commentary to assert that Trump is merely the answer to Obama. Some of these folks simply hated Obama and couldn’t get rid of him, and now they like to say it’s progressives’ time to suffer the same. Unfortunately, claiming that the Obama era was just as sufferable for conservatives as is the Trump era for progressives indicates a mind-baffling disconnection from reality. One may not have liked Obama’s policies, but policy alone is not the problem here. Trump and Obama are not merely opposing political forces. No. The unending corruption-quagmire that is @realDonaldTrump is not limited to policy differences. It is preeminently a character issue and rejection and re-labeling of reality as “fake news.” It is utter contempt for truth, honesty, integrity, transparency and humility. It is plain, self-serving corruption. It is a willingness to say anything and then cheat the very people who so easily believed his words and voted for him. No. In order for him to be a worthy and equally potent “answer” to Obama, Trump would have to be intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable, honest, and have at least a modicum of integrity irrespective of political differences. In that sense, Obama and Trump are not equal political opposites. At all. Of course a person can believe that former President Obama is of a similar deplorable intelligence and character as Trump, but making such claims requires more than simplistic accusations and feelings. It requires evidence of equal weight and quantity, and it is incumbent upon political conservatives to support their claims if they want critical thinkers to take them seriously. I don’t think conservatives  can (or that most would even dare to try), but of course I remain committed to following the best evidence wherever it leads.

Unfortunately, Trump is not the source of the rot in present American politics. He is a symptom. Trump merely (and successfully) tapped into an issue that has been brewing in the United States.  People who voted for Trump are the source of this problem, especially those who still uncritically support him and construct mindless arguments to excuse him. The problem is an ongoing willingness of any voter to give Trump a pass on his behavior, language, and character. People who have happily sacrificed truth and justice when it doesn’t suit their purposes and desires are the problem. People who fail to think critically about narratives which play into their fears, prejudices, greed, and political loyalties are the problem. People whose entire defense of Trump consists of pivoting towards Hillary or Obama or Al Gore, or Nancy Pelosi or liberals are the problem.

If we, both as a nation and as individuals, actually want to become “great,” it absolutely requires a renewed, serious, and unlimited commitment to truth, integrity, and accountability for ourselves and our President (as well as all offices and branches of power that govern us). It requires that we take responsibility for our own poor choices, gullibility, and prejudices, and that we work hard to correct them. It requires that we recognize and reject the fallacy of false equivalency or the belief that opposing viewpoints are equally valid, even if one side is objectively true and the other is not. It is past time for us, both collectively and as individuals, to decide that we are going to grow up, take responsibility for the problems WE have created (or at least enabled), call them out, and fix them.

Given the current state of affairs, willful ignorance, and electoral tribalism, I have almost no hope that we will be able to do that. Ultimately, I can only take responsibility for my own behavior (and I will continue to do just that to the best of my ability), but I hope that others will join me in a rejection of political insanity and delusion. At present (and at voting time), that requires a rejection of Donald Trump and any other candidate of any party who preys on our willingness to trash reality, truth, and integrity for political power. Trump is merely a symptom of the problem that is us. We must do better.

-CL

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Posted in My Core Beliefs | 3 Comments

I Wasn’t Just Wrong About @RealDonaldTrump. I Was Wrong About America.

What is something that you thought you knew, but turned out to be completely wrong about? This is one of the many glorious segments featured on my new, favorite podcast, Make Me Smart, featuring the hosts from APM’s Marketplace radio broadcast, Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood. On the February 7th edition of their new show, the hosts posed this question to Gloria Calderon Kellet, the co-creator of the rebooted series on Netflix, “One Day at a Time.”

For her answer to the question, Kellet described an experience related to her failed presidential election party wherein she and her friends gathered to witness what they believed would be the election the first woman President. As we all know, Hillary Clinton did not win, and Kellet says that her and her friends’ election-night bewilderment was a symptom of the problem of living and breathing in what she described as an “echo chamber” that merely reflected her own Progressive political beliefs back at her. She “knew” Clinton would win, and yet was shockingly wrong in this “knowledge.” We might also describe this metaphorically as being in a bubble wherein she only heard, saw, and read exactly what she wanted to, which, in this case, led her to “know” something that was completely wrong. Because the vast majority of her friends and social media contacts are forward-leaning when it comes to politics, Kellet said that she came to think and feel what everyone else in her circle was thinking and feeling. As a byproduct, she also began to presume that this held true for the majority of the electorate. It didn’t. In retrospect, Kellet realized that she had become profoundly unaware of what was happening in other parts of the country, especially in so-called Trump Territory. Her takeaway was that she, as well as the rest of her fellow citizens (Democratic and Republican), need to make efforts at rising out of their own echo-chambers to take a close look at what is happening elsewhere, as well as at what different-minded people are thinking.

Of course Ms. Kellet is right. We ought not surround ourselves with proverbial Yes-Men who only show and tell exactly what we want to see and hear. We absolutely need to be in authentic and polite conversations with those who have different perspectives and worldviews. We must practice active listening with others rather than merely waiting for our turn to speak, and perhaps most importantly, we must be able to say, “I understand,” before we can ever begin to say, “I disagree.”  I try to embody this as best as I can (at least in my better moments). Sadly, this is not the standard in our nut-ball political culture. Not even close. I don’t need to go into details with anyone who has spent anytime at all on the web or dared to read any of the entries in any given “comments” section. If you’re reading this blog entry  chances are good that you already know something serious is amiss with our ability to listen and effectively engage in civil discourse.

Be that as it may, I only partially agree with Ms. Kellet’s assessment. Of course we need to do better at hearing the opposition when it comes to things like religion and politics (especially when politics IS our religion), but it was neither my own political echo-chamber nor my ignorance of the Trump contingency that led to my bewilderment on the eve of the 2016 presidential election. Of course I had underestimated the shear volume of Trump’s supporters, but the horror I experienced that night was not because I had blocked out the insanity of Fox News, surrounded myself with Progressives, or had dared to put confidence in the website predictions from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com. Of course each of these moves reinforced my convictions that Clinton would win, but they were not the source of those convictions themselves. Nor was it my belief that Liberal political values are generally better aligned with my followership and understanding of Jesus and that progressive politics generally has the weight of justice and care for “the least of these” behind it. Again, these things helped reinforce my belief that Clinton would win, but they were not the source of that conviction.

No. The true source of my belief regarding the outcome of the election had almost nothing to do with my political leanings but rather my faith in humanity itself. I was so convinced that people, if they were paying any attention at all, would recognize who and what Donald Trump actually was, and that they would intuitively know that he was unfit to lead a high school girl’s basketball team, much less usurp the role of Commander in Chief. I dared to make the mistake of believing that it’s not how much money one has or what a person can build or buy or say that counts, but rather the content of one’s character and their commitment to the truth. Time after time after time, @RealDonaldTrump revealed himself to have unspeakably horrible character and a zealous willingness to engage in pathological lying whenever it suited his purposes. He would literally say anything, out of both sides of his mouth (pending the respective audiences), and then not even bother trying to conceal his duplicity. He proved to be a racist, a sexist, and a cheat who preyed upon anyone and everyone who gave him opportunity. He would insult and demonize anyone, including his political rivals, immigrants, women, the disabled, and especially any judges, investigative reporters, and journalists who dared to call Trump’s lies and generally horrible behavior into question. In light of all this (and more), I thought to myself, “There is no way anyone who values truth, character, and integrity could ever vote for Trump.” I believed that whatever else we might’ve been tempted to say about Hillary’s questionable use of a private email server, there was simply no comparison between that gaff, which she ultimately took ownership of, and Trump’s never-ending onslaught of excrement, deceit, and general moral turpitude. In short, I thought I knew that most Americans, regardless of their respective affiliations, were people who valued integrity and honesty, and certainly that they valued these more than a political candidate who would flagrantly spurn them. Oh how mistaken I was.

The lasting and unsettling sting I continue to feel in the post Trump-election is not just because I was wrong about who I believed would win the Office of the President, but because I was wrong about America. I have lost a lot of faith in my fellow Americans, at least around 50 Million of them, and all the more so when a majority of these folks would likely call themselves “Christians,” people who at the very least are supposed to be defined by their commitments to truth and love of their neighbors. So my hope has taken a major hit as well. Christian or not, when honesty, integrity, and accountability no longer matter, we are in very, very deep trouble, regardless of who happens to be in the White House.

Thanks for reading me,

-Corbin

Posted in Politics | 4 Comments

Is @realDonaldTrump Even Qualified to Be President?

2016, by far, has been the most troubling and challenging election cycle I’ve experienced. I originally harbored a certain amount of glee that the Republicans didn’t just fill their clown-car with, well… clowns, but that they ultimately decided to let Donald Trump drive. He even had the clown-hair. It was rich indeed, although not in the way Trump likes to bandy about. However, as the election has dragged on, my amusement has transitioned to bewilderment as to why Trump continues to gain popularity with certain demographics, Christians in particular. Yes, there are always a few morons who will support just about anything, but we’re talking about close to half of eligible voters in our nation. It’s not a lunatic fringe. Neither is it mere idiocy that’s driving these tens of millions of Trump voters. I don’t understand them, but it is a categorical mistake to assume that all these people are just idiots. As Trump himself likes to say, “There is something going on here.” I just have no idea what’s driving it. I am tempted to say “fear” or “basic gullibility,” but I recognize that neither of these are significant improvements over “idiocy.” So I’ve interacted with a few acquaintances to see why they support Trump, and inevitably two things come up: Trump’s alleged business acumen, and Hillary Clinton.

It’s the same thing on radio and TV: “Trump’s a great businessman, and Hillary Clinton blah, blah, blah.” Yes, there are also the odd policy proposals that resonate with some people, like Trump’s promised wall-building, refusal to act on climate change, and banning Muslims etc., but as I’ve listened to Trump speak, and seen a series of interviews with his surrogates and spokespeople, none of them are able to say anything substantive about how Trump will accomplish any of his plans, how they might be at odds with the U.S. Constitution, or why Trump’s own business dealings and foreign operations are plainly at odds with his rhetoric. Trump and his folks cannot even answer any questions about his own words or behavior without desperately trying to pivot towards Hillary Clinton. I just keep asking myself, “Who finds this guy even remotely credible?”

But I’ve been drinking the liberal Kool-Aid (and I like it), and it’s clear that millions of people, for whatever reason, find Trump to be a credible candidate, so instead of focusing on all the peripheral garbage that clings to Trump like stank on crap or his complete inability to describe how he will try to accomplish his stated purposes, the focus here is on his number one claim to credibility as a candidate for the Office of President, namely, that he’s a business person. And on that front, there are three questions that deserve the attention of anyone who believes that Trump is qualified to be President because of his experience in business. If you’re a Trump supporter, and you haven’t decided to ignore those who challenge you (nicely done!), then consider this your invitation to answer some questions. Clearly you are no moron, and you may even help me gain some insight into your voting for Trump. And if you haven’t made up your mind yet, these questions are just as relevant for your consideration:

1) Is being just a business person a sufficient qualification for someone to be President?

The primary force driving business is to turn a profit. Oftentimes, that purpose is served by making all other priorities secondary (including what might otherwise be best for its employees, the environment, and broader social contexts).  In contrast, the primary role of government is not to turn a profit (or even sell anything at all) but rather to protect and serve its people (ALL its people).*

Of course there are businesses built on merging core values with profitability. The outdoor company, Patagonia and their profitable passion for producing quality gear in environmentally sustainable ways comes to mind. I’m not suggesting that all business leaders and their enterprises are slaves to money or that they sacrifice all decency to worship at the shrine of gold, but that brings us back to Trump. His businesses don’t appear to have merged any higher values at all into his pursuit of money. In fact, it’s a pretty easy case to make that at least one of Trump’s primary business endeavors (casinos) are not even morally neutral, but rather socially questionable at best. The same can be said of Trump’s other business schemes, especially his fraudulent “University.” Trump’s businesses don’t seem to serve any purpose at all beyond making money, and that is a curious thing to make as the core “qualification” for anyone looking to engage in government service, much less the Office of President. In fact, the slavish pursuit of money at the expense of everything else is completely antithetical to the purpose and mission of good governance. It seems to me that Trump fails pretty hard by this measure.

For the sake of comparison, it’s worth mentioning that previous party candidates who ran on a business background (like Mitt Romney most recently) also had strong, relevant experience in publicly held offices. I’m no fan of Romney, but at least he was the former governor of Massachusetts. He also seems to have decent character and general values, but not Trump. Trump has never been elected to ANY public office. He doesn’t even run a publicly traded company that would otherwise be accountable to a constituency of shareholders. He has zero experience working with anyone he can’t boss around or fire.

It seems to me that if just being a business person was a sufficient qualification to run for President, then we would literally have tens of millions of qualified candidates, and that is a pretty big overstatement. Unlike Trump, even if a businessman were exceptionally honest and trustworthy, and had a spotless record of impressive profitability (and no bankruptcies), welcomed transparency and open tax-returns, had a history of paying all his bills, treating his employees and subcontractors well, supporting domestic businesses rather than relying on overseas operations and taking advantage of undocumented workers, it STILL would not mean that this experience made him qualified to be our nation’s chief diplomat, or our military’s Commander in Chief, or that he would know how to work with people he needed but could not dismiss (you know, like Senators and Supreme Court Justices, etc.).

In addition to failing in all the ways the ideal businessperson would succeed, Trump has never held elected office, knows virtually nothing about foreign affairs, domestic policy, or even the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution or how the Office of the President works. Trump has never served in the military, never had to take orders, and has never had to work with anyone he couldn’t fire or at least manipulate or cheat out of their paycheck if he didn’t like them. And now, just because he claims to have made a lot of money, we’re supposed to take him seriously for the highest and singularly most powerful publicly elected office in the land? We’re really supposed to grant him access to our nuclear launch codes, count on him to be our chief diplomat on the world stage and put him in charge of signing legislation that impacts all U.S. citizens (the 99% who aren’t billionaires like he claims to be)? Are we really going to expect him to be able to work with the other branches of government (whom he can neither hire nor fire) to compromise and get things done? This strains a lot of credibility, and I think Trump supporters and any undecideds need to take this question very seriously. Merely being in business does not qualify one to be President.

2) Does Donald Trump run his businesses in a way that we would want applied to our government?

Pursuit of money is one of the core differences between a CEO of a private, for-profit business enterprises and the Office of the President. There is not a simple transition to one office from the other, but what about serving and protecting people? Does Trump have a record of serving and protecting people within his business operations and personal dealings? That might not seem to be a fair since Trump has never held public office and does not run a business for any purpose other than making money, but the question is absolutely relevant.

I don’t have any special insight here, but it’s enough to consider what we already know about how Trump conducts himself. He has made use of racist and sexist epithets throughout his career, most of which have surfaced during his recent presidential bid. One of the oldest ones to surface was a lawsuit that Trump settled in 1975. It was brought against him by the Department of Justice for his refusal to rent apartments to people of color in New York City. When Hillary Clinton pointed this out in a recent debate, Trump bragged that he settled the suit without having to admit any wrongdoing. Is this the kind of person we want at the helm: a racist cheat who refuses to admit wrongdoing even when caught red-handed? And the 1975 case is not the only example. Trump has been caught in lie after lie this election cycle, and he almost never apologizes. The closest we got was in the aftermath of his bragging about sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tape, in which he ultimately said he was “sorry if someone was offended” by his behavior, which is itself an underhanded move that puts the blame on someone’s reaction to his sexual misconduct rather than the conduct itself.

Additional issues indicative of billionaire-Trump’s quality are his proud remarks about gaming the system to pay zero dollars in federal income tax (how much did you pay last year?), his accusing a federal judge of bias against him for no other reason than that the judge had Mexican-American parents, his categorical denial of climate change while simultaneously preparing his golf courses for rising sea levels, Trump’s bragging that he was able to capitalize on one of the United States worst financial meltdowns in history even as millions of our citizens lost their homes, and his hypocritical sales pitches to supporters about bringing American jobs back home even as he has dozens of enterprises (including manufacturing jobs) abroad. And then we have the fraudulent “Trump University,” his systemic abuse and non-payment of contractors, investors, and debt holders. Trump also refuses transparency on his finances and has consistently made false excuses as to why he won’t release his tax returns.

I could go on about Trump’s character, how he runs his affairs, and how he treats people, but I think any moderately intelligent person can get the idea. Simply put, in addition to Trump’s lack of qualifications to lead a nation based on his status as a businessman, his character and approach to how he deals with people and runs his business is equally concerning. It seems to me that the last thing we want for our nation is to let it be run like Trump’s runs his business.

3. Is Donald Trump even good at business? 

I’ve already suggested that merely being a business person is an insufficient qualification for the presidency. I have also made a quick case that character and business ethics matter, and that Trump has a sordid and alarming history on both counts. But for the people who still aren’t quite sure, I think it’s relevant to ask if Trump is even very good at business. This is the weakest of my three questions since it is fairy obvious that Trump is a billionaire even by relatively conservative measures. It is widely speculated that he doesn’t have as many billions as he claims, but even if it’s just 1 billion, that is the equivalent of 1000 million dollars, and that is more money than 99% of the rest of us will ever have. So yeah, that pretty much means that Trump has done okay for himself and is not a fair representative of the average American citizen.

Even so, it begs to be asked, if he is such an awesome businessman, why has Trump had to declare bankruptcy no less than four times? Once is bad enough, but four? There are always extenuating circumstances for bankruptcies, but at the very least it shows that Trump is not the financial wizard that he wants everyone to believe he is.

And perhaps the even bigger question to ask regards why Trump won’t release his tax returns. There are two main reasons he might not want to, the first of which is that it may reveal a serious conflict of interests for his presidency. Odd ties to Russian subsidiaries or scandalous, poll-hurting dealings in so-called “sin” industries like pornography or arms sales are theoretical (although admittedly unlikely) possibilities. Alternatively, and this is largely speculated to be the most probable, disclosing his tax returns might reveal that Trump is not as great at business as he wants his followers to believe. This could be a real problem for Trump since he has indeed built his entire candidacy on his alleged business wits. After all, that is precisely why I put together this blog post. If Trump kind of sucks at business, and business is his only claim to legitimacy, then what’s left of his credibility?

I think it likely that Trump is no more a genius as a businessman than he is as a political outsider. Yes, he still has assets worth at least a billion dollars and probably more, and that is certainly not nothing, but assets are not the same as liquidity. No need for a deep financial discussion, but to explain the difference, let’s say you live in a $200,000 house that you own outright (paid off -good for you-). You are also a stellar budget master and have managed to save $10,000 in your savings account. Assuming no other debts or income, you technically have a net worth of $210,000, but only $10,000 of that is what is referred to as “liquid,” or money that is easily accessed. So, for example, you are worth $210k, but you couldn’t go out and pay cash for something like a $125,000 Porsche GT2 unless you first sold your house (which takes a lot of time and may create other problems for your situation).

Your house is a financial asset, but it is not liquid, and that brings us back to Trump. Trump may well be worth several billion on paper in assets, but it is also quite possible that he is cash-poor and doesn’t actually make that much money or have many liquid assets from year to year. This would be fairly devastating to the image that Trump desperately needs his followers to buy into. That Trump basically admits that he has figured out a legal way to pay no federal income tax is an additional piece of the puzzle that provides a clue into Trump’s questionable finances. He’s probably just not that good at business.

If you’re still with me, what do you think?

1. Is just being just a business person sufficient qualification for Donald Trump to be President?

2. Does Donald Trump run his businesses in a way that we would want applied to our government?

3. Is Donald Trump even good at business?

I’ve spilt a lot of ink and used what would have otherwise been a glorious pre-election Monday afternoon, but in addition to all of the insanity and frustration that this election cycle has brought us, my three questions regarding Trump’s candidacy have been burning in my head and now they are out there for everyone who follows my glorious and keenly insightful blog to consider and perhaps respond to. So, to all 3.5 of you who’ve made it this far… thank you.

Sincerely,

-Corbin

Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

When Gun Facts Aren’t

We have a serious problem with gun violence. Believe it or not, just about everyone agrees on that point. The disagreement (putting it politely) concerns what ought to be done about it. There are numerous iterations and nuances between them, but there are two basic viewpoints that dominate the landscape on gun violence. The first of these argues  that if the combination of guns and people are a problem, then it is easier to control the inanimate portion of that equation (guns) than it is the sentient creatures (people) who are prone to reach for them. For its part, the opposition reasons that if gun violence is an issue, then the most sensible thing to do is get more guns into the hands of more people. I wish I could say that the problem with one of these proposed “solutions” is obvious and that most reflective people would favor one over the other. Sadly, that is not the case. In fact, along with marriage equality, climate change, and abortion, this is a topic that engenders embarrassing quantities of vitriol, emotive verbal dumps, and accusations (my glorious blog entry excluded -of course-).

The 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution makes conversations and efforts at progress all the more daunting. I won’t dissect the nuances of this amendment’s language or what, precisely, the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote it in after the Constitution proper had been adopted. Despite the fact that our United States has become quite different than theirs, there is no doubt that U.S. citizens presently have the right to possess guns. The U.S. Constitution is an inherently alterable document, and I hope it will someday be amended to repeal this Yosemite-Sam holdover from yestercentury, but I am not making any predictions or holding my breath.

In addition to the public’s ongoing demonstration that it cannot responsibly handle the right to bear arms (33,636 gun-deaths last year), we have also proved that we lack the moral and political will to address gun violence in meaningful ways. Even in the wake of horrible mass shootings, we dig-in our heels and double down on our commitment to guns rather than using the political process (or other means) to reduce gun-related death and injury. Technically speaking, I suppose I am part of the deadlock. I am not about to load up on “tactical supplies” under the guise of defending my family any more than my gun-clutching counterparts are willing to give an inch on reasonable #gunsense legislation.

It is a sad stalemate of sorts, but because of the 2nd Amendment, it is clear that gun-rights activists have effectively won the argument, at least in the past and present. My hope for the future is different, however. Because of the data available, my perspective on guns and gun violence has dramatically changed, and I hope that others’ will change as well. I just don’t know how realistic that hope is.

The Truth Will Save Us?

I am often tempted to think that facts and reason are the keys to making progress against gun violence. If people understood how much damage guns do to our people, our economy and society at large, and if they understood how infrequently guns were actually “needed” or used for legitimate self-defense, then surely they would be willing to do something about the problem of mixing guns and humans, right? This is obviously a mistake on my part. Conversations on gun violence are rarely governed by legitimate information and logic.

Similar to other politically charged and emotional topics, I don’t think truth and rationality will save us. We are emotional creatures, and our choices are often dictated by those emotions rather than facts and reason. It seems that our nature is to latch-on to any factoid or tidbit of information that reinforces the conclusions we have already leapt to with our emotions and feelings, even if those so-called “facts” aren’t.

When it comes to gun violence, control, and the 2nd Amendment in particular, neither of the respective sides are immune from leading with their emotions or launching whatever faux-facts they can as “evidence” for their perspective. In a discussion on another blog, a commenter who was aware of this danger responded that he did not care about any of the facts I supplied in making a case for gun control because he knew that data could be skewed to support any perspective. Ironically, he then began offering his own “facts” in an effort to make other points. Clearly it wasn’t facts that he didn’t trust, it was information that he didn’t like that he did not trust. This showcases our tendency to lead with emotions, but it also points out the trouble we face with the rising tide of poorly interpreted information, faux-facts, exaggerated internet memes and generally bad logic when it comes to gun violence (and our uncritical acceptance of that which reinforces our pre-existing opinions).

Real Facts. False Conclusions.

Even real data can be presented in a just-so fashion to mislead people. A perfect example is provided by the Conservative provocateur, Bill Whittle, and his video series, “Firewall: Number One with a Bullet.” In his episode, The Truth About Guns, Whittle describes how the United States has more guns in public hands than any other nation on the planet, more than 90 per 100 people. He then begins a disingenuous monologue about how, if guns are so bad, and we have so many of them, then the USA must have the most murders in the world too, right? That’s what the Liberals want us to believe, so it must be true, Whittle claims. But no! The United States is number 91 on the world stage of murders per capita. Take that, Libtards! USA! USA! USA! The conclusion Whittle wants uncritical viewers to draw is that more guns = more safety.

Did you catch that? The USA is #91 in the world for murders, and we do have the most guns per capita of any nation on earth (almost more than twice as many as our next closest gun-toting nation), therefore guns = good, and gun-control = bad. I don’t dispute the facts Whittle used in his premises (#91 in murder, #1 in guns). It is the way he used them that is shady and led to a questionable conclusion (guns = good). If you aren’t tracking with me yet, ask yourself this: “Is a non-gun related murder (like stabbing) relevant to a discussion on gun violence?” And if it isn’t relevant, why is Mr. Whittle including it to make his point instead of murders related only to guns?

Unfortunately for Whittle and his gullible fans, he is working with a faulty comparison, something to the effect of measuring apples to, I don’t know, golf balls. To do a legitimate comparison, we would not measure gun ownership in relation to murder in general, but in relation to gun-violence in particular. Gun-related deaths might be an even better place to start, and by that metric, the pro gun-crowd argument is in trouble. The USA is not #91, but #13 in gun-related deaths in the world. If guns made us safer (as Whittle wants us to conclude), then shouldn’t the USA be the safest nation in the world? We aren’t. Not by a long shot (pun apology). Is there any doubt concerning why Whittle didn’t bother sharing this information with the audience?

If we are going to discuss the “truth about guns,” shouldn’t we limit the conversation to gun issues? If we are going to host a video series called “Number One with a Bullet,” then shouldn’t we, I don’t know, maybe keep bullets in focus? Apparently not, if you’re Bill Whittle and want to mislead people on the issue of gun violence. The really sad part is that the video has more than 4.6 million views on You Tube, and its Facebook promo from Cold Dead Hands tells viewers to “Watch this video…  and allow yourself to be enlightened.” The stupidity and misplaced confidence is astounding.

Faux-Facts

Whittle’s video is just one example of using real facts to promote false claims and mislead people, but at least he started with reality. The same cannot be said of another pro-gun website that purports to highlight “gun facts.” Indeed, that is the name of the website, and I have often been referred to it. Yet even a modicum of digging reveals that the “gun facts” listed on the opening page are, well… not facts. The website consistently makes revisions to its listed “facts” and often writes in new qualifications for them, but when I looked at the site a few months ago, I decided to explore the first four “facts” listed, and you can see them below.

1: Guns prevent an estimated 2.5 million crimes a year or 6,849 every day. 5 

2: Property crime rates are dropping (especially burglaries). As the legal handgun supply in America rises the property crime rate drops. 6

3: Every day 400,000 life-threatening violent crimes are prevented using firearms.

4: 60% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they knew the victim was armed. 40% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they thought the victim might be armed. 7

These samples are from: http://www.gunfacts.info/gun-control-myths/crime-and-guns/ (The related footnotes can be found there as well).

But when we take a closer look…

“Fact” #1 references a discredited paper from the pro-gun advocate, Gary Kleck, who leapt to an inductive conclusion on defensive gun uses after surveying a woefully small sample-set and presuming that it held true for the entire population. Kleck didn’t even bother to verify any of the respondents’ claims or match them with available, real-world evidence. He claims between 1 million and 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use (that’s right, he allows himself a margin of error of one and a half million), but in 2014, the verified number of such uses was just shy of 1600. Even if we doubled that number to allow for the possibility of unreported instances, it still means that the pro-gun crowd has multiplied the number by a factor of more than 781 to come up with their claim. “Fact” #1 isn’t, and interested readers can find a fuller criticism of Kleck’s study here.

“Fact” #2 Fails to make a causal relationship between handgun supply in the USA and “property crime rates.” Never mind the fact that most property crimes (like shoplifting) do not require a gun to commit or stop, this faux-fact wants gullible readers to jump to the conclusion that handguns reduce property crime even as it provides zero evidence about the involvement of guns in either committing or defending against property crime. In short, “fact” #2 is useless (at best), and designed to deceive (at worst).

“Fact” #3 Is at odds with “fact” #1. Which is it? Do guns prevent 6,849 crimes every day, or is it 400,000 per day? We just went from 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use in “fact” #1 to 146 million in “fact” #3. Not only is this wildly inconsistent and flatly unbelievable, this faux-fact doesn’t even bother to cite a source. And just like “fact” #1, it fails to correspond with verified defensive gun uses.

“Fact” #4 referenced a 30-year old study that only considered the input from a select group of inmates in a handful of prisons and merely assumed that it applies to all criminals today. I hope reasonable people can see the problem with this sort of inductive logic leap. And if that is not enough, consider that by the linked website’s reckoning, “60% of criminals avoid crime when they know their intended victims have guns.” Sounds like an impressive case for guns, right? Unfortunately, the inclusion of all criminals is like saying that a drug-dealer wouldn’t sell cocaine to his usual clientele if he knew they were carrying or that a tax-evader wouldn’t have dodged his due if he knew IRS agents carried weapons. “Fact” #4 is ridiculous.  Sometimes “gun facts” aren’t.

Correlation ≠ Causation

A final issue that regularly surfaces in arguments over guns and control is confusing correlation with causation. For example, while it is true that every person who has ever eaten peas has ultimately died (correlation), it is not true to say that peas were the source of death (causation). That is an obvious example, but it gets trickier when we make it about guns, especially since both sides of the aisle are guilty of making this mistake. For instance, I recently chased some clickbait provocatively titled, “The Gun Violence Chart that DESTROYS Liberal Gun Control Arguments.” How could I resist?! You can see the handy chart right here (special thanks to Alex Toth of Colorado for showing me this moronic meme):This Gun Violence Chart DESTROYS Liberal Gun Control Arguments

 

As it turns out, the numerical claims are more or less true, gun murders have decreased since their highpoint in 1993, and the number of guns in the population has risen. However, this chart’s lines (and its claims) significantly misrepresent the situation, not just because points from A to B were anything but straight lines, but also because it presumes that increasing gun numbers were the cause of decreasing crime rates. The two are roughly correlated in the sense that they both changed over the 22-year period from 1993 to 2015, but this does not prove that one caused the other. The chart’s claim and credibility is further reduced when we consider that most of the crime reduction happened from 1993 to 2001, but that most of the increase in guns (68% of the estimated 118 million added since 1993) happened between 2001 and 2015. Even more interesting is that crime dropped most abruptly as the crack cocaine market was routed in the 1990s and at the same time as the Assault Weapon Ban was in effect (1994-2004). So, if we wanted to construct a gun violence chart of our own that would “destroy” pro-gun arguments, all we would have to do is draw some straight lines between 1993 figures and those of 2001 that showed the steep decline in gun homicides along with the even steeper decline in gun sales, assault weapons in particular. In fact, the two may have had a direct relationship on one another, but these figures alone prove nothing more than correlation. Claims to causality reach beyond the data listed here, and that is a regular logic leap found in gun discussions.

Playing Detective and Overcoming the Tendency to be Sheeple

From purposefully misrepresenting real information and fabricating faux-facts, to confusing correlation with causation, clearly there are poor arguments on both sides of the gun issue. Most of us intuitively know there is something wrong with a lot of the rhetoric we hear, even if the errors aren’t immediately obvious. So I hope this blog entry has helped inspire us to be better at looking beneath the surface of the panoply of soundbites, manipulated charts, and ridiculous internet memes that we encounter every day. If we allow ourselves to be misled, we will be. And when we fail to be critical thinkers, we fail ourselves.

Thanks for reading me,

-CL

For those willing to look, one of the more balanced assessments of arguments over gun control I have come across can be found here, at FactCheck.org (and they are far less biased than I am).  -CL

 

Bill Whittle  Aaron Betz  Tony King

Posted in Guns, Other Topics, Politics | 9 Comments

If We Were All Just Christians, then Gun Violence Would…

…still be a problem.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that we’ve had yet another mass shooting at a school. On October 1, 2015 a man who legally purchased all his guns went on a murder spree with them at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Nine people were killed before the previously “law abiding” gun owner shot himself in the head. You can read about the gun-murder spree in this NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/us/oregon-shooting-umpqua-community-college.html?_r=0

In the days that followed this latest mass shooting, the 291st in 2015 (so far), I have witnessed (once again) more than a few of my fellow Christians take up and parrot the usual NRA propaganda. You know, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and “If we really want to protect our families, then we need MORE guns everywhere, not less,” and “This is really about mental illness, not guns,” etc. If anyone is interested in some sample rebuttals to these bogus soundbites, this blog entry might be of some use: If You Give A Man an Assault Rifle.

But in a slightly new twist (new to me, at least), many conservative Christians have decided that mental illness is no longer the best tool used to steer discussions on gun violence away from guns. Mental illness still gets blamed a lot (since blaming guns is off limits), but the new culprit we are apparently supposed to focus on is sin, or the churchy term that Christians use interchangeably with evil in motion. Guns are not the problem we are told. Mental illness is not (really) the problem either. It’s sin, and if we can just get everyone to become a Christian, then sin will be defeated and gun violence will no longer be an issue. We don’t need restricted access to guns; we just need us some Jesus.

Okay. Let me just say that on philosophical grounds, I agree with the notion that evil is a real problem, and the root of all the other manifestations of “sin” we see in our world. As a Christian myself, I think the Bible is on to something when it describes the state of humanity that has turned away from love and care for our neighbors and enemies (and environment). I also agree, at least in theory, that if everyone always followed Jesus and his “greatest commands” that we love God and our neighbors as ourselves, then yes, gun violence would go extinct.

But how often are told that it is Liberal la-la land to think that gun regulations and bans work because “If we outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have guns”? Apparently we can’t expect everyone to be a law-abiding citizen (that’s just unrealistic), but we can expect everyone to become a Christian, and that is supposed to be the answer? Can we not see the inconsistency in assuming that every one can become a Christian, but that these ubiquitous Jesus people will nevertheless not be law-abiding citizens? This is an internal inconsistency problem that some fellow believers have bought into. And that is about the nicest thing I can say about it.

This logic also fails to consider the present reality that Christians are not known in Western Civilization for their peace and love, either amongst themselves or their non-Christian neighbors. Claims to Christian “peace” and “love” are particularly suspect if you happen to be gay, black, brown, Native American or a woman. The indisputable fact is that being a “Christian” has never been a very good guaranty against violence, genocide, or systemic oppression. In fact, many times throughout the history of the West (as well as today), Christianity has been used as the pretext for these heinous evils. That is a pretty big fail.

I agree that “sin” is a real problem, but how can Christians honestly address the messed-up state of humanity without focusing on the means that we use to perpetuate evil? With reference to the out of control gun violence that our nation witnesses on a daily basis, how can we Christians claim to fight evil while concurrently refusing to fight the means by which it is expressed in deadly and oft-repeated fashion? It makes no sense at all. It is hypocritical. It is revolting, and it is anything but “following” Jesus, who, by the way, didn’t make bland statements about evil in general, but took very specific actions to shut it down and to rescue those who were targeted by it. Can we not follow his example? What does it say about us if we want to make spineless blandishments about sin while refusing to even admit that guns themselves are part of the problem that sin makes use of? Whatever it is, it is not good.

If that is not depressing enough, I recently posted a much shorter invective against Christian hypocrisy on gun violence on my Facebook page. I have included it below, as well as one of the comments left there by a Christian I previously believed was my friend. The response he left was ultimately deleted from Facebook (but presented in its original, unedited form below), because I tend not to put up with name calling in mixed company. But what is particularly saddening is that he actually defends genocide and is so upset at my calling out Christian hypocrisy that he claims I am following the Antichrist, Satan, that I’ve lost my mind, and that *I* am helping usher in “anialtion” [sic] and “genecide” [sic]. That’s right. Because I spoke against gun violence and Christian hypocrisy, I must be worshipping Satan and fomenting some sort of coming genocide. Face. Palm.

I am not often left speechless, but this insanity did the trick. At least until now, that is. With apologies to Hinduism, apparently unfettered access to guns is such a sacred cow in some conservative Christian circles that these folks would rather assign me a place in hell than consider that maybe, just *maybe* the claim that “guns make us safer” happens to be the opposite of reality and needs to be addressed in meaningful ways.

For your viewing displeasure, below is my original Facebook post followed by the response offered by my apparently not-friend.

 

Corbin says: “When some of my fellow Christians say that gun violence is really just an extension of sin, and it would not be a problem if everyone just became a Christian, I just have to ask about things, like, you know, the Crusades, witchunts, and the various Inquisitions of our sordid Christian/Western history. Oh, and let’s not forget the systemic genocide Christians foisted against Native Americans or why some contemporary Christians load up on guns and ammo for “defense,” or why there is a freaking assault rifle company emblazoning their killing “tools” with Christian imagery and Bible verses. And by the way, how is that Make-Everyone-A-Christian project coming? If we Christians blame sin for violence, gun violence in particular, without talking about serious and lasting gun restrictions or plausible means for limiting gun violence, then we are full of it. And the world knows it.

Jesse D. Armstrong replies: Actually you paint that picture, the world doesn’t know it. Your God… if you claim the God of Christian’s, led his people to drive entire people groups from their lands… corrupt and wicked people who probably were “loving” to their children but who did not know or acknowledge him as Creator. When Christ comes again he will bring a sword for war and destruction…. judgement upon a Godless people. You may not like it but armed men still protect what is God’s today. I personally have two guns which have never killed anyone but that might if anyone threatened my family. These days… as in the days of the U.S. independence, O/C Government and foreign teligion are enemy #1. I say this only because of the antichrist mentality that they are under… which you also seem to be under. You are hell net on a way that is not Christ like. You preach rightly that God forgives but miss entirely that within the relationship purchased by Christ’s violent death men must repent or be even further temoved from the Creator than they first were. God serfs men to trust in his love then to surrender their lives to him… their desires and their wills. I have never used a weapon but I have stood up to homosexuales men trying to rape my boys on the streets of Nica… I have stopped a mmen from beating their wives by force… and by God’s power I will do these things again. The issue is that men no longer want to hear about Jesus because it requires their whole life, but you don’t know that Jesus it seems. Tell men about their sin and about freedom from it. Your gun issue is a smoke screen which Satan is using to accomplish an even greater anialtion yet to come… and you are there promoting this genecide. Your mind is lost Corbin.

Well gee whiz. I hope Jesse will forgive me if I am not persuaded.

Thanks for reading me.

-Corbin

Commenters: Jim Killebrew , Jesse Saxon

Posted in Guns, Politics | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

Who Would Jesus Kill? A Reflection on Violence and the Way of Christ

A friend recently asked me about the morality of killing an attacker. The story he used to highlight the question was the reported death of an ISIS leader killed at the hands of a woman the jihadi had enslaved in the group’s sex-trade. I could not get the web-link my friend supplied to work, but I did an independent Google search for the story. The story seems unverifiable, and the following link even suggests that it might be ISIS propaganda: http://www.examiner.com/article/woman-kills-isis-commander-captured-iraqi-female-made-into-sex-slave-retaliates

We just don’t know if the story is legitimate, but it doesn’t matter. I am going with the assumption that the story is true because the theme of abusers and using violence against them is not isolated. I am also going to assume that the killing occurred in defense, not vengeance. Revenge punishment or killing is specifically forbidden in Scripture (which is why I am against capital punishment), but defensive action is a knottier problem. There are evil people in the world, and there is no doubt that they intend to prey on others. The question remains, “Is it permissible to use violence to stop them from carrying out injustice?”

It’s a tough issue, and I have to qualify everything with an, “It seems to me… .” I don’t speak definitively with THE Christian perspective (as if there is only one), but rather as one voice among many. That being said, I side with the woman who shot her would-be attacker and slaver, and I say that with serious reservation since I am against both guns and violence. Furthermore, while I don’t think Jesus would kill anyone, it is clear from the biblical text that God’s patience with humanity does have its limits (although it is unknown what determines when, precisely, God has had enough. If the impending genocide of Native Americans, Jews, Cambodians or Russians -under Stalin- didn’t qualify, then… well, go figure).

But back to the alleged slaying of a militant sex-slaver. There are several relevant themes in play here. There are Jesus’ teachings about turning the other cheek, giving a robber or arbitrary order from an overlord more than he or she demands, etc. (Matthew 5.38-41). Similarly, we have the example of Christ who offered himself up as a sacrifice despite the fact that he could have easily made heads roll and kicked major ass at any point that suited him. He chose the way of passivity and self-destruction rather than defend himself. That is a powerful statement to say the least. However, Jesus wasn’t in it “only” for self sacrifice. He was in it, because he knew the unquantifiable good that his sacrifice would bring. It was a horribly difficult (but worthy) trade-off for him.

For a different perspective, there were many times in Jesus’ ministry when he stirred up the jealousy and hatred of the day’s religious big-deals, and the text says that “they” sought to kill him. It wasn’t Jesus’ time, however, so he easily danced through their traps. You could say that he stealthily “fought” their efforts until his appointed time, and even then, his execution was at his discretion. He retained choice.  This was not the case for the would-be target for sex-slavery. She did not have a choice as far as complete control over the situation went. Unlike Jesus, she didn’t have the option of easily evading those who would hurt her. Similarly, it doesn’t seem that her passivity would yield a greater good if the crime were allowed to proceed. The salvation of others was not on the line. Stated another way, her suffering would be gratuitous. In fact, if she had not successfully resisted, she would probably not be the last victim of this criminal. In that sense, her violent resistance -rather than passivity- yielded the greater good.

Finally, I think we should consider the only time we see Jesus get angry in a way that lead to violence: the temple cleansing. This story has multiple attestations, and can be found in Matthew 21.12-13, Mark 11.15-17, and John 2.13-17. Essentially Jesus finds a marketplace in the temple courts that is serving to separate temple-goers from their money. You may know the story. Jesus pretty much loses it, knocks over tables and uses a whip to drive out the capitalists.

But what if we were to up the ante, and make it not greedy money-changers and animal-sellers in the temple courts, but slavers (sex-slaves or otherwise)? I’m pretty sure Jesus would have been just as aggressive if not more so. The original whipping and overturning of tables was just for the sake of holy ground, not the subjugation and abuse of disenfranchised people, so I cannot fathom that Jesus would be any less motivated to knock heads together in a slavery situation. He would be pissed.

Throughout Scripture, we see both the Father and the Son advocating for the weak and marginalized, be they women, children, orphans, widows, the sick and the old. In our day and age, that would surely include “illegal” immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ as well. As a Christian, I am convinced that we people of faith are mandated to stand up for these folks, even if that means that we take up “the sword” when oppressors turn violent. The problem, of course, is that humans are very good at rationalizing what qualifies as appropriate purposes for violence and what qualifies as “just war” or “wars of justice.” We see blood spilled over land, money, resources, power and prestige, and these are all sinful and surely variations of abuse. It is only when we use power to fight for REAL justice and protection of the weak that qualifies as honoring God. Killing a person (as a last resort) to stop injustice and systematic abuse seems appropriate to me in a fallen world, even if it is not ideal.

Thanks for reading me.

-CL

Posted in Questions for Christians, Theology | 2 Comments