Why the “We need assault weapons to protect ourselves from government tyranny” argument is invalid

After the mass school shooting at Sandy Hook in late 2012, a fellow gun owner in my church agreed with me that legalized guns, such as those used for hunting, are fine, but nobody needs a gun that can kill 30 people in 30 seconds. Within earshot was a devout Republican Christian, however, who chimed in with the argument that we need high-powered assault rifles to protect us from a tyrannical government. My response was, “Paint me a picture in which it would be right for Christians to shoot police officers or soldiers, since they would be the ones representing the government that was ‘coming to get us.’” I can’t recall his exact words, but I believe they had something to do with Hitler and the Jews.

Ben Carson promoted a similar argument in his most recent book, and he received media criticism for it. He claimed that the Jews would have been able to defend themselves from Nazi tyranny, if only they had been allowed to have guns. The good news here is that rather than debate the hypothetical, we can look to American history, where guns of nearly all kinds have been legal, to see if gun rights protected Americans from tyranny.

Japanese internment camps

One might argue that the U.S. didn’t starve and kill Japanese-Americans the way the Germans did the Jews. True. But did Japanese-Americans know that our government wouldn’t do anything tyrannical to them when they first required them to live in camps? How did they know they wouldn’t be slaughtered and enslaved? It’s funny how Republicans are silent on what would have happened had the Japanese-Americans fought back, guns-a-blazing, when our government “came for them.” It’s hard to imagine that it would have gone well for them. Rather, it’s likely they would have been seen as Japanese sympathizers and would have been killed as though they were Japanese combatants. Regardless of what we can imagine, the fact is that loose guns laws didn’t protect Japanese-Americans from being forced into camps.

The Palmer Raids

During the Red Scare, in the years following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, J. Edgar Hoover oversaw the seizure and arrests of over 10,000 people who were suspected of being communists. A few thousand of them were detained, and several hundred, including Emma Goldman, were deported. The vast majority of them were non-violent. There were, however, some who were violent anarchists, and they were armed with bombs and guns. Yet, the government still managed to arrest, detain, and deport the violent ones, despite the fact that they were armed, because our police and military are experts in how to capture violent, armed extremists.

The Latimer Massacre

In 1897, the Luzerne County in Sheriff’s department in Hazleton PA shot 19 coal strikers dead, despite the fact that the strikers were unarmed and not destroying property or making threats.

The Ludlow Massacre

In 1914, the Colorado state militia burned down the tent village housing the families of striking coal miners, killing 25 people, including 12 children as young as age two.

The Bonus Army

In 1932, WWI veterans camped out and demonstrated in Washington DC for the government to pay them a bonus they had been owned for their service in the war. President Hoover responded by sending in General MacArthur, who repelled them with tanks and tear gas and then proceeded to burn down their temporary village. (Here’s a video of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNOsIB5VMSQ)

While these examples are just the tip of the iceberg, the truth is that if the government, federal, state, or local, wants to come and get you, they have the ability to do so. In the case with the Latimer and Ludlow massacres, the victims didn’t even know the government was coming for them. But even if you carried an assault rifle with you at all times to protect yourself, an FBI SWAT team could simply pull up alongside you in a van, as you’re walking to your car from the office, pull you into the van and then lock you away somewhere. Even if you shot at them in defense, they would be wearing bullet-proof vests and possibly other riot gear, and your shots would do nothing but bring about a more brutal response from them. The government has always had the ability to “come for you.” And that will never change.

All of these fantasies of the government coming to get conservatives and lock them up are a waste of time, however, because we will not experience Hitler-like tyranny in our lifetime at the hands of a Democratic president. If tyranny comes, it will come from a Republican (like Trump). And guns won’t protect the victims, because the gun enthusiasts will support the Republican president. As long as the Republican president locks up or deports blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, or Democrats, right-wing gun enthusiasts will be happy with that. In fact, they just might volunteer to lend a hand in enforcing the tyranny. It’s almost as if the Republicans have built up their own citizen militia that will reinforce right-wing policies and perhaps even rise up against Democrat-controlled administrations. Effectively, the people who have the guns have the power, and that gives more power to the Republicans.

And that brings me to my greatest concern – heavily-armed right-wing terrorists. If guns were limited to hunting rifles and shot guns, all of which require pumping another bullet into the chamber between shots, then it might possibly take a majority of the people to overthrow the government. But if we continue to let extremists hoard large numbers of semi-automatics that can kill 30 people in 30 seconds, then a small minority of the population can overthrow the government. We saw the beginning of this with Cliven Bundy’s militia friends in Nevada, who used assault weapons to prevent federal law enforcement from enforcing the law, and then they harassed the townspeople (with checkpoints, etc) in a display of force. Think about it…these extremists supported a racist, thieving lawbreaker to the point where they were ready to slaughter law enforcement. Do we really want people like that in charge of our country?

Therefore, I am far less concerned with the tyranny of our democratically-elected government than I am with the tyranny right-wing extremists will impose on us after they overthrow our democratically-elected government and take control of it to serve themselves. Remember, the last time heavily-armed racist extremists decided our federal government was tyrannical (even though all that happened was that a man who never proposed abolishing slavery in the South was elected president), it resulted in a Civil War that killed more Americans than any war in history. And if those rebels had won, America would probably be the world’s most oppressive nation today. My concern is that heavily-armed rebels of a similar mindset might turn violent in the near future, and the bloodshed will return.

The ISIS threat is hysterically over-hyped, and here’s why…

According to the CDC, the United States averages about 16,000 murders per year (that’s 160,000 per decade). And few people seem to be terribly concerned about it. The Republicans refuse to expand background checks or limit the number of bullets in a clip for a semi-automatic weapon, as if having to change a clip more often would be an unbearable hindrance to the gun enthusiast at the shooting range. Meanwhile, some Democrats, like the ACLU, tend to be more concerned about even the smallest civil liberties than they are about the murder rate (such as prisoners’ rights activism that makes prison less of a deterrent than it should be and shows far more compassion for criminals than it does for their victims).

Yet, despite politically shrugging our shoulders at 160,000 murders per decade, our politicians and pundits have managed to spearhead a national freak-out because 120 people died in a terrorist attack and 200+ people died in a blown-up plane on the other side of the ocean. And they’ve inflamed this panic by proclaiming that ISIS has expanded their capabilities.

Really? How?

Are they talking about the capability of being able to travel to France or to board an airplane?

We already knew that ISIS had guns and bombs; that’s how they expanded their territory into Iraq. Just because they took them on a road trip doesn’t mean they have greatly expanded their capabilities.

The truth is that ISIS has very limited capabilities. They have no power to threaten the sovereignty of the USA. They cannot invade us like Japan or Germany could have in WWII. They can’t drop bombs on us, because they don’t have planes. And even if they did have planes, they would need aircraft carriers to get them over here, but they have none. They have no navy, no air force, and no missiles. So it is impossible for them to “come here and kill us all” as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham famously said last year. Historically, they are small potatoes. Yes, they could strike us like they did in Paris and kill tens or maybe even hundreds of people, but that would barely put a dent in the 160,000 murders that Americans commit against Americans each decade.

Of course, I can hear the panicked emotionalists cry as they read this, “What about 9/11? They killed thousands of people and blew up buildings, and if we don’t go over there and kill ‘em all, they are are going to come here and repeat 9/11 again and again.”

Indeed, the image of the twin towers burning is seared into the minds and emotions of so many people that it becomes hard to reason with them. The terrorists didn’t carry out those attacks with weapons. Rather, they outsmarted us by taking civilian aircraft and crashing them into buildings while full of gasoline – effectively turning the planes into bombs. I have news for the panicked emotionalists: We’ve caught on to the plane hijacking idea. The cockpits are locked so terrorists cannot get in and take control of the plane. And, of course, there are the stringent TSA screenings that libertarian Republicans have been whining about, as if it’s the end of the world if someone touches your precious leg before you board a plane. So this leaves terrorists with nothing more than conventional weapons, such as small bombs and guns. Yes, they can kill some Americans, but nowhere near as many as we kill ourselves.

All of this isn’t to say that we should take no action and be completely unconcerned. But our response should be a measured one. Remember that ISIS has made enemies on all sides – Russia and France, most recently, but also Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They pose far more of a threat to their neighbors, whom they can easily access, than they do to us over here on the other side of the planet. They will be contained, regardless of what we do. Yes, they are terrible, but sending thousands more Americans to die and be tortured in a decade-long quagmire while shoveling trillions of dollars to the defense industry is overkill.

Politically, what concerns me is that an ISIS terrorist coming to America and killing as few as a dozen people in 2016 would cause a national freak-out that would guarantee a Republican landslide, because Obama supposedly didn’t keep us safe. And the Republican president would then send thousands of troops to their deaths in Syria and Iran (remember, they promise to tear up the Iran deal, which many experts say would lead to war), add trillions of dollars to our debt, all because of an attack that equaled less than 1/1000th of our annual murder rate. And if an aggressive Republican like Trump, Cruz, or Fiorina wins, we’ll likely find ourselves at war with Russia – a nuclear nation – and the consequences of that are unthinkable. And, of course, with such high war costs, Republican leaders will require us to make sacrifices to pay for the war, which are likely to include deep and drastic cuts to healthcare, disability, food stamps, and other assistance programs, costing thousands more lives here at home than jihadist terror attacks will ever take.

Basically, the Republican reaction to a relatively small numbers of deaths is to repsond with a far greater number of deaths. Why do they do it? It’s because they’ve shunned the warnings of former WWII Supreme Allied Commander and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower who, upon leaving office in 1961, warned, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Instead, Republicans and their panicky followers have enabled the weapons industry to enrich itself off of the deaths of foreigners, American soldiers abroad, and American civilians at home. That’s why they shrug their shoulders at over 100,000 guns murders at home per decade, but want us to panic and wage expensive wars over a few hundred lives lost overseas.

What Republicans really mean by the term “Radical Islam”

Many Republican politicians and pundits say we need to kill ALL “Radical Muslims,” because that’s who our war is really with. They complain that Obama won’t call our enemies by their name (of course, their names are ISIS, Al Qaeda, Jihadists, terrorists, etc., which is what he calls them), and that he refuses to define the real enemy, which is the religion of “Radical Islam.” Yet, among Muslims, there is no such denomination as “Radical Islam.” So we cannot look to them for the definition of this term. We must instead look to the Republicans who came up with it for the definition. So how exactly do Republicans define “Radical Islam?”

I’m assuming that since it’s Republican Evangelicals like Ted Cruz leading this charge, that “Radical Islam” is defined in a similar manner as “Radical Christianity” is defined by Republican Evangelicals.

One might expect that a politically-liberal/moderate Christian like myself would have grown up in theologically-liberal churches and know nothing about the teachings of Republican Evangelicals. But nothing could be farther from the truth. While I grew up in a nominally-Christian Pennsylvania Dutch family, I found myself immersed in conservative Evangelical church life upon attending Belmont University in Nashville, TN. I spend most of my 20s and 30s in denominations ranging from the Southern Baptists to the PCA to non-denominational churches. It was in these churches in which I would, from time to time, here a sermon on how we Christians need to be “Radical Christians.”

How did they define “Radical Christian?”

A Radical Christian was someone who changed their life in a significant way as a result of their Christian faith – someone who lived as if God is real. For some churches, that meant leaving the comforts of home to go into the missions field. For others it meant abstaining from alcohol, secular music, and R-rated movies. Just showing up in church on Sundays wasn’t enough. The world needed to see that you were a Christian in your daily life.

If that’s what a Radical Christian is, then Muslims who lead their daily lives differently that those around them as a result of their faith are Radical Muslims. For a Muslim, that might mean abstaining from pork and alcohol or wearing Muslim clothing. It doesn’t just mean being violent. So if our war is against Radical Muslims, then even peaceful Muslims at home are the enemy.

So while the general public might think that Republicans just want to wage war against violent Muslims, Evangelical “Radical Christians” know that Republicans are calling for a holy war where the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim. They are calling for religious genocide. Since most Evangelicals believe that Islam is the most evil of religions, many of them see the eradication of devoutly Muslim people as a righteous endeavor. In other words, they really want to give the jihadists the holy war they’ve been longing for. This works out well for the Republican Party, because the Republicans have been that party that increases military spending at the fastest rate, looking for any reason to shovel hundreds of billions more tax dollars per year to the military-industrial complex, which, along with tax cuts for the wealthy and lawlessness for corporations, has been the Republican Party’s primary goal for decades.

So what does the Bible have to say about this?

Some might say the Old Testament calls for genocide, because the Israelites were to eradicate the people of Canaan, so they could move in and take over. Remember, however, that the Israelites were homeless after having left Egypt. They needed a home, and all of the good spots were taken. Moving thousands of people into an existing small nation and expecting to live side by side with its inhabitants was unrealistic. They would have been killed or enslaved. Their only chance of survival was to clear out the land they were to inhabit. That was simply the unfortunate reality of the brutal, ancient Middle East.

But over time, God led His people to overcome that brutality and become leaders in peace. Jesus and His disciples never saw the need to kill people of opposing religions in order to lead them to join the Christian faith, not even when Christians were being persecuted by those people. Killing people of other religions has no place in Christianity. Yes, our nation may defend itself. But there’s never a need to defend ourselves from a religion; only a need to defend ourselves from attackers, regardless of their religion.

The biblical tithe is really a capital gains tax, contrary to what Republicans say

Ben-Carson

Even among Republicans, Ben Carson has been stirring up some controversy with his intent to model the U.S. tax code after the biblical tithe. His reasoning from his book,  “One Nation”:

Carson: “No group of American citizens should be singled out for extra taxation and no group should be spared taxation on a federal level.”

Carson: “I think God’s a pretty fair person and he advocated a tithing system. There must be something inherently fair about proportionality.”

I too agree that God was very fair when he created the laws for Ancient Israel. The problem I have with Carson’s quotes aren’t that they look to the Bible as a guide to righteousness, but that they are anti-biblical and misrepresent what the tithe really was. Before I explain, let’s take a look at a few Bible quotes on having to share 10%.

Numbers 18:24, “For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore, I have said concerning them, ‘they shall have NO INHERITANCE [of land] among the sons of Israel.’”

Deuteronomy 14:28-29, “Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have NO ALLOTMENT OR INHERITANCE with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the word of God may bless you in all the work that you undertake [NRSV].”

Leviticus 23:22, “When you reap the harvest of YOUR LAND, moreover, you shall not reap the very corners of your field, nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” (This last verse is not actually about the tithe, but about another form of mandatory sharing with the needy.)

What can we imply from all three of these passage?

Those who paid the tithe OWNED LAND.

Where did they get that land?

THEY INHERITED IT.

In ancient Israel, 12 of the 13 tribes divided up the land after the nation was settled. Families passed shares of their land onto their children, not after death as Americans do, but when young men came of age. Men and their wives then farmed the land and built homes upon it. This inheritance gave them the means to live. They had the land to work; all they had to do was work the land.

Only a small percentage of the Israelites had no land to farm – the Levites, whose job was ministry (although they still were given homes) and then orphans or widows, who made up a very small percentage of the population (since there was a system in place for widows to remarry), and resident immigrants (who would later be given an inheritance of land in Ezekiel 47:22-23 anywhere they chose to settle).

So why does all of this make Ben Carson wrong about taxing income the way the Bible does?

Because the tithe did not tax wages! It taxed what was produced from the land the Israelites inherited. Today, economists call that land “capital.” The definition of “capital” is “the means of production.” In capitalism, the land, buildings, and equipment used to produce goods and services are the “capital” owned by capitalists who have the right to keep all they produce from their capital. When you tax wealth gained from that capital, it is effectively a capital gains tax (or in today’s terminology, it’s more like a form of capital gains tax called a dividends tax), which we now tax at a FLAT RATE of 20%. So we already apply a flat tax on the gains from capital, just like the Bible did!

What we don’t see in God’s Law, however, is a tax on wages. There’s no indication that if a landowner hired a passer-by to pull weeds in his field and paid him two bags of grain as a wage that the worker had to share a percentage of that. God only taxed those who inherited the means to provide for themselves. Those who lacked an inheritance of land and were fully dependent upon wealthier people for jobs and income were not taxed; rather, they received. Carson, to the contrary, wants to tax them at the same rate as the wealthy.

If Ben Carson really wants America to follow the biblical tax code, then he should call for the elimination of all sales taxes, excise taxes (those included in the price of a product), and taxes on wages, because they are all unbiblical. The entire tax burden should then fall only on those who own capital and those who inherit wealth. Of course, if Carson proposed that, he would lose his Republican support, because God’s way, as expressed in the Bible, is the very opposite of what the Republican Party believes in, especially when it comes to the issues of economics and the rich vs. the poor.

I am not saying that this is exactly the tax plan I believe in personally. I realize our corporate system is a bit more complicated than the biblical one. All I’m saying is Ben Carson’s tax ideas couldn’t be farther from the Bible. And the same goes for his ideas on poverty assistance and business regulation. They run contrary to the biblical command, “there shall be no poor among you” [Deuteronomy 15:4], which is only possible if we modify our system so that EVERY AMERICAN shares in the nation’s wealth, not just the rich.

 

Why legalizing gay marriage will not lead to the legalization of child molestation or polygamy

timthumb

Even though gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, its opponents, most recently Ted Cruz’s father, insist that it will lead to the legalization of child molestation and polygamy. There’s one major reason that they are wrong. It’s real simple. Are you ready? Here it is:

VICTIMS!!!

Gay marriages are between two consenting adults. While that might not fit everyone’s religious view of right and wrong, it is a sexual situation that has no victims. Some Christians might argue that society is somehow the victim, but the reality is that if two gay people choose to do their gay thing together, no one is calling the cops.

And that’s the difference between a civil law and a religious law. Religious laws may prohibit something that has no earthly victims, because it is morally wrong according to the religion. Civil laws, on the other hand, are victim-driven. If most people don’t like getting punched in the face, they’ll make face-punching illegal. Most people will choose to give up their right to punch others in the face in order to not be punched in the face by others. That’s where the laws of nearly all civilizations come from – people creating laws to keep unpleasant things from happening to them and their families. It’s a very simple concept, yet millions of Republicanized Christians don’t get it.

Child molestation has victims. It is something children dislike, to put it mildly. Even though children have no say in making laws, most of us, having once been children ourselves, can imagine how horrible it would have been for us to have been sexually-abused as children, and some adults don’t even have to imagine, because they were abused, themselves. So we will continue to keep childhood sexual abuse illegal, because we value the child’s rights to not be molested far more than we value the sexual predator’s right to gratify his urges.

As for polygamy, that’s a little different. One might argue that women might choose to share a man. We saw this in the TV show, “The Girls Next Door,” in which Hugh Hefner had three girlfriends who lived with him at the same time. Of course, they didn’t go through the technicality of getting married, but what difference does that really make? Conservative Christians get too hung up on the technicalities of the paperwork and tend to overlook that fact that people are already free to live as they please, and that denying them access to the paperwork to make it “official” doesn’t change that.

So will we become a predominantly polygamous nation?

No. We will not.

The reason, again, is simple: Most women do not want to share their man. And even if women did flock to the Donald Trumps of the world (if polygamy were legal, I can’t help but think that Trump would try to acquire 1001 wives, so he could be greater than Solomon…I think he has already acquired more gold than Solomon), men would complain that the rich guys were hoarding all of the women, leaving millions of men mate-less. And then the women would get mad when their rich husband’s added more wives. It would be a disaster, and that’s why in the modern world, widespread polygamy simply isn’t going to happen.

In Old Testament times, men possessed the land, so women were reliant on them for support. If men died in battle (which was common), so that there were far fewer men than women, then men had to take on multiple wives, so that all women had a means of survival. There’s a sense in which you could say that women in ancient harems were the welfare moms of their day. But today, we have federal assistance programs that help women and their children survive, and we don’t lose large portions of our male population in battle. Of course, if we keep voting for Republicans who love to feed tax dollars to the war machine, we might lose much of our male population in battle. And since those Republicans are often the same ones who despise welfare, they might take that away, too. Then women will have no hope but to join harems for the sake of their survival. So if you’re really afraid of America becoming a polygamous nation, don’t vote Republican!

– K. Scott Schaeffer

Why Capitalism isn’t sacred; and why modifying it isn’t evil

capitalism rocks

[The following article is an excerpt from my book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.”]

Imagine you’re the inventor and manufacturer of the first bicycle. The bike is fast with a smooth ride. People love it. As soon as you make one, someone buys it. But there’s one flaw: Cyclists return to you, complaining of the injuries they’ve suffered trying to stop the bicycle, because the only way they can is by putting their feet down, falling over, or crashing into something. So you modify the bicycle by adding brakes. You make it better!

Are you now a bicycle hater, because you altered the bicycle from its original “pure” form by adding a modifier to keep it from getting out of control and hurting people?

Of course not! This argument is absurd! Yet, Republican politicians and pundits make similar accusations against anyone who would modify pure corporate capitalism, calling them socialists. They effectively tell us that if a something has benefits, it’s wrong to improve it by fixing its flaws.

Now, imagine trying to design from scratch the best economic system possible for society. You establish liability protection to create big companies so that efficiencies in production may result. But then, after decades of the system in operation, you realize it has one major flaw – disparity of wealth – too many oppressed poor people. So why not make the system better by modifying it to fix this problem?

Ultimately, the question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my goal in creating the system?”

If the answer is “to make life better for as many people as possible,” then it’s your duty to modify the system to achieve this goal. On the other hand, if your goal is, “I want to enrich myself and my privileged friends while keeping everybody else down, so I can exert my power over others,” then you leave corporate capitalism unmodified, as Republican politicians and pundits want.

Modifications of capitalism do not have to be in the form of handouts that might take away motivation to work. They can be in the form of enacting a minimum wage, limiting the length of the work week, enabling workers to collectively bargain with their employers, providing things to society that everyone can use (such as schools and roads), and paying for the needs of those who can no longer work, such as seniors and the disabled. Some of these modifications require sharing the wealth of the wealthy with society through taxation, and conservatives say that’s unfair. But let’s not forget that the wealthy wouldn’t have all of those riches if it weren’t for corporate liability protection from the government. Since the rich couldn’t raise capital for big businesses without this protection, they owe their wealth to this system, not just to their own efforts. If, through bankruptcy, society is forced to share in the losses of the wealthy, then it’s only right that the wealthy be forced to share their gains with society.

Republicans have argued that since the poor can purchase the cheaper products pure capitalism produces, that the poor benefit, too, so the rich sharing with the poor need not be mandated. However, it’s not as if the poor benefit from cheap products and the rich don’t. The poor have a very limited choice of products, because they have limited wealth (our history shows that they could afford nothing more than a life of squalor under pure capitalism), while the rich can afford an abundance of products due to their great wealth. So the rich have the advantage here, too. Also, to argue, as Republicans do, that stealing from society (through liability protection) to enrich the wealthy is okay, because it’s better for the common good, is to say that the well-being of the common good is more important than right and wrong. In other words, “what works” trumps “what’s right,” which is what I’ve been saying all along.

Furthermore, modifications that minimize disparity of wealth establish a balance between investment money and consumer spending money that enables the investments to pay off. When such a balance exists, both the rich and the working class prosper in a flourishing economy. But without the buying power of working class customers, investments go bust, and the economy stagnates. Business owners simply won’t invest in creating jobs that create goods and services no one will buy, because that would result in a total loss of investment money. This was known as “the surplus” problem in the 1890s depression, when manufacturers had efficiently created lots of products, but were running short on customers to buy them. Today, thanks to the resurgence of conservative economics since 1980, “the surplus” problem has undermined our economy again. Investment money abounds, but customers are in short supply; so the wealthy invest in gold, derivatives, real estate, short-selling, and commodities, but not in job creation.

One of the first things I learned in Economics 101 at Penn State was that no system or economic approach solved all of the problems of unemployment, inflation, deflation, high interest rates, trade deficit, and budget deficit simultaneously. Even capitalist-oriented approaches, such as Keynesian, Supply-Side, and Austrian economics each solve one or two of the problems by making at least one other problem worse. For example, the Supply-Side solution of cutting taxes increases spending and investing in the economy, which creates more jobs, but then the budget deficit grows from the decreased tax revenue, which will ultimately drives up interest rates and, in extreme cases, leads to hyper-inflation if the government has to print money to pay its debt. To me, each economic approach is like rowing a boat straight ahead with one oar. If you continue to paddle on the same side, the boat will veer farther and farther off course. If you then switch the oar to the opposite side, the boat will, at first, get closer to being on course, but then will cross over and go farther and farther off course in the opposite direction. Likewise, if we continue to apply a singular economic approach, the economy will veer farther and farther off course as the years pass.

Since no system solves all economic problems, how then can we give any of them sacred status?

Like all things man-made, whether wooden statues or philosophies, they fall way short of the perfection of God. None of them are righteousness. None of them are to be held sacred. As Paul said in Romans, “You’re the servant of the one you choose to obey…” We Christians can serve God and commit ourselves to the purpose of His Law (the well-being of others), or we can serve the man-made system of laissez-faire corporate capitalism. If we serve the latter, can we truly call ourselves Christians?

How Unregulated Corporate Greed has Ruined American Lives

[As a politically-liberal Christian who believes in using our democracy to fight greed, I receive considerable push-back from conservatives who seem to think that it’s not any of my business whether or not the rich are greedy, that I shouldn’t be using my political forum to judge others. What these critics fail to realize is that my battle against greed has nothing to do with judging the greedy; it has everything to do with protecting we-the-people from the life-crushing effects of corporate greed. Greed has consequences, and they ruin people’s lives. It’s that reality that inspired me to write the following portion of my book, Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason:]

In 1996, I moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. For my daily exercise, I walked the downtown streets or rode my bicycle on the towpath canal trail located just across the Lehigh River from the dormant remains of Bethlehem Steel. I was initially puzzled by the massive, hideous sycamore trees lining the downtown streets. Why would someone plant the ugliest tree on earth all over town? Eventually, I learned the answer. At the time of planting, around 1900, no other trees were hardy enough to grow amidst the pollution from local factories. Meanwhile, in nearby Palmerton, the Appalachian Trail traversed a bare Blue Mountain, devoid of all vegetation due to contamination from decades of local zinc plant operations. I couldn’t help but wonder, “If industrial pollution killed all the plants, what effect did it have on the Lehigh Valley’s human inhabitants?” And I couldn’t help but be grateful for living in an age in which our health and the environment were protected, at least to some extent, by our democratic government.

The devastating effects of pollution were not all there was to learn about in Bethlehem. At Sand Island, where I picked up the bicycle trail, an educational display told the story of local mule drivers, who, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, led mules, pulling boats, up and down the towpath canal trail. On the display was a quote from former mule-driver, Joseph A. Lum. It read, “You were never bothered with insomnia. You rose about 3:30am and you wouldn’t retire until 11pm.” The mule driver workday began at 4am and didn’t end until 10pm. They worked 18 hours a day, 6 days a week, on their feet the whole time. As I studied more about the Gilded Age in years since, I learned that the mule drivers were not alone. The 100 hour work week was the norm for a large percentage of workers nationwide, from mule drivers on the Lehigh River, to bakers in New York, to street car drivers in New Orleans, to train porters in Chicago, to law enforcement employees in Boston. Even if laissez-faire corporate capitalism made products cheaper for the working class to purchase, what good are products to a person too busy and too exhausted to enjoy them?

Steel mill workers and coal miners, whose jobs were more physically-demanding, got away with 12 hour days, but the dangers of these jobs more than made up for the lesser hours. In the 1890s, approximately 3,000 steel mill workers died on the job in Pittsburgh area steel mills alone, plus 20,000 injured. Railroad workers also died on the job by the thousands each year. In 1889 alone, there were about 8500 deaths. Again, products may have been cheaper, but was it worth wives and children having to worry about their husbands and fathers coming home alive? In those days, neither businesses nor the government assumed any responsibility for the deaths, injuries, exhaustion, and overall poor health of workers. The government looked the other way, while industry produced the wealthiest men in all of human history at the expense of humanity.

The government did, however, come to the aid of business leaders when fed-up workers went on strike. In laissez-faire capitalism, the government’s only role is to protect property, and that it did. For example, during the 1890s depression, railroad car magnate, George Pullman, cut his employees’ wages but not the rents they paid him in his company town. This type of situation was common in the depressions of the 1870s and 1890s, thanks to the U.S. being on a gold standard at the time. The government could not expand the money supply, so deflation slashed the workers’ wages. Debts and rents, however, remained unchanged, choking off workers’ ability to pay their bills. The eventual result of the Pullman Strike was a quarter million railroad workers on strike nationwide. Thirteen people were killed and 53 seriously wounded in battles between strikers and government troops, as the government protected the property of the wealthy, but not the well-being of those unable to afford property.

Unlike today, Gilded Age factory owners regularly called in the state militia to force an end to strikes. In fact, Tom Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad once said that strikers should try “a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread.” Anytime the workers stood up for their families’ well-being by striking, the government sent in the militia to do the will of the wealthy. They protected the interests of the property owners, but did nothing to protect or promote the well-being of the working class majority. The workers saw this as the government favoring the wealthy over the workers, and they hated the government for it. It’s ironic that anti-government types in those days hated the government for failing to protect the working class from the wealthy. Yet, today’s anti-government types hate the government for helping or protecting the working class, and they claim that limiting government’s role to the protection of property (and the wealthy folks who own it) is liberty.

Out of the working class’ disdain for the government’s support of the rich arose the anarchist movement. To anarchists, laissez-faire corporate capitalism had not only failed to protect Americans from the industrial age’s disproportionate concentrations of wealth and power, but it had driven humanity to the depths of oppression. The agrarian, small town society Thomas Jefferson had envisioned was dead. The working class majority had been denied their liberty to live, leaving them little to live for. Anarchists wanted revolution. The great American democratic experiment was in danger of termination.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said that recognizing unions and negotiating with them was “really in the interest of property, for it will save it from the danger of revolution.” Roosevelt was keenly aware of this danger. His predecessor, William McKinley, had been assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. While this act of terror may be the best known of the anarchist movement, the 1910s proved to be the most active period. A group of anarchists known as Galleanists sent about thirty dynamite bombs through the mail in 1919 alone. The movement’s deadliest act was the Wall Street bombing on September 6th, 1920 in which 38 people were killed. In Europe, anarchy’s fury against laissez-faire corporate capitalism was even more widespread. And of course, in Russia, the anti-capitalist movement was so strong that it overthrew the whole government in the communist revolution of 1917.

The insatiable greed of laissez-faire corporate capitalism’s wealthy business owners killed, injured, and exhausted workers, stole childhood from children, and poisoned God’s creation. That’s why nearly every capitalist society either abandoned pure laissez-faire capitalism or modified it as the United States did. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, along with additional legislation since then, reversed the course of these evils, enabling us to grow up in a country fit for humanity.

Personally, I’ve had Republican Christians argue that today’s business owners are more enlightened and would not resume the oppressions of the past if our democracy did the right thing and disposed of protective regulations. This claim is unfounded. A much higher percentage of Americans were devout Christians 100 years ago than are today. If there were to be any difference, it might be that future workers in a Republican paradise would work 16 hour days seven days a week instead of six days a week, since the Sabbath has been legally abolished in the name of greater profits. Also, despite existing regulations, many of today’s corporate executives have demonstrated a lust for ever increasing wealth at the expense of others. I know this from experience. I’ve worked in corporate sales for 19 years.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for a couple of good companies over the years that have generally done right by their customers. Naturally, it was with these companies that I had the most sales success, being an honest person. But what I’ve experienced with most of my employers and their competitors, however, has been lies, deception, more lies, and more deception. In most corporate sales departments, liars win. When I sold yellow page advertising, sales management assured us that all 3000 directory headings generated significant business for advertisers, which wasn’t even close to being true. And they pressured us to oversell customers rather than work with them to create the most cost-effective programs for their businesses. My biggest argument with a manger was over my refusal to lie to customers about the directory print deadline, which was months away, so we could hit a monthly number.

When I sold lawn treatments, I was told by a manager to tell people that their lawns would look like the one on the brochure within three months. If their lawn was 80% weeds, however, it would look like a bunch of dead weeds within three months, since fertilizer and weed killer are incapable of turning weeds into grass. I was trained to make similar claims regarding fall aeration-seedings which, on lawns with little or no grass, resemble bad hair plugs more than they do lush lawns. (In defense of my employer, the company did full seedings for no extra charge for customers who had been duped by sales reps.) When potential customers pleaded poverty, it was our job to convince them that they could afford what we were selling. This is required of sales reps in every industry. Such an approach proved most damaging, however, in the mortgage industry during the housing bubble, when sales reps persuaded low income borrowers to borrow more than they could afford, and their defaults crashed the market.

When I sold insurance in Tennessee after college, I witnessed veteran agents pitching seniors investments for their grand-kids that were nothing more than small burial policies with high premiums. They used high-pressure tactics on little old ladies, even covering most of the signature page with another piece of paper, so the elderly victims couldn’t see what they were signing. One of these reps told me that if I wasn’t willing to lie, I wouldn’t succeed in the business. As a Christian, I stuck with honesty, and I failed. And this was at a time in which I was already in poverty.

I once had a new employer berate me on my third day of training for not telling the lies they told me to tell. These included giving a fake name and fake company name and making up stories to get past the gatekeeper to get to the targeted executive. In this office, sales reps boasted of their most creative “stories” and celebrated each other’s lies (this happens to some extent in most sales departments). The next day, I told management I’d sell their product, but I wouldn’t lie. I was told by a top executive at day’s end that I couldn’t work there if I wasn’t going to say what they told me to say.

When working in an inbound call center for a massive telecom provider, selling phone, cable, and internet services to businesses, we sales reps were required to tell customers that the promotional price was only good for today. The truth was that my employer guaranteed promotional offers to customers for at least 30 days after the initial offer was made. Nonetheless, one of the supervisors even required his reps to tell potential customers the lie that their shift was ending, or that they had to go home due to an emergency, so the customer had to sign “right now” to get the promotion. The point of these lies was to keep customers from shopping around for better deals. Sales management at this company also smiled upon reps who told customers asking for our slowest internet speed (which they saw listed on the company’s website) that the speed would be “sunsetted” the next month, so they had no choice but to select a faster, more expensive speed than they wanted. The truth was that the company had no plans whatsoever to eliminate their slowest speed. I refused to tell these lies, so management assigned me an inbound call schedule in which I had more evening calling hours than any of the 140 reps in the call center, even those who were at the very bottom of the sales stats. Most businesses called in during daytime business hours, so taking the fewest daytime calls and the most nighttime calls assured that I would fail to hit my sales numbers and be forced out of my job, which is what happened.

The position in which I encountered the most deception was selling small businesses their credit card processing equipment and negotiating the rates they pay to accept cards. Thanks to numerous charges for different types of credit cards, processors and reps find it easy to create deceptive rate proposals. Making this even easier is that different processors have different names for various charges, so merchants have trouble knowing which charge applies to which situation. To learn the definition of a particular charge, they must rely on what the sales rep tells them, which is often a lie. Once the merchant sees he’s been charged more than promised (which often takes a while, since most have to go online and enter passwords to access their statements), they can take no corrective action, because they’re locked into 3 year contracts and 4 year terminal lease agreements (many sales reps fail to inform them that they’re locked in at all). Conservatives argue that it’s the responsibility of merchants to read the terms and conditions before signing, but processors often have agreements over 100,000 words in length (that’s longer than this book) to prevent busy merchants from doing so. Most of the contents are benign, but hidden deep inside is the occasional statement that’s the equivalent of the merchant writing a blank check. I once expressed my frustration over competitors’ deceptions to my manager. To this he replied, “You’re just going to have to come up with some deceptions of your own.”

Of course, the motive behind all of these lies is that the corporations have revenue goals to achieve. Doing so must be done at any cost. If you can’t get it done, the company will find someone who will. Therefore, sales reps and managers must do whatever it takes to hit the numbers, or they can hit the road. And, of course, once a revenue goal is achieved, the next year’s goal is always higher. Too much is never enough.

The Bible promotes a different view, as we see in Proverbs 21:6: “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death,” or Amos 8:4-6: “Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over, so that we may buy grain, and the Sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, to make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, and to cheat with dishonest scales, so as to buy the helpless for money and the needy for a pair of sandals, and that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?’” The Bible contains over 30 passages denouncing lying and deception. In none of them does God condemn the deceived; He always condemns the deceivers.

Greed is an insidious, life-crushing, demonic force. We must be forever vigilant against it, never letting our guard down. Laissez-faire corporate capitalism guards against none of greed’s evils. In fact, it encourages them. Therefore, laissez-faire corporate capitalism without safeguards and modifications is simply demonic. It can never be a morality.

Both laissez-faire capitalism and socialism suffer from the same fatal flaw: neither system provides oversight of the money makers. In pure laissez-faire capitalism, the government looks the other way and lets the money-makers have their way at the expense of the innocent. In socialism, the government is the money-maker and chooses profitability over the well-being of workers and consumers. Both systems are equally oppressive. Only a capitalist system in which the people protect themselves from greed through their democratic government minimizes oppression.

The Dark History of American Capitalism and How the Bible Applies

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[The following article is an excerpt from the book, Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason]

No system is better than corporate capitalism at creating incredibly wealthy individuals. This should come as no surprise. A system that maximizes financial rewards for success while minimizing financial losses from failure can’t help but broaden the gap between the rich and poor. Those rich enough to own corporations get richer, while those who aren’t stay poor. According to a study published in the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, 46 of the 75 wealthiest people to have ever lived in the history of human civilization were (or are) U.S. citizens. This is a list that includes Cleopatra of ancient Egypt at #21 and Nicholas II of Russia at #3. John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil tops the list at #1, and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, born in Scotland, but a U.S. citizen as an adult, is #2. According to Gladwell, 14 of the 75 wealthiest people were Americans born between 1831 and 1840. All of these owned large, powerful corporations in the late 1800s and even the early 1900s, an era known as the Gilded Age, when pure capitalism was the American way.

So is the system that produced the richest people in human history the best?

Unfortunately, as pure corporate capitalism produced the wealthiest group of men to have ever lived, it also produced some of worst poverty in history at the same time. When a Cincinnati man was asked how he, his wife and three kids lived on $5 a week in the 1870s, he replied, “I don’t live. I am literally starving. We get meat once a week, and the rest of the week we have dry bread and black coffee.” This story differs little from what my great grandmother used to tell me about growing up in the 1920s in a small rural town about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, “When I was growing up, we only had meat twice a week, because that’s all we could afford.” These were the so-called “Roaring Twenties.” But for the working class, the 1920s were more about scratching and clawing for survival than they were about roaring good times. Even though, by this time, corporate capitalism had been producing the richest men in history for over 50 years, a large percentage of working class Americans suffered poverty unimaginable to any American today.

While life in the country was rough, life in the city was even worse for the working class. In New York’s Five Points section, as many as a dozen people would live in apartments as small as 100 square feet under roofs that often leaked. The streets were mired in garbage and sewers were open. The stench was unbearable to all who were unfortunate enough to visit. And life was unlivable for the neighborhoods impoverished tenants.

Meanwhile, at any given time between 1880 and 1920, about 20,000 breaker boys, ages 8-12, could be found inside coal mine entrances separating anthracite coal from shale 60 hours a week, just in the state of Pennsylvania alone! Meanwhile, little girls sorted threads and fabrics in textile mills. Why would parents send submit their children to lives of dank industrial misery while forsaking their childhoods?

Did parents hate their kids back then?

No.

They were so poor that they had no choice but to put their kids to work. Unfortunately, the higher the number of children working for pathetically low wages, the higher the number of low wage workers there were in the workforce taking jobs from adults. This allowed employers to pay lower wages to adults as they competed for jobs, which in turn worsened their poverty and increased their need to send their children to work. This is what I call the Child Labor Trap. The government did not legally force the children into labor. They simply gave them the freedom to work while denying them any welfare assistance or minimum wage guarantees, so that they would have no choice but to work and sacrifice their childhoods to the service of the wealthy.

In capitalism, it’s considered righteousness, and even “good business,” to pay workers the minimum necessary to gain their employment. There’s no such thing as paying a worker too little if the pay is enough to fill the position. The goal of nearly every corporation is to maximize profits and pay them out to its owners in the form of dividends. Profit maximization consists of two components: maximizing revenues and minimizing costs. Employees are a cost to be minimized. During times of high unemployment, when workers compete for job openings, employers usually lower wages for workers, knowing that desperate job-seekers will settle for lower wages and current employees can’t leave for jobs elsewhere.

Even when profits are high, a “good” business executive lowers wages for workers, because adding to the owners’ wealth is more important than the well-being of employees and their families, which is of no concern to the corporation. This is what critics of pure corporate capitalism called “wage slavery.” In traditional slavery, a master had to feed, clothe, shelter, and preserve the health of his workers and their children since they were of financial value to him. But in corporate capitalist “wage slavery”, executives paid workers less than they and their families needed to live a healthy, dignified life. The working class, therefore, led lives not much better than those of slaves. Yes, they had the “liberty” to leave and choose another master, unlike actual slaves. However, the new master was often no better than the former.

Biblical opposition to “wage slavery” can be found on two fronts: the sin of underpaying workers and the righteousness of the workers’ keeping what they produce. Regarding underpayment of workers, Malachi 3:5 says, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts.”

How are “wage earners” oppressed in their wages?

It’s possible their promised wages were withheld, but businesses that practiced such things probably had trouble recruiting workers after a short time. It’s far more likely that these businesses oppressed their workers by paying them too little. (By the way, notice how adultery is mentioned in the same verse as oppression of workers in their wages. Both sins are equally evil.)

This passage indicates that God’s values differ from those of corporate capitalists. Maybe workers deserve more than being paid as little as the free market requires. Maybe they should be paid wages that reflect the value of the workers’ contribution to their employers’ success. Or maybe they should be paid enough to afford food, shelter, clothing and basic enjoyment of life, since they’re of great value, being created in God’s image. This is not to say businesses struggling to stay afloat are guilty of sin when they pay workers low wages. But when corporate executives and investors earn several hundred times as much as their employees, who are paid as little as necessary to fill the positions, they likely violate God’s message in this quote.

Regarding the workers’ right to what they produce, 2 Timothy 2:6 says, “The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.” Conservatives have used this verse to oppose taxation, but that’s not what it’s about. It was written in the Roman Empire where land owners hired farmers to work their land. The owners had first rights to the produce, leaving very little to those who farmed the land. Paul makes the common sense point that workers, not land owners, have first rights to what their work produces. The pure capitalist belief is the opposite: the owner of the capital (land, equipment, etc. used to produce goods and services) has full rights to what the workers produce with the capital; owning capital is to be rewarded, while hard work is not.

Thanks to these anti-biblical approaches to business, pure corporate capitalism has proven to be a system of huge winners and impoverished losers. In it, every person, theoretically, has an opportunity for great wealth. But in its purest form, which is free from regulations and redistribution of wealth, only a small percentage of the population can achieve economic prosperity at the same time; meanwhile, the masses wallow in poverty. The winners reap extraordinary riches, while the losers struggle to survive. That’s why pure capitalism is, essentially, a jackpot economy—the winners win big, but are few in number.

To the contrary, God’s system for ancient Israel minimized disparity of wealth. As the Israelites settled their nation, 12 of the 13 tribes received land upon which they could grow food and build homes. They would pass this land on to their descendants who would build and farm on it when they reached adulthood. A young man didn’t have to wait until his parents died in order to have land to farm and live on. Over 90 percent of the population had what they needed to survive. All they had to do was work the land. Each of the 12 tribes gave a tenth of their produce and earnings to the 13th tribe, the Levites, because they had no share of land on which they could grow food. Their job was to perform acts of ministry, not to farm. Widows who were unable to remarry, orphans, and resident immigrants also lacked land on which they could support themselves, so God required the 12 tribes to support them, too, as we see in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, “Every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the word of God may bless you in all the work that you undertake [NRSV].”

God even minimized disparity by limiting the accumulation of property in ancient Israel. Leviticus 25:10 says, “You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.” The Bible explains that land prices were to be based on the numbers of crop growing years remaining until the Year of Jubilee when the land must be returned, “for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you (verse 16).” In the fiftieth year, all land was given back to the original owners or their descendants; and all debts were forgiven, so those who had been enslaved to pay debts were free to start anew. In the Year of Jubilee, the economy reset, and disparity of wealth was kept in check.

First century Christians in the Roman Empire found themselves in a different economic system, created by men rather than by God. Still, in addressing them, the Apostle Paul champions minimal disparity of wealth in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 where he says, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little [NRSV].’” I’ll be the first to admit that this quote addressed churches, not governments. Nonetheless, it gives us the general sense that everyone should have enough and not too much. This is not communism, in which everyone owns the same; neither is it pure corporate capitalism, in which the disparity of wealth is amplified.

Speaking of communism, some Christians over the past century have asked if Jesus is a communist. They’ve most frequently cited Acts 4:32…34, which says, “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… There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the Apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as they had need [NRSV].”

This scene horrifies American Christians who see pure capitalism as gospel, because we have in these verses the early Christian equivalent of a commune, and a commune-inspired economic system is communism.

Should we practice communism in an effort to emulate the early Christians?

Not necessarily.

First, let’s look beyond modern economic systems and examine the principles involved. The intent of these actions was to ensure that “there was not a needy person among them.” This has always been God’s desire. Their solution was that everyone in the community would give up what they had in order for this intent to become reality. Today, our society in America is wealthy enough that we don’t have to give up everything to help those around us. However, the argument that we should have to give up nothing to help others is difficult to justify in light of this passage.

Some will argue that this communal act of sharing is not mandated by God’s Law, but is voluntary. This argument is correct. However, notice how “the whole group” fully participated in this system, and that the writer, Luke, seems impressed and eager to report the Christians’ radical other-centeredness. It begs the questions: Would we Christians today even be willing to consider taking part in such a selfless way of life? If joining the church meant sharing all we owned, would we join? Or would we argue for our right to individually possess property and condemn such a communal existence as evil Marxism? If we were to do the latter, it would mean our possessions and the principles of capitalism are more important to us than God, and that we might not even be Christians. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth [NRSV].”

Does Welfare Really Keep Blacks Down, as Conservatives Say?

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a Presidential Town Hall Series at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a Presidential Town Hall Series at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Why, for a while in late 2015, did Dr. Ben Carson consistently poll ahead of every Republican but Trump?

In part, it’s because he’s a black man who grew up poor and supposedly has the inside scoop on how government assistance keep blacks down. He recently said, “It’s not compassion to pat them on the head and say, ‘There, there, I’m going to take care of all your needs, your health care, your food.’ That’s the opposite of compassion…I’m not interested in getting rid of a safety net, I’m interested in getting rid of dependency.”

What’s wrong with Carson’s statement?

It’s totally devoid of even the slightest bit of macro-economic understanding, which is typical of Republican politicians and pundits.

You see, I too have experience with inner city poverty – and it’s business experience. As recently as 2012, I sold credit card processing and POS systems to businesses in Philadelphia, many of which were located in the impoverished areas of the city.

This experience taught me a few things.

First, I never met a business owner in these areas who couldn’t find help because potential workers had chosen to freeload off of welfare rather than work (nor do Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have trouble finding help). Surely, you’ve heard somewhere along the way that the African-American U3 unemployment rate has been around 10% – about twice the national average. And you may have also heard that the unemployment rate only counts those who are “actively looking for work.” So this number proves that there are nowhere near as many jobs available as there are blacks looking for them. The group Republicans repeatedly blame for inner city poverty – “those on welfare who choose not to work,” have nothing to do with causing this number. Their looking for jobs wouldn’t create even a single job, because it’s consumers buying products and services that creates jobs. If looking for jobs created jobs, the unemployment rate would take care of itself. (If you want to argue that Obama is the cause of unemployment, I’d like to remind you that the national average unemployment rate over the last 50 years has been 5.8%, which is lower than today.)

So does ending welfare and food stamps fix this problem?

No. That’s the 2nd thing I learned.

Part of my job included reviewing the credit card processing statements of inner-city markets, and those statements included food stamp totals. Fifty to ninety percent of the transactions processed by these markets were food stamps. So what happens if Republicans take away food stamps? The markets lose more than half of their business, which in turn puts most inner city markets out of business and their hard-working employees out of jobs, which in turn puts more workers out of work, which further decreases spending in the community, which causes even more businesses to fail…and the downward spiral continues.

I’m sure conservatives will argue that inner-cities will be fixed by tax cuts for corporations and the rich, because they invest in job creation. Well, there’s a third thing I learned – corporations don’t invest in impoverished areas; they invest in the wealthy suburbs and downtown areas. Those who invest in impoverished neighborhoods are locals who often have little more money than their workers and customers. If conservatives really supported entrepreneurs like they say they do, they wouldn’t be trying to pull the rug out from under them by further impoverishing their customers.

Yes, I understand that that those who go a long time without work tend to get lazy and often cause trouble. Not working is not good. That’s what Republicans like Carson want to focus on. But high unemployment and low wages are NEVER the fault of the workers or the unemployed! They may be the fault of insufficient consumer spending, greedy business owners who are quick to lay off employees, or government policies such as the high interest rates of the late 1970s. But there’s no way workers or potential workers can ever cause unemployment or low wages. If anything, unwilling workers entering the workforce will increased competition for jobs and drive wages down, not up.

Republicans consistently blame unemployed workers from broken families for poverty. But the truth is that if every American came from a stable family with married parents and had a PhD to boot, and if there were 160 million workers and only 150 million jobs, 10 million people with married parents and PhD’s would be unemployed; and if 30 million of those jobs paid less than $10/hr., then 30 million people with married parents and PhD’s would earn an unlivable wage. Perhaps you could say that it’s the unemployed workers’ fault for being at the back of the jobs line; but it’s not their fault that there aren’t enough jobs for everyone in that line.

The real cause of America’s poverty problem is DEPENDENCY. No, not the dependency on government that Ben Carson talks about, but the dependency on the wealthy, who own what we need to survive. In ancient Israel and in early America, most people owned land they could farm, build houses on, run businesses from, and provide for themselves. Today, most people go into the world with nothing and must rely on wealthier people for jobs and income, and only when that system of dependency on the rich fails do we need government assistance, since charity has never worked well on a national level anywhere in world history.

The solutions for inner city poverty aren’t easy. The only answer is to grow businesses and create jobs, but those businesses only survive if there’s enough consumer spending to keep them afloat. Creating that consumer spending without giving too much of a handout is difficult. So it’s hard even for Democrats to find solutions. But it’s easy for Republicans to make the problem a whole lot worse. And if they take total control of our government one more time, that’s what they are likely to do.

-K. Scott Schaeffer

Why I (as a Christian) abandoned my anti-abortion stance after 30 years

 

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As a teenager in the late 1980s, I was staunchly pro-life. It was a simple concept, really. What could be worse than killing babies? Some argued that it wasn’t really a baby, because it was still inside the womb, in which case it is called a fetus, but that just seemed like a technicality to me. I didn’t see why the location of the child, in or out of the womb, made any difference. So I believed that life started at conception, not at birth. In 1992, despite knowing that Republicans had been exploiting America for the sake of the wealthy, I voted for Republican George H.W. Bush anyway, solely because I believed that voting for pro-choice candidate Bill Clinton was the equivalent of killing babies with my own hands. Even when I started to lean Democrat in 2006 and registered Democrat in 2012, I was still a pro-life Democrat, just like Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.

But then in 2014, I started following the feed of “The Christian Left” on Facebook. As time passed, they posted an article about how the Bible is pro-choice – an argument I had never heard, despite my many years in Bible-focused churches. The article pointed out how Chapter 5 of Numbers prescribed what was effectively a supernatural abortion for women who had committed adultery, and how Exodus 21:22 prescribed nothing more than a fine for causing a woman to lose the fetus in her womb, while requiring the more severe eye-for-an-eye penalty for any “further injury” to the mother. But I still wasn’t convinced that abortion was okay with God, since neither of these passages addressed abortion as a form of birth control. The article also said that the Bible never mentions abortion as a sin, but I thought, “Of course, it doesn’t. Abortion didn’t exist until the mid-1900s. How ignorant does the author of the article think I am?”

Well, it turned out that I was indeed ignorant about the history of abortion. Abortion did exist in ancient times! The Ebers Papyrus prescribed an Egyptian abortion procedure a century or so before Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and wrote the Mosaic Law. The Code of Assura regulated abortion in neighboring Assyria at the time of the Prophets. And the Jewish Mishna and Talmud, written shortly after Christ, addressed abortion as well, such as in cases where it’s needed to save the life of the mother.

So if abortion was this prevalent in the biblical world, what should we make of the fact that the Bible never condemns it?

My conclusion: Even if abortion as a means of birth control is wrong, it’s not a biblical priority in comparison to the issues the Bible actually does address, such as the 100+ passages condemning greed and oppression of the poor – the most frequently addressed societal issue in the Bible. So how is it right for us politically-active Christians to shun the Bible’s numerous greed and oppression passages in favor of something the Bible never addressed?

The Bible’s exclusion of anti-abortion scriptures then made me wonder, “Could it be that life doesn’t begin at conception in God’s eyes, but that it begins at consciousness, since it’s consciousness that connects us with God?”

So I did a bit of research to see when a fetus develops consciousness.

What I found is that the part of the brain that controls consciousness and connects the experiential part of the mind with the body and its senses, the thalamus, doesn’t begin to develop until after the 24th week of pregnancy. Prior to the 24th week, consciousness is impossible. Thus the 1st and 2nd trimester fetus experiences as much pain during an abortion as your grass does when you cut it – which is no pain at all. This fact obliterated my traditional imaginary vision of an abortion, in which I imagined a little baby suffering excruciating pain and unable to understand what’s happening to it.

But despite all of this, I still struggled to embrace the pro-choice stance. So I did something I had never done in all of my pro-life years – I prayed to God for Him to show me the right view. I had always assumed that my anti-abortion views were correct, thus I never sought God’s revelation with an open mind. In doing so, I remembered how the book of 2 Esdras, from the Apocrypha (which consists of Scriptures written between the Old and New Testaments and is only included in Roman Catholic Bibles), had mentioned a storehouse of souls. So I turned to it to see if it gave me any clues regarding the ensoulment of the fetus. I prayed for revelation of the truth again as I began to read Ezra’s first vision, and I was immediately struck by the following words: “…at your command the dust brought forth Adam. His body was lifeless; yours were the hands that molded it, and you breathed the breath of life into it and he became a living person [2 Esdras 3:4-5].” So when did Adam become a “living” being? Not when his body was fully formed, but only once he breathed. Even if the Apocryphal books are not the authoritative word of God, they still reveal what Jews thought constituted life. Plus, for me, this scripture was an immediate answer to prayer.

Then I received even more divine guidance. I wrote the paragraphs you just read Sept 14th-16th, 2015. Last night, the 16th, as I proceeded through my bi-annual reading of the Bible from beginning to end, I just happened to be at the point in which I read one of the passages most commonly quoted by pro-life Christians. That passage is Psalm 139:13, which says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” They argue this proves that God Himself forms fetuses in the womb. But then, just a few verses later, I encountered a follow up verse that I had never heard a pro-life Christian quote. It (verse 15) said, “I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”

What in the world does that mean?

Are fetuses formed in the earth’s molten core?

Of course, not. Clearly, this psalm is symbolic poetry, as is the case with most Psalms. It is not a literal description of how things work.

Again, the timing of this, just as I’m writing this article that I never in my whole life imagined I would write, is a bit on the miraculous side. It may not prove anything, but it gives me a sense of assurance that God is guiding me through his difficult political-theological transition. And it is indeed difficult. I realize that one’s abortion stance is the political sniff test for conservative Christians. If you are pro-choice, they damn you in their hearts as an evil person from whom no good or righteousness can come, and then they refuse to listen to anything you say. So my change in stance will make it harder for me to reach them. But I cannot misrepresent what I believe has been revealed to me. Perhaps God has a different audience for my ministry.

So will I now appear at a pro-choice rally proclaiming a woman’s right to choose?

Probably not.

I still feel uneasy about abortion and consider that maybe Roman Catholics are correct in the idea that all forms of birth control create a sex-without-consequences world which promotes sexual irresponsibility and makes it more difficult for a family with many kids to survive in a world where most families have only two. Also, I’m grateful that my mother, who was 14 years old at the time of my conception, “did the right thing” and chose to keep me rather than abort me (of course, I’m also glad that she “did the wrong thing” by fooling around at the age of 14 – otherwise, I wouldn’t be here). Yes, we lived in a trailer and Spam was on the menu, but our relationship was far more valuable than any prestigious career she might have had or any extra money she might have earned had I been aborted. So I encourage all Christian women to follow the noble path of bearing their children rather than aborting them.

But when I weigh that uneasiness about abortion with that fact that, according to the World Health Organization, “47,000 women die [worldwide] from complications of unsafe abortion each year,” I can’t vote to increase that number by denying women safe abortions in the U.S. I believe it is far more tragic, disruptive, and heartbreaking to lose a sister, daughter, or granddaughter, because she made a desperate, risky decision to have an illegal abortion, than it is to lose a non-conscious organism whom no one has ever met. And I think Exodus 21:22 backs me up on that belief by demonstrating that a life-in-progress is worth more than a life-not-yet-begun.

And perhaps the most important point of all when it comes to the legalization of abortion is that, regardless of what my religious scripture says, we live in a multi-religion nation that has, since its inception, guaranteed its people freedom from being forced to follow the religious rules of others. If our reason for banning abortion is purely a religious one, the Constitution disallows it. And if we Christians rebel against this constitutional right, Americans won’t join Christianity; they’ll despise it.

-K. Scott Schaeffer