Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Rise of the Fourth Reich

Just this month, Robert Reich has come out with an article entitled "Bush’s God."

This follows on the heels of a similar article of his, published back in December.

In the December issue there was much alarmist talk of how the religious right constitutes a "clear and present" threat to religious liberty. But, in this issue, it is Mr. Reich who launches a frontal assault on religious liberty. Apparently the threat was insufficiently imminent after all, so he has chosen to fulfill his own dire prediction with a preemptive first strike.

It begins as a discussion about the tax-exempt status of churches. From there is goes to a more general discussion of church/state separation. Finally, it launches into a general broadside against religion as even more dangerous than international terrorism.

Anyone who has had occasion to hear Robert Reich on TV knows him to be a very smart, savvy guy. He is a highly articulate liberal with a quick mind and a quick tongue.

It is striking, therefore, that such a bright thinker can pen such a slack piece of reasoning. Let us run through his arguments, such as they are.

1. Mr. Reich equates a tax-exemption with a direct governmental subsidy. Now, only a liberal would be capable of making that equation, for the reasoning is, at best, circular.

It is not the government that subsidizes the taxpayer, but the taxpayer that subsidizes the government. Government gets its money from the people, not vice versa.

When a taxpayer takes a tax deduction, or receives a tax-rebate, this is not a case of government subsidizing the taxpayer. It only means that the government is not garnishing quite as much of his wages as would otherwise be the case.

Again, if a church, which already enjoys a tax-exemption, were to endorse a particular candidate, this would not "cost" the government anything above what is already lost in tax-revenue from the initial exemption.

The suppressed premise of his argument seems to be that taxation is a form of income redistribution. It is not merely a case of giving a wager-earner more of his money back; no, it is taking from Peter to pay Paul.

Okay, on that convoluted construction you could say that any tax-exemption is a de facto government subsidy. But if this is deemed to be an unacceptable consequence, it is only objectionable because the liberal is drawing a liberal conclusion from a liberal premise. The more fundamental question is whether the tax code should be structured in such a way as to make it a mechanism of income redistribution.

Suppose we were to scrap the graduated tax system for a flat tax, or even ditch most federal, state, and local taxes for user-fees? After all, we got along without a Federal income tax until Woodrow Wilson came along.

Mr. Reich then makes the following claim:
"The Constitution of the United States prohibits the federal government from enacting laws that promote or establish any religion. That's because the Framers understood the importance of keeping a strict separation between church and state. History has amply demonstrated how established religions undermine democracy. Citizens holding different beliefs from the majority, or no beliefs at all, are often disadvantaged, marginalized, or even ostracized. Government support tends to corrupt even an established religion whose leaders seek official favors in return for religious decrees and indulgences, and who do the government's bidding in return for state benefits."

There are at least four fundamental flaws in his analysis:

1. Notice the downward semantic slide from "establishment" to "support" or "promotion." This trades on a fatal equivocation. There is quite a difference between the establishment of a national church and some form of Federal promotion or sponsorship. Reich is substituting weaker words that are not synonymous with the original.

As a matter of historical fact, the Federal government was a patron of the faith. To take but one example, the very first Congress made provision for new churches to be built in the Northwest Territory. And just consider what-all Thomas Jefferson, patron saint of church/state separatists, had a hand in:
* Legislative and Military Chaplains,
* Establishing a national seal using a religious symbol,
* Including the word "God" in our national motto,
* Official Days of Fasting and Prayer-at least on the state level,
* Punishing Sabbath breakers (is that real enough for you?),
* Punishing marriages contrary to biblical law,
* Punishing irreverent soldiers,
* Protecting the property of churches,
* Requiring oaths saying "So Help Me God," taken on the Bible
* Granting land to Christian churches to reach the Indians
* Granting land to Christian schools
* Allowing Government property and facilities to be used for worship
* Using the Bible and non-denominational religious instruction in the public schools. (He was involved in three different school districts and the plan in each one of these REQUIRED that the Bible be taught in our public schools).
* Allowing clergymen to hold public office, and encouraging them to do so,
* Purchasing and stocking religious books for public libraries,
* Funding of salaries of clergymen in Indian mission schools.
* Funding for construction of church buildings for Indians,
* Exempting churches from taxation,
* Establishing professional schools of theology. [He wanted to bring over from Geneva, Switzerland, the entire faculty of Calvin's theological seminary and establish it at the University of Virginia.]
* Treaties requiring other nations to guarantee religious freedom,
* Including religious speeches and prayers in official ceremonies.

And let us not forget that 10 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were Presbyterians. Cf. Dictionary of the Presbyterian & Reformed Tradition in America, D. Hart, ed. (IVP 1999), 19.

Indeed, it is arguable that our very system of federalism and republican democracy owed a good deal to Presbyterian theology:

i) The theology of revolution, which flew in the face of the then-regnant divine right of kings, goes back to the OT, when, in times of national apostasy (e.g., Jezebel; Athalia), a godly remnant would rebel and plot to overthrow the apostate regime.

ii) The OT makings of a theology of revolution received more formal articulation in the work of Scots-Presbyterians like Gillespie (Aaron's Rod) and Rutherford (Lex Rex), not to mention its practical implementation in the Scottish Reformation of the Church, under Knox. And this outlook was popularized in Colonial America by John Witherspoon. James Madison was a student of Witherspoon's at Princeton.

iii) The notion of a republic once again has striking parallels with OT covenant theology, what with its principle of federalism (federal headship) and tribal eldership.

iv) This would also receive a concrete model in Presbyterian polity, with its representational form of gov't and graded court system, reminiscent of the separation of powers, check & balances, and triple-decker gov't (session/presbytery/GA>municiple/state/federal).

It was not until 1947 that Hugo Black suddenly "discovered" a wall of separation in the Establishment clause. What the Framers were blind to, he could divine.

2. Notice, as well, the downward semantic slide from the "federal government" to "government" in general. Yet the Establishment clause expressly applies to the Federal government only. The states had established churches well into the 19C. The Framers assuredly did not write strict separation of church and state into the Constitution. To the contrary, the point of the Establishment clause was to leave the status quo ante intact.

3. As to the consequences of government patronage, whatever the merits of this objection, it is not a Constitutional objection.

4. It is also unclear how Mr. Reich arrives at the conclusion that an established church undermines democracy. It is true that the institution of an established church is associated with the imperial or monarchal age. But, in that event, it was the state establishing the church, and not the church the state.

For that matter, Mr. Reich might as well reason that science undermines democracy inasmuch as science arose in the age of kings, and prospered under royal patronage.

From here, Mr. Reich graduates to a "larger" and more insidious "pattern":
"In its eagerness to promote the teaching of creationism in public schools, encourage school prayer, support anti-sodomy statutes, ban abortions, bar gay marriage, limit the use of stem cells, reduce access to contraceptives, and advance the idea of America as a "Christian nation," the Bush administration has done more to politicize religion than any administration in recent American history. It has already blurred the distinction between what is preached from the pulpits and what are the official policies of the United States government, to the detriment of both. Right-wing fundamentalists -- including not a few high-level Bush-administration officials -- charge us secularists with being "moral relativists" who would give equal weight to any moral precept. In so doing, they confuse politics with private morality. For religious zealots, there is no distinction between the two realms. And that is precisely the problem."

LIke the White Queen, Mr. Reich operates with a Looking-Glass logic by which he reads American history in reverse. In each of his examples, it is the liberal elite that is endeavoring by its iron-fisted methods to overthrow the status quo, whereas the religious right is attempting to hold the line or restore the status quo ante. Yet in his backward scansion of American history, when modern-day liberals overturn original intent, venerable precedent, and traditional values, they are somehow the guardians of the ancien regime, while the Evangelicals are somehow the radical innovators, trying their darndest to undo the First Amendment.

Curiouser still is when Mr. Reich, in the very next paragraph, pits this as a battle between enlightened progressives and retrograde obscurantists. Now, either both his charges are false, or—at most—one is falsified by the other; but one thing is for sure: they can’t both be true. So his allegation suffers from a sorry lack of elementary coherence.

Equally incoherent is his charge that Evangelicals are guilty of politicizing religion and erasing the distinction between public and private morality.

To begin with, it is not as though Mr. Reich were a lobbyist for limited government. Quite the contrary, he wants to turn American into yet another Eurocratic nanny-state, with a coercive equality imposed from above.

And no one has done more to politicize morality that the liberal elite, what with its judicial tyranny, its thought police, its compulsory public education, its mandatory multiculturalism, and its frivolous litigation against consensual conduct, to name but a few of its undemocratic incursions into the sphere of social engineering.

Why should Christians support an anti-Christian curriculum? If Mr. Reich were a true libertarian, he would defend school choice.

The NEA has been running the public school system two or three generations now. Yet our students are abysmally ignorant, while a number of lowly homeschoolers are distinguishing themselves.

Liberals like Mr. Reich don’t believe in academic standards, for they value equality over freedom, and equality can only be achieved by dumbing-down the curriculum to the lowest common denominator. You create a level playing field by flattening the high ground with your liberal bulldozers and steamrollers.

Moreover, liberals don’t want to teach students the facts. Rather, they want to turn out politically correct clones for their totalitarian utopia.

Why does Mr. Reich deem it wrong to "impose" religion on our children, but deems it entirely right to impose his irreligion on our children? He is utterly blind to his own bias. This, of course, is what happens when you only read one side of the argument. Like liberals in general, Mr. Reich has too much contempt for the opposing argument to even acquaint himself with the opposing argument. But is that not the very definition of prejudice?

The reference to contraceptives is deceptive. This is not about consenting adults, but parental consent in the case of minors.

Why stop with stem cells? Why not clone human beings to harvest their organs on organ farms?

Why stop with same-sex marriage. Why not abolish the age of consent, as NAMBLA would have it?

Moving onto his climactic paragraph, Mr. Reich paints the conflict in apocalyptic tints and Manichaean hues:
"The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face."

Again, this is riddled with so many fallacies that it is hard to know where to begin:

1. In what respect does modernism select for individualism? Indeed, even a number of humanistic writers like Huxley, Koestler, Orwell, and Bradbury have warned their fellow free-thinkers of the dangers of a secular totalitarian state, and their ominous prognostications have often come true in the 20C, and into the 21C.

2. Mr. Reich obviously values coercive equality over individual freedom. He resorts to libertarian rhetoric as a means to a socialist end.

3. In what respect does secularism place a premium on human life, either in theory or practice? How does an ardent abortionist like Reich believe in the sanctity of life? Of course, Reich never says "sanctity." For the secularist, there is no sanctity—only profanity.

In his Decmeber issue he complains about the "gruesome pictures" of aborted babies. What about the gruesome footage of the Nazi death camps? Or the killing fields of Cambodia?—both the sludge of secular humanism. Like a Mafia don who delegates the dirty work to a hit-man, Mr. Reich is offended, not at the slaughter of our young, but at having his silk suit bespattered with their innocent blood.

How does the destruction of embryonic stem cells uphold the sanctity of life? And don't you just suppose that Mr. Reich is also an advocate of euthanasia, whether voluntary or involuntary, for the aged, the infirm, the retarded and deformed? His is a merciless meritocracy for the cream of humanity.

This is the irony of the welfare state. With one hand it rocks the cradle, with the other it strangles the infant of years. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Reich.

4. Even more to the point, how is the value of human life enhanced by saying that human life is reducible to organic chemistry—to a three pound lump of biodegradable meat, the random byproduct of an indifferent and insensate process; that the virtuous and the vicious share a common oblivion; that, when I expire, all my hopes and fears, loves and longings die with me, as though I never were?

5. In what sense is logic a modern discovery? Has Mr. Reich never heard of Aristotle? What about Medieval advances in the study of logic?

6. Are unbelievers is more logical than are believers? Aristotle was a monotheist as well as a pioneer of categorical logic. Leibniz was a monotheist as well as a pioneer of symbolic logic. Gödel read his Bible on Sundays—even believed in demons. Gödel was also the greatest mathematical logician of the 20C, as well as Einstein's favorite conversation-partner. Peter Geach was a Catholic philosopher as well as a professor of logic. Richard Swinburne uses Bayesean logic in Christian apologetics, while Alvin Plantinga uses modal logic in Christian apologetics.

7. Where do abstract laws of logic come from, anyway? In what do they inhere? Can a secular worldview do justice to the necessity and universality of logic? Or are they attributes of an infinite and timeless mind?

8. Are unbelievers more reasonable than are believers? Then why doesn’t Mr. Reich, for one, give us some reasons for why he is an unbeliever? All he does is to contrast one position with another. But that is not a reason for choosing one position over another. Where are the supporting arguments? He dons a cerebral air, but fails to make a reasoned case for anything he believes in. Looks like anti-intellectualism masquerading as rationality. Instead of solid reasoning we see a lot of hand-waiving.

9. Can a blind, evolutionary process underwrite reason? Or does it undercut reason?

10. Is there a conflict between reason and revelation? What does that mean, exactly? Most of what we know and believe comes from second-hand information. In this respect, getting your information from the Bible is no different than getting your information from a textbook or encyclopedia. What matters is whether your source of information is reliable or not.

11. Science? What does he know of science? Is he a scientist? Not at all. What does he happen to know about science that a believer doesn’t know? Can’t a scientist be a man of faith?

Modern science arose in Western Europe—in what was then Christian Europe. Kepler was a devout Lutheran. Newton was a Bible-believer, as well as the greatest scientist who ever lived. Indeed, Newton was one of the architects of modern science.

12. Perhaps, though, what Mr. Reich would say is that you can be both a Christian and a scientist, but only at the cost of consistency. Well, if that is what he means, then that is yet another lonely assertion in search of a supporting argument. How would he fare in a debate with Walt Brown or Kurt Wise or Bill Dembski or Michael Behe or John Byl—to name a few?

For that matter, scepticism regarding the mainstream model of evolution is not limited to Christian fundamentalists. It includes Crick, Hoyle, Denton, Gödel, Grassé, and Sheldrake.

Even among its staunchest allies, some Darwinians have rather peculiar ways of defending their theory. Richard Lewontin is on record as saying that "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories…We cannot allow a divine foot in the door," while Richard Dawkins has written that "It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism, and to find it hard to believe," and yet again that "Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinians theory…we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories."

Although both of them are secular humanists, John Searle and Thomas Nagel say they find it impossible to reduce mind to matter.

13. When talking of modernity, there is also a widespread tendency to confuse pure and applied science, theory and technology.

But there are two competing philosophies of science—realism and antirealism. This goes all the way back to the Greeks, with their distinction between the natural and mathematical sciences. There are those who regard scientific theories as useful fictions that enable us to manipulate our environment, but fail to describe the way things really are.

14. What is the "scientific" argument for putting the homosexual on a par with the heterosexual? Where is his evidence?

15. Again, without benefit of any supporting argument whatsoever, Mr. Reich places Christianity and Islam on the same moral plane. Were he a true student of history, he would know that throughout history it is Islam, always Islam, that has been the aggressor. It is Islam that overran the Mideast, and Eastern Europe, and the Levant. It is Islam that is engaged in a global jihad against the rest of the world.

Our mortal enemy hides in plain sight. Why is Mr. Reich unable to see the whites of their eyes? But in the backseat of the limousine liberal, all windows have been refitted with mirrors. So the liberal can no longer see the world as it is. He can only see his own reflection.

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