Friday, March 19, 2010

Thank God for Glenn Beck

[Note: I have several links in this essay to outside sources. I have used them only for sources of quotations, and I don't endorse any of the sites, and haven't vetted them for content]

Glenn Beck's ability to create emotional reactions - one way or the other - has drawn the attention of a lot of Christian leaders back towards social justice concerns. I am sure many people were simply waiting for the opportunity to jump on Glenn Beck over anything, and this opportunity gave them that chance. [If I'm completely honest, this applies to me as much as anyone else.] But, it is a great opening to discuss what social justice means, and what the role of Christians should be in politics, and the role of government in society.

On his radio program Last week, Glenn Beck urged his audience to run from their churches if they found "code words" on their respective websites.

I beg you, look for the words "social justice" or "economic justice" on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!

Mr. Beck never defines what "social justice" or "economic justice" is, so it was up to the rest of the world to argue about what exactly he meant. Many Catholics were upset because "social justice" is in the catechism. Because it takes a whole section of the Roman Catholic catechism, one of his listeners called into his program concerned because his daughter was learning about it in catechism class. Mr. Beck explained to him that some parishes are conservative and others are liberal. Catholic League President Bill Donohue came to Beck's defense under this same argument. "In the Catholic Church, there are priests who are stridently left-wing and stridently right-wing; many parishioners shop accordingly."

But Mr. Beck didn't stop there. He didn't just say there was a political disagreement, he went on to say that social justice is a "perversion of the gospel" saying, "You want to help out? You help out. It changes you. That’s what the gospel is all about: You." This is where I find he crossed the line from political gamesmanship into theological debate - and it is a debate he cannot win.

The debate

While I think John Wheaton uses some logical acrobatics to make sure free-market enterprise is the way it's done, he did write a good article in 2008 arguing, "modern Christians must lead the world in striving for social justice."

While it is important for every believer and church to practice private, voluntary acts of charity and social justice, it is also essential that every Christian develop sound convictions regarding social action by the state.

This is contrasted with what Mr. Beck had to say when he responded to a New York Times article about the ordeal.
But once that church starts to preach social and economic justice, especially through the structure of a giant government, well, now that's something totally different. Now, now you are talking about a church that is getting involved in government itself. We don't do that. We don't do that.

This quote suggests he's against "social and economic justice" in any form, but "especially through" so-called big government. On that same program he also claimed that preachers should not tell "who to vote for, how to vote, and what the government should look like." (I wonder if he's OK with Mr. Wheaton telling us what government should look like.) Mr. Beck seems to be suggesting that churches should not ever talk about political issues. He clarified on his radio program that the Bible does talk about caring for the poor, and he cares for the poor, but it's an individual mandate, and shouldn't ever be applied to government.

Mr. Beck is right, we have an individual mandate to care for the poor and oppressed. It would behoove any Christian congregation to teach their parishioners to do their individual duty; teach them about sweatshop labor, third-world farmers, migrant workers, intercity issues, homelessness, mental illness, et al. Maybe some parishioners will take action, and maybe some will try to change the system so they're not rescuing one person at a time.

It is well known that when people come together they can do greater things than what solitary action can handle. This is why nations were formed, this is why corporations are formed, and this is why even the Church was formed. I recently posted an article written by Benjamin Franklin who explained that what many together can achieve is greater than what one person can achieve.

But the Good particular Men may do separately, in relieving the Sick, is small, compared with what they may do collectively

One example of individual action versus government action was the emancipation of slaves in the United States: Yes, the Underground Railroad saved slaves from oppression, but it took much larger, sweeping change to free all of them. Using Glenn Beck's argument, the government should not have been involved in this social justice issue because Christians should have cared for the slaves themselves instead of forcing the government to recognize black slaves as human beings deserving of the same rights as their white masters.

The government

The US government was founded on "social justice" principles. Dignity for all humans, and protection for all. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reflects the previously mentioned catechism clearly. [Note that the US document predates the language in the catechism. I am merely pointing out similar features.]
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: Chapter Two - The Human Communion: Article 3 - Social Justice

1928 Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.

1929 Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him

While Mr. Beck and others might try to pigeonhole social justice in class warfare terms like "redistribution of wealth," civil liberties and equal access are also social justice issues. The main thrust of social justice activism today is not food stamps and welfare checks, it is fixing systems which lead to poverty and injustice. It isn't "stealing from the rich to give to the poor," it is providing vocational classes so poor people can learn skilled labor, protecting workers from harsh work environments, and ensuring fair pay for their labor, preventing predatory lending which leads to a cycle of debt, and providing credit to entrepreneurs in underprivileged communities to develop local economies.

Social justice is also working to make sure courts are fair to all, and that everyone has access to file suit against grievances, a provided proper defense against charges. Too often those who are poor suffer heavily under the bail system, unable to afford bail they might sit in jail until their case is settled for longer than their conviction demands. This causes a cycle because you can't work while in jail, and it's hard to find work when you've been in jail.

Social justice is providing homes for battered women who have nowhere else to stay. It is providing prenatal care for women so their children are healthy (and to prevent abortion). Social justice is providing orphan and foster care.

Mr. Beck argued that the separation of church and state should keep these social justice espousing churches from encroaching on government (which is ironic because he frequently argues America is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles). I guess his argument is really that a Church who urges more government intervention is actually part of the government (because government is its own entity with desires to grow, and it controls the churches somehow). This means government and law should be created in moral void. Except since he's for government intervention in moral causes, perhaps he's simply for some moral causes championed by government, but not others. It appears like that's the case because he also said, "That doesn't mean that you don't fight and protest, and you know, your church when it comes to a moral issue like abortion, that you don't stand up and fight for it."

So which causes should the government be involved in? Perhaps we can have this discussion instead of picking random ideas from the "enemy" and discarding them because, well, it's from the "enemy." I have read many articles and listened to many lectures on this topic from the likes of R.C Sproul, John Piper, N.T. Wright, Jim Wallis, John MacArthur, Rob Bell, Greg Boyd, and others. I have even been in classes from a Focus on the Family Institute affiliated group, and even a John Birch Society affiliated group. The opinion varies greatly. Two things is common: 1) Nobody calls anyone else a Nazi, and, 2) everyone agrees the government should reflect the morals of the people, and Christian values most of all.

The conclusion

It's one thing to argue the Bible doesn't make it a mandate for governments to care for the poor, and another thing to suggest God doesn't want governments to care for the poor. On the former point, we can discuss what a government's proper place is in defending the oppressed, but on the latter point you would be quite wrong because the Bible never makes a case against a government caring for the marginalized. Maybe one person feels their duty is to care for the homeless woman in their neighborhood, and maybe someone else feels they should help the system to prevent further homelessness.

The fact is the Bible neither supports capitalism nor socialism as an economic model. These models were formed in modern times. An individual is neither Christian nor non-Christian because they hold to any given economic system. Having said that, the Bible is clearly against greed, usury, oppression, not paying fair wages, and is it for supporting the immigrant, poor, and needy. Those in both economic systems feel their way is best to take care of each of these biblical touchstones. We can have that discussion, and it's a fair one to have. But this discussion can do without the absolute statements made by Glenn Beck that church communities that support social justice have "perverted the gospel," and personal attacks on people like Rev. Jim Wallis accusing him of not recognizing "the good news according to Jesus."

It seems like Mr. Beck has painted social justice with broad brush. He has equated all of these programs to Nazi and Communist programs. He's clearly using the guilt by association tactic. He has been using this tactic for a long time; that is to associate anything from one philosophy to the soviets, fascists, or Nazis simply because both philosophies share something in common. Without explaining why it's wrong, he's just giving it a nefarious label because some infamous historic character also talked about the subject. (See also: How to make an argument.)

I do feel there is a danger in making blanket statements, as Mr. Beck does, that "social justice" is code for genocide and tyranny. It might send people away from helping non-government organizations (NGO) with their social justice projects. Examples include Blood:Water Mission who is working to provide clean water to villages in Africa to help fight HIV infection, and other waterborne illnesses which kill so many people every day. Or International Justice Mission which is (amongst other things) seeking economic justice in countries where prostitution is rampant. It's just wrong to lump all of these things together.

Thank God for Glenn Beck. He has opened the dialog for us all to discuss these issues - even if he doesn't want to be a part of that dialog.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How to make an argument

Over the past several years I've noticed a lot of people making "guilt by association." That is when a person or philosophy has a similarity to another person or philosophy they are moral equivalents.

During the Bush years we have Bush as Hitler posters because, well, they were both secretive and had secret death squads running out of their offices (a fact). Somehow this means Bush and Cheney were Nazis.

Now we have popular radio and television personalities and their audiences claiming Obama is a socialist, communist, fascist, Nazi because of any number of things. One of the most absurd is the accusation that because he's a charismatic public speaker he is somehow like Hitler because he was also a charismatic public speaker.

We've also had people say things like, "All terrorist are Muslims, so Muslims are bad." Besides the fact that the first part of that is a lie, the connection is also tenuous.

Two points:
  1. Just because there is a similarity doesn't mean there is an equivalency. Example: The USA and North Korea both have a state flag. Just because two nations or philosophies share ideas do not mean they are equivalents. For example: one of the founding principles of the United States was self-determination. The Taliban is a proponent of self-determination. Clearly these two are not the same.

  2. Most of these arguments stem from a presupposition that the associated person or philosophy is wrong. Example: Saying we can't have government-regulated health care because that's socialism isn't an argument. In fact it's a double fallacy because: 1) it assumes socialism is equivalent to Stalinism/Nazism, and 2) it then associates a program one nation had to the evil the nation did.

Hitler felt the Germans had to have a strong military force, and built the strongest mobilized force in the world. The USA has this same philosophy now. Because these are similar doesn't mean they are equivalent because Hitler also claimed dominion over Europe (the US just wants to dominate the entire globe - Zing!).

Instead of arguing that health care reform is socialism, the argument should be made that "government-regulated health care would be less effective" or something like that. Then we can have a real discussion on the issue. Instead of arguing that "Nazis and Commies both used the term 'social justice' so any church that uses the term you should be wary of" why not instead argue that "Some churches want to 'redistribute wealth' to favor the working poor over their rich employers, and this is wrong because ..." Then we can have a real discussion, and we can talk about what social justice is, and why it is right or wrong.

Just throwing associative labels on things, you are using the association fallacy, and the appeal to emotion fallacy, and you might be getting good ratings on your show, but you're not helping the process at all.

So I'll just finish saying that Glenn Beck is an authoritarian, polygamous racist because he is also a Mormon (tongue + cheek).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Benjamin Franklin - Appeal for the Hospital

1757 -- Appeal for the Hospital

Post obitum benefacta manent, aeternaque Virtus
Non metuit Stygiis, nec rapiatur Aquis.

I was sick, and ye visited me. Matth. xxv.

Among all the innumerable Species of Animals which inhabit the Air, Earth and Water, so exceedingly different in their Production, their Properties, and the Manner of their Existence, and so varied in Form, that even of the same Kind, it can scarce be said there are two Individuals in all Respects alike; it is remarkable, there are none within our Observation, distiinguish'd from the rest by this Particular, that they are by Nature incapable of DISEASES. The old Poets, how extravagant soever in their Fictions, durst never offend so far against Nature and Probability, as even to feign such a Thing; and therefore, tho' they made their Achilles invulnerable from Head to Foot, and clad him beside in impenetrable Armour, forg'd by the Immortals, they were obliged to leave one soft unguarded Place in his Heel, how small soever, for Destruction to enter at. -- But tho' every Animal that hath Life is liable to Death, Man, of all other Creatures, has the greatest Number of Diseases to his Share; whether they are the Effects of our Intemperance and Vice, or are given us, that we may have a greater Opportunity of exercising towards each other that Virtue, which most of all recommends us to the Deity, I mean CHARITY.

The great Author of our Faith, whose Life should be the constant Object of our Imitation, as far as it is not inimitable, always shew'd the greatest Compassion and Regard for the SICK; he disdain'd not to visit and minister Comfort and Health to the meanest of the People; and he frequently inculcated the same Disposition in his Doctrine and Precepts to his Disciples. For this one Thing, (in that beautiful Parable of the Traveller wounded by Thieves) the Samaritan (who was esteemed no better than a Heretick, or an Infidel by the Orthodox of those Times) is preferred to the Priest and the Levite; because he did not, like them, pass by, regardless of the Distress of his Brother Mortal; but when he came to the Place where the half-dead Traveller lay, he had Compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his Wounds, pouring in Oil and Wine, and set him on his own Beast, and brought him to an Inn, and took Care of him. -- Dives, also, the rich Man, is represented as being excluded from the Happiness of Heaven, because he fared sumptuously every Day, and had Plenty of all Things, and yet neglected to comfort and assist his poor Neighbour, who was helpless and full of Sores, and might perhaps have been revived and restored with small Care, by the Crumbs that fell from his Table, or, as we say, with his loose Corns. -- I was Sick, and ye Visited me, is one of the Terms of Admission into Bliss, and the Contrary, a Cause of Exclusion: That is, as our Saviour himself explains it, Ye have visited, or ye have not visited, assisted and comforted those who stood in need of it, even tho' they were the least, or meanest of Mankind. This Branch of Charity seems essential to the true Spirit of Christianity; and should be extended to all in general, whether Deserving or Undeserving, as far as our Power reaches. Of the ten Lepers who were cleansed, nine seem to have been much more unworthy than the tenth, yet in respect to the Cure of their Disease, they equally shared the Goodness of God. And the great Physician in sending forth his Disciples, always gave them a particular Charge, that into whatsoever City they entered, they should heal ALL the Sick, without Distinction.

When the good Samaritan left his Patient at the Inn, he gave Money to the Host, and said, TAKE CARE OF HIM, and what thou spendest more, I will repay thee. We are in this World mutual Hosts to each other; the Circumstances and Fortunes of Men and Families are continually changing; in the Course of a few Years we have seen the Rich become Poor, and the Poor Rich; the Children of the Wealthy languishing in Want and Misery, and those of their Servants lifted into Estates, and abounding in the good Things of this Life. Since then, our present State, how prosperous soever, hath no Stability, but what depends on the good Providence of God, how careful should we be not to harden our Hearts against the Distresses of our Fellow Creatures, lest He who owns and governs all, should punish our Inhumanity, deprive us of a Stewardship in which we have so unworthily behaved, laugh at our Calamity, and mock when our Fear cometh. Methinks when Objects of Charity, and Opportunities of relieving them, present themselves, we should hear the Voice of this Samaritan, as if it were the Voice of God sounding in our Ears, TAKE CARE OF THEM, and whatsoever thou spendest, I will repay thee.

But the Good particular Men may do separately, in relieving the Sick, is small, compared with what they may do collectively, or by a joint Endeavour and Interest. Hence the Erecting of Hospitals or Infirmaries by Subscription, for the Reception, Entertainment, and Cure of the Sick Poor, has been found by Experience exceedingly beneficial, as they turn out annually great Numbers of Patients perfectly cured, who might otherwise have been lost to their Families, and to Society. Hence Infirmaries spread more and more in Europe, new Ones being continually erected in large Cities and populous Towns, where generally the most skilful Physicians and Surgeons inhabit. And the Subscribers have had the Satisfaction in a few Years of seeing the Good they proposed to do, become much more extensive than was at first expected; for the Multitude and Variety of Cases continually treated in those Infirmaries, not only render the Physicians and Surgeons who attend them, still more expert and skilful, for the Benefit of others, but afford such speedy and effectual Instruction to the young Students of both Professions, who come from different and remote Parts of the Country for Improvement, that they return with a more ample Stock of Knowledge in their Art, and become Blessings to the Neighbourhoods in which they fix their Residence.

It is therefore a great Pleasure to all the Benevolent and Charitable, who have been acquainted with these Things in other Countries, to observe, that an Institution of the same Kind has met with such Encouragement in Pensilvania, and is in such Forwardness, that there is reason to expect it may be carried into Execution the ensuing Year. May the Father of Mercies grant it his Blessing, and Thousands of our unhappy Fellow Creatures, yet unborn, will have Cause to bless him, for putting it into the Hearts of the generous Contributors, and enabling them thus to provide for their Relief.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, August 8, 1751

Homines ad Deos, nulla re propius accedunt, quam Salutem Hominibus dando.

This Motto, taken from a Pagan Author, expresses the general Sense of Mankind, even in the earliest Ages, concerning that great Duty and extensive Charity, the administring Comfort and Relief to the Sick. If Men without any other Assistance than the Dictates of natural Reason, had so high an Opinion of it, what may be expected from Christians, to whom it has been so warmly recommended by the best Example of human Conduct. To visit the Sick, to feed the Hungry, to clothe the Naked, and comfort the Afflicted, are the inseparable Duties of a christian Life.

Accordingly 'tis observable, that the Christian Doctrine hath had a real Effect on the Conduct of Mankind, which the mere Knowledge of Duty without the Sanctions Revelation affords, never produc'd among the Heathens: For History shows, that from the earliest Times of Christianity, in all well-regulated States where Christians obtain'd sufficient Influence, publick Funds and private Charities have been appropriated to the building of Hospitals, for receiving, supporting and curing those unhappy Creatures, whose Poverty is aggravated by the additional Load of bodily Pain. But of these Kind of Institutions among the Pagans, there is no Trace in the History of their Times.

That good Prince Edward VI. was so affected at the Miseries of his poor diseas'd Subjects, represented in a charity Sermon preach'd to him on the Occasion, that he soon after laid the Foundation of four of the largest Hospitals now in London, which the Citizens finished, and have ever since maintain'd.

In Hidepark, at Bath, in Edinburgh, Liverpool, Winchester, and in the County of Devon, and sundry other Places in Great-Britain, large and commodious Infirmaries have been lately erected, from trifling Beginnings of private Charities: And so wonderfully does Providence favour these pious Institutions, that there is not an Instance of any One's failing for want of necessary charitable Contributions. (*)

(*) Extract from the Tour thro' Great Britain, Vol. III. Pag. 293.

The Increase of poor diseas'd Foreigners and others, settled in the distant Parts of this Province, where regular Advice and Assistance cannot be procured, but at an Expence that neither they nor their Townships can afford, has awaken'd the Attention of sundry humane and well dispos'd Minds, to procure some more certain, effectual and easy Methods for their Relief than have hitherto been provided, and having represented the Affair to the Assembly, a Law was pass'd, without one dissenting Voice, giving Two Thousand Pounds for building and furnishing a Provincial Hospital, on Condition that Two Thousand Pounds more should be rais'd by private Donations, to be put out to Interest as Part of a perpetual Fund for supporting it; and the Contributors were made a Body Corporate, with all the Powers necessary on the Occasion. Since which, People of all Ranks in this City have united zealously and heartily in promoting this pious and excellent Design, and more than the Sum stipulated was subscribed in a few Days only, and a much larger Sum will probably be rais'd here if the Country chearfully contributes to the capital Stock, which 'tis not to be doubted they will do, when they consider how much they are interested in it.

The Difference between nursing and curing the Sick in an Hospital, and separately in private Lodgings, with Regard to the Expence, is at least as ten to one. For Instance, suppose a Person under the Necessity of having a Limb amputated, he must have the constant Attendance of a Nurse, a Room, Fire, &c. which cannot for the first three or four Weeks be procured at less Expence than Fifteen Shillings a Week, and never after at less than Ten. If he continues two Months his Nursing will be Five Pounds, his Surgeons Fee, and other accidental Charges, commonly amounts to Three Pounds, in the whole near Ten Pounds; whereas in an Hospital, one Nurse, one Fire, &c. will be sufficient for ten Patients, the extra Expences will be inconsiderable, and the Surgeon's Fees taken off, which will bring the above Calculation within the Limits of Truth.

But the Difference with Regard to the unhappy Sufferer is still greater. In an Hospital his Case will be treated according to the best Rules of Art, by Men of Experience and known Abilities in their Profession. His Lodgings will be commodious, clean and neat, in an healthy and open Situation, his Diet will be well chosen, and properly administred: He will have many other necessary Conveniencies for his Relief, such as hot and cold Baths, sweating Rooms, chirurgic Machines, Bandage, &c. which can rarely be procured in the best private Lodgings, much less in those miserable loathsome Holes, which are the common Receptacles of the diseas'd Poor that are brought to this City. -- In short a Beggar in a well regulated Hospital, stands an equal Chance with a Prince in his Palace, for a comfortable Subsistence, and an expeditious and effectual Cure of his Diseases.

It is hoped therefore, that whoever will maturely consider the inestimable Blessings that are connected to a proper Execution of the present Hospital Scheme in this City, can never be so void of Humanity and the essential Duties of Religion, as to turn a deaf Ear to the numberless Cries of the Poor and Needy, and refuse for their Assistance, a little of that Superfluity, which a bountiful Providence has so liberally bestowed on them.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, August 15, 1751