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  • Archive for March, 2011

    How can Christians be Conservative? Part III

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    The final question, posed to me on how Christians can be conservatives dealt with the issue of how, since they are so against government intervention, can they seek to use government to impose their view of morality on others, in particular with the Pro-Life movement?

    While a common question, it has several problems.  For one, conservatives are not against all government. There is, for example a difference between libertarianism, and conservatism.  Thus there is nothing inconsistent with conservatives seeking to, as the question puts it,  “use government to impose their view of morality on others.”   But the question is more complex.

    When you get right down to it, the slogan “You can’t legislate morality” is just silly.  Virtually all laws legislate some view of morality, and thus impose that view on others.   It is not that all morals should be legislated, but rather that laws are basically the morals of a society that are believed to be so important; the power of the state should be used to enforce them.

    Murder is morally wrong. In fact, it is so morally wrong, we do not want to leave it up to individuals to decide this particular issue for themselves. Therefore, we use the power of the state to enforce the moral view that murder is wrong and to impose that view on others.

    What does distinguish conservatives from, on the one hand, liberals, who seem at times to want to right every wrong by passing a law, and on the other hand, libertarians, who often seem to be boarder line anarchist, is that conservatives, for the most part, have different standards depending on the level of government.  At the federal level, they are much closer to libertarians wanting very little government. Yet the closer the level of government is to the people the boarder the latitude they give the government to pass laws, and thus in that sense are closer to liberals when you get to local government, at least in their willingness to use government.

    For example, while I oppose prostitution, I would also oppose a federal ban on prostitution, as that is not a federal concern.  If a state or better yet, a community wants to ban it as in most of the country, or legalize it, as in a few areas of Nevada, then that is their concern.

    So how does this come into play with abortion?  There are two parts to this question. The first is the closely related, but somewhat different issue of Roe v Wade and the constitution.  Many, but certainly not all, conservatives seek the overturn of Roe, and this is very consistent with conservatism in general.  This is because an overturn of Roe, would simply remove the issue from the federal level and return it back to the states.  Before Roe, abortion was already legal in many states, illegal in others, but the trend was towards legalization at least in cases of rape, incest, or threat to life of the mother.

    When it comes to opposition to abortion itself, it really comes down to how one views the fetus. It is biologically alive and genetically a human life distinct from that of the mother.  Thus those who are pro-life believe that the power of the state should protect innocent human life in the womb, just like it protects it in a lot of other areas.

    Now granted things get very complex at this point because there is not just one human life to consider, but two.  Exactly how the rights of the two humans are balanced and in what circumstances one can take precedent over the other, is a matter of consider disagreement and a discussion of this would go well beyond a blog post.   But, in short, pro-life conservatives believe that the Declaration of Independence’s claim that we have been endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applies to human life even if it is in the womb.

    Thus they don’t see any contradiction is pushing for laws to protect human life in the womb, just like we have laws protecting it out of the womb.

    How can Christians be Conservative? Part II

    Monday, March 14th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    I am continuing to answer the questions, posed to me on how Christians can be conservatives.  This time I will address the question, how can conservatives show such a lack of concern about the uninsured as seen in their objection to ObamaCare?

    The question itself has some problems, the main one being that it confuses the lack of support for a particular governmental program, with a lack of concern for a problem.   This is something that I have addressed before (e.g., here, here, and on health care here). For many liberals the ideal of government activism is so strong and ingrained, it is hard for them to conceive of any other solution to a social problem.  In short, as a general rule, the solution to any social problem is to be found in government programs, and to oppose a government program is to show a disregard for the problem itself.

    But however strong the view, it is still fallacious, and is in fact the fallacy of a false choice.  Not only are there other non-governmental options for addressing these problems, the simple fact is that, right or wrong, as a general rule conservatives believe that market based solutions grounded in choice and competition for consumers are better than government solutions.

    The conservative view is often mischaracterized as an absolute position which would permit no role at all for government. This is not the case, nor is it correct to say that the conservative view is based on a trust of business or and corporations. It is also not the case. In fact, often conservatives share many of the same doubts and question about business as there liberal counter parts. This is why conservatives believe that choice and competition are so important, as they serve as the main check on businesses driven by the profit motive. This is also where conservatives see a significant role for government that of ensuring that the market place allow choice and competition.

    So it is not that conservatives trust big businesses, it is that they mistrust government because choice and competition do not apply. If you don’t like a particular business, you are free go to another one.  If you don’t like government, you are stuck.

    When it comes to health care in general, and ObamaCare in particular, the problems Conservatives see are many, and I have written about some of them (here, and here).  As I summarized this in another post,

    Thus the Democratic Health care bill will increase regulation and reduce effective choice even if it doesn’t end in single payer.  While in theory it may be able to reduce cost and expand coverage, it cannot do this while improving health care.  In short, it is doomed. And this is best case. Given the past record of government programs, the actual likelihood is that it will not even be able to control costs and we will be left with worse health-care, even higher costs and a system that is even more difficult to change.

    The reason for this is actually very simple. Improvements in Health care will come, as such improvements have always come, from innovation.  Yet government does not innovate, it regulates, and regulations kills innovation.

    None of this should be taken as satisfaction with the current system.  Healthcare in the US is one of most highly regulated areas of the economy. It is far from a system where choice and competition are driving factors.  Conservatives see the problems and want to solve them.  The real problem here is not a lack of concern for “the least of these,” but rather a difference of opinion on how best to address the problems. The opposition to ObamaCare is rooted in the belief that it will not make things better, it will make them worse.

    One final comment; while there certainly are absolutists, many conservatives acknowledge that market solutions will not solve all problems.  No matter how much market forces improve the health care system, you cannot purchase healthcare if you don’t have any money.   Here conservatives consider two additional mechanisms.

    The first is charity. While liberals at time discount the viability of this option the fact is that here are hospitals across the country that deliver health care on an ability to pay basis or for free.  This focus on charity by conservatives and government by liberals is perhaps behind the difference in charitable giving between red state and blue statesbetween liberals and conservatives,  and as revealed in Aruther C. Brooks’ book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatives. If conservatives truly were heartless and greedy, why is it that on average, they give more to charity than liberals?

    Finally, surprising as it may seem to some liberals, conservatives to not reject a government option as a last resort, for those with no were else to turn. The difference would be, however, that it would be a last resort, not the first and only resort, pushed by so many liberals.

    So again, it is not a lack of concern that leads conservatives to reject ObamaCare, it is in fact an abundance of concern that ObamaCare will only result in making matters worse.

    How can Christians be Conservative?

    Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    As I mentioned on my other blog, the wife of a liberal friend of mine recently asked some sincere questions trying to understand Conservatives.  I answered her more political question there.  Here I will address the more religiously oriented questions, though they all still have a strong political component. In general she was basically asking, how a sincere Christian could be a Conservative.

    Before answering that question, I want to be clear that I do not subscribe to the opposite position, i.e. I do not question how a Liberal can be a Christian.    While politics and religion do overlap in some areas, rarely are things so clear cut as to lead to a clearly “Christian” political view, be it on the Left or the Right. Also, I want to note that the Conservative movement is itself a broad spectrum of beliefs and not all Conservatives will agree with my answers, especially since not all Conservatives are Christians.

    But back to her questions; as a background she referenced three major touch stones of the Christian faith, at least when it comes to social policy.  The first was the Sermon on the Mount; the second was Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25:40, “I tell you with certainty, since you did it for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (ISV)  Finally she mentioned Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches!”

    Against this background she asked three questions. How can conservative Christians oppose the workers right to collectively bargain?  How can they show a lack of concern about the uninsured as seen in their objection to Obamacare? Finally how come, since they are so against government intervention, they seek to use government to impose their view of morality on others, in particular with the Pro-Life movement? I will deal with the last two in future posts.

    As for the first question, as it turns out, this is an issue that Christians are pretty evenly split on.  But I will address it from my view.  First, I have a problem with the whole notion of “workers rights” and see this as part of the general confusion that exists concerning the whole understanding of rights.  In brief, the concept of rights developed from the belief that we are special creations of God, created in his own image, and that God has given us abilities, such as the ability to think and reason.  The basic notion is that what God has given, no one, not even the King, as a right to take away.  Thus we see in the Declaration of Independence,

    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.

    Given this view of rights, there is no such thing as a right to collectively bargain.  Unions, and the arrangements that they make with management, are just one of many potential financial arrangements that employees and employers could enter into.  Thus I would argue that collective bargaining is neither Christian nor Unchristian, and this may very well explain the divergence of views.

    This of course does not meant that particular employers, or particular unions, have not acted in Christian and/or unchristian ways from time to time. This does not mean that employer or unions are always good. History is full of examples on both sides of greed, bad faith, and unconcern of the welfare of “the least of these.”

    In terms of the recent attempt to restrict unions in Wisconsin, and in other states, I have a particular problem.  When dealing with a company driven by profit, there is always the possibility that management is greedy and simply trying to exploit the workers.   Yet when with comes to government employees, they are not unionizing against a greedy owner, but against the people.  In addition, there is the dichotomy, at least for those on the left, that government is supposed to be a benevolent force, not driven by profit, and looking out for our best interest, as opposed to corporations who are out for profit. Yet when it comes to unions, government is just another employer to be demonized.

    Then there is the fact that it is hard to hold that state workers are in “the least of these” category when both the pay and benefits they receive are significantly better than those in the private sector who must pay the bill.  This is especially true where the public sector unions have become a significant political force, such that they have been able to elect politicians beholden to them into office.  These politicians then repay the favor by giving them pay and benefits that well exceed the private sector.

    As a result, many states such as California are in serious financial problems and have huge unfunded liabilities resulting from these union contracts.  Unions can claim that the state made the contract, but they cannot ignore the fact that these contracts were made often under a threat of strike, and often by the very politicians the unions sought to elect.

    Thus one could just as easily turn the whole question around.  Is the Christian position really to side with those workers who are the best off, at the expense of those who must pay the bills; many of whom are worse off, or who will suffer a loss of services, because the money is not there?  Is the Christian position, really to ask those struggling on fixed incomes to do will less even less, because their property taxes must rise to pay the wages of government workers making far more.

    Bottom line: I believe this is a place where Christians of good heart can and do disagree. Not because of the principles of the Christian faith, but how they are applied and how they view the issue.