Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Things I Believe

Since my theology is regularly smeared and distorted by commenters, I will soon blog through brief statements of my major theological convictions. I will probably use a Baptist confession, noting that they are not creeds and are not in any sense infallible or unrevisable.

But here are some other things I believe that get left out of such discussions:

  • I believe that ordinary people can change the world in both small and large ways–especially if they get organized. Labor unions, community organizing, community development, grassroots political change movements–these are the engines of change from below.  History is NOT all the result of the decisions of presidents, kings, generals, etc. or of vast, impersonal forces.  People movements have changed things before and can do so again–for better and worse.
  • I believe in “complex equality” when it comes to economic justice. (I owe the term to political philosopher Michael Walzer.) Simple equality in economics was the dream of Communism and it cannot work–and to even come close to working for a brief time requires brutal repression.  But “complex equality” is both practical and moral:  As long as poverty is abolished and as long as the gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else is not too large and as long as there is a large middle class and much social movement, it is okay for some to make more than others–and probably necessary for a functioning economy.  If everyone has a home, the rich can buy as many homes as they want–but they are NOT entitled to buy more democracy than others or more power than others.
  • I refuse to believe the legal fiction that corporations are people with rights.  Corporations and their needs should be subordinate to the needs of human beings and the earth.  Corporations should have to draw up charters that show how they will benefit society and their workers–and they should be reviewed every 10 years before charter renewal.
  • Markets are a necessity, but there are no such things as “free markets” and never have been.  It’s a good thing, too. Markets function best with rules and regulations–otherwise you get monopolies or consumer fraud or poor working conditions or dangerous products.
  • Yes, there can be too much regulation in the economy.  It has been decades since Americans have been in any danger of this, however.  In the U.S., the danger is too little regulation and nearly non-existent enforcement of existing regulations.
  • Yes, taxation can be burdensome–even on the wealthy. Over-taxation can hurt everyone. Again, however, and Grover Norquist to the contrary, there is nothing even close to this problem in the U.S.A. Rather, we have state, local, and national governments that cannot function properly because of lack of enough revenue and we have the working and lower middle classes paying too much in taxes while the rich and super rich pay too little.  Further, we are backwards in taxing salaries and wages more than we tax income from dividends. This should be reversed.
  • All people are entitled to the best health care a society can provide–withought regard to ability to pay.
  • We humans have a duty to care for the earth–even if it costs us profits to do so.
  • Not all people are cut out to do university work, but education should be freely available to all who can and desire to make use of it. For those without any desire or ability for scholarship, apprenticeships, job training and placement, vocational education, etc. should be readily available.  No one should be given preferential treatment in university admittance based on wealth or parentage, race, religion, etc.  Nor should anyone who is qualified for entrance be prevented based on the same.
  • Budgets are moral documents. If a family budgets luxuries at the expense of needs for the children, we should condemn them. Likewise, if a local, state, or national government balances a budget by harming children and the marginalized, it shows an extreme moral failure.
  • There is Beauty in the cosmos.  If the problem of evil and pain/suffering is one of the greatest objections to belief in a loving God (and it is), then the existence of beauty and wonder and kindness and generosity and pleasure and joy should constitute one of best evidences for such a loving God and one of the strongest arguments against atheism.
  • There is both order and chaos in the universe.  There is enough order to make it impossible for me to retain a skeptical attitude toward God for any length of time.  There is enough random chaos (not to mention outright evil) to keep me raising questions and doubts even in the midst of my faith.
  • If women, as a general rule, were not morally superior to men, as a general rule, the human species would have self-destructed long ago.
  • Human love is not the answer to everything. The Beatles to the contrary, love is NOT all you need.  But it’s damn close.
  • Sexual reproduction in mammals, especially humans, shows that God is an Artist–concerned with far more than simple functional efficiency.  Asexual reproduction would have been far easier.  It also, as every married couple knows, shows that the Almighty has a huge sense of humor.
  • Deconstructionists and radical forms of postmodernists to the contrary, there is Truth–not just personal truths or (in the words of Stephen Colbert) “truthiness.”  But human comprehension of Truth is always partial, fragmented, and limited.  Failure to remember the first leads to nihilism, perhaps even fascism.  Failure to remember the second leads repeatedly to fanaticism, hubris, every form of religious and political fundamentalism and repression.
  • Democracy is an extremely inefficient form of government and very messy.  Yet, the alternatives keep me returning to embrace democracy again.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we humans are sinful enough to make democracy absolutely necessary–and just moral enough to make it possible.
  • Bill Moyers is right: Democracy in the U.S. has been a series of “narrow escapes.”  It remains to be seen whether we have had yet another narrow escape or whether our luck has finally run out and we will lose our democratic republic to some form of national security state.
  • In the words of Stephen Donaldson’s character Thomas Covenant, “Law is not the opposite of Despite.”  Law does not save.  The rule of law is not grace, is not forgiveness, is not all we need.  But  lawlessness is far worse.  We need the rule of law not as an absolute (every society makes bad laws and persons of conscience will need to commit civil disobedience), but as a limited and flawed alternative to rule by personal fiat.  No one–no president or prime minister or king, queen, etc. should be above the law. Richard Nixon once claimed, “When the president does it, it is not a crime.” The actions of Bill Clinton sometimes seemed to endorse that same attitude–and the entire presidency of George W. Bush has been such an assertion.  They are all wrong.  I hope to see Bush stand trial for “high crimes and misdemeanors” not out of any sense of revenge, but for the sake of rescuing our society as a nation of laws.
  • Human justice is imperfect and constantly needs tempering by mercy.  This alone, without any other consideration, would lead me always to oppose the death penalty. (I have many other reasons for my opposition as well.)
  • Children are joyous–and holy terrors.  Children are holy terrors–and the joyous hope of the future. Any possibility of good parenting depends of remembering both truths.
  • My mother, may she rest in peace, taught all her children both to respect elders and to think for themselves.  Not until I became a parent myself did I find out how difficult it is to teach both of these things at the same time.  I want my daughters to question everything–and to listen to me, now, dammit!🙂

I may include other lists like this in the future–and invite readers to add their own.

June 23, 2008 - Posted by | convictions

6 Comments

  1. You left out your belief that Christian police officers (and soldiers) who carry firearms are “betaying the Gospel.”

    Please tell me if this does NOT accurately state your position–that is, tell me if this is a “smear” or a “distortion” (as you would put it) of your position.

    Comment by Roger Pace | June 23, 2008

  2. I do believe that all arms bearing is, in some sense, a betrayal of the gospel. That does not mean that every police officer or soldier is, therefore, apostate. Many have never been taught nonviolence by their churches. I know I wasn’t. I did not become a pacifist until after I was already a U.S. soldier.

    I want to stand up strong for the normativity of gospel nonviolence for Christians–without condemning Christians who, through ignorance, fought in WWII, etc. All of us betray the gospel in various ways. In the case of violence, however, the majority of the Church teachers since Constantine (with the exception of Anabaptists, Mennonites, Quakers, etc.) have conspired to hide how radically we are violating Jesus’ teachings.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 24, 2008

  3. “I want to stand up strong for the normativity of gospel nonviolence for Christians–without condemning Christians who, through ignorance, fought in WWII.”

    Oh, I get it. You don’t want to condemn Christian police officers or Christian military personnel who THROUGH IGNORANCE betray the Gospel. But what of those who aren’t “ignorant”. What of those poor souls who know all about the pacifism of WESTMORELAND-WHITE and all those Quakers? Do they get condemned as “betraying the Gospel.”

    Those who intelligently and with a clear conscience embrace just war theory and choose to bear arms, are they “apostate”?

    Your argument seems to suggest that “ignorance” mitigates the acts of those who “betray the Gospel.” But what of those who are not “ignorant.” Barak “I’ll kill Al Qaeda in Pakistan” OBAMA for instance.

    Comment by Dan Hollander | June 25, 2008

  4. I wonder how such a well-written and diverse post such as this turns generates such asinine comments that deal with none of the content in the actual post.

    Anyway, Michael, I especially appreciated this

    refuse to believe the legal fiction that corporations are people with rights. Corporations and their needs should be subordinate to the needs of human beings and the earth. Corporations should have to draw up charters that show how they will benefit society and their workers–and they should be reviewed every 10 years before charter renewal.

    and this

    All people are entitled to the best health care a society can provide–withough regard to ability to pay.

    I should also add that your comment on sexual reproduction just about made me fall out of my chair!

    Comment by sandalstraps | June 26, 2008

  5. Hi, I found this blog while searching on ‘Levellers’. I’m not Christian, but don’t intend to have a big theological fight; but there’s a couple of responses I wanted to make.

    the existence of beauty and wonder and kindness and generosity and pleasure and joy should constitute one of best evidences for such a loving God

    I don’t see that at all, but see them all as easily explainable by evolution by means of natural selection. That we should find beauty in some things — appearance, smell, and voice of the opposite sex; children; savannahs; fruits, and perhaps flowers as predictors of fruit — makes perfect sense. That we should find beauty in the night sky, or the Grand Canyon, or music, makes less sense; I’d see it as a by-product of our perceptual systems, but one could see it as a sign of something More. We’re finite beings who live in groups, torn between competition and cooperation; as such, emotions of kindness and generosity (and anger and revenge) make perfect practical sense to me, without resort to God.

    God is an Artist–concerned with far more than simple functional efficiency. Asexual reproduction would have been far easier.

    Easier, but not more effective. “Why sex?” is still a somewhat open question in biology, but there’s a strong theory that it’s to avoid parasitism. Asexual reproduction copies all of your genes, not half, and avoids the hassle of finding a mate, but it also makes a bunch of clones; if a faster evolving germ or parasite attunes to your genome, you all die. It’s not just a nice hypothesis; there’s field evidence from species with both sexual and asexual reproduction, such as males being more common when parasite load is high.

    (People also suggest sex leads to faster evolution, but that’s kind of distant and high-level for natural selection to select for, compared to not having all your children die.)

    Comment by Damien R. S. | June 29, 2008

  6. […] Things I Believe […]

    Pingback by Testimony: Index of Autobiographical Posts « Levellers | April 1, 2009


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