Commentary: Biblical and Socialist Morality (July, 2015)

by John McClaughryJohn McClaughry

Sen. Bernie Sanders is out on the Presidential campaign trail, and he says he’s “talking about what I believe is the most important issue facing the American people: the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality. The Koch brothers [Bernie’s proxies for Satan] and a few others are attempting to buy the United States government, and that should be of concern to everybody.”

When asked (by Mother Jones magazine) why we should be concerned, the Vermont socialist replied with a rare allusion to religion. “I think this goes back to the Bible. There is something immoral when so few have so much and so many have so little.”

I don’t pretend to be a Biblical scholar, but I grant Bernie (who is Jewish) that the Torah expresses a deep concern that excessive economic inequality can lead to a loss of God-given freedom. But what passes for socialist morality in practice today is not so much concerned with the wisdom of the Torah, as with seizing political power.

In the relevant chapter of the New Testament (Mark 10:21), Jesus replied to the rich man who had faithfully obeyed the Ten Commandments “Sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” After hearing this proposition, the man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Note the contrast: The Christian morality says that the rich man who distributes his riches will enter the Kingdom of God. The socialist morality promises him no reward in heaven, or on earth. The obligation of socialist morality is to unite the masses, seize control of the government, wield its instruments of coercion to confiscate the riches of the unworthy owners, and distribute those riches to everybody not “rich”. That is, after the redistributors are well compensated for their morality enforcement.

Another key difference is that under socialist morality the rich are not given the choice to divest themselves of their possessions, in return for which they may enter the socialist equivalent of the Kingdom Of God (whatever that may be). Instead, the all-powerful government plunders their possessions, after which the formerly rich find themselves not in the Kingdom of God, but in a reeducation camp, or on a steam grate with a tin cup.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (2014), the despised (by socialists) “top 1%” of income earners (threshold income: $1.453 million) collect 14.6% of all income. They paid (in 2013) 33% of the total of Federal individual income, payroll, corporate and excise taxes, while receiving very little in government transfer benefits.

The Gini Index, that measures inequality on a scale of zero (everyone has the same income) to one (the top recipient gets all the income) has risen from 0.37 in 1980 to 0.44 today – not too alarming.

What’s fair? A Sanderista might say that the top 1% ought to be made to pay 50% of all taxes, instead of 33%. Another might say that the top 1% should pay 90% of all taxes, until they aren’t the top 1% any more. There is no rational way to determine “what’s fair”.

Gallup’s April survey asked if respondents thought income and wealth should be more widely distributed. The result: 63% yes, 31% no. (The poll question didn’t hint at how the redistribution should be effected.)  Gallup added: “This year’s increase to 63% [from 59% in 2013] is close to the average of 62% agreement across the 13 times Gallup has asked the question since 1984.”

The CBS News/New York Times Poll in May asked a national sample of 1,027 adults “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” Only four percent of respondents mentioned “income gap/disparity”.

But the perennial inability of the inequality issue to catch fire politically (at least since Huey Long during the Depression) won’t deter determined socialists like Bernie Sanders from beating the envy drum, and calling on the Bible for help.

-  John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Marion Mohri July 31, 2015 at 11:18 am

Sixteen Words

That’s all John McClaughry needed to explain the concept of Biblical Morality. Even worse, John relied on a single biblical passage to make his pitch. Southern preachers did the same thing to justify slavery. Homophobes do the same thing to condemn gays. Exodus says we can sell our daughters into slavery. Leviticus forbids eating shellfish, having tattoos and planting two different seeds in the same field. It also commands us to stone to death anyone who curses and blasphemes. Quoting a single biblical passage oftentimes is meaningless.
Then John went on to give us his definition of Socialist Morality. In fact, Socialist Morality is a complex concept and his definition is meaningless. “Unite the Masses.” “Seize control of the government.” “Confiscate the riches of the unworthy owners.” This is complete malarkey. Even worse, John wants us to believe that all Socialists (particularly Senator Sanders) subscribe to these ideas.
Senator Sanders does not stand for the things John McClaughry outlined and John knows it! Senator Sanders stands for people earning a living wage when they work 40 hours a week. He stands for overturning Citizens’ United so that America can return to being a democracy instead of an oligarchy. He believes women should make the same pay that men make for doing the same job. He believes college and day care should be affordable. He believes everyone should have health insurance. Of course, John believes that everything should be left to free-market solutions. Essentially this means, whatever it is, there’s a profit to be made on it.
Senator Sanders, like most Americans, believes the super wealthy should pay their fair share. In fact, 58% of Americans believe the wealthy do not pay their fair share. John says a recent poll reveals that only 4% of respondents said income gap/disparity is the most important problem facing our country today. That they do not see it as the most important problem facing our country does not negate the fact that the majority of Americans believe the wealthiest Americans do not pay their fair share.
In Senator Sander’s Mother Jones article, he made a general reference to the teachings found in the Bible. We all know he was talking about the overall Biblical message. Love thy neighbor. The greatest of all these is Charity. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What you do to the least of these, you do unto me. For John McClaughry to twist it into anything else is despicable but not at all unexpected.

Reply

John McClaughry July 31, 2015 at 6:09 pm

For those who don’t know. Ms Mohri is my leading compulsive-obsessive critic, and what I would call an arch-Sanderista – “arch” because she will brook no criticism of her left wing faith, and can’t engage in a discussion of any issue without letting her fury at my existence bubble over.
For the record, it was Bernie who brought up the Bible in one of his socialist utterances.Since Bernie is Jewish, I don’t think he can be required to conform to Christian teachings such as “:love thy neighbor”..
Ms. Mohri is deeply committed to the idea that Socialism = the Sum of all Good Things. As a graduate student in political science at a very liberal university (Berkeley), I was required to read and debate Marx, Engels, Proudhon, Bernstein, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and several others, and in later years I studied and reviewed in print Irving’s Howe’s classic Socialism and America (1977). I think I have some grasp of the core ideas of socialism. In the non-revolutionary U.S.version, it consists of “unite the masses, seize control of the government, wield its instruments of coercion to confiscate the riches of the unworthy owners, and distribute those riches to everybody not “rich.” Ms. Mohri denounces my view of socialism but offers no argument against any of its components.
Ms. Mohri’s Biblical insight is to extol “Charity. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What you do to the least of these, you do unto me. For John McClaughry to twist it into anything else is despicable but not at all unexpected.”
I agree that is an important maxim to live by. But what has that got to do with “socialist morality”, Socialism is not about encouraging you to live by Christian precepts. It is about seizing coercive power of the state and forcing your correct behavior in the name of the Greater Good of society. I’m sure that insight will be totally lost on Ms. Mohri.

Reply

Robert September 27, 2015 at 2:51 pm

It appears that, like her hero Mr. Sanders, Ms. Mohri is a champion of the strawman. Mr. Sanders and by his string pulling, Ms. Mohri try to convince is that “most Americans” agree with their wacky positions. This business about the wealthy paying their “fair share” is silly. The top 20% of wage earners pay 84% of the income tax. One can only wonder what would be their “fair share” according to Ms. Mohri. I presume it would be 100%. Both Mr. Sanders and Ms. Mohri should familiarize themselves with the definition of slavery, which is forcing someone to work for someone else against their will.

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