The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Author Archive

Zero Dark Thirty or: How I Learned to be Ambivalent Toward Torture

Image

For Memorial Day yesterday, we watched ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Here are a few thoughts: 

1. It is an amazing piece of 21st Century propaganda. I can scarcely believe that the USSR or any other despotic state would ever have made a movie justifying, and perhaps even glorifying, torture, much less even publicly admitting that did it. But that is just what Zero Dark Thirty does. And even I, never one to acquiesce to utilitarianism, almost came away thinking, “Wow. That’s disgustingly awful, not to mention illegal, but I guess that’s how they got bin Laden.” 

2. The fact that our government will torture people, but moralisticly set limits on it (as if theirs is “good” torture and anything beyond this arbitrary line is “bad” torture), is tragically comical. We won’t break bones and fingers, use sharp objects to inflict pain, put bamboo underneath a man’s fingernails and glass in his urethra. No, that’s all bad. We’ll just deprive him of sleep, food, and water, hang him from ropes, walk him like a dog, confine him a small box, and pour water down his throat, and do it all for the rest of his life. This is like a pirate ship with a strict code of “honor,” that justifies its piracy because they only pillage, whereas the “evil” pirates pillage, rape, and murder. 

3. Another movie that also graphically portrayed a Western State torturing Muslims was ‘The Battle of Algiers.’ Except this was an anti-war movie that was banned for five years in France because it made the French Government look bad. Contrast that with ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Here we have torture graphically portrayed, but rather than revolting the viewer and forcing him to rethink his nation’s foreign policy objectives, it is portrayed as a necessary evil serving the interests of the foreverwar. Every time the portrayals of torture bring you to the point of being sickened, another terrorist attack will be re-enacted on screen to show you just how “worth it” torture is. How we can go from a society that is sickened by torture to one that cheers (or at the very least is ambivalent toward it) in little more than a generation is amazing.

4. As a has friend pointed out to me, one of the major themes running throughout the film is that we are made to feel empathy for the CIA agents who are doing the torturing. This is true. Both Maya and Dan, the CIA Agents in the film who participated in torture, are visibly fatigued by years of that work. Dan eventually leaves for another assignment, due to the gruesomeness of the work (and, oh yeah, fear of being held accountable for his crimes). Maya, though, consumed with zeal after the death of her friend at the hands of a suicide bomber, presses on. However, in the final scene, we are supposed to come away with the thought that years of her barbarous work have taken their toll on her. It seems what director Kathryn Bigelow wants us to believe is that the ends justify the means and that if there is a cost for having tortured people, it is only the torturers who pay it. Never are we in any way made to put ourselves in the place of the men who are being tortured. They, of course, are subhuman. Empathy toward the tortured and empathy toward those abducted from their homes and interned in camps for the rest of their lives is not something this film makes us feel. And lest anyone mistake me for an Al Qaeda sympathizer, most of these men are murderers or men who have aided and abetted murderers, at least allegedly (of course, few have actually ever stood trial). The reason we should feel empathy for these men is not that we should sympathize with radical Islamic Jihadists, but that if the American State can break its own laws and torture truly evil men and hold them without trial, how long is it before the IRS, for instance, can do that to any one of us? And you think audits are bad. 

Why Has There Been So Little Price Inflation?

Inflation

A question I have heard a lot from those with a Kuyperian bent is “since the Federal Reserve has so greatly increased the money supply, why hasn’t there been corresponding inflation because of it?” Here is one attempt to answer this question, and my hope is, begin a discussion on this topic. Read more…

Biblical Economics and Killing Flies with Vinegar

A few days ago there was a blog post by Bojidar Marinov critiquing a recent article in First Things by Dr. Peter Leithart entitled “Capitalism and its Contradictions.” This article was an addendum to Dr. Leithart’s initial post-election piece, “The Religious Right after Reaganism.” It might be an understatement to call Marinov’s critique scathing. Let’s just say it’s clear the recipe for Marinov’s fly-killing solution contains no honey and more than enough vinegar to drown a cat.

But before we delve into Marinov’s lengthy critique, it’s worth taking a look at what Peter Leithart said.

As a starting point, let me clarify that the term “capitalism” here refers to the actual economic form that has evolved over the past several centuries. It does not refer to a theoretical ideal of a “free market.” Capitalism as a historical ordering of economic life has not taken shape in a “state-free” zone. In many places (including the US), industrial capitalism was promoted if not created by the state. Whatever the theoretical virtues of a state-free free market, it is not the economy we have or have ever had. One may reserve the word “capitalism” for the ideal free market; that is anyone’s semantic prerogative. But I don’t.

This definition puts us in a particular stance toward capitalism from the outset. If “capitalism” means an ideal of economic freedom, one might give it unqualified support. One might even say that the American economy might be far better off if it conformed to the capitalist ideal. Theoretical models can be pure, historical societies and economies are not. Since we’re talking about a historical form, we have to discriminate between goods and lesser goods and evils, pluses and minuses and things in between

Looking at this section, if one were to read it charitably, giving Dr. Leithart the benefit of the doubt that he isn’t actually a Marxist in conservative Reformed clerical garb, we should read a critique by Leithart of crony capitalism, corporatism, fascism, or what Dr. Leithart probably unhelpfully calls “capitalism.”

Further down Leithart references self-described socialist (as Marinov notes in his critique) and sociologist Daniel Bell.

[Bell] identified some real tensions in capitalist democracies – structural tensions between the aims of economic life and the aims of politics and culture, and tensions between the virtues needed for capitalism to succeed and the desires that its success tends to arouse. He worried that capitalism is so good at responding to and meeting consumer desires that its slick efficiency inhibits the development of settled public moral standards.

As Bell argued, the capitalist system has had a corrosive effect on families and traditional societies. Sometimes the structures that it destroys need to be destroyed, and the benefits are worth the costs. But when, for example, the notion of consumer choice infiltrates families and sexuality (which it has), then big social problems follow. Sometimes the corrosions arise because the wealth capitalism generates enable people to pursue morally questionable fantasies. Sometimes the corrosions have happened because the state broke up traditional patterns of life in the name of “modernization” or “industrialization.” Capitalism’s infatuation with novelty spills over beyond the economy. (That image is a problem, since the economy is never bounded off from the rest of life in the first place.) Whatever the cause, my goal was to point out that promoting capitalism might inhibit other goals of the religious right.

Of course, Bell is a left-liberal critic of capitalism (it is likely Bell does not make a distinction between actual free markets or phony-crony “capitalism”), but from what Leithart refers to Bell seems to agree with no less than that proto-Marxist, Cotton Mather, when he said, “prosperity beget faithfulness, and the daughter consumed the mother.”

In his conclusion, Dr. Leithart says:

The question is: What social and economic order best promotes the good of the poor? It’s clear that the massive American welfare system is not the way to take care of the needs of the poor; quite the opposite. Any statist system is dangerous, if not outright evil. Some of the basic features of capitalist economies are crucial to forming a just economy: Free markets and protection of property rights are good for the poor (as Henando de Soto has emphasized). Elijah, Isaiah, and Amos stood up for the property rights of small landowners against the machinations of the wealthy. Further, Scripture provides various models for how the church can address poverty – gleaning laws and even the Old Testament slavery laws offer much food for thought. The economic system that best secures and protects families is also the best economic system for the poor; family breakdown is often a cause of poverty, and even where it is not a cause, it regularly accompanies poverty.

Of course, there’s no either-or choice. In a just society, there are opportunities for expanding wealth and also opportunities for the poor to rise from poverty as well structures for the relief of poverty. Both are social goods, but the test of whether the society is just is the latter not the former.

Here Leithart leaves the question mostly unanswered (characteristic of a scholar rather than an ideologue). To me it seems rather obvious. The church should have a vision for society that respects the Spirit’s moving in the hearts of men. That is, after all, what the law of supply and demand is. Because Christians are not anarchists, this vision should include a state; a state that seeks out justice as God defines it, which precludes any type of redistribution of wealth by the state. A Christian society is one where goods and services are exchanged freely. Implicit in this arrangement is a refusal by the wealthy to use the power of the state to crush the poor, but rather a gratitude to God for His blessing them and charity towards the poor in response. A society like that is truly the only way that the poor can be taken care of. This is, of course, only possible with a society filled with mature Christians. The kind of society we pray God will bring whenever we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Now, as to Marinov’s critique, not much needs to be quoted to get a feel the tone:

In reality, far from clarification, Leithart leaves a trail of confused, illogical babble that is self-contradictory at best. But at the end, the call to action is firmly Marxist.

And

Far from proving some “inner contradictions” characteristic to capitalism, Peter Leithart has only demonstrated the true inner contradictions of his own thinking.

And

Not content with demonstrating his own logical contradictions, Leithart is also demonstrating his and the Federal Vision’s abandonment of the Covenant Theology of the Reformation. Sinful desires do not come from the heart, they come from the economic environment of man; and capitalism must be blamed for the dissolution of the “settled public moral standards.” It’s the wealth it created that is the moral problem. Without that wealth, and without the “slick efficiency” of capitalism, our society would have been much more ethical and just.

And lastly

Leithart’s call at the end is entirely without justification in the Bible but is in harmony with the common socialist and statist leanings of the modern church. The new model for “justice” is re-distribution of wealth, not obedience to the Law of God. Subsidizing poverty is what defines a “just society” for Leithart; encouraging obedience and therefore economic productivity and freedom are only a second thought. Theonomy has been replaced by a new Social Gospel preaching.

I think I can understand why Marinov is a little bit jumpy when notable conservative Reformed Evangelicals seem to be attacking biblical economics in favor of some kind of socialist scheme. It isn’t like Bojidar Marinov is creating conservative Reformed Evangelical (who-are-kind-of-okay-with-socialism) boogeymen—N.T. Wright and James K. A. Smith are prominent names that come to mind. It is certain that a biblical formulation of economics is coming under attack, and this is what Marinov is reacting to, and I have considerable sympathy for him in this regard. This is a battle that I think will be brewing in conservative Reformed circles during and beyond my lifetime, a battle over the answer to the question, “what economic system does Jesus want?” I think Bojidar and I are kindred spirits with regard to the answer to that question. The problem is that we can be absolutely correct and lose that battle, and set the maturation of our corner of the church back quite a bit. We can either deal with men who disagree with us on that question in a charitable way and try to win them, or go down the road of the Christian Reconstructionists and stop speaking to one another because we disagree with what the blood on the doorposts at Passover really meant.

Barack Obama, Evangelical President

Barack Obama was re-elected by Evangelical Christians. He was re-elected by both the Evangelicals who were confused and foolish enough to actually vote for him and Evangelicals who nominated a worthless “alternative” to him. He was re-elected by Evangelicals who sent their children to be enculturated and indoctrinated by a secular state. He was re-elected by Evangelicals who gave their children, as an alternative to a secular upbringing, an Anabaptistic, dropout version of the Christian view of the world.

Barack Obama was re-elected by hipster Evangelical churches that think real biblical condemnation that Jesus would make about people like Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Timothy Geithner, Hank Paulson, and Ben Bernanke means that the property of the poor should be expropriated by the state to the benefit of people like Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Timothy Geithner, Hank Paulson, and Ben Bernanke. He was re-elected by conservative Evangelical churches who would rather preach a personal, private, relationship-with-Jesus gospel and see the Mississippi red with the blood of the unborn than lose their precious tax-exempt status over proclaiming the Kingship of Jesus over every square inch. And lest anyone Evangelical stone be unturned, he was re-elected because conservative Evangelical Christians, in churches that believe and preach the sovereignty of Jesus Christ over all of life and give their children a Christian education that engages and reforms culture, regard our own “little,” besetting sins less worthy of mortification than other people’s “big” sins.

Barack Obama was re-elected because of generations of Evangelical Christian unbelief.

The only recourse we are left with, the only option we have ever had and will ever have is repentance and hating our cherished unbelief.

Don’t Open the Pandora’s Box of Future Obamas

At this point, it is unlikely anyone will not have their minds made up, one way or another, but I will offer my two cents anyway.
Only the most deluded fan-boys of the Republican Party are actually excited about voting for Mitt Romney. Anyone worth paying attention to that is voting for Romney are voting for him out of fear and/or hatred of Barack Obama. To these people, the certain continuation of undeclared drone wars, Obamacare, multi-trillion dollar deficits, manipulated currency and interest rates, and government-protected abortion, to name a few things, under Romney, plays little role in their calculation. To them Obama is antichrist and Romney is de facto messiah.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it reduces modern American electoral history to one election, with no reference to any elections in the past or in the future. But God did not create the world on January 20, 2009. Barack Obama came from somewhere. He came from the abject failure on every issue the George W. Bush administration touched. Only those who worship at the church of the Republican Party dispute this. To everyone else, Barack Obama is simply compassionate conservatism in full bloom.

The idea that Mitt Romney is a celestially married George W. Bush clone with rhetoric upgrades is not really a subject of much debate even among those die-hard adherents of the cult of Saint Dubya. The real debate should be over who the certain failures of the Romney Administration will bring us in 2016 or 2020. Despite what many may think. There are things worse than Obama. They reside in a Pandora’s Box that only Republicans like Bush and Romney can open. Whoever follows Romney will be worse than Barack Obama.

How did we even get in this mess, anyway? So long as Evangelical Christians are a guaranteed voting bloc for the Republican candidate, no matter how truly awful he may be, this cycle will continue. Lucy will continue to pull the football away. It is time to stop being Charlie Brown. Evangelical Christians will never have an effect on American Presidential politics so long as they are guaranteed Republican votes. Until there is uncertainty among Republicans as to whether or not we will vote for their candidate, or dare I say, actual certainty we will not vote for their candidate, so long as they campaign to keep our government doing things that God hates, we will continue to have Barack Obamas. So, for all those who truly want to rid our country of Barack Obamas forever:
this election, don’t vote for Romney.

Post Navigation