catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The Christian Right and the Christian Left

with 27 comments

While commenting on Don’s post on the Christian Left, I made a number of intentionally provocative comments which I thought I’d reproduce in a more coherent form and throw open to discussion. This is an edited version of what I said, set out in a more continuous narrative:


Frankly I prefer the Christian Right to the Christian Left. Both have got that metaphysical bulldust going on but at least the Christian Right actually care about the world they live in and making a success out of that as well. The Christian Left adds to the God rubbish this semi-Buddhistic lazy decadence.

Michael Novak is very good on this. This is the sort of Christianity whose ethical values I admire though I don’t share their metaphysical assumptions.

On the other hand this limp wristed kumbaya-singing new Christian Left sounds to me like just a middle class doctors’ wives’ version of Liberation Theology.

The values of the Christian Right, once you take away their weird obsessions wth sex are fundamentally quite compatible with modernity – they’re all about delayed gratification, mastery over nature, self-control, continous improvement, individual achievement, distrust of inherited status and yes, even gender and racial equality.

All this snarking against the Hillsong Church simply because they appreciate these things illustrate my points exactly.


Incidentally I should point out that Novak is a Catholic thinker so this isn’t a Catholic=Left , Protestant=Right sort of argument. Novak’s attempts to reconcile and support capitalism with Catholicism against competing strands such as Liberation Theology are summarised in the linked article I cited above as follows:

    Novak’s earlier works, especially The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, had a major influence on Pope John Paul II who at one time had advocated a modified form of socialism and who now has endorsed the market economy
    He begins by arguing that the German sociologist Max Weber missed the mark by defining the spirit of capitalism too narrowly and attributing it to Calvinistic attitudes rather than to a range of values that were actually more generally shared by many types of Christians and Jews. Novak contends that Weber was wrong to believe that all versions of capitalism depend on the ascetic Protestant spirit for moral legitimation. Novak’s insight is that the European continental version of capitalism should be distinguished from capitalism as it developed in England and the United States
    For Weber, the spirit of capitalism involved a sense of duty to the discipline of work, the idea of work as a calling or God-given vocation, and an otherworldly austerity that, in turn, led to the acquisition of wealth, investment, and systematic saving. Through work, man served God. Planning, self-control, austerity, individualism, and devotion to occupations thereby pervaded the economic world. The Protestant ethic stressed the sacred nature of property, the virtue of hard work, and the importance of independence, thrift, and accumulation.
    Novak acknowledges that the strength of Weber’s position was that he associated capitalism with certain moral habits and with the human spirit. The weakness of Weber’s view was that he limited the association to Calvinism and wrote only about one narrow and limited type of capitalist spirit. To replace the Protestant ethic with a view that is applicable to American and British capitalism, Novak espouses a Catholic (and catholic) ethic that appreciates the social dimensions of capitalism and that stresses the inventiveness, creativity, liberty, and responsibility of the individual

Written by Admin

November 1, 2006 at 11:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

27 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Brilliantly put Jason. Left wing Christianity is a load of old, wishy-washy tripe preferrred by those who “feel” rather than think. The interesting thing about these people is that their ideas of charity, if put into practice, usually end up hurting the poor blighters that are meant to benefit. Theodore Dalrymple’s masterful “Life at the Bottom” reveals how left-wing ideas have caused the huge social problems prevalent amongst the underclass. Yet our sappy lefty churchment will continue to press such ideas to the death. It beggars belief.

    Rococo Liberal

    November 1, 2006 at 1:28 pm

  2. I objected to your original comment at Troppo, and I’ll object again.

    “at least the Christian Right actually care about the world they live in”

    Are you saying that the Christian Left do not actually care about the world they live in? If you are, you are wrong.

    The fact is that everyone except nihilists care about the world they live in, to a greater or lesser extent. That’s why we’re all here arguing about the world and ways to make it better, is it not?


    November 1, 2006 at 1:39 pm

  3. Fatfingers, the context of my comment is in that link to the Michael Novak article which discussed liberation theology vs the kind of more worldly Christianity that I identify with the Christian Right.

    Jason Soon

    November 1, 2006 at 1:40 pm

  4. Good for you for saying this.

    They’re partnering up with Clive now? It was obvious Clive was looking for some religious sort of salvation.


    November 1, 2006 at 1:45 pm

  5. “Theodore Dalrymple’s masterful “Life at the Bottom” reveals how left-wing ideas have caused the huge social problems prevalent amongst the underclass.”

    OK then, that’s that problem solved.

    So what caused the huge social problems amongst the underclass before the advent of left-wing ideas? Or is it a case of blame anyone but the ruling power elite and rampant capitalism?

    Don’t see a lot of rigor in your arguments here guys – comes across as a lot of mutually reinforcing prejudice and bigotry. Make your case by all means but inflammatory generalisations won’t cut it.


    November 1, 2006 at 1:58 pm

  6. Jason

    Oh my god. What a fabulous piece. So succinctly and crisply stated and so spot on. I’m with you on the metaphysical stuff. Equally, hasn’t Hillsong become the “Islam for the Left?” They nash their teeth and demonise this small middle class squeaky clean entrepreneurial community as though it is Al Quada!

    Kevin Rudd’s recent turn at “reclaiming the values debate and religion for the Left” has made me heave. Give me an upfront hard-nosed right-wing Jesuslander ANYday over the Antipodean pretender to be Holy Roman Emperor and his conga-line of kumbaya chanting happy-clapping diversity celebrators.


    November 1, 2006 at 3:55 pm

  7. slim

    Newsflash. You might like to do some research on when the underclass began to emerge in thr first world.


    November 1, 2006 at 3:56 pm

  8. Apart from the feudal system, wouldn’t that be the Industrial Revolution?

    To attribute the problems suffered by underclass to left ideas is just another intellectually dishonest and disingenuous way of blame-shifting and does little to address systemic disadvantage (and let’s not even start on the politics of third world economics). Methinks the situation is more complicated than that.

    The equation seems to be:

    I don’t like the Left + I don’t like Christians = I hate the Christian Left.

    So many labels, so many glib thought-stultifying assertions.

    I mean…really. To believe it to be so may give you comfort, but it would be better to put a reasoned argument if you wish to make a difference, what to speak of persuading others to your point of view.


    November 1, 2006 at 4:43 pm

  9. slim
    why on earth do I have to defend Roccoco Liberal’s comment about welfare when i didn’t put it up? If there’s something in my piece you want to critique and want me to respond to, identify it. Otherwise take care to differentiate between my opinions and those of the commenters who may be making stronger claims than me,

    Jason Soon

    November 1, 2006 at 6:13 pm

  10. Novak has done excellent work on this project of market/Catholic reconciliation for many years. I read his The Catholic Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism when I first started to be interested in this whole issue and I admired his approach vis-a-vis Weber. Critics saw that as a bit cute and, indeed, I think Novak does sometimes get a little creative in his bridge-building.

    One of the difficulties is that Rerum novarum assumed (and maintained) an authoritative, foundational status for Catholic social teaching well into the twentieth century. Even after the Oil Shock – which did so much to revivify economic libertarianism in the secular sphere – theologians held fast to what was becoming a hackneyed, trite and morally relativistic adherence to a Middle Way ideal between Marxism and capitalism. Now there’s nothing wrong with being critical of extremes per se but it was absolutely necessary in my view (and in Novak’s) that the Church start to exercise (and publicise) a preferential bias for markets. That’s because it is the matrix of markets, a dependable rule of law and liberal democracy that is the best guarantor of human dignity and hope for the disadvantaged.

    Don has simplified the overall picture of religiosity and political economy, I think. It’s pretty widely accepted now that mainstream churches that push a “social justice” theology end up being deserted. Here’s where the value of a traditionally Catholic moderation on these questions should be insisted on, rather than abandoned for the joy of uncomplicated Hayekianism. Because just as surely as kumbaya theology is spiritually arid and inauthentic, so too is the so-called “prosperity Gospel” preached by Hillsong and the even more aggressively narcissistic “churches” in the US. This theology has no credibility in the wider Christian community.

    Novak – and John Paul II (with help from Ratzinger) – helped to correct a trajectory that was leading towards precisely that system of political economy that was slowly dying in the 70s and 80s. Catholic libertarians still insist, however, that government is not an interloper whose responsibilities should be minimised as a matter of attritional course. No, the State is charged by providence (or God) with a legitimate and morally weighty stewardship and it should not be beholden to market forces, any more than it should derange those forces for ill-conceived and unworthy reasons.

    Finally, Wojtyla-admiring Catholics are not uncomplicatedly “right wing” and don’t see their view of – and celebration of sex – as constituting a “weird obsession”. The secular world packages and sells the sexual exploits of a Posh Spice or an Alan Jones and then accuses the Church of obsession when it promotes the dignity of marriage. Please.


    November 1, 2006 at 8:26 pm

  11. CL, I wasn’t speaking of just ‘Wojtyla-admiring Catholics’. I said ‘The Christian Right’. And I wasn’t referring to their promotion of marriage. Quite the opposite.

    I was referring to some of the Christian Right’s views on porno and gay rights and premarital sex.

    Jason Soon

    November 1, 2006 at 8:30 pm

  12. Agree with your last point CL. It’s probably a case of obsessing over a certain view of sex, rather than sex per se. I haven’t read Jonestown and am completely uninterested in doing so, but the way its sexual elements have been batted to and fro on all sides is extraordinary.

    I must admit the Hillsong people strike me as a bit shallow, but then I’ve never been in their church and only have media reports to go on as to their theology. They’re probably not harmless (creationism is something that irritates skeptics a great deal), but they’re not blowing anyone up, either.


    November 1, 2006 at 8:34 pm

  13. Fair enough, Jason, but do you seriously expect some branch of Christianity to come out in favour of pornography, for example? Imagine the headlines:

    “Orthodox Patriarch Okays ‘Debbie Does Dallas'”

    Insofar as gay rights includes the desire for “marriage”, that will never be supported either – except by an outfit like the Uniting Church (which I call the Democrats at prayer); and sex in relation to marriage or the single state is more about preaching an ideal than it is about condemning people. My generation of Catholics, for example, doesn’t really recognise this caricature of a hierarchy preoccupied with sexual preaching. The morally right thing is there, it is proposed, it is insisted on but it is something most Christians assimilate (or know to be true in their hearts). It isn’t something about which they’re constantly proselytised. Just sayin’…


    November 1, 2006 at 10:05 pm

  14. “Equally, hasn’t Hillsong become the “Islam for the Left?””

    That’s a perceptive arrow!


    November 2, 2006 at 3:01 am

  15. there is no biblical support for prosperity christianity nor is there for creationism.

    Evangelicals would be aghast to cast Hillsong in that area.

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 2, 2006 at 7:40 am

  16. at least the Christian Right actually care about the world they live in and making a success out of that as well.

    Christian Right leaders like Falwell, Robertson and Dobson have urged Bush on to provocative policies in the Middle East in the express hope of bringing on Armageddon. I think they’re about equal on the care front, which is to say that the more you focus on a world other than the one in which you live, the more shabby you’ll be toward this world and the people in it.

    there is no biblical support for prosperity christianity

    Damn right. Time and again the Bible gives examples where the poor man who is unfailingly generous and quiet about it is to be regarded more highly than the rich man who makes a big deal of handing over a pittance.

    The Dalrymple book makes the point that leftist social policies lost the plot once they forced the churches out. As an example, I doubt whether any single organisation – including AA – has done more to combat alcoholism and its affects on families than the Salvation Army, and they did it with a mix of BOTH (not either) hardnosed abstinence and wishywashy care.

    Andrew Elder

    November 2, 2006 at 11:40 am

  17. “Equally, hasn’t Hillsong become the “Islam for the Left?”

    Nope. Two different things. Not mad about either of them.

    A christian can be socially right wing (actually even this is problematic), but it’s pretty clear that Jesus was economically a massive pinko. I don’t envy a capitalist christian one bit. All those contorted self-justifications, all that dissonance.

    I think we’re better off with no religion, but give me an ineffectual feelgood do-gooder to a straight up hypocrite ANY day.


    November 2, 2006 at 1:18 pm

  18. FDB,

    sorry but Jesus wasn’t any pinko at all.

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 2, 2006 at 1:20 pm

  19. “Hillsong…the Islam for the Left”

    I do think this concept is brilliant. Deep down, lefties want to ridicule Islam for its misogyny, its contemporary problem with violence, its censoriousness, its hatred of homosexuality, its hatred of risque artistic expression, its anti-modernity etc but Muslims (if not Islam itself) are the enemy combatants in the War on Terrorism and they’re also mostly non-white. That makes Islam untouchable to so-called progressives and has created massive discombobulation on the left.

    What to do?

    The best they can do is wheel out equivalence theory about religions and get some anti-obscurantist thrills by mocking the veils worn by the women of the Christian Brethren, lament the 9/11 of creationism, excoriate the Taliban of Family First etc. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell play their role in the new leftist demonology as Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. And so on.

    All of this is simply a coping mechanism to avoid giving any kind of cultural aid or comfort to BusHitler and the proponents of his “illegal” war. It has created the most hilarious alliance in contemporary history: between Islam (quietly loathed by the Western left) and the Western left (quietly despised by Muslims). The comedic power of this sort of expedient relationship, however, is not unprecedented.


    November 2, 2006 at 2:03 pm

  20. Strawmen are fun, aren’t they CL? Hardly ever fight back, and burn with a merry warmth.

    Back to reality to use myself as an example of TEH (actual) LEFT, I think there’s nothing wrong with calling terrorists Islamic, but there clearly is a problem with calling Muslims terrorists. Lots of them are merely anti-modernist homophobic misogynists LOL.

    But seriously, some of them are trying to reconcile their religion with modern realities and sensibilities [Christians have made a long-time study of this]. Stupid idea, when they could just become athiests – we’re a broad church and the door’s always open. Cognitive dissonance-free, too! But good on them for trying.

    The Christians I DON’T like are the ones who won’t toe the line. Who, like the radical Islamists (albeit far more subtly) try to remake the world the better to fit their belief system. Who, like the Islamists, think that their wacky superstitions trump reason. Who, unlike the Islamists, are often ignorant of their ‘religion’ and doing it purely for political purchase. (See Westmoreland, L).

    Most of all, I don’t like religious folk who accuse me of having a moral lack. Get stuffed.


    November 2, 2006 at 2:36 pm

  21. So you’re suggesting a kind of equivalency theory?

    Mmm, that’s new & interesting – do go on.


    November 2, 2006 at 2:53 pm

  22. In that they’re both religions, yes. I think all religions are daft at the core.

    Believe me, I see, understand and am eternally grateful that Christians aren’t prone to blowing shit up like some Muslims are. That they are in general nicer to minorities, also. That I get to look at their women, especially.

    But to steer myself back on topic, I’d repeat that Christian biblical doctrine is inimical to capitalism and greed. And being judgemental. So I see Kumbiya-singing hippy Christians who love everyone as the more honourable and consistent.


    November 2, 2006 at 3:08 pm

  23. I first got hep with Novak travelling around and I would go to the libraries and pull out the back-issues of Forbes magazine.

    And always his columns were superb.

    You know there is something about the free-enterprise Catholics.

    I had a flatmate who had an older sister who studied at a Catholic University.

    And dig this.

    She got to read and study Aquinas and get credits for it and not just read him for the pleasure of it all.

    Probably a solid atheist kid starting out now would still be better going with these religious universities if he didn’t have the better lecturers already picked out.

    And just so long as you can get credits for reading Aquinas.

    And Aquinas a Bloodnut?

    Who would have thought hey?


    November 3, 2006 at 7:50 pm

  24. “I’d repeat that Christian biblical doctrine is inimical to capitalism and greed”


    Inimical to CAPITALISM?

    Lets hear the argument then?

    How is Christianity inimical to the lack of compulsion in matters economic?

    Wash yon mouf.


    November 3, 2006 at 7:54 pm

  25. what do you mean when you say Aquinas is a bloodnut?

    Jason Soon

    November 3, 2006 at 8:07 pm

  26. He was a redhead wasn’t he?

    Well hell.

    Maybe he wasn’t.

    Maybe I have it wrong.


    November 3, 2006 at 8:44 pm

  27. To me at least, Christianity is not inimical to capitalism – it is inimical to socialism, and I would agree it is inimical to greed.
    For the life of me I cannot see a passage in the Bible that endorses the use of force in “encouraging” charity – there is no ethical plus in giving away other people’s money, which is the whole point of modern socialism. Clearly, there is merit in God’s eyes in volutary donations, and a requirement to pay tax for the purpose of running a State (Render unto Caesar etc.) but nowhere does it give a purpose for that taxation – Roman taxation was for the maintenance of the military, justice system and administration. No mention of “…render unto Caesar that he may give the money away to causes that you would not support in a pink fit”.
    The whole merit was in making voluntary donations – secret ones at that.

    Andrew Reynolds

    November 3, 2006 at 9:22 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: