Addendum…

Addendum . . .

Glenn Beck has stirred the pot again. On his show last week, the conservative broadcaster, radio host, best-selling author and all around phenomenon criticized any church promoting "social justice" or "economic justice," claiming that these words were merely code for Naziism and communism. (M. Caulfield/WireImag/Getty Images)

About my entry on “Christianity”: It’s important to note that, above all else, Rand disapproved of Christianity because of its core altruism. To “love one’s neighbor as oneself,” just because he is one’s neighbor, was anathema to her. Except, perhaps, for Thomists, Christians by definition embrace the obligation to feed and clothe the poor, which these days Protestant and Catholic churches commonly refer to as social justice. So I was wrong about Glenn Beck. Although a self-declared Christian–he belongs to the Mormon church–Beck is feverishly on Rand’s side when it comes to banishing the notion of an obligation to help others less fortunate than he. In a fascinating story called “Christians Urged to Boycott Glenn Beck” in yesterday’s “New York Times,” Beck is reportedly under fire from Christian ministers for demanding that church members resign if their churches “push” social or economic justice. More strangely, Beck, holding up a swastika and a hammer and sickle, warned darkly that our very freedom of religion and right to “read all the passages in the Bible as you want to read them” is threatened by communistic, fascist pleas for social justice–from Washington–and that we have only another year, if that long, to act. You can listen to Beck by clicking here.

So how does Beck arrive at this analysis? Certainly not from Rand, who rejected God right along with the Sermon on the Mount, the cross, and the beatitudes. I’d love to ask Beck in an interview.

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14 thoughts on “Addendum…

  1. Thomas Aquinas does not reject feeding the poor, or social justice. Where did you get such a notion?

    Aquinas does stress mutual obligation, and he is right. A well governed society will work to find a way for everyone to contribute to that society’s well being as well as reap the benefits of that society. It would be best to offer poor people a way out from dependence to self-reliance but meanwhile, since our society does this through education and jobs, and there is not enough of either, we must feed an clothe the poor.

    • Forgive the casual reference. I did not mean to suggest that Thomas Aquinas rejected the idea of feeding the poor and hungry, nor to overlook his emphasis on mutual obligation, but to suggest his affirmation of the value of the self above others. It’s been a long time since I studied Aquinas; correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. I am afraid to set the record straight, but I will nonetheless. No individual has an obligation to care for another unless we are discussing our own children. Society has no obligation, although it does benefit, in some cases, from providing helpful programs for the less fortunate. What everyone is afraid to discuss is that charity is an individual decision. Of course, it doesn’t work because not many of us care about our “neighbors,” which is not an immoral position. The fittest survive among all animals, and that includes us. Why do so many people perceive us as different from the rest of the animal kingdom simply because we have a bigger brain? Why do we apotheosize ourselves even to the absurd conclusion that we are made in some god’s image? If we want a better world, then we need to be better people; that is, to reach our potential for efficacious living. If only half of us reach half of our potential, I should expect a paradise on Earth.

    • Part of the issue is that most humans do have a biological predisposition toward assisting-others behavior and toward approval of others doing the same. This is constitutive of those human selves and there’s not much that could or should be done about it. Rand (in common with many thinkers of her era) short-changed the amount of biological influence on valuing. We’re not just amorphous goo shaped by premises. (Not that she entirely endorsed that view, but she comes close to it – with the exception of her somewhat more modern views on some aspects of sexuality.)

      • Michael, there is no proof that humans have a “predisposition toward charity. While I strongly disagree that man qua man is born tabula rasa (we are born with physical and psychological characteristics), I must disagree with your assessment.
        BTW, you write very well.

  3. Generally speaking, when people refer to “social justice” they mean government providing services or redistributing wealth.

    I don’t think there is anything inconsistent with arguing: (1) people have a duty to help the less fortunate; and (2) government should not coerce people via taxation to help the less fortunate.

    -Neil Parille

    • No, there is nothing inconsistent in that argument, but that is not the argument Glenn Beck and confreres who share his religion and his secular views are making. He does not refer at all to helping those less fortunate, and while he may use the phrase “social justice” as a code word for government action, he doesn’t make that clear. Most churches have missions of their own to further “social justice,” funded by their own congregations, and few (especially few “progressive” churches, as Beck rfeers to them) mention government one way or the other from newslettrs or pulpits.

      • Anne –

        Some mention it, and some do not, but there is very definitely a redistributionist/leveling ethos to the “social justice” axis. (Incidentally, it’s not been sufficiently remarked that “social justice” is a redundancy: all justice is social. The term is really a neologism.) Beck is right about “social justice” as used in many of the progressive churches is a code-word for political progressivism. His presentation is, as often, too revival-preacher/showman. And Rand pointed out, decades ago, that religious conservatives would have problems advocating capitalism. The leftists who have suddenly found Jesus in order to twit Beck are a case in point.

        ( As for “social justice,” the term was chosen by the moderns for the same reason that Ralph Nader counseled his people not to use the “S word” – socialism – and instead always say “economic democracy.” It’s a way to make things more palatable by riding on accepted concepts. )

  4. There is no such thing as duty to another, unless you want to speak without reason or logic. No one has the right to make demands upon us simply because they are in need. Their needs place no obligation upon us. This is why I wrote of charity. It is not a duty, as anyone can attest. I have no duty or obligation to anyone or anything, save to the achievement of my values for my own sake.

      • Incidentally, I do agree with you that one cannot advocate an egoist ethics – or even simply deny moral obligation to the poor – and call oneself a Christian. Jesus’ actual words were obviously distorted, but one can see enough of it to know that he was no egoist.

        Interestingly, as we know from her letters, under Isabel Patterson’s influence in the 1940s Rand not only said she could think of some ingenious arguments for a [non-infinite and non-omnipotent] God, but that Jesus was one of the great teachers in history – of individualism, since he focused on one’s *own* salvation of one’s *own* soul! I’m sure many Randians would be surprised if they hadn’t read that.

        Of course, conservatives – in my view rightly – don’t see government as the best agent for charity, either in terms of morality of efficiency. Economic observation bears this out.

      • No, Anne, I am an atheist–and I am not Jewish, nor a member of the Collective. I have never, since before puberty, been able to reconcile a belief in a supernatural being with perception. This was long before I met Rand and Branden. It just didn’t make any sense to me.
        I do not, however, agree with some of what Rand purports as reasonable and obvious.
        BTW, I follow you on Tweeter and tweeted that you are one of a few who can discuss Rand and Objectivism with equanimity.
        Also, I must say that you have attracted some very knowledge people to your blog; I feel a little over my head, albeit I shall strive to do my best. I loved your book!
        That said, fire away.

  5. My conclusion about Beck is that 1) he is a devotee of Rand and thus, at bottom her philosophy drives what he is saying and 2) that he has accepted a form of “Christianity” that is really simply an American Civil religion that believes if “freedom” (total individual autonomy). Holding to Christian language while fundamentally denying its tenants enables him to connect with a certain demographic that, similarly, conflates Christianity with the American project of individual autonomy. So, I would suggest that Rand drives him and “Christianity” provides him useful cover. Clearly he has not wrestled with what Rand was really about. I think he is naive–if clever and articulate.

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