Posts Tagged ‘conservatism vs. liberalism’

Over the past several weeks, I have intermittently been posting and commenting on excerpts from a book I happened upon at the library — Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006) by Larry F. Sternberg. Sternberg examines the “doctrines”, programs, & policies of modern liberalism (in American politics) and compares them with the teachings & traditions of Torah-based, orthodox Judaism. As you may have guessed from the book’s title, the author finds the two mostly incompatible. He attempts to explain why today’s Jews predominantly vote for liberal candidates/legislation and why they need to rethink their reasoning and shift more to the political Right.

If you haven’t checked them out already, my previous posts in this series can be found at:

Liberals, Government Programs, and Unintended Consequences (Part 1 of 2)
Liberals, Government Programs, and Unintended Consequences (Part 2 of 2)
Liberals, Jews, and Class Warfare (Part 1 of 2)
Liberals, Jews, and Class Warfare (Part 2 of 2)
Why Are American Jews Liberal?
Socialism, Liberalism, and American Jews
Jews and the Problem with Always Backing the Majority
Jewish Freedom and the Free Market

In this final installment, Sternberg revisits a few of the topics mentioned in earlier posts and warns of the danger of creeping socialism and the associated loss of freedoms.

The fear of anti-Semitism and its alleged connection to the political right is what keeps many Jews in the liberal camp. They continue to overlook the fact that real anti-Semitism can take root only when the powers of government are concentrated in the hands of the few. He who ignores history remains ignorant. Today’s liberal doctrine seeks to add more and more powers to government. No matter what the problem is, real or concocted, liberals want to solve it by granting some new or expanded power to government. Are oil prices too high? Do drugs cost too much? Are the schools not teaching their students to read and write? The answer per the liberals is to take some type of government action as the cure. To turn for answers to the marketplace, or to the privatization of previously controlled activities, or in some cases to merely let nature take its course, simply escapes the liberal mind. Government, with all of its “wise men,” has to be the answer. This approach again is completely contrary to Jewish law and tradition.

painting of Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

It is the coercive force of governments of all shapes and varieties that has driven the Jewish people to wander the globe in search of freedom. Finally, they found that freedom here in the United States of America, and Jews should make as their first priority the preservation of that individual freedom. Remember the old story of how to boil a frog. You don’t throw it into boiling water, because the frog would immediately jump out. Instead, you put it in tepid water, and gradually turn up the heat until the frog is unaware that it is now a boiled frog. The story is the same regarding the loss of our individual freedom here. It is not lost all at once, but slowly, given the liberal programs to expand the powers of government, we may one day wake up and find out that we have become completely dependent for our daily existence on the good graces of government and the “benevolent” people running it.

The words of Alexis de Tocqueville from his writing Democracy in America are to the point.

‘The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrranize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.’

This was written in the 1840s, and one can almost sense De Tocqueville looking down on us today and saying, ‘See, I told you so.'”

Wise words of caution from De Tocqueville — and Larry Sternberg. I hope you’ve enjoyed and/or learned, even been challenged, by this series of posts excerpting Sternberg’s book. Please let me know what you thought of the series.

In today’s excerpt from Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006), Larry Sternberg returns to the issue of free market capitalism, its benefits, and what part a good Jew should play in the system….

Most observers of American politics would agree that between the two competing political doctrines of liberalism and conservatism, when it comes to promoting, encouraging, stimulating, praising, expanding, and identifying themselves with the free market, capitalistic system, it is conservatism that captures the prize. Of course, liberals welcome the fruits and benefits of the free market, but it is mostly to their liking because it creates sufficient wealth for their redistribution schemes and not because it is the most natural and productive system yet devised by man. Still liberals continue to want to tinker with it, to control it, and when necessary, to intervene with their own pet programs and ideas….

Green Bay Tea Party with signs

Green Bay Tea Party practicing free speech and the right to peaceably assemble in protest

Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to be generally more in favor of permitting people to spend their money as the individual sees fit. They are content to permit the free market to do its wondrous work, and with the “invisible hand” doing its thing, they sit back and enjoy the fruits of their endeavors….”

Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up. No profound insights, but a pretty fair assessment, I think.

So, what does this have to do with American Jews being liberal? If we agree that it is the conservatives who do the best job of growing the free market; and if we agree that the free market is the best system yet devised by man to spread the wealth created among all the participants; and if one of the cherished goals of Judaism is to help solve the problem of poverty, then doesn’t it follow that American Jews should be the foremost champions of growing the free market, and to do this they should be conservatives?

[…] The link between Judaism and capitalism is well described by Ellis Rivkin in his book, The Shaping of Jewish History. Rivkin wrote that it was the onset of capitalism beginning in the late seventeenth century that began to bring freedom to European Jews…. Where Jews participated in the creation of a capitalistic society as in America, they enjoyed a high degree of equality from the outset. Where capitalism failed to gain a secure foothold,… Jews were either expelled or persecuted….

The history of Jews in the modern world makes explicit the connection between individual freedom and developing capitalism. And yet, there seems to persist the notion that somehow capitalism breeds too much greed and selfishness, and we Jews must be the guardians against such evil spirits. It is okay for us Jews to become wealthy and to accrue power and influence through the workings of our marvelous free market, but we’ve got to protect society and the poor and the children from the evil inclinations that must reside in those “other rich and powerful” folk. Apparently, only wealthy Jews (and liberal Democrats) possess that kindness of spirit that entitles them to possess the wealth they accumulate. So we Jews must continue to support the liberal cause because that is the only doctrine that seems to be consistent with our Jewish calling of Tsedekah, and which can control the evil impulses of those other rich guys….

lots of large denomination bills

A Whole Lotta Gelt! Moolah!

Where Jews should be making their contribution to our market economy is by exhibiting the highest morality in their dealings with others in the business world. Our capitalistic system depends on honesty, integrity, and the carrying out of one’s promises. It is when fraud and deceit enter the picture that the worst excesses occur, and when people begin to doubt the value of our system. If Jews who are already so prominent in the business world would stress the positive aspects of the free market and set great examples of honesty in their business dealings, they could do more to help the economy grow and provide jobs than any government program existing. In the process, they would also demonstrate some of the basic morality of our Jewish religion.”

We have seen several examples of “fraud and deceit” in our capitalist society over the past several years — e.g., the Enron debacle, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, recent scandals involving banks & securities firms, etc. They are actually quite few, when you think of how many businesses, business executives, and big-time investors there are out there. But, they are an embarrassment of sorts and serve as poster-children for corporate greed & corruption, which the socialists and free market skeptics point to as justification for their suspicions & accusations. Let’s not forget, though, that greed and corruption are rampant in socialist/communist nations, too. They just don’t have as much money to steal.

I think it behooves all free-marketers to accept Sternberg’s exhortation, though, especially those of us with a religious worldview that encourages moral, ethical behavior in all aspects of our lives. We must do our level best to act honorably and with moral integrity in all business dealings.

Have a cool video to show you today. (Well, if you’re an Obamamaniac, you probably won’t like it.) Yesterday was the first time I saw it, when a friend showed it to me. But, it apparently first came out in January 2010, thus the implication at one point that Obamacare hadn’t yet been passed. Rumor has it that some liberals got it temporarily removed from YouTube, but it eventually was re-posted. Yay!

I love the dramatic look and feel to it, and the music makes me think of a trailer for some epic movie. Don’t know who made it (or originally posted it), but it is really well done. Hope y’all enjoy it!

Obama as Uncle Sam says "I Want You in Welfare"

Father, Must I Work to Eat?

By: Unknown

“Father, must I work to eat?”
“Oh, no! My lucky Son!
We’re living now on Easy Street,
On dough from Washington!

We’ve turned it all to Uncle Sam –
Now don’t get exercised! –
No one has to worry none:
We’ve All been subsidized!”

“But if Uncle treats us all so well,
And feeds us Milk and Honey,
Please tell me, Father, Where, oh Where,
He’s going to get the money?”

“Don’t worry, Son, There ain’t a hitch
In this here Noble Plan!
He simply Soaks the Filthy Rich,
And Helps the Common Man!”

“But Father, won’t there come a time –
If we take All their cash –
When They’ll be left without a dime!
And things will go to smash?”

“My faith in you is sinking, Son –
You nosy little brat!
You do too damn much thinking, Boy,
To be a Democrat!”

Over the past few months, articles and blog posts have been popping up here & there, discussing a grassroots effort to remove liberalism from the Bible. The Conservative Bible Project at Conservapedia is spearheaded by the web-site’s founder, Andy Schlafly, son of conservative activist & author Phyllis Schlafly. As Associated Press reporter Tom Breen summarizes the impetus behind the effort, “The project’s authors argue that contemporary scholars have inserted liberal views and ahistorical passages into the Bible, turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watered-down platitudes.” In fact, Schlafly blames academia, because university professors are overwhelmingly liberal, and “it’s professors who are doing the popular modern translations of the Bible.” So, Schlafly & co. want to take out the “liberal” stuff and put “conservative” stuff (back) in.

Black Bible on white background
But, are we talking about political conservatism or theological conservatism? Well, mostly the former, though perhaps “socio-political conservatism” would be more accurate. That is, after all, why the Conservapedia.com web-site was founded. But, there is a bit of a mix. As the wiki-based site’s own entry for “conservatism” begins, “A conservative adheres to principles of limited government, personal responsibility and moral values, agreeing with George Washington’s Farewell Address that ‘religion and morality are indispensable supports’ to political prosperity.” I’ll second that (though I might add a couple things). However, while Schlafly points out that, “The phrase ‘theological conservative’ does not mean that someone is politically conservative,” the references to “conservative” and “liberal” terms on the site still seem to be somewhat ambiguous.

Since I am both politically and theologically conservative, you might assume that I support the Conservative Bible Project. On the one hand, based on the guidelines laid out on the Project’s homepage, I do share a couple of their concerns — e.g., Not dumbing down the Bible, and Accepting the Logic of Hell. Also, it’s not like they are actually re-writing major parts of the text to change the message. In fact, their overall concern is to restore the original message which, in their view, has been subtly altered by changing certain wording and phraseology in translations over the years. At the end of the Project, the Gospel message should still be fully in tact.

But, I think they are seeing a great deal more evidence of mischief and propaganda by “liberals”, feminists, & socialists than is actually present. I tend to agree with Timothy Paul Jones, a theologically conservative professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who says that they are reading contemporary politics back into the text. “Ironically, there’s a long tradition of the liberal twisting of scripture,” Jones said. “Scholars have rightly deemed those translations illegitimate, and this conservative Bible is every bit as illegitimate.”

Blogger Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com (who is “conservative” in both senses of the word) points out that, “[I]f one believes the Bible to be the Word of God written for His purposes, which I do, then the idea of recalibrating the language to suit partisan political purposes in this age is pretty offensive — just as offensive as they see the ‘liberal bias’ in existing translations.” Or, as Professor Jones puts it, “This is not making scripture understandable to people today, it’s reworking scripture to support a particular political or social agenda…. There are so many factors to consider when looking at [passages that are absent from some of the ancient texts, for example], but here it gets boiled down to ‘liberals put it in’.”

In addition to the above, my overall concerns are fivefold:

1) The translation project is being undertaken by amateurs, rather than Biblical scholars. Though it is possible that well-educated non-professionals could do a decent job, there are times when rigorous and professionally-recognized scholarship is much preferred. As Professor Jones suggests, “You’ve got people who are doing this who have probably never looked at an actual ancient manuscript.” Whatever they come up with, this translation will never be considered “serious”.

2) I question the methodology being used, beginning with their use of the King James Version (KJV) as a starting point, primarily because it’s in the public domain and online. If they are really concerned with producing a more accurate, word-for-word, “formal” translation (followed by a thought-for-thought, “functional” translation), why not start with one of the best of the modern translations? Based on Conservapedia’s entries (and from what I’ve read elsewhere), these would probably be the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), and perhaps the new Holman Christian Standard Bible (CSB). From a practical point of view, this would require a lot less tweaking and editing and save a lot of time getting a final product out.

Furthermore, many of the reasons given for various changes range from vague/weak to perplexing to inaccurate, and often with a fairly obvious (and some might say “fundamentalist”) agenda behind them. For example, in Matthew 1:2 the CBP contributors replace the word “begat” in 3 places with “was the father of”, explaining that the passive phrase more appropriately “emphasizes the ancestry.” What?! Can someone explain this to me? I actually have no problem with the phrase, which is used in other good translations (e.g., NASB). But, even a newbie reading the KJV can figure out it’s referring to a successive male lineage, and I don’t see how the replacement phrase “emphasizes” anything. Perhaps a better explanation would have been “Clarifies ancestry with more modern, but accurate, phrasing”.

In most places where the KJV uses the word “profane”, the CBP uses “atheist”. The broader term “worldly” (NASB) or even “godless” (NIV) is a better translation, since the atheism typical of many “liberals” today (which the Project obviously has in mind) was not what Paul was writing about. The CBP translation of I Timothy 6:20 goes even further. The KJV says, “…avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called, “which the CBP changes to “avoid the vain babbling of atheists, and the false affirmations of junk science”. Their “Analysis” is that “‘pseudo-science’, a conservative word, is here very suitable / Junk science is even better”. Let’s put aside the issue of whether or not it is linguistically appropriate to use such a term as “junk science” or “pseudo-science”, here. (And why is the latter “conservative”?) The real issue is that the verse isn’t even talking about “science”, as we use the term; rather, it is more accurately translated “knowledge”. That which is “falsely called knowledge” (as in the NASB & NIV) is a reference to an early version of the heresy known as Gnosticism, which claimed (among other things) that Jesus was not fully human and that salvation comes through secret knowledge. “Junk science” — by which they likely mean anything not in line with Young-Earth Creationist teaching — probably hadn’t even crossed Paul’s mind when he was writing to Timothy.

A related concern I have with the Project’s presumptions is summarized nicely here by blogger Tim West at Gawain’s Ghosts: “[I]t further constricts the biblical text by asserting that the English language is ultimately superior in conveying truth about God — but only when conservative principles are applied to it (see especially points 1, 2, 4, 7). Footnote 2 asserts that ‘Christianity introduced powerful new concepts that even the Greek and Hebrew were inadequate to express, but modern conservative language can express well.’ So… conservative concepts expressed through modern English are the ultimate expression of Christian truth?” To which I would add, “What does this say about God’s ability to express Himself clearly and accurately through the languages of the original, inspired manuscripts?” Very troubling, indeed.

3) Schlafly et al. seem a bit oversensitive regarding some terms (e.g., they think the seriousness of the addiction of gambling is being softened by using the (ironically) more literal “casting lots”) and something called “liberal wordiness”, as if using “Lord God” or “Jehovah” instead of just “Lord” is going to cause undue obfuscation (sorry) of whom the text is referring to. Regarding the emasculating effect of “gender inclusive” language, I agree that there is some reason for concern, but some of the examples this crowd typically uses do not really undermine anything. (Maybe I’ll blog on the gender-inclusivism issue sometime….)

4) They blame some things on “liberals” that were not necessarily done with such ideological motives and they define certain words as “liberal” (e.g., “shrewdly”, because at least one definition of it connotes dishonesty; and “laborer”, because it is commonly used in socialist/communist parlance) vs. “conservative” (e.g., “resourceful” and “volunteer”). In addition, while I agree that some wording may be misconstrued by readers who don’t fully understand the linguistic and/or cultural context in which certain terms were used (which may be clarified in a footnote), it makes no sense to assume some sort of liberal conspiracy behind every such passage. This kind of thinking & approach seems to be, again, hypersensitive — at best unhelpful, and at worst misleading.

5) I’m afraid this effort will be seen as one more excuse to equate political conservatives with a fundamentalist “Religious Right” and, therefore, an excuse to dismiss politically conservative concerns and ideas as merely religious attempts to force-feed morality on a secular culture. Worse, they will be seen as manipulating Scripture for their own politically and/or theologically conservative ends (as on The Rachel Maddow Show). The worst part is that, for some, there is a grain of truth to this.

As Morrissey explains, “The challenge of Christian believers is to adhere to the Word of God, not to bend the Word of God to our preferred ideology. Doing the former requires discipline and a clear understanding of the Bible. Doing the latter makes God subservient to an ideology, rather than the other way around.”

Conclusion: The Conservative Bible Project is a well-meaning effort, but ill-advised and unnecessary. My advice? Leave it to the professionals.