Christianity is not inherently right-wing

To those of us of a more moderate or liberal disposition, the tendency of conservative Christians to identify right-wing politics with Christianity per se is a source of no small irritation. Today at Salon, Elizabeth Stoker and Matt Bruenig point out that the American Christian Right’s approach to wealth and poverty is an outlier when compared with Christian attitudes in other parts of the world:

The notable exclusion of poverty from the Christian agenda would doubtlessly puzzle European Christians, whose support of Christian ethical approaches to family life have always been paired with a deep and vigorous concern for the poor. And, unlike their American counterparts, European Christians haven’t been willing to leave poverty up to individual charity or the market to handle. Quite the contrary: Just as public morality is an arena fit for intervention by a Christian-informed government, so too is welfare.

The case is only bolstered if you take Catholic social teaching, Latin American liberation theology, or other non-American traditions into account. The identification of Christianity with laissez-faire economics appears to be a peculiarly American phenomenon.

In a similar vein, in an interview with (somewhat ironically) the American Conservative, novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson stands up for the much-derided tradition of liberal Christianity:

Well, what is a Christian, after all? Can we say that most of us are defined by the belief that Jesus Christ made the most gracious gift of his life and death for our redemption? Then what does he deserve from us? He said we are to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek. Granted, these are difficult teachings. But does our most gracious Lord deserve to have his name associated with concealed weapons and stand-your-ground laws, things that fly in the face of his teaching and example? Does he say anywhere that we exist primarily to drive an economy and flourish in it? He says precisely the opposite. Surely we all know this. I suspect that the association of Christianity with positions that would not survive a glance at the Gospels or the Epistles is opportunistic, and that if the actual Christians raised these questions those whose real commitments are to money and hostility and potential violence would drop the pretense and walk away.

Liberal Christianity undoubtedly has its problems. But even some of the theological critics of liberalism–like the Niebuhr brothers and Paul Tillich–were not “conservatives” in contemporary political terms. They were decidedly men of the Left, even while they critiqued liberal theology’s tendency toward sentimentality and moralism. To Tillich, for example, love and justice were inseparable, and the political expression of the Kingdom of God would be some form of democratic socialism. In fact, I have a hard time thinking of a major modern or contemporary theologian who is a full-blown right-winger.

4 thoughts on “Christianity is not inherently right-wing

  1. You write, “The identification of Christianity with laissez-faire economics appears to be a peculiarly American phenomenon,” but I think you’re far off on that. Though during the critical early phase of free market capitalism, in Britain, the stance of the Anglican church and others was mainly critical and defensive against the “free market,” but within a generation or two the attitudes were largely reversed, in a process which anticipates later American developments, and discussion in detail. The history is detailed extensively in Polanyi’s THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION.

  2. Pingback: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  3. Vasco Gama

    The problem with the approach of the European (both from left or from the right) to poverty is that it is profoundly incorrect, as it seeks to the establish the end of poverty by law (by mere regulation), as if the problem of suffering can be disappear just by being out of sight and that it is reasonable to pretend that as we can’t see it, it probably doesn’t exist.

    Many countries have laws in this way, in some places it is illegal to beg. If one is poor people find it reasonable to take away their children (on the argument that one is not able to provide what is arbitrarily defined as minimum standard) and even it is found reasonable to force sterilization on the same grounds.

    As the fact that the Catholics more often identify with the conservatives it is mainly related to moral arguments (as, in fact, conservatives usually are more reluctant to change laws related to morals), and in general the left is more enthusiast in the defence of a paternalist conception of the state (which somehow contradicts the Christian principles).

  4. Actually, this has been a problem in the UK too with Cameron – the idea from conservative ( and religious) politicians, as represented by Phillip Blond and implemented by Ian Duncan Smith, of the ‘third way’ …. using private charity to help the poor instead of having the government do it … that whole ‘big society’ thing …

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 )

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