Culture

The Left Can Cite Scripture for Its Own Purpose

(Photo: Pimenova/Dreamstime)
But they would never live by its rules.

Leftists, it seems, have discovered the Bible.

This week, the Washington Post ran a story by Caitlin Dewey with this shocking headline: “GOP lawmaker: The Bible says the unemployed ‘shall not eat.’” The lawmaker at issue was Representative Jodey Arrington (R., Texas), who spoke at length about means-tested welfare programs such as food stamps. He said:

The Scripture tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you we gave you this rule: If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” And then he goes on to say, “We hear that some among you are idle.” I think that every American — Republican or Democrat — wants to help the neediest among us. And I think it’s a reasonable expectation that we have work requirements. I think that gives more credibility, quite frankly, to [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program].

This wasn’t good enough for the Post, which quickly suggested that Biblical conservatives were cruel and overbearing — but true Christianity would stand for government support for the unemployed.

Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, noted theologian Nick Kristof ran a satire piece titled, “And Jesus Said unto Paul Ryan.” The column was just as cringeworthy as you’d expect: It placed the speaker of the House into various scenarios with Jesus, correcting Jesus about mercy and kindness. So, for example, Kristof writes:

A woman who had been bleeding for 12 years came up behind Jesus and touched his clothes in hope of a cure. Jesus turned to her and said: “Fear not. Because of your faith, you are now healed.” Then spoke Pious Paul of Ryan: “But teacher, is that wise? When you cure her, she learns dependency. Then the poor won’t take care of themselves, knowing that you’ll always bail them out! You must teach them personal responsibility!”

Kristof then relates the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, with Ryan interjecting that the Good Samaritan’s intervention is “unsustainable and sends the wrong message. It teaches travelers to take dangerous roads, knowing that others will rescue them from self-destructive behaviors.”

What does the Left’s newfound enthusiasm for the Bible tell us? It tells us that the Left doesn’t actually believe in the Bible — the Left believes in government. Every time the Left cites the Bible, it does so as an excuse to let government take from some and redistribute to others, or compel work from some on behalf of others. Neither the Old Testament nor the New talks about government-compelled redistribution of wealth. Even the passage of Leviticus requiring farmers to leave a corner of their field uncut requires the poor to do the hard work of reaping the field — and there is no specified amount of the field in the Torah (rabbis later established a minimum of one-sixtieth of the field).

But according to the Left, theocracy is fine, so long as it pushes a socialist agenda. That ignores the founding view of religion: that voluntary religious practice and association would provide the basic social framework that would make liberty from government possible. The Founders understood that human beings seek to care for the poorest and most unfortunate among us; they also understood that in order to both provide for those who can’t provide for themselves and prevent government’s heavy hand from crushing individual rights, voluntarism would have to fill the gap. The Founders believed that religion, publicly practiced in community settings, could bridge the divide between the needs of community and the rights of the individual. That is what Alexis de Tocqueville meant when he said that “Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations. . . . Nothing, in my view, deserves more attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America.” Why did such associations matter? Because, Tocqueville said, Americans sought “self-interest rightly understood.” Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, explains, “A society that relies on generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society, for the same reason that money is more efficient than barter. Honesty and trust lubricate the inevitable frictions of social life.”

But the Left doesn’t believe in religion, publicly practiced, in order to preserve liberty. The Left scoffs when Mike Pence says that he lives his religion by protecting himself from risky situations with women from the office — the Left favors irreligion in personal activity, with sin punished by harsher governmental regulation rather than avoided through Biblical living. In fact, sin helps drive the need for government activity — the worse the people, the bigger the government necessary. The Left doesn’t believe in preserving individual liberty: The needs of the state always override the needs of the individual, and the existence of voluntary religious community threatens that state.

Thus the Left endorses theocracy rather than voluntary religious practice; it seeks an awkward shotgun marriage between Biblical mandate and secularist overreach. Even as the Left assures its constituents that the Bible is a book of government compulsion with regard to redistribution, it insists that the government can override individual Biblical living at will: The government can force nunneries to provide birth control, require religious bakers to take part in same-sex weddings, and prevent voluntary prayer in public schools. Even as the Left dismisses Biblical thought — and indeed, secularist scientific thought — with regard to the role of government in preventing the murder of the unborn, it insists that a vague reading of “the least of these” results in a moral injunction to steal the wealth of some and hand it over to others.

This is the theocracy of the casually religious — and it’s even less attractive than the theocracy of the Biblically extreme. At least the Biblically radical have a textbook guiding them; leftist theocrats merely follow the dictates of their own heart, imputing those dictates to God when the opportunity arises. This makes them not merely tyrants, but heretical tyrants at that.

The proper role of religion is to guide the values of the citizens, making freedom possible without Biblical cramdowns. Without a religious revival, freedom fades in favor of collectivism — and that’s just what the Left wants, which is why they deliberately twist the Bible to portray it as alternatively sacrosanct and absurd, leaving themselves as both the ultimate moral arbiters and the great godlike sponsors of government.

— Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of the Daily Wire.

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