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Religion, a “Sophie’s Choice,” and an Easy Choice

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Lamenting the political version of a “Sophie’s choice” between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for the U.S. presidency, Dennis Prager surveys related reasons for pessimism.

What Prager and his fellow religionists fail to grasp, however, is that this wretched choice and these causes for despair are substantially results of Americans’ adherence to religion.

To see why, consider some reasons for pessimism identified by Prager in his article “A Dark Time in America”—along with some revealing biblical parallels.

“According to Pew Research,” notes Prager, “more and more young Americans do not believe in freedom of speech for what they deem ‘hate speech.’ Forty percent of respondents ages 18 to 34 said they agreed that offensive statements could be outlawed.”

That is a disturbing statistic. But it should not surprise Prager or other religious Americans.

Practically all young Americans are raised by parents who embrace as their fundamental moral guide a book that calls not merely for outlawing certain kinds of speech but also for enacting the death penalty for certain kinds of speech. That book is the Bible. Here are two relevant passages:

Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. (Leviticus 24:16)

If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” . . . you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. (Deuteronomy 13:6–9)

Obviously—and thankfully—today’s Jews and Christians don’t take the Bible seriously enough to obey such commandments. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Bible presents such commandments as the will of God.

If people raise their children to believe that the Bible is the source of moral truth, and that the will of God is to be obeyed, how can they expect their children to accept that a so-called right to freedom of speech exists? How can anyone have a right to freedom of speech when the Creator of the universe and of moral law says explicitly that certain speech is forbidden and must be punished by death?

Prager cites more reasons for pessimism:

According to a series of Harvard polls, 47 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 believe that food, shelter, and health care “are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them.” That means that nearly half of our young believe they have a legitimate claim on the labor and earnings of others for life’s basic necessities.

Again, this is an alarming statistic. And, again, it should come as no surprise to Prager or to anyone who knows that a huge percentage of Americans raise their children to believe that the Bible is the source of moral truth and God’s word is the moral law.

From what book do children get the idea that they are their brother’s keeper? Where do they get the idea that the needy “have a legitimate claim on the labor and earnings of others for life’s basic necessities”? As Walter Williams might say, if you answered “the Bible,” go to the head of the class:

  • “I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land,” says God through Moses (Deuteronomy 15:11).
  • “Woe unto those who . . . turn aside the needy,” warns God through Isaiah (Isaiah 10:1–2).
  • “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you . . . do not demand it back”—“Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor”—“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”—says Jesus (Luke 6:30 and 18:22; Matthew 19:24).

The Bible is laced with such commandments (and threats) demanding the redistribution of wealth and property to “the poor and needy.” If the Bible is true, and God’s will is the law, then of course the needy “have a legitimate claim on the labor and earnings of others for life’s basic necessities.” God couldn’t have been clearer about this.

And given God’s decrees that people must be openhanded toward the needy, of course government should tax citizens and use that money to ensure that the needy are provided with the goods to which they have legitimate claim. The Bible is clear about this as well:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1–7)

In short, according to the Bible, those in power are agents of God. They collect taxes and use that money as God ordains. When they use it to provide the needy with food, shelter, health care, and the like, they do so because God wills it.

Prager continues with reasons for pessimism: “More than half of young Americans do not support capitalism—the source of the prosperity they enjoy and the only economic system that has ever lifted mass numbers of people out of poverty.”

Again, alarming—and hardly surprising to anyone who knows the nature of capitalism and the precepts of the Bible.

Yes, the principles of capitalism—namely, each individual’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, along with the principle that the only proper purpose of government is to protect these rights by banning physical force from social relationships—are the source of the West’s prosperity and have lifted countless people out of poverty. Everyone with a modicum of knowledge about history knows this. Everywhere and to whatever extent capitalism has been implemented, it has freed people to act on their own judgment for their own life-serving purposes. It has freed them to pursue happiness and to trade value for value with others who pursue happiness. It has enabled everyone who wants to live and prosper to live and prosper.

But here’s the catch: By freeing people to act on their own rational judgment, for their own life-serving purposes, in pursuit of their own personal happiness, capitalism frees people to be selfish. And according to the Bible—which, incidentally, says nothing about people’s need of freedom to act on their own judgment so that they can live and prosper—selfishness is forbidden. Again, the Bible is clear about this:

  • “Do nothing from selfishness . . . but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
  • “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24).
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
  • “Share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).

The ideal society, according to the Bible, is like the one described in Acts 4–5, where, in accordance with God’s will, the people “had all things common . . . and distribution was made unto each, according as anyone had need.” (Karl Marx later adopted this idea as the basic principle of socialism: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”) How serious is God in the Bible about this being the morally correct arrangement? The answer couldn’t be clearer: When a selfish couple attempts to keep a portion of their own earnings rather than share it with the community, God strikes the couple dead.

The precepts in the Bible are incompatible with capitalism because capitalism legalizes selfishness, and the Bible forbids selfishness.

If Prager and others concerned to defend freedom of speech, property rights, and capitalism want to succeed in this regard, they must turn away from the Bible, away from faith, away from “God.” They must turn instead to a philosophy of reality, reason, and rational selfishness—a philosophy that undergirds and supports freedom of speech, property rights, and capitalism. Fortunately for everyone concerned, Ayn Rand developed just such a philosophy and showed how its every principle is derived via observation and logic. It’s called Objectivism, and Rand presented it in her various fiction and nonfiction books, such as Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness.

And, if parents want their children to develop an understanding of the core values on which their lives and prosperity depend, they should introduce their children to the principles of reason and self-interest as well. For elaboration, see “How To Raise a Life-Loving Child” and “The Teenager’s Guide to The Morality of Self-Interest.”

Of course, choosing to explore and embrace such a radical philosophy requires challenging and ultimately rejecting the status quo. But that is hardly a “Sophie’s choice.” Embracing rational, life-serving principles and eschewing religious, life-throttling dogma are clearly in one’s best interest—and in the best interest of one’s children and loved ones in general.

Making this choice may require a little courage in the face of social pressure. But given that the alternatives are either a future of darkness, tyranny, and despair—or a future of reason, liberty, and prosperity—all that is required to summon the courage is a conscience.

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