A Serious Debate About Socialism

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My local paper, the Tribune Star, reprinted an article recently by Froma Harrop titled “The Silly Debate About Socialism.” I found out later that this article has been widely distributed throughout the country, both online and in print. There are two major problems in the essay, and one minor problem. By far the most egregious error is her definition of socialism. “Simply put, socialism is a system whereby the state owns the means of production. In capitalism, the means of production are privately owned. Would someone kindly tell us which companies Bernie Sanders would nationalize, starting with Bernie Sanders?” There are two great ironies about this statement. The first is that she gives this incorrect definition right after venting her frustration about politicians not knowing the definitions of political theories.

The reason her definition is wrong is clearly explained in her own description of our economy. We have a mixed (public and privately held means of production and regulation) economy that is primarily capitalistic. For an economy or a politician to be “socialist” does not mean that they have to advocate for completely public ownership, that is communism. Our economy is not 100% privately owned, that does not mean it is not a capitalist economy. She goes on to mention that Sweden’s economy is not socialist because it is a “capitalist powerhouse.” Sweden’s economy is primarily socialist, not because there are no capitalist elements but because the means of production and regulation are primarily public. Moving on, the second irony leads to the second major problem.

She challenges readers to name one company that Bernie Sanders would “nationalize.” She says this as a rhetorical device to prove her point, but her article was published the week after Bernie Sanders proposed one of his strongest socialist ideas yet. That is to tax Amazon and other companies like it, based on how many of their workers rely on federal benefits. I do have to commend her stated motives for writing the article. She explains that it is her desire for people to not be afraid of many good ideas because they think of them as “socialist.” And this is the minor problem. These are socialist idea, but I agree that people should not be afraid of them. I don’t advocate for these programs because I am a conservative, but I don’t fear them either because they would be much better than our current system.

The method Harrop is using to lessen the fear is actually adding to it. The reason there is so much tension between the United States and Russia is because we are currently two empires, one capitalist and one socialist, that have betrayed their people, and their founding ethos. The United States was an early adopter of the industrial revolution, and in that process we allowed a massive consolidation of wealth. This was our betrayal of the people, and of our ethos. The Soviet Union resisted the industrial revolution much longer than we did, and once they embraced it, for the sake of “the proletariat,” they allowed a massive consolidation of power. This was their betrayal.

Instead of repenting of these abuses, both nations have allowed the continuous consolidation of both wealth and power to occur, and used the excuse that it was necessary to compete with each other. The people bought these excuses primarily out of the fear that Harrop is describing, and inadvertently feeding into. In his “epic post apocalyptic ‘robot western’ Sea of Rust,” amazon’s description not my own, C. Robert Cargill’s OWI’s (One World Intelligence’s) foretell the destruction of mankind because humans could not agree on an entirely capitalist or socialist economy, and therefore could not keep pace with the machines. I think Cargill made the same mistake as Harrop, it isn’t that we can’t agree on one system or the other, it’s the fact that we can’t stop seeing each other as the enemy.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of North Terre Haute Christian Church or it's members.  

The Painting at the top of this page is from the cover C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust 


A Time for Everything

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It happens almost every time I have coffee with a friend. It happens when my wife and I watch our favorite shows on a lazy Saturday morning. It happens when I lose myself in a game with my children. But it also happened one time when my daughter stopped breathing. “It” is the transformation of time. My wife and I were at her parents house when my infant daughter started running a high fever. For some reason my first reaction was to take off my shirt and hold her to my chest. This was pure instinct, but I found out later that it is one of the best ways to reduce a child’s temperature. When a parent holds their child skin to skin the heat from the child’s body actually transfers to the parent. We called the doctor’s office and they suggested running a lukewarm bath, but after a few minutes of holding her in the room temperature water, her eyes rolled back in her head and she stopped breathing. In that moment time ceased with her breath.

That is what fear, pain, sorrow, and darkness can do in our lives. They slow time down, and if they go deep enough they can stop it altogether. Thankfully the paramedics arrived and rushed my daughter to the hospital. We found out that she was susceptible to febrile seizures, a condition we had never heard of, but one that is common in children under ten. But do our experiences really change the flow of time, or is it simply in our minds. The answer is yes to both, but to understand why we have to examine what time actually is. Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that time is nothing but a localized projection of individual and collective human experience. What that means is that there is no universal flow of time apart from human experience. If time slows down for you, then time itself truly slows down. This fluctuating view of time is essential for us to understand what life can be like now and what it will be like in the future.

I grew up imaging heaven as an endless duration of trillions upon trillions of years. The more I think about this and talk about it with other people, I continue to discover that most find this view of eternity terrifying, but at the same time they feel it is explicitly taught in the bible. It’s important to remember that God uses things we know to help us understand things that we can’t know. For example, there are many different descriptions of heaven throughout the bible (John 14, Hebrews 12, Revelation 7), and these descriptions are true, but none of them fully encompass what our experience of the next life will be like. Our thoughts about this topic can also lead to a very harmful way of thinking about God’s relationship to time. SPOILER ALERT. There is a scene from the Netflix series Black Mirror that perfectly illustrates what I’m describing. In the episode White Christmas John Hamm punishes the digital copy of a woman by accelerating her experience of time. It’s possible for us to start thinking of God as existing in this manner; in a type of “time outside of time” where he is thinking and acting in much the same way that we do, but as an observer of time rather than a participant.

For God to participate in time does not mean that he must be bound by time, or that he must experience change. God’s participation in time is itself a timeless participation. This happens in much the same way that light interacts with matter, or the way that joy, peace, and love interact with our hearts and minds. When you experience joy, peace, and love, time speeds up, and the more you experience those emotions, the more quickly time accelerates. In mathematics this is described as an asymptotic relationship; so the next time you hear someone complaining about the uselessness of algebra, you can tell them that it reveals something very profound to us about our relationship with God and time! This is good news for anyone who might be terrified by the idea of infinite duration, of existing for trillions of years. What we experience in part in this life (an hour that feels like a minute) we will experience fully in the next, a timeless union with love itself.

The painting at the top of this page is Time in Eternity by Leon Devenice

P.S. This understanding of our relationship with God and time is far from being universally agreed upon. It is a topic that I discuss frequently with church leaders from around the country on twitter, so if you’re interested in learning more you can follow me on twitter @mattlarimer. Now, if anyone tells you that this is not the “majority view” throughout the history of the church, kindly disregard that comment because it is not true. Something that is commonly taught, however, is that our experiences and our emotions are not essential for knowing God. Origen, one of the greatest interpreters of Scripture in history, quoted 1 Corinthians 14:32, “the prophets are subject to prophets,” to highlight the importance of our experiences and emotions. Scripture itself is a collection of writings from the prophets, communicating their experiences with God; with the purpose of drawing us into our own experiences.   

A Monolithic Conservatism

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One of the most common myths pervading our political landscape currently is that of a monolithic conservatism. By that I mean a singular conservative ideology, but that is simply not how conservatism works. Conservatism differs based on the culture it operates in. The conservative ideal is to protect that which is best in the history of a culture. Based on that definition the conservative party in a nation with a long history of monarchy, would seek to restore the monarchy or at least fight for centralized power. On the other hand, conservatism in a nation founded on anti-monarchical principles would try to prevent the establishment of a monarchy specifically, and the consolidation of power generally. This is what should make conservatism in the United States different from conservatism in Europe.

This is not how conservatism is currently functioning in the United States. Long ago the conservative party traded it’s conservative ideology for a nationalist agenda. We traded the anti-monarchical and anti-federalist vision, that dominated American politics for the first fifty years of our nation, for the chance to be a global economic and militaristic superpower. I know this can be a difficult topic to discuss when political tensions are high, because people are already uncomfortable when long held beliefs are questioned. I don’t want to over state this, but I truly believe the future of our nation is at stake if conservatives don’t understand this one simple fact. Reagan conservatism is not American conservatism. Reagan conservatism is European conservatism rebranded, and it is the ideology that we revolted against. It is dangerous because increasingly nationalistic societies are the birthplaces of tyrants.

Great Britain was the dominant economic and militaristic super power of it’s day. The British Navy and the East India Trading Company absolutely dominated the globe. At the height of it’s power the British Empire truly was a successor to the Roman Empire, but the American Colonies stood up to this juggernaut, much like the Germanic tribes had stood up to the Romans centuries before. The Germanic tribes consolidated their power and sought after global domination and came up short, but where they failed we have succeeded. The United States built an army stronger than the Roman Legions, a Navy more dominant than the British Royal Fleets, and an Air Force that is stronger than anyone could have dreamt. We allowed robber barons and financial institutions to grow exponentially, and finally we convinced ourselves that economic and militaristic domination of the globe is what it means to be an American.

Global domination is not what it means to be an American. Global domination was never what it meant to be an American. The American Revolution stood for the exact opposite of global domination. The American Revolution was the start of world wide revolutions opposing centralized power. How can the revolutionary spirit that changed the world become the empire that it revolted against in just under two hundred years? I don’t know, but if Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in US history at his time, can wake up to the reality that the United States has betrayed itself, then you and I can as well. Conservatism is not about restoring every aspect of a bygone age. It is about examining your past, repenting of the mistakes you’ve made, recommitting to your best ideals, and partnering with progressive dreamers to create a future that is better than anyone could have ever imagined.

This post was in part a response to David Bentley Hart who recently stated that he has never heard of a conservative ideology that he was not “morally hostile” to. I am partially sympathetic to his hostility, because of the long history that conservatives have of trying to bring back the worst parts of their cultures, along with the good. However, I know that Mr. Hart is a good enough student of history, that he should be able to come to the same conclusions that I have expressed here. Unfortunately, he has fallen prey to the polarizing spirit that has seized our nation. He has perpetuated the myth that conservatives and progressives are working towards fundamentally different goals. This is not true. We should be working together, to embrace the good and repent of the evil aspects of our history, and dream about the best possible vision for our future.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of North Terre Haute Christian Church or it's members.