June 23, 2010

The conservative evangelical approach to public policy?

Seems to be to pray for God to fix human-caused problems and refuse to regulate humans.

But as Waldman notes, there is also a real problem with their theology and approach to public policy, and part of the reason it is so very hard for me to take conservative evangelicals serious:
One of the image problems religion has is that a lot of its biggest fans have a rather juvenile conception of God as a capricious and cruel being who needs to be begged to stop being so mean to us -- but can be persuaded to do so if we ask in the right way. After all, if we're praying to God to stop the oil spill, doesn't that mean God caused the oil spill in the first place? Or at least if he wanted to stop it, why didn't he do it right away, instead of befouling so much of his creation and ruining the livelihoods of so many people? And if this is all His Plan, who are we to ask him to change His Plan in the middle of things? Is he going to say, "It was my divine plan for this spill to continue for another month, but since you prayed ... oh, all right."

These are questions one would hope a child would begin to ask in Sunday school. But throwing up our hands because "man's efforts have been futile," then asking God to step in and solve our problems is probably not the best approach for government to take. Am I crazy to think that no matter how conservative you are, and no matter how religious you are, you might still agree with that?


Monk-in-Training said...

I think a certain humilty should be in our prayers as we approch the Throne, esp in these times of self immolated disaster. I really like this prayer by Canon Gibson, of Christ Church Cathedral, Mobile, AL

We pray today for the preservation of our natural environment, especially the Gulf of Mexico and the lands and waters it touches: Guide those who labor to contain the oil that endangers the creatures of sea and land; Strengthen those who work to protect them; Have mercy on those whose livelihoods will suffer; Forgive us for our carelessness in using the resources of nature, and give us wisdom and reverence so to manage them in the future, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise You for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Seems to be to pray for God to fix human-caused problems and refuse to regulate humans.

What happened to” God helps those, who help themselves?

...and part of the reason it is so very hard for me to take conservative evangelicals serious:

Let's face these people aren't exactly critical thinkers. If they were, they couldn't believe what they believe.

Smitty said...

I have always had a big problem with "it's part of His plan, and we can't ever know it, and despite the fact that it seems horrible to us, it's perfect."

I don't want to get into a long post about my personal philosophy in that whole matter. Instead, I think the broader point is the confluence of religion and state.

It's one thing to keep the entities separated meaning that our government, unlike England and the Anglican church, should never endorse one single religion. But it's another thing to use "His Plan" as an excuse for inaction. When government and civic intervention can help solve a problem, the anti-government wing urges instead prayer as a way to solve the issue. So they pray fervently while oil continues to spill. It's like the kid's parents who prayed he'd get better instead of taking him to the doctor. Take him to the doctor, PRAY FOR COMFORT.

That's what I like about the prayer that Monk posted; that's what I envision the role of God being: while I figure this mess out, I pray to you to keep me sane and on the right path to fix it. I'm scared, make me feel better. Let me know I *can* do this (but that *I* still have to...).

Rambling, I know, just to say this: religion should never be used in place of government or civic action. It compliments it, if you're so inclined, but it isn't ever gonna fix it. Millenia of praying for world peace...how's that been working?

LB said...

"Let's face these people aren't exactly critical thinkers. If they were, they couldn't believe what they believe."

Yep Anon, there are no critical thinkers among conservative evangelicals. Not a one. It's pretty much bullshit what they believe.

Streak said...

LB, to be fair, there is a broader question out here than one posed by an anonymous poster. That idea that we replace active government with a call for prayer. How about that?

LB said...

It does not follow that because one prays to God to fix something that God is responsible for causing it. If I get a stain on my carpet and ask a carpet cleaner to fix it, it does not make sense to say that therefore the carpet cleaner must have created the stain. Hence, Waldman's first assertion that religious people pray for God to fix the oil spill means that God must have caused the oil spill is simple a logical fallacy.

Second, it does not follow that prayer automatically acts a substitute for good public policy. Just as one who prays for cancer patients does not automatically mean that one believes that leading a healthy lifestyle is not important, it stands that just because one prays does not mean that one thinks good public policy is not important.

So simply put, I really don't see any evidence that evangelicals replace good public policy with prayer.

Streak said...

I can see your point on the first one, though I think the comparison between the carpet cleaner and God is not strong. In this case, I would agree that Waldman misspeaks by saying that asking God to stop the spill assumes that he caused it. But the other questions are more on point about the nature of prayer. If God can stop the spill, why does he need our asking for him to act?

Second, I would suggest that in this case and in many other disasters, evangelicals seem to see them as "acts of God" rather than the consequence of bad decisions. While the storm Katrina was a natural event, the erosion of the sand bars that could have mitigated the impact, and the human errors in bad responses from state and federal governments had nothing to do with God. I have heard Republicans refer to this BP leak as a "natural" disaster, and this is where I get a little annoyed.

Your second point, however, I think, avoids the central issue here. I don't think that anyone has said that any prayer is always a substitute for public policy. What I have suggested instead, is that many conservative evangelicals actually oppose regulation on our energy companies (or other kinds of companies) on a pretty regular basis. If, and this is an if, you consistently oppose good human decisions that could prevent such a spill, calling for prayer sure seems like a substitute. Further, for our elected officials to seemingly throw up their hands and say that as public policy, we should pray this away--that is not good theology nor good policy.

I have no problem with people praying for the spill to end. I don't think that is how God works and don't think it will work that way. But I have no problem for it. But I do have a huge problem with Palin and actual elected officials undermining regulations on one hand, and then using their elected office (not Palin, obviously) to promote a particular evangelical approach to prayer.

LB said...

Working out the question of if God can stop the spill then why does he need our prayers to do so amounts to having to solve the problem of evil as well as provide a theology of prayer all in one blog comment. That can't be done in anything less than a book.

To the issue of whether evangelicals oppose regulation on companies, that point is undeniable. But the issue is which regulations. For the most part I've seen calls for deregulation along the lines of prices and competition. I've really never seen or heard of any conservatives calling for cutting safety regulations.

There was inadequate regulation on the oil rig that exploded. That was a failing of someone or somebodies in government not doing their job. (I genuinely don't know who, because I haven't researched it. If it was a conservative so be it.) I'm not sure I'm willing to equate conservative calls for smaller government and fewer social programs with a desire to get rid of safety catches.

As for conservatives who have chalked the explosion up to "an act of God" or a natural disaster, their wrong, plain and simple. I think they are saying it in an effort to maintain support for offshore oil drilling. They want to emphasis the rarity of such an event, such that there isn't a public outcry to shut down all the offshore oil rigs. I think they've taken the wrong approach on that one, but I think that's why they're doing it.

Not sure if I've exactly addressed all your points, but its the best I can do at the moment.

Streak said...

LB. On the question of evil and prayer, I agree. Which is why I am so annoyed with the conservative evangelicals I know who present it as a simplistic children's story.

As for regulation, I would like to know what price and competition regulation they are calling for that does not already exist for oil companies? And I would suggest that most evangelicals oppose regulation of how an oil company runs its business because they believe that the business is more trustworthy than the government.

As for the regulations in place, it appears to be a very sordid story. Most of this goes back on Bush as the agency in charge of regulating BP was in bed with BP and every other oil company. This happens when you have governing that distrusts regulation and does everything they can to undermine it. Under Bush and Cheney, the regulators were partying with the oil company people, and even allowing them to fill out their own inspection paperwork. Unfortunately, Obama has not cleaned that up enough.

I am unsure how you think the small government will be able to regulate the safety of the work place and the environmental safety of rigs such as this. It appears to me that so many small government conservatives want an awful lot from government, but somehow think it can be done without agencies or tax money. Perhaps you can explain that to me. Is it really that you equate large government only with welfare to the poor?

LB said...

As I've said before, I believe that government's function in the economy is the enforce the contracts, written or implied between consumer's and businesses. I see regulating the safety of an offshore oil rig as fitting within that philosophy as I as the consumer imply a contract with BP that I will buy their gas assuming they aren't destroying the environment. Thus, I see safety regulation as fitting in with my small government mindset.

Large government to me encompasses far more that simply welfare, though welfare programs are a big chunk of it. To me large government includes stimulus packages that are basically a collection of needless projects like building turtle tunnels in Florida. Can't find the link to that story sorry. Large government are stupid pork barrel spending like bridges to nowhere. Its also the federal government doing things that ought to be done by state and local government. I know this will make me sound like I don't favor public education, but the federal department of education is useless. Test scores have dropped across the board since its inception. Education is not something the federal government can fix in this country. People have to want to be educated, or at least be encouraged to get educated. That's not done in Washington, its done by individuals (primarily parents) investing time in children and showing them the value of education.

Large government is bailouts to car companies. Large government is a desire to create a public health insurance option without giving true competition in the health insurance industry a chance.

Hope this gives you a better idea of how I see large government as expanding beyond simply the welfare sate.

Streak said...

LB, I guess I am still not terribly convinced by that small government argument. Sorry. A good example is the "implied" belief that BP would not destroy the environment. Absent legislation and regulation that would actually address this, I wonder where that implied belief is?

And not to get into the meat of your argument here, but I am also struck by the fact that the small government, let business be business, and let the churches help the poor approach, has never worked when things have gotten bad. A small government was completely incapable of responding either to the human, environmental, or economic disaster in 1929. And in our own setting, that stimulus actually did a lot to save our economy, as did the bank bailout and the auto bailout. Would have been nicer had those industries been regulated to the point that they not be allowed to get to that kind of disastrous point, but that is not a conservative argument.

As for the Federal approach to education, I am curious what some of the others here think. UBUB has great expertise in this area, and Anglican yet another. I understand some of the argument against the dept. of education, and certainly think that NCLB has been a disaster, but I am very hesitant to endorse a completely local or state control over, well, anything. Remember, I live in Oklahoma, where if left to their own devices completely, I am not even sure we would have public schools.

LB said...

To the BP issue, I think you misunderstood my point. The implied belief that BP would not destroy the environment is held by me. That belief is really part of my implied contract with BP when I buy products from them. To enforce that implied contract i accept and consider is necessary for government to regulate safety through legislation and agencies.

To the small government being able to respond to large scale crises, I'm walking a dangerous line here I realize since I'm sure you know the history better here than I, but I'm not convinced that large government really fixes the economy. It may alleviate problems temporarily, but I don't think it fixes problems. If I recall correctly, around 1937 Roosevelt thought unemployment had dropped enough that it was time to start rolling back some of the New Deal programs, but then unemployment went right back up, because what his programs had done was create government jobs, not sparked new economic growth.

Streak said...

LB, I still am not sure I follow you on BP. I understand your implied understanding, but how does that translate into government policy? Absent legislation and a government dedicated to oversight of such operations, how would that work? In other words, how does a small government that allows business to be run by market principles regulate something like BP? Or maybe I am still missing your point. That is possible. I have not been at my sharpest of late.

As for Roosevelt, you are partly right. No doubt the economy turned south in 37 and 38 because Roosevelt took his foot off the gas. But two points. One, I think this take ignores the great regulatory steps taken in response to the horrible economy of the 20s--by Roosevelt and his Brain Trust--to try and add stability to our economy. That is not a small government response. Your observation is only looking at one part of the New Deal--the make-work approach to get people working and to get money circulating in the economy.

Second, most people would say that the true healing for the depression came from the War spending. But what makes that kind of government investment different than what Roosevelt was doing except on the issue of scale? I have a stat somewhere in my notes about the amount of federal money that circulated in Southern California in the 1945-1950 range--and it is stunning. When people say that government can't create economic growth, I wish they would explain that. That money went into "government jobs" which added to the tax base and disposable income of the area. Out of that came the investment in things like McDonalds (which we may regret now, but certainly was entrepreneurial and part of the economic growth of the next few decades) and other entrepreneurial opportunities.

I don't quite understand the opposition to Keynes here. Say someone gets a job just to keep him employed. It is a government job and is not created by the economy. But it allows him to frequent his local eateries and keep them in business. It might even allow him to invest in a new shop or business idea.

Likewise, people complained that some of the stimulus went to artists or things considered to be unimportant. But each of those artists or workers in that project building turtle tunnels (may not be unimportant if those turtles are endangered, btw) then have money to spend on other things.