A matter of hours after President Obama announced his proposal to reduce the federal deficit, which includes $2 in spending cuts to every $1 of new government revenue, his opponents were on television hailing the plan as the return of “class warfare.” Conservative evangelicals dutifully picked up the line, but gave it a slight twist: Instead of “class warfare” they were more likely to refer to it as “class envy.” And we know what the Bible says about envy!
Part of the organized effort over the past three decades to whitewash capitalism, and in many cases to explicitly associate it with Christian values, has been to render criticism of capitalism in very particular spiritual terms. It happens that many elements of the Marxist critique of capitalism—for example, that it devolves spiritual beings into greedy consumers, and obliterates moral principles and community values that obstruct economic growth and profit—resonate strongly with Christian morality. Because these critiques are both so common sense and so similar to the general thrust of the New Testament, right-wing Christians find themselves in something of a bind. They need not only to baptize the building blocks of capitalism, like the profit motive, but they also need to discredit anti-capitalist ideas that sound an awful lot like what one might read in the Bible. One of the best ways to do that is to associate them with shallow theology and sinful motives.
The clearest example of this effort I’ve seen in a while is World editor Marvin Olasky’s latest column on Obama, headlined “Playing the Envy Card”. The piece hints that Obama’s deficit proposal, which is based on ideas that every single poll for months has shown most Americans support, is “a political appeal to class envy.” For Olasky, class envy is a problem because wanting what other people have gets in the way of dealing with reality—that we need the rich to be rich so they can make jobs for the rest of us. “So what?” he asks, if they are rich and greedy. “It’s a small price to pay for those who build businesses that create jobs.” Anyone who doesn’t understand that this is simply the way things work is “showing they don’t understand original sin.”
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