Actually, in many ways, important ways, there are great differences between the President and those seeking to become president: the economy and how to heal it, the size and role of government in business and individual life, to name two big ones. But there is another level which is not discussed, nor analyzed by pundits and commentators. It is rarely mentioned; never, anyway, in popular media. But it a matter where a difference in approach would offer a clear choice to voters; it would change everything.
So what’s the difference? All current candidates, and almost all Westerners, are orthodox believers in two essential doctrines of the Enlightenment:
1) the essential goodness of humans, and
(2) the inevitability of human progress.
The first of these two must end in the latter, and the latter is wholly dependent on the first. In any system, political or otherwise, these two must exist together. One is not present without the other. To hold that humans are essentially good is to see humans can always be changed through therapy, education, medication, behaviour modification, etc. This is much of the reason why prisons are now called penitentiaries, a place for the penitent, those who have determined to change their ways. In this understanding of humankind, bad behaviour is the result of unresolved or unhealed issues in a person’s life. Through better programs, this can be changed. Both the “left” and the “right” believe this, although the diagnoses and cures for societal ills, as proposed, are radically different. Progress, too, is inevitable, because people are essentially good. So any setback is not systemic or necessary, but temporary, however great the setback. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, Kim, Castro, etc & etc are mighty setbacks indeed.
Both doctrines have an understanding of evil, or sin, and both have an idea of what is the good. It is at this point “left” and “right” separate, but both come from the same source. At the risk of oversimplification, the left tends to make poverty a virtue, and wealth a vice. The right, switches these two. Most of this is observable by how both the poor and wealthy are described by either system. One tends to see the poor as almost always the victim of wealthy capitalists; the other sees the wealthy victim as hamstrung by high taxation that funnels unreasonable resources to the poor. Whether from the right or left, solutions tend to assume that a new program will solve all, and tweaking the human condition into cooperation is all that’s needed. Unfetter the wise industrialist and wealth will trickle down; raise the standards of living of the poor and wealth will trickle up. Both see the problem from the standpoint of a naturally good humankind and neither approach accepts that this foundation is crumbling.
Both of these extremes (and for the sake of simplicity I did make them extreme) fail to understand human nature, and there’s the problem. Both the idea of the essential goodness of humans and the inevitability of human progress ignore the nasty truth about human nature, and the empirical evidence of history. As C. K. Chesterton said, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”
I won’t deal here with history’s refutation of the goodness of man and the inevitability of progress. What concerns me is human nature, which is Biblically understood as depraved. Depravity means,
“Sin has permeated the totality of our being: body, mind, intellect, emotions, and will. Every aspect of human personhood has been corrupted radically by sin. This corruption reaches to the very core of our being so that everything about us is polluted by sin. Isaiah alluded to this when he said, ‘All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment’ (Isa. 64:6). Sin has so radically corrupted us that we are ‘dead’ to spiritual things.” Scott E. Churnock, “Dead Men Can’t Dance” in Modern Reformation, January, 2012.
If sin has infected our thinking, it needs to be admitted as a possible cause of the current mess. It isn’t simply someone else’s sin (the party across the aisle), but everyone’s problem.
Think of the economic sphere alone. When, in the course of serious political debate, has greed come up as an essential part of human nature? Now depravity shows up in many places, and greed is one of them.
If speaking of greed, and therefore sin, makes this a “religious article,” then so be it. The secular mind often can not get its mind around the fact that a religion can be factually true. The Biblical description of humans as sinful, and in the realm of economics, given to greed, is, I think empirically true. If it is true, it is true for all people, whether or not they subscribe to a particular religion.
Poverty is not a virtue, although there are many virtuous poor. Scripture tells us that some are poor because they deserve to be, and some because they are impoverished by the misdeeds of others. Wealth in the Bible is not described as a virtue so much as a danger, with great responsibilities, with warnings against victimising the poor.
What would politics look like if it was accepted that we are all sinful, and given the opportunity, will be sinful in finances? Would being financially poor be enough to receive benefits? What other kinds of tests might be applied? If not all the poor are “deserving,” then why are the wealthy necessarily so? If it may be assumed that progress will not necessarily follow our best efforts, how can governments lead the governed into times that are truly dark?
The Western world is in a horrible financial state. The United States particularly so. History tells us that no country survives indefinitely, and it may be that the USA is near its end in the sense that most of us think of it. It may not be. But until reality is brought to the discussion, there is simply no cure. An economics that does not recognize human weakness will come to institutionalize it. No society can build on an un-real foundation.