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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. Last week we showed that critical theory challenges cultural norms because it views them as part of an oppressive power structure. This anti-Christian theory has taken over our university system and our public K-12 system as well. It must be opposed by Christians. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by highlighting the seriousness of the problem. In Mark 3:25 Christ said that “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Now this is a self-evidently true statement, but it gets at the root of the issue with neo-Marxist ideologies of all flavors. Their purpose is to divide and conquer. They seek to destroy this country from within.

Marc Roby: Surely that can’t be true of all the people who support these different ideologies.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, no, it isn’t. Most of the people who join with these different movements or espouse their views do so innocently enough, they have come to believe that the ideas are good for one reason or another, often because the stated goals deliberately hide the real purpose. But in each of the movements there are some number of individuals, typically those driving and guiding the movements, who are very conscious of what they are doing. They literally want to destroy this country.  

Marc Roby: That probably sounds like a right-wing conspiracy theory to many.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it does, but there is no need for a conspiracy theory. As I have been laboring to show in these podcasts, you can read things these people published or said publicly and you can trace their connections to each other and see what they’ve done and why they’ve done it. Whether or not it meets the standard of being a “conspiracy” is another matter. 

But that is also why I pointed out that most of the people who accept or promote these neo-Marxist ideologies in one way or another are not doing so from bad motives. They simply don’t know the true motivations behind the movement. Take, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement, which we will talk about in detail in a later session. They chose that name for a good reason. Who is going to deny the truth of the statement that black lives matter?

Marc Roby: No one that I want to associate with.

Dr. Spencer: And that is why they chose that name. Only a wicked person would deny it. But the Black Lives Matter organization is very different from their name. It is not focused on saving or improving black lives as I will clearly show later. It is a Marxist organization whose real fundamental goal is the destruction of this country in order to create the conditions necessary for communism to come in and to move us closer to a world-wide utopia. And that is what you are supporting if you have a Black Lives Matter T-shirt or lawn sign.

Marc Roby: I look forward to that discussion. 

Dr. Spencer: And so do I, but we have a little more background to cover first. I just wanted to emphasize what is at stake here. Remember back in Session 165 when we were discussing the voluntary socialist experiment of Robert Owen, called New Harmony? I mentioned that Marx and Engels had nothing but contempt for the idea that communism could be brought about by peaceful means. True communism requires that the entire world become communist, it can’t be just be one country. No truly communist nation, or group, is ever going to peacefully coexist with other forms of government, their theory demands that the whole world become communist before it is possible to reach heaven on earth. So they will always be working for the destruction of other forms of government. We need to understand that as individuals and as a nation or we are going to be taken advantage of and, eventually, destroyed because of our own naivete.  

Marc Roby: That’s a very strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But remember that in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. … Workingmen of all countries, unite!” 

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point about how dangerous this is. Although it does appear that not all communists disdain to conceal their views, the real motives behind much of what they are doing in this country are not openly stated.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although they don’t work too hard to hide them. You just have to look and you can find them. We have seen that a number of people have realized that capitalist societies like ours have become too successful for the working class to want revolution. Therefore, Marxists needed to find a way to weaken our country, and others like it, in order to create a situation in which revolution is possible. 

Marc Roby: And that is why we spent the last two sessions discussing Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse and critical theory, the theory that virtually every aspect of our culture is a part of a huge system of oppression. That theory is being used in our school systems and elsewhere to divide our country and create that revolutionary situation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. And we are seeing the bitter fruit of that movement right now with the riots that have been plaguing many of our major cities night after night for months. 

Marc Roby: And we see it in the calls to abolish or radically reduce the police and the burning of police buildings and other symbols of authority.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. In Session 168 I noted that Gramsci was the first to publish the realization that capitalism is too successful. Working class people are able to achieve a comfortable lifestyle and don’t see the need for revolution. Gramsci called this giving them a “false consciousness.” And we noted that Marcuse built on Gramsci’s ideas. Let me quote from Marcuse’s most famous work, a book called One-Dimensional Man, which was published in 1964.

Marcuse wrote that “The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced.” He then went on to write that “The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood.”

Marc Roby: That explains the phrase “false consciousness”, he is referring to the false idea that someone could become fully satisfied in life as a result of material prosperity.

Dr. Spencer: And, in a way, we would agree with this. To be materially comfortable and to think that is all that is important is to completely miss the true purpose of life. Christ himself said, in Luke 10:42, that there is only one thing needful, and he wasn’t speaking about material prosperity, he was speaking about our salvation. 

Marc Roby: Jesus also told us in the Sermon on the Mount, as we read in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Dr. Spencer: And those verses make the same point. So, we would agree with Marcuse and others that material prosperity alone cannot fully satisfy man’s needs, not even in this life. But, strangely, Marcuse should have been happy with a comfortable life if he was a truly consistent materialist. I mean, what else could really matter? You live, you die, and that’s the end of it. But we know, because God has told us, that man is not just a physical animal, he has a spirit as well. And everyone, even an avowed materialist like Marcuse, has a sense that there is more to life than the physical. That is why many novels, short stories and plays have been written in the last century about how a person can lose his or her soul by being completely consumed with material prosperity.

Marc Roby: It is certainly a common theme. Especially since the industrial revolution.

Dr. Spencer: And I personally think the reason is that society has been so successful at supplying everyone’s physical needs that people have more leisure time and are less consumed with the task of providing for their material needs. And from the perspective of a Marxist, who wants to bring about revolution, that is a problem. Marcuse wrote the following about the capitalist way of life, “It is a good way of life – much better than before – and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.”

Marc Roby: In other words, successful people get lulled into a comfortable life that prevents them from thinking about more important things. Which is exactly what Jesus Christ warned about.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. But Marcuse saw an opportunity to attack cultures that are materially successful. He wrote in the concluding chapter of One-Dimensional Man that “The totalitarian tendencies of the one-dimensional society render the traditional ways and means of protest ineffective – perhaps even dangerous because they preserve the illusion of popular sovereignty. … However, underneath the conservative popular base is the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colors, the unemployed and the unemployable. … their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.”

Marc Roby: Ah! So this is where the idea of needing to raise their consciousness comes from.

Dr. Spencer: Precisely. According to Marcuse, you need to take those people who are not doing well in society, and there will always be some, strip them of the idea that they are capable of working hard, living honest lives and moving up in that society, and get them to see themselves as an oppressed class. They must be convinced that they are victims. And society itself is the oppressor, so society needs to be changed. Mike Gonzales does a good job of describing this whole process in his book The Plot to Change America.

Marc Roby: That all starts to bring many of the problems we see in our country today clearly into focus. The Marxist idea of class conflict, along with neo-Marxist ideologies of race have generated an almost endless list of groups who are supposedly oppressed and in need of liberation.

Dr. Spencer: And it isn’t just in terms of race relations or work environments. The whole sexual revolution is part of this plan to destroy America as well and has generated an almost endless list of supposedly oppressed groups needing to be liberated, the LGBTQIA and on and on. 

In a second very influential work published in 1955, entitled Eros and Civilization, Marcuse argues, essentially, that sex in virtually any form should be freely used for pleasure. He concedes that this would be a reversal of what we normally think of as civilized culture, but he views it as a move forward, not backward. He wrote, “It would still be a reversal of the process of civilization, a subversion of culture – but after culture had done its work and created the mankind and the world that could be free.” He explains further, and his basic idea is that once civilization has reached the point of easily supplying our material needs, man should be freed from the constraints imposed upon him and be totally free sexually.

Marc Roby: Which is, yet again, an attack on biblical morality. God created sex and he defines the proper role of sex in human life. It is meant to be something shared only between a husband and a wife. It is the glue in a marriage and also brings about families. So this idea of total sexual freedom is really an attack on the biblical family structure, which is the core of our civilization.

Dr. Spencer: And Marcuse knew that he was attacking the family. In that same work he wrote that this change in sexual mores “would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family.”

Marc Roby: Which disintegration, I assume, he viewed as a good thing.

Dr. Spencer: He did. He viewed anything that would help destroy our culture and country as good. And his student, Angela Davis, wrote in 2018 that “Marcuse’s ideas can be as valuable today as they were 50 years ago.” 

Marc Roby: And, of course, 50 years before she wrote that was 1968. The late 60’s were a time of violent student protests all over this country.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they were. And those protests had a lot to do with the destruction of our universities. Those protests brought about the creation of a number of so-called ethnic studies departments in the universities and the creation of a number of new faculty positions to fill them. In general, these departments are really nothing more than a platform for activism. There is precious little, if any, meaningful scholarly activity in these departments. And whatever worthy scholarly activity there may be, could have already been accommodated in other, existing, programs like history, language, philosophy and so on. And these ethnic studies departments, once created, needed to make sure they had enough students, so they often pushed to have some sort of diversity requirement added to the general education requirements, which meant that all students typically had to take one or more of these courses.

Students can now get college credit, a minor and even bachelors and graduate degrees in things like Queer studies, Chicana/Chicano studies, African American and African Studies and Sexuality Studies.

Marc Roby: And what does one do with a degree in Queer studies for example?

Dr. Spencer: Well, not much useful. I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to land you a well-paying job or make a well-rounded citizen. As I said, these programs are really all about activism and trying to change, or I should really say destroy, our culture. There are college courses, for example, on pornography. Students literally get college credit for watching, or they would contend, studying pornography.

Marc Roby: That is outrageous. And all of this has made its way down into our K-12 curricula as well.

Dr. Spencer: Not in quite as blatant a form, but yes. In Thomas Sowell’s eye-opening book Inside American Education he carefully explains how our K-12 schools have been taken over by these neo-Marxist, or as they are sometimes called, cultural Marxist ideologies. In the K-12 schools they take on a psychological form, rather than an ideological form. 

Marc Roby: Now, who is Thomas Sowell?

Dr. Spencer: He is an American economist who is currently a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has spent many years seriously looking into our nation’s educational system and has written a number of intelligent, well-researched articles and books on the subject.

Marc Roby: And what did you mean when you said that these neo-Marxist ideologies show up in the K-12 schools in a psychological, rather than an ideological form?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that the schools focus on changing the attitudes and beliefs of our children. Chapter Three of Sowell’s book is called Classroom Brainwashing. It begins with the following statement: “A variety of courses and programs, under an even wider variety of names, have been set up in schools across the country to change the values, behavior, and beliefs of American youngsters from what they have been taught by their families, their churches, or the social groups in which they have grown up.” 

He goes on to explain how tactics that are  mild versions of the brain-washing techniques developed in China under Mao are used in these courses. I don’t want to spend much time on this, interested listeners are encouraged to read his book, but as just one simple example, it is common in grade schools to give assignments where the students are asked to write about family problems and other personal issues and to not tell their parents about the assignment, which produces a feeling of isolation in the student and makes him more susceptible to the teacher’s ideas, even if they contradict what he is being taught at home.

Marc Roby: That’s frightening, and an obvious attempt to undermine the family.

Dr. Spencer: It is. There has been a real shift in our schools away from the idea of educating students by providing them with basic skills like reading, writing, mathematics and science, and to focus instead on indoctrination. The results are astonishing. For example, Sowell wrote, “the results of an international study of 13-year-olds … found that Koreans ranked first in mathematics and Americans last. When asked if they thought they were ‘good at mathematics,’ only 23 percent of the Korean youngsters said ‘yes’—compared to 68 percent of American 13-year-olds.” So we are creating young people who are confident, but wrong.

And look at the currently popular NY Times 1619 project. It is an ideological pack of lies about our country’s founding that is being adopted by a number of public schools. I could quote all kinds of results that are very depressing, but I don’t think there is much point. Anyone who is really interested can find the data easily. Sowell’s book is a good place to start. But I would like to read one more statement to show that this problem has been growing for a long time.

Marc Roby: Alright, what statement is that?

Dr. Spencer: I want to quote from the famous 1983 report of the U.S. National Commission on Excellence in Education, entitled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. In that report they said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Marc Roby: Wow. That’s an amazingly strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: And it led to a nation-wide movement to reform our schools. But, unfortunately, that reform movement was led by the very people we have been talking about. People like Bill Ayers, one of the founders of the 1960’s violent revolutionary group called the Weather Underground, which was responsible for numerous bombings in this country and is famous for declaring war on “AmeriKKKa” – spelled with three capital K’s – in 1969. He is a graduate of the Columbia University Teachers College that we noted before as the center of the critical theory movement. He is a retired professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and formerly held the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar. 

As just one indication of his wide influence, if you look at a Teachers College Press catalog from 2019-2020, you will find some of his books for sale and you will also see that he is the editor of “The Teaching for Social Justice Series” of books.

Marc Roby: That’s incredible.

Dr. Spencer: If you look through that catalogue you will be shocked. Let me just quickly give three examples. You can buy a book entitled Same as It Never Was: Notes on a Teacher’s Return to the Classroom and we read that “this book invites readers into an award-winning teacher’s classroom as he struggles to teach toward equity and justice.” We can also get a book called Letting Go of Literary Whiteness and we are told the book will “challenge us to develop racial literacy in our students through the teaching of literature.” And finally, we all need a copy of Race, Justice, and Activism in Literacy Instruction, which “includes examples of student activism from across the United States”.

Marc Roby: Now that is truly shocking. I’m willing to bet that most of our listeners thought K-12 education was mostly about reading, writing, math, science, history and so on. Not about teaching equity and justice, racial literacy or student activism.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly hope you’re right. But the fact that our schools are failing at teaching our children reading, history, math, science and so on, as noted by the 1983 report A Nation at Risk is far from the worst part of the story. Remember that the report said that if this had been the activity of an unfriendly foreign power we might have considered it an act of war?

Marc Roby: Yes, I remember that statement.

Dr. Spencer: And remember that Bill Ayer’s group, the Weather Underground, declared war on America? 

Marc Roby: Yes.

Dr. Spencer: Well, he and a lot of others, like Angela Davis, have followed through on that declaration of war by their long march through the institutions. The worst part of the failure of our public schools is the indoctrination that takes place instead of education. 

Sowell gives a number of examples in his book of how the schools teach our children to hate the United States of America and to hate the Judeo-Christian values on which our nation was built. As just one example, so-called sex education curricula are used to push LGBTQ values. And this problem is dramatically worse now than it was when he published Inside American Education in 1993. Any student who is bold enough to disagree with these modern views and espouse a Christian view of sex and marriage is in for a very rough time in our public schools.

Marc Roby: That’s a sad statement. But I’ve seen enough examples to know that it is true.

Dr. Spencer: And I encourage all Christian parents, in fact all parents, who have children in the public-school system to be extremely vigilant. Find out what is being taught. I think you’ll be shocked. But be prepared to have dig a bit, these programs use deceptive names and really don’t want parents to know what is being taught. The parents are often viewed as the enemy.

Marc Roby: That is again very sad.

Dr. Spencer: Very sad indeed. But the anti-Christian bias in our schools is not new. We don’t have time to go through the whole history, but in our next session I will begin with a very brief and selected sketch of that history because it will be useful to make one final point before we move on to examine the modern problems that are, in large measure, a result of this war on America. 

Marc Roby: Very well, I look forward to that. And now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our session last week, we began a discussion about how Marxist ideologies have become so prevalent in our culture today. We looked at Angela Davis, a 60’s radical who became a professor in the University of California as an example. She spoke about decades of work, by herself and others, coming to fruition in all of the riots we see happening in our country today. 

Dr. Spencer, you pointed out that she was a student of Herbert Marcuse, a member of the so-called Frankfurt school, which developed critical theory. I had asked you to tell us what critical theory is, and you began with a digression to talk about the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. He developed the idea that the bourgeoisie use their cultural narrative – in other words, their history and system of values – as a tool of oppression. Therefore, whenever a worker adopts the so-called hegemonic narrative, he is participating in his own oppression. Are you now ready to define what critical theory is?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. Let me begin, somewhat surprisingly, by quoting the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on critical theory. It says, “Critical theory is a social philosophy pertaining to the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures.” That is a good short definition. And it makes clear that the theory is Marxist in its origin. 

Remember that Marx viewed all of human history in terms of the conflict between oppressors and oppressed. In other words, in terms of a power structure. Marx, of course, was focused on economic systems, but critical theory broadens the scope of his focus on conflict to include any type of human interaction. The different movements spawned by this broadening of Marx’s ideas are sometimes referred to as neo-Marxist. And note that the definition says the purpose of critical theory is to “reveal and challenge” these power structures.

Marc Roby: In other words, question authority!

Dr. Spencer: That’s it exactly. So, critical theory criticizes, if you will, every authority structure because it views every power structure as inherently oppressive or exploitive. Which immediately puts it at odds with a Christian worldview. The fifth commandment tells us, as we read in Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” And, as we have discussed before, the Bible tells us that God has given us three realms of delegated authority in this life; the family, the church and the state. We are not just called to honor our parents, we are also commanded to honor authority in the church and the state.

Marc Roby: And, of course, the classic verse about obeying church leaders is Hebrews 13:17, where we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Dr. Spencer: And it is important to notice that that verse says those in authority must give an account, which means, of course, an account to God. He is the ultimate source of all authority and anyone in a position of delegated authority will have to answer to God for how they have used it. Authority is supposed to be used for the benefit of those who are under that authority.

Marc Roby: And that biblical view obviously contradicts the idea that all authority is exploitive or oppressive.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. Although, because human beings are sinners, it is, in fact, common to see authority abused. But it does not follow that authority is inherently wrong. The problem is sin.

Marc Roby: Alright. And with regard to the civil government, the classic verse is Romans 13:1 where the apostle Paul wrote, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” And the context is clearly here, civil government.

Dr. Spencer: And you can also look, for example, at 1 Peter 2:13-14, where we are commanded, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

We have discussed authority in these three realms at length before, so I don’t want to repeat that now. My present point is simply that while there are strict limits imposed on authority, properly administered authority is good. It is ordained by God for the good of those who are under that authority. It is simply unbiblical, and I would add empirically untrue, to say that all authority is oppressive or exploitive.

Marc Roby: Yes, that certainly makes sense.

Dr. Spencer: There is one more very important point that I want to make about critical theory before we move on.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: If it were true that our cultural narrative is nothing more than a tool of oppression and it can be rationally opposed in its totality, then it would necessarily follow that there is no absolute truth.  

Marc Roby: I’m not sure that conclusion is obvious. 

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t obvious at all, you have to think it through. Any cultural narrative is going to contain statements that purport to be factual, in other words, they claim to be true. So, for example, the statement that honoring your mother and father is good and will lead to blessing. Or that marriage should be a life-long commitment between one man and one woman. 

Now, if these statements are mere cultural norms and there can be other, equally true, cultural norms that contradict these, then there is no absolute truth. Truth would, in that case, just be a cultural convention, which is what both critical theory and postmodernism irrationally believe.

Marc Roby: And, further, God would be a liar, because he says that those statements are true.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We again see that this whole Marxist ideological framework is radically opposed to biblical Christianity. There is no such thing as a Christian Marxist. Let me say that again differently to make it absolutely clear, because this is an important point. If you are a Christian, you must be opposed to Marxism and all neo-Marxist ideologies because Marxism is opposed to Christianity. You cannot support the enemies of your Lord and Savior. The psalmist declared in Psalm 139:21-22, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Marc Roby: Those verses probably need some explaining. I’m sure at least some of our listeners immediately thought to themselves, “Now wait a minute, Jesus Christ told us, in Matthew 5:44, to love our enemies. So how can it be good to hate them?”

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is a great question. And the best answer I’ve ever seen was given by the great 19th-century English theologian and preacher Charles Spurgeon. In his famous work, the Treasury of David, he wrote the following about Verse 21: “To love all men with benevolence is our duty; but to love any wicked man with complacency would be a crime. To hate a man for his own sake, or for any evil done to us, would be wrong; but to hate a man because he is the foe of all goodness and the enemy of all righteousness, is nothing more nor less than an obligation.” 

Marc Roby: There is a lot packed into that short statement.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, so let me explain it further. We are to want what is best for all men, including our enemies, which of course ultimately means that we are to share the gospel and pray for their salvation; that is to love all men with benevolence. But we cannot love anyone with complacence. If someone has made himself an enemy of God by opposing God and his righteous Word, he is to be our enemy and we are to hate him. Now, to be clear, this is not a hatred that would delight in seeing harm come to him, that would be vengeful sin; we are still to love him with benevolence, meaning that we want to see him saved. But it is hatred in the sense that we oppose him with all our might and would see it as perfectly just if God chose to destroy him. God tells us in Deuteronomy 32:35, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” These two senses are not contradictory, so with the proper meaning attached to the terms, we can simultaneously love and hate someone.

Marc Roby: That is a great explanation of how to reconcile the paradox of being commanded both to love our enemies and to hate those who hate and oppose God. And that verse from Deuteronomy is a frightening statement about God’s judgment, which we all truly deserve.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We have all sinned, but, praise God, we can repent, trust in Christ and be saved. But if we have truly done that, then Jesus Christ is our Lord. His enemies are our enemies. We cannot join with them in opposing him, and to join in any Marxist or neo-Marxist ideology is to oppose Christ. And critical theory, or perhaps we should say theories because it comes in many flavors, is absolutely and irreconcilably opposed to Christ. 

Marc Roby: Now you said last week that Angela Davis is a great example of how these theories have become so common. As a student of Marcuse, she put the idea of the long march through the institutions into practice. She became a professor and then used that position to influence many people.

Dr. Spencer: And it is very instructive to see how it is that these far-left ideologies have taken over the universities in this country. And they absolutely have done so, there can be no doubt about that. One recent study found that the ratio of registered democrats to republicans in top universities is greater than eleven to one, and in some fields it is much higher. That is obviously only one indication of the left-leaning nature of academia, but there are many others. 

My own experience as a professor for 25 years certainly bears this out. I was in the college of engineering, which doesn’t lean as far to the left as the college of letters and science, but it was still overwhelmingly left. And when I served on campus-wide committees with colleagues from other colleges, I was frequently shocked at how far left almost all of them were. If you held a conservative view on just about anything, you would be well advised to keep it quiet.

Marc Roby: And I thought the far-left prided itself on being tolerant and inclusive.

Dr. Spencer: Ah, but they attach a very different meaning to those terms. Marcuse dealt with this in a way that is instructive of how the far-left abuses language and is often the exact opposite of what they claim to be. According to Roger Kimball, “Marcuse came up with several names for the idea that freedom is a form of tyranny. The most famous was ‘repressive tolerance’ … He even offered a simple formula for distinguishing between, on the one hand, the ‘repressive tolerance’ that expresses itself in such phenomena as freedom of assembly and free speech and, on the other, the ‘liberating tolerance’ he recommends. ‘Liberating tolerance,’ he wrote, ‘would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.’”

Marc Roby: That is an amazing example of how to pervert language. According to his definition, you can be “tolerant” by only tolerating those views you agree with. 

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is pretty amazing. Kimball goes on to say that “The usual name for this sort of attitude, of course, is intolerance, but no doubt it would be terribly intolerant to insist on such a repressive if elementary point.” 

Marc Roby: I like that. We need to point out when people make completely ridiculous statements.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But now I’d like to give just one example of how the far-left has taken over the university system. It comes from a very eye-opening and downright scary book written in 2006 by David Horowitz, called The Professors. In his introduction he talks about visiting the University of Delaware in 2001 and asking a senior member of the history department, who was the only conservative in the department, how that imbalance came about. The professor related how he had not been allowed to sit on a search committee since 1985, even though he had been chair of the committee in that year and they had hired a Marxist, which tells you that he didn’t apply any kind of ideological litmus test during the hiring process. But many people on the left are not only willing to apply a litmus test, they think it is their duty. People like Angela Davis.

Marc Roby: In other words, you’re saying they won’t hire even a qualified candidate if the person is conservative?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. This professor went on to tell Horowitz that in the very same year they were speaking, which was 2001, his department had an opening for someone in Asian history. The best qualified candidate was a man from Stanford, but he didn’t get the job. Wondering why, this professor went and talked to the chair of the search committee, who told him, “Oh, you’re absolutely right. He was far and away the most qualified candidate and we had a terrific interview about his area of expertise. But then we went to lunch and he let out that he was for school vouchers. And that killed it.”

Marc Roby: OK, what in the world does your view of school vouchers have to do with teaching Asian history?

Dr. Spencer: Well, obviously, not a thing in the world. But to a dedicated member of the far-left, it is a sign of someone having a conservative attitude and, therefore, the candidate is unqualified to teach at the university because he won’t join in your program of indoctrinating the students into your far-left, Marxist ideologies.  

Marc Roby: That’s ridiculous.

Dr. Spencer: Quite literally so. But it is also common. That is how faculties came to be nearly 100% far left in the space of one generation. I could give you many examples of how extreme some faculty members are, but one will suffice. 

After the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder, published an essay entitled Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, in which he said the following about the people who died in the World Trade Center: “If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.”  

Marc Roby: That’s unbelievable. He actually equated the civilian employees working in the World Trade Center to Adolf Eichmann, one of the Nazi officers in charge of the holocaust? 

Dr. Spencer: It is completely irrational, not to mention wicked. And the rest of the essay is just as bad or, possibly, worse. You wonder what world this man inhabits. It certainly isn’t the world of reality. He twists and distorts absolutely everything. His comments on World War II make it sound like the United States was the aggressor and that we launched unprovoked attacks on the peace-loving countries of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And yet, I must again point out that his views, while admittedly extreme, are not that extreme in academia. If you want to read about a lot of other perhaps slightly less frightening individuals, read Horowitz’s book.

Marc Roby: What kinds of comments were made on the UC campus here in Davis after the attacks of 9/11?

Dr. Spencer: I would say the most common view by far in the college of letters and science was to be wringing your hands and thinking, “oh my, we are such bad people, what do we need to do to change so that people won’t hate us so much.” People literally seemed to think that the attacks were justified.

Marc Roby: That’s a little hard to stomach.

Dr. Spencer: But it illustrates how far left the campus environment is from the rest of the country. My own campus, the University of California here in Davis, also has a faculty member, Professor Joshua Clover, who is a professor of English, who has openly advocated the killing of police for a number of years. As just one example, in a 2015 interview with SFWeekly magazine, he said, “People think that cops need to be reformed. They need to be killed.”

He has been given multiple opportunities to apologize or recant or soften his statements and has doubled down on his repugnant views every time. The university declared that it can’t discipline him because his views are protected by the First Amendment, although the chancellor did say that his views are “offensive and abhorrent”, which is good, but they went no further.

Marc Roby: That’s very disappointing.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve been disappointed with the University of California many times. They also now have an ideological litmus test that all faculty applicants must pass. They, of course, deny that this is the purpose. But every candidate for a faculty position has to present a “Statement of Contributions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” in his package. This simply provides the university with a way of throwing out faculty applicants who don’t agree with its commitment to these far-left neo-Marxist ideologies, independent of how good the person is in his or her field of expertise. And faculty members now have to supply a similar statement every time they go up for a promotion.

Marc Roby: In other words, the university has set a tone that clearly indicates that conformity to its far-left ideologies is more important that excellence in your field.

Dr. Spencer: Well, they would, of course, very strongly deny that. But it is hard to conclude otherwise when you look at how the system works. To be fair, these rules are applied differently in different departments and colleges, but even when they are not considered the most important thing, they are still part of constant barrage of left-wing ideas which are presented not as ideas for your consideration, but as statements of fact. For example, it is common to require faculty members on search committees to go through implicit bias training and other similar things that are based on completely false premises. These are not optional.

Marc Roby: And, of course, this kind of indoctrination doesn’t stop with the universities.

Dr. Spencer: No, unfortunately, it does not. In fact, the education departments are among the most radically left of all departments, and they are responsible for training our K-12 teachers and most of the people who work in the education area in government, overseeing the curricula for example. These extreme far-left neo-Marxist ideas have been pushed for well over 30 years. In 1990, Roger Kimball wrote that “It is no secret that the academic study of the humanities in this country is in a state of crisis. Proponents of deconstruction, feminist studies, and other politically motivated challenges to the traditional tenets of humanistic study have by now become the dominant voice in the humanities departments of many of our best colleges and universities.”

Marc Roby: And now these views have filtered down into the K-12 system.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. A friend of mine who teaches in the public schools and who wants to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, wrote that “What the children are exposed to is sickening. I would not recommend that anyone send their kids to public schools. Even ‘good’ teachers and administrators are often at best small islands in a sea of foolishness, falsehood, and filth.”

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement. But then again, there have been a number of troubling things in the news lately. For example, three years ago there was a report about kindergartners in our area being taught from a book affirming transgender ideas. 

Dr. Spencer: And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The nonsense about students being allowed to use locker rooms and bathrooms that agree with their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex and many other things like that are all completely crazy. But they all stem from the same source, a rejection of our culture. And, ultimately, a rejection of God. As we saw at the beginning of this session, critical theory is anti-authority, which is, ultimately, anti-God. 

The real motivating influence and power behind this movement is Satan. As Whittaker Chambers noted, when Satan tempted Eve by saying “you shall be like God”, he created the second oldest religion. It is a religion that is, at its core, anti-God. That is why it opposes the biblical truth that God created man male and female. That is why it opposes the family. That is why it opposes individual responsibility and accountability. That is why it opposes truth, and so on.

Marc Roby: I’m sure there is a lot more for us to discuss, but it will have to wait for next time. For now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer you.

 

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. Dr. Spencer, at the end of our session last week, you said you wanted to examine how Marxist ideology has become so common in our society today.

Dr. Spencer: And I’d like to begin by quoting the first line from Joshua Muravchik’s book Heaven on Earth, from which we have quoted frequently. He grew up in a staunchly socialist home and he began his prologue, which is entitled “Changing Faiths”, by writing, “SOCIALISM WAS THE FAITH IN WHICH I WAS RAISED.”[1] (emphasis in the original)

Marc Roby: That’s a surprising statement to most people I think, and a strange way to begin talking about how Marxist ideology has become so common today. But it agrees with the quote you gave last time from Whittaker Chambers, who called communism “man’s second oldest faith. … the great alternative faith of mankind.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Chambers made that point quite powerfully. And while this might at first blush seem like a strange way to begin talking about how Marxist ideology became so common, it actually makes a lot of sense, because if socialism is, in fact, a religion, that says a lot about how important it is to those who truly believe it. By the way, the terms socialism and communism, while there are distinctions between them in Marx’s theory, are often taken to be roughly synonymous. Chambers and Muravchik are speaking about the same ideology, which is Marxist, independent of the fact that they use different words.

Marc Roby: Alright. But whether or not we can call socialism a religion obviously depends on the definition of religion.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. And I freely admit that most people think of religion as being a belief in a supernatural being of some sort; that is clearly the most common definition. But I would argue that it is not the most useful definition. God himself told us in the first commandment, which we read in Exodus 20:3, that “You shall have no other gods before me.” [3] And he wasn’t saying that there really are other gods, in Jeremiah 10:10 we read that “the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” In other words, God is the only true and living God. All other so-called gods are figments of men’s imaginations. And those figments of men’s imaginations don’t necessarily have to be supernatural beings, men can give their full allegiance to atheistic ideologies as well, in which case they function as a religion for all practical purposes.

Marc Roby: OK, I’ll grant you that. And it is a relatively common expression to say that someone is “religious” about a particular activity, so the word certainly admits of a broader definition than just belief in a supernatural being.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. Therefore, let’s look at the second definition given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary; it says that a religion is “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices” [4], and the fourth definition given is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith”.[5]

I would argue, based on these definitions, that materialism, as expressed in Marxism, is a religion. It is a worldview, a system of beliefs, which attempts to explain what is real and provides a basis for making statements about everything. And it is held to with ardor and faith.

Marc Roby: We have noted before that everyone has a worldview and that our worldview affects how we view everything. It determines which questions we deem appropriate to ask and how we evaluate and internalize every experience or thought that we encounter.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And every worldview says something about the existence of God as well. Materialism, of course, simply denies that there is such a being as God. For all practical purposes, that is a religion. Most materialists don’t go to some kind of special building, like a church, on a regular basis, but in every other meaningful way, it is a religion. Now most materialists, like most professing Christians, aren’t all that zealous about it, but those who are fervent believers in materialism can be very zealous indeed.

Marc Roby: As anyone who has ever had an encounter with a committed member of the campus atheist club knows! Alright, even if our listeners don’t agree with this definition, they at least know what definition you are using. So let’s go on to see the point you want to make about Marxist ideology.

Dr. Spencer: Well, as we have noted before, any worldview must try to explain where we came from, what is wrong with the world, and how we can fix what is wrong. In Christian terms, those three things are creation, fall and redemption. And as we pointed out in Session 163, Marxism essentially denies the idea of creation. Either the universe popped into existence out of nothing or it has always been here, but it was not created. The material universe, or multiverse, simply exists. With regard to the fall, Marxism views the creation of private property as the problem, rather than sin, and it views the solution, or redemption, as consisting in a progression from capitalism to socialism to communism and, finally, to the government simply withering away, because, as Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another.”[6] Therefore, in their view, when all the classes have dissolved, so will organized political power. At that point mankind will supposedly have arrived at utopia; I’m tempted to say nirvana, but that would be mixing religions.

Marc Roby: Although there are some interesting parallels between the Buddhist view of nirvana and the Marxist view of utopia, they both view the individual as somehow getting lost, if you will, in a collective identity. It never ceases to amaze me how naïve it is to believe that human beings will arrive at this utopian vision without a fundamental change in character.

Dr. Spencer: It is only surprising if you understand that all men are sinners by nature, which is part of the Christian worldview. But if you start with a materialist worldview and deny the universal existence of sin, then I suppose it becomes more believable. Although I think you have to constantly ignore a mountain of evidence that daily argues against your worldview, both evidence from without and from within. But, given their materialist view of man, Marxists believe that they can create a new man by proper indoctrination. According to their view we are, after all, only automatons and we can, therefore, be re-programmed.

Marc Roby: Believing that requires more faith than I possess, and giving anyone enough power to do that is extremely dangerous.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. But if someone is a true believer in Marxist ideology, this materialist view of man is a foundational principle. And we certainly don’t criticize Marxists, or anyone else, for wanting to make this world a better place. Most, if not all, people desire this world to be a better place than it currently is. Therefore, if you are zealous Marxist, you are going to devote your life to trying to achieve heaven on earth. You may well think it won’t happen in your lifetime, but it is nonetheless a compelling motivation and you will dedicate your life to it. The problem is that it will never work because your worldview is wrong.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s make good sense. And I remember from our last session that Whittaker Chambers spoke about devoting your life to a cause, he wrote that “Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die – to bear witness – for its faith.”[7]

Dr. Spencer: He did write that. He also wrote that “The revolutionary heart of Communism is … a simple statement of Karl Marx, further simplified for handy use: ‘Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world.’”[8]

And given that statement, I want to read a statement made by Angela Davis in an interview that was just published last month in a special edition of Vanity Fair. She said, about her life’s work, “We do this work because we want to change the world.”[9]

Marc Roby: I don’t know if she was consciously quoting Marx, but that is perfect. But I suspect that our younger listeners in particular may not know who Angela Davis is, so perhaps it would be good to provide some background.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And I chose that quote from her not just because it was so perfect, and timely, but also because Angela Davis will come up again soon; she is a perfect example of how and why Marxist ideology has become so prevalent in our society today.

Angela Davis retired from being a professor and the director of the Feminist Studies program at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 2008.[10] She was a member of the Communist Party in the United States until 1991 when she was expelled from the party for opposing the coup against Gorbachev.[11]

Marc Roby: Certainly, those of us who are old enough and lived in California in 1970 also remember that she was charged with murder in the Marin County courthouse shootings in 1970.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. She purchased the shotgun that was used to kill Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, who had been taken captive along with others, and the other guns used in the case were also registered to her. In all, there were four people killed and two wounded. She was, however, acquitted of all charges due to insufficient evidence.

Independent of the fact she was acquitted though, there was more than enough evidence to make it clear in my mind that she was involved; not only did she purchase the guns, but the purpose of taking the hostages was to get other prisoners released, including Angela Davis’ lover. In addition, she fled and used aliases and disguises to elude authorities for two months.

In addition to the Marin County courthouse shoot-out, she was affiliated with the Black Panther organization, which was responsible for a number of criminal acts, including murders.

Marc Roby: It does seem strange that such a person should have landed a position as a professor at the University of California.

Dr. Spencer: Strange to say the least. She has never made any serious contribution to scholarship of any kind, she is merely famous for her work as a revolutionary, and a violent one at that. She has advocated for the abolishment of prisons and is extremely critical of our legal system, although she certainly profited from our system’s bending over backwards to be fair to the accused.

Angela Davis is also not alone, as we will see, there is a large number of former 1960’s revolutionaries who have gone on to prominent and influential positions. And as a way of transitioning to that topic, I’d like to look at another interesting comment Davis made in the interview.

Marc Roby: What’s that?

Dr. Spencer: She was commenting on the fact that the current Covid-19 pandemic and the George Floyd killing presented an unusual opportunity for the kind of riots we have seen erupt around the country – she didn’t say riots by the way, that’s my word. What she did say was that “The protests offered people an opportunity to join in this collective demand to bring about deep change, radical change. Defund the police, abolish policing as we know it now. These are the same arguments that we’ve been making for such a long time about the prison system and the whole criminal justice system. It was as if all of these decades of work by so many people, who received no credit at all, came to fruition.”[12]

Marc Roby: OK, she talks about decades of work coming to fruition and she used the plural pronoun we. What, and who, is she talking about?

Dr. Spencer: She’s talking about what has been called the long march through the institutions. And there have been a number of people involved.

Marc Roby: I suspect a number of our listeners have heard that phrase – the long march – but I doubt that many know exactly where it comes from and what it means.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. The phrase comes from a German Marxist sociologist named Rudi Dutschke.[13] To quote from Roger Kimball’s book The Long March, this phrase “signified – in the words of Herbert Marcuse – ‘working against the established institutions while working in them.’”[14] The phrase was meant to harken back to Mao Zedong’s Communist Red Army’s long march in 1934-35, but that march isn’t germane to our topic today so we aren’t going to discuss it, I just point the fact out as an example of the communist thinking and sympathies of these people.

Marc Roby: OK, so how did this idea of working against the established institutions while working in them play out?

Dr. Spencer: Well, there were a large number of leftists, including Angela Davis, who discovered that the violent tactics of the Black Panthers, the Students for a Democratic Society, the Weathermen and other groups of 1960’s revolutionaries didn’t work. They realized that they could bring about radical change to this country by taking over the educational institutions instead. They could then use that platform to indoctrinate young people into their anti-American, anti-Christian, Marxist ideologies. That is why Davis spoke about decades of work by so many people coming to fruition. And it is important to note that she was a student of Herbert Marcuse.

Marc Roby: Who was Herbert Marcuse?

Dr. Spencer: He was, like Dutschke, a German Marxist who studied the philosopher Hegel. Our listeners may remember that Marx was a disciple of Hegel as well. In any event, Marcuse was a part of what is called the Frankfurt School; a group of leftist scholars who developed and promoted a mix of Freud and Marx called critical theory. This group, which contained a lot of secular Jews, fled Nazi Germany before World War II and finally ended up at Columbia University. This idea of theirs, critical theory, is at the heart of much of what is going on in America today.

Marc Roby: OK, and what is critical theory?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in order to answer that question, we need to go back one step. We need to go back to Europe in the early part of the 20th-century. We’ve briefly mentioned the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, led by Lenin, but there were communist movements in other countries as well. In Germany and Italy however, these communist movements lost to fascism. Now, we need to remember that true Marxist communism envisions a final utopian condition where there is no need for government and so it just dissolves away. In other words, true communism is not nationalistic, it thinks of the world as a whole. Fascism, on the other hand, while still being socialist, is strongly nationalistic. Remember that the official name of the Nazi party in Germany was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Therefore, there was very strong antagonism between the fascists and the communists.

Marc Roby: Well, that’s all interesting history, but what does it have to do with critical theory?

Dr. Spencer: Well, there was an Italian communist by the name of Antonio Gramsci who played a very important role. He was born in 1891 in Italy. In 1913, he became an activist in the Italian Socialist Party, or PSI. Some of his writings were praised by Lenin and Gramsci eventually left the PSI to help found the Communist Party of Italy. At one point he even spent two years in Moscow. He became a member of the Italian parliament and when his party was outlawed by the fascist Mussolini, Gramsci was arrested and then sent to prison in 1928. He was released in April, 1937, only a few days before his death.[15]

Marc Roby: And how then did he become so influential?

Dr. Spencer: While he was in prison, he thought about why socialism had been unable to succeed in countries outside of Russia. Remember that we discussed Eduard Bernstein in Session 166. He had noted the failure of Marx and Engel’s ideas in England. The problem was, put simply, that capitalism was successful and a middle class developed that was comfortable and didn’t see a need for revolutionary change. But let me quote from Mike Gonzales’ book The Plot to Change America, he wrote that “Gramsci came up with a useful meta-explanation. The bourgeoisie had acculturated the working man to do his bidding, giving him ‘false consciousness.’”[16]

Marc Roby: What does that mean? What is this “false consciousness”?

Dr. Spencer: It means that the workers had accepted the “hegemonic narrative”. In other words, as Marx had already posited, Gramsci viewed all social institutions and even histories as being constructs by which the ruling class enslaves the workers. So, when workers buy into the cultural norms, they are participating in their own subjugation. Let’s look at this in terms of what has gone on in this country since the end of World War II.

Marc Roby: Alright, that would be very helpful.

Dr. Spencer: At the end of World War II and on up into the early 1960’s, when the so-called Baby Boom generation was born, the average middle-class American accepted as true certain basic principles. For example, that hard work, honesty, being on time, telling the truth, getting married before having children, avoiding substance abuse and so on, were good things. Gramsci would say, however, that these are all part of the hegemonic narrative, or script, by which the ruling class subjugated the workers.

Marc Roby: And yet, everything you just named could be backed up as being a biblical norm, which Christians are duty-bound to accept and practice.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. And that is part of why this whole critical theory idea is irreconcilably anti-Christian. And just in case some of our listeners have been too busy just living their lives as decent, hard-working citizens and are unaware of how much things have changed in the universities and the intellectual centers of our country, let me give just one example.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: In 2017, two law professors, Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego School of Law, published an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer that caused quite a stir. It was entitled Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.[17]

They noted a number of problems plaguing our society, like drug abuse, unemployment, crime, single-parent families and so on, and they said, “The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.

“That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.”

Marc Roby: That doesn’t sound very divisive or controversial to me.

Dr. Spencer: That’s because you, like me, are of a “certain age” …

Marc Roby: OK, that’s unnecessarily cruel.

Dr. Spencer: And you are a Christian, which makes you and me part of the problem in the eyes of those on the far left. We are the oppressors who have created this hegemonic narrative, or script, as a part of our plan for oppressing others.

Marc Roby: And here I thought it was simply God’s Word regarding how we are to live lives that give him glory and lead to the most joy and peace here on earth. And that has been around, without change, for 2,000 years.

Dr. Spencer: And you are right in that view. But, and this was big eye-opener for me when I first read about this article, it generated an amazingly harsh backlash. For example, the dean of the Penn law school, Ted Ruger, published an op-ed in the student newspaper, which suggested that Professor Wax’s views were “divisive, even noxious.” And half of her law-faculty colleagues signed an open letter denouncing her piece. There was a similarly harsh response at the University of San Diego, even though it is a Catholic university. The dean of the law school, Stephen Ferruolo, put out a memo repudiating the piece.[18]

Marc Roby: That is simply incredible. One wonders what these people think good values are. Lying? Being lazy? Getting drunk?

Dr. Spencer: It does make you wonder. And Professors Wax and Alexander were careful to state that they were not claiming that things were perfect back in the 1950’s. They recognized that many problems and hypocrisy existed. They were simply making the case, which is absolutely forbidden in academic and intellectual circles today, that these biblical values are good and proper and lead to better outcomes for everyone in society.

Marc Roby: So, Gramsci decided that the culture itself was somehow oppressive and had to be changed, and that has led to the harsh reception this opinion piece received.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. To quote Gonzales again, “The cure, Gramsci thought, was to carry out a ‘consciousness raising’ indoctrination campaign that would convince the proletariat of his having been duped by tradition, religion, the family, the education system, and all the cultural trappings of society.”[19] And that idea has led to the organized efforts we are seeing now to destroy our culture and our country. It is the result of the long march through the institutions and is part of what real believers on the far left view as a necessary revolution on the way to establishing heaven on earth.

Marc Roby: Well, I very much look forward to continuing this discussion but we are out of time, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.


[1] Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. xi

[2] Whittaker Chambers, Witness, Regenery History, 2014 (republication – original was 1952), pg. xxxix

[3] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[4] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion

[5] Ibid

[6] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 429

[7] Whittaker Chambers, op. cit., pp xxxix

[8] Ibid, pg. xxxviii

[9] Ava Duvernay, Ava Duvernay Interviews Angela Davis on This Moment – and What Came Before, Vanity Fair, Special Issue, August 26, 2020 (https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2020/08/angela-davis-and-ava-duvernay-in-conversation)

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Davis

[11] David Horowitz, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Regnery Publishing Inc., 2006, pp 115-119

[12] Duvernay, op. cit.

[13] Roger Kimball, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, Encounter Books, 2000, pp 14-15 (also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudi_Dutschke)

[14] Ibid, pg. 15

[15] Mike Gonzales, The Plot to Change America, Encounter Books, 2020, pg. 123

[16] Ibid, pg. 117

[17] Amy Wax and Larry Alexander, Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 9, 2017, available at https://www.inquirer.com/philly/opinion/commentary/paying-the-price-for-breakdown-of-the-countrys-bourgeois-culture-20170809.html

[18] See Heather Mac Donald, Higher Ed’s Latest Taboo Is ‘Bourgeois Norms’, Wall-Street Journal, September 19, 2017, available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/higher-eds-latest-taboo-is-bourgeois-norms-1505774818

[19] Gonzales, op. cit., pg. 117

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. Last week we looked at the founding of the former Soviet Union and we noted that true Marxists believe that the ends justify the means. In their view, they are working to establish heaven on earth and whatever price has to be paid is acceptable. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I want to remind our listeners of our discussion in Session 165, where we pointed out that according to the Bible, the most important function of government is to protect the rights of its citizens. The Bible teaches us that human freedom and human responsibility are important. This view of government is fundamentally irreconcilable with the Marxist idea of having the government be a vehicle for creating heaven here on earth.

Marc Roby: And we have also noted that the goal of creating heaven on earth is impossible in light of the fact that men are all sinners. Heaven is not possible unless our sin is removed, and only God can do that.

Dr. Spencer: That is the key problem. Because Marxism is based on a materialist worldview, it is bound to be wrong. Unfortunately, it also brings out the very worst in human nature. Let me read a quote from Louis Fischer. He was an American journalist who lived in Russia for some time and was, initially, very much in favor of what was going on, which is why he moved there. But even though he liked the theory, he became very disillusioned with the reality. He wrote that the Communist Party and the government “both bred sycophants, cynics and cowards. In the highest rank as well as in the lowest, fear rather than thought, self-interest rather than public welfare was the father of every word and deed. Anybody who had uttered a dissenting view in the past or whose independence and originality might some day nurture unorthodoxy received a 2 A.M. visit from the secret police and soon joined the involuntary ‘builders of Socialism’ in Siberia and the Arctic wastes.”[1]

Marc Roby: That is frightening, but it also sounds like our politically correct cancel culture on steroids.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. As we saw last time, Lenin was absolutely ruthless. And he was followed by Stalin, who was just as ruthless, if not worse. And most other communist leaders have not been any better. Think of all the people who suffered or died in Mao’s China, or in Fidel’s Cuba, or now in Venezuela. And even the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini is a close cousin to communism, it is also a socialist ideology and both communism and fascism require a totalitarian state.

As we noted before, it is estimated that over one hundred million people have been murdered by socialist regimes since 1917.[2] People will do amazingly terrible things when they think they are working for a goal as wonderful as world-wide peace and affluence, in other words, heaven on earth.

Marc Roby: We are told in Proverbs 14:12 that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” [3]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and just in case we don’t recognize how important that statement is, it is repeated for us in Proverbs 16:25. As Christians, we need to look at what God says, not what man says. God is truth and his Word is truth. If we stand on that truth, proclaim it, and make it the basis for our own thinking, we will be doing what is best. Not just best for ourselves, but best for everyone, even non-Christians.

Marc Roby: Of course, you’re not suggesting that we put in laws that require everyone to go to church on Sunday, for example, or to join in public prayers or to read their Bible every day.

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not. Christianity never teaches that we should try and force others to live like Christians. It isn’t possible for them to do so anyway; it requires Holy Spirit power to live the Christian life. But it is perfectly proper for us, as Christians, to influence society to the best of our ability to have a government and laws that reflect the law of God. So, for example, human life is sacred because God says it is sacred, and we should push for laws that reflect that fact.

Marc Roby: And God even gives us the reason it is sacred. Capital punishment for murder was commanded by God in Genesis 9:6 where we read, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important point and provides a good illustration of why biblical thinking leads to what is best for everyone. While being deliberately cruel to animals is undoubtably wrong, you don’t put someone to death for killing an animal because animals are not made in God’s image. But men and women are. Therefore, anyone who willfully takes the life of another human being, except in very special circumstances like self-defense, has sinned tremendously against God and God himself commands that society put that person to death. And the prohibition against murder applies to all human beings, the unborn just as much as a healthy adult.

Marc Roby: You aren’t suggesting that we should have the death penalty for abortion providers are you?

Dr. Spencer: Well, not while abortion is legal, no. But we should work to make abortion illegal and, if that were to happen, then deliberately taking the life of an unborn child should be treated no differently than deliberately taking the life of anyone else. Notice that our laws already reflect this idea in some ways. In the California penal code murder is defined as “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”[4] Now that section of the penal code also carves out an exception for the fetus when it is killed with the mother’s consent, but the simple fact it is worded this way reveals that everyone knows the truth; abortion is legalized murder, our society has simply decided that a mother has a right to murder her unborn child.

Marc Roby: That’s an accurate, but I’m sure controversial, way to put it. But you said this illustrates why biblical thinking leads to what is best for everyone. I doubt those who support abortion rights would agree, so what is your argument?

Dr. Spencer: When you stop considering all human life to be sacred, as we have in this country, you open a Pandora’s box and you devalue all human life. You no longer have a clear rational basis for saying murder is wrong. You allow it for unborn children, so long as the mother approves, so why not also allow it for newborns with the mother’s approval for example? Infanticide has been practiced in many cultures throughout history for various reasons and has been proposed quite seriously in this country by Peter Singer and others. He is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University. Although, to be fair, he does write that “We should put very strict conditions on permissible infanticide …”.

Marc Roby: Whoa … I’m glad to hear he at least thinks there should be limits!

Dr. Spencer: Well, his limits aren’t all that meaningful, I didn’t finish the sentence. Let me read the whole sentence, along with the one that follows it. He wrote that “We should put very strict conditions on permissible infanticide; but these restrictions should owe more to the effects of infanticide on others than to the intrinsic wrongness of killing an infant. Obviously, in most cases, to kill an infant is to inflict a terrible loss on those who love and cherish the child.”[5]

Marc Roby: Now wait a minute, a terrible loss to those who love and cherish the child? What about the child himself, or herself? That’s frightening.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I don’t want to get into his justification for this abhorrent view, I just want to use it to finish my example. In the transcript for this podcast, which is available on our website – whatdoesthewordsay.org, I cite an excellent article to read for those who are interested.[6]

But let me finish up this example. When you don’t have a clear-cut reason for the sanctity of human life, it becomes a very malleable phrase – it can mean whatever you want it to mean and you can justify abortion, infanticide and senicide, which is the killing of people who get to be too old to be useful. It is very difficult to argue against these evils without a clear-cut, independent moral position that is defensible, and the Bible gives us that position. All human beings are made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: OK, I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: So, as Christians, we must base our reasoning on the Bible, even when we are reasoning about forms of government and the laws in our nation. God is infinitely wiser and more knowledgeable than we are, and if we stick with what he says, it will be good for us, and for the society we live in.

Marc Roby: That does make sense. And so, getting back to our discussion of socialism, the goal of government should also be set by the Bible, not by man.

Dr. Spencer: And that is exactly my point. The government is not the absolute authority. Our rights as human beings are not something the government doles out, they are given to us by God. That is why our Declaration of Independence says that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. And the Declaration goes on to say, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”[7] Men create governments and grant them certain limited powers, not the other way around. We have gotten away from that idea in this country.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is obviously true. Some people act as if they think the government is some infinite reservoir of benefits.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. Many people seem have the view that government should be there to provide for our needs from the cradle to the grave, and many people in government are all too happy to encourage this view because it keeps them in power and increases their power.

But you need to think carefully if you think that that sounds good, because it means that the government will have to be so large and powerful that your rights as an individual can be trampled at any moment. Our founding fathers were very concerned about this and the system of government they put in place is an amazing compromise that demonstrates great wisdom. It balances the idea of democracy, that is majority rule, with the need to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. And significant changes to the form of that government have to be agreed to by a supermajority of the citizens.

Marc Roby: It is incredible to go back and study the founding documents and the debates that consumed people as they worked out the details.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Now, this country is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great country. It is currently fashionable on the left to view this country as some kind of imperial power, but that is unjustifiable given the facts. For example, this country only achieved a significant degree of global hegemony after World War II. And any fair reading of that history has to recognize three major facts about it.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: First, that we were dragged into World War II against our will. There is no doubt that there were some who wanted us to join much before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but that was certainly not the majority view. Now, it is also true that it was in our own best interests to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, but that leads to the second thing any fair history has to recognize.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: That we didn’t try to permanently stay as an occupier in the territories after we conquered them! And, by the way, I’m not ignoring our allies, we didn’t do it alone. But no rational person would argue that we were not the dominant force. And so my point stands, we were not in World War II for the purpose of extending our empire, which by definition puts the lie to the idea that this country is some horrid imperial power. Not only did we not try to permanently occupy Germany, Japan and other territories that we and our allies conquered, we spent a phenomenal amount of money to build them back up after the war so that they would have functioning economies. That has never been done by any other victorious nation to the best of my knowledge.

Marc Roby: Well, the Marshall Plan was an incredible success to say the least. Unlike the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I and made World War II almost certain given its harsh treatment of Germany, we poured enormous resources into rebuilding Europe after World War II, including Germany.

Dr. Spencer: And, to be honest, that was again in our own best interest given that Russia was much closer to those countries and would probably have taken over Europe had we simply left, but just because it was also in our interest does not negate the fact that it was a very generous act that benefitted our European allies immensely. And we did much the same in Japan.

Marc Roby: OK, what is the third major fact you said has to be recognized?

Dr. Spencer: That, as far as I am aware, the United States is the only country in the history of the world to ever gain any significant degree of hegemony without it being a part of a conscious plan to rule the world or at least a large portion of it. Nor was it done primarily for our own benefit. We were not seeking to conquer territory in order to add it to our country or to steal natural resources or subjugate people. And we weren’t primarily defending our homeland either, the continental United States was never seriously threatened. We would have been happy to stay out of the war entirely, but we chose not to.

Marc Roby: That’s a great point.

Dr. Spencer: When you put that together with the phenomenal success of our free-market based economy to improve the lives of almost all people, we have a lot we can justifiably be proud of in this country.

Marc Roby: Although we must also admit we do have things to be ashamed of as well, and we have a lot of things that can be improved upon.

Dr. Spencer: And both of those points are obviously true. We should be ashamed of having slavery up until the time of the thirteenth amendment, and we should be ashamed as a nation for the Jim Crow era that followed. But the United States is far from unique in terms of slavery.

Slavery has been a part of human history for as long as we have records. And racial discrimination has been, and still is, a common problem virtually everywhere. These are simply the result of the fact that human beings are sinners. But, as we noted in Session 161, God gives us our purpose, place and priorities. So long as we keep that in mind and seek a government that is consistent with our purpose, which is to glorify God, and our place, which is that we are finite creatures, wholly dependent on our Creator, and which seeks to implement the priorities God gives us for our lives, then we will be doing what is right and best for everyone.

Marc Roby: And socialism fails in all three of those areas. Because it is built on a materialist, atheist worldview, it completely misses the purpose of human life, in fact it rejects that there is any purpose – we are just cosmic accidents. It doesn’t even recognize that there is a God, let alone that our chief end is to glorify him. It also doesn’t see that we are mere creatures, entirely dependent on our Creator, so it gets our place wrong. It thinks we are the ultimate beings. And, finally, its priorities are wrong since it ignores God’s revelation.

Dr. Spencer: One of the most poignant things I have ever read about this was written by Whittaker Chambers.

Marc Roby: Most of our listeners will probably not know who he was, so let me provide some very brief background. Whittaker Chambers was an American writer who was a communist and worked as a spy in the Soviet underground in this country in the 1930’s. He later defected from communism and, most famously, was the primary witness in the Alger Hiss case in the late 40’s.

Dr. Spencer: And Alger Hiss was an assistant to Assistant Secretary of State Francis Sayre in the FDR administration, participated in the Yalta Conference with FDR, Winston Churchill and Stalin, and was heavily involved in drafting the charter for the United Nations. He was convicted of perjury, rather than espionage, because the statute of limitations had run out on the espionage charges. He proclaimed his innocence right up to his death in 1996 and the case is still somewhat controversial, although I think the evidence that has come out after his death makes it quite clear that he was a Soviet spy.

Marc Roby: And Whittaker Chambers wrote a very famous account of his life and the trial, called Witness.[8]

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the reason I bring this up is that he wrote what he called a “Foreword in the Form of a Letter to My Children” that is one of the most poignant and amazing things I’ve ever read. His burden was to explain to his children how he could ever have been involved with something as evil as the Soviet Union.

Marc Roby: And it would be good to note that he became a confessing Christian.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, let me quote from his forward, he wrote that “I date my break [with communism] from a very casual happening. I was sitting in our apartment … My daughter was in her high chair. … My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear … The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’”[9]

Marc Roby: Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of God using the shape of a human ear to bring someone to faith, but it makes perfect sense!

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. But the thing I really wanted to read is his answer to a question he posed. And you have to remember that this forward is in the form of a letter to his children. He wrote, “I see in Communism the focus of the concentrated evil of our time. You will ask: Why, then, do men become Communists?” [10]

Marc Roby: That’s a great question, how does he answer it?

Dr. Spencer: It takes him a couple of pages, so I’m going to give excerpts from his answer. He wrote that “Communism makes some profound appeal to the human mind.” Then he goes on to say first what communism is not. He says it is not “just the writings of Marx and Lenin, … the Red Army, secret police, labor camps” and so on. He also says, “The revolutionary heart of Communism is not the theatrical appeal: ‘Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to gain.’ It is a simple statement of Karl Marx, further simplified for handy use: ‘Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world.’”[11]

Marc Roby: You’ve spoken several times about the Marxist idea of needing to create a new man.

Dr. Spencer: And that’s the idea. But now let me finish by reading the really critical part of his answer. He wrote, “The tie that binds [communists] … in defiance of religion, morality, truth, law, honor … even unto death, is a simple conviction: It is necessary to change the world. … Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die – to bear witness – for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it. It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’ It is the great alternative faith of mankind. … It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world.”[12]

Marc Roby: Wow, that is powerful. And he was quoting from Genesis 3 of course, when Satan tempted Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in spite of the fact God had warned Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate from it. Satan contradicted God and said, as we read in Verses 4 and 5, “You will not surely die, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the key to why all forms of Marxism – socialism, communism, fascism – or whatever, are absolutely incompatible with biblical Christianity. They are based on materialism, a rejection of God. They come from Satan, the father of lies. Chambers hit the nail on the head, the origin of Marxism was in the garden when Satan called God a liar and told man that he could be like God.

Marc Roby: That is a profound realization. Where do we go from here?

Dr. Spencer: We will soon begin to look at other modern manifestations Marxist ideology, things like the Black Lives Matter organization. But we first need to see how it is that Marxist ideology has become so common in our society today.

Marc Roby: I look forward to that discussion, and this is a great place to finish for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer.

[1] Louis Fischer, from The God That Failed, six studies in communism, Hamish Hamilton, 1950, pg. 214

[2] Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 359

[3] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[4] See Section 187 of the California Penal Code

[5] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 3rd Ed., Cambridge University Press, 2011, pg. 154

[6] Scott Klusendorf, Peter Singer’s Bold Defense of Infanticide, Christian Research

Journal, Vol. 23, No. 3, available at equip.org/article/peter-singers-bold-defense-of-infanticide/

[7] From a transcript of the Declaration of Independence, available at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[8] Whittaker Chambers, Witness, Regenery History, 2014 (republication – original was 1952)

[9] Ibid, pg. xlv

[10] Ibid, pg. xxxvii

[11] Ibid, pg. xxxviii

[12] Ibid, pp xxxviii-xxxix

Play


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our previous session we noted that history has proven Marx’s theory to be wrong; capitalism did not cause societies to fail and then convert to socialism. We also looked at the idea of voluntary socialism, where a group of people get together to form a socialist community, and we discovered that these also have all failed. We ended by noting that socialist countries have not done any better than voluntary communities. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to pursue this topic further today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we need a little more background about the failure of Marx’s theory in order to understand how people tried to implement socialism at the level of a country, rather than a small voluntary community. The background we need is to note that by the end of the 1800’s, which was about 50 years after the publication of Marx’s ideas, it was already evident even to one of his key disciples that the theory was wrong.

Marc Roby: Who was that disciple?

Dr. Spencer: Eduard Bernstein. To be accurate, he was more a disciple of Engels than Marx, but that is a distinction without a difference. In fact, to show how close he was it is useful to note that he was one of only four people, including Engels, who scattered Marx’s ashes at sea as Marx had specified in his will.[1]

In any event, Bernstein, who was German, was living in exile in England and what he observed happening in England in the latter half of the nineteenth century did not agree with Marx’s theory. So he began to publish a series of articles in 1896 entitled “Problems of Socialism”.[2]

Marc Roby: I’m sure that didn’t endear him to Engels or other followers of Marx.

Dr. Spencer: No, it didn’t. Bernstein pointed out that trade unions had made a large difference and had, along with other means, made capitalism more tolerable. Quoting from Joshua Muravchik’s outstanding book Heaven on Earth, “What Bernstein was suggesting was that it was possible to fight for the well-being of workers … without envisioning a new society.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that suggestion certainly made him an enemy of Engels and many other Marxists who believed in violent revolution as we noted in our last session.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But Bernstein was reacting intelligently to the evidence he saw in England. To quote Muravchik again, “More than fifty years had passed since Marx and Engels formulated their sociological forecast that the rich would become fewer, the poor poorer and the middle classes negligible. Bernstein observed that something nearly opposite had occurred: the rich were more numerous, as were the middle classes, and the poor were better off.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is certainly an inconvenient truth for Marxists to deal with. Facts can be really annoying when they don’t agree with your theory. And capitalism has produced great progress for the poor in this country as well, even during my lifetime.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it has. Independent of the constant protestations of the progressives that our system only works for the very wealthy, the poor in this country are way better off than they were 50 years ago, and immensely better off than they were 100 or 150 years ago. The comparison is often relative to the steadily increasing standard of living, rather than to any meaningful standard of real poverty. In fact, one study performed in 2011 and based on government surveys, shows that “As a rule of thumb, poor households [as defined by the Census Bureau] tend to obtain modern conveniences [that is, things like computers, cell phones, big-screen TV’s and so on] about a dozen years after the middle class.”[5]

Marc Roby: I suspect that most people think of poor as meaning that a person has a hard time providing food, clothing, transportation, housing and health care for their family, not big-screen TV’s.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure you’re right about that. And 150 years ago it was certainly true that poor people were concerned about the bare necessities of life, not luxuries. But the way the Census Bureau defines poverty, it ignores all government subsidies and focuses purely on income, not on living conditions. And yet, in 2014 it was reported that the average poor family spent $2.40 for every $1.00 of reported income, so the subsidies are very significant[6]. As a result, the same 2011 study I noted before found that “Some 70 percent of poor households report that during the course of the past year, they were able to meet ‘all essential expenses,’ including mortgage, rent, utility bills, and important medical care.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, 70 percent of the supposedly poor households were not truly poor in the sense most people understand that term.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a fair statement. And if you read the report, even the other 30% are mostly not wanting for the basic necessities either.  Most of the “poor,” for example, live in reasonable dwellings that are in reasonable condition and the average “poor” family in America has considerably more living space than the average family in Europe – not the average poor family in Europe, the average family.[8]

Marc Roby: That’s eye opening.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But we must, of course, say that this is not universally true. No one is claiming that we don’t have people in this country living in terrible conditions. But that is not true of most of those who are called poor by the Census Bureau, which is, of course, the number always used by politicians and left-leaning news sources pushing when they are pushing for more social programs. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of people in our country who are poor has fluctuated between about 12% and 15% of the population since around 1970. But the number of people struggling to put food on the table is a small fraction of those, over 92% of those listed as poor said that they never had trouble getting enough food in the past year.[9] That means that just over 1% of the population, which is still too many, had at least occasional trouble putting enough food on the table. But the bottom line is that capitalism has been extremely successful in raising the standard of living for almost all Americans.

Marc Roby: And for many other people as well we might add.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true, but now I want to get back to Marx and in light of the fact that capitalism has been immensely successful in helping the poor, as noted by Bernstein and the data we just quickly reviewed, I want to look at what has happened when Marx’s ideas were implemented at the level of a country, rather than a small voluntary community.

The truth is that, because, as Bernstein noted, the problems with capitalism can be fixed without a complete change in society, the only way socialism can be implemented on a grand scale is either by agreement, or by revolution.

Marc Roby: And, of course, socialism, or at least partial socialism if I can use that phrase, has been tried voluntarily at the country level. For example, in England after world war two.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the English experiment is very important. It wasn’t full-blown socialism, but they did nationalize a number of industries and services and it was, by all accounts, a massive failure. The system was in place from 1945, when Clement Attlee became Prime Minister, until 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Thatcher said that “No theory of government was ever given a fairer test or a more prolonged experiment in a democratic country than democratic socialism received in Britain. Far from reversing the … decline of Britain … it accelerated it.”[10]

I don’t think it is worth our while to discuss the British experiment further, Muravchik discusses it in his book for those who are interested. The important thing is that it failed badly enough that the country voluntarily went back to capitalism.

Marc Roby: Alright, but there are other examples of democratic socialism that are frequently cited, most commonly Sweden.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Sweden is often cited, but there are two problems with that example. First, Sweden is not really socialist, their economy is market-based capitalism. And, I might add, has a much lower corporate tax rate, 20.6%, than we had in the United States prior to 2017 when President Trump lowered the rate from 35% to 21%.[11]

Sweden is a welfare state. They have huge taxes on everyone, including the middle class and lower income, and then they offer a wide range of generous government-funded social programs. But their taxes on middle- and lower-income people are much higher than here in the US. For example, there is a value-added tax of 25% on most products in Sweden, that’s like having a 25% national sales tax! In order to compare taxes, we must remember that gross-domestic-product, or GDP, is a measure of a countries total production. The overall tax-to-GDP ratio in Sweden is 43.9%, compared to 24.3% in the United States.[12] And the other Scandinavian countries are all similar.

Marc Roby: That’s a lot of tax. You noted two problems with using Sweden as an example, what is the other one?

Dr. Spencer: That they are demographically very different than the United States. There is a much greater degree of homogeneity in Sweden and in the other Scandinavian countries than we have.  Gert Tinggaard, a professor of political science at Denmark’s Aarhus University explained that “The Nordic welfare state works due to trust. You have to trust that people work and pay taxes when they are able to do so. The second condition is that you also have to trust the politicians. You get a bang for your buck.”[13] Now I don’t think that kind of trust exists in this country, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. And even Sweden is having a lot of trouble with it now since they have more immigrants than before.

Therefore, this kind of welfare state simply won’t work here. Not to mention the fact that the politicians in this country who promote the Scandinavian model ignore the incredible price tag. They pretend it can be paid by just taxing the rich, which is, first, simply not possible and, secondly, I would argue, not moral either. But we’ll get to that in a later podcast.

Marc Roby: Well, I certainly agree that the trust this professor spoke of does not exist in this country. There is too much diversity and, at this point in time, too much animosity.

Dr. Spencer: And that animosity, as we will also see in a later podcast, is made dramatically worse by neo-Marxist ideologies. But let’s get back to socialist countries. For true socialism, in other words, not including the welfare state, or partial solutions like England tried, the only way to achieve it is by violent revolution.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because there will always to be a sizable number of people who are not willing to voluntarily give up all of their property to the government. And to have true socialism, the government must own everything.

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t imagine that happening here in the United States without a massive use of force.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I. I don’t think it can happen anywhere peacefully. That is why it has been brought about by force in the countries that have tried some form of full-blown socialism. Muravchik goes through a number of examples in his book. For today, I just want to discuss the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, or often just called the Soviet Union. It was the first truly Socialist country.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, no longer exists.

Dr. Spencer: And the reason it doesn’t is that socialism was a massive failure. The history is long and sordid and we aren’t going to go through it in any detail, that would take way too long. But let’s take a quick look at it and let’s begin by looking at a man named Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. He was born to a reasonably well-to-do Russian family in 1870. When he was 17, his beloved older brother, Alexander, was hanged for his involvement in a plot to kill the tsar.

Alexander had been strongly influenced by a novel called What is to be Done? And after his death, Lenin also read the novel and said that it “completely transformed my outlook.”[14]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a strong statement. What was this novel about?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the author of the novel had been influenced by Owen, whose utopian experiment we discussed in our session last week, and the novel presented a utopian vision. Let me quote from Muravchik, he says that “The heroes of What Is to Be Done? Were a class of ‘New Men.’ This was an unmistakable euphemism for ‘revolutionaries,’ coined, as were many code words of the time, to dodge the censor. The New Men are ‘courageous, unwavering, unyielding’ and utterly devoted to the ‘common cause.’ Their destiny is to rescue society.”[15]

Marc Roby: You can see how such a grand idea – to rescue society – might capture the imagination of a young man, especially one whose older brother had been hanged for attempting to murder the leader of the government.

Dr. Spencer: It is understandable to a degree, but I don’t want to get into speculating about motives. Let’s just say that many of the things Lenin went on to do are completely indefensible in terms of any reasonable code of moral conduct. His revolution was far different from the American revolution.  But let me get back to the story.

Marc Roby: OK. Please do.

Dr. Spencer: Lenin got involved in some insurrectionist activities and was jailed and then exiled to southern Siberia. The conditions of his exile were not harsh however, he was even allowed to live with his girlfriend, although the authorities made them get married, which they were opposed to, but they agreed so they could be together.

During his exile, Lenin became aware of the work of Bernstein and the effect it was having on some Russian socialists who were turning away from the idea of revolution and were thinking that the workers could peacefully push for better wages and conditions.[16]

Marc Roby: There goes that fickle proletariat again. As we saw with Marx last time, they simply don’t always appreciate what these revolutionaries want to do for them.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Lenin said that “not a single Marxist has understood Marx!”[17] He was speaking about Marx’s single-minded devotion to revolution. Muravchik wrote, “For neither Lenin nor Marx was the revolution the answer to the question: what can be done for the proletariat? Rather the proletariat was the answer to the question: what can be done for the revolution?”[18]

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting observation. And it certainly tempts one to speculate about the motives of these men, and others like them.

Dr. Spencer: But we will resist that temptation and move on. This idea that the proletariat is prone to be satisfied with reforms that make their lives comfortable is a consistent theme. Lenin wrote, “The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness.”[19] Which he clearly meant in a derogatory way. Lenin went on to say, thinking of Marx and Engels, that “The theory of socialism … grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.”[20]

Marc Roby: OK, Lenin obviously held the proletariat in utter contempt. It is hypocritical for someone who claimed to want a classless society to so obviously think that a higher class of people are needed to tell the working class what they need.

Dr. Spencer: It is hypocritical, and it is also common among Marxists. They often think they are superior to the people they claim to want to help. And they are almost never working-class people themselves.

Marc Roby: Yes, an interesting observation, but one that I have found to be true in my reading as well.

Dr. Spencer: And it’s because it is almost universally true. Marx, for example, never supported himself or his family. He mooched off of his parents and, when they stopped providing for him, he was supported by friends, mostly Engels. But, getting back to Lenin, who also never worked for a living in a normal sense, the revolution he masterminded in Russia is notable for its absolute brutality and criminality.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Starting around 1906 Lenin’s organization used armed robbery, sometimes including murder, to fund their operations. Stalin was good at this type of criminal activity, which is how he first came to Lenin’s attention.[21]

The second example I would give is how Lenin seized power in the first place. World War I broke out in 1914 and Lenin welcomed it because he thought, correctly as it turns out, that it would help his cause. Then during the war, in 1917, there was a revolution in Russia, which led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. This led to the creation of a provisional government, which then subsequently fell to the Bolsheviks, which was Lenin’s party, in the October revolution in 1917. There was then a period of civil war prior to the formation of the USSR in 1922.

Marc Roby: It is certainly a very messy period in Russian history.

Dr. Spencer: Messy in more ways than one. Lenin was absolutely ruthless. He killed virtually anyone who stood in his way. He self-consciously modeled his efforts after the reign of terror in the French Revolution.[22] He used force of arms to overrule election results[23] and he violently oppressed even the peasants he claimed to want to help. The ones who were at all successful and who didn’t want to voluntarily give up all of their possessions he called kulaks. They were treated mercilessly as enemies of the state both under Lenin and, later, under Stalin. They were murdered and their property taken.

Muravchick notes that “Russia’s autocracy had long been notorious in Europe for its cruelty, but no tsar had ever shed blood so freely. Then again, no tsar ever had such lofty aims. ‘How could they … act otherwise,’ asked former Yugoslav Communist leader Milovan Djilas of the Bolsheviks, ‘when they ha[d] been named by … history to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in this sinful world?’”[24]

Marc Roby: That’s incredible. In other words, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, actually believed that the end justified the means.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And notice the end, this is nothing less than their view of heaven on earth. This was Marx’s vision as well, although he didn’t use that language. Remember from Session 163 that he thought the final state of society was communism, where each person would contribute according to his ability and consume only according to his needs.

Marc Roby: If we’re not careful in our thinking, we could imagine that this is what the Bible teaches.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but the problem is that a true state of bliss requires a change in human nature. It requires the eradication of sin. And only God can do that. In Isaiah 45:22 God tells us, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” [25] The failure of socialism is, fundamentally, that it is trying to play God. It is using the state to try and create, by force, a situation that men have decided is best. I’d rather wait for heaven.

Marc Roby: And so would I. And I very much look forward to continuing this discussion, but we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] J. Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 95

[2] Ibid, pg. 102

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pg. 106

[5] Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What Is Poverty in the United States Today?, Backgrounder 2575, The Heritage Foundation, July 18, 2011, see footnote 8 for a list of the surveys (available at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2011/pdf/bg2575.pdf)

[6] Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, The War on Poverty after 50 Years, Backgrounder 2955, The Heritage Foundation, September 15, 2014, (available at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2014/pdf/BG2955.pdf)

[7] Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox, op. cit.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 317

[11] For Sweden see https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2018/06/european-tax-sweden-country-profile.html, for the US see https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/how-does-corporate-income-tax-work

[12] See https://taxfoundation.org/bernie-sanders-scandinavian-countries-taxes/

[13] Alister Doyle and Simon Johnson, Not in my backyard? Mainstream Scandinavia warily eyes record immigration, Reuters, February 15, 2016, available at https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-nordics-insight/not-in-my-backyard-mainstream-scandinavia-warily-eyes-record-immigration-idUKKCN0VP0IX

[14] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 112

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid, pg. 108

[17] Ibid, pg. 115

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid, pg. 117

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid, pg. 129

[22] Ibid, pg. 139

[23] Ibid, pg. 137

[24] Ibid, pg. 136

[25] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our last session we noted that we have had 150 years to prove that Karl Marx’s theory of history was wrong. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to examine today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by looking at what the proper role of government is according to the Bible. That will establish a framework within which we can then look at some specific examples of the failure of Marx’s ideas.

In his book Politics According to the Bible, Wayne Grudem argues that the first and most important role of government is to safeguard human liberty.

Marc Roby: How does he support that contention?

Dr. Spencer: He writes that “The Bible consistently places a high value on individual human freedom and responsibility to choose one’s actions.”[1] For example, at the very beginning, we read in Genesis 2:16-17 that “the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”[2] Notice that this statement shows both freedom and responsibility. God gave man the freedom to choose, but then he also gave him a prohibition and told him what the penalty would be if he violated that prohibition. Adam was a free moral agent who was accountable to God for the choice he made.

Marc Roby: In other words, while the Bible puts a high value on our freedom, that freedom is never absolute.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We are made in God’s image and make real choices, but we are creatures and so, unlike God, our freedom is not absolute.

Marc Roby: That Creator/creature distinction just keeps cropping up.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. And the fundamental failure of all Marxist ideologies is that they deny this biblical principle. They think man is absolute and not accountable to anyone.

But, returning to the proper role of government, in the famous passage about government in Romans Chapter 13 we read, in Verse 4, that the ruler, “is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” That clearly supports the idea that the government is there to serve the people, it is to do us good, which certainly includes protecting the individual rights enumerated in the Bible, including the right to own private property.

Marc Roby: And in order to do good to its subjects, the government must have the power both to defend its citizens from outside aggression and to punish those in the society who do evil.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that power is necessary because people are sinners. In Federalist Number 51, either Hamilton or Madison famously wrote that “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”[3]

Marc Roby: If men were like angels, we’d be in heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That is only true in heaven, you’re right. On the flip side, the statement in Federalist 51 went on to add that “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”[4]

Marc Roby: But, unfortunately, we don’t have angels to govern us right now.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. And so some controls are necessary as we will discuss in a later session. But now, to cite just one more verse about the main purpose of government, Grudem also uses Deuteronomy Chapter 30, where Moses was speaking to the people on the plains of Moab prior to their entering the Promised Land. For those who don’t know the context, God had delivered his people from bondage in Egypt, but had then consigned them to wandering in the desert for forty years because of their disobedience. Moses was speaking to the children of those who had died in the desert and had just finished telling them the blessings that God promised for obedience and the curses that he threatened for disobedience and he then says to them, in Deuteronomy 30:19, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live”.

Marc Roby: And again we see liberty, but liberty fenced in by responsibility. People can choose whether or not to obey God, but there are blessings and curses set before them, and their choice determines which they will receive.

Dr. Spencer: And that is a reasonable pattern for civil government to follow as well. People have a God-given right to personal liberty, but there must be laws that bring punishment if they do things that are harmful to others in the society. This isn’t the time to talk about what those laws should be, but the key point is that government’s main role is to provide a structure that protects each citizen’s liberties or rights from being infringed by others—whether by individuals or by the government itself.

Marc Roby: That sounds suspiciously like our Declaration of Independence, right after the famous line that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It goes on to say, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.[5]

Dr. Spencer: And we are very privileged to live in a country that was founded on that principle. But there have also been a number of attempts over the years at founding societies on socialist principles.

The first one I want to mention was founded by a man named Robert Owen. He was a Welsh textile manufacturer who became wealthy and decided to start a voluntary community of people who would own everything collectively. It was Owen and his supporters who came up with the name “socialism” to describe such an arrangement.[6] He founded a famous experiment, called New Harmony, on the bank of the Wabash River in Indiana in 1825.

Marc Roby: I remember from Muravchik’s book that Marx’s and Engels’ views of Owen, and others who tried similar experiments, were somewhat disparaging. They called the approaches “utopian”, and meant that in a pejorative sense.[7]

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. Even though Marx believed that communism was inevitable, he had come to the conclusion that the best way to bring it about was by violent revolution. He was afraid, for very good reason as history has shown, that the proletariat might be satisfied by just having good jobs and good lives and might not see their need for a complete revolution.

Marc Roby: That’s awfully ungrateful of those proletarians, not recognizing what wonderful things Marx wanted to do for them and being satisfied with simply achieving a comfortable life.

Dr. Spencer: Marx would certainly have thought so. In his address to the Central Committee of the Communist League in 1850, Marx argued that “the workers must counteract … the bourgeois endeavors to allay the storm, and must compel the democrats to carry out their present terrorist phrases. Their actions must be so aimed as to prevent the direct revolutionary excitement from being suppressed … instances of popular revenge against hated individuals or public buildings … must not only be tolerated but the leadership of them taken in hand.”[8]

Marc Roby: Alright, that’s downright frightening. And it sounds very much like what is going on right now in Portland, Seattle and elsewhere.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Marx and Engels were also clear about their goals in the Communist Manifesto. They wrote that “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!”[9]

Marc Roby: That is very different from the ideas of Owen.

Dr. Spencer: Very different indeed. Owen thought that socialism would simply be so successful that it would attract people from all over the world to adopt it. But getting back to Marx and Engels, even though they had contempt for the peaceful means used by Owen and others, they acknowledged Owen’s influence. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the New Harmony experiment, it was a complete failure. Interested listeners can look in Muravchik’s book for the details. But I do want to mention three things.

First, Owen believed that no human “is responsible for his will and his own actions” because “his whole character – physical, mental, and moral – is formed independently of himself.”[10]

Marc Roby: Well, we at least have to admire him for being a consistent materialist. As we have noted before in these podcasts[11], if the physical universe is all that exists, then there is no free will. Human beings are reduced to being nothing more than sophisticated biological machines.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And because Owen thought human behavior is entirely controlled by physical nature and external circumstances, he believed that you could create a new man, perfectly suited for the socialist life, by educating him properly.

Marc Roby: It might be more accurate to say indoctrinating him properly.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But, in any event, he envisioned three five-year stages of education, beginning at birth, and he thought that the result, at age fifteen, would be “men and women of a new race, physically intellectually and morally; beings far superior to any yet known to have lived upon the earth.”[12]

Marc Roby: It’s interesting that he lists morals even though he thought we are all basically automatons.

Dr. Spencer: Well, its hard, if not impossible, to be 100% consistent as a materialist. But Muravchik makes a very important point about this, he wrote that “the idea of a new man, dimly foreseen by Babeuf but sketched sharply by Owen, became the enduring centerpiece of the socialist vision.”[13] We will see in a future podcast that education, or indoctrination, plays a large role in what is going on in this country now too.

And, much like the vision Marx and Engels sketched of all conflict somehow miraculously ending, Owen said that with this new man, “There will be no cruelty in man’s nature”[14]. In fact, he even thought that the animal world would somehow completely change in character.

Marc Roby: That’s incredible. To summarize, the first thing you wanted to note about the New Harmony experiment is essentially that Owen thought he could create a new race of people through education. What else did you want to point out?

Dr. Spencer: The second thing I want to mention is how completely hostile to God Owen was, which is what you might expect from an ardent materialist. Owen said that “There is no sacrifice … which I … would not have … willingly and joyously made to terminate the existence of religion on earth”.[15]

Marc Roby: Wow. I would say that describing that as hostile is accurate.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a connection with Marx and Engels. Engels attended the so-called “Hall of Science” in Manchester, England in 1843, which was a venue for spreading Owen’s socialist ideas that held Sunday services very much like a church.[16] Engels reported that in the meetings “frequently … Christianity is directly attacked and Christians are called ‘our enemies.’”[17]

Marc Roby: Well, one certainly couldn’t accuse them of trying to hide their hostility toward Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: No, you can’t. And Owen openly espoused a number of ideas that are fundamentally opposed to biblical Christianity. For example, speaking about the New Harmony community again, and quoting from Muravchik, “[Owen’s] critics charged him with advocating free love, and he gave them basis for the charge. Owen argued that the institution of marriage was ‘unnatural’ and ‘rendered prostitution unavoidable.’”[18]

Marc Roby: That is irreconcilably opposed to the biblical view that God created man male and female, established marriage and family in the garden, and said that marriage was for life.

Dr. Spencer: It is absolutely opposed to God’s plan and opposition to the traditional nuclear family is still part of communist beliefs. And Owen’s position went even further. Muravchik notes that “Owen’s design for ‘villages of unity and cooperation’ had been criticized for their proposal that boys and girls share common dormitories in their teen years. … Owen asserted that in the new moral world ‘celibacy, beyond the period plainly indicated for its termination by nature … will be known … to be a great crime.’”[19]

Marc Roby: It sounds like Owen would have been right at home in the 1960’s in this country.

Dr. Spencer: Well, we’ll get to the 1960’s in a later podcast, but they bear a remarkable similarity to these socialist ideas for a very good reason. But let me get to the third and final thing I want to say about New Harmony.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: Why it failed. Owen, of course, had his own view. He said that it failed because people who had not been trained as socialists lacked the proper “characteristics of forbearance and charity necessary”.[20] But that explanation really doesn’t make a lot of sense since the people who joined the experiment were self-selected, they were people who thought it was a good idea. So, I’d like to read how Owen’s son explained the failure of the experiment, he was a bit more objective.

Marc Roby: Very well. What did his son say?

Dr. Spencer: Well, his son, Robert Dale Owen, who went on to become a member of the US House of Representatives and to push through the legislation that created the Smithsonian Institution[21], wrote that the most potent factor in the failure was that “All cooperative schemes which provide equal remuneration to the skilled and industrious and the ignorant and idle, must work their own downfall, for by this unjust plan of remuneration they must of necessity eliminate the valuable members – who find their services reaped by the indigent – and retain only the improvident, unskilled, and vicious members.”[22]

Marc Roby: Ouch! That’s brutal. In other words, socialism doesn’t take into account human nature.

Dr. Spencer: True. But he was speaking particularly about voluntary communities of people. The same problem manifests itself in different ways when people do not have the freedom to quit the cooperative arrangement as we’ll see later.

We don’t have time to go into more examples of voluntary communities in any detail, but if people read Muravchik’s book, they will learn of other similar experiments both before and after Marx. The most recent, and – how shall I put this – least of a failure? Is the Kibbutz movement in Israel. In the 20th century there were hundreds of kibbutzim, but by early in the 21st century they had all voluntarily abandoned communal living. It simply doesn’t work, even with people who are passionate about trying to make it work.

Marc Roby: But, of course, most of the experiments in socialism have not been voluntary groups of individuals.

Dr. Spencer: No, unfortunately, they have not. And the history of socialism among countries is much sadder than the failure of the voluntary communities. There has not been a single solitary example of a socialist or communist nation that has been successful in providing a good standard of living and freedom for its people.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to examining that topic further next time, but we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer you.

 

[1] W. Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, Zondervan, 2010, pg. 91

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 43, pg. 163, also available at https://guides.loc.gov/federalist-papers/text-51-60

[4] Ibid

[5] From a transcript of the Declaration of Independence, available at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[6] Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 28

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid, pg. 75

[9] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 434, also available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf

[10] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 33

[11] See Session 1 page 4 and Session 102 page 6

[12] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 34

[13] Ibid, pg. 35

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid, pg. 33

[16] Ibid, pg. 57, and also see https://radicalmanchester.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/the-hall-of-science/

[17] Ibid, pg. 58

[18] Ibid, pg. 45

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid, pg. 47

[21] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Dale_Owen

[22] Muravchik, op. cit., pp 48-49

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our last session we started looking at Karl Marx and his ideology, which is behind a number of modern movements. We made the point that since Marx had a materialist worldview, he did not recognize that the real source of all human conflict is sin. And since his diagnosis of the problem was wrong, his cure was also wrong. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I first want to make explicit something about Marx and his ideas that was only implicit in what we said last time.

Marc Roby: And what is that?

Dr. Spencer: That Marx was not thinking about ethics when he did his work. In other words, he didn’t start by thinking that capitalism was bad and then look for what he thought would be a more ethical alternative. Rather, he analyzed history to try and discover some law that would explain what has happened in the past and would predict what will happen in the future. And he thought he had found that law with his theory about conflict between the classes. His lifelong co-worker, benefactor and friend, Friedrich Engels, said essentially that in his eulogy at Marx’s funeral. He said, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history”.[1]

Marc Roby: That’s quite a claim – that Marx discovered the law that describes the development of human history! And did Engels say what that law is?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he did. Let me complete the sentence I quoted from before. Engels said, “Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.”[2]

Marc Roby: OK, that’s quite a mouthful. Let me try and give a simple summary. Engels said that Marx discovered that we should analyze all of human history in terms of how people satisfied their most basic physical needs; food, shelter and clothing. Only then can we understand their ideas about everything else, including religion.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good summary. But it is also important to note that he implicitly assumed that religion is something created by man, rather than being an expression of the fact that man is created by God.

Marx thought that the simple material needs were the most important thing. And we should note that that it is virtually the opposite of what Jesus Christ said.[3] We read in Matthew 6:31-33 that Christ said, “do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”[4]

Marc Roby: Yes, Marx’s theory proves Jesus’ point fairly well. Marx was a pagan, the Greek word translated as pagan here just means a non-Jew, in other words, one who rejects the true and living God. And Marx’s theory is based entirely on people running after these things.

Dr. Spencer: Marx does nicely demonstrate Christ’s teaching, although it is ironic that Marx was a Jew! Just not a practicing Jew. Because he was a materialist, he completely ignores the spiritual dimension. Christ tells us that, as Christians, we are not to be focused primarily on the things of this world, although God knows that we have physical needs. Look at the original creation. God provided for all of Adam and Eve’s needs in the garden. They had to work, but their labor was sweet and productive, not frustrating. We aren’t told about shelter, but we know they didn’t have clothing.

Marc Roby: We probably don’t need to pursue that any further.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. But my point is that the most important thing in the garden was fellowship with God and with one another. He is the Creator, we are his creatures made in his image. We have a spirit as well as a body and our physical needs are not the most important.

We now live in a fallen world. It was as a part of the curse following the fall that God told Adam, as we read in Genesis 3:17-19, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Marc Roby: That paints an accurate picture of the fallen world we live in. Our work is often times frustrating and hard and we labor for so many years and then die.

Dr. Spencer: And yet there is also grace evident in this world. God knows our basic physical needs better than any human being does; after all, he made us. And he has arranged things so that even in this fallen world, if we walk in obedience to him, our labor will produce what we need. But Jesus is telling us here that seeking God’s kingdom is of first importance.

Marc Roby: Which makes perfectly good sense given the fact that we are only on this earth for a short time, but we will spend eternity either in heaven or in hell.

Dr. Spencer: And God is in charge of all that happens during this life, so seeking him first makes sense even for this life. Although your point is the most important; what happens during our 70 or 80 years here doesn’t really matter in comparison with eternity.

In any event, Marx’s materialism caused him to ignore the most important being in reality, God, and to reject what God has told us about human nature. Paul wrote about those who suppress the truth about God. In Romans 1:21-22 we read that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools”. Marx’s thinking was futile because he was, using the Bible’s definition, a fool.

Marc Roby: And we find the Bible’s definition of a fool in Psalm 14:1, where we read that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. So Marx ignored the fact that we are all sinners and that no change in the structure of society is going to change that basic fact. We don’t need a new form of government, we need to be freed from sin. And only God can accomplish that. But we do still live in this world and so the form of government we have is a legitimate concern for Christians.

The most important thing is that Christians be free to glorify God by obeying his commands to share the gospel, to work, to give to the poor, to be honest, to worship him and so on. And so it is important for us to look at Marx’s theory. And we really don’t need to debate whether his theory is right or wrong, we have all of the evidence we need to know for sure that his theory is wrong.

Marc Roby: Now, how would you back that statement up?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Marx believed that capitalism would simply collapse in failure and that socialism and then communism were inevitable outcomes. But he published Das Kapital in 1867, so we now have over 150 years of history to look back on and evaluate whether or not he was correct. And the verdict is in, Marx was wrong. There has not been a single instance of the historical progression that Marx predicted occurring anywhere on earth. We don’t really want to take time to go through all of the reasons why he was wrong, but I’ll mention one because it is so important in some of the discussions going on today.

Marc Roby: What reason is that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Marx essentially assumed a fixed amount of wealth. He assumed that if the bourgeoisie, that is the owners of the factories and so on, get richer, it must be that the workers get poorer. But that is simply false. New and better products and services lead to an increase in the overall wealth in the world. In fact, the worldwide gross domestic product, or GDP, which is a measure of total production, is estimated to have been abut $183 billion at the time of Christ. It increased to about $643 billion by the year 1700, which is a 251% increase over that 1700-year span. The industrial revolution increased the rate of growth so that by 1870 the GDP was $1.92 trillion, or $1,920 billion, which is almost a 200% increase in just 170 years. In 2015 the GDP was $108 trillion, which is more than a 5,500% increase in the last 145 years.[5]

Marc Roby: That’s astonishing.

Dr. Spencer: It is astonishing, and the biggest reason for the massive increase in capital over the last roughly 150 years is, as Ben Shapiro notes, “the enshrinement of individual rights, and the advent of protection for private property – the roots of capitalism”.[6]

So it is entirely possible for both the workers and the owners of industry to see their wealth increase. It isn’t like you and me sharing a pie by dividing it into two pieces. In that case, the only way for my piece to get larger is for your piece to get smaller, or vice versa. But that isn’t what is going on in terms of wealth. It is not a zero-sum situation. And capitalism has arguably increased the wealth of more people far more than any other development in human history.

Marc Roby: And yet we certainly hear a lot these days about the 1% and the 99%.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. And we may return to that topic in more detail in a later session, it is an example of what might be called a neo-Marxist ideology and is a very destructive one. But for now just consider the following simple illustration. Suppose I own a corporation that is initially worth a million dollars, and you are one of my employees and make $50,000 a year.

Marc Roby: Why can’t I be the owner?

Dr. Spencer: Because I’m telling the story. But now suppose that the corporation does exceptionally well so that a year later it is worth five million dollars and, as a result, I am able to double your salary to $100,000 a year.

There are two very different ways you could look at this. First, you could say it is completely unfair since my wealth increased by 4 million dollars, while your salary only increased by $50,000. But, on the other hand, you could notice, quite correctly, that we are both better off than we were before. And, presumably, so are a number of other people who are your co-workers.

Marc Roby: I see your point. The increased wealth of the company helped both the owner and the workers.

Dr. Spencer: And it must have helped a whole bunch of other people too, the consumers. The products or services the company provided must have been something that others found useful or they wouldn’t have purchased them, and therefore, their lives were improved as well.

But, as I said, we’ll talk about this more later, for now I want to look at the idea of socialism. Marx is the name most people think of if you mention socialism, but the idea is not original to him. It actually came out of the French revolution in the late 1700’s.

Marc Roby: And, as many people know, the French revolution and the American revolution were linked. The French were certainly impressed by the success of the Americans in throwing off a repressive monarch.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. Both revolutions were strongly influenced by enlightenment ideas, especially the ideas of natural rights and equality. Our Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4, 1776, famously said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[7] And the French revolution had The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was produced in 1789 by the National Assembly of France.[8]

Marc Roby: Which was, coincidentally, the year that our Bill of Rights was approved by Congress.

Dr. Spencer: That is an interesting historical coincidence. But getting back to socialism, Joshua Muravchik noted in his excellent book about socialism called Heaven on Earth, that it was in the dying days of the French revolution that a man named François-Noël Babeuf argued that there was a contradiction in the revolution’s agenda.[9] The last of the so-called “sacred rights of men and of citizens” in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen stated that “The right to property being inviolable and sacred, no one ought to be deprived of it, except in cases of evident public necessity, legally ascertained, and on condition of a previous just indemnity.”[10]

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable, and in line with ideas held by the founders of our country as well. Property rights are sacred and government can’t take away my property except for real necessities and it must then compensate me for the property taken.

Dr. Spencer: That idea is also biblical. The eighth commandment, which we read in Exodus 20:15, says that “You shall not steal.” This obviously assumes that other people have private property which is theirs and we are not to take it. We could read verse after verse for hours where the Bible explicitly and implicitly affirms the right to private property.

Marc Roby: I know that people have sometimes claimed that Jesus’ followers lived as communists. They will often cite Acts 2:44-45 where we read about the young church in Jerusalem and are told that “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”

Dr. Spencer: I’ve seen that argument as well, and it is simply and obviously wrong. The verse itself says they were selling their possessions and goods and then gave to those in need. In other words, it assumes the possessions and goods were owned by the individuals who then made free decisions to sell them and then made free decisions to give to others in need.

Even the case of Ananias and Sapphira, which is sometimes brought up in this context, clearly validates the right to private property.

Marc Roby: We should probably briefly relate the story for those who may not remember it. In Acts Chapter 5 we are told that Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and then brought most, but not all, of the money and gave it to the apostles. Peter rebuked them for lying about the amount they had received and God put them to death.

Dr. Spencer: This passage again clearly validates the right to private property as I said. We read in Acts 5:2-4 that “With his wife’s full knowledge [Ananias] kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’”

It is important to notice that Peter rebuked him for lying, not for keeping part of the money. It is clear that Ananias and Sapphira were hypocrites who wanted people to think they were more generous than they were. In the rebuke Peter clearly states the right to private property. He asked two rhetorical questions, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”

Marc Roby: And the answers to both questions are obviously yes; the property was theirs and so was the money they received from the sale. And they were free to do with it as they pleased. So, as you noted, Peter does affirm the right to private property.

Dr. Spencer: The Bible frequently admonishes us to be generous, to care for the poor, for widows and for orphans, in other words, for anyone in real need. But there is a huge difference between my voluntarily giving some of my personal property to someone else and the notion that property is owned collectively.

Marc Roby: I would say the difference between those two views is an unbridgeable chasm.

Dr. Spencer: I would agree. But getting back to the contradiction that Babeuf noticed in the goals of the French revolution, as that revolution proceeded through its terrible course, the Constitution of 1793 added the guarantee of equality. Near the end it declared that “The constitution guarantees to all Frenchmen equality, liberty, security, property”[11] and the list went on. I didn’t read the whole list because what is important for our purposes is that it listed both a guarantee of equality and property.

And, as Babeuf noted, property rights are in contradiction with the notion of equality, at least if that notion refers to equality of outcomes, rather than equality of opportunity. He said, correctly I think, that the equality of outcomes can only be achieved by the abolition of personal property rights.[12] In other words, the government has to control absolutely everything in order to then dole everything out equally to everyone.

Marc Roby: OK, I can see the logic there. But I really don’t like the idea at all, and that is not at all what is meant by the statement that all men are created equal in our Declaration of Independence.

Dr. Spencer: No, that isn’t what the founding fathers of our country meant. It is clear from the historical record that they intended that to refer to equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, which is why it says we are created equal. And it is also referring to our in inherent dignity, honor and rights, not our abilities. It would be patently absurd to claim that all people are created with equal ability. In any event, Babeuf is absolutely correct that if you want to guarantee equal outcomes, the government must own everything. In other words, individual property rights must be abolished.

Marc Roby: And that’s not something most people will support.

Dr. Spencer: Not when it is put that bluntly, no. Although you can get people to support things that move very much in that direction as we will discuss later. Just to provide our listeners with a little food for thought to tease them, let me suggest that a progressive tax system, where people who make more money pay higher taxes, is a move in that direction. But let’s get back to socialism for now.

Marx and Engels were familiar with Babeuf. Muravchik wrote that “in their first collaborative work, The Holy Family, the young Marx and Engels paid this bow to the Equals:”[13], and I must explain that “the Equals” refers to the Conspiracy of Equals of which Babeuf was a part. In any event, the “bow” that Muravchik mentions, is that Marx and Engels wrote the following, “The revolutionary movement which began in 1789 … and which with Babeuf’s conspiracy was temporarily defeated, gave rise to the communist idea”[14].

Marc Roby: So Marx and Engels viewed Babeuf as the beginning of the idea of communism.

Dr. Spencer: That seems clear. They also made a passing reference to him in the Communist Manifesto.[15] There is a great deal more that could be said about the history of this pernicious idea. I highly recommend Muravchik’s book Heaven on Earth, I think all Americans could benefit from reading it.

Marc Roby: I can second that recommendation. It does a great job of chronicling the failures of socialism.

Dr. Spencer:  And that gets us back to what I said earlier. We have had over 150 years of history since Marx wrote Das Kapital and that history shows clearly that socialism is a failure. Not only was Marx wrong in his theory about the development of history – remember that he thought socialism and communism would be the inevitable result of a collapse of capitalism – but he was also wrong in thinking that socialism or communism would be good. There have been many attempts at implementing these ideas and they have all failed miserably.

Marc Roby: And many of them put a heavy emphasis on the misery! Muravchik wrote that “Regimes calling themselves socialist have murdered more than one hundred million people since 1917.”[16] And with that, I think we have already gone overtime for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] See Friedrich Engels’ Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx, available at  https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/death/burial.htm

[2] Ibid

[3] This was pointed out by Bill Flax in an opinion piece published in Forbes magazine: “Do Marxism And Christianity Have Anything In Common?”, May 12, 2011, https://www.forbes.com/sites/billflax/2011/05/12/do-marxism-and-christianity-have-anything-in-common/#708a95d36877

[4] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[5] Data from Our World in Data, https://ourworldindata.org/economic-growth

[6] Ben Shapiro, How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps, Broadside Book, 2020, pg. xxvi

[7] Declaration of Independence: A Transcript, available at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[8] E.g. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution

[9] Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 4

[10] The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, available at http://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/declaration_of_the_rights_of_man_1789.pdf

[11] Available at https://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/1793-french-republic-constitution-of-1793 and also noted on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Constitution_of_1793

[12] Muravchik, op. cit.

[13] Ibid, pg. 25

[14] Ibid

[15] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 432

[16] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 359

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our previous two sessions we argued that the Bible provides a Christian with his purpose, place and priorities for living and must be our standard even in the public sphere. We also argued that Christians are obligated to participate in government, at least by voting, in order to function as salt and light in the world. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I want to discuss Karl Marx and Marxist ideology.

Marc Roby: Well, that might strike many of our listeners as a strange place to begin. Why deal with Marx and his ideology first?

Dr. Spencer: Because Marxist ideology underlies much of what is going on today. The Black Lives Matter organization, for example, is Marxist. In a youtube video[1] Patrice Khan-Cullors said that she and Alicia Garza, who are listed on the Black Lives Matter website[2] as two of the three co-founders, are both trained Marxists. In addition, there are many other manifestations in modern culture of what is, essentially, Marxist ideology.

Marc Roby: Well, certainly the modern resurgence of socialism in this country is an outgrowth of Marxist ideology. But that begs the question, how do you define Marxist ideology?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would summarize Marx’s ideology as one of conflict. He was a philosopher, a historian of sorts and an economist who primarily studied the history of economics and he considered his most important work to be Das Kapital, which is German for capital, meaning in this case financial assets. He was only able to finish the first volume of this work during his life and then his friend, Friedrich Engels, finished the second and third volumes from his notes after his death. In fact, Engels contributed many of the ideas that we refer to as Marxist, so much of Marx’s work was really a collaboration. According to Elliot Green, out of all the books published in the social sciences before 1950, Das Kapital is the most cited.[3] He found that it was cited over 40,000 times, and that only included English translations.

Marc Roby: That’s an impressive number. But why do you say Marx’s ideology is one of conflict?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me quote from the opening line of the first major section of the Communist Manifesto, which Marx co-wrote with Engels, and which summarizes his view of the history of mankind viewed from the point of view of economics. They wrote that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”[4]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a depressing view of history. Almost every relationship is seen as one of oppression and conflict.

Dr. Spencer: It is a very depressing view. Now, of course, we have to admit that there is some truth to it. Conflict has been a part of human history since the fall. There is conflict in individual personal relationships, in business relationships, between countries and so on. Governments have certainly oppressed people, employers have oppressed employees, slavery has been a common occurrence throughout human history and so on.

Marc Roby: All of which serves to prove that we are all sinners, as the Bible says. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.[5]

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. In any event, Marx is without any doubt one of the most influential people of the past two hundred years.

He was born in 1818 in Trier, which is in the Rhineland of west central Germany, very near modern Luxembourg, which was part of Prussia at the time of Marx’s birth. His father was a lawyer and sent him to the University of Bonn to study law, but he got into trouble there and switched to the University of Berlin. Once there, he got interested in philosophy and joined a group called the “young Hegelians”.

Marc Roby: I assume the name of the group comes from the philosopher Georg Hegel?

Dr. Spencer: Your assumption is correct. Hegel was an objective idealist, which, according to John Frame, means that “the whole universe is characterized by thought.”[6] Hegel developed what is called dialectical reasoning.

Marc Roby: Perhaps we should note that in a philosophical sense, a dialectic refers to reasoning by way of a dialogue, as made famous by Plato.

Dr. Spencer: And again you’re right. And to be more specific about Hegel’s method, he believed that we arrive at truth through a process of trial and error. We begin any discussion, or thought process, with a proposition. That is our thesis. There is then an antithesis, which is something that seems to come from the thesis, but is contrary to it; in other words it is a negation of the thesis, which is why it is called the antithesis. Then, by backing up, if you will, and looking at the thesis and antithesis together, we arrive at a synthesis, which is a new proposition that corrects the errors in the thesis and antithesis. This synthesis now becomes our thesis and the process continues.

Marc Roby: That is very abstract. Can you give a concrete example?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, although the example is still pretty abstract. Think about being. Just the bare concept of being. What does it mean? It is undefined. But we could simply say that something is present. That is our thesis. But thinking about that automatically causes us to ask, what is nonbeing? In other words, what is nothing? And we again see that the concept is undefined, but it means that something is absent. That is our antithesis. There initially seems to be no way to reconcile being and non-being, or nothing. But then comes the synthesis. We realize that nothing can become something, or that something can become nothing and we arrive at the concept of becoming as the synthesis.[7]

Marc Roby: I’m not at all sure that that is helpful.

Dr. Spencer: I understand completely, and I don’t want to spend more time on it. The important thing is that this dialectical method involves looking at something and seeing that it has within itself the seeds of its own change. It is all about constant change. You go from thesis and antithesis to synthesis, which then becomes your thesis and you keep going.

Hegel viewed this as applying to history and, in fact, all of reality, since thoughts are reality in his view. So, to quote John Frame, “just as human thought progresses through negation and synthesis, so human history progresses through conflict and resolution. One tribe fights another, leading to a nation. Nations fight and create empires. One empire fights another, leading to a greater civilization.”[8]

Marc Roby: Yes, I see the origin of the conflict idea.

Dr. Spencer: Which is all that is important for now. There is a key difference however between Hegel and Marx.

Marc Roby: What’s that?

Dr. Spencer: Hegel was an idealist and Marx was a materialist. So, Marx’s theory is sometimes called dialectical materialism, although he preferred the term historical materialism. As we saw with the brief quote from the Communist Manifesto, Marx viewed economics in terms of conflict. There is always an oppressor and an oppressed. In Das Kapital, he was analyzing capitalist systems, which he thought were certain to die out.

Marx wrote at the time of the industrial revolution and he broke people up into two classes. The proletariat and the bourgeoisie. He defined the proletariat as the workers who sell their labor and the bourgeoisie as “modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production, and employers of wage labour”[9].

Let me quote the best short explanation of his ideas that I have found.

Marc Roby: Yes, Please do.

Dr. Spencer: In his History of Economic Theory, Harry Landreth wrote that “Capitalism … contains the seeds of its own destruction, as the inevitable conflicts develop with changes in the forces of production. With the fall of capitalism a new set of relations of production will emerge, which Marx calls socialism, and socialism, in turn, finally gives way to communism.”[10] Landreth went on to explain that in Marx’s system, socialism means that the means of production are owned by the state. And in the Communist Manifesto, Marx said the state is, “the proletariat organized as the ruling class.”[11] In fact, Marx wrote in the Manifesto that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class, to establish democracy.”[12]

Marc Roby: Well, independent of the fact that some people today speak about democratic socialism, most people don’t associate socialism with democracy.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and for good reason as we will see later. But socialism in its pure form is an economic system. Marx envisioned a democracy where the government owns all of the means of production.

But there is still in this view of socialism a vestige of capitalism, because, as Landreth writes, “economic activity is still basically organized through the use of incentive systems: rewards must still be given in order to induce men to labor.”[13]

Marc Roby: So the key idea of socialism, according to Marx, is that the means of production are owned collectively, rather than being in the hands of some sort of upper class.

Dr. Spencer: That’s the key, yes. And then the system is assumed to continue to progress and, in communism, as viewed by Marx, things are very different. Landreth writes, “Men are no longer motivated to work by monetary or material incentives, and the social classes which existed under capitalism, and to a lesser extent under socialism, have disappeared. Communism is a classless society in which the state has withered away. Under socialism each person contributes to the economic process according to his ability and receives an income according to his contribution; under communism each contributes according to his ability but consumes according to his needs.”

Marc Roby: That’s amazing. Marx honestly believed that men’s motivations will completely change, and that social classes will disappear and the state will wither away?

Dr. Spencer: Apparently, he did. It is one of the things I find intriguing about Marx’s views. It arises from his rejection of the biblical notions of sin and the authority of God to define our place. He despised religion.

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement, can you back it up?

Dr. Spencer: Easily. Marx wrote that religion “is the opium of the people.”[14] By which he meant it was a tool of the oppressors used to keep the oppressed under control. He also wrote that “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”[15] In other words, religion provides only an illusion of happiness according to Marx, and must be abolished in order to open the door for real happiness.

Marc Roby: Which, on his view, would come with communism.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. So, you see, his view of humanity was not informed by the Bible, but he nevertheless understood that human beings are sinful, although we would never have used that word. Or, at least, he understood that human beings in power, the bourgeoisie, are sinful, since he spoke about there always being oppression of the workers, the proletariat. But he then envisioned all of this changing when the economic and governmental structures changed as a result of the proletariat coming to power. So, somehow, he thought that sin was going to magically disappear.

Marc Roby: That’s incredible.

Dr. Spencer: It’s even more incredible than just thinking oppression would go away. In the communist manifesto we read, “In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”[16]

Marc Roby: So, he envisioned heaven here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what he envisioned. His philosophy was completely materialist and, as such, is fundamentally opposed to God and to Christianity. In her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey analyzes different worldviews in terms of how they answer three questions: First, what is the ultimate origin of everything in this universe? Second, what is wrong with the world, in other words, why is their all this conflict and trouble? And third, how do we fix things.[17] These three questions can be summarized using Christian terminology as dealing with the creation, fall and redemption.

Marc Roby: I think that is a reasonable rubric for evaluating different worldviews. So, what does Pearcey say about Marx’s worldview?

Dr. Spencer: Well, she says that Marx’s view of creation is that this universe is self-creating matter.[18] I would possibly disagree with the “self-creating” part of that statement, I don’t know if Marx ever wrote about the origin of our universe one way or the other, but most materialists simply assume that the material universe has been around forever, or is a part of some multiverse that has been around forever. We’ve dealt with that idea before and it isn’t important for our current discussion anyway, so let’s move on to the other two aspects of a worldview.

Marc Roby: Alright, what does Pearcey say then is Marx’s view of the fall?

Dr. Spencer: Well, obviously, having an atheistic worldview, he doesn’t speak in terms of a fall. But Pearcey says that he views man’s problem as the creation of private property. I think that is correct as far as it goes, but there is a little more to it. Private property wouldn’t be a problem if there were no greed or envy or selfishness in this world, in other words, if there were no sin.

Marx really misses the whole point here because of his materialist, anti-God worldview. He speaks about oppression and clearly thinks it is wrong, but then never addresses that moral problem. As Pearcey writes, “Marxism assumes that human nature can be transformed simply by changing external social structures.”[19]

Marc Roby: And so Marx’s view of redemption must also neglect any discussion of how human nature is transformed. From what you have said, it is obvious that Marx thinks there is some natural evolution in social structures that can lead to a communist utopia.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. He wrote a famous slogan, which was meant to describe the final state of mature communism. He wrote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”[20]

Marc Roby: I’ve heard that slogan a number of times.

Dr. Spencer: Well we all have. Marx envisioned a society where everyone willingly used all of his or her abilities to their fullest without expecting any greater return than anyone else. He spoke of those who had greater ability as having a “natural privilege”[21], in other words, if you are smarter and more talented than I am, that is just a privilege that you have been given and you should be content for me to receive just as much material wealth as you receive, even though you produce twice as much as I do.

Marc Roby: That again sounds like a heaven on earth idea.

Dr. Spencer: And he went even further. As we saw earlier from the Communist Manifesto, he believed that all hostilities between nations would vanish.

Marc Roby: Wow. An end to all conflict. And all because the proletariat now owns the means of production and controls the distribution of wealth. I can think of a number of modern politicians who have drunk deeply from that well of nonsense.

Dr. Spencer: So can I. The problem with Marx is his materialism. His diagnosis of man’s problem was wrong because he didn’t take sin into account. He tried to find the problem in some external circumstance rather than in man himself. And when you get the diagnosis wrong, you are bound to get the cure wrong. The paradoxical and incomprehensible thing to me is that, as I said before, he somehow thought that changing the structure of society was going to make it perfectly equitable.

But why should we assume that having the government own everything is going to solve the human problems of selfishness, greed, envy and so on? There is no logical connection whatsoever, it is just so much wishful thinking. The only solution to the sin problem is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: ;Yes, I see your point. And I look forward to continuing this discussion in our next session, but we are out of time for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1noLh25FbKI

[2] https://blacklivesmatter.com/our-co-founders/

[3] https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/05/12/what-are-the-most-cited-publications-in-the-social-sciences-according-to-google-scholar/

[4] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 419

[5] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[6] J. Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 756

[7] E.g., see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-dialectics/), or Frame, op. cit., pp 273-274

[8] Frame, op. cit. pg. 275

[9] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 419, see fn 1

[10] Harry Landreth, History of Economic Theory, Scope, Method, and Content, Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1976, pg. 161

[11] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 428

[12] Ibid

[13] Landreth, op. cit., pp 161-162

[14] K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm

[15] Ibid, note that in the same piece he wrote that “In the struggle against that state of affairs, criticism is no passion of the head, it is the head of passion. It is not a lancet, it is a weapon. Its object is its enemy, which it wants not to refute but to exterminate.” He had started the piece off by saying, in part, that “the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism”. Putting the two together, it is clear that he wanted to exterminate religion.

[16] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 428

[17] N. Pearcey, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004, pg. 134

[18] Ibid, pg. 136

[19] Ibid

[20] K. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875, available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_Critque_of_the_Gotha_Programme.pdf

[21] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our last session we argued that the Bible provides a Christian with his purpose, place and priorities for living. We ended by saying that Christians must use the Bible as their standard even in the public sphere. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I first want to remind our listeners of the verses we cited in part last time. In Matthew 5:13-16, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”[1]

Marc Roby: And modern readers need to understand that in addition to being used as a seasoning, salt was the primary means of preserving meat at that time since they didn’t have refrigeration. Therefore, by calling Christians the “salt of the earth”, Jesus was referring to their influence on the culture.

Dr. Spencer: And when he speaks about salt losing its saltiness, he was speaking about salt losing its ability to act as a preservative. Some salty mineral deposits, like those along the Dead Sea, contain a number of minerals in addition to sodium chloride, which is table salt. These salty deposits can lose their usefulness if the sodium chloride is leeched out of them by the rain for example. In other words, they can lose their saltiness.

I would contend that when a Christian accepts the unbiblical notion that his faith is a private matter and therefore refuses to self-consciously use a biblical standard when arguing in public, he has lost his saltiness.

Marc Roby: Now Jesus also used the metaphor of a light. Without light we can’t see the path we are taking.

Dr. Spencer: And, again, I would say that a Christian who fails to self-consciously reason and act biblically in the public sphere is failing to provide light to this dark world. The world is on the broad road to destruction and Christians are to shine the light of the gospel on the narrow path that leads to heaven.

Marc Roby: Which obviously requires that Christians be active in the public sphere.

Dr. Spencer: That is true. And being active isn’t enough, we must be active in bringing a biblical worldview to bear on the issues that confront us. According to the organization My Faith Votes, there are about 25 million professing Christians in the United States who don’t vote in presidential elections.[2]

Marc Roby: That’s an astounding number.

Dr. Spencer: It is astounding. And it is a number that could have a significant impact on who wins the next election. In his excellent book Politics According to the Bible, Wayne Grudem makes the point that many people, even professing Christians, accept the wrong notion that the separation of church and state in this country somehow argues against using biblical values to make public decisions. He wrote that “Using religious reasons to support a secular law is not establishing a religion.”[3]

Marc Roby: And, of course, that phrase “establishing a religion” alludes to the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which says, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.[4]

Dr. Spencer: That is what the phrase refers to, yes. It is interesting to note, however, that there were established churches in some of the states at the time this amendment was ratified. But I am getting off topic. The point is that Christians in this country have every right to use biblical reasoning and arguments in the public sphere and, in fact, I would say that they have an obligation as Christians to do so.

Marc Roby: Paul did say, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, that we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: And that certainly includes our thinking about issues being dealt with in the public sphere.

Grudem goes through a number of Old and New Testament examples and then draws a conclusion based on them. He wrote, “Therefore all citizens who are old enough to vote have a responsibility before God to know what God expects of civil government and what kind of moral and legal standards he wants government to follow.”[5] And he goes on to add, “I believe that every Christians citizen who lives in a democracy has at the very least a minimal obligation to be well-informed and to vote for candidates and policies that are most consistent with biblical principles.”[6]

Marc Roby: It is interesting that he says everyone has a responsibility before God, not just a responsibility as a citizen.

Dr. Spencer: And I think he is completely right in saying so. And the theologian John Frame agrees with him as well. He wrote that “Christians have an obligation to vote according to God’s standards. And, as they are gifted and called, they should influence others to vote in the same way.”[7]

Marc Roby: I like the fact that Frame includes our obligation to influence others.

Dr. Spencer: So do I. We are called to be salt and light as we have already noted. Another good reason for pushing for laws that are consistent with the Bible is that we certainly don’t want Christians to be put in the position of disobeying the civil government in order to obey God, which implies that we should influence the civil government to the best of our ability so that the laws which are enacted support biblical standards of conduct.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is certainly an issue in the medical field, in which I worked for many years. There are constant efforts to force doctors, for instance, to approve of abortion and sex-change operations, even though these procedures clearly contradict Christian principles.

Dr. Spencer: It is becoming increasingly important in many areas of life. There are many people who do not simply want to be allowed to do things others find objectionable, they want to force others to approve and participate in these activities as well.

Marc Roby: That is, unfortunately, true.

Dr. Spencer: We are also told in the great commission, in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Now, it isn’t just those who come to believe in Christ that we are to teach to obey Christ. God will hold everyone accountable on the Day of Judgment, so it would cruel of us to not tell people what God’s standards are. They may reject those standards, but we should push for them because they are what is right and good and all people will be judged by them in the end. Grudem wrote that “Believers have a responsibility to bear witness to the moral standards of the Bible by which God will hold all people accountable, including those people in public office.”[8]

Marc Roby: That makes sense, although unbelievers will certainly never agree.

Dr. Spencer: No, they won’t. But that shouldn’t stop us from proclaiming the truth. In addition, we have to ask ourselves a serious question; do we really believe that God will continue to bless a nation that despises and ridicules him and openly flaunts his laws?

Marc Roby: No, I think all Christians would have to admit that the Bible is full of examples showing that God will not bless such a nation.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And we can therefore draw a reasonable conclusion. In order to do what is best for our nation, we must do everything in our power to prevent it from opposing God and his moral standards. That is the best thing we can do for our fellow citizens, whether they are Christian or not.

In Session 145 I pointed out that as Christians we should be asking ourselves whether or not the corona virus is, at least in part, God’s judgment on our nation. It is certainly not outside of his sovereign control. And I pointed out that there are good reasons for God judging our nation. For example, I noted that abortion is the leading cause of death in this country and I also noted the existence of gay pride days and gay pride month, where people openly take pride in repudiating the biblical view of sex and marriage.

Marc Roby: And there certainly can be no doubt that God is angry with such things.

Dr. Spencer: I think that Christians need to realize that those who oppose God’s standard are not at all reticent to try and force their view on us through laws and other means. We are in a war whether we like it or not. If we think that we can simply retreat into our churches and not engage with the society at large, or if we let people intimidate us into silence by saying that biblical reasoning is invalid for public debate, then we will be in serious danger of losing the freedom we have to worship God and to share the gospel as we are commanded to do.

Marc Roby: We already see that happening in many ways. The state-mandated sex-education curriculum in California, for example, is absolutely contradictory to biblical standards in many ways.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And some of the people pushing for that program are open about the fact that they view this as an opportunity to indoctrinate our children into their anti-Christian worldview. This is a clear violation of God’s purpose for government.

Civil governments exist for the good of the people. In Romans 13:4 Paul tells us that any secular ruler is “God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” This verse tells us, in a nutshell, the purpose of the state. The Westminster Confession of Faith gives a good summary of the purpose of the state.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree. Let me read from Chapter 23, Paragraph 1 of the Confession; we read “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.”[9]

Dr. Spencer: That statement makes three important points. First, all earthly rulers are under God, whether they acknowledge that fact or not. Second, they are to rule for the public good. And third, they are given the power of the sword, which means both the power to wage war when necessary to protect their citizens and power to punish criminals.

In the third paragraph of that chapter the Confession also makes the point that the civil government has a duty to protect the church so that its officials and members may practice their religion without interference.

Marc Roby: So, to put it all in a nutshell, governments are necessary to provide order in society, which is necessary for the church to carry out its mission of evangelizing society.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And Christians have a clear obligation to do what they can to make government run properly. In a democracy like ours, that certainly means arguing for and voting for measures and people who support Christian positions.

Marc Roby: I must point out that in my experience, we often don’t have any option that is truly Christian.

Dr. Spencer: Well, you are, without a doubt, right about that. In that case I would say that you still have an obligation to vote, even though it may mean holding your nose and choosing the lesser evil. Not voting is simply giving up your right to provide any balance or influence at all.

And we can’t be naïve. Many candidates for public office in this country, if not most of them, in my life have claimed to be Christian. But most of them clearly were not born again. The real issue is not what the person claims, but what the person does. So, for example, if someone claims to be a Christian but supports abortion rights, and another candidate does not claim to be a Christian but says abortion is wrong, you should clearly support the second candidate.

Marc Roby: Although it is obviously over-simplifying things to mention just one issue.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although we should prioritize issues in our minds and abortion would have to come out very near the top because it is such a clear violation of biblical law and because the consequences are so serious.

Marc Roby: Very well, do you have anything else to say about the proper role of Christians with regard to government?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I think R.C. Sproul made a few interesting points in his discussion of the Westminster Confession of Faith on this topic. He wrote that “The simplest, most basic definition [of government] is this; government is legal force. Governments are agencies that have the power and the legal right to coerce people to obey their dictates.”[10]

Marc Roby: I suspect a number of listeners will be disturbed at that statement, especially in our modern time of speaking about defunding the police and so on.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it will sound objectionable to many, which is part of why I quote it. It should provoke us to think the issue through carefully. If governments were not given the power of the sword by God, what purpose would they serve?

Marc Roby: Well, they could still build roads and other infrastructure, but it does seem that they would have an impossible time regulating commerce or providing any other kind of function that might provoke conflict.

Dr. Spencer: And even if you think about building roads and so forth. How could they do that without collecting taxes? And who would decide where the roads or bridges or whatever should be built? Or what laws would govern the use of the roads? The more you think about it the more you realize that people are not going to agree on these things and there has to be some way of making decisions that are enforceable.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: And so, Sproul goes on to write that “Every law that is passed restricts somebody’s freedom and exposes people to the violence of law enforcement if they fail to submit to that law. Governments must have legal force. If they don’t, they are no more than advisory committees. … Government is necessary because of evil. Augustine said that civil government is a necessary evil made necessary because of evil.”

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting statement by Augustine.

Dr. Spencer: And I think it is accurate. The only perfect government is God’s government. He has chosen to have us live for a time in this world corrupted by sin, but there will come a time when there are only two groups of people; those who have been perfected and live in perfect peace and harmony in God’s heaven, which will be filled with joy beyond description, and those who live in hell, which will be miserable beyond description. In the meantime, God’s people are called to represent him to the best of our abilities in the countries in which he has placed us.

Marc Roby: That sounds like we are done with this topic and ready to move on to consider particular social problems facing our world.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think we are.

Marc Roby: Very well, I look forward to starting that next week. For now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] See https://www.myfaithvotes.org/

[3] W. Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, Zondervan, 2010, pg. 33

[4] See https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript

[5] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 62

[6] Ibid, pg. 74

[7] J. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, P&R Publishing Company, 2008, pg. 617

[8] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 59

[9] Taken from R.C. Sproul, Truths we Confess; A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing, 2007, Vol. 3, pg. 1 (with ‘hath’ changed to ‘has’)

[10] Ibid, pg. 7

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Marc Roby: We are taking a short break from our study of systematic theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. Our country has been in serious turmoil since the disturbing video of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th. A number of protests have turned into destructive riots and the Black Lives Matter movement has become very prominent in the news. Dr. Spencer, why do we want to address any of these topics in this podcast?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as the title of our podcast says, we are interested in looking at what the Word of God says about the world we live in and how we, as Christians, should live. The Bible isn’t only relevant on Sundays when we go to church, it is relevant all the time in every arena of life. The idea that we can neatly divide our lives into secular and sacred parts is completely alien to the Bible and, therefore, is alien to true Christianity. The Bible is the ultimate authority for a Christian and whenever we need counsel about how to respond to any situation, it should be the first place that we look.

Marc Roby: And what does the Bible have to say about our current situation?

Dr. Spencer: It has a lot to say. It tells us, for example, about our purpose, place and priorities in life. And we need to look at these first in order to set the stage for discussing specific current issues in our society. These are foundational for a truly biblical worldview and we can’t properly understand any issue without that. Let’s begin by looking at our purpose. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”

Marc Roby: And the answer given is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Dr. Spencer: And the Scriptures they use to support that answer are the classic verses. They first cite 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”[1] There are many other verses they could also have cited though. The Bible is clear that God created this universe for the manifestation of his glory.

For example, in Psalm 19:1-4 we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Marc Roby: That is a great psalm. It begins by speaking about how the inanimate creation displays God’s glory and then it moves on to talk about how God’s Word displays his glory, particularly by bringing about salvation. We read in Verse 7 that “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” And, of course, reviving the soul here is speaking about new birth, or regeneration, and making wise the simple refers to the Bible giving guidance for living day to day.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. God’s glory shines most brightly in his work of redemption. Isaiah spoke about this. In Isaiah 60:21 we are told about the future state of God’s church and we read, “Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.” The English Standard Version renders it more literally, saying, “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.”

That is our purpose as God’s chosen and redeemed people, his church. We are to bring him glory.

Marc Roby: Saying that we are the work of his hands reminds me of Ephesians 2:10 where Paul wrote that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: This idea of our being created for God’s glory is all through the Old and New Testaments. In fact, in the same letter you just quoted from, we read in Ephesians 1:5-6, that God “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace”. Then a few verses later in Ephesians 1:12 we read that “we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” And in Verse 14 we are told that the Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Marc Roby: It is amazing to think that sinners like us can ever bring any glory to the perfect, triune God!

Dr. Spencer: That is amazing. But it isn’t because of what we do, it is because of what he does in redeeming and perfecting us. In his commentary on Isaiah, E.J. Young wrote about God’s glory and said, “This glory is displayed in the whole of the created universe, but was manifested in particular in the history of redemption, … for salvation is a manifestation of the Lord’s glory.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And I think we have provided sufficient support for the idea that our chief end is to glorify God, but the Catechism also says that we are to enjoy him forever. In support of that phrase the Catechism cites Psalm 73:25-26, which say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Dr. Spencer: And those verses also point out that this earth, or we could say this physical universe, is not all there is, there is also a heaven, and we could add, a hell. Our joy is not primarily for this life. A Christian is a pilgrim here, a stranger in a strange land, passing through enemy territory so to speak. We are on our way to our eternal home. The instant we start to let our focus slip to being on our life here on this earth, we have lost the proper perspective for living godly, that is God-pleasing, lives.

Marc Roby: Speaking about our focus makes me think of Hebrews 3:1, where we read, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”

Dr. Spencer: And we read something similar in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus is in heaven and we are to have our focus – our thoughts and our eyes if you will – fixed on Jesus in heaven. This earth is not our home. Our primary purpose has to do with our eternal home, not this temporary earthly home. Although, as we will see, we have serious obligations in this life as well.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said the Bible gives instruction about our purpose, place and priorities. We’ve seen that our primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. What did you mean by saying that we receive instruction about our place?

Dr. Spencer: I had two things in mind. First, we must know our place as creatures. We have noted the Creator/creature distinction many times and it is essential that we keep this in view. When the Catechism says our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, both parts of that answer are God centered. John Frame points out that “We are not to enjoy ourselves, but to enjoy him.”[3] Ultimately, this refers to heaven of course, but Christians also have joy in this life. In Romans 5:2 the apostle Paul says that “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

Marc Roby: And the Rev. P.G. Mathew points out in his commentary on Romans that the phrase “the glory of God” means both the glory God himself has and the glory God will give to us.[4]

Dr. Spencer: Which is joyful to meditate on, we will know this glory in heaven and it will certainly lead to great joy there. But the joy we have in this life does not however, always equate with pleasure in this life. We do have many legitimate pleasures in this life, for which we should give God thanks, but in Verses 3-4 of Romans 5 Paul immediately adds, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point clearly. If we can rejoice in our sufferings, that joy certainly does not equate with our pleasure in this life.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. And we can rejoice in sufferings because, as Paul outlines, we know that God has ordained them for a good purpose. They ultimately help to bring us to that state of glory in heaven. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Knowing that we are creatures made by a good God for a purpose is an essential part of a biblical worldview.

Marc Roby: OK. Now, you said you had two things in mind when you said the Bible instructs us about our place. The first is the Creator/creature distinction, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second is that our place is to live under authority. God has lovingly provided us with everything we need to live godly lives that please him. And part of his loving provision for us are the authorities that he places in our lives.  We all live under authority in some way.

Marc Roby: I remember that way back in Sessions 28-33 we talked about authority in the home, church and state.

Dr. Spencer: And those are the three spheres of authority under which every human being is meant to function. In addition, most human beings also function as a delegated authority in one or more of those spheres at times as well. We have obligations in each of them. We were all at one time children under the authority of our parents. We are all under authority in God’s church, ultimately under God himself, but also under the elders that God places over us. And, the sphere that is relevant to a discussion of current events is that of the state. We are all citizens of some country.

Marc Roby: And we have no choice as to which country we were born in.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. And although some adults can choose to switch their citizenship from one country to another, not all have that privilege.

Marc Roby: Now, certainly, the passage in the Bible that is most relevant to our being under civil authority is found in the book of Romans. In Romans 13:1 we read that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is an extremely important point. And we have to remember that Paul most likely wrote this letter either just before or while Nero was emperor of the Roman Empire. Nero was a wicked ruler who persecuted Christians. Paul does not predicate his statement on an assumption that the ruling authorities are themselves good.

Marc Roby: I know that poses a significant problem for some people. For example, it implies that God established Hitler as the ruler of Germany prior to World War II.

Dr. Spencer: Which is absolutely true, God did establish Hitler as the ruler of Germany. If God didn’t do it, then who did? Are we to believe that it happened against God’s will?

Marc Roby: That would certainly present problems.

Dr. Spencer: You win the award for the understatement of the year! If Hitler had become the ruler of Germany in opposition to God’s will, then God would not be the sovereign ruler of the universe and we could not rationally trust in any of his promises. After all, they might be negated by the same power that installed Hitler as the ruler of Germany against his will.

Marc Roby: That logic is unassailable, but it does leave us with the unsettling problem of accepting that God established Hitler as the ruler of Germany. Hitler was certainly a wicked monster who was responsible for a tremendous amount of suffering and death.

Dr. Spencer: He was, and when we say that God established him as the ruler of Germany, we do not in any way mean to imply that God approved of Hitler or anything he did. I don’t presume to know God’s reasons for putting him in power, but it is not at all logically necessary to assume that God approved of anything Hitler did. This is not the time to get into that discussion, although we’ve dealt with similar issues before and we will again I’m sure.

For now, the point I was making was simply that when Paul says that we must submit to the governing authorities, he wasn’t just speaking about governing authorities that we like, or that we think are good, or anything like that. It was a blanket statement.

Marc Roby: Although there are some exceptions as we discussed in Session 33. For example, if the government tells us to sin, we must refuse. In Chapter 5 of Acts we read about the apostles being brought before the Jewish ruling council to be questioned. In Verse 28[5] we read that the high priest said to them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in [Jesus’] name, Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” To which, Peter and the other apostles replied in Verse 29, “We must obey God rather than men!”

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic verse for making the point that we must refuse if we are commanded to sin. We can also refuse to obey if an authority oversteps his bounds. God has defined the three realms of authority and he also set limits on them as we discussed in Session 33.

And this example leads nicely into the third foundational truth we need in order to consider our current political and social crisis. In addition to telling us our purpose and our place within the creation order, the Bible also gives us our priorities.

Marc Roby: Hence the apostles’ statement that they must obey God rather than men.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Our highest priority is God. If our relationship with God isn’t right, then we cannot be the person God wants us to be. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, as we read in Matthew 6:33, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” “All these things” in that verse refers to our food clothing and so on, in other words the things of this world.

The Bible makes it clear that we are to live in the world. We are to work and help others, to feed ourselves and our families and so on. The idea of withdrawing from living in the world in order to be more spiritual is unbiblical.

Marc Roby: Yes, we read in John 17:15 that Jesus prayed to the Father about all who would follow him, saying, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Dr. Spencer: Not only did he not want us to withdraw from the world, but he told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that we are “the salt of the earth”, which refers to salt being used a preservative. He also said, as we read in Matthew 5:14 and 16, that we “are the light of the world” and are to “let [our] light shine before men, that they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven.” Christians are to be a great blessing to the societies in which they live. But we can only do that if we properly apply the Bible to every issue in life. It must set our priorities.

Marc Roby: And yet, I have often heard people, sometimes even professing Christians, say that our faith must be private and can’t influence public policy. In other words, it is sometimes seen as illegitimate in some way to make decisions about how to vote and so on based on the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: I have had exactly that discussion a few times in my life. People will say that because others do not accept the authority of the Bible, it is somehow wrong to base public decisions on it. After all, they will say that religion is a private matter. But then turn that around and you will see how specious the argument is. Is it somehow improper for an atheist to use human reason as his ultimate authority in making decisions because I reject that ultimate authority? Of course not. Every person is going to use whatever his ultimate authority really is when he makes decisions. In fact, you can’t avoid doing so. When someone who professes to be a Christian uses human reason as his ultimate authority, he is being inconsistent and is, in a sense, denying Christ as Lord and functioning as a practical atheist.

Marc Roby: That’s a serious charge.

Dr. Spencer: It’s a serious matter. Christians must not surrender the public sphere to atheist ideologies. We must bring the Bible to bear on issues in society.

Marc Roby: I sense that we are heading into a somewhat different topic, so perhaps this is a good place to end for today. I look forward to continuing this discussion next week, and I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1972, Vol. 3, pg. 444

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, P&R Publishing Company, 2008, pg. 303

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 256

[5] The audio incorrectly says Verses 38 and 39 in this part.

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