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Separating economy from morality is not so simple

Thinking It Through

Megyn Kelly recently was added to the Fox evening commentary lineup. A show last week made her case in spades. She invited a dozen college graduates ranging in age from 21 to 31 to discuss their family and career prospects as they are affected by current government economic policies.

Their judgment was harsh. Saddled with massive student loan debt and poor job prospects, these “twenty somethings,” whether they were Democrats or Republicans, made it clear that they understand that Obama Administration policies of “stimulus” and government-mandated health insurance are keeping them from enjoying the American dream.

Of course, the Republicans were more emphatic in their criticisms than the Democrats, but both groups feared that their generation may be the first in American history that will not have a better life and a higher level of prosperity than their parents’ generation. Some are still living at home, others in apartments with little or no prospects of owning their own home.

Not surprisingly, when the young Democrats were asked if they would consider not voting for their favorite party in 2016, they said they would not. Clearly, whatever Obama’s failures, they are excused by his good intentions. This is not surprising.

What was surprising was the response of the young Republicans. They said that they would continue to vote Republican, but this in spite of the fact that the GOP has not seen the light on the “social issues.” The most outspoken of them did not elaborate on what she meant but those of us with the equivalent of a code book know that she means abortion and same-sex marriage.

Here I note what the young people had in common. They are all “socially liberal,” or what used to be called latitudinarian, if not libertine, in a nation with a long history of Biblical morality. They doubtless see themselves as the “enlightened” future of the country that accepts maximum “personal” freedom.

What if a Republican candidate was so outspoken in his views on these “social issues” that his or her fiscally conservative viewpoint was overshadowed? Might our young Republicans be tempted to vote for a more “enlightened” Democrat despite his or her Big Government predilections? In other words, what really matters — economy or morality?

It’s a question that every citizen might well ask himself, for that it is how the issue is often framed. Are not Democrats chiding Republicans for “clinging to their guns and their Bibles” — as candidate Barack Obama told a sympathetic San Francisco audience in 2008?
But also those “realistic” Republicans who say it’s past time that the GOP drop its opposition to what people are going to do anyway? With the country $17 trillion in debt, who cares if “personal” matters like marriage and family are being redefined?

Let us be blunt about what the real issue is here. Far more Americans than in the past not only do not attend church or synagogue but do not regard Biblical teaching as authoritative or even helpful. Their view is that nothing but hatred of people with “alternative lifestyles” can be found in the Good Book.

Based on an erroneous understanding of the First Amendment’s “establishment of religion” clause, many people now believe not only that church and state should be distinct but that religion and public policy should be also. In a kind of “reduction ad religium,” this viewpoint holds that whatever the Bible teaches should not, under any circumstances, be binding on the people or government of the United States.

This viewpoint is mistaken in two ways. First, the major reforms that have occurred in our history have been largely the result of religious influence, most notably the abolition of slavery and the end of mandatory racial segregation. Christians and Jews took considerable grief in both cases for daring to speak the truth about what most people would have just as soon ignored.

Second, most, if not all, of what passes for morality these days is either an inheritance from Biblical teaching or a tepid and inadequate version of it. Besides abolitionism and racial integrationism, the campaigns on behalf of the poor and downtrodden and against imperialism and aggressive war ultimately draw their inspiration from the Bible.

Fortunately, the Left’s unacknowledged dependence on the Bible is as open to question as the Right’s forthright dependence. That is, we the people have the right to make the best judgment possible about how to deal with economy, morality and international relations.
But let us not deny that the Bible’s influence is powerful and unavoidable. For while there may be a few people who choose to act morally and fairly without a Biblical foundation, the Bible’s wisdom consists in the knowledge that we all are in need of its guidance.

Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at

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