Monday, October 31, 2011

The Church of the Wholly Liberal Pieties

We live in a world of political double standards. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans do not need to play by the same rules because they are not judged as equals.

A male personage on one side of the political divide is accused of using obscene language with a female subordinate. The commentariat reacts with an outrage fitting a crime against humanity. 

A male personage on the other side is accused of sexual harassment and rape. Those who were outraged beyond reason at the first happily take these accusations in stride. No problem, kids, he's one of ours.

I don’t need to tell you which is which.

Liberals, progressives and other itinerant leftists are hellbent on fostering an American guilt culture.

Most of them do not believe in God, so they are slightly embarrassed to promote a culture that involves sin and penance and redemption ... but not too much.

The good of the tribe trumps all moral considerations.

If an unfortunate young woman is sexually assaulted in her Occupy Wall Street tent, the correct leftist response is to shut up.

Yet, it takes more than professions of faithlessness to escape the structures and strictures of religious thinking. Liberals may abhor religion but they will shun anyone who does not join them in worshipping at the Church of the Wholly Liberal Pieties. (CWLP, for short.)

If you live in New York or San Francisco or Cambridge you know what I mean.

Verily, all human institutions are subject to corruption. In medieval Europe corruption infiltrated the Christian Church through the practice of selling “indulgences.”

We recall it because Martin Luther railed against the practice when he launched the Protestant Reformation.

Theologically, the issue is complicated and contentious. Receiving or purchasing an indulgence is like having your sentence suspended or commuted. In medieval Europe indulgences were happily given to those who  had made especially generous contributions to monasteries or to Church building funds.

The scandal went beyond the fact that an indulgence suspended or commuted your sentence. By making it so easy for the rich to receive indulgences, the Church also seemed to be saying: all is forgiven, go forth and sin again.

In a column relating the medieval practice to the workings of what I am calling the Church of the Wholly Liberal Pieties, Victor Davis Hanson explains that medieval bankers who practiced usury—that is, loan sharking-- bought indulgences from the Church and then went out and continued to practice usury.

Similarly, when today’s enlightened plutocrats want to continue fouling the environment by burning obscene amounts of greenhouse gases, they can buy carbon-offset credits on exchanges that were set up by Al Gore, a high priest of the CWLP.

They can also, Hanson explains, be spared punishment for their extravagant waste of energy by loudly advocating for cap-and-trade legislation.

When the denizens of the CWLP rise up to point accusatory fingers at the hyperrich 1%, those members of this cohort who worship at the CWLP are automatically given a pass.

Demonstrators march on the abodes of Rupert Murdoch, John Paulson, the Koch brothers, and the Goldman Sachs bankers, but they bypass the equally extravagant homes of Michael Moore and George Soros.

In Hanson’s words: “Yet when asked about his own 1% status recently on CNN, [Michael] Moore was left sputtering and grasping for straws about his high-school education and all the philanthropic things he does. In other words, his liberal fides supposedly purchase him an indulgence from the supposed sins of being rich — in the manner that the left, the media, and popular culture do not go after George Soros for nearly breaking the Bank of England (making a $1 billion profit in currency speculation), or being convicted of insider trading in France (upheld on appeal). There are no signs at Occupy Wall Street damning the Soros speculations that fund ‘good’ causes.”

In medieval times you could buy indulgences by giving to the right charities. Today, you can purchase indulgence by giving to the right charities. Obviously, these are not the same charities, but the principle lives. 

If you are really, really rich and want to avoid the opprobrium of the left, you need but give generously to the right trendy causes. 

It doesn’t matter whether or not the superrich really believe what they say. Their liberal pieties and charitable giving ensures that they do not have to pay for their sins against nature and humanity.

Better yet, and this is the true scandal, they are then allowed to go back to their sinful ways.

Hanson writes: “Savvy wealthy people — whether the Kennedy Trust beneficiaries, a Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett — understand that minimizing tax exposure, trying to avoid federal inheritance taxes through foundations, or accumulating vast riches are, in the liberal sense of ethics, offset by progressive platitudes. In short, we are supposed to think differently of John Kerry trying to avoid taxes on his multimillion-dollar superfluous yacht than we do of a car dealer’s Lexus. Warren Buffett can praise big government and higher taxes as the indulgence necessary to feel OK about shorting the government billions of future inheritance taxes by giving his fortune to a privately-run foundation that apparently is felt to be more efficient than the Department of Human Services, who, after all, could use the cash in these times of mega-deficits.”

And then there are the universities. Academic thinkers routinely excoriate employers like WalMart for not paying a living wage, but universities exploit graduate students and adjunct professors with impunity.

These part-timers do much, if not most of the teaching, and receive salaries that often compare unfavorably with the minimum wage. 

Yet, no one ever accuses universities of exploiting and oppressing its labor force.

Hanson writes: “The university is a loudly progressive institution and so has bought itself an indulgence that the coal mine owner, retailer, or contractor cannot. So we are left with the near daily appeals from the presidents of our almae matres, appealing in letters and email for cash, citing all sorts of illiberal tendencies in our society that endanger university funding, but never a tad of introspection about the exploitation that props up his university.”

Those who attend the Church of the Wholly Liberal Pieties have also taken it on themselves to bring up their children in an atmosphere that reeks of ... indulgence.

In a stronger culture, children would be encouraged to learn from their mistakes. They would be taught to correct their bad habits and to work on improving their character.

In a culture defined by indulgence, parents forgive their children’s sins. They explain away bad behavior and see it as an opportunity to show unconditional love for an errant offspring.

Too many American parents feel that their role is to shower their children with love and affection, regardless of how they behave.

If it is never little Johnny’s fault, he need not be punished and he need not give up anything. Wouldn’t want to be cruel and abusive, would we?

If he did not really do something wrong, he need not hide his head in shame and need not offer anything more than a perfunctory apology.

Whether or not this is their intention, parents who attend the CWLP are allowing their children to go forth and sin again.

These children grow up to assume that if they belong to the right Church, if they support liberal causes, implement liberal policies, and mouth all of the proper liberal pieties, they can get away with just about anything.

Don't believe me? Just ask Bill Clinton. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you could also call it the Church of Good Intentions, which of course leads to the path of hell.