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Balmer's lament

"Balmer's lament" Continued...

Issue: "Red & blue all over," Sept. 23, 2006

WORLD: You complain that "the torture of human beings, God's creatures-some guilty of crimes, others not-has been justified by the Bush administration. . . . The use of torture under any circumstances is a moral issue." Agreed that torture is terrible and sometimes useless in gaining information, but if the imminent explosion of a nuclear bomb would kill millions of people, and if by applying some kind of physical pressure to a terrorist you could gain information that would lead to its location and disarming, would you do it?

BALMER: No, absolutely not, and I'm surprised that you would even suggest such a thing! I was under the impression that conservatives were allergic to utilitarian arguments; certainly that is what I learned from Paul Ramsey in graduate school. No Christian, he insisted, ever made an ethical decision solely on utilitarian grounds-what is the greatest good for the greatest number of people-especially if it compromises the worth and dignity of an individual.

In the course of writing Thy Kingdom Come, I contacted eight religious right organizations with a simple, straightforward request to send me a copy of their group's position on the use of torture. Only two organizations replied, and both of them defended the Bush administration's policies on torture. None of the others, to my knowledge, has even yet condemned torture.

That's morally bankrupt. These are people who claim to be pro-life, who profess to hear a "fetal scream," yet they turn a deaf ear to the very real screams of human beings who are being tortured in our name.

This issue also illustrates the peril of aligning faith too closely with any one political party or (in this case) a specific administration. Religion always functions best from the margins of society and not at the centers of power. When it is identified with the power structure, it loses its prophetic voice. As I write in the book, I really didn't expect the religious right to climb out of the Republican Party's cozy bed over the issue of torture. But I did think they might poke a foot out from under the covers and perhaps wiggle a toe or two. Sadly, tragically, I was mistaken.

WORLD: You attack the Bush administration's "expansion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans." But if it could be shown that wealthy Americans now pay a higher percentage of income tax revenues than they did before the tax cuts, and that those tax cuts have been good for the American economy and thus good for the poor, would you still oppose those tax cuts, and why?

BALMER: You're imposing a pretty high standard of proof-namely, that tax cuts for the affluent have, or someday will, jump-start the economy. Much of the evidence suggests otherwise.

No impartial observer would dispute that Republicans favor economic policies disproportionately advantageous to the wealthiest Americans. To the extent that leaders of the religious right support those policies-and I haven't seen much in the way of dissent-they have betrayed the heritage of 19th-century evangelicals, who overwhelmingly took the part of the disadvantaged.

WORLD: Regarding the battle against poverty, you write that "we could have a lively discussion and even vigorous disagreement over whether it is incumbent upon the government to provide services to the poor, but those who argue against such measures should be prepared with some alternative program or apparatus." What do you think of the alternative programs that have been proposed under the aegis of compassionate conservatism?

BALMER: The problem with faith-based initiatives is, first, they are dispensing services with government funds, not charitable donations. Second, it opens both church and state to a kind of collusion that (at least potentially) compromises the First Amendment, which is already under siege.

If religious organizations want to use the benefit of their tax-exempt status to take over the functions of government in assisting the poor, I have no objection. In so doing, they would be reclaiming the role they played in American society until the 1930s, when the social ills of the Great Depression became so overwhelming that the government had to step in. The churches simply could no longer handle a challenge of that magnitude.

If churches propose some kind of apparatus to reclaim that role from the government, I'm all for it. As my daughter would say, "Bring it on!"

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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