Refugees, Islam, gun laws, trade, globalisation… We end up feeling so strongly about such global issues that we tend to see all other issues through the lens of one side of politics. But does that approach to public policy make sense?
For me, it doesn’t. Quite simply, I’m not sure whether I lean left or right overall. I do know that on some particular issues I lean left, while on others I lean right. But for many issues, I take a different view altogether.
My approach to public policy issues is based on my own personal values, following after the values of spiritual leaders such as Jesus.
The below table is a summary outline of my response to the issues that are dividing public opinion. I hope readers will resonate with the balanced wisdom of biblical spirituality. I’m not saying my opinions are all the final word here, or balanced or wise. I’m trying to reflect a greater wisdom that transcends partisan politics. There are many people who understand that transcendent wisdom better than me, so feedback and correction are welcome!
NB this is not an endorsement of any particular party or policy even within each of these policy areas. I’m not even focused on one country. I’m just saying in general, this is the direction that I lean to illustrate the limits of partisan ideological thinking. (The colours happen to be aligned with US politics, but opposite to those of Australian politics.)
The author’s personal policy leanings in various categories
Social Issues & Civil Rights
I believe in the rights of unborn children just as much as the rights of children after birth. I am happy to put my vote, mouth and money into protecting the unborn. I accept that some see this differently, and I recognise there are some major issues for some expectant mothers. I don’t condemn anyone.
I don’t agree with all far-right rhetoric about this issue. I’m simply going into bat for the unborn. In general, I lean “right” on this issue.
Marriage is a foundational institution for society and for raising children. I believe the ideal marriage is the life-long exclusive union of one man and one woman. However, I recognise that there are plenty of less-than-ideal situations, many of which are not the fault of those in them.
There are inconsistencies in the arguments of both the “left” and the “right”. E.g., to consistently uphold traditional marriage, the “right” should also oppose no fault divorce, and legislate against adultery. But that is an extremely impractical position to successfully legislate. There is some wisdom in the extreme libertarian view that the state simply should not get involved in the institution of marriage.
In the absence of predominant Christian values in society, it is potentially an imposition of religion to attempt to uphold only the traditional view of marriage in legislation. However, arguing for ‘marriage equality’ from an atheist point of view has no strong logical basis for restricting ‘equality’ to two consenting non-related adult humans.
The right view makes health care only affordable to the rich. While the left view, in seeking to make health care affordable to all, neglects the most economical and fair approach to health care. The best health policy is to avoid subsidising the epidemiological transition to lifestyle diseases, yet make acute healthcare accessible to all. There is a lot of government health money wasted on propping up diet and lifestyles that are inherently unhealthy and wasteful in themselves.
I tend left here, based on biblical injunctions to care for the disadvantaged (Micah 6:8, James 1:27, etc). We are all of equal value before God. I believe in the example of Jesus to positively discriminate to help those who are historically disadvantaged. E.g., Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4) and the story of the Good Samaritan are examples of Jesus positively discriminating to assist a downtrodden race.
I tend right here, but not because I don’t believe in helping the disadvantaged. I think welfare is more effective and efficient when done at the grass roots by churches and community groups. This is not necessarily the thinking of free-market idealogues, so I could also easily put this one in the “neither” category – i.e., I neither lean left nor right.
Neither left nor right have a good track record in any country for preventing inequality of wealth and power. Greed (for both wealth and power) is a fundamental flaw in human nature no matter what systems are put in place to share wealth and power.
Democracy, capitalism, communism, fascism… All have solid arguments both for and against.
The only antidote to human selfishness I see is practical Christianity. But I also believe in separation of church and state. So I cannot argue for state sanctioned Christian beliefs and values.
On evidence to date it seems the best of bad options for political systems is liberal democracy.
The current polarisation is between women being downtrodden (left’s portrayal of the right) and women being upheld as functionally equivalent in all respects (feminism of the left).
The biblical view that I hold is that both genders are of equal value but are created to be different and complementary both ontologically and functionally.
While I don’t believe women should be actively prevented from doing things that men traditionally do, I also don’t believe that an objective of 50-50 splits in all functions and roles is helpful. Men will never be able to perform the incredible functions of women in bringing children into the world.
Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech is a difficult one, as speech can be hateful and hurtful. But so can thoughts, facial expressions and body language. With history being full of persecution of religious minorities for speaking their beliefs, I tend to side with the libertarians.
Economic libertarianism, capitalism, free trade
In today’s capitalist economy, free trade and the absence of tariffs and subsidies makes more sense if everyone is producing and consuming things that are not socially and environmentally harmful. Unfortunately subsidies and tariffs are often used to prop up harmful industry. The tragedy of the commons is often not successfully and fairly dealt with by either left or right.
It does not make practical sense to legislate against greed. However, if everyone lived according to biblical principles, people would still be hardworking (e.g., the Protestant work ethic); but there would be no greed. The foundation of free market capitalism is the maximisation of self-interest – the idea of homo economicus. This is counter-biblical. If the world followed biblical principles, we would live far more natural and simple lifestyles. This would result in less production and consumption of material things, though not in less activity or productivity.
Progressive thinkers such as Clive Hamilton and Naomi Klein have proposed alternative humanist systems (e.g., ‘eudemonism’) that sound good but don’t have any track record of success. Nevertheless some of their critique of western capitalism resonates. E.g., from Hamilton’s Growth Fetish:
“Modern consumer capitalism will flourish as long as what people desire outpaces what they have. It is thus vital to the reproduction of the system that individuals are constantly made to feel dissatisfied with what they have. The irony of this should not be missed: while economic growth is said to be the process whereby people’s wants are satisfied so that they become happier… in reality economic growth can be sustained only as long as people remain discontented.”
“Economic growth does not create happiness: unhappiness sustains economic growth.”
Given the fundamental selfishness of human nature, it makes sense to legislate on the assumption of homo economicus even though this presents a less-than-ideal foundation. I still believe that free market capitalism, with regulatory intervention to protect externalities, is the best of bad options in current circumstances. Only the permanent and complete removal of selfishness and greed will present a better system, but we have to wait for God’s final perfect solution for that.
While trade unions have achieved some beneficial outcomes, their modus operandi is often built on coercion and corruption. The left side of politics often has murky ties with unionism. In general, I lean right. There are other better ways of achieving improved working conditions.
Size of government (regulation / deregulation)
Some government is necessary. But government is, by nature, less efficient than private enterprise. I lean right: where possible, minimise government. But there are plenty of areas where markets fail – e.g., externalities, natural monopolies and the tragedy of the commons.
Tax cuts for wealthy
The right has often been demonstrably unfair in its tax cuts for the wealthy, but the left doesn’t have a much better record of establishing a fair tax system. Both sides give tax cuts to the entities whose political support they rely on for power.
There is overwhelming evidence that anthropegenic global warming is a real issue. The right, with its ties to the energy and resources industries, has manufactured unreasonable doubt and successfully obfuscated the evidence.
With strong links between evangelicals and right-wing politics, Christians have fallen for twisted logic to believe that humans could not possibly alter earth’s climate. Sorry to put it bluntly, but the left is far more realistic on this issue, even if not all their proposed solutions are ideal. For a balanced conservative view on climate change, check out Katherine Hayhoe.
Environmental proection, sustainability
There was a time when both sides of politics embraced environmental protection as a worthwhile value. Nixon (a Republican) started the USEPA. But the right (in many jurisdictions) has allowed business interests to cloud better judgment.
Violence & Conflict
The NRA and its ties to conservative politics in the US (actually, both sides for that matter) has totally warped American perspectives on gun violence. Far too many homicides by firearm occur each year in the US for me to think that the American right-wing view on guns has anything to offer the rest of the world. Not that any other place has the ‘silver bullet’ answer. One American’s personal stance on never touching a gun speaks volumes: the story of Desmond Doss.
Terrorism, war, conflict, military defence
The aggressive foreign policy stance of right wing politics seems, from my perspective, to trigger far more terrorism and anti-American / anti-Western sentiment than the softer stance of the left. A softer stance happens to also be more in harmony with biblical principles of “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, etc. I’m not saying there is never a place for the use of armed forces, but I resonate with stories such as that of Desmond Doss.
Nationalism / Immigration
Border security, immigration, refugees
Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan as an example of showing open friendship and love to foreigners, who Jesus preferred to call neighbours. Given that we are all children of God, it follows that having open borders and sharing our wealth and resources makes a good deal of moral sense. The example of modern Germany, being prepared to take in Syrian refugees, is much more similar to the principles of Jesus than aggressive border protection policies of other Western countries.
Nationalism vs globalisation
I believe there are problems with both extremes. Nationalism – putting self first – is against Jesus’ principles of open friendship and sharing (as above). But globalisation can easily entail attempts at coercive central government control.
Globalisation is also inherently socially disconnected and isolating. To the extent we embrace global connectedness, we lose local connectedness. We simply do not have the capacity to maintain loving close relationships with that many people.
Neither extreme is healthy or in harmony with biblical counsel and the wisdom of Jesus.
(This is not typically a left vs right issue, although the extreme right is prominently nationalist, which doesn’t address the human connectedness cost of globalisation in any case.)
I personally prefer to give my contribution to foreign aid through NGOs. Having worked for both NGOs and government, I observe NGOs to be more efficient and effective at humanitarian interventions. There is, however, much debate as to the erstwhile effectiveness of any type of foreign aid.
In any case, I believe the total amount of foreign aid as a proportion of our government spending is pathetic. It is a far cry from the compassionate service of Jesus for humanity.
The left sees nothing wrong with Islam; while the right sees many things wrong. Yet the conservative right is unable to see own faults. Jesus called out the faults of those who claimed to be God’s followers far more vehemently than He called out the faults of the ‘heathen’ religions outside of Israel.
Secular state, separation of church & state
The right wants to impose religious values on society. The left correctly separates church and state.
However, the left imposes secularism and makes it difficult for people to uphold their religious values. For example, it is increasingly difficult to uphold traditional marriage without being treated as a bigot, even in court.
Coherent & reasonable basis for moral laws
Finding a basis for moral laws is a philosophically fraught area. It is difficult to argue for any version of foundational morality without appealing to religion (e.g. the Judeo Christian moral law). There does not seem to be any better alternative.
Abandoning the foundation of Judeo Christian law usually diminishes law and order. However, I would only make a pragmatic appeal to a solid foundation of morality rather than attempt to impose religion.
If morality was solely defined by consensus or utilitarian ethics, it seems doubtful that there would always be protection for the basic human rights of minorities or the voiceless – e.g., the unborn.
However, this is only very provisional support for the ‘right’ as they are very inconsistent in application of this foundation. E.g., they argue that marriage can only be heterosexual, but forget that according to the Bible there are various other essential criteria for a sacred marriage. These include the absence of adultery and ‘no fault’ divorce. To me it seems hypocritical to fight against same sex marriage while not fighting, to the same extent, against the legal provisions for ‘no fault’ divorce.
While I do think that the last 6 of the 10 commandments are the best basis for upholding morals in society, the challenge is finding an appropriate extent to legislate these. For example, it makes sense to outlaw rape, in harmony with the seventh commandment (against adultery), but probably not to outlaw consensual adultery. Similarly, it makes sense to outlaw perjury, but probably not lying about the size of the fish you caught. And I can’t think of any reasonable legal application of the commandment against coveting.
So I’m only just leaning right on this, at a foundational level, but not necessarily at an application level.
I’m against pseudo science. But atheists who are respected scientifically get away with spectulative, even unprovable, ideas such as SETI, the multiverse, etc. So it seems reasonable to let Christians get away with the idea of “God” being the answer to SETI or the multiverse.
Science has ‘caught up’ with religious writings in the area of health science. I anticipate similar in the area of origins.
Honesty & integrity
Neither side of politics has a good track record in recent years of speaking or acting with any integrity or honesty. Neither do their echo chambers in the more-polarised-than-ever media. ‘Marriage equality’ is an example of the left’s echo chamber, whereas climate change is an example of the right’s echo chamber.