Christianity and Progressivism

In a discussion at Citizen Tom’s excellent blog, he laments the loss of Christianity (along with politics) as even a topic of popular discussion. In the middle of a long and thoughtful post, with which I largely agree, he notes:

Unfortunately, with each succeeding generation, as a people we have had less success passing Christian beliefs onto the next. Therefore, even though the Bible is still a bestseller, in too many homes the Bible has become a table ornament, not a book that deserves careful and devoted study. As consequence, the values Americans once cherished, the respect we showed for each others God-given rights, have no moral foundation upon which they can now rest.

I responded there with the following observations and example:

I think that it is worth remembering that the scourge of progressivism in the United States was brought about by (mostly) God-fearing men. This is not to blame Christianity, but merely to observe that for most of the past century and a quarter there was little or no connection between belief in God (or absence of that belief) and the rise of socialist/statist bureaucracy and similar other plagues that progressives have wrought.

An example can be drawn from an early and very famous progressive, one who was tremendously influential and who was considered a quintessential Republican. Teddy Roosevelt’s speech here sounds good at first, until he reveals that he (as a proud progressive) would “grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used.”

Note that if it is not “well used,” Roosevelt felt empowered to take it and use it in a way he considered better. He just needed laws to do this … or perhaps not. He described what he meant by “well used”:

It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

So what did Teddy Roosevelt mean by “honorably obtained”? This:

No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered—not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective—a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

These ideas — income tax and estate tax — were years before Amendment 16. He had farmers in his sights as well:

In particular, there are strong reasons why the Departments of Agriculture of the various states, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the agricultural colleges and experiment stations should extend their work to cover all phases of farm life, instead of limiting themselves, as they have far too often limited themselves in the past, solely to the question of the production of crops.

To his credit, TR’s idea of welfare was only for those who deserved it:

The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to the public welfare. Understand what I say there. Give him a chance, not push him up if he will not be pushed. Help any man who stumbles; if he lies down, it is a poor job to try to carry him; but if he is a worthy man, try your best to see that he gets a chance to show the worth that is in him … We keep countless men from being good citizens by the conditions of life with which we surround them.

Roosevelt stated at the beginning of his speech that people would likely brand him a communist for what he was saying. He used Lincoln’s labor quote, but Lincoln was not inclined to nationalize industries to control capitalism.

But at the time time, the Christian Broadcasting Network and others have pointed out that TR was a man of profound faith: – One thing I have come to appreciate about Theodore Roosevelt is something that largely has been neglected by many history books. That is, the aspect of his fervent Christian faith. In some ways, he might be seen as the most Christian and the most religious of all presidents.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle