Progressivism and the social gospel – history and implications

The last commentary discussed “progressivism” and alcohol Prohibition. It is one of the darker episodes of American history in the last century, and we are “celebrating” the 100th Anniversary of Prohibition in America.

Progressivism (Regressivism) and Prohibition are linked to, and have much in common, with another concept the religious Social Gospel. Like the others, it promotes large and constantly growing government and totalitarianism.

Just what is the Social Gospel?

Seen primarily as a “Protestant” movement, the Social Gospel is a movement or philosophy which is found in most “christian” religions.  It is said to apply “Christian ethics” (or Judeo-Christian ethics) to social problems. Those problems?  A veritable litany of Socialist, Liberal Progressive (Regressivist), and left-wing causes and complaints.  Economic inequality and poverty, excessive wealth, crime, racism and racial tensions, child labor, exploitation of workers, public education, slums, public health, and more.  Of particular note was alcoholism, war and social unrest, and the environment.

It was, in simple terms, the “christian” theology on which this was based is that Christ would not return to establish His Kingdom until humankind was able to get rid of all their social ills – or evils. This changed still further to the idea that most individuals could not be saved individually without first “saving” (purifying) the society. And that society had the “God-given” responsibility to ensure that its members did not practice the evils, but instead were to be forced to do good.

This was tied closely to the belief in postmillennialism (as contrasted to the now-popular premillennialism – the idea that Jesus will come again and THEN establish His Kingdom). But as you can see, this also tied very closely to the Progressive ideals for society AND to a generally liberal theology. It also came to be associated with the idea of (theistic) macro-evolution: that the world was getting more and more advanced, better and better.

In practice, this meant that God needed to – indeed, demanded – that government and government leaders take measures to force people to be good: to prevent and punish every sort of moral and societal evil.  Individuals could not be trusted to voluntarily improve themselves. For example, men would be tempted to drink and become drunken, and would not reform from their alcoholic ways unless they were forced to.  Therefore, this supported the Progressive idea of outlawing – prohibiting – beverage alcohol, thereby making people become (and presumably stay) sober. Governments were justified, therefore, in passing and enforcing laws to regulate every part of life, and punishing those who disobeyed it – even to the point of taking their (physical) lives in order to save their souls.

In doing so, these religious zealots of course completely missed the point of Jesus’ teaching and His sacrifice, and His freeing men from, among other things, “the law of sin and death.”  It also played directly into the hands of socialists and collectivists in general.  Men by themselves, as individuals, could not readily be saved – they must always be part of a group, a collective.

And to make matters worse, it created a new alliance of the State and the Church, defeating one of the objects of the Founding Fathers here in America.  And further solidifying that relation in Europe and the Commonwealth and their empires.

Although it is usually associated with Protestant denominations, it was/is present in Roman Catholicism. Especially in close cooperation with the State. Indeed, the Social Gospel may be seen as the father of Liberation Theology.

But American Protestants in the “Mainstream” denominations (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, etc.) deemphasized evangelism, personal conversion and salvation. The priority became benevolence and social change. Top down.  To do this, these religions had to influence (and control) government:  get it to fund these efforts to eradicate social ills – through welfare, financing of medical care, and more. (After all, the churches could not afford to pay for all these things, but they could lobby and demand that government tax everyone for them.) These religions supported and demanded more laws to push their definitions of morality and get government to enforce them. (Example: Sunday closings.)  Prohibition of alcohol was just one of many things.

Supposedly, the Social Gospel is a thing of the past. But it is more prevalent than ever, permeating not just mainstream Protestants, Catholics, and most Jewish sects, but also the evangelical and fundamentalist traditions. The secular, physical, and social has more and more displaced the spiritual and eternal. And in doing so, has played into the hands of government and controllers of every sort.

Were those who created and pushed this Social Gospel doing so with good intentions?  Perhaps.  But they could not but help understand that this would give them power.  And prestige and wealth: cooperating with and empowering the State with religious reasons to do so.

The very power Social Gospel advocates gave the State is now used against them.  The usual failure of government to actually solve these ills (for the most part caused by the State itself) rebounded and spurred the skeptics and those who saw religion as just another scam.  And government could and does dictate to these churches together with providing money.

We must learn from this lesson. Can we realize that the State can no more dictate charity and righteous living than it can anything else? (Save at the point of a gun.) We must reject their blandishments.

Remember these words of C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

If we do not remember and heed them, we are doomed to repeat the same errors.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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2 Responses to Progressivism and the social gospel – history and implications

  1. Pingback: Progressivism and the social gospel — history and implications – Rational Review News Digest

  2. Pingback: Progressivism and Prohibition – the awful aftermath | The Price of Liberty

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