Colorado Christian University broke from its classroom routine in October for a symposium on "Faith, Family, and Freedom," the core values that shape CCU but are in fragile shape in mainstream America. During the two-day event, nationally known experts on civil liberties, the free-market system, and religious freedom challenged the CCU community to help restore those values to the center of American life.
"This is big-league, important stuff -- determining whether our country will be free," CCU President Bill Armstrong told a full auditorium of students, faculty, and staff gathered at the Event Center at CCU's main campus to hear speakers address freedom and public-policy issues.
Jay Richards: "The genius of capitalism is that it's counter-intuitive."
Like many from his generation, when Jay Richards was in college in the 1980s, he accepted the prevailing worldview that America's free-market and capitalist system was based on greed. He doubted whether a Christian could even be a capitalist and thought capitalism should be counteracted by the more "compassionate" socialism. But as Richards -- now a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation -- began to reason more deeply, he came to see free-market capitalism as the true route to freedom and out of poverty, and that government-controlled economy stunts both enterprise and compassion.
So why does capitalism get such a bad rap? Richards believes it's because capitalism is counter-intuitive, and that arguments against it are based on myths accepted as conventional wisdom, yet which are instead fundamentally flawed. To prove it, he highlighted several of the "Eight Myths of Capitalism" identified in his latest book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem.
The Piety Myth: "Socialists have really good rhetoric," Richards said. "Jesus was concerned about the poor, and socialists talk a lot about poor people." Therefore, socialism must be good. However, people have to look beyond the fuzzy warmth of helping people and ask the crucial question: "What happens next?" When the law of unintended consequences is invoked, Richards said, socialism always comes crashing down. The "piety myth" is at work in many laws, he said. For example, a U.S. law specified that, before any country could receive U.S. aid, it had to create stiff child-labor laws. But in impoverished countries children work -- as American farm kids used to -- in order to survive and help their families survive. However good intentions may have been, America's "piety" had an opposite, starkly shaking effect, forcing thousands of foreign children into the only work place left: the dark world of street crime and prostitution.
The Greed Myth: For years, Richards wondered whether a Christian could be a capitalist, since the system seemed based on vice. But when more carefully examined, capitalism showed itself to be less based on greed than on the Golden Rule: "Do unto others ..." To succeed as a capitalist, one has to think about others: What can I provide that people will freely buy? What's more, government-controlled systems foster black markets and hoarding, but in capitalism entrepreneurs thrive; they risk sowing and increasing their money, a goal approved by Jesus in one of His best-known parables.
Zero-Sum-Game Myth: In other words, under capitalism, it's assumed that when someone wins, someone else will lose in counterpart. "People ask themselves, If I get rich, doesn't somebody else get poor?" That's not true, Richards said. When allowed room to work, the free-market system improves everybody, he said. The catch is, we can't be envious of someone who has more; that kind of inequality is also part of freedom, Richards said, using Bill Gates as an example. "He has ten million times my net worth, but that doesn't do me any harm." And when people are free to improve themselves, he added, they also can be free to help others. "God expects us to be concerned about the poor, but government programs haven't reduced poverty; they've made it worse." Christians should see that God created people as entrepreneurs, he said. "He expects people to take the material world and transform it."
Doug Bandow: What is a free society? How do we get back to it?
Those fundamental questions, which not long ago would have been considered absurd -- of course America is free -- were posed by Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute in Washington, D.C. He warned that growing numbers of Americans are discarding the core values that made the country the most unique system of liberty in history. That system is rooted in the idea that each individual is made "in the image and likeness of God," a Judeo-Christian belief which the nation's founders held as "self evident." However, Bandow said, "Today, we're living on the fumes of our Judeo-Christian heritage, and that worries me."
Unless Americans assume responsibility for the situation, freedom will continue to diminish, Bandow added, urging people of faith to get involved in shaping the country's policies and laws. "Wherever God places you, make yourself heard," he said, whether running for office, speaking out at "TEA parties" or in the media, or joining grassroots "get-out-the-vote" efforts. "Wherever you are, look for opportunity. Demand that public officials be held accountable."
Bandow emphasized how crucial it is to understand the country's Judeo-Christian bedrock because the nation's is the only system that allows true diversity and freedom to flourish. From the beliefs that God is the final judge, that nobody is above another, and that every person is flawed by sin sprung forth the concept of limited government, which understands its role in protecting citizens from each other's flaws, not usurping God as the all-powerful authority. Yet in recent years, Bandow said, the Washington elite who run the country have become corrupted by power and are indifferent to Judeo-Christian values. That's allowed the government to cast itself increasingly as the unquestioned authority over every aspect of our lives, he said.
"In many ways, the greatest threat today is the soft tyranny of paternalism, the expectation that not only should government take care of others, but they should [also] take care of us," Bandow said.
While the future might look bleak, Americans who value liberty should take hope in the fate of the Berlin Wall, he said. The wall was built by the communist dictatorship in East Germany to keep its citizens from leaving, and it became a worldwide symbol of oppression. But 20 years ago this year the wall was torn down, along with the communist governments of Eastern Europe and, most importantly, the Soviet Union. "People expected that system to last forever," Bandow said," but people stood up and changed things." Likewise in America, "You can make a society happen that's free and virtuous."
David Barton: "There's so much we're not taught in American history."
The United States has the longest ongoing constitutional government in the world, and with only four percent of the world's population it produces 25 percent of the wealth. What makes America so distinctive? "The Bible is the rock upon which our country rests," said David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders, which presents America's "forgotten" history and heroes with particular emphases on moral, religious, and Constitutional heritage. Barton pointed out that the founding fathers used Christian principles to write America's founding documents.
Named by Time magazine as one of America's top 25 evangelists, Barton focused at the symposium on dispelling myths about our Constitutional heritage that have taken shape as the U.S. has changed the way it teaches history. One myth is that the founding fathers were atheists and agnostics, a claim that he systematically dismantled. Barton, whose group has amassed thousands of original documents of the founding fathers, said that 54 of the 56 forefathers were Christian and 29 had seminary degrees. John Witherspoon, one of the most active members of the Continental Congress, produced America's first family Bible in 1791; Charles Thomson wrote Thomson's Bible, translated from Greek; and Francis Hopkinson, a church music director, wrote one of America's first hymnals.
"How do they get away with saying none of them believed in God?" Barton asked. "That's revisionism."
To those who question how Christian leaders could support slavery, Barton countered that many of the founding fathers advocated against slavery. Benjamin Rush was a leader in the abolitionist movement, Stephen Hopkins was the first governor to sign an anti-slavery law, and William Ellery penned a national anti-slavery law. "We get taught the exception, not the rule," Barton said, referring to Thomas Jefferson, the founding father well-known as a slave owner. "There's a ton more good than bad."
In answer to claims that the founding fathers stole land from the Indians, Barton explained that even though King George gave the land to the colonists, founding fathers who were governors paid Indians for the land, at times even in multiple to respect tribal disputes about ownership. Among them were Thomas Hooker of Connecticut, Roger Williams of Rhode Island, and William Penn of Pennsylvania.
"There's so much we're not taught in American history today ... we get our perspective skewed," Barton said. Declaring that there's no question America was born a Christian nation, he called on students to take advantage of the opportunity they have to protect the integrity and intention of our Christian roots.