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Originally posted at Talk to Action.

David Brat, the Tea Party Young Turk who recently shocked the GOP establishment with his primary win over Majority Leader Eric Cantor, is reportedly, a convert to Catholicism, but (one source has him affiliated with four different Virginia churches: St. Michael’s Catholic, Christ Church Episcopal, Third Presbyterian, and Shady Grove Methodist.). If he has converted to Catholicism, it appears he may be hedging his bets.

But if he has indeed become Catholic, apparently he has not yet encountered the Church's social teachings. Brat is a vociferous proponent of libertarian economics, which is not only radically out of step with Church teaching on economics, but glaringly so in the age Pope Francis.

If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend reading Chip Berlet's recent piece (“A Brat Stomps Cantor: Is "Christian Economics" an Oxymoron?”).  It is a well-written primer on the rhetoric surrounding libertarian Christianity, Protestant or Catholic. It is particularly helpful in understanding David Brat.

As Chip observed:

The version of "Christian Economics" championed by sectors of the Christian Right in the United States, however, is rooted in Laissez-Faire capitalism as shaped by the Austrian School economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich August von Hayek; and later modified by Chicago School economic icon Milton Friedman. These ideas were the basis of President Ronald Reagan's "Trickle Down" theory which flowed down the legs of numerous elite right-wing analysts.

A more radical right libertarian version of Laissez-Faire "Christian Economics" drips down from the body of work by R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North. Ron and Rand Paul embrace much of this version of Biblical economics which is the basis for Christian Reconstructionism, a militant Protestant movement which is like Calvinism on crack.

Somewhere between these two descriptions lies David Brat’s place on the political spectrum. Brat, the aptly named David who recently slew a Goliath in Majority Leader Eric Cantor, does not appear to have much regard for government oversight of the economy.  In its place, as the New York Times reported, Brat’s prescription is simple:
Instead of arguing for any specific regulation, however, Brat said that the system simply needed more virtue. “We should love our neighbor so much that we actually believe in right and wrong and do something about it,” he wrote in a 2011 essay for Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology. “If we all did the right thing and had the guts to spread the word, we would not need the government to backstop every action we take.”

In other words, government oversight is replaced by personal virtue. Brat is on record as stating, “I think the main point is that we need to synthesize Christianity and capitalism.”  Actually we already tried such an approach in this country but perhaps not in the manner the Tea Party Young Turk appreciated (more on that below).

But while the Congressional candidate and his wife may be attending a Catholic church, (Brat was raised as a Presbyterian), it is quite clear that his economics is soundly based on the Calvinistic, Protestant outlook – flavored with a heaping helping of Randian Objectivism. As a recent New Yorker magazine profile explains:

But Brat goes further than simply questioning economic dogma and trying to reclaim Adam Smith for the Christian intellectual tradition. In a 2004 paper, "Economic Growth and Institutions: The Rise and Fall of the Protestant Ethic?" (PDF here), Brat again returns to the link between historical Christianity and modern economic theory, claiming that countries with Protestant pasts have inherent economic advantages over countries without them.

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” Brat wrote, while claiming that Protestantism "provides an efficient set of property rights and encourages a modern set of economic incentives” that often lead to "positive economic performance.”

This is hardly the stuff of Rerum Novarum, let alone Pope Francis. But with that said, Brat is just an example of the American Catholic Right’s ideal convert – politically and perhaps more importantly, economically conservative. Like Paul Ryan, he identifies his faith with Pope Francis while paradoxically embracing the morally indifferent economics of militant neo-atheist Ayn Rand.  (Brat even co-authored a paper entitled, “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand”).  Unsurprisingly, Brat continuously expounds upon the advantages of capitalism -- but in a way that suggests that his version of capitalism is the only one that exists and that any deviation constitutes Marxist Socialism.

What Brat and other movement conservatives fear is not Marxism but a better form of capitalism; one that requires structure and forbearance; and more importantly one that understands that money is a tool, not an end in and of itself. Indeed, such a variety of capitalism was practiced in this country with great success from 1933 until the 1980s. It is the capitalism of FDR who was so heavily influenced by economically progressive Catholic social justice teaching, notably Msgr. John A. Ryan, the tireless advocate for a living wage.  It was Msgr. Ryan who detailed the shortcomings both of relying solely upon virtue and eschewing State action necessary to curb and deflect the consequences of more undisciplined forms of capitalism.

Catholic economic theory is based on Distributive Justice -- a third way that more successfully contains the arbitrary power that often results from the unchecked power that accompanies both Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism. Its sources are to be found in Catholic teachings as well as the Protestant Social Gospel movement and the Jewish concept of Tikkun olam – making the world whole). This is a truer synthesis of Christianity and capitalism; done so without heavy-handed attempts at religious conversion.

Which brings us back to Brat’s religious ambiguity -- which smacks of a cynical political ploy to cloak himself in the garb of four of the Christian groups that make up a significant portion of the Congressional district’s electorate. Only David Brat knows for sure.  But if it is an experiment in attempting to marry Calvinistic individualism to Catholic notions of solidarity -- it is one that appears to be based upon prevarication.

Originally posted to Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 03:05 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  A Jack of all churches it would seem. (9+ / 0-)

    He really does come off as an odd person. I trust Trammell has his measure and can pick him off in the general.

    Please note that lamps in the Magic Lamp Emporium are on a genie time-share program so there may be a slight delay in wish fulfillment. (◕‿◕)

    by Mopshell on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 04:23:08 AM PDT

  •  Hypocrite is the middle name of any teapublikkkan (7+ / 0-)

    I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

    by a2nite on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 04:38:37 AM PDT

  •  Calvinistic Catholic (5+ / 0-)

    I had all kinds of alarm bells going off when I first heard the lightest background sketch of him.

    My first thought was some kind of socio-pathological liar, but then I do always see the glass half full.

    [Pity Youtube won't let us start embeds at a chosen moment.]

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 04:41:20 AM PDT

  •  Divine intervention? (6+ / 0-)

    Brat clearly believes in divine intervention. Immediately after his upset victory Brat told FOX News, “God acted through people on my behalf.” He went on to say, “It’s an unbelievable miracle.” More likely, however, his victory may have been more the result of GOP gerrymandering than anything to do with the Almighty.

  •  What's your source (0+ / 0-)

    on the conversion?  The strongest thing I have seen is that he "attends services" at a Roman Catholic church.  He is a self-described Calvinist, attended a Dutch Reformed affiliated college for his undergraduate education, and attended a Presbyterian founded seminary with ties to the broader Reformed movement.  His own CV lists (or at least listed at the time of his election win) his "affiliations" with churches of 4 different denominations.

    Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

    by benamery21 on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 06:06:49 AM PDT

    •  Several initial reports... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rodentrancher, Ahianne

      ...such as this one reported him to be a Catholic. As my piece suggests, I think he is using the ambiguity to his advantage; another words, to be all things to all types conservatives.

      •  I think the reporters are confused (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        and at least in initial reports were probably working from the same info, in which he said he attends services at a Catholic church.  I have seen nothing which states that he has converted to Catholicism.  Many reporters don't have the religious background to understand nuance on the subject.

        Given the confusion, I prefer info which is more clearly sourced than that linked reportage.  It seems like an excellent question which should have been clarified by the press over the past 7 weeks.  I would agree that he has been involved in ecumenical outreach for some time, and that he is using that to his advantage.  I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that he is intentionally creating confusion as to his religious beliefs.

        In any event he's made clear that he would be a terrible Congressman.

        Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

        by benamery21 on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 06:45:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I made no such statement. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Frederick Clarkson

          Please reread the piece; I never say that he is intentionally creating confusion as to his religious beliefs. Indeed, on that question I made certain that I put down the caveat "Only David Brat knows for sure." As you aptly put it, it is an excellent question for which the answer should have been clarified by the press. Part of the purpose of this piece is to put this issue to play so that maybe that question will be asked.

  •  Not much of a libertarian, either (7+ / 0-)

    The original meaning of libertarianism, the whole thing that was supposed to set it apart from traditional conservatism, was that it wanted minimum governmental involvement in ALL aspects of citizens' lives. It was originally an ideology that followed extreme conservative, "pure capitalism" economic policies, while largely favoring progressive positions on most social issues.

    Why the hell you're now allowed to call yourself a libertarian while being a forced-birther, favoring cannabis criminalization, opposing equal marriage rights for the LBGT population, etc, etc I do not understand.

    Apparently now a "libertarian" is a conservative with unusually stupid economic ideas and an extra-large dose of crazy.

  •  And just how are these social and economic (0+ / 0-)

    teachings being acted out in the world by the Pope and the Vatican and the RCC?

    Women still can't choose to control their own fertility and gays still can't marry.

    The inability to choose if to have children or how many to have is a BASIC issue in the battle against world poverty.

    As far as I can see, the descriptive phrase "Catholic Social/Distributive Justice Teachings" is the real oxymoron here.

    •  Do not be so strident. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      As a liberal Catholic I disagree with the Vatican on many things, especially birth-control and reproductive rights. But with that said, the the pope speaking out against economic injustice is worth its weight in gold. By doing so used effectively isolating the Neoconservative and libertarian Catholic right. And clearly, this Pontiff is far more concerned with economic justice than restricting reproductive rights. I for one, am willing willing work with him.

      •  Your bar is far too low, Frank. (0+ / 0-)

        Sorry to see it.

        Have you not read about the connection between world poverty and women's ability to control their own fertility? The Pope and the RCC's policies are CAUSING more poverty!

         You are intellectually so far into the internal war within the Catholic Church that you can't see the big picture.  You are so determined to get the Opus Dei faction out that you don't even see that Francis is bringing them in?

        I HAVE to be strident. The world is buying this ruse lock, stock, and barrel and even thinking Catholics are being taken in by it.

  •  Jack Trammell ActBlue page (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Cocozzelli
  •  Check your Kosmail (n/t) (0+ / 0-)

    "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

    by JamesGG on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 08:35:44 AM PDT

  •  Cafeteria Christian (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Cocozzelli

    Like most "libertarian" conservatives, he wants to accept only those elements of the faith which benefit him personally.  He truly deserves the opprobrium of being called a "cafeteria Christian," as even his confessional confusion might imply.

    "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

    by PrahaPartizan on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 08:43:46 AM PDT

  •  For a long time now, I've been asking: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Cocozzelli, oldmaestro

    What is a Ron - or Rand - Paul?  With, of course, an implied question as to "What is a Libertarian"?, also.

    The only real answer anyone has yet come up with is, more or less, "Libertarian = Anarchist . . . except when it doesn't".  And, considering the people in the political arena identifying themselves with the term, that makes just about as much sense as they do themselves.

    A "Catholic Libertarian", and/or "Libertarian Catholic", is a great belly laugh for the day.  And, considering the full range of the Roman Religion's Code of Canon Law, which contains laws, rules, and regulations for any, every, and ALL aspect(s) of human life, in great detail and minuscule application - Feudalism incarnate, that is - both in and out of the area of religion itself, the very concatenation of "Catholic Anarchist", and or "Anarchist Catholic" is beyond hilarious!

    One might, IMHO call that a kind of "cafeteria religion", to strain the analogy slightly.

    •  It's a long history (0+ / 0-)

      One can't simply makes guesses about it and presume to be informed, much less offer opinions, and it requires actually doing some reading to understand.

      "Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality." - Michael Bakunin (Economic Left/Right: -10.00 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -9.79)

      by ZhenRen on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 02:04:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In the spring of 2012, when Ron Paul (0+ / 0-)

      was running for the repub nomination for POTUS, somebody placed a RP flyer on my windshield.  On one side it said:  "Your Tea Party Candidate."  "On the other side it said:  "Your Pro-Life Candidate."

      Hope that helps clear things up!

      "What are we afraid of, and why are we holding back, when nobody's gonna listen to this shit anyway?" -- magic mitch

      by oldmaestro on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 10:08:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Broken Link In Post... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Cocozzelli

    The link to Rerum Novarum Wiki article needs to be fixed.

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