The Biblical View of “Class and Caste”
The central point here is that any communion or community has to be based on a moral commitment to a creed or a faith. It can’t be metaphysical, based on some neutral characteristics like genetics, place of birth, economic status, IQ, or anything else. It has to be ethical/judicial;…There has to be a transcendent faith, and that faith has to have a transcendent moral law which would unite all the members of the communion into one body, without losing each one’s identity. Without such selective communion with people of the same faith and the same moral status, any community will end up being a communion with evil.
– The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber
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Welcome to Episode 46 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes I will be defending against slander the reputation of one of the Christian heroes of the 20th century who has been a major intellectual influence on my worldview, thinking, and on the practice of my ministry, R.J. Rushdoony. Not against all slander, of course, for the man has received way more than his fair share of flak throughout his life, and keep receiving it even after he is gone; which is normal for a writer of such disproportional influence. But I can’t deal with all of it in one episode, neither do I need to. I will only defend his reputation against one of the many accusations hurled against him, based on one single quote, taken out of context and butchered. And while defending Rushdoony’s reputation, I will also try to take a look at the topic of his quote from a Biblical perspective, and I will try to build a principled Christian understanding of it. And hopefully, principled Christian practice.
As a very short introduction, for those unfamiliar with the name, Rousas John Rushdoony, son of Armenian immigrants, was a Reformed missionary (among Native American tribes), pastor, educator, theologian, and author, known for his defense of what today is known as Christian Reconstruction: a theology of applying the truths of the Gospel to every area of life. Rushdoony’s unique contribution to theology was that he applied Biblical analysis to areas outside pure theology, like history, legal theory, sociology, economics, psychology, education, even math and engineering, with the goal of creating a comprehensive Biblical worldview, a faith that applies to every area of life, not simply by borrowing crumbs from the table of the secular academia (as has been done before him) but by consistent application of the Bible. To achieve that goal, he turned to the Law of God in the Bible as the most consistent and systematic expression of God’s will for the ethical and judicial standards for the life of man and his society. Rushdoony never really held any position of institutional power in any big denomination or seminary; his Chalcedon Foundation stayed away from the institutional struggles and alliances in the American churches. But his books exercised a ton of influence on many church and social figures, as well as upon a growing number of ordinary Christians in the US. Rushdoony is also considered the “grandfather” of the homeschool movement; his book, The Messianic Character of American Education, revealed that government education is not religiously neutral, and was never intended to be; it was this book that inspired a small minority of Christians to pull their children from the government schools and start the Christian homeschool movement in the US. Another very influential book of his has already been advertized in Axe to the Root as the most unique book ever written in the history of Christendom, The Foundations of Social Order; in it Rushdoony gave evidence that the modern Western civilization emerged not as the product of social or economic forces, but of the creedal definitions of the Christian faith in the early Creeds. His main influential work, of course, is The Institutes of Biblical Law, a three volume commentary on the ethical and judicial principles of the Law of God in the Bible, and their applications to the modern society, and to the building a Christian civilization. Rushdoony’s influence was not and is not the influence of a celebrity preacher whose main skill is to bring his listeners to excitement over emotional issues; his is the influence of a true Biblical teacher, one who trains and equips his readers to apply their faith to all of life. Given that such influence is much more important – and therefore dangerous to his enemies – we should expect that he would be slandered abundantly by them.
The accusation I want to deal with is based on a specific quote from one of Rushdoony’s books. The quote says the following:
No society has ever existed without class and caste lines.
If you google this specific quote, you will see that it is repeated in many places, in Wikiquote, in blogs of secularist opponents of Christian Reconstruction, in sermons of fundamentalist preachers opposed to Christian Reconstruction, in writings of fringe racist groups who try to pass for Christian. It is one of those quotes by Rushdoony that have caused much stir among his opponents. “No society has ever existed without class and caste lines.”
Norman Geisler, a premillennial author, who has spent a good part of his career blasting postmillennialists for their supposed agenda of political power-grab (who also last year endorsed Donald Trump, because, y’know, some power-grab is OK, just not one that is based on too much following the Bible), so Norman Geisler, in one of his papers attacking postmillennialism, used this quote by Rushdoony to declare that
“Rushdoony actually favors a kind of caste system.” [end of quote]. This is nonsense, of course. Of all 20th century theologians, Rushdoony is the only one who systematically opposed elitism and argued for a society of equal justice for all, and that explicitly on Biblical grounds. Meanwhile, it was Norman Geisler who declared that freedom, moral education toleration, and many other good things in our modern world came from secular humanism. (Yes, even moral education.) This is not a joke, folks, read Geisler’s book, Is Man the Measure? Rushdoony in fact wrote a special paper, now part of his collection of articles, Roots of Reconstruction, titled “Elitism.” In that paper, Rushdoony specifically traces elitism and all its manifestations – including a caste society – back to pagan thought, specifically Plato and his Republic. Elitism, or caste society, according to Rushdoony, comes about when men abandon Christianity; here the relevant quote: “When men depart from Christianity, they abandon hierarchy, which means sacred rule in terms of God’s law-word, for man’s rule by elitists.” [end of quote]. Notice, true hierarchy for Rushdoony is opposed to rule by man. Geisler also accused Rushdoony of being anti-democratic. True, Rushdoony is against the secularist form of democracy, but here’s what he has to say about elitism and democracy:
The elitist hates the free market because it gives in its own way a good form of democracy. In a free market economy, most men, if they want them, can earn enough for an automobile, television, and their own house. In this way, they pass out of the servant class (“It’s so hard to get good servants these days”) into the middle class, and this means an independence from the elite. The great evil of Puritanism and of Cromwell to the English elite was that “Merry England” was “destroyed,” since now no large class of servitors were bowing and scraping before them. For some ever since, the restoration of such an order has been a dream, whereas their ex-servitors in many cases want to hurt “the ruling class” even if it destroys the country in the process.
Do these words sound like the words of a man who advocates for a caste society? Obviously, Geisler has read into Rushdoony’s words not what Rushdoony really believed and taught, but his own bias.
Others have expanded the scope of accusations and have used this quote to accuse Rushdoony of racism. The reason is that just a few sentences above Rushdoony speaks about “the black nigger.” And then about “class and caste.” Ergo, his critics say, therefore Rushdoony wants to create a “class and caste” society along racial lines. What else do we need? Two trigger words (which were just regular words back in the 1960s when he wrote the book), and our modern prejudices, and we can easily come to any kind of conclusion. Especially if we are committed to smear the author of these words. The total quote, however, shows that Rushdoony was only quoting from other sources, and that the quote had nothing to do with any racism:
The radical humanists in and out of the church, and the Death of God school of thought hold to a concept of communion which is beyond good and evil and in which communion with man is communion with god. Erich Fromm has written, “God is one of the many different poetic expressions of the highest value in humanism, not a reality in itself.” True communion for this faith means that good and evil are denied validity as objective moral standards, and all men must be received into communion as gods without any regard to their moral status. Thus, a “Litany” popular in these circles identifies “God” with the city, with the “spick, black nigger, bastard, Buddhahead, and kike,” with “all men,” and calls for communion with all men as they are. Some churches have held meetings for homosexuals and worked to further homosexual “communion” with their members. In terms of this new faith, there is no God or Christ in heaven; God and Christ must be found in all our fellow men, accepted as they are without moral judgment or censure. This concept runs deeply through the so-called “Civil Rights” Revolution. It was expressed by a degenerate criminal and murderer as he was being executed. Aaron C. Mitchell was dragged screaming to the gas chamber at San Quentin, and his last words were, “I am Jesus Christ — look what they have done to me.”
Obviously, his point was not some racist complaint about mixing blacks and whites in the society. In fact, in his Institutes of Biblical Law he specifically speaks against racial divisions and against the idolatry of blood brotherhood:
The revolutionists and the statists thus have a common cause, to destroy society, to wipe out community. It is important to understand the reasons for this. Men have tried over and over again to establish a community on the basis of blood. Modern attempts to do so include the national states, Nazi Germany, the Arab states, and Israel. Others have extended this racist idea of community to include all men, a one-world order…
Rushdoony’s point when mentions the “Litany” and all the other attempts at non-Christian communion is that such communion outside Christ, without any regard for objective moral standards or moral status, is a communion with evil. Such communion with evil will never produce the desired equality; the only way for it to work is to destroy the personal identity of the individual man. But in this destruction of personal identity no new society of equality will arise; social distinctions will only become worse. And a community of race and blood is no better than a world community united under one government; in all the cases, it will be a community based not on faith and covenant, but a community with evil.
The central point here is that any communion or community has to be based on a moral commitment to a creed or a faith. It can’t be metaphysical, based on some neutral characteristics like genetics, place of birth, economic status, IQ, or anything else. It has to be ethical/judicial; at its very foundations, there must questions and answers about the definitions of good and evil, about the purpose of human existence and life, and about the purpose of human society. There has to be a transcendent faith, and that faith has to have a transcendent moral law which would unite all the members of the communion into one body, without losing each one’s identity. Without such selective communion with people of the same faith and the same moral status, any community will end up being a communion with evil. The Litany which Rushdoony quotes is not a Litany which calls for racial reconciliation; it calls for moral neutrality and for the obliteration of moral standards. Historically, the church has never been racially conscious until the 18th century, when Enlightenment ideas of metaphysics and race crept in it from the French philosophes. The moral neutrality which Rushdoony opposed would only create a world of elitist social lines; contrary to the Biblical social and cultural lines which are creedal and religious.
Or, as y’all remember from the first episode of Axe to the Root, the solution is covenantal. And covenantal means ethical/judicial. Never metaphysical, genetic, economic, financial, or anything else. The only true communion and true individualism can be found in communion along creedal and ethical lines. Rushdoony again,
As against this enforced collectivization, which is hostile both to true community and true individualism, is the communion of saints. The enforced community of evil has, first, no true community to it. It cannot see men united except by force or for gain. Second, it also hates the individual; it denies him his integrity of person and of property. The Biblical communion of saints rests on a God-given communion with an inner bond. By the grace of God, there is, first, a loyalty to Christ. The true Christian views the world in terms of God’s law. He sees the world in terms of a given perspective, a revealed framework, and the more he grows in grace the more sharply is his thinking governed by this Biblical framework. He is a member of Jesus Christ; he has a citizenship in heaven, a prior citizenship which governs every human relationship. His life is not his own, but Christ’s.
Second, because the governing force in his life is increasingly grace, it is an inner bond which binds him to Christ and to his fellow Christians. The Christians draw together, not in terms of advantage, and often at the price of some sacrifice, in terms of this inner bond. They have a common life in Christ and therefore a common future. They are governed by a moral unity; they move in terms of the Biblical morality. And they are governed by a doctrinal unity, professing one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism in Christ. But their unity is not alone in faith and practice, but a unity in the heart. They are one people. They are closer to one another than the members of the fraternity of evil can ever be to each other, but this unity is not at the price of their particularity, their individualism. The fraternity of evil is ultimately destructive of both unity and individuality, of both the one and the many, but the communion of saints establishes both on their true foundation, the triune God. In Him they are truly one, and in Him they are truly themselves, so that both the unity and diversity of life come to their realization.
Rushdoony’s position will become even clearer when we include the bigger picture of his theology. He was a theonomist, that is, he believed in the continuing validity of the Law of God today, not simply for the personal morality of individuals but also for the corporate morality of man’s social institutions, whether family, or business, or the state. He was criticized for this belief; the prevailing opinion today is that the Bible has nothing to say about man’s institutions, that the state, business, education, and others are to to be ethically neutral, not governed by the precepts of the Law of God. But Rushdoony’s main contribution was his The Institutes of Biblical Law, and in it, he showed that the Biblical Law, when applied to our society today, will be, in the words of James (1:25), the perfect law of liberty, and a society that is governed by the Law of God will be a society of justice for all, and blessed with prosperity by God.
But when we examine the Law of God, we see that in contrast to all the laws of the nations, the Law of God contains not a single mention of any judicial difference between classes or castes. To the contrary, the Law specifically contains a provision that the rights and freedoms of that Law are guaranteed for all, including foreigners: “The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you” (Ex. 12:49; Lev. 24:22; Num. 9:14; 15:15-16). Imagine our modern debate, whether the US Constitution guarantees the life, liberty, and property against the tyranny of the US government only for US citizens, or if foreigners are protected as well. The Law of God didn’t acknowledge difference even for the stranger; so complete was its liberty and justice for all. In terms of protection and rights, all people were equal. There was a social difference only in the privilege of political participation – and even there, that privilege was only judicial, that is, only limited to being a judge or jury on court cases, or electing judges. And that difference in privilege was based on a creedal profession; a stranger could become a member of full privileges if he declared his faith in the God of Israel and vowed to obey the Law of God. In all else, every Israelite was equal to every other Israelite, and every Israelite was equal to any foreigner who would decide to leave his country and come to live in Israel. There were no castes and no classes. Any man was equal before the law to any other man; and men were free to pursue their callings and their goals by all means possible, except for committing crimes.
The New Testament not only continued this tradition, it specifically insisted that there is now no difference between Jew and Gentile, and even between male and female or between slave or free (Gal. 3:28). Within the church, the writers of the New Testament warned their readers against importing the class and caste divisions of the society within the church. In James 2:2-4 the apostle says about such divisions, “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” Half of the Epistle to the Romans is devoted to destroying the class and caste distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. The whole First Epistle to the Corinthians is devoted to the concept of the unity of the body of Christ, against any divisions. “For consider your calling, brethren,” says the apostle Paul, “that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Cor. 1:26-27). and then, later in the same letter, in chapter 11, he admonishes Christians to wait for each other when they are about to break the bread. The meal was supposed to be a meal of all together, making them all equal before Christ in His Supper.
And of course, from this followed the political and legal theory of the early church which denied any special moral or covenantal status to political rulers or the powerful of the day. When Bishop Ambrose told Emperor Theodosius that he didn’t have the right to even enter a private home, that was a revolutionary concept at the time. But was a Biblical concept. No one had the privilege to break the Law of God, no matter how powerful he may be. And we won’t have the time to talk in detail about the views of Augustine and Isidore of Seville, and of Anselm of Canterbury and of many other faithful church ministers, who fought to establish the principle of liberty and justice for all, as opposed to only a limited class of men of privilege.
In a Christian social order, therefore, there can be no special classes of special privilege, established by a law. The only such privilege can be based on a confession of faith; in a Christian society, as it was in the early colonies in America, only professing Christians could vote and elect judges. Outside the limited political franchise, there was no other privilege except for what a man could achieve through his own faithfulness, productivity, and ingenuity. A man who could produce more than anyone else and therefore prosper more than anyone else, can have social privilege by paying for it. Such privilege is Biblical, and men are encouraged, in the context of the Dominion Covenant, to seek such privilege. Such economic privilege, however, can not be protected by law more than the laws of protection for private property which apply to everyone, from the poorest to the richest. Neither can there be a law that prevents people from achieving prosperity – like confiscatory taxation, re-distribution, or government regulations on the economy. In everything outside political franchise, the Law of God provides full equality by giving full liberty of all individuals from the state. No favorites. Everyone is free. No special classes, and no special castes. And even the strangers are included. As Rushdoony says, a free market is the only good form of democracy. And it is also the only true expression of a Christian social order.
The assigned reading for this week is a book that has been a classic in its field for a century. A book that at the time it was written was not considered anything unique. It was only the loss of the Christian legacy in Europe that made the book so important again for our modern world. It has been ridiculed and rejected by secular and even Christian commentators and historians. The book is worth being part of your library, and it is worth reading. It The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by the German sociologist Max Weber.
In your prayers and giving, consider Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission in Eastern Europe devoted to preaching the whole counsel of God, the applications of the Gospel in every area of life. A mission that has been successful in changing the worldview of many people, of planting churches, training families, establishing and helping Christian homeschooling, and even influencing the political and social life in a nation that has had zero Reformed heritage just 20 years ago. Visit BulgarianReformation.com; subscribe to the newsletter, and donate.