The Big Picture Podcast 61: Utopianism & The “Not-So-Great Society”

The Big Picture Podcast 61: Utopianism & The “Not-So-Great Society” January 27, 2015


Welcome to the Big Picture Podcast. I’m Joel Fieri and this podcast seeks to begin and hopefully sustain a conversation about current trends, ideas and issues in the Church and greater society.

It’s time again to check in with the our friend the Late ‘Boomer to see how he’s doing in his efforts to clean up the societal mess created by his generation, the Baby Boomers.

In an earlier Late ‘Boomer episode called ‘The ‘Boomer Cata-list’, I listed some of the low points of the Baby Boomer era. Number three on that list was Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”, and I promised you more about this disaster. So here it is.

If you don’t know about it, the Great Society was a series of legislative acts signed into law in the mid-sixties by LBJ and Democratic majorities in Congress. It was a huge expansion of the federal government for the purposes of eliminating poverty and racial injustice.

Medicare, Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, welfare, public housing, food stamps, Head Start, the Department of Agriculture & Transportation all came out of the Great Society. Dozens of other programs as well.

And in case you think I’m being partisan, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford later expanded many of the programs. So have other Republican administrations.

My intent is not to be partisan here. The reason I call the Great Society a disaster is we are still dealing with its disastrous effects.

The billions of dollars initially spent on these programs have multiplied into trillions, all for the utopian goal of a society without hunger or need or prejudice.

Now, here we are 50 years later, and not only have these programs NOT eliminated any of those problems, they’ve made many of them worse, while creating whole new, unintended problems.

Medicare and Medicaid by themselves will bankrupt this country sooner rather than later. And yet they’ve been so ineffective we’ve decided we need the government to take over our entire health care system.

The effect of welfare on the African American community is so well covered I won’t even go into it. I’ll just quote Thomas Sowell, a black columnist and one of my go-to “super-smart guys”, who said:

“The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.”

His words, not mine.

That’s just to name two examples, but I don’t really want to analyze the Great Society programs themselves. They’re an accepted part of our way of life in America today, which too few people are willing to question.

They’re just here.

What I want to discuss today is the underlying philosophy and world-view that created this monstrosity in the first place.

Now let me say that yes, Lyndon Johnson was a very liberal guy and he no doubt believed these programs would help the country. But he had also made some pretty crass political calculations that also went with them.

But what really drove his actions was a utopian ideal, a belief that we actually could make a “great society” here on Earth, with prosperity and justice, through our own wisdom and societal effort.

It’s a very strongly held belief that equals any religious faith.

So much so that, as the bills are now coming due on all this utopian legislative action, those that hold to this faith, who are in power right now in our country and around the world, can’t let it go.

And in the big picture, this is what the current “government shutdown” is all about.

As old Baby Boomer progressive utopian leaders continue to expand more and more government, incurring with more and more debt, and re-distributing more and more wealth from those that earn it to those that don’t, those on the receiving end feel more and more entitled, while those on the taking end are getting more and more drained.

And fed up.

So we have the end result – what looks like just a partisan squabble between politicians wanting their own way. But in reality it’s just the beginning of things to come in this country.

Utopianism doesn’t work, but you can’t tell that to a utopian.

Our government is shutting down parks and monuments, blocking brave veterans in wheelchairs and arresting people for dancing at the feet of Thomas Jefferson’s statue and detaining Yellowstone tourists in hotels not because they have to. I mean, if you can pay park rangers to man barricades, you can pay them to open the parks.

No, they’re sending a message. And the message is that their utopian efforts are not to be resisted, especially by free citizens exercising their rights and speaking through their elected officials.

That just won’t do.

“We’re still building a great society here, so shut up and don’t make waves. Oh, and keep paying”.

Because really, we can’t stop now, can we? We’ve spent trillions of dollars we don’t have, on a utopia that’s getting further and further away.

But we can’t admit that.

We can’t face that particular faith crisis. It always happens this way. We tried to build a great society, but we’ve produced a divided, debt-ridden, declining society, nowhere near the utopian ideal first envisioned.

It’s something the Late ‘Boomer has seen before, and he’s hoping it’s not too late to turn things around.

In closing, it’s time for the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews chapter 11-12 in your Bible).

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was born in 1918, right after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. His father had been killed in the Great War, leaving his mother to raise him in exceptionally troubled times.

He converted as a youth to Marxism-Leninism, rejecting the faith of his Orthodox mother.

However, an indiscreet remark about Stalin in a letter he wrote during World War II, while serving as an artillery officer in East Prussia, dramatically changed his circumstances. He found himself interned in a concentration camp, a part of a vast system of camps which he rendered unforgettable through his book, The Gulag Archipelago.

It was in the Gulag itself that Solzhenitsyn came to his Christian faith. After undergoing urgent surgery for cancer, he was comforted one evening by a doctor who shared his conversion from Judaism to Christianity. The next morning Solzhenitsyn awoke to learn that the doctor had been attacked and murdered.

No one knows why, but his open Christian faith made him a target in the atheistic Soviet Union.

In any event, the incident was no coincidence to Alexander. He wrote in The Gulag Archipelago, “And so it happened that [the doctor’s] prophetic words were his last words on Earth. And, directed to me, they lay upon me as an inheritance. You cannot brush off that kind of inheritance by shrugging your shoulders.”

This new faith completely transformed Alexander’s understanding of his imprisonment, of human life and the universe:

“It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years” he said “…this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how (he becomes) good… Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties but right through every human heart. This line shifts. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bright bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil. I say without hesitation, ‘Bless you, prison, for having been in my life.’”

This story was all too common in the Soviet Union. People like Alexander Solzhenitsyn just wouldn’t get with the utopian program.

But they did get with God’s program.

And for that, both Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the faithful, unknown doctor who comforted him by sharing his Christian faith, and forfeited his life, are hereby nominated to The Great Cloud Of Witnesses, of whom the world is not worthy.

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