Christians and other cultural conservatives need to take a good look at basic income because it might achieve some of their long-term goals.
One of the greatest failings of American evangelism; and cultural conservativism in general, has been the failure to respond to modern capitalism’s systematic destruction of traditional culture and society. The modern market systematically undermines family life, communities of faith, churches, traditional values, and historic communities through the jobs culture.
An excellent example of the jobs culture’s onslaught on the family is the extinction of the single-breadwinner household. Two salaries are required to support a family in most American communities, which forces most women to work outside the home – even if they do not want to.
A couple starting a family these days is faced with one of two terrible choices if they want something like a traditional middle class lifestyle. Either one parent; usually the father, works himself to death, or both parents enter the jobs culture, and abandon their kids to the tender mercies of public education and daycare.
How Christians Ignore Economic reality
Christian conservatives ignore the economic reality that makes it impossible for most Christians to live the lifestyle they glorify. Many Christian leaders promote homeschooling; while ignoring the reality that most of the people in their congregations cannot afford to take the time off to homeschool.
When confronted with capitalism’s onslaught on family life and traditions, modern Christian thinkers behave in two destructive ways. They either deny the negative effects of the market, or respond to what is basically an economic attack on traditional family life with cultural weapons.
An example of this is the movement to revive or enforce Sunday closing laws. The vain hope behind such laws is that people will put down their smartphones and go to church – if the supermarket is closed on Sunday morning.
A more pathetic example is the seemingly endless battle against profanity or sex and violence in entertainment. The idea being that making television, movies, or videogames G-rated will somehow strengthen families.
Such efforts fail because traditional family life and communities in the United States are often economically unstainable. The church is crumbling because capitalism has destroyed the society and economy that supported it. Filling television with endless reruns of The Andy Griffith Show will not change that.
Can Basic Income Save Family Life?
A basic income can help many households enjoy a traditional family life by providing enough income so one parent does not have to work. The mother or father might be able to stay home, and even homeschool the children if a basic income of a few hundred dollars a month were available.
The traditional communities that are the most supportive of family life; such as small towns, often offer no jobs. If jobs do exist, they usually do not pay enough to support a family, or lack benefits like health insurance.
A basic income might allow many people to remain in or move to traditional small towns or rural areas. People with a basic income might be able to take time off from work to volunteer at church. A basic income might also allow more families to home school.
Basic Income and the Benedict Option
A popular topic in Christian intellectual circles these days is the creation of alternative communities of faith like Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option.
The sorry truth is that most Benedict Option communities will remain nothing but a dream, because most Christians simply cannot afford to join them. Only a tiny fraction of highly devoted; or affluent Christians, will be able to afford the Ben Op in our present economy. Lack of jobs will drive most families away from the Ben Op communities.
A basic income might allow large numbers of Christians to choose the Benedict Option. Several Christian families might be able to pool their basic income payments to finance a Ben Op community or a Christian school.
This brings us to one of the most interesting benefits of basic income. It would allow for a great deal of social and community innovation and exploration. Many more people would be able to create or experience alternative communities and lifestyles.
American Needs More Social Innovation
One of modern America’s greatest failings is the lack of social innovation. This contrasts starkly with earlier eras when Americans created all sorts of new communities ranging from Mormon cities to Hippie Communes.
Modern Americans that need to rely on jobs for income, have three dreary choices when they seek a community. They can choose a crowded and usually incredibly expensive urban neighborhood, move to the stagnant suburbs; and spend most of their time behind the wheel of a car, or move to small town and struggle to earn a living at $10 an hour.
The situation is made worse by the growing sameness of American communities. Visiting different neighborhoods; urban, rural, or suburban, one sees the same institutions; the same stores, megachurches, and schools. The social stagnation is bothersome, and frightening.
Critics like Dreher are right, more Americans need to break away from society and form alternative communities. The problem is that most Americans lack the economic freedom to make the break. A basic income might enable alternative communities and social experimentation by giving more Americans that freedom.
Christians and other conservatives need to rethink their mindless adherence to the jobs culture and start exploring alternative ideas like basic income. If they do not, the people of faith will see the market destroy everything they value.
A slightly different version of this story previously appeared at our Medium feed please visit – we need the hits.