DEBATING THE ETHICAL FOUNDATION OF GOVERNMENT

Tony comments fairly frequently here. Why? Well, I suspect the fact he is my brother has something to do with it. As it happens, Tony and I do not agree about either religion or politics. Therefore, Tony generally takes issue with my posts, and this one, DAVID BROOKS LIKES RICK SANTORUM’S 21ST-CENTURY PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT?, was no exception.

Because I think many of the issues Tony addressed relevant, I have posted Tony’s comment below. To make it easy to reference the paragraphs, I have number them.

tony salmon says:

  1. This use of the Bible to justify every little thing that you want to believe to begin with reminds me of the old story of the young boy who shoots his gun at a wall, and then he proceeds to draw concentric circles around each of the scattered bullet holes. The boy wants everyone to believe that he is winning this strange game that he is playing with himself because the boy appears to have nailed a perfect bullseye with every single shot.
  2. Far be it from me to preach, but it seems to this sinner’s recollection that Jesus wanted us to find the Kingdom of God within ourselves. Scripture therefore makes for an ironic weapon to coerce some sort of sanctified Christoutopian dream for American politics and public policy. Sacred writings would seem to be better aimed at our own hearts. It’s hard to miss, you know that you have hit your target when love and compassion bleed out so there is little need to draw rings around it just to show how holely you are.
  3. Because of this corrosive misuse of the sacred here to, not just sacrilize one side of what should be just civil differences of opinion, but to also demonize the other side, I had decided not to be a party to this indecent dance anymore. However, I have kept tabs on your website brother, if for no other reason than to get a good feel for how far the extreme right flank of the Republican Party would stray afield before your center completely collapses. To my continuing amusement, a visit here never disappoints (although I must admit that the near tin foil hat level of crankiness often exhibited here makes me worry about you brother – all joking aside, you know that I do care about you Tom).
  4. However, I found myself intrigued by the recent civil, articulate and patient (even sensitive) exchange between Tom and Heather, at least until the positions hardened at the end. i have come to the conclusion that discourse rarely resolves disputes if the parties are uncompromising, but I was so impressed by the level of civility that I broke my silence here to add links to a couple of articles that I thought might provide some prospective on why these problems seem so entrenched.
  5. I was sort of amazed at the knee jerk reaction to the David Brooks piece. Brooks was not questioning Lin’s religious conviction, just thoughtfully pointing out an age old dilemma that all people of faith have shared since St Augustus, and that Lin admits to struggling with. However, the default reaction here was not just a theological disagreement between reasonable people, but to personally attack and vilify Brooks and without even realizing that you were committing a form of fratricide. Brooks is a CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN commentator who is considered pretty mainstream (a dirty word for you extremist folks these days I suppose). I don’t agree with Brooks a lot of the time, but I do find him to be highly intelligent and reasonable – I read his last book and it is extremely good. He doesn’t brandish his religious beliefs as a battering ram for his politics, but my impression is that he is very concerned about religion and morality, that he is even kind of spiritual.
  6. We are all good and decent people here even though we disagree. We are all better than this. Even though the purpose of these sorts of sites is as a continuing reaffirmation of our beliefs rather that to challenge anything, when we catch ourselves blatantly mischaracterizing, and even demonizing those even on our own side who do not meet some moving target of ideological purity that is rapidly shifting to the extreme, then maybe it’s time to take a breath before screaming the next slander,
  7. Anyway, life is too short and beautiful for the quixotic task of defending against your litany of conspiracies Tom. Obama is not Stalin, he is not Lenin, and he is not Trotsky either. The biggest issues facing our democracy today are levels of wealth disparity and unequal opportunity that we have not seen in this country since the Gilded Age that lead into the Great Depression. Get out of the echo chamber and read some authoritative books by thoughtful intellectuals on both sides of the debate (you know those dreaded “elites” that actually know what they are talking about) cause this demonizing stuff is just a smoke screen for the real problems.

Paragraph 1

There was a time Tony and I held many of the same opinions. Thus, I can sympathize with his point of view, but I no longer share it. The Truth is what it is. Neither of us own it. We can only gain knowledge of it. I just think Tony has less knowledge of the truth about religion and politics than I.

Note that Tony’s comment followed my comment here. At the end of that comment, I listed a bunch of lies. Thus, I thought Tony’s silly, funny little story ironic. That tale is something I could have used to illustrate the underlying goal of all those lies.

Consider that both the Obama administration and his supporters in the news media have done everything possible to make Obama look good. In the end, however, they have not succeeded. If Obama does win a second term, we all know it will be because he successfully trashed his opponent. Obama’s record is so bad he will not run on it.

Similarly, instead of actively promoting what he believes, Tony trashes my beliefs. Do I use of the Bible to justify every little thing that I want to believe? No. What I do is deny the right of our leaders to abuse us. God created us. We belong to Him. God gave us the Rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The Bible provides God’s endorsement of freedom of conscience (that is, freedom of religious belief and practice). In addition, Jesus made it quite clear that charity is a personal, not government, responsibility. Therefore, I think we have the right to ask the following question. What right do our leaders have to take the property of their fellow citizens and give it to someone else? What belief justifies such larceny? From each according to his ability? To each according to his need? That’s Marxism.

As a Christian, I want to help spread the Gospel. Just as the spread of the Gospel required an orderly society when Caesar ruled, we still require an orderly society to spread the Gospel today. So I prize government for the order it creates, but I have no use for a busybody government that interferes in everyone’s life.

Paragraph 2

We cannot find God within ourselves. We can stare at our navel until we return to dust and ashes, and we will never find God within us. God makes His home in us and directs our lives only when we ask Him to do so. We must love God and obey His commands. We must ask to enter and become part of His Kingdom. Because God is holy, it cannot be the other way around.

Paragraph 3

Here Tony suggests I have used what is sacred to demonize the other side. How so? When we state what is true — when we do not withhold the whole truth — then we cannot demonize anyone. We can only reveal the demon that is. Nonetheless, without asserting anything more specific than his alleged amusement, Tony asserts I demonized the other side. Why so many words when “Not true” would have said as much.

Paragraph 5

If someone tapped a knee with a rubber hammer, why would they be surprised by the reflexive response. The answer is that someone does not understand what is going on.

Here Tony asserts David Brooks is a Conservative. That is absurdly silly. To assert such a thing renders the Conservative label meaningless. Of course, when Liberals have already turned the meaning of so many words upside down (Liberal, gay, entitlement, rights….), why should anyone be surprised when such people do not respect meaning of the word “Conservative”.

Ironically, Tony’s own description of David Brooks would make most Conservatives suspicious of Brooks’ alleged Conservatism.

Anyway, anyone who doubts Brooks’ political alignment can read, A New Social Agenda, and The Jeremy Lin Problem provides Brooks assessment of The Jeremy Lin Problem.

Paragraph 6

We are not all good and decent people. Only God is good and decent. Only God is pure and holy. That was the whole point of creating a republic and writing a Constitution chalk full of checks and balances. None of us is good. That’s why the Founders never would have given Obama that power he has acquired. None of us can be trusted with that much power.

And that is the big difference between Tony and myself. I know I am a sinner, that none of us is good. Because I know I am a sinner, I don’t believe in Utopia. I believe that God created us and that only God can perfect us.

19 thoughts on “DEBATING THE ETHICAL FOUNDATION OF GOVERNMENT

  1. Russ – There is no use in letting Tony get under our skin. We are just dealing with a predictable aspect human nature. When we cannot win the argument and cannot stomach losing; we change the topic and annoy our opponent, hoping he does not notice our inability to reply appropriately.

    Tony – Communism and Fascism both utilize Socialist economic systems. Whereas the Fascists found it more convenient to own the owners of the economic infrastructure, the Communists chose to own the economic infrastructure directly.

    With the term Fundamentalism, I presume you are referring to a theocracy, trying to choose a term that somehow relates to Christian and Islamic Fundamentalism. As a practical matter, both the Communist and Fascist states were theocracies. All authoritarian and totalitarian states have to have some excuse for abusing the rights of the People. Muslims point to Allah, holding up the caliph as their intercessor with Allah. The Christian kings of the Middle Ages pointed to their divine right, insisting that they were God’s appointed leader. The Communists and the Nazis pointed to their magnificent Utopian visions for the proletariat and the master race respectively, each seeking to turn the state itself into an idol. Thus, we achieved a weird irony. The dear leaders of both Communist and Nazi regimes ruled as the supreme intercessors between the People and the so-called godless state.

    Is my vision of a Christian nation Utopian? Are we talking about appointing a Christian king and declaring that he has the divine right to rule? No. When Jesus comes again, He will announce Himself, and none will doubt His right to rule.

    Until the Kingdom of God does come, I have a modest vision I believe I share with the Founders of this nation. Yet what I want is not something either the Founders did or I could impose upon anyone else. In fact, it is the imposition of one’s personal desires upon another that I think is Utopian and wrong. Therefore, when I resist the efforts of those who voted for Obama to impose their Utopian dream upon this nation, I feel no hypocrisy.

    Anyway, I hope you have fun at work.

    To Barb, Tony, and Russ

    May our Lord bless each of us with his wisdom.

    Like

    1. Just wanted to point out one thing… In reality, there are many types of Christians in the world, and Christian theology can be divided along multiple “bright lines.” For instance, is salvation through some form of works, or all through grace? Are people elected before they are born because it’s God’s will, or because of God’s knowledge, or not at all?

      One of the various dividing lines is over Christianity’s relationship with the Government. How should Christianity, as a whole, relate to government? There is a school of Christianity (represented by the Quakers, for instance), that believes Christianity should have nothing –absolutely nothing– to do with the government. There is another school –dominism in its various flavors– that believes Christianity should be government. Here we find the Roman Catholic Church pre Vatican 2, for the most part –the Church should crown kings.

      There is another school that says government should be founded on Christian principles because these principles are the closest to the real situation we find ourselves in, and therefore are the most likely to actually produce a working society. Not a _perfect_ society, not a “Christian utopia,” just a _working_ society. The best humans can actually do given their fallen and imperfect nature.

      This just happens to be the school of Christianity I belong to (and the school I think Tom belongs to).

      I’m not trying to build “utopia” of any sort, because I don’t think such a thing can be built by humans. Communism, socialism, fascism, and even, in some forms, capitalism (specifically the versions that don’t admit God), are all trying to build a perfect utopian world. They do this by trying to correct what they see wrong in people. For instance –people don’t always care for the poor in their midst. Socialism tries to solve this by forcing them to care.

      The school of Christianity I live in says, “you can’t force people to care –you’re just going to make things worse!” Socialists and communist reply, “humans are plastic, infinitely bendable to the will of the state.” In other words, “I can make people take action, even if I can’t make them care!”

      So in the real war, the Christians where I live aren’t on the side of the “utopians.” We’re on the side of those who believe there is a limited amount the government can do, and that limit, in reality, is rather small. That when you step over the line a little, you wind up stepping over the line all the way, simply because you must in order to support the little point at which you’ve already stepped over the line.

      Take, for instance, the government’s statement that you must be able to unionize. Simple enough, right? Well, now that the government has declared it a “right” to unionize, someone has to control the conditions under which a union must be form. Those rules, as a matter of course, can be gamed, so they must be made ever more complex to cover situations no-one ever thought of, and must be enforced. This one rule –that everyone has the right to unionize– must be defended and upheld by a forest of rules, each of which must be enforced. Each of these must, in turn, by supported by another forest of rules, each of these which must be enforced. Thus the government creeps from a single idea to the point of telling companies and employees everything they may, and may not, do.

      If you believe you can make society a “little better” with a “little utopianism (socialism),” then you will easily slide to “I can make society a lot better with a lot of utopianism.” Unless you can identify the specific line you won’t cross, and the specific reason you wont’ cross it (other than “no reasonable person would go there,” because people aren’t reasonable), then don’t go down that path in the first place.

      There is no “little” government without a lot of humility about what our limits are as humans. The problem with socialism and communism is they don’t believe we have limits as humans. In Christianity, particularly among creationists, we believe humans have limitations, and we know what those limitations are.

      Russ

      P.S. Tom –: Tony hasn’t “gotten under my skin.” That’s what he wants, so that’s the one thing I won’t give him, no matter how hard he tries. 🙂

      Like

  2. As always –”You’re misrepresenting me! I’m going to spit out a lot of books to read, and then run off while saying a lot of stuff that makes me sound really, really smart.” Your presumption that no-one else has read what you’ve read, and that therefore you know what no-one knows –that everyone else is flat out ignorant or they would believe what you believe– is, quite honestly, insulting.

    Now, if you want to have a conversation, do something other than tell me I’m ignorant and what books I should read to remedy the situation. Discussions start with something other than lists of books and assertions of intelligence.

    Discussions start with ideas.

    Don’t whine about not having a discussion until you’re willing to put your ideas –not the ideas of a thousand other people– _your_ ideas — on the table.

    Russ

    I don’t know what you have read or how smart you are Russ. You sound pretty smart, kind of obtuse but real smart. I don’t know enough to know one way or the other. If you feel threatened by the intellect or military service of others to the point of being insulted, then I can’t help you with that, but I never said you were ignorant.

    I was in Olongapo once in a bar with a copilot trying to drink a beer and decompress from a mission, but the prostitutes would not leave us alone. Because I live in fear of my wife, I was not biting, and neither was my shipmate. In a final attempt to bait us, they started saying “you gay, you no like girls.” Ultimately we just said, you got us, we’re gay, and they left us alone.

    I don’t know how smart I am Russ, but I am smart enough not to take the bait of being accused of thinking that I am smarter than anyone else so will just say that you got me Russ, I just think that I am a smarty pants.

    Now, I really do have to go. Talk to you later Tom.

    Like

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