When I get a particularly thoughtful comment, even when I disagree, I make an effort to highlight it. Because I think discussion healthy, I do my best to encourage it.
What follows is a comment with which I happen for the most part to agree. The comment came during a debate at this post, DEBATING THE ETHICAL FOUNDATION OF GOVERNMENT. Note that I corrected the misspelling of Dominionism, and I provided a link to Wikipedia for a definition.
Russ White says:
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 –Dominionism 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.
Note that the limited government Russ describes requires two things from each of us. The first is self restraint. When the use of the force of government cannot be morally justified, we must restrain ourselves from trying to use the government to get what we want done. The second involves the willingness to accept personal responsibility. We must each assess our personal gifts and voluntarily contribute the use of those gifts to the welfare of our fellows.
What is not required, however, is that we act solely as individuals. In fact, I believe God both wants us and designed us to work in fellowship with each other. Why do I believe this? We have an example. In the America that once was, Americans readily — without the force of government — took it upon themselves to work with others to satisfy the needs of their communities. Check out THE RIGHT OF FREE ASSOCIATION. Here I reference Alexis De Tocqueville, the author of that classic work, Democracy in America.
The spirit that Tocqueville described still exists in America, but we do need to revive and renew it.
P.S. – With respect to his comment, I have one minor point of disagreement with Russ. Whereas Russ identifies himself as Creationist, I do not. I will readily agree that God created us. Nonetheless, I have the same problem with Creationism that I have with the Theory of Evolution. Scientists have no way to test either theory.
Even if we take Genesis literally, we must remember that the Bible is not scientific treatise. God intended that the Bible could be understood by people without any scientific training. Hence, while the Bible makes it crystal clear that God created us and why, the Bible says little that addresses how God created us.
It would seem that the issue of civility is not something that you don’t care to indulge me in.
“profoundly ignorant self proclaimed ignorant busybody” pshaw!
I don’t get “burned up” by name calling bro – skin’s gotten pretty thick with age, but you got to do better than that. It would help if it were not so strangely redundant and it actually were at least a little funny, but instead it’s just a little lame. How bout comparing me to Stalin or Hitler, now that would demonstrate some true over-the-top zealotry to the cause.
You seem to not know the difference between just claiming not to know everything about everything and “willful ignorance”. Willful ignorance is when pride makes one think that they don’t have to actually know much in order to have an opinion on everything. For example, do you think that such silly derogatories really demean my admitted humble ignorance in many complex areas of knowledge or that it instead spreads the willful ignorance of the person resorting to demeaning another to make himself out to appear more knowledgeable than he is? Like I said such ignorance is a virus, but it can be contained if we chose not to be so contagious and willfully infect one another.
I’ll leave you to figure it out. Got a trip the next few days with some all nighters. You really worry me these days. You might consider not taking me, or yourself, so seriously. It’ll give you wrinkles and grey hair – whoops, too late. I’ll be thinking about you and check back sometime later.
“profoundly ignorant self proclaimed ignorant busybody” Snort!
If I was not serious, why would I have asked the question?
I guess you really have not thought about the problem. I suppose you are still too burned up about being called a profoundly ignorant self proclaimed ignorant busybody.
When I used that phrase, profoundly ignorant self proclaimed ignorant busybody, I did not laugh diabolically with malicious hysteria. I did not even smile with some enjoyment. I just wanted you to consider the problem associated with your ignorance — ignorance you openly and readily admitted. Here’s why. When we vote, we pick the “experts” who run our government. When we task our government — run by those “experts” — to do things about which we know very little, we ask those “experts” to do stupid things. Very stupid things.
I will finish the post I promised in a couple of days. Probably post it Sunday evening. I will expand upon this issue then.
“Given that you are so enormously ignorant, what makes you think you have the capacity to determine which self proclaimed experts we are suppose to trust?”
I did not answer this question because I did not think that you were serious. Once again, you are a scholar Tom. If you were writing a research paper, a dissertation or a treatise on a complex and profound topic, who would you trust to reference?
Sure experts disagree, sometimes vehemently, but if they really are considered credible authorities on a given topic, then they don’t just get to make stuff up. Wouldn’t you give an expert’s opinion more weight if he or she had more education, more experience and more acclaim in his/her field, if they referenced actual data, and if they made a more reasoned cogent argument? I’m not sure why this is even an issue. God provides knowledge in the form of grace in some areas, but God does not normally make one a neurosurgeon that way. It is rational to be skeptical even of which neurosurgeon that you get to crack open your brIan, but I would hope that you are not going to pick some uncredentialed visitor on your blog to perform that operation just because they affirmed your layman’s preconceptions on the subject.
“Now, after you already admitted you came to this blog just to amuse yourself by laughing at the expense of myself and my readers, you shifted to accusing me of helping you to coarsen the debate.”
You are stretching my words and meaning far beyond my original languag or intent and you hearing a meaning from them that is far more callouse than actually comes from me. If it helps, I am usually smiling with some enjoyment when we have these discussions, but I am not diabolically laughing with malicious hysteria. Do you really imagine me such a monster? When did I achieve this transformation in character in your mind?
Finally, if we vote we probably should have some interest in issues and the position of candidates and hopefully be modestly informed, but it is not a prerequisite. Because most people work hard for a living, being very informed on everything is somewhat of a luxury that few can afford. That is why we have representative government. That is what we and our representatives listen to experts.
Although there is a right, I must demure when you say that there is an “obligation” for us to share our beliefs and opinions, especially upon complex topics on which we have little or no authority of knowledge and expertise. Democracy is messy though, and I recognize that we need to know what our candidates think and to let them know our interests. There is also practical benefit in joining together with like minded individuals in order to protect those interests. Politics is not bean bag, and it is not a perfect system.
On the other hand, the issue that I am interested in is when should our ethical responsibilities temper what we have a perfect right to do? When does it go to far? When Is it wrong to wildly opinionate on a deep subject for which we have only shallow or no knowledge? At what point should it shock our conscience to hear (and even perpetuate) embellishments, exagerations, half truths, and even outright slanders and lies just because they come from our team? As strongly held and principled as we may think that our core opinions are, can they really be that solid if they cannot be challenged without an angry vicious response? Can the protection of what we believe is sacred ever justify judging, demonizing and castigating the character of our brothers and sisters for simply disagreeing? (When I think about this, I am always reminded that Jesus was crucified for heresy, for disagreeing with what the current religious establishment claimed was sacred).
I’m not pointing fingers here, Not at you Tom, or your blog or your contributors. It seems that we have all been guilty to some extent at some point. However, this appears to be getting increasingly more shrill and that worries me. I’m not asking that you or anyone’s faction unilaterally disarm. I’m just asking the question as to when such weapons only self inflict more damage to our souls than it hurts the opposition.
I would like to continue this discussion, but it seems that you are tired of it. I will take a look at your sights and leave your blog …, I was going to say “in peace”, but I’m not sure that that is the point. Let’s just say I will leave it more unanimous without my dissenting observations for a while. I’ll take a look at the sites you provide. Peace to you though brother.
Tony – We were discussing a topic. Considering the context and your own admissions, did I err in calling you profoundly ignorant self proclaimed ignorant busybody? Then why didn’t you answer the question?
Why did you change the subject?
Now, after you already admitted you came to this blog just to amuse yourself by laughing at the expense of myself and my readers, you shifted to accusing me of helping you to coarsen the debate. Sorry, when I have enough of my own to take to the foot of our savior’s cross, I do not see any reason to take on your guilt too.
If you want to know what this blog is about, please read this page.
Since my focus changes over time, I suppose I should update my about page. However, it is good enough for the moment. Instead, I will just point out what I wish most people thought obvious. As citizens of a great republic, we have both the right and the obligation to take an interest in public policy. That includes sharing our beliefs and opinions. What I do here is foster and participate in such discussions. I try not slam others just for expressing differing opinions.
If you are interested in learning from one of my sins, please read this post.
Sorry, I know that I should probably let this go, but I feel the need to add one more observation. I keep insisting that my attitude here is one of perplexity and concern, but you keep saying that it is accusatory. Perhaps it should seem to me that it is you that is calling me a liar.
Don’t you think that it is more than ironic that it has come to this point where we can’t even have a civil conversation about being civil to each other? 🙂
I also want to also point out that in my earlier post, I also never called you a liar. I simply and sincerely asked the question of how far should someone be allowed to go in castigating oposition, how much anger, hyperbole, exageration, or outright slander should be allowed before we consider it uncivil and call them on it. That is not calling you anything, that’s just asking honest question that should be of genuine concern to all of us.
You completely lost me. You don’t think that what I wrote aptly describes not only this blog, but most blogs? You really think that people come here to get a “wise, authoritative, methodically reasoned opinion on complex topics” in 500 words or less? You really consider yourself and others expert on all the topics that are expounded upon here? Other than a few stray ney sayers like me who wander into your blog now and then, you don’t really see the vast majority of the dialogue here as self affirming?
Honestly brother, I would never call you a liar, but if you really believe these things, I worry that you may be deluding yourself in some ways, including into believing that I am somehow meaning to challenge your integrity (which I have always looked up to) when I only think that I am just stating the obvious.
You have a fine blog here Tom. It does what blogs do, and I respect the work that you put into it. It gives opinions and some facts, and sometimes, rarely, the posts even rise to the level of manifestos.
But you are a scholar, Tom. Do you really believe that anything on blogs like this rises to the level of an authoritative, well researched, scholarly treatise that works through a methodically reasoned argument that fully analogizes and distinguishs both the supporting and opposing data of all the broad topics involved? It took more words for me to just say that than anyone would want to read on a blog. Do you genuinely believe that people should come to your blog in order to research and formulate the basis of their fundamental opinions on substantive fields such as morality, economics, government and law? Don’t you see how dangous it would be if they actually did, if they actually are?
Because the default reaction here seems to view my intent is to be insulting, I just want to emphasize that I am being absolutely sincere in this and that my interest is concern, not malice. Indeed, this reaction to sincere, objective disagreement should just confirm what I have just said about blogs. Simply because I am challenging you and your readers not to take the opinions on yours or any blog, including my opinion, more seriously than they should does not mean I am calling you a liar.
As you know, at one time my opinions were the Republican mainstream. I formed them through study and some meditation, and I have modified them the same way, but most of those opinions are essentially the same. The opinions in columns and blogs like yours sometimes challenge my opinions, and this serves to incite questions and ideas for further study, but shame on me and shame on you or anyone else here if they actually change a profoundly held belief just because of something that they read on a blog.
Unfortunately maybe that is exactly what has happened, and that is one reason why the the GOP has moved so far away from me to the extreme right. Below is a link to a David Brooks column that aptly describes this phenomenon. Please weigh Brooks’ opinon for what it is, just as we should weigh any column, like we should weigh the opinions this blog or any other.
Tony – A little while back you wrote this.
Now, without offering anything specific, you have just called me a liar.
Please correct me if I am reading you wrong. It sounds to me that what you are saying is that, because you believe so strongly in the riteousness of your political and religious ideology, then it is moral and ethical to act with uncivility, to react angrily and uncivilly. I don’t want to put words in your computer, but does that also mean that it is also ethical to shout exaggerations, half truths, unsubstantiated accusations and even outright lies at those who disagree with you and your riteous cause? Have you really become so dogmatic in your beliefs that this has become a holy war for you in which any and all slanders are not only fair, but sacred? Should every simple disagreement, every civil objection, to your dogmatic view incite an angry response? Do the ends of what you believe to be a holy cause justify such harsh means? Will even these questions (which are not meant with any malice, but rather no small concern) illicit a defiant and angry response? I sincerely hope not.
Because you asked, I have read back through my exchange with Russ. Never once was anything that I wrote designed to illicit an angry response (I’ll admit to some colorfull metaphors, the use if irony and wry humor sometimes perhaps), but I instead tried to rationly impeach his underlying reasoning, his argument and the intellectual authority of his point of view, not him as a person, not his character. I don’t know him personally, but my guess is that he is a decent person. I Was continuously amazed at Russ’s emotional attachment to his opinions and his caustic responses where It seemed important to attack me personally or to “pigeon hole” me (as you like put it) into some category of the enemy so that I could be dismissed. But I am the one to be ashamed and considered intolerant because he was angry? It seems, if I am reading you correctly, that as long as I disagree with Russ’s position, no matter how reasonable the manner, Russ (and you I suppose) should see it as a challenge to your core principles and therefore will always react as if personally insulted?
Does that mean that the only practical purpose of your blog is as an Internet pep rally to incite your team to the holy war against the ideological nonbelievers, and reasonable objection will always be treated rudely, like you would treat someone who heckles your team coach or even your preacher? And if that is the case, would you prefer that I not post anymore because the static is hurting your team vibe?
The odd thing here is that, notwithstanding your strong feelings about getting rid of public education (which I never even discussed here), you and I seem to agree that as long as it is presented as a scientic “theory”, rather than some religious dogma, Evolution Theory is indeed a “scientific” theory. (By the way, as a scientific theory, I never said that Evolution has been nor am I sure it even could be “proven” – as a scientific theory, it could only be falsified or corroborated by scientific methodology to the point of being increasingly accepted, but it could never be completely proven). Don’t you think that therefore, no matter where you educated your children, you would do your age appropriate charges a disservice if they were not taught a leading theory in the scientific world? Basically that is essentially all that I was telling Russ, but when I challenge what has become a religious dogma to him, I am being mean and Russ is entitled to feel harmed and respond angrily?
If you indeed determine to take up this topic further or to argue that Creationism is not science, I imagine that you will fair better, but don’t you fear that, if any challenge to this sacred ideology should meet an angry response, then eventually your side must continually shrink, eventually even you could be thrown out of your camp for such heresy, kind of like how southern gospel churches are always getting theologically mad at each other and splitting to form another church down the road?
Personally, I think that, like me, the majority of Americans are starting to tire of the noisy rhetoric. The problem is that, very often, nations are destabilized and taken over by angry and highly motivated ideological minorities. I can only hope that the center is beginning to once again hold here.
I am concerned and curious about your answers to all this.
Tony – Thank you for the peace offering. I will happily accept that. The rest of it? No.
Is there a problem with civility? Perhaps, but the problem with civility actually has relatively little to do with rhetoric and almost nothing to do with Obama. The Federal Government does things. State governments do things. And local governments do things. And what they are doing is way too much. Because our government has exceeded the bounds of its authority, our government has become a problem. What our government has become is too costly to our liberties and our property.
Look again at the subject we just debated. Consider it as just one very minor example. What did you do when Russ adamantly defended his religious belief? How did you treat him? What did you expect him to become angry about? And how did you defend The Theory of Evolution? Supposedly, The Theory of Evolution is science. With the help of government, do you have the right and obligation to make certain the children of your fellow citizens learn this science? Why, and why would you expect the people who object not to be angry and to object angrily?
Anyway, I need to get on with my post.