WHAT IS THE POINT OF LIMITED AND SECULAR GOVERNMENT?

Christ among the doctors by Cima da Conegliano, 1504. (from here)
Christ among the doctors (Luke 2:41-50) by Cima da Conegliano, 1504. (from here)

I’ve never understood how God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion by faith — it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe. — Robert A. Heinlein, in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) (from here)

Should we be able to select the one true religion? I think so, but I don’t think it is just a matter of faith. I do, however, think making the choice requires reasoning we find difficult.

  • We must admit we need God, not an idol of our own making, but our Creator. That requires humility.
  • We must believe our reasoning is sufficient to know God and that God wants us to know Him. We need that belief to give us hope.
  • We must have the courage live by our choice. That’s why faith is required. To exercise the courage to live by the choice our reasoning dictates, we must have faith in God.
  • Most of all we must believe God loves us, and we can love Him.

Still, we make such a large variety of religious choices that that quote above from Heinlein seems to prove something, but what? I expect it shows how much we need God. Without our Creator’s help, we do not make good choices. We do not make good choices about much of anything.

That’s what makes America so remarkable. Ours has for the most part been a happy, productive, and prosperous land because for the most part Americans have made good choices, far from perfect, but generally good.

Why good choices? Consider that the Bible contains wisdom revealed by our Creator. Until we choose to read the Bible and strive to understand it, we cannot know how much our Maker loves us.

Americans once cherished the Bible. They actually read it.

Why did Americans care about the Bible. America is a product of the Protestant Reformation, the lessons from bloody wars in Europe, and the English Enlightenment.  Our notions about classical liberalism and freedom of religion in particular come from those experiences.

  • The Protestant Reformation cracked the intercessory control of the Roman Catholic Church between man and God.  Prior to the Reformation, most of Europe accepted the Catholic clergy’s claim to speak for God. Subsequent to the Reformation, many Protestants believed they need no intercessor except Jesus.
  • The Protestant Reformation resulted in the multiplication of Christian sects and violent disputes over articles of faith. Therefore, in addition to the usual excesses that set off European wars, men fought and persecuted each other over their religious differences
  • The Protestant Reformation also resulted in the opportunity for people to study the Bible in their own languages. In fact, we can attribute both the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment in particular to the invention of the printing press. When people studied the Bible, the Word of God, for themselves, they could not find a command from Christ Jesus to spread the Gospel by force. Instead, many agreed that Jesus commanded His disciples to forgo violence and love their enemies.

Who settled America? Some came to America for riches and glory, but more came just for the hope they could live as they chose. Pilgrims, Puritans, Catholics, Quakers and others came so they could practice their religious beliefs in peace. Others came to just avoid debtors prisons.  Still, those who came were generally Christians, just different kinds of Christians. In the vast land of America, these different kinds Christians separated themselves into different communities, focused on their local governments, and experimented in new ways of governing.

Eventually, the American colonists tired of the rule of a faraway tyrannical king. Eventually, the American colonists decided that self-defense and the regulation of commerce required a federal government, but what kind of government? What would be the proper goals of an American government? To answer those questions, the American colonials considered the fruit of their experiments and turned to a political ideology we now call Classical Liberalism.

Classical liberalism is a political ideology that values the freedom of individuals — including the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and markets — as well as limited government. (continued here)

Why a limited government that values individual freedom? Because they had diverse societies, the American colonials did not share exactly the same beliefs or  worldview. That is, they had limited set of shared values. Therefore, particularly with respect to the Federal Government, the colonials thought it best to limited the scope of government powers. Even then, because they feared Federal powers would be abused, the colonials insisted upon a Bill of Rights.

Consider the first words of the First Amendment.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Because we are are Christian nation, we have some shared values, but we also have huge differences. What is Christianity? Some people — not all — say Christianity is what the Bible says it is.  However, the Bible is a large work. So even Christians who uphold the Bible as the inerrant Word of God emphasize different parts. Therefore, we have a problem we don’t know how to solve. Who has the wisdom to decide  for everyone else what God would have us do?  Hence, the First Amendment says religion is a matter the Federal Government should leave to the states and the people.

Because of the First Amendment, we now have something that prior to the rise of the United States as a world power was almost unheard of, a secular state. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans did not want the government to establish a religion or to interfere in the free exercise of religion (see Establishment of Religion and Free Exercise of Religion at heritage.org).

Unfortunately, the freedom of religion clause in the Constitution no longer works quite the way the framers of the Constitution intended. That’s because:

  • We no longer have a limited government. When the government has so much power, power mad politicians and the religious sects they represent find it tempting to impose their own beliefs.  Currently, various manifestations of Human Secularism have combined to pose the greatest threat to religious freedom. Thus, the budget for health, education, and welfare programs has exploded, and Christians, even though the Bible says no such thing, are suppose to support health, education, and welfare programs because its what Jesus would do.
  • The 14th Amendment requires the application of the Bill of Rights to state governments. As originally envisioned, all the Bill of Rights did was keep the Federal Government from sticking its nose where it did not belong. The 14th Amendment, however, allows the Federal Government to impose “religious freedom” upon the states. That added complexity has made it possible for Human Secularists to twist the law. So now many insist we equate the free exercise of religion with freedom of worship. That is, to keep the freedom from religion people happy, we are supposed keep our religion to ourselves and let the state indoctrinate our children in various “isms” including Human Secularism. Then we are supposed to loudly proclaim we still live in the land of the free.

There is an old bit of wisdom any good doctor knows.

Do no harm. — (contracted form of the Hippocratic oath, from here)

When we try to engineer our society to “fix” it, we are effectively trying to heal other people (if our motives are good). The problem is that the operation of a society is quite complex, and we are not qualified to play God. Hence, we must respect the right of our fellow citizens to make decisions that more appropriately belong to them. That’s why for any people who want to remain free limited government is not optional.

Other Views

HOW DID WE GET FROM HERE TO THERE?

puzzledComment threads can wind and twist. So regardless of the topic, there is no telling where they may go.  Hence my comments on Bible Hub by insanitybytes22 eventually produced this comment.

  •   David said:                                                        January 1, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    So there might be research dollars to all districts. Is this suprising or a sign of something nefarious? Who cares? What matters is who does the research, that is, how good are the scientists at the facilities. Are they doing good science? Politicians do not determine who gets an NSF or NIH or NASA grant (yes, NASA awards grants to university researchers). So, much of your concerns about politicians and research grants are unfounded and uninformed.

    Yes, the position that you have taken is an extreme one. The fact that there are private schools or that private industry conducts research is not particularly relevant to the question of whether or not the position of zero federal dollars for education or for biomedical research is an extreme one. This is not just a matter of my “private goals.” We’re talking about the hopes and goals of millions.

    Yes, there are private schools. Can everyone afford to send their children to them, especially when we are talking about universities? Historically, how did the introduction of public schools at every level change the percentage of Americans who were able to get X number of years of education? What percentage of the population recieved a college education in the days when most of the colleges were private or when there was no federal support in the form of grants and loans? How has expanding educational opportunities benefited individual Americans and the country as a whole? I understand that you don’t wish to be enslaved, but maybe a little enslavement is not such a bad idea when you consider the benefits.

    And here’s a dirty little secret. Private colleges and universities receive huge amounts of federal support, both direct and indirect. For example, scientists at private university compete for the same research dollars as those at public universities. Federal dollars enable colleges and universities to offer a lower tuition rate to poorer students. In practice, there are no private universities.

    Yes, private industry does research. But private companies are severely constrained by the need to turn a profit. In addition, the discoveries of scientist working in private industry are private or proprietary. This is not good for science. And where and how do you suppose the scientist in private industry get their initial training as scientists? Guess. Further, there is no way that the private sector can match the amount of money that is provided by federal sources for research. No chance.

    Bottom line, in any many areas, the federal government really can do much more than the private sector. But then again, I don’t want to be enslaving you.

    Not trying to bludgeon anyone with my father’s dead body. Just trying to remind you that there real human beings who genuinely benefit when we are not wedded to purity. (And he’d be happy to be disturbed just to have a chance to chat with you.)

What are and I debating that causes us to fling so much sarcasm back and forth? Several years ago I wrote WHAT IS JUST ENOUGH GOVERNMENT? The topic of that old post, I think, is the subject of our debate.

It seems that David would like to believe that I am some kind of selfish, ignorant hog who doesn’t want to pay his fair share of taxes. However, as Milton Friedman points out in the video in WHAT IS JUST ENOUGH GOVERNMENT?, there is a good reason politicians and civil servants waste our money. They are spending somebody else’s money on someone else.

When politicians tax us and spend our money, they deprive us of the opportunity to use resources that belong to us — that we earned — for our own designs. Human nature, being what it is, drives them to remake the world into what they think it ought to be. Hence, politicians seize every opportunity to spend all they can, including other people’s money, to suit themselves and their designs. Thus, even those monies that politicians ostensibly acquired for one purpose, to build roads, for example, can find their way into unrelated social engineering schemes, health, education, and welfare programs.

Of course, those scheming politicians will have lots of help. They can always count upon needy and politically active government union workers who want all they can get of that big pile of other people’ money to fund their programs.

The mere existence of the public education system exemplifies the magnitude of the lust for power and money. If the public funding of education were just about the children, then we would just give the parents of poor children education vouchers. Then those parents could send their children to a decent school of their own choice. Instead, because our rulers insist upon having control, we have government-run schools, expensive schools that at best instill knowledge without wisdom. At worst, public schools instill beliefs in children contrary to those of their parents, clearly a violation of the freedom of religion and parental rights.

Anyway, as I tried to point out to , I don’t think this debate should be about me or about ‘s father. I also don’t think this debate should be about the poor, the needy, the children, the aged, the endless hopes of dreamers and so forth.  What is important is what is good for our country.  As that old post explains, WHAT IS JUST ENOUGH GOVERNMENT?, we all need a good government. Because everyone suffers horribly under a bad government, good government is just too important to jeopardize by using it to redistribute the wealth.

When we put a huge pile of money in front of our leaders and ourselves — when we try to use the Federal treasury as a piggy bank to fund our personal dreams — we don’t realize our dreams. We just fight and claw over a big pile of money, and who gets that money? Ironically, it is those who need it least. As points out, for example.

And here’s a dirty little secret. Private colleges and universities receive huge amounts of federal support, both direct and indirect. For example, scientists at private university compete for the same research dollars as those at public universities. Federal dollars enable colleges and universities to offer a lower tuition rate to poorer students. In practice, there are no private universities.

Our great private colleges, the Ivy League universities, had their beginnings as seminaries. Over the years those schools have become some of the most secularized institutions in the world. Why? Well, they do get lots and lots of government funding. Would government funding of our education system have anything to do with their increasing disinterest in Jesus’ Great Commission? Doesn’t power corrupt?

Doesn’t greed corrupt? Look at that last election. Did our leaders strive to unite us, or did they pit us against each other any way they could?  When the votes were counted, did they — did we — show we want what is best for our people, or did we just prove how much we want and want and want…..

When we vote, it is our own motives that matter most, not the candidate’s or the other party’s. “Why am I voting for this candidate? Is it about my pocketbook or my country? What is my interest in that big, huge pile of taxpayer monies?”

 

THE TRADE-OFFS WE MAKE WITH GOVERNMENT

A Grand Prix motorcyclist leaning in a turn (from here)
A Grand Prix motorcyclist leaning in a turn (from here)

In my last post, 2016 POST ELECTION STRATEGY AND TACTICS – PART 2, we considered the problem of controlling government from a religious perspective. Here we will look at the problem of government from a technical perceptive. That is, what are the basic things that government does that can get out of control? Since this subject has already been addressed numerous times by better authors, I will just refer you to one of them. Here is an excellent summation from Ken Cuccinelli.

We are all familiar with the law of gravity. It is a law of nature, and thankfully, the law of gravity is not considered to be open to debate.

There are other laws of nature — immutable truths that cannot be avoided but that are not as well known.

Among these is the principle that when a government derives its power from the people, such as in a constitutional republic like the United States, every expansion in the role and power of the government automatically results in a reduction in the power and freedom of the people. This law of liberty is as unavoidable as the law of gravity.

There are three ways that government increases its power: raising taxes, increasing spending, and creating more regulation.

It’s easy to see how taxes increase government power and reduce our freedom. The more of our earnings the government takes from us for its own purposes, the less we have left to spend on ourselves and our families, and the fewer choices we have in our lives. Fewer choices means less liberty.

Because the federal government’s spending is not tied to its taxing power (it historically spends more than it collects), spending is not directly related to taxes.

Therefore, the more things our government attempts to do — i.e., the more money it spends — the less there is for us to do. This crowding out of citizens means less freedom for them.

The third part in the law of liberty is perhaps even more nefarious, because it tends to be subtler. More regulations means the government is ordering us to do something or restricting us from what we are otherwise allowed to do. (continued here)

Why the picture of the motorcycle? Whenever we do anything, we have to make trade-offs. When a motorcyclist takes a turn, he must anticipate the trade-offs. He can lean into the turn to compensate for the fact that turning increases the forces throwing him outward, but how much he can lean into the turn depends upon the his tires and the friction provided by the road surface. That means the faster he goes the greater the risk of slipping and sliding. Therefore, the motorcyclist seeks an optimum speed, one that allows him to win without sliding out of control.

As Cuccinelli observed, increased taxes, increased spending, and increased regulation forces us to make trade-offs. Where is the optimum? How much should our government tax us? How much should our government spend? Where should we draw the line and say we have enough regulations? Since government uses force or the threat of force to collect taxes, spend our money, and regulate us, I think the answer is a moral one, not just a technical one.

When we call government taxation, spending, and regulation moral issues, what does that mean in practice? It means we must make certain we know exactly what it is that we need our government to do and why government must do it instead of public-spirited, charitable private entities. Is what we want the government to do actually worth throwing some of our neighbors in jail?

WITHOUT HONOR THERE CAN BE NO PEACE

preamble to the constitutionThere are two ways of looking at honor with respect to peace.  Pride drives us to say no peace without honor.  In other words, unless our opponent offers conditions that guarantee our self-respect, we won’t quite fighting.  That’s a frivolous way of looking at honor.

The second way of looking at honor with respect to peace has to do with honor as a virtue. How is honor a virtue? Well, there is some ambiguity in that matter.

Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), defined honour as having several senses, the first of which was “nobility of soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness.” This sort of honour derives from the perceived virtuous conduct and personal integrity of the person endowed with it. On the other hand, Johnson also defined honour in relationship to “reputation” and “fame”; to “privileges of rank or birth”, and as “respect” of the kind which “places an individual socially and determines his right to precedence.” This sort of honour is not so much a function of moral or ethical excellence, as it is a consequence of power. Finally, with respect to sexuality, honour has traditionally been associated with (or identical to) “chastity” or “virginity”, or in case of married men and women, “fidelity”. Some have argued that honour should be seen more as a rhetoric, or set of possible actions, than as a code. (from here)

In our society rank still exists. So people with power, because of their pride, still demand honor. For the most part, however, we expect people to earn honor by gaining a reputation for virtuous conduct and personal integrity. At least, that’s the theory. Nevertheless, we still honor the powerful. Why? Some among us do fear the powerful, but the more serious issue is that we no longer share a common code of honor. Instead of honoring virtuous conduct and integrity, many of us will just as happily honor power, wealth, and fame.

Western Civilization once shared a common ethical system based upon the Bible. Most people of European descent understood the Bible to be literally true, and they believed all of the Bible was the word of God. During the Protestant Reformation, if anything, such sentiments about the Bible grew even stronger.  However, the Protestant Reformation also set in motion an opposite trend. Instead of the Roman Catholic clergy being the sole interpreters of the faith, Protestantism made it possible for anyone to decide for themselves the meaning of Bible. In fact, these days we can decide what the Bible means without having ever read it. Hence, Western Civilization’s shared code of honor (or ethics) is slowly dissolving into gibberish.

Consider an obvious controversy.  The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as a sin. Nevertheless, many mainstream Christian churches don’t have a problem with same-sex marriage. Is there any practical way to condone homosexuality based upon what the Bible actually says? No, but once we decide feelings matter more than the truth what the Bible actually says does not matter. We can be a Christian and even say the Bible says homosexuality is okay.

How does this sort of integrity relate to peace? Virtuous conduct, especially as it relates to integrity, requires an unwavering respect for the truth. Otherwise, peace is logically impossible because we cannot work out and maintain the compromises that make peace possible.

Consider what a compromise involves. People meet. They discuss their objectives and their differences. Then they reach an agreement that sorts out their objectives and their differences so that each party to the agreement gets most of what wants at the cost of some objectives it cedes to the other parties.

What is the key to a successful compromise? Well, good negotiators help, but the main ingredient is usually honor (that is, a high degree of integrity). Each of the parties to a compromise has to be willing to honor the agreement as written.

The Constitution, for example, is a compromise. Because of the compromises it contains, the Constitution allowed the 13 original colonies, each a small country with its own interests, to come together as a federation.  The Constitution worked because most of the citizens of each of the colonies fully expected their leaders to abide by the document as written.

Unfortunately, the integrity of our people is not exactly what it use to be. Now many of our leaders regard the Constitution as a Living Constitution.

In United States constitutional interpretation, the Living Constitution (or loose constructionism) is the claim that the Constitution has a dynamic meaning or that it has the properties of an animate being in the sense that it changes. The idea is associated with views that contemporaneous society should be taken into account when interpreting key constitutional phrases. (from here)

What is the problem with a Living Constitution? If the compromises in the Constitution are “living compromises”, then what are the compromises? Why would anyone want to be party to a compromise that can be arbitrarily changed by the “other side”? What good does it even do to put agreement on paper if after a period of time the agreement can be arbitrarily changed by unelected judges?

We can discuss how we think the Constitution has changed, but all we can know is what something in the Constitution meant the last time the Supreme Court issued a ruling. Tomorrow? Who knows? Yesterday? Well, it seems history is just so beyond us. Only highfalutin experts can rightfully have an opinion, but consider these examples. Before the Supreme Court’s decisions related Social Security, Obamacare, or to same sex “marriage”, would any of those things have been legal? Were they legal in the several decades before each suddenly became legal? Was the Constitution actually changed to make them legal?

Let me close this post with one last observation. In a very real sense, our Constitution is a peace treaty. Search The Federalist Papers for the word “peace” and you will get 175 hits. Sometimes the writers spoke of the need for a Constitution to maintain peace with other nations. Each colony on its own was too weak to easily defend itself. Often, however, the writers also worried the colonies would fight among themselves, and they were right. Because they could not agree about the issue of slavery, in spite of the Constitution there was war between the states.

What we honor matters.