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

ARE YOU A CHEERFUL TAXPAYER?

taxes.pngAre you a cheerful taxpayer? I am not, but I guess some people are. My last post, GOVERNMENT, LOVE, AND CHARITY, sparked a furious debate. Stephen is quite upset with my views, and Philip Augustine added his two cents. This comment from sort of surprised me.

Those in favor of originalism of the Constitution, Enlightenment philosophers, and the natural law that speak have created idols out of the founding documents, the men that created them, and the supposed “rights” which out of the Enlightenment as promoted the ideology of self-idolization in the form of “Individualism.” Of course, one can make the argument that relativism was birthed from the Protestant Reformation, given a pedestal during the Enlightenment, and now has led to secular atheism of Western Civilization as it’s logical conclusion. No doubt, my friend you will certainly disagree, but the statement must be stated regardless. (from here)

When someone disagrees with us, we all have a tendency to see that disagreement as a sign that the person who disagrees with us is somehow defective.  That, of course, should remind us that we are all sinners, that we need to focus on the issue, not the person.

What is the issue? Should government be in the wealth redistribution business? Various people say yes, and many, such as myself, say no. People of diverse religious persuasions are on both sides of the issue. Since I am a Christian, I, however, approach the ethical aspects of this issue from a Biblical perspective.  Unlike and , I see where the Bible charges us to be personally charitable, but I don’t see support for government charity.

tried to make the case. He cited various scriptures (here), but I think his vision tends to be selective.  Consider that he cited Proverbs 3:27-28, OJB, but he only quotes the first of the two verses. Here are both verses in a more readable translation.

Proverbs 3:27-28 English Standard Version (ESV)

27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
    when it is in your power to do it.

28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
    tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.

None of verses cited are anything except calls for personal charity or impartial judgement by judges.  Yet insists government must be charitable in our name. In fact, instead of saying God is love, says “God is charity”. Since charity and love do not mean the same things in our day, that’s flawed.  That is why modern translations say God is love.

Here is a verse that cited that I think we need to consider further.

1 Corinthians 10:24 English Standard Version (ESV)

24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

What is good for our neighbor? Should we try to run our neighbor’s life for him, because we know what is good for him? Isn’t that the objective of the welfare state? Are you willing, supposedly for the sake of your neighbor, to let politicians run your life? Count the cost first.

1 Samuel 8 tells the story of how Israel saddled itself with a king. Through the prophet Samuel, God told them it was an awful idea. So God had Samuel appoint a couple of kings for them. First, to show them the difference between seeing a man as he appears and seeing a man’s heart, God had Samuel anoint Saul and then David as king. Still, even with David, Israel suffered.  Every man is subject to the temptations of great power. David was. Even Solomon, the wisest of men, gave into many temptations. Perhaps the worst is that he led his people to worship vile idols.

Because of our history, we don’t truly know what it means to concentrate power in government. So let’s consider what most sermons on the most popular story about Solomon’s wisdom fail to mention.

Read the passage below. Imagine that you are the one the king has ordered to divide that child in two with a sword.

1 Kings 3:16-28 New King James Version (NKJV)

Solomon’s Wise Judgment

16 Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him. 17 And one woman said, “O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. 18 Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. 21 And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead. But when I had examined him in the morning, indeed, he was not my son whom I had borne.”

22 Then the other woman said, “No! But the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.”

And the first woman said, “No! But the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.”

Thus they spoke before the king.

23 And the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son, who lives, and your son is the dead one’; and the other says, ‘No! But your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” 24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.”

26 Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!”

But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.

27 So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.”

28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.

Was Solomon wise? Yes, but his trick to reveal which woman was the true mother worked only because those two women believed that the man Solomon had ordered to divide the child with a sword would obey the order.

Consider what Solomon advised with respect to obeying the king.

Ecclesiastes 8:2-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

Obedience to the King

Obey the king since you vowed to God that you would. Don’t try to avoid doing your duty, and don’t stand with those who plot evil, for the king can do whatever he wants. His command is backed by great power. No one can resist or question it. Those who obey him will not be punished. Those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right, for there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble.

Of course, if we are wise we avoid putting ourselves in a situation where we might be ordered to cut a baby in half. Yet those called to serve a king often have little choice in the matter.

Does the Bible say we should obey the king no matter what he orders? No. As Solomon observed in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, we must obey God’s commands above all. Sometime we must even become martyrs.

Consider how the power of government is expanding in our day.  Because of the welfare state, government provides for our health, education and welfare. Government decides who is treated, and who is not. Government decides what we learn. Government decides how much we earn. Because of government power, many unchristian notions that would have been immediately rejected just decades ago have become acceptable.

Imagine again. Once people accepted the idea that just because the king said so, a man had to cut a baby in half.  Is that the choice you would leave your children. What if a decade from now the law requires your child, a doctor or nurse, to participate in an abortion?

insanitybytes22 has a post that speaks about the nature of God’s justice, Riding Puking Bulls at the Alamo. Because we need the justice God has provided for us so much, ‘s post is well worth reading. It is worth considering. Is man capable of justice of that sort?

When a man has great power, when a man is a king, we hope the justice he provides will look like God’s justice. Yet no man is God. No man save Jesus ever saw what is in the heart of another. Hence, even King Solomon had to engage in trickery, trickery that left some poor fellow relieved he would not have to carry the memory of a baby he had cut in half with him for the rest of his days.

Because we are not God, we have different levels of justice. God works His perfect justice full of grace and mercy; He saves our souls. Our government, when we choose able rulers, works imperfect justice. Government maintains order by providing plain, ordinary justice. As individuals we do not provide justice in any legal sense. The best we can do is show our love for each other with grace and mercy. Even at the cost us our lives, the best we can do is just try to do what our Lord would have us do. Hence, when a king tells us to cut a baby in half, we must refuse.

THE JOY OF BEING TORMENTED?

cross.pngWhen Jesus spoke, He must have caused lots of confusion. Can you imagine trying to decipher The Beatitudes, this one, for example

Matthew 5:11-12 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus had yet to die on the cross. He only just begun to teach. He had performed miracles, but just who was He? Nevertheless, His followers soon saw the truth in His words. Christians did suffer for their faith in Jesus and still suffer from insults, persecution, and false accusations.

Here in the United States we are supposed to consider the persecution of Christianity a minor thing. Yet it is not. It is just more subtle.  So we get articles like this:

All this sort of talk is silly.  What is at issue is whether our we can fulfill our Christian obligations, whether the society we live in tries interfere with our duty to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

Consider two examples.

  • Do we want to educate our children in the Christian faith? Is it not obvious our government now hinders us in that effort. Over the decades, government has secularized our schools. They have practically banished the Bible, and they teach religion causes wars, including the Christian religion. Why would the leaders of our government do that? Christianity, which promotes individual rights, is an obstacle to the growth of government power, and some of our leaders crave more power.
  • Do we want the right to speak freely about our faith in public? Once that was commonplace in America, but over the years the mass media, desirous of selling sex and violence, has constantly pushed the envelope of decency. So it is that many corporate executives in the mass media, now dominated by sales people who want to use indecent behavior to mass market goods and services, feel obliged to repress Christians, who teach modesty, abhor gratuitous violence, and promote frugality.

Because sin is popular in all societies, even the United States, anyone who strives to follow the example of Jesus Christ will experience some degree of persecution. There is no point in pretending otherwise. The only issue is whether what we choose to do about it honors Jesus Christ.

FREDERIC BASTIAT ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GOOD AND A BAD ECONOMIST

Mankind's Eternal Dilemma: The Choice Between Virtue and Vice by Frans Francken the Younger depicts three choices: heaven, earth, and hell (from here)
Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma: The Choice Between Virtue and Vice by Frans Francken the Younger depicts three choices: heaven, earth, and hell (from here)

The American news media has a good business model. Suffering, sex, violence, and so forth attracts viewers, but is the news media’s business model good for us? When they show us suffering, what is the first thought of the news media and its too often mindless admirers? It is a crisis! The government has to do something!

Why the government? Well, it makes for a good story. The reporters can point their cameras at somebody and tell us what he is doing or not doing.

Is our government always supposed to do something? Why? When there is a problem, how far ahead does the news media look? Doesn’t the news media always gravitate to the next crisis? Do they actually give much thought to anything?

Consider Frédéric Bastiat‘s observation on the importance of foresight.

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause–it is seen. The others unfold in succession–they are not seen: it is well for us if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference–the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

In fact, it is the same in the science of health, arts, and in that of morals. If often happens, that the sweeter the first fruit of a habit is, the more bitter are the consequences. Take, for example, debauchery, idleness, prodigality. When, therefore, a man, absorbed in the effect which is seen, has not yet learned to discern those which are not seen, he gives way to fatal habits, not only by inclination, but by calculation.

This explains the fatally grievous condition of mankind. Ignorance surrounds its cradle: then its actions are determined by their first consequences, the only ones which, in its first stage, it can see. It is only in the long run that it learns to take account of the others. It has to learn this lesson from two very different masters–experience and foresight. Experience teaches effectually, but brutally. It makes us acquainted with all the effects of an action, by causing us to feel them; and we cannot fail to finish by knowing that fire burns, if we have burned ourselves. For this rough teacher, I should like, if possible, to substitute a more gentle one. I mean Foresight. (from here)

Over the last couple of centuries, our nation has accumulated many unjust laws. In each instance a large segment of the population conspired together to make “other people do the right thing”. In others words, some busybodies insisted upon making everyone else do things their way.

What has been the result? Here are some examples.

  • We have a public education system that worked at first. Then our leaders slowly stripped it of any religious content. Our knowledge of civics is also abysmal. Man on the street interviews have become a national joke.
  • Some time back too many of us started letting our leaders ignore the Constitution whenever we wanted what they promised. Now our president routinely issues executive orders everyone knows are unconstitutional.
  • We created the Fed to prevent bank runs. Now we have a fiat currency that steadily loses value, and our banking system gives everyone the shivers.
  • We passed the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. The income taxes that that amendment allowed were only supposed to affect the top one percent.
  • To allow the direct election of senators, we passed the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.  Now the Federal Government has more raw power than all the state governments combined. Perhaps a Convention of the States could change that. Perhaps.
  • Social Security once looked like a humane way to save the elderly from poverty. Now that costly system threatens to go bankrupt.
  • More and more our healthcare system, responsible for prolonging so many lives, is government-run. Such a system will almost certainly lead to rationing. Then we will die waiting in line to be treated.
  • We created a great safety-net to prevent the effects of poverty. Who anticipated those generous welfare programs would encourage greater social ills such as unwed motherhood?
  • In the name of civil rights, our great and glorious leaders decided to protect everyone’s “rights”. Now many think their “rights” are something “the man” owes them.

Earlier this year I wrote PART 4 FOR BOTH “HOW A POOR WIDOW ANSWERED HER CALLING” AND “GOVERNMENT-GIVEN RIGHTS VERSUS GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS”. That post included a section on The Seven Christian Virtues. That section describes how and why those who believe in government have worked to pervert the virtues of our people.

To have foresight is to be wise, and it is worth remembering that wisdom is something we each must learn. Our government cannot give us wisdom. It is also worth remembering that virtue is something we each must practice. Our government cannot be virtuous for us.