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.

GOVERNMENT, LOVE, AND CHARITY

Charity without love is not charitable.
Charity without love is not charitable.

When I got this comment, I got sort of irked. He should know better.

Stephen
I see the irony was lost on you. I am of the opinion that “toughness” is only valued if it comes from your own side and “straight talk” is only applauded by liberals when it conforms to their orthodoxy. As such, whenever I point out to red progressives such as yourself that the ultimate example of human excellence was a submission and not some Alamo, then it is usually met with the criticism that I do not understand something. How ‘tough leadership’ such as shutting down government services for a period of time to make a petulant point at the expense of impoverished families can be synonymous with or derived from wisdom is frankly an insult to the cross. For example, when God stood in the congregation of the gods, he did not say, “Cut taxes because it will eventually help the poor.” Instead he said, “Judge for the poor man and the needy; do just to the humble and the pauper.”
January 2, 2017 at 10:45 am

I can handle disagreements, but I don’t see much point in tolerating foolish misrepresentations of the Bible. ‘s application of “Judge for the poor man and the needy; do just to the humble and the pauper” is just plain wrong.  I am not certain which translation he is using, but the verse comes from here.

Psalm 82 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Unjust Judgments Rebuked. A Psalm of Asaph.

82 God takes His stand in His own congregation;
He judges in the midst of the rulers.
How long will you judge unjustly
And show partiality to the wicked? Selah.
Vindicate the weak and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy;
Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.

They do not know nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are sons of the Most High.
“Nevertheless you will die like men
And fall like any one of the princes.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth!
For it is You who possesses all the nations.

picked out portions of verses 3 and 4.  He ignored the fact that Psalm 82 speaks to the responsibility that rulers have to impartially judge disputes. No where does the Bible make government responsible for charity. Why? Government is responsible for justice. Even if government-run programs for redistributing the wealth were just, putting the government in charge of redistributing our wealth is not compatible with its responsibility to protect our property rights.  Hence We the People must be responsible for loving each other and for charity.

So why are people so easily confused about this? Well, take a gander at 1 Corinthians 13, perhaps the Bible’s most famous passage about love.  Whereas older translations of the Bible (GNV, KJV, AKJV, DRA, and WYC) use the word charity, more recent translations (NASB, NKJV, MSG, NIV and NRSV) use the word love instead of charity.

Here is the reason why.

charity (n.)Look up charity at Dictionary.commid-12c., “benevolence for the poor,” from Old French charité “(Christian) charity, mercy, compassion; alms; charitable foundation” (12c., Old North French carité), from Latin caritatem (nominative caritas) “costliness, esteem, affection” (in Vulgate often used as translation of Greek agape “love” — especially Christian love of fellow man — perhaps to avoid the sexual suggestion of Latin amor), from carus “dear, valued,” from PIE *karo-, from root *ka- “to like, desire” (see whore (n.)).

Vulgate also sometimes translated agape by Latin dilectio, noun of action from diligere “to esteem highly, to love” (see diligence).

Wyclif and the Rhemish version regularly rendered the Vulgate dilectio by ‘love,’ caritas by ‘charity.’ But the 16th c. Eng. versions from Tindale to 1611, while rendering agape sometimes ‘love,’ sometimes ‘charity,’ did not follow the dilectio and caritas of the Vulgate, but used ‘love’ more often (about 86 times), confining ‘charity’ to 26 passages in the Pauline and certain of the Catholic Epistles (not in I John), and the Apocalypse …. In the Revised Version 1881, ‘love’ has been substituted in all these instances, so that it now stands as the uniform rendering of agape. [OED]

Sense of “charitable foundation or institution” in English attested by 1690s.

Because words change their meaning over time, we have to be careful of their usage. As noted, “agape” is from Greek, and it is the most noble form of love. Perhaps it is the best word we have to describe how Jesus loves us. Any notion that the government might love us that way is just absurd.

Because charity without love is a bribe, that is why charity without love is not charitable.  That is why those who can cheerfully give what we today call charity must love the poor and needy enough to part with both their time and their money.

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?”