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

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?

A READING RECOMMENDATION ON THE ELECTION

vote for americaYesterday I got an email from Delegate Bob Marshall that included a reading recommendation. The subject of Marshall’s email was : America’s Moral Status, November 8th.  Here is what Marshall had to say.

Dear Friends,

Please read this very profound article by Reverend George Rutler and share with friends who may not vote on November 8th.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Delegate Bob Marshall

Here is how Reverend George Rutler’s article begins.

On the Election

Exactly eight years ago I wrote a column titled “The One We Were Waiting For” in which I referred to a book by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, The Lord of the World. That dystopian novel has been cited by Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis said he has read it several times. The protagonist, if one can apply that term to an Anti-Christ, imposed a new world religion with Man himself as god.  His one foe was Christianity, which he thwarted in part by using “compromised Catholics and compliant priests to persuade timid Catholics.

Since then, that program has been realized in our time, to an extent beyond the warnings of the most dire pessimists. Our federal government has intimidated religious orders and churches, challenging religious freedom. The institution of the family has been re-defined, and sexual identity has been Gnosticized to the point of mocking biology. Assisted suicide is spreading, abortions since 1973 have reached a total equal to the population of Italy, and sexually transmitted diseases are at a record high. Objective journalism has died, justice has been corrupted, racial bitterness ruins cities, entertainment is degraded, knowledge of the liberal arts spirals downwards, and authentically Catholic universities have all but vanished. A weak and confused foreign policy has encouraged aggressor nations and terrorism, while metastasized immigration is destroying remnant western cultures, and genocide is slaughtering Christian populations. The cynical promise of economic prosperity is mocked by the lowest rate of labor participation in forty years, an unprecedented number of people on food stamps and welfare assistance, and the largest disparity in wealth in over a century. (continued here)

What the Reverend Rutler goes on to say is that we have a choice on Tuesday, and one of the choices is evil. We have a duty to vote and oppose that evil.

WHAT IS GOVERNMENT?

The daisy chain is a pretty thing children love, but its method of construction features flower stem after flower stem passing through flower stem after flower stem until flower has been pointlessly damaged for the sake of another. (from here)
The daisy chain is a pretty thing children love, but its method of construction features flower stem after flower stem passing through flower stem after flower stem until each flower has been pointlessly damaged for the sake of another. (from here)

Here are some more excerpts from Essays on Political Economy by Frédéric Bastiat. The subject here is Government. At the time Bastiat wrote (1848), competing groups of Socialists politicians promised the impossible to the people of France. Then what happened in France looked much like what is happening here today.

What did Bastiat see as the source of the trouble? Was it the politicians? Not really. The problem is we each want something for nothing.

Man recoils from trouble–from suffering; and yet he is condemned by nature to the suffering of privation, if he does not take the trouble to work. He has to choose, then, between these two evils. What means can he adopt to avoid both? There remains now, and there will remain, only one way, which is, to enjoy the labour of others. Such a course of conduct prevents the trouble and the satisfaction from preserving their natural proportion, and causes all the trouble to become the lot of one set of persons, and all the satisfaction that of another. This is the origin of slavery and of plunder, whatever its form may be–whether that of wars, impositions, violence, restrictions, frauds, &c.–monstrous abuses, but consistent with the thought which has given them birth. Oppression should be detested and resisted–it can hardly be called absurd. (from here)

The problem is that we, the great mass of humanity, are all selfish, not just politicians. Fortunately, slavery is not as popular an institution as it used to be, or is it? How do some people enslave other people in this day and age?

The oppressor no longer acts directly and with his own powers upon his victim. No, our conscience has become too sensitive for that. The tyrant and his victim are still present, but there is an intermediate person between them, which is the Government–that is, the Law itself. What can be better calculated to silence our scruples, and, which is perhaps better appreciated, to overcome all resistance? We all, therefore, put in our claim, under some pretext or other, and apply to Government. We say to it, “I am dissatisfied at the proportion between my labour and my enjoyments. I should like, for the sake of restoring the desired equilibrium, to take a part of the possessions of others. But this would be dangerous. Could not you facilitate the thing for me? Could you not find me a good place? or check the industry of my competitors? or, perhaps, lend me gratuitously some capital, which you may take from its possessor? Could you not bring up my children at the public expense? or grant me some prizes? or secure me a competence when I have attained my fiftieth year? (from here)

Sound ridiculous? Well, we can be ridiculous. We can each go to the government and asks for favors at the expense of others, and our leaders will say, “no problem”. Thus, we can all end up paying each others bills, and our leaders will happily take a cut from each transaction.

Shortsighted, we can fail to consider what we are throwing away. We can forget that We the People must insist upon the morality of our leaders.

But the most remarkable part of it is the astonishing blindness of the public through it all. When successful soldiers used to reduce the vanquished to slavery, they were barbarous, but they were not absurd. Their object, like ours, was to live at other people’s expense, and they did not fail to do so. What are we to think of a people who never seem to suspect that reciprocal plunder is no less plunder because it is reciprocal; that it is no less criminal because it is executed legally and with order; that it adds nothing to the public good; that it diminishes it, just in proportion to the cost of the expensive medium which we call the Government?

And it is this great chimera which we have placed, for the edification of the people, as a frontispiece to the Constitution. The following is the beginning of the introductory discourse:–

France has constituted itself a republic for the purpose of raising all the citizens to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.

Thus it is France, or an abstraction, which is to raise the French, or realities, to morality, well-being, &c. Is it not by yielding to this strange delusion that we are led to expect everything from an energy not our own? Is it not giving out that there is, independently of the French, a virtuous, enlightened, and rich being, who can and will bestow upon them its benefits? Is not this supposing, and certainly very gratuitously, that there are between France and the French–between the simple, abridged, and abstract denomination of all the individualities, and these individualities themselves–relations as of father to son, tutor to his pupil, professor to his scholar? I know it is often said, metaphorically, “the country is a tender mother.” But to show the inanity of the constitutional proposition, it is only needed to show that it may be reversed, not only without inconvenience, but even with advantage. Would it be less exact to say–

The French have constituted themselves a Republic, to raise France to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.

Now, where is the value of an axiom where the subject and the attribute may change places without inconvenience? Everybody understands what is meant by this–“The mother will feed the child.” But it would be ridiculous to say–“The child will feed the mother.”

The Americans formed another idea of the relations of the citizens with the Government when they placed these simple words at the head of their Constitution:–

We, the people of the United States, for the purpose of forming a more perfect union, of establishing justice, of securing interior tranquillity, of providing for our common defence, of increasing the general well-being, and of securing the benefits of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, decree,” &c.

Here there is no chimerical creation, no abstraction, from which the citizens may demand everything. They expect nothing except from themselves and their own energy. (from here)

Don’t we all know that government is horribly inefficient? Don’t we all know that requesting special favors from politicians is dishonest? Don’t we all know that the fact “everybody does it” does not make what is dishonest honest? Then why do we believe dishonest politicians who promise to give us things we have not earned? Perhaps it is time we reconsidered.

Citizens! In all times, two political systems have been in existence, and each may be maintained by good reasons. According to one of them, Government ought to do much, but then it ought to take much. According to the other, this twofold activity ought to be little felt. We have to choose between these two systems. But as regards the third system, which partakes of both the others, and which consists in exacting everything from Government, without giving it anything, it is chimerical, absurd, childish, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who parade it, for the sake of the pleasure of accusing all Governments of weakness, and thus exposing them to your attacks, are only flattering and deceiving you, while they are deceiving themselves.

For ourselves, we consider that Government is and ought to be nothing whatever but common force organized, not to be an instrument of oppression and mutual plunder among citizens; but, on the contrary, to secure to every one his own, and to cause justice and security to reign. (from here)

Not certain of your choice? Then consider reading all of this great work, Essays on Political Economy.