Christians and Politics Part 4: Why Democracy?

In many discussions of politics, one often hears conservatives, including many Christians[1] arguing that certain policies or movements are threats to our democratic republic, including demagoguery, erosions of the system of checks and balances within the constitution. These arguments are often made on the basis of Detoquiville’s discussion on the end of America, and/or comparisons to other historical declines, of democratic principles (most famously the fall of the Roman Republic).[2] The basis of these arguments is outside the scope of Truth in the Trenches, but is nevertheless worth studying.[3] And yet, it raises the important question, why would a Christian care about democracy (or for that matter “limited government”) at all? After all, the Bible no where discusses democracy, and the government described in the Old Testament is not democratic.[4]

 

The Image of God and the Evil of Man

                  The answer to the question is theological rather than interpretational. Theology is a step that moves beyond the text of the Christian Scriptures to synthesize them into a comprehensive and holistic worldview. Systematic theology draws not only from the Scriptures, but also from discussions of the sciences, history and other sources of information.[5] The reason for a preference to democratic forms of government, (and even moreso limited government, and the checks and balances of the US Constitution) is found in a combination of the study of history, and the nature of man. If man is basically evil (or as Christians put it, “fallen”), then it stands to reason that when men are given power, they will tend to misuse that power towards selfish ends. If a king were perfectly righteous, then monarchy would not differ substantially from a democratic republic; a perfectly just person given complete political power would have only to contend with his or her limited knowledge, but kings are not perfectly righteous, they have concerns to maintain or expand their powers, which leads them to injustice against human beings who are made in the image of God. The old saying, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” indicates the severe problem that arises from giving a single human being or a small group of human beings excessive power. And this is why democratic concerns with regular elections, term limits, or the various freedoms of speech (guaranteed to include speech considered obnoxious or immoral) are important. If the goal is to prevent the harm to individual men (being made in the image of God), then a democratic republic, with a balance of powers intended to prevent abuses seems to be the most effective means of honoring that goal.

 

This, in fact, was a major concern for the founders who were highly cognizant of the fall of the Roman Republic to political interests, and was noted by American apologists Alexis de Tocqueville concerns America would eventually fall to a “democratic despotism,” something many modern conservatives treat as prophetic.

 

Atheism has no such view

When Unitarian John Adams first heard about the French Revolution, he pondered whether atheists would be able to maintain a democracy, and the result of the French Revolution was more typical than the American one; most revolutions end in people suffering more grievously at the hands of their “liberators” than they did at the hands of older, established tyrants. The same is true of Vladmir Lenin and chairman Mao.

 

Sometimes, Christians are attacked for noting the numbers of atheistic regimes involved in mass slaughters (of course, this does not make atheists more circumspect in their own similar assessments of Christians committing atrocities, often including Hitler, who figures as often in Christian arguments). There is a general tendency to view this as a problem with “Fundamentalism,” referring to men like Richard Dawkins as “fundamentalist atheism” but in recent years that term has lost all useful meaning for rational discussions, in much the same way as racial slurs. But rather than simply noting the stalemate exists on questions of atrocities, there is a deeper issue. Christians who commit atrocities are what I term as “inconsistent monsters,” yes, some Christians have justified abysmal actions, but when you examine the New Testament, one has a difficult time arguing such justifications are in line with the Master’s dictates. Yet, one has a greater difficulty when arguing that somehow the atrocities committed by atheists such as Lenin are different in kind. Not only was Atheism central to Lenin and Stalin’s worldview (while not all Marxists are atheists, Marxism requires atheism to function), but there was no replacement for the idea that man was in the image of God and therefore no rational basis for treating human life as sacred in its own right. Atheistic humanists (as opposed to Christian Humanism) is as contradictory in supporting democracy as it is in arguing for the dignity of man. Atheists argue that evolutionary biology, survival of the fittest is the law of nature; they argue that this is the basis of human thought, and then contradict this position by trying to create an society that guarantees the dignity of man that, once again, their worldview does not sustain.

 

 

[1]One facet of these discussions will be based on a particular element of end-time prophecies. There are a number of different approaches taken to Christian discussions of the endtimes, the two most common today being premillenialism and amillenialism. Many premillenialists view certain movements within US policy as preparatory for the end times kingdom of the anti-Christ, myself included. Unfortunately, in many cases, the laylevel version of these debates differs significantly from more scholarly treatments, even within premillenial statements.

[2]To those interested in the constitution, the Roman Repulic’s conversion to the Roman empire, and the events leading up to that point beginning with the Gracci (two brothers who used concerns over soldier’s returning after extended service in the Roman legions to find their families in poverty as a means to win elections to the post of Tribune and to expand the tribune’s powerbase) because this was a major inspiration for the concepts of checks and balances for the founders. Additional concerns were noted by American apologist Alexis de Tocqueville concerns America would eventually fall to a “democratic despotism,” something many modern conservatives treat as prophetic.

[3] Similarly, one will hear defenses of American “individualism” and various arguments raised against such a rugged individualist structure in favor of noting the needs of a collective, and still others argue obscure debates about egalitarianism versus equal treatment under the law. I am not quite sure how these persons define individualism, to my way of thinking, individualism, in economics and elsewhere is a matter of rights and equal treatment under the law.

[4]The Torah is organized as a treaty between Israel and Yahweh; it is known that many of the customs and practices appear to predate the Torah. Likely, then, what we have in the Torah is not necessarily a new form of government, but modifications to an existing culture (in part to protect human rights, see previous articles on Matthew 19). And yet, the role of the elders in Hebrew society may be analogous at points, for example the role of elders in tribal society.

 

What this means for modern discussions is going to vary, since there are two major schools of discussions in the relationship between the OT and NT, the church is the new Israel (Covenant Theology), and the church is not Israel (Dispensationalism), and different subsets exist within each approach (for example, within dispensationalism there is the “classical dispensationalist” approach championed most recently by Charles Ryrie, and the “Progressive dispensationalist” approach).

[5]A Systematic theologian will refer to these as “natural revelation” as opposed to Scripture which is “special revelation.”

Christianity and Politics Part 4: Why do we need Government at all?

In my last columns I dispensed with the ad hominem arguments, noting first that this is an example of a logical fallacy. Secondarily, I noted some examples of this particular fallacy in popular discussions of politics. This means I’ve also largely dispensed with much of the political discourse coming from the philosophy of Post-modernism.[1] In a sense, post modernism is the establishment of the argumentium ad hominem as if it were not an error. This being the case, I would like to lay out a Christian foundation for political thought, and more particularly from a Baptistic perspective, because when there are disagreements within the faith on a point, I feel I can only adequately represent my own thinking.

The first question, I think, for any political philosophy is why do we need a government at all? This might seem very academic, but the point of the question is to narrow down the purpose of government which helps prioritize issues.

The purpose of government: Justice

Paul, perhaps gives us the greatest discussion of why Government in Romans 13:1-7. Verse 4 encapsulates that purpose by noting, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”[2] Thus, government exists, ironically or not, as an institution of justice, largely criminal justice in Paul’s day literally by executing criminals; leading to this “purpose statement” Paul has noted, in verse 3 that rulers are (ideally) “not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.”[3] This is the basis for the payment of taxes,[4] because the administration of law requires funding. Nor is this unique to Paul, Peter makes a similar statement, noting “or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.[5] This appears to go back to an Old Testament discussion known as the Noahic covenant, part of which reads, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”[6]

In a sense, then, the starting point for understanding the Christian view of government is that Government is instituted by God for the support of the criminal justice system and particularly the institution of the death penalty.[7] Since this is rooted in the sacredness of the image of God, I believe this implies that government is an institution of not only criminal justice, but justice in a general sense as well, and secondarily the protection of human beings from those who would harm them.[8]

There may be many secondary purposes of government,[9] but the first question is always, does the main thing get done well first.

Justice Grounded in the image of God

                  Christian views of justice then are based, at least negatively on desert;[10] it is not that we believe in retribution out of hatred, but that the wages of sin are death. The Christian view[11] of man as the image of God is based in three important truths, if any one of them is lost, whatever is left is no longer Christian.

  1. Man is made in the image of God, and therefore has innate dignity.
  2. Mankind however, is fallen and has been tainted by sin. As a result, the Christian position on the age old question of whether man is good or evil is that man is basically evil, though the image of God has not been completely defaced.
  3. The work of Christ provides forgiveness of sins by suffering the justice of God (which is ours by desert), but more than forgiveness it begins the restoration of the image of God in us.

The Inadequacy of Atheism

                  This leads to a further question, however. Some people might argue that a claim justice is based on desert and retribution is unkind, or unjust. Other approaches have been put forward, such as that justice is some means of fairness.[12] And yet, this is a major problem for the atheist; on what grounds can he connect his beliefs about justice to the view that man is merely an evolved animal, and if man is an animal, why should he not be treated as an animal; if there is no image of God then why should we care about the concerns of other people?

Please note, I am not arguing that atheists don’t care about justice, despite whatever disagreements they and I might have about how to define it, their often bellicose language clearly demonstrates concern for justice. I believe they do because they have a conscience, I am arguing that their view of the importance of justice is contradictory to their belief that man is merely a highly evolved animal. They argue in politics that human beings have innate value, and argue in biology classrooms that they do not. One might very well argue that concern for others provides an evolutionary advantage, but such an advantage will be of limited value. After all, caring for a child (even an orphaned one) provides a group with an evolutionary advantage, perhaps, but caring for an aged adult who will never again contribute to the group’s resources and yet consumes a massive share of medical resources makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective. Similar things are true of nations that have been receiving private aid or loans and charity from other governments for decades, or in some cases more than a century.

It makes no sense to care for other human beings to the degree that we do, unless man is more than an animal; something atheists intuitively understand. Even Nietsche could not be the ubermenschen of which he dreamed and wrote. The atheist, fortunately for humanity, cannot be so rational.

[1]Post Modernism is a philosophy that developed largely from the reading of Michael Fouchault and the belief that schools of thought are means of power. From this has been developed the idea that all knowledge is socially constructed, and a general type of relativism. The problem is that the various epistemic constructions are self-refuting and therefore false (if all knowledge is socially constructed and therefore in doubt, then we must also doubt that all knowledge is socially constructed and therefore we must doubt that it is in doubt). When relativism is your conclusion, it is prima facia evidence that your analysis has broken down at some point in the process.

Of course it is true that theories can be put forward for political advantage, and of course it is true that people are biased, this is a byproduct of worldview formation itself. However, the existence of bias alone does not negate arguments. Since bias and motives are a two edged sword (Michael Fouchault also has a bias after all), the answer then is to focus on the evidence and the development of that evidence unless we have consistent evidence of a bias influencing work.

[2]Romans 13:4 ESV

[3]Romans 13:3

[4]Romans 13:6; while there are a lot of discussions as to what US tax policy should be, to clarify, Christianity teaches we are obligate to pay taxes as they are assessed. Romans 13:7; Mark 12:17; Matthew 22:21

[5]1 Peter 2:14

[6]Genesis 9:5-7

[7]This is not advocacy of the modern American death penalty for reasons I may, or may not make clear. The problem with the American death penalty is that ultimately one does not earn the death penalty on the basis of statute requirements, but is heavily influenced by the emotional state of the jury, and without changes on this point, I cannot support it.

[8] The military is perhaps the most obvious example in this regard, we might all wish we lived in a world without wars, but unfortunately we don’t, we live in a world where aggression exists, and as a result the only means of ending a nations military tradition is if all other nations disarm and have a valid reason to assume no other nations are attempting to rearm.

[9]There are a number of arguments put forward among Christians on the left, for example, that various measures indicate a socialist element in Old Testament society. The problem I see with these views is that the arguments miss important exceptions to what they conceive to be the rule. For example, Jews sold into slavery were released during the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:20-41) but they fail to take into account that this was not true of non-Hebrew slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46). Similarly Leviticus 25:28 notes that farm land when sold was to revert to the original owners during the year of Jubilee, and this is compared to various redistributionist models popular with socialists; what God intended was not ultimately the sale of land, but the sale of the land’s productivity for a given period of time. The problem with basing views of social justice on these grounds is that this system meant sojourners were (at least in terms of economics) perpetually second-class citizens without permanent access to the source of wealth in the ancient world. In part, Leviticus 25:42 seems to answer the question, the point was that Jews had a part in the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants between God and the nation of Israel and it is this covenantal right that is protected.

Similarly the Old Testament contains elements of tort law that seem to serve as examples of protecting rights, but in general the Old Testament is not an argument for a perfect state. Jesus in Matthew 19 notes, for example, that divorce laws were provided due to the hardness of their hearts. The implication being that while divorce is repugnant to God, it was necessary to allow it. In the case of divorce, however, the Jewish system provides protections absent women in other cultures, for example, if a man divorced his wife, he could not later force her to abandon a better situation, another husband who might genuinely care for her, or her children. Similarly Old Testament texts instituting slavery are likely examples of the same type of development. Slavery is repugnant, but man was made by God to be free (that is, just as monogamous, heterosexual marriages are a part of God’s pre-fall created order, so too is man’s natural state of liberty). But slavery was already engrained in the culture and was an answer to the question of what to do with debtors or prisoners of war. And yet, even here, God provides protections for the lives and dignity of slaves often absent in other cultures.

[10]I believe provisions of the Old Testament for widows and orphans as well as this principle provides a positive element of justice as what is deserved as well. While the widow or orphan may not have earned their right to glean (they did not plant the land, did not weed it, etc.) provision was made for them by law; portions of the field were to be harvested by widows and orphans as well as what was dropped by the reapers (Lev 19:9; 23:22), and yet this provision was protection from undeserved suffering resulting from the death of a breadwinner.

[11]Some will argue this is a reformed view of man. There is in my mind two problems, however, with describing this as a purely reformed system. First, reformed writers tend to claim viewpoints that are not actually unique to their positions, there is an arrogance here that reminds me of Baptists who think Biblical inerrancy is somehow a “baptistic distinctive,” when it is really something Baptists share with conservative protestants in general. Second, what many reformed thinkers seem to do well in many cases is their ability to summarize and to phrase matters.

[12]Most notably John Rawls, A Theory of Justice.

Christians and Politics 3: Examples of Ad Hominem

 

I recently noted why ad hominem arguments about issues do not adequately answer the various questions in our society. I used an older election to make the point in the abstract, specifically a McGovern voter who in 1972 thought people voted for Nixon because they were racists. I now want to present some modern ad hominem arguments that seem very popular with Millennials to address why these are inadequate ways of understanding Christians involvement in politics.

 

People Oppose Obama because he is black, and they are racists

I am sure that White suprimacists are not happy that we have an African American president. What is often missed, however, is that many evangelicals were enchanted with Obama during the early stages of his campaign, and he captured more Evangelicals than did his predecessors, partially because many Christians disliked McCain’s rather public pro-abortion views. When Obama entered office race relations in this country were far better than they had been for more than a decade, but current events seem reminiscent of struggles in the seventies and early eighties.

 

Racism has become one of the ad hominem arguments of choice at this date in time, so much so that in many circles, it is incumbent on White Americans to prove they are not racists. This, in my mind is simply backwards; the burden of proof should be on those making the allegations, and simply relying on stereotypes is insufficient. Simply pointing, for example, to racism in past generations doesn’t prove that this is the case today. Many of the facts and political theories underlying American racism are long dead, while there is a new social Darwinism sadly developing in the American left, it does not make arguments on the basis of race as it has done in the past.

As to Obama, the conservative rhetoric concerning his presidency is remarkably restrained compared to the hysterics of those leveled at his predecessor. Nor has Obama been uncontroversial, along with Bush he has expanded the role of the executive branch of government to levels many people consider dangerous. Many Christians view failure of the justice department to adequately investigate this scandal to be a serious problem, and other serious problems with Obama’s justice department as serious government corruption.[1] During the GM takeover, the executive branch involved itself in bankruptcy procedures in a way that may not be legal, and certainly used political pressure to strip secured bond holders[2] of their legal rights in favor of the automotive workers union. And this is before numerous discussions of political philosophy.

Christians Conservatives don’t care about the poor and hate all social programs

This particular objection is common, whether the debate is Obamacare, welfare, Social security, etc. The reality is that this very easy ad hominem argument covers a significant number of important foundational philosophical arguments. Its far easier to demonize someone than to discuss such boring topics as, should we have a socialist system, or a capitalist system with a social safety net? Should social programs be the domain of the federal government or the domain of the States,[3] and various serious questions about who should qualify for programs and how these programs should be administered. These questions are often complicated, often based on competing, legitimate interests. As a classical liberal, for example, I like programs such as WIC, care for those who cannot work for themselves or are facing a downturn in the job market or their career, though I believe many of our current programs are not well administered, and I believe these are the functions of the State and not the Federal government.

States Rights is a Euphamism for Racism

Oftentimes States Rights is considered to be an excuse for racism, and to be fair this is partially understandable, the Dixicrats did raise this objection in the sixties. But here is the thing, the doctrine of enumerated powers (States rights) is actually a much broader concept. The Dixicrats, unfortunately, were raising a red herring that discolors a different principle, the Fourteenth Amendment essentially means the States gave the Federal Government the authority to make sure all citizens are guaranteed the basic rights of citizenship.

White Flight was caused by Racism

If White flight is the result of racism, then what caused the black flight of the seventies? I’m sure some people did leave the cities because of rqcism, but as I have spoken with those who moved to the Suburbs from Detroit, I’ve become convinced that “white flight” was much more complicated. The growing issues with crime, employers moving out of the cities or building new facilities in the suburbs (sometimes because of lower property tax) and yes even riots are legitimate concerns. We ought to be concerned for those stuck in downtown cities, where predatory gangs roam with abandon, but the solution is action by the state not attacking those who feel their concern for their families is more important than their concern for their city.

 

Conclusions These are samples of the kind of poisons we need to get out of the body politic. From Here I will get to core principles, starting with a Christian discussion of why we need a government at all.

[1]This I think is one of the most serious issues that historians will note with the Obama presidency, his justice department is very open to charges of using the legal system to punish Obama’s political enemies and yet at the same time has refused to examine charges against those considered Democratic constituencies. The Justice department has attacked states looking to put in place moderate standards to use a picture ID for voting (and this is rather moderate when you consider how many other situations in life require one to present picture ID), but did little to prosecute Accorn and others who appear to have been involved in election Fraud; additionally, his justice department inherited a case of attempted voter intimidation in Philadelphia, and refused to investigate the matter. Hillary Clinton was not prosecuted for her private server and took little action appears to be happening in conjuction with serious accusations (and evidence) that the Clinton foundation was accepting bribes for various favors while she was Secretary of state, but a former general at odds with the administration, was not given this same consideration. Lois Lerner was not prosecuted for intimidating Christian and Tea Party groups, according to the attorney for many plantiffs, the justice department did not even question them at all, meanwhile, a relatively minor fundraising matter involving Obama critic D’Nesh D’Souza led to the administration seeking a 5 year jail term. There appears to be significant difference in the way the administration treats republicans and the way it treats democrats.

 

 

[2]Secured bonds gives the bond holder a stronger claim in a bankruptcy settlement at the expense of a slightly lower interest rate. They are not primarily held by “fat cats” or other market executives, they are most commonly held by retirees on limited incomes.

[3]Later I will note the doctrine of enumerated powers, which is a key argument for most classic liberals or constitutional conservatives, but has largely been disregarded by most others. The doctrine of enumerated powers essentially is based on the discussions of the 10th amendment, and essentially argues unless the Constitution specifically empowers the Federal Government to enact legislation, the Federal Government does not have that authority.

Christians and Politics Part 2: The Fallacy to which America is Addicted.

Before digging into a discussion of Christian thought and politics, we need to deal with some bad thinking that appears a lot in modern discussions about politics.

A few years ago, on a blog discussing issues surrounding my Alma Mater, a man indicated he voted for George McGovern because he was interested in civil rights, and stated that those who voted for Nixon did so because they were racists. I found this to be very interesting, but also incorrect. I’ve listened to various people over the years who voted for Nixon in 1972, and most of them spoke not about Nixon’s stance on civil rights,[1] but about his foreign policy. This in fact fits with Nixon’s history. While Nixon was in congress he became famous because of his moderate anti-communism, his support for Whitaker Chambers, and his investigation into Alger Hiss which led to Hiss’s conviction for perjury when Hiss claimed he was not a spy for the Soviet Union. Additionally, his greatest achievement during his administration—right wrong or indifferent—was reopening negotiations with mainland China, and a 1972 treaty that led to temporary victory in Vietnam.

But the claim that people voted for Nixon because they were racists is interesting because it illustrates a particular fallacy in reasoning, a fallacy known technically as “argumentium ad hominem,” commonly abbreviated as Ad. Hom. Ad Hominem is an informal fallacy, which means a statement isn’t disproved by the argument, someone might be able to prove their conclusion by more legitimate means. Alternately, in politics, there are legitimate arguments that might appear to be ad hominem arguments; there are, I believe, three central issues in any election, the candidate’s political philosophy and the candidate’s character and the candidate’s capability to fulfill the duties of the office. Where ad hominem argumentation needs to be avoided is when it is applied to motives haphazardly in regards to another voter’s stance taken on an issue, philosophy, or the citation of a fact. There are a few problems with this type of argument.

Problem 1: Ad Hominem arguments are a modern form of acceptable stereotyping – Stereotyping is an odd thing in modern America, it is considered wrong to stereotype African Americans or Hispanic Americans, but perfectly acceptable to assume, without any individual evidence that anyone who drives a truck with a gunrack must be a racists. On what grounds is it wrong to stereotype some groups, but consider it ok to stereotype all southerners based on common attitudes from more than 50 years ago? So how do we really know the motivations of Nixon voters in 1972? We have their own comments on their motivations, which we can evaluate, but we have no means of reading hearts. In a sense, ad hominem is an acceptable for of expressing modern prejudices. When it comes to stereotyping, millennial outrage is, unfortunately, highly selective. Simply assuming, then, that Christian conservatives are either stupid or evil because they are conservative is simply arguing from a stereotyping. If it is wrong to stereotype racial minorities, then why is it justifiable to stereotype Southerners, conservatives, or for that matter people who live in trailer parks?

Problem 2: Ad Hominem Arguments avoid the actual issues by means of demonizing an opponent – one does not feel the compunction to debate facts or theories with those who are morally evil. – Beyond selective outrage, whatever one’s motive might or might not be, motivations have no bearing on whether an arguments is correct, incorrect or partially correct, this, how do we know the motives of Nixon voters in 1972? About the only sure way of knowing why someone voted the way they do. But let’s consider that by 1972, much of the major issues of the Civil Rights movement had been resolved, this is not to say that there were no major civil rights issues left to discuss, and there are different theories about how to advance America toward equality of rights going back to the debates between Booker T Washington and W. E. B. Dubois, but the fact that civil rights legislation had passed and was fairly secure means some people may not have thought it the issue of first importance that McGovern did in 1972.

We all have a hierarchial view of morality, certain things and relationships are more important than others (for example, my relationship with my wife has deeper ethical ramifications than most other relationships). But not only is there a hierarchy of morality, there is an urgency factor of issues. There are therefore periods of time, such as when the nation is at war, or faced with an existential threat that domestic issues are less important than international issues, and vice versa.

The intrinsic problems of ad hominem argumentation is that it avoids actually details of the discussion or debate. In all of this demonization, no one has really discussed an actual issue, in fact, because no one feels compunction to argue with a racist, bigot, communist, etc., no issues ever actually get discussed.

Problem 3: A Knife that Cuts both ways – A second problem with Ad hominem arguments, is the knife cuts both ways. I could also argue that McGovern voters liked his weak foreign policy because they were communist sympathizers, of course I have no more knowledge of McGovern voter’s motives than anyone else, but then what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

 

 

[1]It should also be noted, however, that while in Congress, Nixon was a supporter of various civil rights bills. McGovern might have emphasized this in his campaign, he might have argued for a different set of solutions to providing civil rights to all, but this is not quite the same thing as stating McGovern was interested in Civil Rights and Nixon wasn’t.

Christians and Politics Part 1: Why discuss it at all?

Americans are now firmly in the election season, and it has been a tumultuous one, and will likely be a greater one. I always debate posting political topics, there are two reasons for this, first because if the point is to put forward an argument for why Christianity is true, it does little good to start off by ending conversations before one begins, and that tends to be the result if one discusses politics, in part because politics in America has been contentious since at least the beginnings of our first two parties (the democratic republicans and the federalists). Secondarily there are divides in Christianity, and these divisions will tend to be based on a number of important doctrinal questions. Baptists (myself included) have historically favored classical liberalism (or what American’s refer to as “Conservatism”); in fact, some Baptist congregations moved to the American Colonies en masse because of their support for Cromwell, and Baptists were important allies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. There is within the reformed community a very strong debate on political philosophy. For the Christian, factors involving one’s political philosophy will include discussions of the end times, the relationship between the Old and New Testament, the purpose of a number of Old Testament regulations, the relationship of the church and state, etc. There is, therefore, in my mind no one distinctly Evangelical way of approaching the subject.

So why wade into politics at all? Primarily, because many will accuse Christians of hypocrisy or argue that the point of Christians involvements in politics is to gain power. This is particularly common among many millenials who were educated by post modernists in their collegiate careers. I work with a few, who regularly make comments that conservatives and Christian conservatives dislike Obama because they are racists, dislike Hillary because they are misogynists, etc. These challenges need to be answered, ad hominem though they may be. Millenials hate Trump for his rhetoric (though how this differs from Hillary’s stereotypical approach to those living in trailer parks or those from the south is a mystery to me). Secondarily, this years election should be a wake up call for Christians in many respects, we ought to view our right to vote as a matter of stewardship, and in this sense, I believe the upcoming election ought to cause Christians to think about our place in the modern American culture – Democracies are reflective, the governments reflect the ideas and values of those who put them in power.

I plan to go about this with a number of articles, put out rapidly. There will be two major sections, first a macroscopic approach, discussing underlying principles, and why Baptistic approaches[1] to politics are neither inconsistent, and in countering many concepts used to attack Evangelicals. Secondarily I want to present some Christian approaches to social issues. I will not directly discuss issues of taxes, or job creation directly, but I can’t completely avoid certain underpinnings when discussing principles.

 

We’ll start with the inadequacy of American discussions of politics in general, or why principles matter.

                  [1]I generally prefer to keep Truth in the Trenches to issues of broad conservative Evangelical thought but because of the distinctions I noted above, I do not think it is possible to construct a distinct Christian approach to politics. While it is difficult to argue why Christians would be pro-abortion, one very quickly ill find distinctions in the way these things are applied principally. Therefore, I stick with my own principles simply because I do not think I could adequately represent someone else’s.

Science and Origins Part 3: Specific Models and Apologetic Impact

Two columns ago, I discussed the issue of science and noted that science is a human study, and therefore cannot be treated as wholly objective – human beings are involved in the process of data interpretation, and are often wrong as a result. I used questions of forensics as an instance where scientists were involved in convicting innocent men of crimes. I then noted that the larger elements of scientific interpretation, the “paradigms” of science are not merely science but science and philosophy, and we noted the naturalistic response to the “red shift,” based largely in the presumption of atheism.

Defending the Models versus Defending the Faith

When it comes to origins, there are several of what I could call specified models[1] Christians have put forward and there are three basic groups of models that of theistic evolution, that of Old Earth Creationism and that of Young Earth Creationism. I am unapologetically a young earth Creationist, largely because I consider the problem of death before the fall to be a larger issue than that of distant starlight reaching earth.[2] In a sense, these models are systematic theological constructions (drawing on science) that have ramifications for Christian apologetics (in both discussions of the problem of evil and in the modern atheistic worldview’s evolutionary framework), and they should be treated as such.

And yet, all three of these models have been the central argument used by various camps in defending the Christian worldview as a whole. In a sense, however, both OEC and YEC advocates[3] have the same problem – we are arguing from assumptions, including our belief in the Bible; beliefs that the unbeliever has not previously accepted. By focusing on a specific model we must kill all birds at once, rather than allowing theological development to occur more organically. After all, when explaining Christianity to unbelievers there are a number of theological discussions we generally don’t bring up: for example, the various debates about the imputation of sin (federal headship, natural headship, semi-pelagianism, etc), Calvinism/Arminianism/Molinism, precise definitions of the trinity the fourth century discussion on the person of Christ, nor church government. In general we field only the questions necessary to remove obstacles and hurdles from those honestly interested in Christianity.[4]

We all innately understand that new converts need time to grow in the faith, intellectually as well as practically; we don’t seek to make them instant perfect theologians overnight, so why do we treat models of origins differently? In this sense, then, a minimalist approach seems to be a better starting point for these discussions with the world rather than a more fully developed argument. Of course, in many cases being able to defend one’s own specific model is still important – but perhaps it is better to fill in details as needed in response rather than assuming we must sell the entire model from the beginning of an evangelistic conversation.

 

Intelligent Design – a Minimalist Defense

Think of the controversy between Atheism and Christianity for a moment as two armed men fighting with swords and shields. These two gladiators have been battling for centuries now without respite. Both have an offensive weapon (a sword: arguments that their beliefs are true) and defensive armament (a shield: arguments that their beliefs have not been falsified). Discussions of origins typically are the main offensive approach taken by atheists, particularly with emphasis on Evolution based in part on a confusion of philosophical naturalism with science. This means we are on our defense in this area; our offense is ultimately found in the resurrection of Christ, the foundation of the Christian Church, and its impact on the world.

Defensively with the atheist, (1) we must minimally demonstrate a logical consistency of a belief in a Creator, and (2) we hope to demonstrate enough uncertainty about their model so that they will be willing to listen actively to our positive case; in effect to disarm them of their arguments or certainty. Thus, the goal need not be to prove the YEC or OEC model to be true; instead, we need to demonstrate only that an atheistic model cannot account for all of the evidence.

This, I think is best done by an intelligent design approach (in philosophical terms, Intelligent Design is a restatement of the Teleological Argument for the Existence of God an argument that goes back to the Greek Philosophers); one can argue by concession that atheistic and naturalistic explanations without a Creator are insufficient to explain the evidence of the universe itself. Books such as Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box is a better entry point for making the case that Christianity is true than trying to sell more fully developed models.

[1]I say specified models because this includes not only interpretations of the Biblical attempts, but more specific correlations. For example, the early model put forward by Morris, which focused often on the water canopy theory is fairly distinct from the model put forward by Andrew Snelling, but both are Young Earth Creationists. There are, within the old earth creationists model similar distinctions between Gap theorists, or Day Age theorists, along with some allegorical interpretations. A few of the fathers put forward some models that were similarly related to the opinions of Greek writers in the first century.

[2]Young Earth astronomers have put forward several models of time dilation to solve this problem, but I am not in a position endorse them, nor pretend to have explored the issue in depth; I can only acknowledge that they fit my viewpoint. I will only note from last time, the bigger areas of sciences the “paradigms” (including Einstein’s work and it’s ramifications on our understanding of the speed of light) are the areas I consider the most doubtful, and we should hold most tenuously. Time dilation may have been demonstrated – but are we really so arrogant to believe we have mastered the issue?

So why side with those culturally considered underdogs? I consider the YEC groups to have a better handle on the theological premises. Many OEC argue that theology is like a Rubik’s cube; while I’m not sure I wholly agree with them, it is not completely wrong either. What is really striking, however, about the Rubik’s cube analogy is that it appears to be the case with the sciences as well (see for example the global warming debate, or the debate between those advocating Neodarwinian evolution who assert the absence of transitional forms is not a problem versus punctuated equilibria proponents who assert precisely the opposite view that these gaps are fatal to neodarwinian models); my first two articles should make clear why I think the sciences are treated as more certain or settled than they should be. I believe science and theology and philosophy in discussions on origins are different faces of the same Rubik’s cube. Whatever evidence is judged to be primary by any given party will mean explanations deemed incorrect by another party.

                  [3]I do not include theistic evolution because most theistic evolutionists I am aware of have given up on inerrancy, something I cannot agree with in systematic theology. I disagree with the interpretation of Old Earthers, many for example gravitate to something called the framework hypothesis (which I think is inconsistent with the waw consecutive imperfects that dominate the passage), but this is different from a denial of inerrancy.

[4]For example, a defense of the trinity is needed when someone says it is an irrational belief, since this prevents them from being willing to believe in Jesus Christ. Similarly, a defense of a particular a model may be important to demonstrate the viability of Christianity.

 

Science and Origins Part 2: Science and Worldview

Last time, discussing origins, I began a discussion that will surely have some arguing I’m anti-science, ignorant, etc. My argument is that we live in a culture that commits a sort of epistemic idolatry where the sciences are concerned: the culture we live in has given the modern scientist’s word something of the flavor of holy writ. My point of course was not that science is a useless venture, but that science is not performed in a vacuum, and that science has a necessarily subjective element; human beings are interpreting data, forming conclusions and testing conclusions and therefore these conclusions must be concerned with human error and are influenced by human biases. I used questions of forensics as an example of this phenomenon, in the recent past a number of innocent men were sent to jail in part because of scientists. My point is that science is interpretation of facts by human beings who are as prone to error as experts in other fields are.

I could, of course, include other examples of errors (such as phrenology) or examples of bias (such as Darwin’s racial biases influencing his belief that humans were the result of an evolutionary process). But the example of forensics suffices for my purposes. Scientists might well object, suggesting either that science is self-correcting, so is inherently more reliable than other courses of study, or that science has systems of peer review that weed out biases. Yet, this is also true of other academic disciplines, and peer review has both a positive quality (weeding out bad studies) but can also make science (or for that matter other fields of study) self-referentially absurd.

Again, my point is not a denigration of science, but rather a more realistic assessment of the limits of the scientific method. Some scientists are perhaps intoxicated by the hubris of absolute superiority, but I don’t assume that is true of all; I think scientists are people like the rest of us. So science as a human endeavor is limited, it is limited by the limits of our instrumentation, by our situation, by our biases. Furthermore the most reliable elements of science would not be the “big” points, what some in the wake of Thomas Kuhn refer to as Paradigms,[1] but smaller issues that are more easily tested. For example, we are probably more certain of the development of frogs from tadpoles than we can be certain of many aspects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The bigger points, the paradigms are areas where the questions can’t be answered by science alone, philosophy and theology[2] are involved in how that data is interpreted and understood.

An example of this would be the controversy surrounding the “red shift.” The red shift, I am told, demonstrates that the universe is expanding. If the universe is expanding, then it logically cannot have an infinite past history.[3] Before Hubble, Einstein had in fact altered his theory due to his own conclusion that the universe is self-contained, and various theories were released to save naturalism from the fact that the universe had a beginning, this would create massive problems for naturalism. The opposition to the Big Bang does not appear to be principally motivated by scientific concerns, but by philosophical and religious ones. In short, they did the same things with the sciences to avoid the possibilities of a beginning to the universe as they accuse young earthers of doing on various theories involving time dilation, the speed of light and interstellar distances.

This leads to, I believe the importance of the Intelligent Design movement, but that will be discussed next time.

 

[1]Thomas Kuhn essentially tried to discuss science in terms of what is often described as “worldview,” along with a number of other terms. This scholarship goes back at least as far as German Idealist philosophers and their use of the term Weltenshauung, as well as Christian theologians, Francis Schaeffer is the best known proponent on the lay level.

 

[2]Atheists will object, claiming their “theology” has absolutely no influence on scientific discussions, but this is because they have a deficient understanding of what theology is. To state categorically God doesn’t exist is not only a philosophical statement, but a theological one. It is a statement of religious faith that will have inevitable influences on later conclusions made by individuals in the sciences.

[3]In philosophy speak, for an extended period, atheists argued that there was an “infinite regression of causes,” which means there is no first cause in the universe.

If the universe is expanding then there is a limit as too how small it can have been, which led to the discussions of the big bang. This has also led to the resurgence of the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God and a teleological argument for the existence of God from Cosmic fine tuning.