When God is unfair

On my way home from school today, I saw the inelegant statement written on a bathroom wall: “I asked god [sic] for bread, and he gave me a stone; I asked him for a fish and he gave me a serpent.” I do not know who wrote these tortured lines on the bathroom wall, but I can identify with the sentiment, perhaps we all can. Its easy to take the route I would have taken in my younger days, to simply bypass the argument, condemn the scribbler on the wall; and in a sense, my analysis would have been correct, but in a sense, it would miss the entirety of the human dilemma, the sorrow that so often accompanies this life.

Looking down at my young son, you see, I had the incredibly selfish thought that my dream of returning to full-time ministry is now harder, and questioning whether I can continue to work a swing shift job, be a good father, attend school, and try to do something to become known enough in my field that I can leave the mind numbing secular job that I hate. And yet, this isn’t wholly the selfish thought it seems at first glance.  After some e-mail exchanges with a former New Testament professor, I thought about abandoning the dream of full-time ministry, but realized to do so would be to bury my talent in the sand and whatever grief it has brought me, my goal of ministry was, I still believe, a calling. Whatever else I may be, good or ill, I will always be first in my own mind a failed pastor.

Its easy to start looking at the pains along the journey, its easy to start second guessing. What if I had attended a school that cared about its graduates? What if I had asked better questions before taking a pastorate in Wisconsin? What if I was actually a good blogger? What is wrong with me that all those men I have asked for help in getting back into ministry have failed to assist in any meaningful way? And yet, these questions are the tantalizing irritants of a tortured soul; hope deferred, the proverbs tells us, makes the heart sick, and we can all understand Solomon’s point here, we have all had that hope deferred. Our scribbler on the wall, reveals something of the true nature of what apologists call the “problem of evil” (or as I prefer to address it, as the problem of suffering). The problem is at root personal not merely academic. This issue reveals one of the true agonies of these existential dilemmas: our fears that God has abandoned us. Unbelievers will discuss this in terms of seemingly clinical logic (called “the deductive problem of evil”), or in terms of hot outrage for God’s alleged victims but I believe in reality it is our own pains, inadequacies and sorrows that motivates the various arguments underlying “problem of evil.”

But what our wall writer has missed, (as I have as well in times past), when we declare God to be unfair is the more basic problem and question: do we have the grounds to say that we really deserve better? The point constantly overlooked so easily is our own sinfulness, our own inadequacies, our own failures. To accuse God of being unfair, we forget that he is also a judge, and that we stand before the bar guilty, we are, as the prisoners I used to hold bible studies with in a detention center: we are simply the guilty complaining that our sentencing is unfair; our complaints are a (at times sophisticated) self-deception.

And yet, for the believer, as I noted recently, the problem of evil isn’t ended in discussions of punishment, no matter how richly we deserve it, (and we admit to this desert when we turn to him in repentant faith). God takes the pain of the moment to build Christians into something more, we call this the “soul building theodicy,” to wit, God ingeniously is interested in taking the evils spread into the world after the fall, and using them for His children’s benefit, but this process takes time, and often suffering. It took time, after all, for Joseph to change from the boy boasting of his family bowing down to him, to becoming the man that would be used to save his family from disaster, suffering slavery and wrongful imprisonment along the way.

And over time, what our scribbler misses is that our experiences and the painful ones at that, often don’t deter us, but redirect us. Let’s go back to my “selfish” thought, for example. I could think of my son as the end of a dream, but in reality he is a motivation to continue. You see, I turned to apologetics because it was an area I thought I could be useful, because so many young people ask questions about the faith, and many sadly abandon it, at least for a time. In a sense, he is a reminder of why what I do is ultimately important; I look at him and think of the legacy I would leave for him. The answer then in life is not to give up, it’s not to quit, even when we often feel we should. Its to remember that God is righteous, and that we will reap, if we faint not, and what we hope ultimately to reap is to be more like Him; we simply have a tendency to look at things too much in the short term.  The problem in truth, is not that God is unfair, the problem is my faith is too small, my vision too limited and my understanding to dim.

I hope someone will tell our scribbler this, because the issue for the problem of suffering is one of the human heart; easier to discuss in a classroom than to apply to one’s own life.

Christians in Politics: Do Christians really want a Theocracy?

One of the common statements brought up in politics where Christians are concerned is the bugbear that Christians are interested in turning America into a theocracy. To be sure, there are a few Christians, even some evangelicals who believe in building a theocracy most notably those associated with radical reform theologian Rousas Rushdoony (Christian Reconstructionism) but these approaches are few and far between. There are a few different ways Christians have answered this common argument, and I plan on answering this from two angles, the first is a fairly standard, historical approach, and the second is more distinctly baptistic.

 

In a sense, the argument that Christians want a theocracy is a version of the Argumentium Ad Hominem I noted in my first two articles in this series. That is, rather than answering the points and arguments Christians raise, instead one attacks their character through their motives.

The History of the First Amendment

The first amendment states (in part), “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” One of the major issues with the first amendment was establishing language that would prevent the development of a national church on the one hand, without disestablishing various state churches on the other. While most Americans in the colonial period considered America to be a Christian nation, it was Christian in the abstract without specific denominational ties,[1] as reflected by state churches (for example, Roman Catholicism was the established church in Maryland, as opposed to the Congregationalist denominations in New England). The point of the first amendment is to keep the federal government (and with the passing of the fourteenth amendment, many would argue the state governments) from interfering with religion; this was not to argue that religion was unimportant but that the government should support and promote religion by leaving it alone. Nor were all state churches theocracies persay, or at least not in the degree known in Europe in the past. For example, I am unaware of any examples of Churches in the colonies issuing mandatory wage and price guidelines as the Roman Catholic Church had done in the middle ages. Nor do Christians common subscribe to these principles in the United States today, largely because the of theological development; we often think of the reformation and Protestantism as something that was a single generation’s work, but in reality, the ramification of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fida would take a longer period of time to work out, the connection of the Church to the State was simply one of these issues. Thus, the first amendment is not an argument to remove religion from public life, nor an argument against Christians voting their consciences as it is misrepresented today.

The modern version of this argument fails to grasp that the First Amendment is not an argument that Christians should not vote their consciences. Thus, for example, they will say that I should not even consider my religious concerns when it comes to discussions of abortion, as if it were possible to divorce oneself from one’s ethical beliefs, if abortion is murder, then it must influence the way a person votes. Its rather interesting how someone will quote John Stuart Mills in support of their political opinion argue I should not quote Paul, but how is quoting Mills really different than quoting Paul? Someone might suggest not everyone is a Christian, and while this is true, not everyone is a Utilitarian either, so why do we not argue that it is morally wrong to impose one person’s utilitarian views on another? Nor is it sufficient to simply note that utilitarianism isn’t religious, but Paul is; on what grounds, precisely, would we treat theistic worldviews differently from atheistic ones in the public square?

The Separation of Church and State

And yet, when we discuss the separation of Church and State, as a Baptist, I have a certain affinity with the argument. It is not accidental that the phrase began to be used in constitutional discussions is sourced in a letter between Thomas Jefferson and a Baptist association – the statement itself is one of our denominations distinctive beliefs.[2] Bizarrely to some, this separation of Church and State has often been an impulse pushing Baptists into the public arena, partially due to persecution and imprisonments, but often more importantly they pushed for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.[3] Like all worldviews, the Baptistic slant on Protestantism will inevitably influence one’s political philosophy.

And yet, an appeal to the separation of Church and state doesn’t answer most of the actual questions involved in discussions today. If my boss took my car keys, and attempted to use my car for company business, he could not defend his actions by arguing for a distinction between corporate property and personal property – such an appeal would convict him, since the car is not corporate property. If we argue that there is a separation of Church and State, it is as much a concern to limit the State from interfering in discussions of ethics and/or worldview questions as it is for the Church to request a role in the appointment of public officials. It is not so much that morality has no bearing on legislation, the moment a law is passed against murder and theft, morality has been legislated, nor can these laws simply be put forward as means of utility; utility is an important qualifier in discussing means not ends. In the case of democracies and democratic republics, the ethics or lack of ethics in government reflects the spiritual and moral sense of the nation.

In a sense, the real problem is that in so many issues, including discussions in California to try to influence Christian colleges disciplinary practices on issues related to LGBTQ students or the uneven enforcement of laws concerning businesses giving public access to all services, as George Yancy has recently noted. In a sense, I believe as a Christian, it is not the Church intruding on the domain of the State, but the State becoming like a river that has overflowed its banks, meddling in that which is not properly within its domain. The State essentially seeks to prevent the Church from fulfilling its proper role as being salt and light, and within the confines of a democratic republic, in restricting access to the Christian worldview to favor other worldviews; thus the state is declaring what religions are legitimate and which should be suppressed. When a government gives tax-exempt status to private, secular universities but denies it to religious ones, on whatever grounds, it is choosing to advantage religious naturalism over theistic beliefs. In short, the separation of Church and State is an argument for limited government, something that is losing its appeal with the very persons most often citing these issues.

Within the confines of a formal separation of Church and State, even most Baptists will recognize certain informal ties between the two, for example, Church buildings are not exempted from fire codes. So what is the Churches proper role in politics? Might I suggest it is in educating the conscience and minds of the electorate, or at least of believers within the electorate, this is one of two reasons[4] why I oppose rules restricting churches in regards to “political” speech.

Evangelicalism as the grounds for Religious Freedom

What is often missed, however, is that traditional Protestantism, what we today, for lack of a better term call “Evangelicalism” is ultimately the grounding for principles of religious freedom. Evangelicals believe that salvation comes through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that the merits of Christ’s atonement are gained for the individual through personal faith in His work. Yet, personal faith is not something that can be forced by others, one might coerce conformity to outward standards of behavior, but not the heart. And thus, the believer assumes that mankind has a choice to make, to follow Jesus Christ, or to reject Him. Paul noted that he persuaded men, he did not note that he compelled them. The sad corollary to salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone is that mankind has the right also to reject the Creator, at least for the moment in this life.

[1]Many have argued that America was founded on Deism. As I’ve noted in the past, this is an argument that has several major issues. First, its established either by referring to statements from Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (who likely were deists) as if these sentiments were universal to the founders. But there does not seem to have been such a universal sentiment at all. Secondarily, often discussions of about the founder’s use of Locke is used as evidence, but there are significant debates as to whether Locke himself was, in fact, a deist and it should further be noted that Locke’s political philosophy is not derived organically from his epistemology. The mayflower compact is a very “lockian” document in some senses (it is explicitly a social contract) despite being pre-Lockian and many Christian philosopher’s before Locke, particularly within the reformed tradition held to similar views.

 

Additionally, Deism is a much broader system than many moderns seem to appreciate, and some seemed to view themselves as something of a modified Christianity, few seemed to fit the Webster’s definition of deism as believing God made the world, but no longer interacted with it. Franklin, who was almost certainly a deist, viewed the United States as the product of God’s providence.

 

For further reading see Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto; and James Sire The Universe Next Door.

                  [2] To understand this phrase, you need to go back to a debate that was very common in the early period of the reformation, discussions of the “fall of the Church.” The fall of the church was premised on the question, if salvation by grace through faith is so plain in the epistle of the Galatians and the epistle of Romans, why was the doctrine become so lost in theological discussions? This question is not as common as it once was, in part, because it is generally assumed that the causes are more complicated than they initially seemed. From the beginning, however, Baptists and a few other groups argued that the fall of the Church was in the connection between the State and the Church during the time period of Constantine the Great and afterwards, in part evidenced by he and his son’s persecution of Trinitarian leaders during the turbulent years of the Trinitarian controversies.

 

From this principle, early Baptist’s argued for a formal separation between religious organizations and the government, and in fact, Baptists faced as much persecution from Protestants as from Roman Catholics. For example, John Bunyan, author of the Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, spent an extensive period of time in English jail cells, because he refused to recognize the right of the Anglican Bishop to issue licenses to preach to dissenting preachers. Baptists, in fact, were often jailed in many of the American Colonies, and one of the earliest discussions of the Separation of Church and State began when Baptist leader (at the time) Roger Williams wrote The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference between Truth and Peace, which began a war of pamphlets with Massachusetts leader Puritan Leader John Cotton.

 

This position has also found modern support, for example, in Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of Slavery builds largely on this point by discussing the Medieval church’s structure into two categories, the church of piety and the church of power, and he argues most of the popes during the Medieval period were a part of the church of power. These do not necessarily correspond to the Evangelical treatment of the subject, the church of piety is, in Stark’s view, centered in monasticism rather than calls for free grace, but his work does raise significant questions for earlier periods.

[3] One of the most important allies of the democratic republicans and the anti-federalists in Virginia were the Baptists of the era, most often noted by means of Baptist leader John Leland.

                  [4]The second, and more mundane issue, is that such laws are often unevenly enforced, and there is some evidence to suggest Evangelical groups are more likely to be targeted than other denominations. This is similar to discussions of other elements of discussions involving free speech, for example, it is often noted that some presidential administrations used the various “equal time laws” or more recently the issues involving Lois Lerner’s attempts to use the IRS to selectively intimidate religious and tea party groups.

The Boogieman Wears Green Scrubs

My wife and I are spending a rather eventful and sleepless night with our newborn infant, who has had a very exciting first day and a half in the world, starting with a man in a green smock malicious pulling of his body from the nice warm ecosystem he had inhabited for his entire life. Soon after, he had a chance to rest with his mother, until a woman with green scrubs stole him, smeared goop into his eyes, and then cruelly stuck needles into his thigh. After being returned to his mother multiple women in green scrubs stuck a cold probe under his arms. His first morning after delivery, another woman in green scrubs took him to the side to stick something in his ear and make uncomfortable noises, another took him to a separate room  where the doctor cut him in a manner so sadistic it is not mentionable, suffice it to say his diapers now cause pain and he is still recovering.  Yet another of the medical menaces stuck a needle in his heel and cruelly squeezed the heel repeatedly to make it bleed.

It is clear that those people wearing green scrubs are evil incarnate, the boogie men of nightmares who live to torture little boys; except, of course, we know they aren’t. What the baby doesn’t know, and does not yet have the capacity to understand, is that these are compassionate doctors, nurses and lab techs (the only ones wearing scrubs some other color than green), who are putting the baby through painful procedures for his own good, and while his parents do their best to console him, he does not at this point understand.

One of the big questions raised against Christianity is the problem of evil, there are a number of complicated books answering this topic in part because there are number of significantly different, but related arguments and the answer to one, does not answer another. And yet, there are a number of different components found in a number of arguments. One of these is known as the “soul Building theodicy.” The soul building theodicy asserts that God allows pain and suffering in the universe, but that He chooses to use pain and suffering to build human souls; from this angle my son’s experience of the world is a perfect example. The doctors are trying to keep him well, and safe and yes, he will suffer for that to happen; the suffering instead is a byproduct of what God intends.

But what about Hell? Well as I noted there are a number of different components to the various answers to why God allows evil in the universe, but let me suggest that if man has free will (another component in most answers to the problem of evil), then men may very well respond incorrectly to suffering. City governments build stoplights to promote safety, and enforcement (pain and suffering) to ensure good behavior, and yet this theoretical goal is not always reached and some drivers lose their licenses from running red lights too regularly.

I’ve also noted in the past there are formal discussions of the problem of evil and what is called the problem of natural evil, and this is sometimes confused with an emotional argument from suffering. Might I suggest as believers, as we suffer we should view this as the potters refining, and the clay that is thrown aside does so because it refuses to be directed by the potter’s hand; as the hymn writer began, “Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear.”

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.