Thursday, February 21, 2008

Some Thoughts on Government

I once heard a pastor say that, technically speaking, America's War of Independence was a sin because we failed to be "subject to the higher powers." In refusing to submit to British authority, we violated said biblical mandate, and therefore our country's freedom and very existence is founded on sin. That is the first thought I wish to address.
It had been the long held, orthodox Christian stance that all communitive dynamics are reciprocal in nature. Take Paul's command to husbands ("love your wives") and wives ("submit to your husbands"). Though one of those can happen without the other, the way it is supposed to work is that they happen because of the other. The husband loves the wife because she submits; the wife submits to the husband because he loves her. It does not matter who starts it, just as long as it keeps going. This reciprocal element means that the participants will do their part willingly, and not out of force or a sense of duty.
This reciprocal element is the key to the citizen/government dynamic as well. Generally speaking, Christianity has taught that the purpose of government is to seek the good of the people (or so Romans 13:1-7 says). In response to said good-seeking, the people submit to the government (see vs. 7 of Rom. 13; the "therefore" implies that it is the logical outcome of the previous verses). That is how it is supposed to work. Our founding fathers said as much in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness [i.e., the 'good']. That to secure these rights [i.e., 'seek the good'], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Because they understood the reciprocal element that makes a healthy citizen/government dynamic, our founding fathers
knew that when a government ceased to keep its end up, it ceased to be a government in the biblical sense and no longer merited submission (obviously, they were drawing heavily from Aquinas and Locke as well as the Bible):

"Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect [i.e., 'seek the good'] their Safety and Happiness [i.e., the 'good']."

In Matthew 22:21 (one of my favorite government verses), Jesus simultaneously denounces tyranny and anarchy. The only way to avoid both is to follow what is laid down in Romans: governments, seek the good of the people and not your own good (therefore, do not be tyrants); people, submit yourselves to the government, and let them be your authority (therefore, do not be anarchists). Our founding fathers understood this, and I defiantly claim that their move for our independence was one of the most Christian acts our government has ever committed. It was done with a complete understanding and sensitivity to biblical mandates, and was in no way a sin of any kind.

My second thought concerns the ludicrous "separation of church and state" clause that does not exist in our Constitution or its Amendments (check for yourself). It has come to my attention that proponents of said non-existent clause seem to be confused in regards to the difference between religion and truth. Our founding fathers, having come from the tyrannical state church of England, and being Protestants with a firm memory of "holy Roman" empires, knew well what happens when politics and religion become bed-fellows. Thus, they made the first amendment, which guarantees that the two are to never get bound up with each other. However, there is nothing in that amendment (or any founding document) that even remotely suggests that politics is not to be bound up with truth.
I say this because it frustrates me to no end when politicians today denounce the involvement of religious ideas, citing the first amendment as their grounds, without first checking if said ideas are true. It is perfectly fine (and American) for the government to deny favoritism to or endorsement of any religion; it is not at all fine (or American) for the government to deny favoritism to or endorsement of the truth. Separation of church and state (if it were real) does not mean separation of truth and state. That religions happen to endorse or adhere to certain truth claims does not mean that those truth claims are religious, but that those religions are philosophies that seek out the truth. Truth transcends religion. Our founding fathers knew that. That is why they could make the first amendment without batting an eyelash: they could tell the difference between what was religious and what was true. We could sure use a return to such sanity.

10 comments:

Drew said...

Come now my good friend Jonathan...you really think that Thomas Jefferson, a confirmed Deist and anti-Christian, had Aquinas (and the Bible!) in mind when he wrote the Declaration of Independence? Jefferson, assuming he ever read any of the Summae at all (an unlikely prospect), must almost certainly have completely skipped those portions of Aquinas's writings that discuss obedience to the State!

However, you do raise an interesting question: "Was the 'War for Independence'" a just war? It is a question (of a purely academic nature, as it is now a fait accompli) over which I have pondered often, without successful resolution, I might add. You may want to visit my blog sometime. I will deal with many of these same issues in some of my posts, albeit in a somewhat different context. Perhaps we could get a good (though friendly and civil) debate going sometime.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Drew

Jonathan Vowell said...

Perhaps Jefferson didn't, but I was referring to the fathers as a whole. Jefferson physically wrote the declaration, but they all approved of it. They believed it expressed their thoughts exactly, and I'm willing to bet that many of them had Aquinas in mind.

I would be happy to visit your blog. It's very nice to hear from you.

Drew said...

But that's precisely what I find hard to believe. Even from a European Protestant perspective, the Founding Fathers (and American society in general) were on the "fringe" of Christianity, and (I think) only one of the signers of the Declaration was Roman Catholic...it's difficult to imagine a bunch of anti-institutional, anti-clerical, anti-traditional, (mostly) non-practicing Protestants advocating religious liberty and secular government on the basis of the Summa Theologiae (which among other things said that heretics should be executed). Not trying to be combative on that score, but these are undeniable facts (check out Michael Horton's book "Made in America" for a more precise exposition). Can you point to a single instance where any of the Founding Fathers quoted Aquinas? I would be happy to wrong about this, but I've never seen Aquinas quoted by any Founding Father (and I only recall a few instances where any of them actually quoted the Bible, which is indicative of absolutely nothing...Franklin the deist quoted Scripture when it struck his fancy). If you could point to any passages in the Founding Fathers where Aquinas is quoted directly I would be most grateful, and surprised.

Thanks,
Drew

Jonathan Vowell said...

Though I stand in wondrous awe of your historical prowess, I have reservations.
I'm no huge fan of Beka Books, but I don't buy the whole myth that all our founders were nothing but secular-minded deist with a convenient religious gloss that got over bloated over time. A small reason why IS documented:

http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=78

(btw, these links are notoriously unreliable, so let me know if it didn't work)

As for the Summae, please note that I never said (are never meant) it was THE basis for their decision, only that they were influenced by it. That none of them (apparently) directly quote the Summae means nothing to me in the end. You can be influenced heavily by something and never directly quote any of it. What I noticed in the Declaration was an influence, not the thing itself in any form.

Still, I too have never noticed any founder quoting Aquinas, but then again I'm no history buff by any stretch of the imagination, so I'm a poor litmus to make any judgments on.

What's up with your picture. You seem menacingly indifferent.

Jonathan Vowell said...

Btw, even if the founders did not have the Bible in mind at all (which I seriously doubt), my ultimate point is that, regardless of their actual basis's or reasons, their actions agree with what the Bible says (in regards to government), and therefore Christians need not get all bent out of shape about the issue of our country's move for independence. Even if the Bible was far from their thoughts, they still acted biblically.

Drew said...

One tendency in American public life (and an admittedly annoying one at that) is to interpret EVERY political (or religious) issue in terms of the utmost extremes imaginable. Most of the "upper level" Founding Fathers were deists, and there really isn't much good in disputing that fact. It can be verified from their own writings ("nature and nature's God" was a deistic reference, not a Christian one...if he had intended a Christian reference, why not just say "the God of Jesus Christ" instead...hmm...). If the Founding Fathers had intended to establish a Christian nation, why doesn't the Constitution contain the word "Christian" (or "Jesus") a single time? Surely, if that's what they had in mind, there were much simpler ways to say it! However, that is not to say that there weren't other ("second-level") Founding Fathers who were dedicated to their own particular sect...Patrick Henry was a notable example. So was Nathaniel Greene. However, in acknowledging the historical fact that the religio-philosophical mindset of the Founding Fathers as a whole was deistic and was in no way based upon "the Bible" (which in every case is only aware of a monarchical form of government...hardly a proper guide for liberal republicans), I am in no way trying to say that the Founding Fathers were on the same level as the revolutionaries in France, who were implacably hostile to religion. The Founding Fathers had a certain high respect for the role of religion in the life of the polity, even if their understanding of what religion was turned out to be quite minimalistic, which is light years away from what we can say about what happened in France. Conservatives like to repeat over and over again ad nauseum that the Founding Fathers derived their ideas of government from the Bible...to this day, after having read hundreds upon hundreds of pages of their writings, I have seen zero evidence of that. The people who really were trying to put a Christian idea of government into practice (which includes more that just "the Bible," which can mean whatever its readers want it to mean outside of a larger epistemic framework), were the medieval Roman Catholics and Byzantines, not Enlightenment-minded folks like the early Americans. I think in many respects, from a political science perspective, the Founding Fathers got a lot of things right where previous attempts got it wrong, but to attribute this to some kind of "biblicism" on the part of the Founders that simply didn't exist is to betray a certain religious devotion to them that is not warranted, and is in fact forbidden by the very biblical text conservatives claim the Founders followed. I'm sorry, but to say that the Founding Fathers were "strongly" influenced by the Bible more than by, say, Cicero, or Livy, or Machiavelli, or Locke, etc., is like saying that the earth is flat and sits on top of a turtle. It just didn't happen that way. The Founding Fathers were great men, to be sure, but they most certainly were not trying to establish a theocracy or a government with "Christian principles," whatever that even means in an American context (i.e., where there is no national church). The only examples of that at the time were the great nations of Europe, which is precisely what the Founders were trying to distance themselves from. Just read the "Federalist Papers" by Hamilton, Madison, & Jay...it's all there, all you have to do is read it, and it'll give you a great start on the subject. Also, check out a post of mine on the subject:

http://aquinophile.blogspot.com/2008/02/ahem.html

You might also want to check out "Church and State in Early Christianity" by Hugo Rahner, S.J.

Peace,
Drew

BTW, if you think I look menacing in that picture, you should see me now...I'm completely bald!

Jonathan Vowell said...

True...I mean, what you said is true, not that you're bald is true, which is true, because you said it was true, but I'm not pointing out that truthfulness, but the other truthful...um...ah...yeah...

...

...

Okay...right, anyways.
I agree with you (mostly...I think), and my original point still stands: our country's move for independence, though perhaps not biblically based or influenced at all, was still biblical, i.e., lined up with the what the Bible says about governments. I think we can both agree that people shouldn't nit-pick about whether that was intentional or coincidental.

Peace and Pizza to you and all your kind.

Drew said...

Peace and pizza to all your kind as well! :) We should get together soon, along with your insane brother...give me a call next week and we'll set something up. I'd like to hear how everything at Crichton is going these days...

Jonathan Vowell said...

Cool.
Do lunch.
Talk crap.
It'll be fun!

8^)

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