This past week I’ve been having a conversation on facebook with a long time acquaintance from back in my church youth group days. It’s a good conversation about Christianity and politics. He comes from the liberal tradion, wheras I come from from a sphere sovereignty/principled pluralism position. And even though we are pretty much completely at odds with each other, I really do enjoy having these conversations because at the least I gain more of an understanding of his position and at the most my thinking becomes more clarified at certain points. Maybe we don’t walk away having changed each other’s opinions but we are “sharpened” through such fireside chats.
The whole conversation started over the video that you may have heard from called, The Thaw
This is a rather tacky sort of video if not for the simple reason that it’s a bunch of teenagers and teenie-boppers whom have barely left the womb making political statements like they have it all figured out. Now, back in the day, when I was 16, I myself wrote in defense of Jim Bakker’s “PTL Club.” It made me feel good defending all the “good” things that Jimbo and Co. were doing with everybody else’s money and especially having my church pat me on the back made me feel extra special as I believed Being on Jim and Tammy’s side meant being on God’s side.
Needless to say, I was wrong.
I was wrong if not for the simple reason of hindsight and how much I’ve changed in my thinking on many things. In the video here we have a young kid who is what 11? 12? 13? who says he is going to let his little light shine in step with the rest of his Christian peers.
Regardless, I’m really not in favor of using children for any political proganda whatever side of an issue one may be on. Children, unless they are a prodigy, really don’t grasp complex issues. And, as with myself, may likely changed and become solidified in an opposite point of view as they get older.
Anyhoo, back to my long time acquaintance. My question to him was, in light of, “The Thaw” as poky as it was, was if government could ever overstep its’s boudaries. After some back and forth banter this was my last response to him:
OK…still don’t think you’ve responded to my question but I’ll ask it with an example. You have a Baptist denomination. Said Baptist denomination says as a part of their beliefs that children are not allowed to be baptized. They have their theological reasons. Is it not possible for government in his situation to say, “No, we will tell you that you have to teach and practice infant baptism.” Now, you may say that there are laws in place that stop the government from doing such things but I find that beside the point. Government, (in the U.S. at least) USEto have a state religion. Not just Christianity but a Puritan type of Protestant Christianity such that even those Christians who disagreed with it were pretty much considered illegal.
So, if a Church wants to say that something is a sin (which ESSENTIALLY THAT IS WHAT CHURCHES DO, though there may be quite a bit of variance on HOW they will go about doing so) government has no right to say to said church, “You can’t say that it is a sin.” Government has no right to act as the religious conscience of a body of believers. So, when I asked this question about whether it is possible for goverment to be able to act expansively in this way, the answer is, “Yes. They CAN and at times they do.”
I’ll put up another scenario but pretty much saying the same thing. Say, you have all religions sitting at the “public square round table.” The Christians come along and say, “We think everyone ought to honor God through Jesus Christ. Let’s get the government to ensure that this happens. We’ll only have “religious holidays” (no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny) and people can only worship on Sundays. They must all go to the a Church that teaches, thus and thus. Stores and malls will remain closed on Sunday to give people a rest based on our belief that God “rested” on the seventh day.” Now imagine if government enforced this. IN THIS INSTANCE this would be government priviledging one religion above the rest. Not only a particular form of Christianity over-against other forms but Christianity in general over against other religions ie., when Canada decided to endorse Sunday shopping, many conservative Christians bemoaned the fact that she was becoming post-Christian. But many Christians are of a religious conscience that this is not important for various theological reasons. So, in their eyes, this is not a real threat to the idea of Canada being post Christian.
And that is all I’m trying to ask. Can a government over extend it’s boundaries becoming the religious conscience of the Church in general and churches in particular. I’m also asking can government act in such a way as to treat all religions equally and fairly not priviledging one religion above the rest. The answer to that question is also, “Yes, they can treat all equally and fairly not priviledging one over another.”
The third question is, “Can this be done on the basis of Christian conviction? Again, lastly, “Yes. Christians can allow for other religions (and sin, not saying that other religions are sinful) to co-exist. One can see this in scripture as well as advanced via developed theological understandings of a history of Christian political thought as well as an “all ready/not yet” understanding of Christian doctrine, ie., as Christians, we live inbetween the times. After the ascension and before the eschaton. Thus we don’t live in a triumphal, Christian theocracy in a sense.
Now, let me address some of your other issues. Which though important basically ended up being used to avoid my questions.
A. Religion is not protected itself but the freedom to choose is, ie., human sacrifice.
First, the law is there to protect not simply the freedom to choose, but the freedom to EXERCISE your religion. The freedom to PRACTICE it. Guess, what, that freedom goes outside the church building. In other words, when it comes to the public square, I don’t hang my religious hat up at the door (as if that is even possible). In saying that (and in saying everything else I’ve said on this thread) religion is not absolute. This again, is something I say, based on an a priori religious conviction concerning government and politics. What I mean by that is this: Based on my religious conviction, God has a place or role for government or governing powers. Part of this religious conviction is that government’s role is to ensure life. It does this through a variety of ways. Conservatives are short-sighted on this because when it comes to abortion, they look only towards saving the unborn but don’t think much else about ecology, water supplies, health insurance, strong families and communities (and the list could go on) for the SUSTAINANCE of human life. So, “…governments bear responsibility to uphold the peace and welfare of the political community. Therefore, they have authority both to prohibit certain actions that degrade or destroy human life and to restrict conduct that disrupts public concord. These legitimate acts of government must apply universally to all citizens. On occasion, therefore, governments may be obligated to restrain or prohibit certain practices even though some citizens consider them proper to the exercise of their religions.” (Center for Public Justice). Now, in one sense, guess what? This applies to agnostics and atheists. But in another MORE ULTIMATE SENSE, you can’t have both Christians and atheists views being the GROUND for this. You can’t have Christians who say this and atheists who say the opposite of this–exclude all religion from the public domain on all levels. Those two are antithetical to each other and the twain shall never meet. Sorry, I think the atheists should lose here. All that would be happening under an ultimacy is one view being priviledged by another. What would you rather have? An ultimate view that dictates all religions should be banned from public life (perhaps even private?) or one that recognizes that people are religious (and can’t help but practice both privately [in churches] and publicly [because religion ultimately spills out beyond your home and place of worship] as well as recognizes that one sees atheists and agnostics (both in one sense religious themselves) as having rights to be free from religion ie., if they want their own schools, teach their kids that there is no God, have their own clubs, etc? I say the second one is the way to go. In such a case, there is no imposition of my Christianity or religion upon the agnostic or atheist. In the ultimate sense yes. In the less ultimate sense no. But it goes both ways.
B. You say that you find my fear of government becoming godlike to be unfounded. What I mean by that is really omni-competent and expansive in areas that are the proper domain of individuals or institutions. Maybe an example will suffice. Been talking about this for sometime now.
Education. I think the responsibility of educating of children is PRIMARILY left up to parents. This is not to say that if a parent is not properly educating their child that the government should never step in. But again, ULTIMATELY, it is the parent who has the GOD-GIVEN RESPO NSIBILITY to teach a child aside from the basic three R’s according to their values, tradition and histories. In Ontario, we have basically two school systems. Public and Catholic. Now, say you have a black muslim mother with four kids. She doesn’t like what she sees in the public schools. They’re teaching things that she doesn’t agree with morally (cramming moral beliefs and practices down her children’s throats) as well as cramming down her children’s throats a “national history.” Basically, a one size history that fits all. But in her thinking, it leaves out some substantial elements to her own personal muslim history. After all, who the hell is the government to say, “Hey, our view of history is the correct one.” Sure, they may, in part do this because her they want to have a unified country. However, what has happened is the opposite especially in the schools themselves. They become legal battlegrounds instead of places of education. To add insult to injury? What the government in Ontario has done is say, “Listen, if you want to educated your children according to your values, traditions, and histories? You’re going to have to pay for it yourself–on top of the taxes you already pay for the public schools.” In effect, what the goverment has done to said black muslim mother is treat her and her children as a second class citizens.
If you are a non-religious person, you can send your children to public schools. Your tax dollars go to those schools. If you are a Catholic, your tax dollars go to your system if you want to deem them there. But everyone else? You can’t put your tax dollars to your own parochial, home school, private system. If you want to do that, you have to not only pay for the public school but also the private on top of the public in order to educate your child as you see fit. That’s not government’s responsibility. It’s responsibility is to undergird those who have the PRIMARY responsibility, the parents. Not detract from that. I’m not suggesting as conservatives do to “get government out of the school.” No, I’m suggesting that government has a role to play in the education of children. It’s role is to BACK the parents. As it stands now, the government thinks of itself as an octopus with tentacles that expansively reach beyond it’s boundaries over into that which is the proper sphere of others.
Now, we can talk about how we are how government is suppose to represent the people and if she doesn’t well we can change her. I’m not exactly sure what anyone would mean by that. Change a democracy to a communism? Change the regime in power? Or simply reform the existing structures through legislation such that government is prohibited from expanding in this way. I’d think that the last option is the better one as government is not completely omni-competent in every area just yet. I would say she hasn’t gone that far completely. She does, at times recognize her boundaries while at other times fails to do so. So a lot of the time there is this ebb and flow when it comes to government omni-competence I think.
Lastly, with regard to the HHS Mandate, it’s not like Catholic organizations were providing contraceptives in their health plans. So these employees didn’t have them to begin with. Rather, they were mandated to go against their beliefs. The other thing is, the government itself provided an exemption KNOWING this was a problematic for religious organizations. Again, this video I put up earlier is helpful in explaining this. It’s the second one down: http://new.livestream.com/calvin-college/events/2039287