Monthly Archives: December 2020

Separation of Powers and Religious Liberty

I have been interested in religion/faith and politics from as far back as I can remember. Mostly from my early 20’s. These are the kinds of questions I lose sleep over. Not in an anxious sort of way, just in an OCD sort of way. 🙂 One question that seems to come up time and time again has to do with equal treatment between religion and non-religion in the public square.

A number of years ago, I came across the Kuyperian view of things that gave explanatory power to these questions, however, (at least the materials I have read) they didn’t seem to respond to this question in substantial ways.

Kuyper, if you may recall, talked about the different spheres of society, each having distributive authority from God. For an example, the police have their own authority and a union has it’s own authority. Neither authority should be “omni-competent” taking over the other sphere’s authority. The police can’t take over the union and carry out their responsibility nor should the union do the job of the police. This is essentially what Kuyperians say is an injustice. I personally can bear this out with my job and that of Canadian Customs whom, in the past have expected me to do their job for them at times (I crossed the border fourteen times a night on a round trip. I have never had a problem with American Customs in this regard).

What you see here is what conservatives have always talked about and of which you can read in many of the writings of conservative websites and think tanks from some of their brightest thinkers—a separation of powers— plain and simple. I’m all for this because of my view of human nature. I believe that power can corrupt (not that it does so necessarily) and thus too much power in the hands of a particular sphere or authority is detrimental to the common good.

As an aside, Kuyperian political philosophy is actually conservative in this manner and I came to see this the more I delved into sphere sovereignty. Interestingly, I have a friend of mine who comes to LIBERTARIANISM from a Kuyperian position. Yet, Kuyperians will tell you that sphere sovereignty is different from conservatism and surely different from libertarianism. However, the reason I think Kuyper and conservatism are closer is not because of something I’ve discovered on my own but because it has actually been written about in books like Mark Larson’s book: “Abraham Kuyper, Conservatism, and Church and State’’ where he lays this out very succinctly.

It seems to me that where Kuyperians, conservatives and libertarians all lay their heads down is in this area of separation of powers. They may do so for various reasons but one of the underpinning reasons has to do with justice over-all.

Having said that, I think this touches on the first paragraph of the equal treatment of religion and non-religion in the public square stated above. It’s not so much a question of fairness (for life is hardly ever fair) but one of justice. How do we, as a society, do justice to religious belief and non-religious belief in the public square without establishing one or the other? Again, it comes up time and time again in battles that take place in the courts. For an example, the statue of Satan being placed next to the Ten Commandments in a public square-how does a society do justice to both?

An aside: Satanism is most assuredly a belief system and so I would not say it is UNBELIEF, thus I think it would differ from atheism which seeks to be free OF religious experience. Concerning belief and non-belief though, how does a government seek to do justice to both of those?

At the moment, I’m reading, “Secular Government/Religious People” by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle

I can’t say much about the book because I’ve just gotten into it other than this:

In there, they argue that a “secular government” is not necessarily hostile to religion and establishes an official religion of secularism. Kuyperianism will tell you that in many respects the role of government is to act in a judicial manner between the differing spheres (something the authors recognize). A further implication of this separation of authorities (authorities here can mean the different religious authorities as well) is that government:

“…does not promote religious worship, oversee religious indoctrination, or exercise religious authority. Instead, that responsibility belongs solely to the people and their voluntary religious communities.”

That being the case then, my question is, can the public “space” be filled with religion or no religion? So coming back to our example of belief and non-belief in the public square, would it be the case of government, not endorsing any particular religion per-se, but by allowing religious belief in the public, is that not essentially a violation of government backed religion? Would it violate the rights of those with “no religion?”

The authors as far as I can tell may get into this question but for now they say that each side:

“…ignores half of the “Constitution’s distinctive way of connecting secular government and religious people.”

That is,

“One group exalts the secularity of the state but dismisses the religious character of the people, and the government’s legitimate responsiveness to that character. The other group denies the distinction between the government and the people, and expects the government to mirror and celebrate the community’s (usually the majority’s) religious identity.”

For me, at this point, “no-religion” IS religion. It IS religious. That to me seems to be an important question I hope the authors address. For there really is no violation of establishment of religion when all is religious. If the character of the people is religious, as the authors say, then atheist or theist, a government is ultimately going to violate, at a fundamental level, one party’s religion.


Yeah…Jesus Didn’t Condemn Having Wealth and Resources

I saw two pieces on Facebook about five days ago about the top 1% of the richest in the US. The first was by fiscal Marxist David Fitch a professor of theology at Northern Seminary 🙂. I kid, I kid…you can see that article here.

The other was by my Facebook friend, Dwayne Polk, whom for purposes of credentials worked for Greg Boyd and is a graduate of ORU (Oral Roberts University) in theology. Here is what he posted:

“If I were President, Id just make a public call to the 1% to help *personally* fund the things we cant get past Congress that are needed. I mean, go straight to them. And on television. Social media. All that. Call out names. And id appeal to them as Americans and Americans OF FAITH and talk about the Golden Rule…and Loving the Neighbor as Oneself. I would put overt pressure on them to help the American people in a failing governmental system.

But thats just me.”

Eric Reitan, a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University had this to say:

“And then realize that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk both have well over 100 billion in personal wealth. Making $100k a year without taxes and it would take you a *million years* to achieve that level of wealth. Or invert it: Elon Musk could spend $1 million a year on his own pleasure (meaning about $950,000 a year on mere luxuries) and it would take him a hundred thousand years to exhaust his wealth–and he’s unlikely to live more than 40 more years. While money does add to happiness in the sense of ensuring needs are met, lifting away anxiety, enabling one to pursue meaningful activities and develop talents, and providing resources for sustaining meaningful relationships, the amount needed for this falls well short of a million a year. Meaning if Bezos gave away to those in need 99.99% of his personal wealth, he’d be left with far more than the maximum wealth required for optimal human happiness (and might be more likely to be able to access the other necessary conditions for true happiness, such as the cultivation of benevolence).”

Now, let me start off saying this.

A. Christians should struggle with their wealth and riches INTERNALLY. However, most of what passes for critical self (or otherwise ie., Christian community as a whole) is negative. It sees it FIRST in terms of what is said in the quotes above or, to put those quotes another way, it sees wealth and riches and capitalism in general, in terms of exploitation, or class warfare or oppression.

B. I’m a believer in “free markets” as far as markets are free. What I mean by that is not that a society can’t have government regulation, (I am not wholly put off by the government regulating when it should. This is really not much different than what Roger Scruton talks about when he spoke at his website about the environment. That is, for an example, if a private company spills waste into a river and pollutes it, it should bear the brunt of the costs of what it has done. This is only proper from a conservative point of view because at a base instinctual level one should care about the community to which they are attached to. However, this doesn’t rule out government intervention if need be. You can read Roger Scruton’s post here) but rather the market itself is very much one sided in terms of corporate pressure in marketing of said product(s) ie., as Cavanaugh asks, “When is the market free? How can we judge when any particular transaction is free?” Freedom isn’t merely negative ie., freedom from coercion (as Milton Friedman would have us believe).

Here’s my main point though that I posted to Facebook of which I think really get’s to the some of the assumptions that guys like my Dwayne and Eric Reitan are working with.

From Facebook:

“I’m not a full fledged libertarian, though I do think libertarianism makes some valid points, especially as it concerns economic inequalities. I mean there is this sin called, “envy” and it rears its ugly head in more ways than one—not just between individuals but between those who say they are advocating for the poor by criticizing those who have resources (which, for me, is quite a relative measure ie., one can complain about Bezos EXTRA BILLIONS that could go to the poor, which I’ve seen done even this week on FB, but those same folks have extra that they don’t need either and when you consider all us middle to upper-middle folks whom have “more than we need” then I wonder why there is no complaints or voluntary giving of THEIR over-and-above resources of which no one can really say what that amount should be). Anyhoo, most of what passes for “critical self-analysis” is negative in nature, as if there is nothing positive to ownership of wealth and resources. It is ASSUMED, as pointed out in question 40 in the book, that there is a connection between those who have wealth and those who don’t when in reality the problem isn’t Bezos’ billions but personal and social/governmental complexities.”

And then I go on to quote from the book mentioned above:

“38. What about the inequalities that capitalism creates? Economic inequality has always existed wherever there have been economies. In pre-capitalist days, having wealth often (but not always) entailed exploiting others who then remained poor. This is one reason we see so many admonitions against wealth in the Bible. It is also why many early church leaders and theologians decry wealth. It is only recently that being wealthy has not been associated with unjust acquisition of wealth but instead with the indication that mutually beneficial trade is occurring. Under free market capitalism, wealth must be obtained by effectively and efficiently providing value to others in exchange for their money. Whenever inequality indicates that the few are exploiting others and leaving them worse off, we should stand against it. But under conditions where everyone is better off and some are “more better off,” we can appreciate, if not applaud, the gains through exchange. Christians are often concerned about the well-being of others, yet it is all too common that concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but a suppressed envy that arises because of perceived reasons behind the injustice. We must be mindful that we are not suppressing our envy when we advocate for the wellbeing of others. All too often the concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but the perceived reason behind the perceived injustice. For example, while the purchasing power of the average worker’s wages has improved dramatically for several decades, the top I% have seen even greater gains. Many have pointed out that this is the reason to institute redistributive schemes to rectify the perceived injustice of inequality, even though everyone has gained financially (see Question 40).”—Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers To Tough Questions

And of course, Jesus NEVER condemned those who were wealthy but those who were wealthy by ill-gotten means or by exploiting others.