Thursday, October 29, 2009

Must Conservatives Believe in God? The Role of God In Shaping Our Politics

Is it possible to be both a conservative and an atheist? Does political, economic, moral, and foreign policy conservatism depend on one's view of God? At the popular conservative blog, American Thinker Shane Corsey argues that one can be conservative even without a fundamental belief in God. Corsey is case in point. He makes it clear that he does not believe in God and has serious objections to religion. He goes so far as to suggest that "God and religion do not belong in politics or . . . in the public arena." So is Corsey consistent with his worldview? Can one hold to conservative values like small government, low taxes, healthy families, strong national defense, and free market capitalism without any belief in God?

In a word: no. As Corsey lays out his argument, one is left wondering why Corsey is a conservative in the first place? On what foundation is conservativism based on without a fundamental belief in God? He begins by laying out his basic reason for considering himself a conservative:

One of the reasons I am a proud conservative is because it comes closest to the belief of what our Founding Fathers had in mind for this country, and the values of that system give an equal shake to anyone who wishes to come here. Religion in my opinion is not as forgiving, and can be as big of a divider in this country as race . . .

But one must wonder, then, why follow the beliefs of the Fonding Fathers? On what basis did the Founding Fathers found this nation? Where did their ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come from? Grant it, there were centuries of political theory and philosophy behind much of the Founder's demand for liberty and a Democratic Republic, but the question remains, where did such fundamental convictions of the Founding Fathers come from?

Though the Founding Fathers stopped short of pushing one particular religion, their belief in the existence and providence of God stood as the foundation for their political thought. Even a cursory read of the founding documents and from the Founding Fathers themselves affirm this conviction. No nation will establish a small government that promotes liberty instead of tyranny if it denies the authority and providence of God as the twenty-first century proved. By rejecting God, government takes the role of the highest authority in the life of the people. Even in atheistic nations the people must follow and submit to someone and when God is denied, government willingly takes His empty seat (and His unlimited authority). This is not a religious statement. The Founders opposed a federal religion but encouraged a national belief in God.

Corsey raises an interesting point regarding the divisiveness of religion. Most religions, including Christianity, regards itself as the one true religion and rightfully so. Why bother with a religion if it offers no assurance? If one can find God anywhere, why bother participating in a particular religion? But we must not forget the serious questions that religion seeks to answer like how can I be made right with God? how can I escape judgment? what is the meaning of life? why am I here? is there a God? what is right and wrong? Even atheism has answers to these questions.

Corsey continues his argument by focusing primarily on the issue of homosexuality. In our world today homosexuality is proof of the divisiveness of religion. He argues:

Religion also leaves many people by the wayside if you don't subscribe to their beliefs. Many gays and lesbians share all the same values as any other American yet they are shunned in most religious circles, because of their sexual preferences. I'm a happily married man and I do not subscribe to their way of doing things, but who am I, or who are you, to judge them? . . . . I also believe that they should be entitled to anything that a married couple should be entitled to, including adoption and getting the other spouse's Social Security benefits after one spouse has passed on.

One can see where the fundamental difference between an atheistic worldview and a theological worldview lie. The issue of morality is itself divisive and the homosexual debate only adds fuel to the fire. From an atheistic worldview, there is no reason to regard homosexuality wrong. Apart from a Divine Lawgiver why condemn two people in love, even if they are of the same sex, just like you and me?

But this raises an important issue regarding morality? Why does Corsey consider homosexuality to be moral yet other sexual preferences immoral? On what basis is he making his conclusions? Corsey goes on to raise the issue of the slippery slope: if homosexuality is permited what about polygamy, polyamory, incest, or even bestiality? Can the same arguments in favor of homosexuality be made for these other lifestyles? And if so, then why deny a polygamists his right to fulfill their own sexual desires.

Corsey allows this to be a possibility, but yet remains firm in conviction that there should be limits to what the State considers sexually lawful. He says that as long as "gays and lesbians follow the same value system as the rest of us, are over the age of 18, are not accosting minors, and they are doing it of their own free will and not being forced into it, then they are not harming anyone, and should not be ridiculed or excluded from society or religion for that matter." But why? On what grounds are his limits to sexuality based on? On what basis can one deny a minor and an adult, regardless of their genders, participate in sexual activity? On what basis can one deny bisexual polygamy between adults and minors? Why must it be consensual? What do you mean by a shared "value system?"

Apart from a fundamental belief in God who acts as a Divine Lawgiver that determines what is right and wrong, moral relativism is inevitable and as culture evolves, so will its morality. Can Corsey say today that if he were still alive 100 years from today he would still affirm this statement? By then not only will homosexuality likely be legal and normal, but so will other sexual lifestyles? On what basis does one draw limits and laws within a society when morality is relative on account of the absence of a holy deity? Such a philosophy is left with the option of simply making moral claims up. Divorce and homosexuality were morally wrong 100 years ago, but today it is not because society has said so and society has drawn such conclusions arbitrary because of its rejection of God.

Corsey goes on to provide more moral and political conclusions based on this weak foundation. He adds that neither sexual education (except maybe in high school, but before that, it should be limited to discussions of the differences in gender only, and only with parents attendance) or prayer should be promoted in schools. Prayer promotes one religion over another and sexual education is abused and encourages students to violate possible moral convictions:

My being against teaching gay sex in school is one of the same reasons school prayer should not be allowed. Sexual preference and religion have no business in our schools, these are subjects that are for home discussion, not school discussion. School is for learning, not for teaching about sex or religion. Religion belongs in one's home or place of worship, not in our schools. In instituting prayer in our schools, we would be forcing the beliefs of one religion onto the ones of another religion, or on those who do not wish it, causing strife. Just like teaching sexual orientation would force a set of unwanted beliefs on others.

Again, on what basis does Corsey make such conclusions? If homosexuality is a shared value among Americans, why not teach it at public schools? If prayer is a shared value among Americans, why not allow it in public schools? Corsey, again, is left determining policy out of a straw hat of his own design. Theism, on the other hand, is not so lucky.

But perhaps the most amazing argument comes in the concluding paragraph. The atheist conservative argues:

In values we can all find common ground, but not so much with religious views - too many differences. Right and wrong have no religion, they are of almost every religion and of none. Don't get me wrong, I think religion does have its place in our society, but that place is a place of our own choosing not religion's choosing. Religion does not choose us, we choose whatever religion we choose to be. But American values and principles reside in the vast majority of all Americans, and can be used to bring all of us closer together regardless of religion, race, or sexual orientation.

"Right and wrong have no religion?" His argument is that one cannot say that the morality of one religion is superior to another religion (including non-religion) because all religions teach basically the same thing. This is simply not true. Already Corsey has shown his moral view regarding sexuality that runs contrary to many other religious beliefs. If God is not needed in conservatism then does that mean that Corsey's moral opinions rooted in his atheistic worldview become the standard that one must adopt in order to be included in the conservative movement? Is Corsey not encouraging his readers to follow him and not their religious beliefs that run contrary to his moral beliefs? Is that not divisive?
Such naivete is folly. America is built on division. Democracy cannot thrive without divisions. The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to ensure that democracy will flourish. And that Bill of Rights is built on the assumption that there is a God. The minute persons are told what not to say or the press is told what not to report is the minute democracy dies. Unity is wonderful, but apart from uniformity (which quenches freedom and liberty) it is impossible. There is no such thing as a uniformed democratic, free society.

So must one believe in God in order to be conservative? Regarding some political issues perhaps not. But regarding the issues raised by Corsey, including small government and morality, unless one affirm a belief in the Divine it is hard to imagine how one could consistently be conservative. The atheist conservative sounds more like a atheistic moderate (or even liberal) regarding moral issues than his theistic counterparts and fails to explain why he believes in the small government principles of the Founding Fathers if God does not exist.

As Christians, we must not forget the effect that our theology plays in our politics and our moral outlook. If we are bound by Scripture, then relativism is an unwelcomed guest. So long as America affirms its traditional and founding belief in a providential God who stands as the ultimate judge over our actions, policies, and vote then we will uphold the legacy of our Founding Fathers. But the minute we let go of such a foundation, then all that the Founders stood for will likely crumble before our very eyes.

For More:
Shane Corsey (American Thinker) - God, Conservatism and Values
"Common Sense" - Glenn Beck
"Common Sense" - Thomas Paine

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Transcedence of Greed: What Economics Can Teach Us About the Gospel

Current political events and debates, particularly regarding the economy, has encouraged more divisive barking between liberals and conservatives in America. I was recently listening to a radio show where the host (an economic conservative) was arguing with a caller (an economic liberal) over the issue of taxes, the rich, and the economy. Both were making the same argument that has been repeated over and over again.

The argument runs like this. Liberals who lean towards a more democratic socialistic model believe that rich people are greedy and evil and should be punished. For the sake of the whole nation, their excess should be taken and given to those less fortunate. One common argument given is that capitalists are greedy and government should regulate the market in order to "look out for the little guy." On the other end of the spectrum, conservatives lean towards a more free-market model and believe that everyone is in charge of their own destiny. They charge that liberals and socialists hate and stand in the way of freedom. Government robs ingenuity and liberty. Government is the problem. The smaller the government, the better the economy.

We've all heard these arguments before and there is no need to go into more details. The goal here is not to defend or attack either one. As I was listening to the radio host and the caller go through their talking points, something eye opening hit me: they are both right, but not in the way one might think.

The primary charge raised by the liberal was that conservatives and capitalists are greedy. They are exactly right. Adam Smith, the intellectual founder of capitalism, would agree to this. Smith understood that men were by nature greedy and thus developed his economic theory of capitalism on that doctrine. Both the customer and the businessman are greedy. The entrepreneur wants the customers money. The customer wants the best products for the least amount of money. They both contribute to the other's selfishness thus satisfying the greed of the other.

This is really the beauty of the capitalist system. Anyone who criticises capitalism based on its lust for more money and power miss the point. Of course entrepreneurs want more money, that is why they are in business. They do their advertisement and decorate their businesses for the sole purpose of making more money. So to charge capitalism for being a system of greed is to only state the obvious. It was built and has thrived on it.

But socialist leaning liberals need to be careful; their economic theory is also guilty of greed. Socialism says, "its not fair that I don't have what they have, therefore, what they have should be taken." That's greed. As President Obama told Joe the Plumber on the campaign trail, he wanted to take his wealth and give it to others. That's greed. Capitalism is built on selfishness and socialism is built on theft. Socialism believes that the government should have authority over how ones salary, production, and growth. It will decide if someone makes too much, has too much, or is paying enough in taxes. Whenever the government introduces a new program or runs a program into bankruptcy, instead of making tough decisions, it simply takes (or steals) from the rich and uses class envy as a means of justifying themselves. Many liberals find themselves saying things like, "the rich have more than they need; its not fair that they have so much while everyone else has so little; etc."

Greed permeates both economic theories. Should we really be surprised by this? Whether one is a socialist, a communists, a Marxists, a capitalist, a conservative, a libertarian, or even an anarchists, all are stained with greed. This is precisely what the Christian worldview teaches; all of us are selfish and greedy; all of us want more for less work; all of us want what others have and will stop at no lengths of getting it.

We are all greedy. The problem with these economic systems is not their theories (though both could be rightly criticized), but with human nature. Its not our economy that is sick, we are sick. So long as government and pundits run around trying to fix the exterior (like the economy or health care) nothing will be resolved. What we need is revival, not more or less taxes (taxes themselves are based on greed. I want lower taxes so that I can keep more of my own money, yet at the same time, I think the guy next to me should be taxed more so that I can enjoy his wealth).

Though government plays a vital role in society, more or less government is not the solution nor the debate that should occupy our time. The gospel is the solution. Greed can only be conquered by the cross, not through economic or tax policy. So long as everyone trusts in the decisions and programs (or the lack there-of) of government, the more divided and desperate we will be. But once we become transformed by the gospel, then we can see real change.

Though we might shout and yell at one another over critical issues like the economy, let us not forget the most important issue: the external greed of man will not remedied apart from the internal work of the Spirit. That is one thing both liberals and conservatives have taught us. We are all greedy and we all need the sort of change that cannot be brought about by government, but only by God.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Lion of the Senate and the Lamb of God: The Pope, the Politcian, and the Plea For Grace

The death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy marks the end of an era. His death marked the first time in decades that a Kennedy did not occupy the Massachusetts Senate seat. Senator Kennedy was the last of the big three Kennedy brothers. Following the tragic death of former President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert greatly affected the late Senator. The mantle of the Kennedy name fell upon his shoulders.

Of all of the Kennedy's, Senator Kennedy will likely go down as the one who contributed the most to American history. Serving the public for half a century, Kennedy became known as the "Lion of the Senate" and influenced policy, presidents, and the direction of the country.

Prior to his death, Senator Kennedy, a life-long Catholic, sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI via President Barack Obama who delivered the letter to the Pope. In the letter Kennedy sought assurance that upon his death the Lion of the Senate would be present with the Lamb of God. Kennedy wrote:

I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful family. And both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.

I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I have worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a United States senator.

The late Senator went on to add that he has also fought for health care for everyone in America. He continues to trust that his colleagues in the Senate would continue to fight for "the political cause" of his life and everyone would indeed have equal access to health care.

He concluded:

I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith. I continue to pray for God's blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.

Kennedy's plea is understandable. I have been at the bedside of many who were dying and wanted the assurance that God would accept their soul into heaven. Though Kennedy was powerful, he could not overcome the assurance of death and his accountability in the next life. In Kennedy's letter one theme runs through: has he done enough to gain the favor of God Almighty?

In answer to that question Kennedy points to a number of accomplishments and good works in his life (most of them political). He turned to his Catholic faith in moments of great difficulty and tragedy. Throughout his life, he tried to right his path and override his personal failings with good works. He has defended the poor and needy. He open doors to economic justice. He welcomed immigrants without discrimination and fought for the nation to welcome them as equals. He has fought against the death penalty and against unjust wars. Finally, Kennedy has fought vehemently to grant health care for everyone regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, creed, religion, or nationality.

Kennedy certainly fought for a lot of causes in his public career. There are no lies and no stretching the truth in this list of "accomplishments." But what affect did any of it have on his salvation? Will these things be enough to assure his entrance into the Kingdom of God? The truth is, Kennedy was looking for assurance in the wrong place. The Pope's brief reply hints at this:

His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God, our merciful father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the risen savior to all who share in his sufferings and trust in his promise of eternal life.

The Pope's language is interesting. He never gives Kennedy the assurance he craves, but rather pleads for him to "be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God, our merciful father." The Pope calls on the Senator to surrender himself to the merciful will of God in faith and with hope trusting in His precious grace. What Kennedy wants most the Pope does not grant.

Kennedy was trusted his politics, while the Pope pointed to God's grace. Kennedy foolishly bought into the notion that somehow our good can outweigh our bad even though all that we do is tainted with sin. Even our good works are polluted. Do we really expect God to accept polluted righteousness?

The folly of Kennedy is a lesson that we all need to learn. Not only are we to embrace the message of the cross, which says we are all sinners separated by God and yet can be reunited with Him by full submission and repentance, but we also ought to avoid the folly of equating our politics with the gospel. At the end of the day, Kennedy had no other source of assurance than his politics. In his letter to the Pope he says nothing about the cross, about Christ, or the Resurrection, nor does he mention repentance or reflect a more Biblical understanding of sin. Kennedy just had his politics.

Sadly, many in America are falling for the same folly. When reflecting on what assurance we have of heaven after death we give a long list of good works; we never got divorced, our children turned out good, and I always voted for the right candidate. Sadly, we put more trust in our many good works than in Christ's one good work. Politicians and citizens alike believe that if only they support the right causes, donate to the right charities, or practice the right morality God will take notice and overlook their fallen nature.

Kennedy's plea for salvation should humble us all. If even the Pope would not give him the assurance he desperately craved, how much more us? Very few who will read these words will have the political resume of the late Senator and yet we all foolishly believe that somehow we are still on God's good side. If this lion feared meeting the Lamb, how much more ought we fear? Kennedy was no perfect politician and seemed to always be involved in some state of controversy, but at the end of his life, he was being humbled before the Lord he was about to meet.

But if we learn anything, let us learn that politics is no source of hope. Politics and government has its role and Christians are called to submit to their political leaders, but even the greatest and most powerful politicians are no match and can pass no legislation that would grant them what we all crave: assurance of salvation when this life gives way to the next. Kennedy fought as hard as anyone else in pleasing his God, but apart from repentance and submission to the Savior who died in our place, no politician, politics, or policy can redeem anyone and grant the hope of ever hearing, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your Master."

Christians must not fall for the folly that politics can replace theology. Kennedy's letter should remind us that at the end of the day, God is greater than any politician. Therefore, let us be about the business of the gospel, and not so commonly distracted with the business of government.