Wednesday, August 25, 2004

In God We Trust -- Everyone Else Keep Your Hands Where I Can See Them.

Recently my good friend Vic over at Darth Apathy posted an entry that laid out in significant detail his personal philosophy of life. Not long after that, my Blogfather, Rusty Shackleford of MyPetJawa, posted an excellent entry on why he considers himself a neolibertarian. Since I respect both of these individuals, and since we're told that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I have decided to follow their lead and explain my own quirky view of the world.

I would hope that anyone who knows me, as well as anyone who has paid close attention to comments I've made here and on other blogs, is aware of the fact that I'm a Christian. Yes, I'm one of those people who sincerely believes in a Personal God, and all the religious claptrap that goes along with that.

Now, I realize that many of my friends and readers are not Christians, or even theists for that matter. For the purpose of developing friendships, that is fine with me. You can be an atheist, agnostic, gnostic, Pagan, Wiccan, Buddhist, Animist, or tree-hugging dirt worshipper for all I care. I may privately believe you are dead wrong (literally), but as long as you treat me with kindness and respect, I will treat you with equal dignity. If you wish to explain to me the error of my ways, in private, feel free, but expect me to reply in kind. If you are truly curious as to what I believe and why I believe it, and why I believe everyone should, again, in private, I'd be happy to oblige.

However, for the sake of this post, any discussion of the validity of my theism is not appropriate. Like belief in the existence or non-existence of ANY deity, this is a belief reached by faith. And while I believe that my decision to take that leap of faith was reached for reasonable motives, the leap has been made. The only reason I mention this belief is that as an orthodox believer, I acknowledge the Authority of God, as revealed in Scripture, and my philosophy and ethics are intended to be guided by this belief. To quote Dickens, You must remember this, or nothing that happens later will seem wondrous.

Since I view scripture as the authoritative source of God's express will, and as a Christian have chosen to obey (or at least attempt to obey) that will, it stands to reason that when it comes time to formulate a political philosophy, I would attempt to base that philosophy on what the bible teaches me about God's view of politics. I know, this sounds like a "Violation of Church and State," but I have two responses to that. First, that's a sad misinterpretation of the constitution, and second, even if it were, I would have to continue to believe as I do, and be willing to suffer the consequences. Why? Well, we're coming to that.

I must admit that I have never made an extensive study of this issue in scripture. However, I am a lifelong Christian, a Pastors son, and have had enough exposure to scripture to have formulated some opinions based on my understanding of it.

Like many other subjects, the Bible addresses politics differently in the Old Testament than in the New. There are some very important reasons for this, and Paul actually spends a good deal of time in his epistles explaining those reasons, but for the sake of this discussion, it suffices to say that my views are primarily based on the New Testament.

Based on my exposure to the New Testament, I have concluded that there are two political responsibilities enumerated: The Role of the State and the Response of the Christian.

The Response of the Christian to Government is pretty simple. As long as it does not interfere with our relationship with God, we are to obey the laws of the State. The only exception occurs when the Law specifically prohibits us from doing something God commands us to do, or Commands us to do something God prohibits. In those specific cases, we are to peacefully disobey the state, follow God's commands instead, and humbly and meekly accept the punishment the State metes out. God is, in the end, our judge.

The Role of the state is a bit more complex. As far as I can ascertain, two main concepts are expressed regarding the State: Justice, and Righteousness.

The meaning of the first is not the modern leftist doublespeak meaning of the word, "Justice," but rather implies, as I read it, the imperative that the State protect its subjects: From foreign enemies, from each other, and from the predations of the state. In other words: Defense; Order (Law Enforcement); and Ethics.

The meaning of the second is the one that causes difficulty, and has been the source of much trouble and created a great deal of animosity towards Christians due to a misapplication of the concept.

Throughout Church history, Christian civil leaders have interpreted this call for Righteousness as a call for State-enforced Christian standards of behavior throughout society. This has led, ironically, to some of the most un-Christian of activity on the part of those who have called themselves Christians.

However, I have reached the conclusion that this is not what was meant by Righteousness to begin with. And I have reached this conclusion for two main reasons: First, Christ plainly stated, My kingdom is not of this World. The Goal of his ministry, Death, and Resurrection was NOT to establish a theocracy (or at least, not this side of the apocalypse). His goal was to reestablish the relationship between God and His Creations, to establish His Kingdom in the hearts of believers; Secondly, we must view the message of Righteousness in context. At the time, the reigns of State were almost always exclusively in the hands of one person. The Church of the book of Acts was established in the days of the Roman Empire. Prior to that, Israel had been a Monarchy. And so I believe that the call for Righteousness in government in the Bible is a call for righteousness in the life of the Ruler. The Bible states that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." The Biblical principle is clearly that only a ruler of high moral fibre who strives to do what is right, and pursues righteousness in his own life, is capable of properly administering Justice.

Now, for most of history, the two roles I've mentioned have been pretty clear cut. Christians, as subjects of the state, were to conduct themselves first in obedience to God and secondly in obedience to the state. The State, in turn, administered Justice, in various qualities depending on the government in question. When the government was led by a purported Christian, it also often tried to administer Righteousness, again with varying degrees of success and with varying and often deleterious effects on Justice. In other words, Christian Rulers attempted (usually poorly) to play the role of the state, and individual Christians responded as subjects thereof.

But as a modern American, I am faced with an interesting paradigm. As a member of a representative Republic, I am, at least in theory, part of the state. I may not rule directly, but I vote to decide who does, and in the case of the State and Local level, I actually do vote for the laws themselves. And so I find myself in the position of having both sets of responsibilities, and having to figure out how to balance the two.

In theory, it seems simple: When voting for leaders and on issues, vote for those most likely to promote Justice (again, more on that definition later), and most likely to pursue righteousness. Once the voting is done, abide peacefully by the results until the day comes that they ban my faith. In other words, work within the system as long as possible. The question becomes, how do you choose the right leader(s) and positions on issues to do so? The Devil, whom I believe exists, is indeed in the details. Or at least, in the wrong choice of details.

So let's address both concepts one at a time, this time in the opposite order, beginning with Righteousness. How do I, as a Christian Ruler (yeah, sounds funny, but to a small extent, we're all rulers here), pursue the righteousness called for without oppressively forcing my religion on others? In two ways. The first way is to attempt to practice righteousness in my own life to as great an extent as is possible -- to be ethical, honest, moral, and obedient to God myself, so that any decisions I make in voting are based on sound ethical principals. The second way is to exert my influence as a voter to demand ethical conduct from the government I elect. That's it. I don't believe it is my duty to enforce any moral code on other citizens. Nor is it their right to enforce theirs on me. The only time I would ever use my vote to enforce my beliefs would be in order to prevent the establishment of a law that requires me to do what God forbids, or forbids me to do what God requires.

Now to address Justice. First I must define it. Earlier I said it was protection of subjects, but I believe I have a better definition which encompasses those earlier ideas, but is more accurate a definition: I believe that in its essence, Justice is the right application of consequences. This means ensuring, to as great an extent as is possible, that everyone is held responsible for the consequences of their own actions, and none can force the consequences of their actions on others. In other words, protection for the innocent, punishment for the guilty, and a wall of protection between the two -- Defense, Law, and Order.

Now, in days to come, I plan to expound in blog entries on how I think these principles apply to specific political topics facing me as an American. But in the meantime, allow me to explain the title of this entry, how it applies to this topic, and why I can not be, in good conscience as a Christian, either an Anarchist or a Totalitarian.

The danger of Anarchy is either of the assumptions that: A) Man is basically good and wise and if left to his own devices will eventually sort things out and all will be just and good; or B) Man is an animal and the laws of natural selection apply and if you aren't fit enough to survive, that's the way it goes. I disagree.

One other theological principal that I apply to my political philosophy, and which I failed to mention earlier, is the concept of the fallenness of Man. While I believe we were created in the image of God, and are at times capable of all the good and desirable qualities with which he imbued us, I also believe that the corrupting influence of sin has rendered us capable of incredible evil. Government is a tool intended to protect us from each other, because left to our own devices, we will eat our own young.

But leaving the government in the hands of one or a very few individuals is equally dangerous, since those individuals are capable of the same predatory tendencies the rest of us are, and political power just increases their ability to act on them. This is why I have come to believe that while a constitutional Republic is not inherently more religious than any other form of government, with its checks and balances, it does provide the best framework for pursuing the justice that is God's purpose for government.

I Love Living in Oregon

Reason #973: Rainy Day Sunrises

The sun is casting it's rays between the cloud cover and the mountains. There's something eerily beautiful about a brightly lit landscape under a dark and brooding sky.

Who in the Hell D'you Think You Are?

A super star?
Well, right you are!

- John Lennon, "Instant Karma"

While I've only been blogging for a short while, I've been reading and commenting on other peoples blogs for some time now. Many of those blogs are political, and the discussions can become, shall we say, heated. I have noticed one particular attack on bloggers by commenters that seems quite common, and I have even seen a few bloggers resort to it in reference to other bloggers. The attack begins with a question along the lines of, "What makes you think anyone cares what you think?" The essential charge is that bloggers are self-important proles who think their opinion is somehow of value to others.

And the charge is, to some extent, true. If we didn't think our ideas were original enough, important enough, or well expressed enough to pique others' interest, we wouldn't be blogging them -- we could merely save them to our C: drives in a word processing document and be done with it. But this is nothing new. Almost all human endeavor requires at least a modicum of confidence, even arrogance. Bloggers have that in common with everyone who has ever written a letter to the editor, submitted writing for publication, auditioned for a play or a band, held a concert, submitted a resume, or proposed marriage. They all believed that they had something to offer that the audience would find at least acceptable, and hopefully praiseworthy.

This is an essential feature of the human spirit. Call it confidence, arrogance, whatever you like. I call it hope. Proverbs 13:12 says, in part, Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Without hope, without the belief that we have a chance, however slim, of succeeding at something, we don't even bother trying. And what is confidence, if not self-induced hope?

The thing is, in many cases, we're right. Thank God that John Elway was "Arrogant" enough to believe he could play football, or Handel that he could compose music worth listening to. Imagine if Shakespeare hadn't had the self-importance to publish his writings. And the same is true of the Blogosphere. Just take a peek at the TTLB Ecosystem. There are plenty of blogs out there that get read, on a regular basis. The top few have a significant readership. And even a humble blog like mine gets a small but steady stream of hits. Apparently, there are plenty of us who DO have something worth saying.

Now, I'll admit, there are exceptions to this rule, and there are plenty of overrated celebrities, AND overrated bloggers, who don't deserve the attention they get. Humanity is fickle, and this is an inevitable result of that fickleness. And when that happens, it is altogether fitting that we expose the lack of substance supporting the adulation.

But let's not be so hypocritical as to criticize a blogger just for being so presumptuous as to, you know, blog. If that sort of presumption is banned, will be out of business tomorrow.

And you and I will be looking for something more productive to do with our time.