Sunday, October 30, 2011

Praying and Governments

I recently noticed this comment in a Christian periodical:

"I urge . . . that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). Do we pray for our government leaders—even those with whom we disagree?

This oft-made comment seems to miss the point here.  In fact, even in this short quotation, this is rather obvious.

Paul is not telling us to ask God to help government officials lead easier lives, or anything like that at all.  And our agreement or disagreement with such officials has nothing to do with what Paul is talking about.

Paul very straightforwardly tells us that we should pray for governing officials so that we may live in peace.  Paul knew that the default would tend toward governing officials behaving in ways that would not allow people, especially Christians, to live in peace.  That would require divine intervention.

When governing officials do the job that Paul describes elsewhere (Rom. 13:1-7) they help make a peaceful life possible for those who wish to follow the ways of peace.  But as history has repeatedly shown, the power bestowed on governing officials tends to be misused.

So we need to pray for God, via His providence, to control governing officials.  In fact, God seems to be the only one who can control an out-of-control government.

Have you seen any of those around lately?  It’s not too late for some prayer time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Democracy: Not all it’s cracked up to be

In today’s Breakpoint Charles Colson, in discussing events in the Middle East, says this:

There’s no reason, as writer Rod Dreher reminds us, to assume that democracy and religious tolerance go hand-in-hand. On the contrary, recent history suggests that what the so-called “people” often want is to mistreat the “others” in their midst.

It is a very good point, and needs to be taken far beyond the context of the Middle East.  We need to bring this point back home, too.

Here in the good old USofA we have the almost demented tendency to think that, once something has been approved by a majority, it is prudent, wise, and even just.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the real problem in the political world is not who rules, or the mechanisms by which that rule is carried out.  Rather, the real problem is to avoid tyranny and injustice.  A benevolent dictator could easily have a more just rule than many so-called democracies do today.

Of course, the problem is that you never know when a good dictator might go bad, or who might come to power when the good dictator dies.  But again, we experience most of the same uncertainties under situations where we vote.  That is why it is very hollow indeed for western politicians to run around heralding the establishment of “democracies” in the Middle East, or any where else for that matter.

It was for this reason that our Founders did not establish an unqualified democracy.  Part of the reason for the division of powers, and the intentional pitting of one power against another, was to insure that no one, including even supermajorities, could become tyrannous.

Most of the modifications that have been made to the Founders’ original system have had the effect of making tyranny easier to implement.  We live with the sadly successful results of that today.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Place of Religion in Political Evaluation

At today’s edition of Breakpoint Charles Colson makes this statement:

First, there is no religious test for public office. If you don’t believe me, check out the Constitution of the United States, Article VI, Paragraph 3. The public statements of some evangelicals that they wouldn’t vote for Romney because of his Mormonism would cause the Founding Fathers to spin in their graves.

Surely Colson knows that the section of the Constitution to which he refers has no reference to why people might decide to vote as they do for President.  The “no religious tests” for office means that a person must not be prohibited from running for, or serving in, an office under the Constitution, based on that person’s religious views.

So the fact that someone might decide not to vote for a candidate because of the candidate’s religion would not cause any Founding Fathers to rotate in their repose.  Some of them would have agreed that religion is not important when considering a candidate; others, I am fairly sure, would not agree.  But we can’t sort that out here.

The rest of what Colson says makes the point that religion can be a distraction when considering people for political office.  While I agree that religion can be a distraction when evaluating candidates, I do not think that it always is, or must be.

Any religion, when taken seriously, implies a worldview.  Chuck Colson should be aware of this, since he devotes much effort to helping people think through their worldviews.

The worldviews implied by some religious views could be a very reasonable consideration when evaluating candidates for political offices.  For example, the oath of office carries much less force if there is no transcendent being to which we must answer for our deeds.

An animistic worldview, in which spirits inhabit what we think of as inanimate objects, could have a profound effect on policy decisions.  The list of such possibilities here is very long.

If a candidate does not take his religious views very seriously, he might work out fairly well in spite of them.  But if office-holders don’t take their religious views seriously, are they really people we should trust in public office?  What does that kind of inconsistency say about a person?

But, assuming that candidates do take their religious views seriously, what might Mormonism imply for political office?  Mormonism is not Christianity.  But I am not convinced that only Christians could be good office-holders.  However, Mormonism holds to some very weird – and that is putting it rather mildly – views that go far beyond simply not being Christian.

For example, Mormonism teaches that God was once an ordinary human being, and that ordinary humans beings like us can, if we do enough Mormon-defined good deeds, someday become divine and rule our own universes.  What bearing does this have on political views?

I am not completely sure at this point.  But religious views that freakish are enough to at least make me think about all this more carefully.

If you think religious views are simply meaningless for the rest of your view of life and reality, then they are not politically important.  But Chuck Colson does not think that.  So it is especially strange to see him dismiss them as he does here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Problem of Not Recognizing the Problem

There was an almost-good article today at Christianity Today.  It deals, in general, with the ethics of, and blame for, financial problems in our country today.  While some good points are made in the article, I had to give it the “almost-good” rating because of this:

Both sides of the political aisle are to blame for the Great Recession and its repercussions on the American (and world) economy. Republicans recycled the old Reagan mantra of the 1980s that "government is the problem, not the solution," blindly applying it to our financial regulatory institutions while failing to recognize that even the most free-market economists point to the need for careful government regulation of the financial industry. In doing so, they let the Labrador off the leash. But seeking to appease their own constituents, Democrats pressured quasi-government lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to offer easy loan terms to Americans of modest incomes, relieving them of the self-discipline of having to save for an adequate down payment on a house.

While ‘both sides’ (as if there could only be two) of the aisle are to blame for the problems, it is not for the reasons the author states.  The problem is that no one, including the Republicans, really acts as if government were a significant part of our financial problems.

I’m not sure who these “even the most free-market economists” this author has in mind are, but there of plenty of economists who will point out in great detail how and why the current maze of governmental attempts at regulation of the economy in general are the direct cause of all kinds of problems.  You can locate these economists at places like the Mises Institute, the Cato Institute, The Foundation for Economic Education, and The Heritage Foundation.  You will find some policy matters about which these groups will disagree.  But one thing they do daily is offer evidence for the proposition that, in matters economic, the government very often is the problem.

Government would be doing quite well if it could only manage to punish economic fraud and theft.  It mostly fails to do that.  On top of that, governments propagate a good deal of their own legalized fraud and theft.

But even when governmental financial rules and regulations have purported good intentions, they often fail the “have you considered the unseen side of things” test.  Take something as innocent-seeming governmental insurance of savings accounts.  While it sounds nice, think of how it has perpetuated the idea that a bank account is a riskless investment.  There are no riskless investments.  The only way to make it appear that there is comes with government stepping in to “rescue” depositors and failing banks.  If the premiums for this “insurance” really covered the cost, that would be one thing, but they do not.

We learned this in the 1980s when there was a cascade of ‘savings and loan’ failures.  The government simply supplied billions (or at least hundreds of millions – dollars went a bit farther in those days) of other people’s money to bail out investors who had been told for years that there was no risk to their investments in savings and loan institutions.  There was plenty of risk, and some of that risk was created by the incentives placed on the savings and loan institutions by previous government regulations!

Most of us wouldn’t know a free market if it slept in our bed.  (OK, I wasn’t sure how best to say that.  But you get the idea.)  A free market is simply what happens when individuals are allowed to interact economically without government restraint, other than punishment for theft and fraud.

When governments intervene in other ways, the individuals (and the ‘market’ they create) are no longer free.  Neither economic preclusion, nor requirement are compatible with freedom.  To say otherwise – as does this Christianity Today article – is utter nonsense.