Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Sunday, October 15, 2006

reason, theocracy, pluralism, and government

Since I am leaving for a meeting in a half hour, I am going to see if I can tackle the monumentous question that my friend Toby asked regarding the duty of government (or government leaders) to impose their morality on a people living in a pluralistic society. In layman's terms, "What right does congress, or the president have to impose their views on the rest of society that either agrees or disagrees with them?" Wow! Now that's a whopper!

First of all, I would say that in a Republic, it is the people that give the government leaders the right to make moral judgments that reflect the values of the people who vote them into office. We are not a democracy in the sense that every person votes on every issue. And thank God we are not! I don't know about you, but I don't want people who know nothing about economics or international relations deciding whether to cut taxes or invade a nation. In a Republic, the people elect leaders who, although they reflect their values, are judged as more capable than the average Joe in making decisions that affect the rest of society.

This brings us to a good question. Should decisions be made based on religious conviction? The ACLU would say No Way Jose and scream the words Theocracy!!!!!! at such a suggestion. But wait a second here. If by theocracy, it is meant that the laws of the land should be word for word the same as the Law of Moses given to the children of Israel in the Old Testament (or the Koran or any other religious document), then, yes, that would be a theocracy. And there are a few people who want that. They are called Reconstructionists. The problem with this view is that it fails to appreciate the uniqueness of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. The fact is that no other nation or political entity since the days of Moses can claim a direct covenant with God in the same sense that the children of Israel could claim in the Old Testament (and..yes..I do include the United States of America in that...unlike many who believe that America is God's equivalent to Old Testament Israel....what an arrogant claim!!!)

The question is, is this what most evangelical Christians want? The answer is no!!! Even Pat Robertson has said in interviews that he does not want a theocracy. To say that religious beliefs can "inform" the conscience of government is a far cry from saying that it should "impose" its views on society. If we live in a Republic where people elect men and women into office to reflect their values, why should religious values be a priori excluded? Let me put this another way, if President George W. Bush, or any other president, attempts to fight against human sex trafficking because it goes against his or her religious conviction, why should that be invalidated simply because it stems from religious conviction? The fact is: the government does have the right to impose morality on its citizens. That is the government's job.

If we look at the issue from a New Testament perspective, Jesus did in fact do away with theocracy. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus had no interest in creating a political kingdom to take over the world. He was interested in creating an institution called the Church that would be transformed from within and, through their moral influence would have an impact on society. Concepts such as "inalieable rights" just happen to be a byproduct of the values that Jesus introduced to the world.

As far as political government, the only definitive chapter on the subject in the New Testament is Romans chapter 13 where Paul clearly sees the role of government as "punishing evildoers". In other words, according to the Apostle Paul, the role of government is to provide protection for its citizens. This protection can take on many forms, but ultimately, government can not create a utopia, it can only curb evil. Such a view is realistic in light of fallen human nature.

Bottom line: Government must protect human beings. The Bible gives guidelines on how to make this happen, but does not tell us everything we need to know. Intrinsic to Christianity is the belief in reason and progress (even among unbelievers since they too are created in the image of God) The Bible is progressive revelation so we can not look at the Law of Moses and apply it tit for tat for today. Everything must be judged by the standard of Jesus Christ. In my view, the Church is to "inform" the conscience on society, not "impose" its values on society. Society will conform to the extent that the gospel has penetrated the hearts of the people. It may come as a surprise to many to hear me say this, but I believe that seperation of church and state is a profoundly Christian idea. I don't know about you, but I don't want to go back to branding adulteresses with scarlet A's.


toby said...

Aaron, what a quick response for such a big question. I would have to say I agree with most of your sentiments, including the following.

1. People elect leaders who share similar values and convictions trust the leaders to run the country in a way that lines up with their beliefs.

2. If a president has a religion basis/reason for action the action shouldn't be invalidated simply because the motivation is religious in nature. After all, the voters who brought the leader into office probably share similar religious values and would likely agree on the course of action.

To summarize my interpretation of your points, if the leaders are elected by a majority, it is the leader's responsibilty to take action as he sees fit. The leader should for the most part act in a way that lines up with the values of the people who voted the leader in.

But I'd like to know what you mean when you say it is the government's job to impose morality on its citizens. If you mean that since the people are choosing the leaders, and part of the leader's responsibility is to be true to the voter and create a general social morality, then I would say that I agree.

The government goes too far, however, when it forces the values of the majority upon the minority, or vice versa. The general moral climate should match that of the majority while not forcing those morals down the throats of people who have opposing beliefs.

Aaron D. Taylor said...


Your response begs the question-what if the majority of the people believe in ethnic cleansing? Would it be a case of "forcing morals down their throats" if the government enforces laws to prevent that? I think there are sane limits to the idea that the government is obligated to always be in line with the will of the people. My position is that the government has a responsibility to protect human life regardless of the will of the people. Otherwise, what should a moderate Palestinian leader do when the majority of his people want to be suicide bombers?

Toby said...

good clarification between government protecting the lives of the citizens and enforcing morals upon the citizens. i'm totally with you on reasonable limits to the government reflecting the majority's values; the state of the nation wouldn't be that stable if the government did everything that the people wanted.

thanks for the post.