A Simple Test [Diablogues]

For previous posts in this series, see here, here, here, here, and here.

I hope that those of you who are reading these posts are storing up some questions. When I’m done, I’d love to hear them. For now, I’d like to address another aspect of the natural law appeal: the appeal to “science.”

In the contemporary world, appeals to science are a tricky thing, for two reasons. First, most people, educated as they are in government schools, have a deep, almost sub-conscious faith in scientific truth. Appeals to science (unlike the Bible) still carry weight. But, secondly, science, properly understood, is a subordinate authority. It never exists independently of the people practicing it, and they are shot through with all manner of biases, presuppositions, and ideologies.

Now, of course, not all biases are bad. I’m biased in favor of the gospel, liberty, and dark beer. So also, biases are unavoidable and inescapable. Even if we were able to achieve the “God’s-eye view” of things, we would discover that biases still exists. After all, God loves righteousness and hates wickedness. So the fact of bias is not the problem; but the nature of the bias may be. Continue reading

Throw Down the Hellish Gates! [Diablogues]

For previous posts in this series, see here, here, here and here.

Anderson now turns to a discussion of how arguments from natural law might actually work. As I noted in the last post, I have no problem with appeals to natural law in themselves. Appeals to nature and science are perfectly at home in my repertoire, as long as they stay in their proper place. But, natural law, when divorced from the natural Law-giver, has a funny way of becoming just another dressed-up idol. But before we get there, I want to point out the divorce Anderson is proposing. He writes:

[R]ather than claim that a debased practice offends God, politicians can—and, I would add, should—explain to the public what aspect of some immoral behavior is contrary to our own good, especially the common good—and why a just and decent society shouldn’t accept it.

Rather than argue that abortion is contrary to God’s law and that we need to bring the Constitution into conformity with God’s law, social conservatives should argue that as a matter of scientific fact the child in a mother’s womb is a whole, living human being, and that as a matter of moral truth the direct killing of any peaceable human being is gravely unjust.

In themselves, the arguments presented here are fine, and Christians should never shrink from making them. My trouble is with the “rather thans” in these passages. The triune God reveals himself in nature and in Scripture, in his Word and in his works. Why separate what God has joined together?

What’s more, Anderson assumes that a “just” society is desirable. But “just” according to whose standards? The definition of righteousness is an overtly and irreducibly religious question. So now we’re back to discussing (in a frightfully sectarian way) those pesky religious authorities. The same holds true for Anderson’s assertion that the killing of any peaceable human being is unjust “as a matter of moral truth.” What’s to stop some sharp sophomore in the back row from simply saying, “Says who?”

Now, I have no doubt that Anderson would be able to deftly handle such objections from cocky secularists by discussing with them the nature of justice and morality. But now we’re back to fundamental questions of ultimate authority, and any Christ-confessing Christian has to put Christ in that place, which is what Anderson is arguing we shouldn’t do, at least when the unbelievers are listening in.

Anderson next urges us to “press the argument that if human beings really are equal in dignity, then abortion is inconsistent with our fundamental commitments.” Again, no problem with the argument itself, but it assumes that we are in harmony about these fundamental commitments. And, looking at the state of the Union today, I’m not convinced that that is true.

Everyone will pay lip-service to such fundamental commitments, and then go right ahead and violate them. There are 162 Catholics in the 111th Congress (that’s about 30% of the whole). Many of them are openly pro-choice, in violation of the clear teachings of the Roman Church. The same is true of many Protestant politicians. So-called “fundamental commitments” can’t slow the Obama-nation Train down, probably because, for many, they are not all that “fundamental.”

For people like Anderson (and myself), inconsistency is a bad thing. But for many in this shape-shifting generation, inconsistency is just the old modernist word for “authentic” and “relevant.” “Who are you to say that something is inconsistent? You’re not the boss of me.” For many in this country, their fundamental commitment is to their own personal happiness and fulfillment, and no one is going to get in the way of that.

Finally (for now), Anderson makes some arguments for maintaining the traditional structure of marriage:

If marriage isn’t the union of one man and one woman coming together as husband and wife to become father and mother to any children their marital love may bring, then social conservatives should demand that their opponents explain what marriage is.

Here’s the difficulty with this: if we demand that our opponents give an answer, they might actually tell us what they think (!).

Is it simply the union of any consenting pair of sexually active adults? If so, then why only two? And why does it have to be exclusive and permanent—why not open or temporary “marriage”? Indeed, if marriage isn’t about a bodily union, then why limit it to sexual relationships at all? How about codependent relatives? How are marriage and children connected? Do children need mothers and fathers, or not?

Anderson asks these questions, assuming that most people will give the “obvious” answer.

“Of course, it can only be between two people. And of course marriages are exclusive and permanent. Except for, you know, the 50% or so that aren’t.”

But what if people started giving the other answer. “Yeah, why not have open or temporary marriage? Why not more than two people? That sounds like a great idea!” On the marriage question, though social conservatives have been able to hold the line for the moment, the culture is trending in the other direction. Opponents of traditional marriage know this, and they are more than happy to huff and puff until the house finally collapses.

In one sense, this battle may already be (temporarily) lost, not because the homosexual lobby was convinced everyone, but because heterosexual marriage has become so degraded by the rampant divorce culture (among other things). Many people (rightly) recognize the oddity and hypocrisy of defending the sanctity of traditional marriage while millions of professing Christians avail themselves of no-fault divorce.

“Marriage is so holy that I had to try it three times!”

The solution (in my view) is not to adopt a holding pattern, seeking to plant our So-Con flag here and hold this hill at all costs. We need to move the ball forward. We need to start charging the gates of hell again. But we can only do that when we have firmly in our minds and our hearts–and fundamentally in our churches–the only conviction that can throw down those hellish gates, Jericho-style: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Sword Thrusts and Head Butts It Is [Diablogues]

For previous posts in this series, see here, here and here.

Having noted the folly of Huck’s appeal to religious authority to accomplish political ends, Anderson now turns to his positive case for “the political road not taken.” It is essentially an appeal to the “natural law” tradition in theology and ethics, a tradition that has a long and storied history, particularly in Roman Catholic teaching, but also in some branches of Protestantism. I have no objection to the use of natural law per se, but my own opinion is that natural law should only be used in its proper place, namely subordinated to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Natural Law implies a Law-giver, and his name is Jesus.

Before proceeding to the heart of the engagement, I need to make one key point. I recognize that some of what I wrote in the last post (and which I will continue to expound here) can be taken as a form of Christian triumphalism. And while I do want to make clear that Christ is objectively triumphant (Matthew 28:18-20; Philippians 2:9-11), I want to avoid all premature chest-bumping, back-slapping, and end-zone dancing. There will come a time for celebration, and if the book of Revelation is to be believed, it will be glorious.

In the meantime, we are stuck on our own 25-yard line, having just been sacked for a 15-yard loss by the big nose tackle from Multi-Culti U. The road to the end zone is narrow and hard, and few make it all the way. And many that do make it suffer all kinds of perplexities, persecutions, and striking downs along the way (2 Corinthians 4:7-11), so much so that some get pulled from the game early and have to ice their busted knee in the locker room. Which is to say, that the triumph of Christ will look radically different than what we might expect. We are called to live crucified lives in this world, filled with suffering and brokenhearted affections, by the power of the risen Christ. We celebrate the present reign and rule of the Son of God, and sometimes get our head chopped off for it.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Anderson notes that “social conservatism has resources for public argument besides the Bible” and that “our obligations to treat fellow citizens as equals–as well as the practical requirements for broad political consensus–demand that we rise above sectarian appeals to religious authority.” This one’s thick and will take some detangling.

First, we do have resources besides the Bible. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), his invisible attributes are perceived (clearly, even) in what has been made (Romans 1:20), and rebellious human beings know good and well that their current wickedness is deserving of death (Romans 1:32). In a sense, all of created reality, because it is belongs to Christ, can be marshaled against human sin and folly. “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

But the fact that we have a plethora of resources available doesn’t mean that we should abandon the one offensive weapon in the holy arsenal, the sword of the Spirit. Yes, if need be, Christians can head-butt people with their helmet, but God has given us a perfectly effective weapon to use as we fight this fight. The word of God is, after all, living and active. So rather than choosing between the Bible and natural law, I say, let’s use them both. Generously. Sword thrusts and head butts it is. Hopefully, Mr. Anderson agrees.

The second part of my engagement with the above section has to do with these so-called “practical requirements for broad political consensus.” I think I know what Anderson has in mind, namely, the electoral realities that Christ-confessing Christians are not a sufficient governing coalition in this country. As such, it is necessary to build consensus with non-Christian groups.

In principle, I have no problem with such endeavors. Daniel was able to get things done just fine in Babylon, working with the Zoroastrian magi of the day. But if our efforts to forge political coalitions require us to eat any defiled food from the king’s table by muting our testimony to the gospel, then I think we should put down our cards and walk away. A political coalition made up of Christ-haunted secularists and neutered Christians is not a recipe for long-term success by anybody’s measure.

Finally, we have this bit about “rising above sectarian appeals to religious authority.” This kind of language raises a host of questions in my mind:

What constitutes a “religious authority?” Do religious authorities have to have a holy book? a god? Is Al Gore a religious authority? What about Reason with a capital “R”? If one religious authority created the other “non-religious” authorities ex nihilo, does his religiosity contaminate the alleged “non-religious” authority?

What is a “sectarian appeal”? An appeal to the Bible? What about the Constitution? The Declaration of Independence, with that “endowed by their Creator” bit? Who decides which appeals are sectarian and which aren’t? Who elected that person and why didn’t I get to vote?

Is saying “We shouldn’t murder innocent human beings because Jesus said so” a sectarian appeal? Does the truth of the sectarian appeal matter?

What about sectarian appeals to irreligious authorities? And if these authorities aren’t religious, then why in the world are they binding on me?

Okay, enough smart-alecky questions. My point, and I do have one, is simply that all appeals to authority are, at root, religious. They are rooted in our ultimate commitments and assumptions. And because we live on this side of the 2nd Coming, we are a sectarian bunch through and through, the whole lot of us. Such a claim is significant, and will require some proof, and by the end of this series I hope to have at least made a valiant attempt. So let me close by beginning that attempt. Anderson finishes that paragraph with the following:

If social conservatism is to win the day, social conservatives–especially those seeking and holding public office–must make public arguments using public reasons to defend human life and marriage.

This gets right down to the crux of the issue I have with Anderson’s approach, as much as I respect it and him (and I really do). The operative word in this sentence is “public.” So here is my simple argument: Jesus Christ was publicly crucified on a hill outside of Jerusalem, was publicly raised from the dead three days later, appeared publicly to his disciples for the next forty days, and publicly ascended to heaven where he now reigns over the entire cosmos. Therefore, all men are obligated to obey him publicly (and privately too for that matter). Reasons can’t get more “public” than that.

Francis Schaeffer was fond of reminding us that the gospel is “public truth.” It can never be reduced simply to me and Jesus in the prayer closet (as crucial as that is to maintaining any kind of public witness to Christ’s kingdom). Which means that for Christians there is no rising above sectarian appeals to religious authority. If we do attempt this sort of “rising above,” we will discover very quickly that we can’t help but bump our heads on the footstool of King Jesus.

That Long-Lost Authoritative Mojo [Diablogues]

For previous posts in this series, see here and here.

Anderson turns now to an examination of one incident that illustrates the bad way for social conservatives, and particularly Christians, to engage in the public square:

One incident, in particular, illustrates how Huckabee narrowed the appeal of social conservatism. While stumping to a largely Evangelical audience in Michigan, Huckabee said: “I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do—to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.”

Now both Anderson and I take issue with Huck on this one, but for very different reasons. Anderson seems to dislike this approach because it is electorally counter-productive. He writes, “Arguing that ‘God said so’ won’t persuade anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.” In other words, seeking to bring “the word of the living God” to bear on the Constitution is a non-starter and politically futile.

In contrast, I think amending the Constitution to conform to God’s standards for explicitly religious reasons is a fine idea, but effectively futile, at least for the country as we currently know it. The problem isn’t merely that people won’t be persuaded by our appeals; it’s that imposing God’s laws on a godless people is a fool’s errand. When rebels get placed under Law, they simply find more creative ways to rebel. In other words, Huck’s prescription is a classic example of putting the cart (godly legal system) before the horse (widespread embrace of the gospel).

Anderson quotes two reactions from two conservative writers at NRO, Lisa Schiffren and Andy McCarthy. While it’s difficult to tell if Anderson agrees entirely with their sentiment, he appears to at least recognize that such opposition from those who ostensibly “agree” with Huck on the issues renders Huck’s approach DOA.

However, the reaction of Schiffren and McCarthy demonstrate one of the fundamental issues in the debates about Christians in the public square: How much Christ is allowed in here?

Lisa Schiffren quickly pointed out: “Mike Huckabee is going to force those of us who have wanted more religion in the town square to reexamine the merits of strict separation of church and state. He is the best advertisement ever for the ACLU, even if you share his ultimate views on the definition of marriage, or the desirability of abortion on demand.”

Got it? “We thought we were getting a little more religion in the public square. Then this Jesus guy came barging in here, turning over tables and acting like he owns the place. He even had the audacity to tell us what to do. Who does he think he is?” Schiffren’s view of “the separation of church and state” is more accurately described as the separation of Christ and state. In my view, Christians should rightly desire to keep the Church (as Church) separate from the state. Meaning, among other things, that Rick Warren should not be the pastor of Saddleback and Governor of California.

But, at the same time, we should insist, against all protestations to the contrary, that the State, as much as the Church, exists under the authority of Christ, and has the duty to acknowledge this fact out loud where everyone can hear. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, including authority over America’s public square. Christians, of all people, need to be clear on this.

McCarthy’s response was even more illuminating:

“Part of my usual response . . . focuses on the Taliban, their imposition of sharia (i.e., God’s law), and the marked contrast to our system’s bedrock guarantee of freedom of conscience. . . . Where has Huck been for the last seven years? Does he not get that our enemies—the people who want to end our way of life—believe they are simply imposing God’s standards?”

Now, I read McCarthy a fair amount over at NRO. He’s a great repository for information about radical Islam around the world. But there is simply no way to avoid imposing the standards of some god or another. That’s what “law” is, an imposition rooted in a culture’s understanding of ultimate reality. And laws restricting abortion have zero to do with “freedom of conscience” and everything to do with the freedom not to be slaughtered in-utero.

As far as his comparison to the Taliban goes, the reason that Muslims don’t have the right to impose sharia law on the rest of us has nothing whatever to do with the fact of their imposition and everything to do with their imposing the laws of a false god. The principle is not “Never impose any law rooted in a god.” Rather, it’s “Only impose laws rooted in the living God and his Son Jesus Christ.” And then, only in areas that he has placed under the jurisdiction of the State.

Such equivocation between Christians and Muslims, Jesus and Allah is fundamentally misleading. Allah, like all the other principalities and powers, was disarmed and subdued by Jesus at the cross (Col 2:15). Which means that, while Allah has absolutely no standing to tell me what to do, Jesus does. He triumphed. And all men everywhere are now commanded to repent and trust him, including Supreme Court Justices, Senators, and NRO bloggers.

Anderson laments that “the Bible doesn’t carry the authority it once did. And many of those who generally hold the Bible in high regard consider it ‘dated’ and ‘out of touch’ on certain controversial moral questions.” Aside from the oxymoronic idea that someone can simultaneously rule the Bible “out of touch” and “hold it in high regard,” Anderson and I approach this observation of political fact (and it is a political fact) differently.

He seems to take this as a baseline political reality, one with which we Christians must learn to live. “Bible-thumping used to work, but we’re way past that now.” But movement away from biblical authority is precisely what got us into this mess. It’s why in this country, filled as it is my professing Christians, mothers can kill their unborn children at any time during pregnancy, judges can be willing and ready to sanction sexual rebellion as soon as the proper Supreme Court case is mounted, the State can continue to borrow and spend money it doesn’t have to pay for things it can’t afford, and a host of other social, moral, and political ills. Before any of these things can be addressed at any fundamental level, the Bible has to regain some of that long-lost authoritative mojo.

I’ll close with this: Liberals (rightly) recognize the threat to their idolatries posed by the Risen Christ. They read “All authority in heaven and on earth” and get the message, loud and clear. “No square inch of reality left unclaimed by Jesus, huh? Well then, we’d better get rid of him.”

Conservatives, on the other hand, often pay lip-service to the role of “religion” or “God” in society, but look for loopholes to his reign. The public square, governmental affairs, education: we cede such realms to the nice secularists in exchange for some temporary protection from the rabid ones. We then act surprised when the State shuts us out of the negotiations over which group of individuals will be dehumanized, taxed, or marginalized next so that people can continue to enjoy the Handbasket to Hell Ride a little longer. “No more,” says I, “The world belongs to Jesus, bought with his own blood. This we proclaim, and this only.”

A Mavericky Styrofoam Noodle [Diablogues]

For the intro to this series of posts, see here.

The aim of Anderson’s piece is to give some direction to conservatives and the Republican Party after the 2008 drubbing by the Obamachine. His direction is both positive and negative, meaning he criticizes one option and proposes an alternative. My hope is that I’ll do something similar in these posts. But before going to disagreement, I thought I’d mention a few places where Anderson and I are reading from the same page.

First, we both reject the trope of moderates and liberals in the Republican party that McCain lost because he was insufficiently progressive on social issues. No one has ever accused John McCain of being a culture warrior, at least not anyone possessing all of their mental faculties. McCain (and even Palin) rarely addressed “social” issues like abortion and gay marriage on the campaign trail. In fact, it seemed sometimes like he was going out of his way not to mention Barack Obama’s abortion radicalism and double-speak on gay marriage.

What’s more, Anderson hits the nail on the head when he seeks to discern the motives of “moderate Republicans” who seek to tie a millstone around the necks of social conservatives and cast them into the heart of the sea:

“They find support for authentic social values so contemptible that they’ll use any event as an excuse to argue for its elimination.”

Right ho, Jeeves. (I had my first Wodehouse experience this week; expect more of that in the future.) As Chesterton might say, “Any stick is good enough to beat social conservatives with,” even if, upon examination, you discover that said-stick is in fact a styrofoam noodle with “Maverick” written on the side of it.

We’re also in agreement about the continuing electoral relevance of social conservatives, though I am less optimistic about the trends than he is, as will become apparent. African-American voters put Prop 8 over the top in California, and Rudy Giuliani’s campaign never made it out of the gate, mainly because of his views on social issues (and his lackluster efforts in early states).

The desire for conservatives to reach out to similarly-minded minority voters is one that I share with Mr. Anderson, and in the short-term, if done properly, has the potential to put some more Republicans into office (if that’s your goal).

Finally, while Anderson is correct that Huckabee failed to reach beyond social conservatives (particularly evangelicals), I’m not convinced that this is because of his religious appeals as much as it was his perceived deviations from fiscal conservatism. Huckabee simply seemed like a continuation of the compassionate conservatism of George Bush, but with a more Southern Baptist-style. Many Republicans were tired of defending expansionist government programs. If government is going to grow by leaps and bounds, then at the very least let the other team be the ones to leap and bound.

In any event, Huckabee was never able to turn the corner, and would have probably gone down in flames much the same way as McCain did, though the debates might have been a little more entertaining.

The above points are not exhaustive of our agreement, and I’ll mention more as we go, but we’re about to part ways on some significant points, so now’s as good a place as any to close this post. We’ll pick it up again soon.

“A Political Road Not Taken” [Diablogues]

For the past couple of months, I’ve been wanting to interact with an article in the most recent issue of The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University. I’ve been waiting for the relevant article to be put online and, since it’s now there, I can begin.

The article is by Ryan T. Anderson and is entitled “A Political Road Not Taken.” It was one in a series of articles on the 2008 election called “Where Do We Go From Here: A Forum.” Here is Anderson’s professional biography from the blog he edits, Public Discourse:

Ryan T. Anderson is editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good. Previously he was the assistant editor of First Things and a Fellow of the Phillips Foundation. His articles have appeared in First Things, the Weekly Standard, National Review, the New Atlantis, the Claremont Review of Books, Touchstone, Books and Culture, Christianity Today, and the Human Life Review. Anderson is an alumnus of Princeton University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude.

Because I plan to interact critically with Anderson’s article (meaning, I will take issue with a number of his prescriptions), I want to make clear at the outset that I have nothing personal against Mr. Anderson. Judging by his professional history, I assume that he is a fellow Christian (though I’m unsure of his denominational affiliation) and, if I remember correctly, I’m also a member of Phi Beta Kappa. I greatly admire his work over at Public Discourse, read First Things whenever I can get my hands on it, and I love HBU’s The City and would recommend subscribing to it (it’s free!). Disagreement with his position shouldn’t be interpreted as dislike for the man.

What’s more, the reason that I chose his article is because I think it is one of the more thoughtful and clear examples of a viewpoint regarding Christian engagement in the public square that I think is very common among Christians. It’s also a perspective that I have some sympathy for, even if at the end of the day I disagree. So I’m engaging Mr. Anderson as a fellow Christian on a topic that more followers of Jesus should be giving serious thought to.

So have a look at his article, and feel free to make yourself known in the comments.

Good Stories Create True Categories [Diablogues]

A while back, Abraham Piper and I got into a discussion about the nature of stories and truth. The discussion was sparked by a couple of posts at Abraham’s blog (here and here). I’ve been thinking about the subject again lately and would like to pick it up. In honor of Abraham, here is a twenty-two word thesis. Feel free to interact with it.

A good story always creates accurate categories of truth and reality, no matter whether the story is redemptive or historical or not.