More Government, Less God [Religion of the State]

Justin Taylor already linked to this piece from the Public Discourse, and I’m fairly sure that most of you read his blog already, but I thought I’d post it anyway.

The basic argument is that, as the size of government increases, regular attendance of religious services decreases. It isn’t difficult to see why:

By contrast, the more the state steps in to reduce the economic and social insecurity of its citizens, the less likely fair-weather believers are to darken the door of a church on Sunday. Now, to paraphrase Charles Krauthammer, Obama hopes to expand the size of the welfare state by offering cradle-to-grave health care and cradle-to-cubicle education to Americans. If he gets his way, Americans will not have to trust in God, or their fellow congregants, to support an ailing parent, or to help them figure out how to pay for their daughter’s college tuition. Instead, they can put their faith in Uncle Sam.

Now, as Christians, we need to get straight why this is bad news. This isn’t bad news because we’ll have less tithing people in the pews. God provides for the needs of his people, and he does so no matter the size and scope of government. Rather this is bad news because:

1. It will result in a cleavage between generations. Accustomed to relying upon a welfare-state to meet their needs, younger generations will not feel compelled to take care of aging parents or other members of their household. Paul regards such negligence to be apostasy (1 Timothy 5:8). The State cannot produce the same bond between generations that makes mutual care possible.

2. Euthanasia and other end-of-life issues will become more salient. As the tax burden shifts to a smaller workforce (due to low birth rates), there will be greater pressure to “cut costs.” One of the solutions will be to encourage elderly individuals to “do the right thing.” I would not be surprised to discover that at some point euthanasia becomes less about an individual or family’s choice and more about the government’s need.

3. Basic principles of personal responsibility will continue to erode. If the government will take care of me from the cradle to the grave, why bother taking care of myself?

Ultimately, the promise of the religion of the State is a huge lie. The government is a lousy god. The government can be no better than the people in it, and, when they are an idolatrous people, turning from the living God to worship and serve creatures, the government can only reflect that idolatry. Promises will be broken, lives will be destroyed, and image-bearers will be defaced.

As we discern what’s going on and prepare ourselves to live as Christians in such a world, we must do so with the rock-ribbed, grateful confidence of those who take refuge in the God of Jacob. Like Paul, we may be called upon to learn the secret of facing hunger and need (Philippians 4:12). And if we do, we will face it the same way he did: rejoicing, giving thanks in all circumstances, and doing all things through him who is our Strength.

Manufactured Peril, Manufactured Deliverance [Religion of the State]

It’s no secret that one of my favorite writers, thinkers, and speakers is Doug Wilson. There are few writers that I feel compelled to read everything they put out. Doug is an exception. I don’t think I’ve ever read something he wrote and failed to be provoked, challenged, and pushed to think and feel about things in a new and different way. Plus, he is one of the most lively and engaging authors out there. I find myself laughing out loud often when I read his stuff. I’d recommend you bookmark or RSS his blog and read some of his books.

With that preface, I thought this post today fits very nicely on the subject of the religion of the State:

The State is not our Savior, and the fact that western man is now en masse demanding that the State step in to save us is not an argument for Christians to go along with it in the vain hope of being given an opportunity to say a few words about Jesus later. Look. This is manufactured peril, and it has been ginned up so that our Savior the State can manufacture a deliverance. This means that good Christians everywhere, when they hear the sounds of the “cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick,” should refuse to bow down…

The State, the false god of our times, and a preeminent and notable liar, tells me that the ice caps are melting, and that the globe is slowly and inexorably warming, and that the only solution is for us to turn over vast discretionary and regulatory powers to the (suprise!) State. They tell me this when all the evidence that is available to my senses directly goes clean contrary to what they are saying, and what I know from around the world by reading both sides (Prov. 18:17) also leaves their case in shambles. The world may not be cooked, but their arguments certainly are. We have gotten to the sorry pass of the State demanding that I walk by faith, and not by sight.

Read the whole thing.

The New New Atheists [Religion of the State]

So apparently there is a new ad campaign in Britain sponsored by a bunch of atheists. In the grand tradition of the defiant skeptic, they have committed to remind their fellow Englishmen, “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life.” It’s up on like 800 buses in England.

It’s just like when the French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille.

I mean, it’s not like the British don’t have “real” atheists. They do. In fact, many of them are best-selling authors here in America. Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett. All atheists, the kind that really don’t believe in God and aren’t afraid to tell you in the sharpest terms possible. The kind that write books with titles like: The God Delusion and God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. None of this namby-pamby “Probably No God” stuff.

So I wasn’t sure what to make of this new atheist slogan until I read about what their Dutch counterparts are planning. Soon Dutch buses will be graced (hah!) with the same fiery slogans that those English Double-Deckers don. But someone asked the Dutch atheists a very important question:

Which “god” doesn’t exist? And in talking about God, are you deliberately avoiding specific “gods” (like Jesus or Allah)? By using the term “God,” aren’t you really just going after the Christians?

“The term God is also a sort of container-concept. But if the campaign goes well, more will follow. The second reason why we start with this expression is because Christians are more accustomed to it. Muslims are more likely to react fiercely. I am therefore also more afraid of angry Muslims than angry Christians.”

Got it. If we thunder against the god of the Christians, they’ll probably shrug (or laugh) and keep walking. If we thunder against Allah, we might have to change our names, hire round-the-clock security, and move to America (!).

Atheism: The New Face of Courage (HT: Femina and Islam In Europe)

POST-SCRIPT: This story reminds me of a Table Talk we had with Pastor John after he returned from his sabbatical in England. He told us about a certain t-shirt shop that had shirts proclaiming “Bush Is a Terrorist!” and other such slogans. He said that he wanted to walk in and ask the proprietor a question. He imagined the conversation going something like this:

“Excuse me, I just noticed your ‘Bush = Murderer’ t-shirts and was wondering if you could answer me a question: Why don’t you have any ‘Osama bin Laden Is a Terrorist’ t-shirts?”

“Uh, I dunno.”

“I do. BECAUSE YOU’RE A COWARD!

Now that would have been entertaining.

Spreading Democracy or Spreading the Gospel [Religion of the State]

As a follow-up to my last post on democracy in the Middle East, I was listening to the radio the other night and caught a snippet of an interview with some foreign-policy guru who noted that, if we are to see democracies develop in Muslim countries, they will have to flow directly out of Islam. His reasoning was simple: “Muslims just aren’t going to convert to secularism.”

And thank goodness. Imagine if Elijah had demanded that the false prophets in his day stop worshiping Baal and get busy bowing to Marduk. The situation in Israel might have been different, but it would not have been improved. Exchanging one form of idolatry for another is only a solution if you’re the one selling the wood and stones. Rebellion against the living God and his Anointed Son is rebellion, whether you wear a turban and read the Hadith, or you burn your bra and read Cosmo.

I’m a simple man, and the implications of this seem simple to me: If we really want to see responsible, representative government in the Middle East, the kind that preserves liberty and opposes oppression, then the task of American foreign policy is straightforward: Send Christian missionaries. Establish gospel outposts. Disciple the nations. When the gospel has penetrated the society sufficiently, responsible and limited government will flow like water from the rock. Heck, we won’t even have to strike it with a rod.

Democracy vs. Republic [Religion of the State]

In a previous post, I mentioned that America was not founded as a democracy, but as a republic. Here’s a short little video describing the difference:

I wonder if any enterprising INSIGHT student (or anyone else) might want to take a stab at the shortcomings of this presentation. Assume that the historical data is accurate, but that there are some major deficiencies in the perspective of the video.

HT: Jonah Goldberg

We Keep Sowing, But Nothing Ever Grows Around Here [Religion of the State]

Let’s talk about the Middle East for just a moment. One of the stated goals of the Bush Administration for the past few years in the Middle East is the promotion of American-style democracy. This is seen most clearly in Iraq, where purple-fingers marked the first democratic elections in that country since Saddam took power. At the time, those purple-fingers were seen as a sign of progress and a signal that we were succeeding in spreading liberal democracy in a Muslim country.

Two of the reasons (among many) that this project is doomed to fail in the Middle East are a) the United States was originally conceived as a republic and not a democracy, and b) as my grandfather says, “There are no Thomas Jefferson’s over there.” Now, obviously I think Jefferson got some fairly significant things wrong (taking scissors to your Bible is never a good idea). But caveats aside, the point remains.

“But surely you don’t mean to suggest that Washingtons, Jeffersons, Madisons, and Adams are required in order to have a successful democratic government!”

This is what I’m suggesting, and more. I want to suggest that the Founders of this country, in establishing what has proven to be a fairly successful form of representative government, were standing on the shoulders of those who came before them. And it just so happens that those who came before them were Puritans who were up to their eyeballs in the gospel (see Edwards, Jonathan).

The fact that the Middle East doesn’t have a (recent) Christian history is one of the main reasons that any democracies established over there will simply be short-term transitions to totalitarian states. You can’t simply plant the fruit of representative democracy in the soil of totalitarian religion and get anything other than totalitarian democracy, that is, democratically-elected tyrants. Just look at the Palestinians. During their first elections in 2006, they chose Hamas to rule.

Free and open societies, complete with free markets and responsible and limited government, don’t just appear out of nowhere. They come from somewhere. They are the fruit of something. And until the seeds of that something are sown, we’re just farmers sowing seedless oranges wondering why nothing ever grows around here.

Building a Bigger Idol [Religion of the State]

The title of this post by the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza caught my eye: Obama Bets Big on Big Government. In case you were wondering, Obama seems to think that the cure for the current economic crisis is to increase the size and scope of government power.

“Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy — where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending,” said Obama during his economic address at George Mason University — a stunning rejection of then President Bill Clinton’s 1996 declaration in his State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over.”

Obama acknowledges that some may be skeptical of the federal government’s ability to jump start the economy, what with all the money that they are currently wasting using. But he still wants to move forward with a $1 trillion dollar plan to stimulate the economy. What I found especially interesting was this paragraph by Cilizza:

Caveats aside, it’s clear that Obama and his political team believe that the less-government-is-best mantra that, more than any other single idea, fueled Republicans’ rise at the presidential level and congressional level over the last three decades has been debunked in the minds of voters.

Got that? Shrinking the size of the government “has been debunked in the minds of voters,” which, when translated means, “More people are believing a lie.”

Recall, again, Romans 1 and its profound analysis of the human condition. Human beings in our fallen state “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve creatures rather than the Creator” (1:25). Lie-believing always accompanies glory-exchanging. That is exactly what’s happening. The State is asking for your faith, your trust, your hope. It wants you to believe.

I’m arguing that the State, through its priests and messiahs, is elevating itself as another deity. And when I make this argument, I really mean it. Place the Federal Government (as it currently operates) in the same category as Bel, Nebo, Marduk, Zeus, Allah, and Krishna. All of these demand allegiance and trust, and all of them receive the same from sinful human beings.

Calls from politicians to expand the size of the federal government are simply calls to build a bigger idol. And all idols will eventually come crashing down. The bigger the idol, the bigger the fall. Because when the rain of God’s wrath descends, and the floods of judgment come, and the winds of “change” blow and beat on this rebellious house, it will fall; and great will be the fall of it.

“Let There Be…” [Religion of the State]

One of the main indications that the American government is seeking to establish itself as an alternative deity is its use of fiat money. Put simply, fiat money is money that is not tied to any fixed commodity like silver or gold. Instead, it derives its value from its relative scarcity and the confidence that members of the society place in it and the institutions issuing it.

Now, in one sense, all forms of money are arbitrary. Gold and silver have no “intrinsic” value; they only have the value that we ascribe to them as representatives of actual goods. The reason that gold and silver have long been used as mediums of exchange is because they are moderately scarce, accessible, durable, divisible, and easily identifiable. What’s more, unless you are King Midas, there is a fixed supply of gold (or silver), making it very difficult to inflate the money supply.

Until the 20th century, most developed societies used either gold and silver as money, or they used the Gold Standard, in which paper money is backed by and can be exchanged for gold. In 1971 President Nixon completely terminated what remained of the U.S. Gold Standard. Now, all of our currency is fiat money. By “fiat,” we mean that the money comes about simply as the result of the arbitrary will of the issuing institution. The money has value only because the government says so. In other words, they simply create the money ex nihilo, out of nothing.

Now, as Christians think about this state of affairs, we must think as Christians. We are not Christians on Sundays, and secular libertarians during the week. Secular libertarians recognize the destructive consequences of fiat money. But, because they look at everything with secular goggles on, they can never penetrate to the ultimate “why?”. In other words, because of their own secular assumptions, they can’t identify the idolatry that is driving the whole risky business.

Here’s my attempt to begin to address fiat money as a biblical Christian: When governments adopt a fiat money system, they are attempting to be God. They want to create something (worth and value) from nothing (paper and ink). Rather than creating real value through the organization and cultivation of the created order established by the living God, they are idolatrously seeking to imitate him in his original fiat lux. Just as “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” so also the government desires to say, “Let there be money,” and there was money.

Idolatrous people are content to live with this situation, partly because of their rejection of the true God, and partly because the State offers to send them some of that newly-created cash, fresh off the printing presses. Everyone goes merrily along, living in their castles in the air, watching the plasma screen TV’s they bought with the last stimulus package, until the newly-minted “god” (pun intended) proves that he is as poor a substitute as Baal, Molech, and Zeus. At that point, all the best laid plans of mice and men come undone, the castles come tumbling down, and our courageous politicians miraculously appear on a beach in Aruba.

Governments make lousy gods. They are as blind, deaf, and dumb as any wooden statue that Isaiah mocked (Isaiah 44:9-20; 46). For all their grand, utopian intentions, they usually only succeed in multiplying disasters; we get five new ones for every one “solution.” But have no fear; they’ll fix all those new problems… with all the new money they just printed.

For a short history of fiat money, see this fine little article at the Daily Reckoning.

Category Intros: Religion of the State

The title of this category comes from the excellent book by Jonah Goldberg: Liberal Fascism. Goldberg defines fascism as follows:

Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well being, and seeks uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with the objectives. Any rival identity is part of “the problem” and therefore defined as the enemy.

The reason I’m picking up this theme is that the modern State seems to be asserting itself as an alternative religion to Christianity. In former days, people looked to their religious community, and ultimately to their god, for protection, provision, and happiness. As Christians, we look to the triune God of Scripture to meet our needs, to keep and guard us, and to satisfy the deepest longings of our soul. This is what all human beings are under obligation to do.

But, as Romans 1 so clearly teaches, human beings refuse to honor God as God and give thanks. We exchange the glory of God for idols, and in modern Western society, the State is one of the chief idols. We ought to be praying,

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts
as we forgive our debtors.

Instead, many in this country, including far too many Christians, functionally pray,

Our Government, who art in Washington, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy politician’s will be done,
in the states as it is in the District of Columbia.
Give us this day our daily bailout (and welfare and subsidy)
and repudiate our debts
as we repudiate the debt of our debtors.

As Christians, this is the idolatrous air that we breathe. We simply assume that the State is supposed to function as our government currently does. And while many of us raise our voices at the more egregious abuses of State power, we are perfectly content to use the State “for the sake of the kingdom” when it serves our purposes. Like sexuality, the relationship of Christians to the State is one of the most pressing questions facing the Church today. And, as we seek answers, it is important that we do so, not merely as Americans or Westerners, but as Christians.