Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Politics / Economics

DONALD TRUMP AND CHRISTIANITY TODAY

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Christianity Today, a leading evangelical periodical, recently published a scathing editorial calling for Donald Trump to be removed from office.  The editorial, written by editor Mark Galli, stated that in the current impeachment process “. . . the facts in this instance are unambiguous: the president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents.  That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral” (Christianity Today, Dec. 19, 2019).  The article went on to say that the president’s Twitter feed “is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused,” and that “we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”

By all accounts President Trump was infuriated by the editorial and tweeted that Christianity Today is “a far left magazine . . .which has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years” and would rather “have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President.”

Mr. Trump is surely one of the most controversial and divisive presidents we have had for many years.  People either love him or hate him.  But in a case of impeachment it is important that in the heat of the moment we do not lose sight of the facts and that we uphold the rule of law.

The immediate question is whether or not Mr. Trump should be removed from office on the two charges listed in the Articles of Impeachment recently passed by the House of Representatives.  One of the charges, that of obstruction of justice, involves a complicated constitutional question revolving around the separation of powers and the executive privilege, and should probably be left to the courts to decide.  But one can hardly remove a president from office simply because he is trying to take advantage of his legal options.

But that leaves the central charge in the case: whether Mr. Trump abused his authority by threatening to withhold military aid promised to Ukraine unless the Ukrainian government announced an investigation into the business activities of Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, a possible opponent of Mr. Trump’s in next fall’s election.  If the charge is true, it would be tantamount to an “emolument” forbidden by Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, and would be on par with bribery which is specifically mentioned as an impeachable offense in Article II, Section 4.  Hence, if it can be proven that there was a “quid pro quo” in the Administration’s dealings with the Ukrainian government, President Trump should be removed from office.

The Christianity Today editorial, however, went beyond that and addressed the broader issue of whether or not evangelical Christians should be supporting Mr. Trump at all.  The editorial states that “this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration,” and went on to mention his “immoral actions in business and his relationship with women,” and his Twitter feed “with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders.”  None of these would necessarily be impeachable offenses, and other presidents have been guilty of at least some of these.  But the editorial went on to make a telling point:

“To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump

in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this:

Remember who you are and whom you serve.  Consider how

your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to

your Lord and Savior.  Consider what an unbelieving world

will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral

words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.  If

we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we

say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for

decades to come?  Can we say with a straight face that

abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the

same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of

our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?”

“Remember who are and whom you serve.”  We have been called by God to advance His kingdom.  We must promote the moral standards He has laid down in His Word, and call our fellow human beings to repentance and faith Jesus Christ.  We believe in the sanctity of life.  We say that we believe in the sanctity of marriage.  We should also believe in the sanctity of truth (Ninth Commandment).  To give unqualified support to a political leader with such moral failures as Mr. Trump’s is to profess one thing and then support its opposite.  We will have made ourselves hypocrites in the sight of the world.  Who will listen to us then?

 

 

THE DISASTER OF ROE V. WADE

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Today makes the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.  It was a decision that profoundly changed America, that changed the values that guide us as a nation.  It short, it was nothing less than a cultural revolution.  In moral terms it was probably the most catastrophic decision since at least the Dred Scott decision of 1857 in which the Court held that African-Americans could not be citizens and had not rights which white men were bound to respect.

Roe v. Wade had far reaching social and cultural consequences.  The argument for legalized abortion is usually based on the idea of a “woman’s right to choose.”  Abortion, it is argued, involves a woman’s control over her own body, and that it should be a private decision between her and her physician.  But what about the fetus itself?  Is that just a part of the woman’s body, like her tonsils or her appendix?  Simple high school biology would tell us otherwise.  The reason abortion had been made illegal from conception was the realization that the fertilized egg has its own genetic makeup quite distinct from the mother’s.  The embryo undergoes a continuous process of development, and as it does so it acquires its own heartbeat and the ability to move on its own.  It is a distinct, living, human being.  How, then, can we justify taking its life?   Abortion amounts to infanticide in utero.

But this, in turn, raises a deeper moral question.  What makes killing wrong in the first place?  The Sixth Commandment reads, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13, Dt. 5:17; NKJV), and the Judeo-Christian tradition has always held that human life is sacred.  Human beings are created in the image of God, and thus killing a human being is not the same as killing a deer or a bear.  Roe v. Wade represents a decisive break with Judeo-Christian morality.

But what then?  What makes anything right or wrong?  Feminists argue that a woman has a constitutional right to have an abortion.  But does she really?  Where in the U.S. Constitution does it say anything at all about abortion?  The Court tried to argue that it was implied in a generalized right to privacy which, in turn, was supposedly implied in several other provisions of the Constitution.  But this was quite a stretch.  The tendency in modern times has been for the Court to treat the Constitution as a “living document” to be construed in different ways as the needs of society change.  But the problem with this approach is that it amounts to judicial tyranny – the Supreme Court can create law at will.  But the Constitution represents a social contract among the people – “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union . . . ,” and only the people have the right to change it.  It is not for the Supreme Court to read into the document what it will.

But suppose that the Constitution actually did stipulate a right to have an abortion (as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently suggested New State should put in its Constitution).  Would that make it right?  The U.S. Constitution, as it was originally written, tacitly recognized the existence of slavery, and stipulated that runaway slaves had to be returned to their masters.  But did that make it right?  What about the Nazi Holocaust, which was also official government policy?

What the Feminist argument amounts to is a denial of the existence of any higher, universal moral law.  It assumes that moral norms are man-made, and that we are not accountable to any Supreme Being.  But human societies have repeatedly shown themselves to all kinds of cruelty and injustice.  Does might really make right?

What we have today in America is a culture that is increasingly secular and amoral.  We think of ourselves as autonomous individuals acting in our own self-interest, without any respect to any higher moral principles.  This, in turn, has led to an increasingly lawless society.  Life is a matter of what we can get away with.

This lack of universal ideals has also led to identity politics.  Instead of seeing ourselves as sharing a common humanity, and as united as members of a single country, committed to the ideals of “liberty and justice for all,” we see ourselves instead as part of this or that oppressed minority group, engaged in a perpetual struggle against some other group or groups.  It was only a matter of time when white, working class people would begin to see themselves as an oppressed group; hence we have the ruse of white nationalism and Donald Trump.

But democracy cannot long endure under such circumstances.  Politicians need to be able to find common ground and reach a compromise, which is increasingly difficult when society is deeply divided over core values.  And people need an incentive to obey the law voluntarily – they need to be motivated by a higher moral law – that one needs to obey the law even when the police are not looking.  When that is lacking, when people are guided solely by individual self-interest, only a dictator can maintain order in society.

America is a very different country today than it was 46 years ago.  Roe v. Wade was a decisive break with cultural traditions held by Western Civilization for thousands of years.  It remains to be seen what the future will hold.

 

CHRISTIAN CIVILIZATION?

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Abraham Kuyper

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Betsy DeVos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review:

Lectures on Calvinism

Abraham Kuyper

Eardmans, 1931

199 pp., pb.

 

One of President Trump’s more controversial cabinet appointments is the Education Secretary, Mrs. Betsy DeVos.  Mrs. DeVos is a strong proponent of school choice and voucher programs, and her appointment was strenuously opposed by the public school establishment.  Mrs. DeVos is a committed evangelical Christian, and the wife of the heir to the Amway fortune.

As it turns out, Mrs. DeVos has quite an interesting cultural background.  She was raised in the Dutch Calvinist Christian Reformed Church and is a graduate of Calvin College.  Both of these, in turn, are the spiritual heirs of a most remarkable figure in church history, Abraham Kuyper, the renowned Dutch theologian, educator, journalist and statesman.  Born in 1837, he studied at the University of Leyden and became a pastor in the state supported Dutch Reformed Church.  But he also became active in politics; and in both religion and politics he became a leading conservative intellectual, fighting against the liberal and secularizing trends of the day.  He was elected to parliament, founded the Free University of Amsterdam, and eventually led a group of conservative dissidents out of the state church.  In 1901 he became the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, serving until 1905.  He died in 1920.  The Encyclopedia Britannica described him as “a remarkable man . . .a powerful writer and a speaker with a gift of arresting statement” (1959 ed., Vol. 11, p. 654).

In 1898 Princeton University invited Kuyper to come to America to receive an honorary degree, and while he was in Princeton he delivered the L.P. Stone Lectures in the nearby Seminary.  The lectures provide us with an insight into the thinking of this remarkable figure.

It should be noted at the outset that when Kuyper spoke of “Calvinism” he was not referring specifically to what we think of today as the “Five Points of Calvinism.”  Rather, he was defining Calvinism broadly as a comprehensive worldview centered on the sovereignty of God.  The Calvinist worldview, he says, consists of three basic ideas: 1) as human beings we can have a direct relationship with God; 2) There is a fundamental equality of all human beings before God; and 3) the world should be honored as God’s creation.

Kuyper spent most of his lectures describing the influence that Calvinism has had on the course of Western history, advancing “Christian civilization.”  This, in turn, leads to what has sometimes been deemed “the cultural mandate.”  “Everything that has been created was, in its creation, furnished by God with an unchangeable law of its existence.  And because God has fully ordained such laws and ordinances for all life, the Calvinist demands that all life be consecrated to His service, in strict obedience” (p. 53).  What Kuyper was arguing for, in effect, was the lordship of Christ in every area of life.

In a Christian (Calvinist) state, Kuyper argues, the state would recognize God as the Supreme Ruler, maintain the Sabbath, proclaim days of fasting and prayer, and invoke God’s blessing.  But the state would also respect the rights of individual conscience and not interfere in the life of the church.

What prevents Western Civilization from reaching its full potential, according to Kuyper, is the liberal, secularist philosophy that sprang from the French Revolution.  Secular thinking is based on the assumption that the world as we see it is normal.  Genuine Christianity, however, is based on the exact opposite assumption, that the world is not normal.  It has been corrupted by sin and needs to be saved by divine grace.  The two viewpoints are diametrically opposed to each other and cannot be reconciled.  What the church must do is to challenge the assumptions of secular thought and put in their place a thoroughly developed Christian worldview.  This approach leads to what is known today as “presuppositional apologetics.”

Much of Kuyper’s thinking was undoubtedly shaped and influenced by events in his own time.  One of the burning political issues of the day had to do with the state supported educational system.  The Netherlands, like the U.S. today, had a publicly supported elementary school system.  But many Christian parents, like their American counterparts today, chose to send their children to private Christian schools instead.  The question then arose as to whether they should have to pay for both the public and private schools at the same time.  The proposal was made to have the government provide financial aid to the private schools as well as the public ones, and this was resisted by the liberals in the Netherlands.  On this question the orthodox Calvinists found themselves on common ground with the Catholics.  A political alliance was formed, which resulted in Kuyper becoming Prime Minister in 1901.

The question raised the deeper issue about the relationship between church, state and the educational system.  Starting with the premise that as human beings we are each directly accountable to God, Kuyper argued that the family, church, state and workplace each operate more or less independently of each other, with each following its own God-ordained method of operation.  This is what eventually came to known in Reformed circles as “sphere sovereignty.”

Kuyper was conscious of being a part of a “Christian civilization” that could trace its roots back 2,000 years and had been at least nominally Christian since the days of Constantine.  Kuyper also say that civilization being threatened by the forces of modern secularism.  The question is, what can the Christian do about it?

Kuyper recognized, quite correctly, that Christ should Lord of every area of life.  He also recognized that modern secularism operates on a set of assumptions diametrically opposed to those of biblical Christianity.  But the question then becomes, what can be done about human society in its present condition?  Kuyper relies very heavily on the role of  “common grace,” which he describes this way: it is that “by which God, maintaining the life of the world, relaxes the curse which rests upon it, arrests the process of corruption, and thus allows the untrammeled development of our life in which to glorify Himself as Creator” (p. 30).  But this may be ascribing too much to human civilization.  While it is certainly true that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:45; NKJV), and that “He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way” (II Thess. 2:7), that is a long way from “allowing the untrammeled development of our life in which to glorify Himself as Creator.”  The world is still the world, a human society in rebellion against its Creator.  What it achieves it mostly accomplishes in defiance of God.

Significantly Kuyper quoted little Scripture in his lectures, but relied heavily instead on historical analysis.  He could look back over the course of Western Civilization and note the role that Calvinism had played in advancing it.  But when we turn to Scripture a different story emerges.  Instead of “Christian Civilization” we see the kingdom of God; and in order to enter that kingdom one must repent and be born again.  The root cause of man’s problem is sin, and the central task of the church is to call men and women to repentance and faith in Christ.  The moral tone of human society generally improves only as a result of religious revival.

What, then, is to be gained by Abraham Kuyper serving as the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, or Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Secretary of Education?  Each of us has an individual calling in life, and we should let our light shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).  “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially those of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10); be we must be careful to “abstain from every form of evil” (I Thess. 5:22) and keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27).  Politics, in particular, can be a morally hazardous undertaking!

Kuyper acknowledged that nothing can be accomplished unless God sends for His Spirit.  But he compares Calvinism to an Aeolian Harp – “absolutely powerless, as it is, without the quickening Spirit of God.”  But he says “. . .still we feel it our God-given duty to keep our harp, its strings tuned aright, ready in the window of God’s Holy Zion, awaiting the breath of the Spirit” (p. 199).  To which we can only say “Amen!”

THE LEGACY OF MARX

Karl Marx (1818-1883), philosopher and German poli

Karl Marx

 

 

This past Saturday, May 5, saw the bicentennial of the birth of Karl Marx, arguably the most influential philosopher in modern history.  What made him so influential was that he was not your typical armchair philosopher – delivering dry lectures in some ivory tower somewhere.  Instead he laid out a political agenda that ultimately affected the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Marx and his colleague Friedrich Engels laid out their agenda in the Communist Manifesto, published in London on the eve of the revolution of 1848.  In it they described in vivid detail the rapacious effects of free-market capitalism as it developed during the Industrial Revolution, leaving a large segment of the population socially uprooted and economically impoverished, at the mercy of wealthy industrialists.  (In describing the conditions of the working class they could easily have been describing how many of the supporters of Donald Trump feel today.)  What Marx and Engels claimed was happening was a class struggle that would eventually result in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the triumph of the proletariat and the abolition of private property.

Some of the things advocated by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto have become widely accepted today in modern, industrialized countries: a progressive income tax, central banks, and public education.  But other things are more troubling: the abolition of property in land and the establishment of “industrial armies, especially in agriculture.”  At one point they called for the abolition of “the bourgeois family.”  And all of this, according to them, will come about by means of violent revolution.  Between the classes, they say, is a “veiled civil war” until “that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.”  The Manifesto concludes with a ringing call to arms: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims.  They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.  Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution.  The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.  They have a world to win.”

What is remarkable about the Manifesto is the absence of any call for social justice, let alone an appeal to morality.  Rather what underlies the authors’ call for revolution is a sense of economic determinism.  Revolution is inevitable because history is a perpetual class struggle.  “What the bourgeoisie therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers.  Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

This, in turn, leads to a cultural relativism.  The only reason we hold to certain beliefs is because we are economically conditioned to do so.  To their “bourgeois” critics Marx and Engels say “Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into law for all, a will, whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of your class.”  “The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of property . . . this misconception you share with every ruling class that has preceded you.”  Thus, for the proletarian, “Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.”

Marx and Engels may have thought that they had found the cure for every human ill, but in their case the medicine was worse than the disease.  The violent overthrow of governments and forced collectivization of property did not yield the promised blessings.  Instead we had dysfunctional economies which led to chronic shortages and, on occasion, mass starvation.  Some modern apologists for Marx have tried to exonerate him by arguing that the Communist dictators of the 20th Century had misinterpreted his writings.  But to read the Communist Manifesto it becomes evident that Lenin and Stalin, Chairman Mao and Pol Pot, were simply following the agenda that had been laid out for them by Marx himself.  And Marx’s sad legacy still lives on.  Practically no one believes in dialectical materialism, but Marx’s attack on “bourgeois morality” still lives on in the identity politics of today.

The underlying problem was Marx’s philosophical materialism.  It has the effect of at once eliminating the existence of God and dehumanizing man, making him little more than a creature of prevailing economic conditions.  There is a denial of universal truths and moral absolutes.  The end result is the collapse of Western Civilization itself.  All that is left is the law of the jungle.

The Christian answer to all of this is that God does, in fact, exist.  We live in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being.  Truth and morality are determined by Him and revealed through His Word.  We were created in His image, we have the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, and will ultimately have to give an account to God, our Creator and Judge.  And yes, capitalism can be a rapacious and oppressive economic system, creating a huge disparity of wealth between the privileged few and the disadvantaged many.  But the underlying problem is man’s sin and rebellion against God; and economic oppression is just one form of human depravity.  And the answer to the problem is not armed revolution, which simply replaces one oppressive regime with another.  It is repentance toward God and the new birth, through the preaching of the gospel.

Getting rid of morality is not the answer to economic oppression.  It is coming to terms with the will of our Creator.

“For He is coming to judge the earth.

With righteousness He shall judge the world,

And the peoples with equity.”

(Psalm 98:9; NKJV)

THE GAY WEDDING CAKE CASE

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The Embarkation of the Pilgrims

 

This past Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.  The baker, Jack Phillips, was accused of violating Colorado’s public accommodations law and was sanctioned by the state’s Civil Rights Commission.

Phillips’ lawyer, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the State of Colorado had violated her client’s First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of religion.  Much of the discussion in court, then, centered on whether baking a cake is a form of speech, and whether other forms of artistic expression, such as photography and floral arranging would also qualify as speech.  The state contends that Phillips was engaged in discrimination, pure and simple.

We think that several important distinctions must be made.  First of all, discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation is not the same thing as discriminating on the basis of race.  Race is an inherited and immutable biological trait; homosexuality is a behavior pattern which involves conscious decisions and moral choice.  There is no solid evidence that it is hereditary or biologically determined.  By adding sexual orientation to its list of protected classes, the State of Colorado is treating a behavior pattern as though it were the same as  a biological characteristic, and is then penalizing anyone who objects to that behavior on moral grounds.

Secondly, Mr. Phillips can claim that he is not discriminating against homosexuals simply because they are homosexuals.  If they want to come into his shop to buy coffee and donuts he would be more than happy to serve them.  What he is refusing to do is to provide material support for a specific activity that he deems morally objectionable.

Moreover it is one thing to grant homosexuals the freedom to marry each other; it is another thing to force someone else to act against his own conscience to support the wedding.  The first is consistent with the principle of individual freedom; the second is not.

The state, of course, can and should regulate the behavior of individuals with each other. But it should be very careful about infringing on the deeply held religious beliefs of its citizens.  Religion deals with transcendent truths and provides the foundation for public morality.  To force its citizens to choose between God and the state is to invite civil disobedience on the one hand and to erode public morality on the other.

In the case at hand the legalization of same sex marriage represents a radical departure from 3,000 years of Judeo-Christian teaching on the subject of human sexuality.  And freedom of religion is one of the bedrock principles of American democracy.  Many of the immigrants to these shores came precisely to escape from religious persecution at home.  The colonies of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were early experiments in religious freedom.  And freedom of religion was enshrined in the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to our Constitution.

The Virginia Bill of Rights (1776) declared that “religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience . . .”  To which James Madison added, “The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate” (“A Memorial and Remonstrance,” 1785).

The implications of a ruling against the baker in this case are staggering.  By allowing the state to dictate morality to the church it would open the door to religious persecution.  But the implications are even more far reaching than even that.  The state, by placing itself above God, comes amoral and tyrannical, not bound by any higher moral authority.  The Twentieth Century witnessed the horrors of the godless state at work.  And ultimately society itself becomes lawless and unruly as it loses all moral restraint.

George Washington summed it up well in the Farewell Address of 1796:

“Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity,

religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would

that man claim the tribute of patriotism who would labor to subvert

these great pillars of human happiness – these firmest props of

the duty of man and citizens.  The mere politician, equally with

the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.  A volume

could not  trace all their connections with private and public felicity.”

A ruling in the Phillips case (Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltc. V. Colorado Civil Rights Commission) is not expected until June, 2018.  It remains to be seen what the court will do in this.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could very well cast the deciding vote, seemed skeptical of the state’s position, stating at one point that “Tolerance is essential in a free society.  And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.  It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”  It remains to be seen how the court will rule on this.  But if the state can force a Christian to support the LGBT agenda it can force anyone to support any philosophy or ideology, and then we will have ceased to be a free nation.

 

 

THE ALT RIGHT AND IDENTITY POLITICS

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This past Saturday we witnessed the horrible spectacle of a riot in Charlottesville, VA between white nationalists and counter-protesters.  The riot was precipitated by a rally planned by a variety of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis to protest the pending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville.  Counter-protesters showed up and the ensuing confrontation turned violent.  At least one was killed when someone drove his car into a crowd of protesters.

Ironically on the very same day the Wall Street Journal published an article in its Saturday Review section entitled “The Liberal Crack-Up” by Mark Lilla, who considers himself to be a liberal.  In the article, which is adapted from his forthcoming book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, Mr. Lilla bemoans the fact that the liberal agenda of fifty years ago has been replaced by the identity politics of today.  Liberal used to think of justice for all, of advancing the common good.  Today the left is splintered into a variety of special interest groups, each trying to advance its own agenda, sometimes at the expense of the rest: African-Americans, Feminists, the LGBT community.  It is no longer about the common good; it is now identity politics.

This had the effect of alienating the Democratic Party from much of its traditional base – white, working class Americans who in the last election turned out to vote for Trump.  The elitism of the party leaders could be seen in Hillary Clinton’s infamous remark during the campaign that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.  The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.”  But many of these people traditionally voted Democratic in past elections.  Now they are considered “deplorables.”

It was only a matter of time before there would be a reaction on the right.  The right wing now has its own version of identity politics: white nationalism – the Alt Right, Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and hence the riot in Charlottesville.

The Alt Right would like to see itself as fighting to preserve the cultural heritage of Americans of European descent.  But is it really?  Western Civilization was built on a Judeo-Christian foundation.  American democracy in particular is based on the premise that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  But the Alt Right offers us a secularized version of American culture – one that is not based on a system of shared values and moral absolutes.  Instead it appeals to a sense of racial superiority.  It is no longer God, but “blood and earth.”  It is no longer justice for all, but us against them.

But each of us as human beings, left or right, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, must ask the same basic questions about ultimate reality: does God exits?  What is the meaning and purpose of life?  What makes the difference between right and wrong?

Long ago the apostle Paul challenged the philosophers of Athens with these very questions.  In his celebrated address on Mars’ Hill (Areopagus) recorded for us in Acts 17, Paul pointed out that God is the Creator and that “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth . . .” (v. 26: NKJV).  Here he points us to the essential unity of the human race – we all descended from a common pair of ancestors.  Evolutionists may question or deny this; but the fact remains that when you scratch beneath the surface we are all remarkably alike.  We laugh and cry.  We hope and fear.  We struggle to survive.  And we all share a common human nature that is prone to vice.  It all points to a common ancestry.

But why did God create us in the first place?  This points to the meaning and purpose of life.  According to Paul it was “that they should seek the Lord, in hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (v. 27).  We are here on this planet for a reason and purpose, that is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” in the famous words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Paul concluded his remarks on Mars’ Hill with a sober reminder that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness . . .” (vv. 30,31).  This points to the existence of a universal moral law.  The entire human race is ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, and His will and purposed are final.  As His creatures we are obligated to conform to His will.

As human beings we all feel a need for self-esteem, for a sense of meaning and purpose in life, for a sense of self-worth.  God intended us to find that in Him.  But in our Post-Modern, secularized society, when we have excluded God from our thinking, there is a psychological void that we will try to fill with something else.  That is what drives identity politics.  It provides us with a sense of belonging to some larger group or movement.  The Alt Right is a false conservatism.  It does not seek to return America to its Judeo-Christian roots.  Rather it lays the foundation for the arrival of a demagogue and dictator.  Will it be another Hitler?  Or the Antichrist himself?

THE REPUBLICANS’ HEALTH CARE DILEMMA

 

Official Portrait

Sen. Mitch McConnell

 

This week Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” as it is also known, collapsed as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to muster the votes necessary to pass the measure.  The problem is that his Republican colleagues are divided over how to replace Obamacare, with some thinking that the proposed measure went too far and others thinking that it did not go far enough.  While the Republican caucus is coming under a lot of criticism for failing to act, it is not all clear what they could have “replaced” Obamacare with.  If the aim is to take the government out of health care decisions, then the objective would simply be to repeal Obamacare and not replace it with anything.  If, on the other hand, the aim is to stabilize the insurance markets, then the objective would be to fix Obamacare, not “replace” it.  It was never clear what the Republicans would have put in its place.

A proposal advance by Sen. Ted Cruz during the debate highlighted the problem.  He suggested that insurers be allowed to market plans that do not meet current ACA standards as long as they were required also to offer plans that do.  But actuaries from two major health insurance associations pronounced the plan unworkable. The insurers’ objections go right to the heart of the health insurance dilemma facing the Republicans today.  If healthier people have the option of buying less expensive coverage, the insurance companies will have to charge older, sicker people more money to pay for their coverage.

In order to make health insurance affordable it is necessary to spread the risk over as wide a base as possible.  You need a large number of healthy people paying into the plan to cover the expenses of those who are sick.  Or to state the matter more crassly, the whole idea behind health insurance is to take money from someone who is healthy and use it to pay the hospital bill of someone who is sick.  If you make the system voluntary you run into a problem known in the health insurance industry as “adverse selection” – only sick people sign up and the insurance company has to charge them astronomical premiums to cover their expenses.  The patients, in effect, wind up paying their own medical bills, albeit through a third party payer.  It defeats the whole purpose of health insurance and makes the individual insurance market unworkable.

The main problem with Obamacare is that even with the individual mandate not enough younger, healthier people enrolled.  Insurers were forced to raise their rates, which caused even more enrollees to drop out.  Remove the individual mandate and the problem becomes even worse.

The main problem with the various Republican proposals is that they would leave a large number of people uninsured, and that in turn raises the question of what to do when the uninsured become sick or injured?  Who will bear the cost of their treatment?  In the past such persons would seek treatment in the emergency rooms of hospitals, and the hospitals then would engage in elaborate cost shifting, overcharging patients with insurance to cover the cost of those without. The U.S. as a whole spent more per capita on health care, but without better health results.  One can hardly imagine a less cost effective way to provide health care.  These are problems that plagued the American health care system for decades, and Obamacare was an attempt to correct.  The Congressional Budget Office has pointed out that the various Republicans proposals would simply take us back to where we were before, with potentially millions left uninsured.

The dilemma, then, for the Republicans, is this: if you make the system voluntary and peal back the Medicaid expansion, you leave large numbers of persons uninsured.  It is a classic case of where individual self-interest comes into conflict with the public good.  But the whole idea behind health insurance is to pool our financial resources to protect ourselves against risk.  And none of us want to wants to get seriously ill just so that we can claim that we got our money’s worth out of the insurance.  Health insurance is something that we pay for and hope that we never have to use.  It is enough just to know that it is there in case we need it.

The goal of any humane and socially responsible health care policy should be exactly what President Trump has stated – to make affordable health care available to all.  It remains to be seen what Congress will do next.  But if Obamacare cannot be fixed is it time to repeal and replace it – with a single payer national health insurance plan?

THE MORAL CASE FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE

 

 

Earlier today Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pulled from consideration a health care reform bill that was designed to replace Obamacare.  The speaker, it turns out, was unable to secure a consensus within his own party to get the bill through Congress.  Obamacare remains the law of the land for the time being.

The debate surrounding the bill reflects a logical dilemma underlying the American health care system.  Should the government take steps to insure that everyone has access to affordable health care?  One faction of the Republicans wants to keep the government out of the picture altogether.  Another faction worries about the political consequences of possibly millions of low income and high risk Americans losing their health insurance coverage.

The Republicans’ perplexity is understandable.  The American healthcare system had been plagued for decades with two major problems.  On the one hand there were large numbers of uninsured patients; and, on the other hand, health insurance premiums continued to rise at unacceptable rates year after year.  The U.S. would spend an enormous amount of money on health care each year, but often got less results than in other countries in terms of health outcomes.

One obvious solution to the problem would have been to adopt a single-payer national health insurance plan like that of Canada and many other industrialized countries.   But in the U.S. there is a strong tradition, rooted in the Constitution itself, of limiting the role of the federal government.  What else was it for which our ancestors fought in the American Revolution, if not freedom?  And so the Obama administration decided to take a different approach.  Adopting an idea that was originally conceived by the conservative Heritage Foundation, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it came to be known.  Republicans were appalled, partly because it involved an individual mandate.  The federal government was forcing people to buy something they didn’t necessarily need or want.  If this wasn’t tyranny, what was it?

Obamacare was a failure.  Not enough younger, healthy people signed up.  Insurance premiums skyrocketed; insurers dropped out of the program.  Something obviously had to be done, which brought us to the Republicans’ current dilemma: is the aim to get the government out of the health care business?  Or is it to make sure that everyone has access to affordable health care?

It is important to recognize that there is a moral dimension to this question.  Can we, collectively as a society, consciously leave a significant part of our population without health care?  Libertarians might be inclined to say “yes”: no one is “entitled” to anything, and our freedom depends on keeping the government out of our personal business.  But Christians should think twice before accepting this line of argument.

It must be remembered that we are first and foremost human beings, and that as human beings we are accountable to our Creator for our actions.  And what exactly does our Creator expect from us?

The question was once put to Jesus by a Jewish legal scholar.  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25; NKJV).  Jesus in turn asked him a question: “What is written in the law?  What is your reading of it?” (v. 26).  The lawyer responded by quoting Deut. 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind”) and Lev. 19:18 (“and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”).  Jesus commended him for having answered correctly.

But then the lawyer went on to ask a typical lawyer’s question: “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29), and Jesus responded with His famous Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The story goes that a certain man was making his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, and was attacked by robbers who beat him severely and left him half-dead.  A Jewish priest happened to come by, saw the wounded man, and ignored him, going on his way.  Then a Levite, another Jewish religious official, came by, saw the same man, and also passed by.

Finally there came a Samaritan.  The Samaritans were a group of people who practiced an unorthodox hybrid form of Judaism, and were looked down upon with scorn by the Jewish religious establishment in Jerusalem.  This Samaritan, however, reacted differently to the situation than had the previous two passersby.  We’re told that “when he saw him [the injured man], he had compassion” (v. 33).  What he did next was most extraordinary.  First, he dressed the man’s wounds, “pouring on oil and wine.”  The oil, basically olive oil, acted as a salve; while the wine, containing alcohol, would have served as an antiseptic.  Having thus administered first aid, the Samaritan then placed the injured man on his own animal (perhaps a mule or donkey) and apparently walked the rest of the way to Jericho on foot leading the four-legged ambulance along the way.

Once in Jericho the Samaritan took the victim to an inn and there personally attended to his needs.  Then, when he was ready to depart the next day, he left the wounded man in the care of the innkeeper, paying the innkeeper two denarii, roughly equivalent to a working man’s wages for two days.  And perhaps most extraordinarily of all, he told the innkeeper, “. . .and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you” (v. 35).  Thus the Samaritan assumed the financial risk of caring for the patient – and the patient was a complete stranger!

The point of the story, of course, is that the lawyer had failed to understand what God really requires of us.  The lawyer thought that the question hinged on the definition of “neighbor.”  The point that Jesus wished to make, however, is that the key word is “love” – we are to love our neighbor, to be genuinely concerned for his well-being.  And love never asks the question, “Do I have to?”  Love responds to human need no matter where we find it.  This, then, is the basic principle of the moral law.  This is the responsibility that each one of us has towards God.

Some of my Libertarian friends will undoubtedly argue that this is an individual responsibility, that there is no biblical warrant for a state-run health care system, or a state-run welfare system for that matter.  And up to a point this is certainly true.  In the Old Testament the social safety net consisted of extended family relationships.  If your second cousin was in financial trouble it was your responsibility to act as a “go’el” or kinsman-redeemer to him, and come to his aid.  The New Testament church recognized itself as a spiritual brotherhood and took care of its members by practicing a form of communism (Acts 2:44; 45; 4:34,35).  Nevertheless all human beings are ultimately accountable to their Creator for their behavior, and they are not permitted to do collectively as a society what they are not permitted to do as individuals.  And the Bible makes it clear that God judges entire nations for their cruelty, oppression and injustice.  It remains to each society to devise the practical means by which pressing human needs can be met.

If we Christians, then, believe that abortion involves the taking of innocent human life, and that physician assisted suicide is a violation of the Sixth Commandment, how can we morally justify withholding medical treatment from someone who is critically ill?  The only remaining question, then, is how do we pay for the treatment provided?

THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN AUTHORITY

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Thomas Jefferson famously stated in the Declaration of Independence that “to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .”  And most Americans sincerely believe that – they routinely drive over the speed limit when the cops are not watching.  The law, in and of itself, means nothing to them.  But is Jefferson’s statement really true?

In the limited sense in which Jefferson probably intended it, it undoubtedly is true.  Human governments are, after all, institutions created by human beings for the purpose of establishing law and order in society.  Society could not function without government of some sort.  And so it logically follows that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.”

But that does not mean, however, that individuals are free to disobey the government any time they happen to feel like it.  A lawfully constituted government must be obeyed except in cases when it is acting immorally.  If everyone took the law into his own hands it would defeat the whole purpose of government and chaos would ensue.

Respect for authority begins in the home.  And so it is that when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus he had a special word of exhortation to the children of the congregation: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1; NKJV).  He then goes on to point out that this is, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments: “Honor you father and mother” (v. 2; cf. Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16).

Paul says “for this is right” (v. 1).  When he says “right” he does not just mean that it is technically correct.  The Greek word that he uses (dikaion) is usually translated “righteous,” and means “morally right,” i.e., in accordance with God’s moral law.  The idea here is that there is a certain form of behavior expected from us as human beings.  We have a moral obligation to Someone outside of ourselves, and our actions must be brought into conformity with His moral law.  And part of our moral obligation is respect for duly constituted authority.

We are confronted with the issue at the age of two, when we throw our first temper tantrum.  We didn’t get what we wanted and we responded with an outburst of rage.  It is total depravity in its rawest form, and if left unchecked it will lead to a lifetime of ruinous, destructive behavior.  It is the very opposite of that love for neighbor that God requires from us as His creatures.

Paul points out that this is the first one of the Ten Commandments that has a promise attached to it: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth” (v. 3).  In its original context in Deuteronomy, the promise refers specifically to the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, which God promised to bless if Israel remained faithful to Him (Dt. 11:8-17).  But there is also a broader sense in which human prosperity is tied to the soil, and is ultimately dependent upon God’s blessing on that soil.  We are the offspring of our parents, and a harvest is the produce of the land.  If we fail to honor our parents who brought us into the world, and upon whom we are dependent during our childhood years, we cannot expect the land to yield its fruit.  In this, as in other areas of life, we really do reap what we sow.

Respect for authority does not end at the parent – child relationship; it extends to other areas as well.  The apostle Peter could write: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (I Pet. 2:13,14).  Paul himself could refer to the civil magistrate as “God’s minister to you for good,” and exhorted his readers to “be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1-7).  Individual rulers, of course, are chosen by chosen by men, or at least come to power by human means.  But God is ultimately the Lord of history, and controls events through His providence; and thus the authorities can be said in some sense to be “appointed” by Him (NKJV) or “established” (NASV) or “instituted” (ESV) by Him.  Politicians may be dishonest, incompetent, or even corrupt, but society needs politicians nonetheless.  The alternative is rampant crime and chaos.  We are to respect and honor them for the office they hold; not necessarily their personal attributes.  When Barack Obama was in office, he was the President of all of us as Americans.  Now that Donald Trump holds the office he too is the President of all of us.  And both facts are true no matter what we may personally think of the views of either man.

What the Bible offers us, then, is a basically conservative social philosophy.  Yes, we are morally obligated to care for the disadvantaged in our society.  But we must respect and honor those who are in positions of authority.  Human society simply cannot function in the absence of authority structures needed to plan to organize tasks and maintain order.  We are ultimately accountable to our Creator for our actions, and He expects us to act responsibly in all our affairs.  “Rugged individualism is the essence of human arrogance, and is the opposite of Christian love.  It has no place among Christians.

 

WHY VOTE FOR A THIRD PARTY?

 

Darrell Castle

Darrell Castle, the Constitution Party’s candidate for President, has no chance of winning the current presidential election.  So why, someone might ask, vote for him?

First of all, in an election campaign in which two scoundrels are running against each other, it makes no sense at all to vote for one scoundrel just to keep the other scoundrel out of office.  As the Clinton Foundation and Trump University make abundantly clear, neither major party candidate in this election is fit to occupy the highest office in the land.

But are we not always in the position of voting for the lesser of two evils, it might be asked?  The problem here is twofold.  First of all, how can we really tell which is the lesser of two evils?  The adulterer or the enabler of another adulterer?  The one who mishandled confidential information on her private email server, or the one who stiffed his contractors?

But secondly, what if both candidates are absolutely disqualified from holding office?  If someone is fundamentally dishonest, routinely breaks the rules, and habitually takes advantage of others, he / she cannot be trusted with public office.  That person lacks the character to lead the most powerful country in the world.

As professing Christians the problem is especially acute.  Can we excuse adultery and sexual assault in one candidate in order to prevent the other from pursuing the LGBT agenda?  Can we pick and choose among the Ten Commandments, and argue that adultery is less serious than abortion?  And by excusing the conduct of one who is openly immoral we betray our claim to be in favor of “family values” and “traditional marriage.”  What happens to our testimony then?

By why vote for a candidate who has no chance of winning the election?    Isn’t that a wasted vote?  Or even worse, a vote for the candidate we like the least?

It must be remembered that there is more to democracy than simply getting this or that candidate elected to office.  Ultimately it is the people who must decide the direction that the country should take.  But that requires an open discussion of the issues.  The pros and cons must be carefully weighed.  And that, in turn, requires our political leaders to engage in open debate.

The major parties, however, refuse to do that.  Their aim is to win elections, and to that end they tell the voters what they want to hear. They avoid telling the electorate the hard facts about the federal deficit, for example, or the breakdown of the family structure.  It is all promises, promises, promises.

It typically falls to minor parties to address the real issues facing the nation, the issues that major parties do not want to touch.  The Republican Party began as a protest movement against slavery.  In the 1860 election Abraham Lincoln won only 40% of the popular vote.  But he is commonly rated as one of our greatest presidents.

The real problem facing America today is the breakdown of public morality.  The sense of honor, integrity and duty has all but disappeared, and it has taken a terrible toll on family life.  Putting an immoral casino operator in the White House will not “make America great again.”  What is needed is a candidate whose words and actions speak of moral integrity and sound Constitutional principles.

We need a party and a candidate that will be a clear voice for the principles that made America truly great: sound moral character, productive labor and the rule of law.  What we need is a party and a candidate that will turn back to the vision of the Founding Fathers.  That party is the Constitution Party, and that candidate is Darrell Castle.  You waste your vote when you vote for someone who doesn’t believe in what you believe.  Vote your conscience.  Vote for Darrell Castle.  Let your voice be heard!