Monday, April 30, 2007

Politics and Christianity: the Clear, the indifferent and the Difficult

I am always eager to integrate Christianity with life because doing so is integrating truth with life. There are some areas in which the application of moral truth is clear, even though unpopular or painful. But this is not always the case.

One difficulty with the integration of Christianity and life is that some people expect God to give us all the specific right answers about everything in black and white terms. But life as God created it is not always like that. There are indifferent things and things where, while there are right answers, it is not easy for humans to know or agree on those answers. And it is not always easy to separate the indifferent from the difficult.

Despite the impression I create on issues where the moral law is clear or my opinion is strong, law and politics full of indifferent areas where we are not faced with a choice between moral good and moral evil, but merely a choice. Politics and law are also filled with areas in which there is a right or at least best answer, but it is not easy to know and agree about that answer.

This is why, as C.S. Lewis said in his essay “Is Progress Possible?” that it may not be appropriate to have a Christian political party. Political parties have to take positions on all sorts of difficult and indifferent issues – issues on which Christians can and do disagree. But naming a political party as “Christian” has the unhappy result of implying our positions on indifferent or difficult issues are the only Christian positions when they are not necessarily so at all. I agree this is a real problem. It is also difficult to avoid all mention of faith in politics because it is necessary to rally those who agree on the moral issues and who share a common world view for the others.

In running a law school we have similar difficulties. I can express my own personal views on my blog. But where there is a spectrum of plausibly legitimate opinion among orthodox Bible believing Christians we have to teach the spectrum and the arguments for the different positions, not just the ones we personally think best. We may emphasize the arguments we believe best, but we want students to know that there are different opinions. But then we do not stop there. To learn the law one must understand the opinions of judges who are secular humanists or American Realists just as much as the opinions of Christian jurists. And most issues in law are indifferent matters or arguable matters where we may even agree with some of the faithless against the opinion of some of the faithful, about that matter.

So do not think that sharp opinions questions where the moral law is clear mean that everything is black and white. And do not think that because much of the law is murky, there can be no clarity on issues at all, because so issues are clear under the moral law.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The No-religious Test Cause and the Candidates for President

In the upcoming Republican primary, one of the candidates running is controversial because he is a Mormon. A prominent Christian talk show host, whom I admire and celebrate, has been making an argument that because the Constitution contains a clause against religious tests, no one should vote against Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon. While I greatly respect this talk show host and agree with him most of the time, I cannot agree with this argument. Whether or not you think you can vote for Mitt Romney in good conscience, the anti-religious test clause of the Constitution should not really have anything to do with it.

The anti-religious test clause, Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States, provides: “The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

The no religious test clause or anti-religious test clause was included in the Constitution as a reaction against one of the forms of religious persecution common in Europe between the time of the Reformation and the American founding. This problem was a form of religious discrimination in which people were required to specify that they were members of a particular Christian denomination or group or creed in order to hold public office or undertake actions on behalf of their government. For example, in Catholic countries people were required to be Catholic. In Lutheran countries they were required to be Lutheran. In England they were required to give allegiance to Henry VIII as head of the church. These kinds of clauses were odious to the framers since many of their recent ancestors had left England and other countries in Europe in order to escape exactly such forms of religious persecution or discrimination.

Now let’s compare the question of not voting for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon. If anyone suggested that Mormons could not hold offices in the federal government or carry out the public trust, they would be arguing contrary to the no religious test clause. The core meaning of the clause is clearly that no one can be prevented from doing public work or holding public office because they believe or do not believe any particular religious tenets. So, for example, the government of the United States cannot ban Quakers from holding public office. They cannot require all persons enlisting in the military to be Lutherans. The government cannot say that they will only allow public contracts with members of the Church of Religious Science. Senators should not refuse to confirm judges to the court of appeals because they are fundamentalists. This is the obvious meaning of the clause. But this all has to do with the action of the government or the nation as a whole in banning some particular class of people. It has nothing to do with who we vote for or why we vote for them as individuals.

What I think the talk show host would argue in response to my interpretation of the clause is that if we make religion an important matter in political choices like who we vote for for president, we’re violating the spirit of the American system since America is built on the idea that your individual religion is not relevant to your public life. But that argument clearly misunderstands the nature of the American republic and the nature of public office, public trust and campaigns for the positions involved with them. When we vote for someone for office, we are voting for the entire person. We should consider what they believe, what they know, what their skills, gifts, abilities, talents and virtues are. We should also consider the evidence of their particular addictions, vices and shortcomings. I would not vote for anyone for public office who holds beliefs about reality that are absurd or who does not know information necessary to be an effective office holder. For example, I would never vote for anyone who thought that the moon landing had been faked or that the Federal Reserve is really a shadow government that manipulates and controls world events. I would not vote for such people for several reasons. First, their willingness to believe things that are patently absurd means that one cannot trust their judgment about facts. Judgment about facts is constantly necessary in carrying out any government office. What we know about moral principles is of great importance. But what we believe about facts or know about facts is equally important. Everyone agrees that theft is wrong. But is taking someone’s property in order to build a shopping mall that will earn money for the community theft? What people believe about facts and their ability to figure out what the real facts are and how the facts are significant or how moral principles apply to them are all critical. It is also the case that peoples’ attitudes toward their beliefs and knowledge also are indicative about how they will behave in office and under stress. What people believe or don’t believe is also in some way indicative of their intelligence and wisdom. Are they gifted in their ability to learn, understand, communicate and discern? Do they understand the way things really work and see things as they really are? What a person believes shows me a lot about the answers to these questions.

Within the core of what someone believes are their religious beliefs. What someone believes about God, human nature, the origin of the universe, the order of the universe, the source of moral law, the source of rights, why human beings can learn language or learn anything at all, whether there are spiritual forces at work in the world, what factors affect human behavior and decision making, and what factors affect group behavior and decision making, are all of great importance and are all tied to one’s religious faith and belief. If one claims they are not tied to one’s religious faith and belief, that says something very clearly about what that person actually thinks and actually believes. What some Mormons believe about foundational ideas, as individuals, may be laudable. But what the Mormon Church historically has believed is not always Biblical, praiseworthy, or sensible.

It’s entirely possible that Mitt Romney could be the lesser evil of the presidential candidates—that he could be the best person to vote for out of the bunch. But to think that his belief in Mormonism should not be a factor when individuals decide whether or not they as individuals want Romney to be their president is to disregard the important factors. The Mormon religion has definite beliefs about human nature, etc. It has teachings about all of these things. If Mitt Romney believes Mormon teaching and doctrine, then his decision making as president will be affected by those beliefs. Or if he does not really believe Mormon teaching and doctrine, but rather believes in political liberalism and simply chooses to associate himself with Mormonism, or if he believes in materialism and chooses to associate himself with Mormonism, this is no less problematic because it means that Mr. Romney disregards the teachings of religious faith (especially with regard to these issues) and believes instead what materialists or political liberals believe about them.

It is not so much that Romney is a Mormon; rather it is that he is not a Christian. Of course there are many people who call themselves Christians who don’t hold to what Christians ought to believe about human nature, etc. But that says something about them as well, doesn’t it? Ideally, a candidate for president sees the universe as it really is. He understands what people are really like and where moral law comes from and where rights come from. Unless someone has the proper beliefs about these things, they are going to be a worse president than someone who does. If you cannot find anyone who believes the right things about the world (a very sorry situation indeed), then I suppose you have to pick the best or the least bad from among those who remain. But it should not ever be thought that you are doing well or not compromising or not settling for a lesser evil if you have to pick a candidate for political office who doesn’t even have a proper understanding of what it means to be a human being.

Sure, a person who doesn’t have the right beliefs about reality or who isn’t wise or knowledgeable can still agree with you on a checklist of issues. They may still tell you that they are opposed to abortion and favor low taxes and would allow home schooling. But what happens when the situation changes? What happens when the person’s views on the issues come into question? What happens when a new issue comes up that requires a de novo application of fundamental principles to an unconsidered reality? I can tell you exactly what happens. The person who doesn’t believe the right things about reality is very likely to come to the wrong answer about the new issue. A good example is cloning. There are a number of people in political power who have been happy to side with pro-lifers on abortion. But when cloning has come up, because their cosmology and their understanding of human nature and reality is weak, they suddenly do not realize that unborn human beings or human beings conceived in petrie dishes are still human. Instead, they try to rationalize that a human being is determined by its location or its likelihood of survival. To someone who sees the world as it really is, this is not only absurd but frightening. Nevertheless, there are plenty of people who ask ridiculous questions like whether or not clones can have souls. (Of course they do. They wouldn’t be alive if they didn’t have a soul.) In fact, we already had trouble with Mormons and cutting-edge issues. One of the prominent Republican senators, who is a Mormon, on the Judiciary Committee has been helpful on abortion, but extremely unhelpful on embryonic stem cell research because he does not understand these simple fundamental questions.

Mormons don’t agree with orthodox historical Christianity about the fundamental truths about God, morality and reality. In addition, believing in Mormonism is clearly ridiculous. A detailed study of what Mormons believe shows it to be quite incredible in many ways. I understand that many people are Mormons because their ancestors were. I also understand that many people are attracted to Mormonism for cultural reasons because Mormons emphasize family and clean living. There are also some Mormons who don’t really believe in any of the teachings of Mormonism, just as there are some people who call themselves Christians who do not really believe in any of the teachings of the Bible. But regardless of whether or not Mitt Romney is a liberal Mormon or a hereditary Mormon or a cultural Mormon, he has still chosen to continue to associate himself with a religion whose tenets are patently absurd and whose history is highly suspect. I consider that a mark against him in terms of my evaluation of his qualifications to be president of the United States.

I also consider a Mormon’s candidacy for the presidency problematic because if a Mormon becomes president, it will make Mormonism even more mainstream and acceptable than it already is. If Mormonism becomes more culturally acceptable, more people will become Mormons. If more people become Mormons, more people will not be saved. Now while I am a Calvinist and believe that God is ultimately the one responsible for whether people are elect or not elect, I also understand that from a practical human point of view, our choices appear to matter in terms of people being saved or not saved. If we fail to share the Gospel with people, they may not be the elect. If we share the Gospel with people, it is very likely that we will discover that God has elected some of them. If a Mormon becomes president, it will probably turn out to be fewer people elected to the true church in America than would otherwise be the case. So this is another reason why I would be reluctant to vote for Mr. Romney, unless he is clearly the lesser of evils.

All of this is not to say that I like most of the other presidential candidates. Candidates who are atheists, materialists, or who call themselves Christians but who are non-believers can be as problematic. Some of the candidates are not too bright. Some of them have real ego problems. Some are all image and no substance. But isn’t there someone in America who would be a qualified, reasonable, competent president who has good character and who believes in the teachings of orthodox Christianity? If not we will have to vote for the nest candidate we have. That might be Romney or Thompson or someone else. But we really ought to have better choices. But whoever we choose, for individual voters to consider the candidates religious views is not a violation of the no religious clause test.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Abortion: UK Gives Some Hope

Did you know that in much of “liberal” Europe there are greater restrictions on abortion than in the USA?

For example, in the UK, according to the Evening Standard:

“Abortion is legal in Britain up to nine months if doctors believe the baby has a severe disability or the mother's life is at risk.
But termination for 'social' reasons - the effect of the pregnancy on the mental health and well-being of the mother - is legal up to 24 weeks.”

By contrast, though out nearly all the US abortion is legal for any reason for all nine months. Why can’t we limit the killing of unborn human beings at least as much as the UK when over 70% of Americans are willing to accept such limits?

In another improvement in the UK, the Evening Standard reports many public health service doctors are refusing to perform abortions on ethical grounds. The government has been forced to hire increasing numbers of private doctors to meet the tragic demand for abortion. But the trend among doctors shows that conscience is still alive, even in the UK.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

California Mischief

The California legislature seems to do little but get into mischief. Current bills under consideration include AB 374, titled the “California Compassionate Choices Act,” which authorizes physician-assisted suicide. There is also legislation to legalize homosexual marriage (AB 43), create additional rights for homosexuals (AB 14 and SB 777), restrict parents’ right to discipline children (AB 755) and allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses (SB 60). Hat tip to Pacific Justice Institute.