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.


TAPIOCA said...

You are quite correct that there are many issues about which there is not a definitive Christian position. Even seatbelt laws can be debated. On the one hand, they are supposed to save lives, and that is a worthwhile goal from a Christian perspective. On the other hand, how much government intrusion into our personal choices do we want? I live in Arizona, where we have a raging debate between proponents of photo radar which catches people speeding on our roads, reduces speeds and saves lives, and opponents who argue that receiving a ticket in the mail deprives motorists of the due process they would normally have, which has traditionally begun with a face to face encounter with the police. In some cases, an officer may feel that a warning is sufficient, or even that something justified the infraction, such as a woman nearing childbirth, but photo radar equipment certainly cannot make choices like that.

Please feel free to check out either of my blogs: - mostly about current events, Christianity and culture war issues, or - a work in progress which is meant to be a chapter by chapter Bible study. Thanks.

Bob in Glendale, AZ

Buz said...

One might argue that in cases where there is no clear moral issue that taking a political stance, or indeed even having laws is "trying to play God where God was wise enough not to."

I have come from a varried background when it comes to denominations. We have moved several times and changed not only churches but denominations. The Baptist stance that drinking any alcohol is evil and while it may not keep one out of heaven, will certainly put them on the wrong side of the tracks, may be so well ingrained in some that they do not even question it; but when that philosophy runs headlong into a Luthern potlock where someone has brought some wine, it causes one to re-evaluate all the indoctrination that one has been through ... a separation of the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Seeing those types of disagreements between denominations, where each believes that what they are spouting is not just church opinion, but the Word of God, leaves little hope that such people could interpret God's word when it comes to capital punishment or civil rights.

On the other hand, God did give human government authority, and St. Paul tells us that we are to be good citizens as long as man's laws do not conflict with God's.

Besides, Christians should be involved in the true politic, that of being ambassadors for the Kingdom of God ... compared to that, what is Republican or Democrat?


Lynn Green said...

I find it interesting in your post that you make no mention of the idea of "justice". For me, and for all I can tell the preponderance of writers about the function of government, justice is the standard that must be upheld by all governments. The only reason for a government to exist is to insure justice. And for me, and many others, the true measure of justice is whether or not an act upholds human dignity.

We can call ourselves "moral" and yet degrade others whom we deem "immoral". I believe morality to be largely existential, but justice is essential.

Dean McConnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dean McConnell said...

I do not see how you can separate justice and morality. The two are inseparable.

Justice involves giving to and requiring from everyone that which is appropriate. Rights are uniform predispositions of justice. Being unjust is a sort of immorality. Moral principles and rules explain and define specific relationships.

You should not steal because that is taking what belongs to another. Stealing is violating your neighbor's right to property. Stealing is an act of injustice. Justice requires the thief to restore what has been lost, plus an appropriate penalty for as retribution, example, and deterrent for the harm done to the order and harmony of relationships between humans and between God and humans.

Humans are obligated to be moral and just and respect the rights of others because they were created by God in His image, belong to God, and flourish in the order designed by God.

Without God and his order humans are just bundles of chemicals. Why would they be entitled to dignity or privilege if that were all they were?