Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is Faith Always Good?

Many people, especially the makers of schmaltzy Hollywood movies, believe that faith is always good. They think that it doesn’t really matter what we have faith in, so long as we “believe.” But is this really true?

I would take the unpopular position that it is not good to have “faith” in things that are false. But then I’m not sure that I would call faith in things that are false really faith. I would say that true faith—the kind that is a gift from God rather than something that we gin up ourselves—is belief in God’s revealed truths. Failure to believe what God has revealed to be true is the vice of unbelief. Willingness to believe things that are false or not revealed to be true by God is not real faith but gullibility.

It is true that those of us who have been given faith by God should be humble and respectful in our attitude toward others. They too are humans made in the image of God. We too are sinful and prone to error in the evaluation and application of facts and moral principles. But our own faith is not any kind of work that we have achieved through our own virtue or our own intelligence. Rather, it is a gift given to us by God, and but for God’s grace, we too would still be among the unbelieving. On the other hand, it is also clearly an error for us to treat people who do not believe the truth or people who believe error as though they were right. It is wrong to believe in the moral equivalence of unbelief and errant theologies.

This error is played out all too often with respect to Islam. It is appropriate to respect Muslims as human beings and to treat them with the love of God due to fellow human beings, but it is not appropriate to act as though Islam were in any way true, or as if believing in Islam were a noble and good thing all by itself. Certainly there are many people who believe in Islam who are no doubt hospitable, generous people. But that does not make their beliefs true, nor does it make their beliefs helpful. Things people really believe really do matter. Culture ultimately flows from the “cult” that is popular among the members of a culture. One of the few valid things pointed out by the post-modern philosophers is that even those who claim to be unbelievers really have certain beliefs that drive and affect their actions. Nobody is completely ideologically neutral.

Because of conflicts among Christians in the West, Christians eventually discovered the very biblical notion that religious persuasion should occur through preaching, debate, and discussion rather than through the force of arms. But they let the pendulum swing too far and tried to exclude consideration of religious belief from the political sphere altogether. For awhile they were able to survive on the religious capitol their ancestors had paid into the system and upon the common cultural bonds of people who were nearly all educated in most of the basic truths of Christianity whether they were fully committed to them in practice or not. But as we have become more multi-cultural, we have seen not only the rise of those who do not believe in Christianity, but also of those who believe in other false and corrosive religions. This presents increasingly difficult problems for politics, law, and the cohesiveness of society.

Many today in England and Europe are essentially advocating that the way to deal with heterogeneous peoples in one country is simply to give in to the most noisy and belligerent cultures provided that they are not Judeo-Christian ones or those of native Europeans or Englishmen. In other words, they are advocating giving in to Islam and almost say that Islam is the future of England and Europe. This is tragic, not only because it threatens the loss of specific indigenous western cultures, but because Islam is a false religion that has negative consequences in the real world. In a sense, the truest version of any religion is that which most resembles Christianity. As there are some Muslims whose beliefs are in some way closer to Christianity than other Muslims, their version of Islam is the “truest” from a Christian perspective. If people are going to believe in false religions, it is the versions of them that are the closest to truth that should be encouraged if any of them are. But overall, we need to point out the falsity of what is false rather than merely allowing it to take over society. I am not saying that the government should in any way repress any religion. It is not the business of government to use force to resolve religious differences. But it is the business of those who argue, preach and debate to deal with the resolution of religious differences. Indeed, it is of critical importance. And as we continually remind the students here at our Christian law school, Trinity, it is of even greater importance that we ourselves seek the Lord in our own lives and that we pray for ourselves, for others, and for the nations. We should pray that God will open the eyes of our brothers and sisters and give them the ability to see things as they truly are with the eyes of saving faith

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

USA Not Meant to be a Secularist State

At this link Jewish talk show host Michael Medved makes an excellent historical argument about the role of Christianity in the USA of the founding fathers, refuting the revisionist claims so common today that the founders were secularists: http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/MichaelMedved/2007/10/03/the_founders_intended_a_christian,_not_secular,_society?page=1

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

Cranmer Blog on Local Democracy

A great quote today from the Blog Cranmer for October 1, 2007 (http://www.archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/) on local Democracy:

"Intrinsic to democracy, above all other forms of government, is the importance of each individual as created and loved by God. It permits the examining, correcting and rebuking process, which is necessary in man’s fallen and corruptible state, by emphasising that powerful officers of government are accountable to ordinary people. Since to err is human, national governments subject to the will of fallible electorates can, and do, make mistakes, but are also able to rectify those mistakes. The righteousness of strengthening local democracy lies in the intrinsic accountability of those in authority, and the reality that everyone counts, because God counts them. This, in political guise, is the essence of democracy, and there is no better path than the involvement of ordinary citizens in the framing of their laws."

When American Law Law Went South

One of the blessings of working at a Christian law school that is part of an evangelical Christian university is the sort of discussions we have. I recently had a really good discussion with several friends about one of the turning points in the development of law in the United States. One of my friends brought to the conversation a great knowledge of political philosophy including knowledge of the works of Leo Strauss and Harry Jaffa. I had just finished reading Peter Marshall and Peter Manuel’s book Sounding Forth the Trumpet about American history from the 1830s to the 1860.

Prior to 1830, slavery was regarded as morally wrong by pretty much everyone in the United States even though the southern states continued to own slaves even as the northern states eliminated slavery and recoiled in horror from southerners attempting to bring their slaves into the northern states or to recover runaway slaves. Prior to this 1830 juncture, the dominant jurisprudential view in the United States accepted the view common in reformation England that natural law was the basis of human law and an integral part of the “the rule of law.” This Protestant natural law philosophy believed that everyone is endowed by God with the ability to know the difference between right and wrong, to reason, and to communicate. Some people are more talented or gifted in these areas than others, but virtually everyone has the basic general revelation they need to get by and to provide an objective though imperfectly applied basis for laws and interpretation of law for society.

But around 1830, the attitude of the South began to change. Partially in response to radical northern abolitionists and partially in response to the economic pressure to continue to expand slavery, Southerners went from viewing slavery as an evil to which they were economically addicted, and which required mitigation, to a claim that Southern style slavery was actually a positive good. The South was led in this by the famous Southern senator, Calhoun. Calhoun had a materialistic world view. It manifested itself in the legal sphere as an aggressive legal positivism—a belief that human laws are whatever humans agree to irrespective of the claims of morality or natural law. Calhoun insisted that slavery was actually a moral good. He also hedged his bet by insisting that even if there were any moral law, it could not undermine the contractual constitutional compromise made by the framers that allowed for slavery to continue in the United States.

Calhoun and his southern allies pressed vigorously for the expansion of slavery. This constant pressure for expansion contrasted with the growing realization in the North that slavery was fundamentally immoral, and led to the Civil War. But it also resulted in the twisting of American law. More and more Americans came to believe in this positivistic view of law either because they sided with Calhoun in the South, or because they sought a ground for compromise that enabled them to ignore the immorality of slavery as a matter of law.

The foremost advocate against this positivist view of the law was Abraham Lincoln. In Lincoln’s speeches he made clear his belief that God has made it possible for us to have knowledge of right and wrong. Lincoln also believed that we had to act on that knowledge and make laws based upon that knowledge rather than upon mere self interest. He recognized that the best laws are always those that are right, not merely those that we think expedient. We should in law treat others the way we ourselves hope to be treated, otherwise we may find ourselves being treated according to the way we have mistreated others. Lincoln “preached” against slavery, using a series of strong but simple natural law arguments. It is true that for practical purposes Lincoln was willing to compromise about slavery’s existence while working for its gradual abolition in the southern states. His main political goal was to prevent the expansion of slavery and to banish the effects of slavery from the northern states and the new federal territories. Because of Lincoln’s practical political approach, many revisionist historians today have tried to say that he was not opposed to slavery. But you can’t actually read the details of his speeches, letters, and statements without concluding that he was, in fact, very much opposed to slavery and to the unequal treatment before the law of individuals based upon race, color, ethnicity and other natural characteristics. Lincoln wanted to end slavery without a civil war or the bankruptcy of the Union. In the end a gradual solution proved unobtainable. By the 13th amendment, Lincoln would have slavery ended in the US even though it took the civil war and the occupation of the South to make it possible.

While Lincoln was pragmatic in seeking solutions, he was extremely principled in his philosophy. Lincoln realized that there could never be a fundamental right to do something that was fundamentally wrong. He also realized that American laws needed to reflect the right as God gives us to see the right. Though political compromise may be necessary, incremental work toward our goal and constant moral opinion and moral pressure toward our goals should always be exercised in the political sphere with the utmost perseverance. Sadly, Lincoln’s approach did not completely succeed. Lincoln won the Civil War, but when Lincoln was assassinated, in the absence of this foremost advocate, Lincoln's approach to jurisprudence slowly went into eclipse. Through the work of men like Oliver Wendell Holmes, the social influence of Darwinist propaganda, and the returning fortunes of the Democrat Party (which was the pro-slavery and anti-civil rights party up until the 1970s) even though the North won the war, southern attitudes about law (i.e. radical positivism) came to dominate both parties, the country, and American jurisprudence. In a very real sense, American law was broken as a result of Lincoln’s assassination.

Following the time of Lincoln, there have been those who believed in the same fundamental principles. To some degree, this would include Teddy Roosevelt. To a large degree, it would include Calvin Coolidge. But no one had the practical influence or the central use of natural law arguments the way Lincoln did. And our courts and law schools ceased to teach a Protestant Reformed view of natural law. Instead, if they used natural law at all, it was not the natural law of the Protestant Reformation but the co-opted and twisted “natural law” of the Sophists of ancient Greece and the Darwinists of the 1800s. It was an excuse for applying evolutionary principles to human law and public policy rather than a heart-felt search for God’s moral order or a recognition of the applicability of that moral order to human affairs.

In a very real sense, American continues to suffer from the effects of condoning slavery. Slavery led to the rise of radical positivism, and radical positivism has had a profound affect on American law encouraging American judges to create rights that not only do not exist in the Constitution, but are contrary to reason and to the laws of God. Today both political parties are dominated by pragmatists and American realists who have little or no interest in natural law except as one of many arguments for legislation. They condone the positivist view of law in the courts. Instead of a question of whether or not American law must correspond to reason, truth, justice and the divine order, we have instead a question of whether or not the “evolution” of law based on “evolving social standards” will be fast (the left) or slow (the so-called strict constructionists). Until the Republican Party reclaims the legacy of Lincoln or until the Democrat Party becomes something other than what it has always been philosophically, American judges are likely to continue to find strange, non-existent rights in the Constitution and to ignore the intents of our founders and legislators in order to carry out their own perceptions of evolving social will. The one thing that may help that happen is if America has more Christian law schools like Trinity that teach students not only about the prevailing positivist and pragmatist views of law, but also argue for the heritage of the Reformation, our founding fathers, and Abraham Lincoln.