C. S. Lewis: The Purpose of Government

That Hideous StrengthOne doesn’t normally think of C. S. Lewis as a political scientist; neither would he have relished the title. Yet while he rarely enters into any deep discussion of politics and government, he had definite views on both. All one has to do is read the last entry of his science fiction trilogy, That Hideous Strength, to see his utter distaste for any government that thinks its purpose is to control the lives of all citizens. That novel offers a dark portrait of where absolute control will take us as a society. It also shows God’s disdain for the arrogance of man.

Even in his classic Mere Christianity, Lewis touches on this:

It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.

A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

Notice he didn’t say the State makes you happy, nor that it tells the husband and wife what type of fire they’re allowed to build for their chat, nor how many dartboards are permitted in the pub, nor which books the man should read, nor whether he can even have a garden of his own. It is understood those are all personal choices; the role of government is to make sure we are free to enjoy them. The Nanny State didn’t mesh with Lewis’s vision of good government, and neither should it be our goal.

And if you’ve never read That Hideous Strength, I would urge you to check it out.

Political Disillusionment & the Christian Calling

I understand why people are turned off by politics. It seems to attract more than its fair share of charlatans and those who are in it primarily for their own personal gain. Anywhere power and authority exist, there will be those who take advantage of it. Sometimes, the allure manifests itself in grandiose misstatements of facts for purely political purposes. We had a rather obvious example last week on the Democrat side when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, commenting on the loss of seven Marines in an accident in his home state of Nevada, sought to somehow connect the tragedy to the now-infamous sequester. The implication was clear: Republicans were to blame. While he was careful not to phrase it too blatantly, everyone knew what he was doing:

It was a disgusting display, which, again, speaks to the disdain many feel toward politics. For some politicians, there are no boundaries:

No wonder there’s the perception that basic morality doesn’t apply in the political realm:

Then there are the problems on the other side of the aisle. Right now, they’re of a different stripe as Republicans try to find their way in a wilderness of their own making. I commented last week on the RNC report that tossed aside steadfastness in principle for a path of expediency, pandering to society’s cultural trends. The siren song of “change” has an allure of its own, particularly after a stunning loss:

What the party should be doing instead is reevaluating the prevailing wisdom of its mainstream consultant class. The counsel the party has been receiving may be its undoing:

Somehow, these wizards of political genius have never figured out that the media is the enemy, and a clear strategy for dealing with the media arm of the Democrat party [which consists of most of the media] is nonexistent. They try to play nice with the media, believing they will receive fair treatment—but they are always disappointed.

So on the one side we have dishonesty and political gain without any principle; on the other, foolishness and wavering principles. Yes, I understand why there is widespread disillusionment with politics, but Christians have to remain steadfast in their commitment to bringing Biblical principles into all areas of society, politics included. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of standing aside; we are called to the fray, no matter how difficult.

We are reminded in the book of Galatians, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” We must be obedient to the call.

Of Politics & Ivory Towers

You know, I really can’t stand politics. That may be surprising, considering how much I comment on the latest political happenings. What really interests me is a proper understanding of government, Biblically and philosophically. I like to explore the original intent of government as revealed in Scripture, and how it is meant to work. I prefer to focus on character as much as possible, and I seek to find those who display the type of character that is necessary for the government to function the way God intended. Some will say I’m too devoted to theory, and perhaps live in that oft-described “ivory tower” that academics tend to inhabit.

Actually, I don’t think those ivory towers exist; no one can escape the day-to-day realities. Nor should they. I fully realize the practice of politics rarely achieves those Biblical goals. We are inundated with winning strategies, false accusations against political foes, and all the seamy aspects of life that we would like to ignore, if possible. But we can’t. I get tired of it all, as I’m sure many of you do as well.

Yet because we live in this world, and because our lives are affected deeply by what transpires in the political realm, we have to stay vigilant. A Christian, rather than living in a dream world, grasps the truth of man’s sinfulness in a way that others cannot. A real Christian knows firsthand the consequences of sin; he or she has been pulled out of the pit. Gratitude for a second chance in life should be a constant inspiration.

Christians also know that government is not the solution to all of life’s problems. In fact, all too often, government has become the problem. I borrowed that from Ronald Reagan. He knew what he was talking about. Government is not an idol, and it needs to be taken down from its pedestal. Yet it is significant, and God expects us to labor for the best government possible. That’s why I have to continue to comment on the latest developments.

Today there will be three more primaries: Alabama, Mississippi, and Hawaii. Will they determine the future of the Republican party, or will the battles go on after today? One of the candidates, Newt Gingrich, is in a must-win situation, even if he denies it. If he fails to win any of these states, he should hang it up. Another one, Rick Santorum, is seeking to turn this into a two-man race once and for all. To do so, he’s going to have to win at least one of these states, preferably two. The third, Mitt Romney, has already declared that campaigning in a southern state is like being in an “away game.” He has to connect somehow with people who don’t form part of his circle. Can he do it?

May God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Christian School Graduates: What Are They Like?

I just read through the results of a recent survey of Christian school graduates [pre-college] that sought to determine whether graduates from those Christian schools were achieving the goals of the schools—academic excellence, spiritual formation, and the engagement of the larger culture. Some of those results are heartening, while one in particular is discouraging, to me at least.

The positives for Protestant Christian schools, the ones with which I am most familiar and am closer to in spirit, can be summarized this way: their graduates are

uniquely compliant, generous, outwardly-focused individuals who stabilize their communities by their uncommon commitment to their families, their churches, and larger society. Graduates of Christian schools donate money significantly more than graduates of other schools, despite having lower household income. Similarly, graduates of Protestant Christian schools are more generous with their time, participating far more than their peers both in service trips for relief and development and in mission trips for evangelization.

That’s a very good report, revealing that a Christian education does indeed make a difference. So I should simply be happy with that and not nitpick anything else, right? Well, there was one glaring omission in their education, in my estimation. The report goes on to say that those same graduates, when it comes to politics, are basically indifferent. Here are the exact words from the report:

Not only are Christian school graduates avoiding political action—donating less than their peers to political causes and reporting weak involvement in political campaigns and protests—Christian school graduates, and particularly Protestant Christian school graduates, report a surprisingly low interest in politics altogether. They report avoiding conversations with colleagues, family, and friends while their peers from non-religious private schools reported engagement in political discussions in all spheres of their lives.

The survey notes that this apathy toward anything political is also found in the administrators of these schools, thereby indicating why the students turn out apathetic themselves. They are merely mirroring their mentors. The conclusion?

While cultural engagement most certainly includes more than political action, culture is profoundly influenced in the political sphere. If Christian school graduates are not participating in politics, we might conclude the opinions and values of this population are being excluded from contemporary political dialogue and cultural influence.

The survey itself seems to be relieved, though, that these graduates are not becoming “right-wing political radicals,” a relief I don’t share. Of course I disagree with the characterization of right-wing being some kind of fringe radicalism, but that’s another discussion. What bothers me is the fact that these Christian school graduates are so alienated from any interest in the political/governmental realm. I’ve noted before that the students I teach are, by and large, ignorant of any basic Biblical principles that form the foundation for government and politics. It appears we still have a problem with a false dichotomy: anything spiritual cannot be connected to anything political.

Wrong. Without the spiritual underpinnings, politics spins out of control and is doomed to be the plaything of selfishness and personal ego. Only those who have a strong spiritual/moral basis can keep this realm of our society under control. Christians need to be involved. Sadly, we have a long way to go to convince them.