Archive for the ‘ Politics & Government ’ Category

By the Bible or the Bayonet?

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was a Dutch lawyer, scholar, theologian, and author. His most noteworthy work, The Law of War and Peace, made him famous as the foremost authority on the law of nations, which we now tend to call international law.

There is a statement attributed to Grotius that I wish I could document as actually emanating from him, but I haven’t found the source. I’ve read some of his Law of War and Peace, and the statement certainly sounds like something he might say. If anyone knows for sure if he said it, or if not, who did, I would welcome that information.

However, I’ve decided that even if Grotius didn’t write this, it’s so good that it needs to be shared. As I tell my students, if he’s not the author of this thought, then I’ll claim it for myself.

Here’s how it begins:

He knows not how to rule a kingdom that cannot manage a province; nor can he wield a province that cannot order a city; nor he order a city that knows not how to regulate a village.

Notice the progression. The concept is that one should not be given a greater realm of authority if he cannot handle a lesser realm. One must prove himself at a lower level before being granted more responsibility.

The statement continues:

Nor he a village that cannot guide a family; nor can that man govern well a family that knows not how to govern himself.

The principle keeps getting extended downward. Yet how many men and women in our day, particularly in politics, are awarded by the people with high office when they cannot even govern themselves?

Shall I insert here Senator Ted Kennedy, who drove a car off a bridge and swam away while the woman with him in the car (not his wife) was left to drown? The people of Massachusetts, in their electoral wisdom, made him a senator for life. Should that have been?

You would think the statement might end where I’ve already ended it, but it goes even further:

Neither can any govern himself unless his reason be lord, will and appetite her vassals; nor can reason rule unless herself be ruled by God, and be obedient to Him.

Will and appetite refer to desires/emotions—they need to be servants to one’s reason. Desires and emotions cannot drive one’s actions. Yet even reason, as we know, can go astray. Autonomous human reasoning is a mini-god itself. Therefore, our reason also has to submit to God and His loving rule.

I call this the principle of self-government, and I’ve devoted a chapter to it in my book, If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government.

Proverbs 16:32 tells us, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”

There have been many “great” men in history, at least by standards other than God’s. On the outside, they may look like “winners,” but God looks at the heart.

A society with Biblical self-government at its roots, and that looks to place people in positions of civil authority whose lives reveal that self-government, will be a society substantially free from oppressive rules and regulations. Only a people not self-governed under God will turn to a strong civil government to hold themselves in check.

In truth, the people of a nation receive the type of government that their level of self-government deserves. What does this say about modern America? After all, our representatives, from local officials to congressmen to the president are merely a reflection of us.

One more quote—this one documented.

Robert Winthrop (1809-1894), who served as speaker of the House of Representatives and also as a senator, gave an address to the Massachusetts Bible Society in 1849. What he said in that address is a fitting conclusion to the thoughts I want to share today:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they rely on private moral restraint.

Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without [outside] them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.

May we be controlled by the Word of God and show ourselves worthy of self-government.

Rejecting God-Ordained Reality

As a Christian, I believe what Scripture tells me about mankind—that sin abounds. Even if I were not a Christian, the testimony of man’s sinfulness is everywhere, and that, in itself, should be enough to convince anyone of the truth of what Scripture says.

Sin is heinous. It’s also stupid. Its stupidity manifests itself in many ways. Some would not call what I’m about to highlight “sin,” but I insist it is because anything that goes against God’s created order stems from man’s rebellion against Him.

I’m about to begin another academic year. Thankfully, I don’t teach at a university that has succumbed to the erasure of God-ordained truth. I don’t have to worry about this, for instance:

Man, woman, he, and she are still allowed where I teach. The God-ordained reality remains as a cornerstone of my university’s culture.

The environment is one of God’s gifts to us. We are to be stewards of this gift. Yet, even something as good as the environment can replace God in people’s estimation; they can sometimes turn it into a mini-god of its own. This results in some rather silly concerns:

If there is a problem with toxic waste, let’s take care of that. But to place so much blame on straws??

The media often considers itself another one of those mini-gods. It can create its own reality, promoting what it believes to be true while ignoring God-ordained truth. Self-defense is a basic human right given by God. Yet some would seek to overthrow such common sense and replace it with their own version of reality. The media’s role, all too often, is as a filter against reality:

As is obvious, false worldviews bleed over into politics rather easily. Principled arguments in favor of one position or another would be the reasonable, God-ordained way of figuring out the best policies. There is another way, however, that dominates our politics, and it’s based on pure selfishness of personal gain:

Accuse anyone you don’t like of racism—as one example—and you can “win.” When “winning” is everything, and you have no scruples with regard to how you “win,” you actually lose. Tossing aside principles is not the God-ordained way to live.

We currently have a revived trend toward the false religion of Marxism. Yes, I called it a religion, and for good reason. Although Marx rejected God, he still had his own god—himself. He claimed to be working for the common man, yet was not acquainted with too many of them. He spent most of his time immersed in his own thoughts in libraries. He never really had a long-term job or provided for his family; he sponged off of others his entire life.

Yet for many today, he is an icon. They still try to fashion their politics around his vision, but often without any real understanding of God-ordained reality.

Bottom line: man wants to reject God and his ways, and always sets up his own mini-gods (all false). The consequences are all around us.

The Socialist Delusion

Have you noticed how much more popular socialism has become lately? At least among young people? One of the problems of youth—and I was once one of that number (as unlikely as that may seem to some of my readers)—is that it’s so easy to jump on whatever seems to be a new bandwagon, especially one that holds out promises that will take care of every social ill one sees.

The first thing to keep in mind is that social ills are always with us. Second, the lack of historical knowledge and economic knowledge is rampant, particularly among the young. The idea that one can put the government in charge of the means of production and distribution of goods and everything will be wonderful is a belief that crashes on the rocks of sound theory and practical experience.

Yet youth are not being given much sound theory and they have no foundation in experience to counter the false ideology of socialism they are being fed.

This latest round of “socialism is great, it’s the future” seems to have started in earnest with Bernie Sanders running for president in 2016. He should know better; after all, he’s not one of those youthful idealists. He’s just someone who never has come to grips with the litany of socialist failures.

Now we have the newest “star” in the socialist panoply of mini-gods and -goddesses: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who ousted a Democrat regular in the primary and is now easily going to be elected to Congress from her liberal NYC district. She’s everywhere on the talk shows claiming that socialism will cure all ills. She even said that adoption of socialist policies will save money because there will be fewer funerals.

Huh?

She’s being roundly mocked for her lack of economic understanding. Many wonder how she can be so ignorant when she received a bachelor’s degree in that very subject. Well, ignorance of economics can be found in economics departments at universities also.

She also seems pretty ignorant of foreign affairs whenever questioned about that. In one sense, I feel sorry for her simply because she is displaying so much of her ignorance, yet she undoubtedly believes she is one of the truly enlightened.

Sanders recently came up with a healthcare plan that will cost approximately $32 trillion over the next decade. He disputes that figure, but socialists always do. They try to sell the American people on the idea of some kind of free lunch, but we need to be wary of anything deemed “free”:

You might have noticed that both political cartoons used the newly promoted phrase “democratic socialism” as the key. After all, if something is democratic, it must be fine, right?

Yes, it sounds nicer, but the end is still the same—it hits you right in the face.

The failures of socialism abound, yet whenever anyone points that out, we’re usually told that isn’t real socialism and that “real” socialism hasn’t been tried. Tell that to the citizens of Venezuela, one of the potentially richest nations on the globe now feeling the full effects of the socialist revolution imposed on them by the Chavez-Maduro governments:

The typical response is then to point to Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries that are supposedly the prime examples of the glories of socialist policies. Yet, upon closer inspection, we see that even though places like Sweden and Norway have extended government benefits beyond the usual, they haven’t really excised the true engine behind their economies:

Private enterprise continues to provide the impetus for whatever prosperity exists. Countries like Sweden have, in recent years, had to cut back on what the government provides because that approach is fast becoming too expensive and hurting the economy. So, no, those are not socialist paradises.

Yet what are the Democrats now doing? They are moving steadily toward becoming publicly what I think they’ve been all along—a socialist party. And they seem to think that’s a winning formula for the next election cycle.

What started as limited government intervention into the economy in Democrat ranks has bloomed into full-blown euphoria over what government can do. It may come back to crush them if they’re not more prudent:

They may, after the fall congressional elections, be asking themselves this question:

I found a meme a while ago that sums up my opinion on this pretty well:

And as a Cubs fan since 1961, I can’t stop until I share this:

May we learn from history.

Teaching the Controversial Civil War Era

For the 6th time in my tenure at Southeastern, this fall I will be teaching my course on the Civil War Era. The topic is one of intense interest for many students, albeit one of continuing controversy. I do my best to deal fairly with those controversies—this is a part of American history that still lingers with us today.

It’s not merely a course that describes battles. Rather, it begins with a discussion of issues that led to the conflict: slavery and race relations and interpretation of the formation of the nation and the proper role of states’ rights.

At the start of the course, students are reading two books alternately. One is an excellent detailing of the furor over runaway slaves, the abolitionist movement, and the development of the Underground Railroad.

Ann Hagegorn’s Beyond the River tells that story, but with a special emphasis on the role of Rev. John Rankin, a leader in the abolitionist crusade.

Never heard of his name? You wouldn’t be alone. Modern accounts give more attention to the primary attention-getter of the abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison. Yet Rankin, at the time, might be considered the premier abolitionist, particularly since he was attacking slavery from his Christian beliefs, unlike Garrison, who was not an evangelical.

Rankin lived in Ripley, Ohio, just on the freedom side of the Ohio River. His house on the hill was a beacon of freedom for slaves seeking to escape the South. It was a beacon in more than figurative language; Rankin always put a light in the window at night so the slaves could see where they needed to go.

Rankin’s house, therefore, for many, was the first stop on the Underground Railroad.

Hagedorn’s book is the best type of narrative history, as the reader is drawn into the lives of people; it’s a living narrative, not a dusty tome of facts.

The other book students read simultaneously is Mark Noll’s The Civil War As a Theological Crisis. This one is a must-read, since it lays out both sides in the emerging conflict and shows how Christians took opposing points of view on the issue of slavery, with both attempting to use Scripture for their support.

In one sense, it is a difficult book because it forces readers to deal with a deep divide between Christians and their interpretation of Scripture. Yet that’s precisely why it is so important for this course. We need to understand where people are coming from when we disagree with them. We can’t simply denounce everyone who has a different belief when they are seemingly using Scripture as their basis.

Both of these books provide the background for the war itself. I make good use of Ken Burns’s classic documentary on the Civil War for many of the battle details, along with my PowerPoint slides to emphasize key points. Besides battles, though, there were the political maneuverings throughout the war that were just as significant.

A book that portrays the opening stages of the conflict is Adam Goodheart’s (yes, that’s his real name) 1861: The Civil War Awakening.

This book is a latecomer to my course, but a most welcome addition, as it continues the fine narrative quality that the Hagedorn book gives the students. They are taken into the intimate lives of those affected by the outbreak of the war in the same manner as they have previously been introduced to the historical figures involved with abolitionism.

One of my goals is always to give students books that keep their attention. 1861 does that admirably.

The same can be said of a book that I’ve used every time I’ve taught this course: Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month That Saved America. No superlatives can adequately describe how well written this book is. Even though the title suggests nothing outside of that particular month, in actuality, it offers all the background necessary to understand why the book has as its subtitle, The Month That Saved America.

By the time students finish reading Winik, they grasp, perhaps for the first time, how differently things might have turned out without some key decisions that were made during that crucial month, especially considering the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Speaking of Lincoln, no, I don’t minimize his role, although my recitation of the books I’m using may seem to indicate that. The final book for the course is very Lincoln-centered. Ronald White’s Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural delves into the mind of Lincoln in a comprehensive way, in particular, his spiritual growth during the agony of the war.

Lincoln’s religious beliefs have always been a fertile field of study and interpretation for historians, and, naturally, there is disagreement. What White accomplishes is a step-by-step account of how Lincoln’s views of God and Scripture led him to write the specific words we see in that second inaugural, which has been called, with credibility, the most theologically oriented address ever given by a president. And it was not a speechwriter who cobbled it together; it all came directly from Lincoln’s own meditations.

The Civil War Era was a tragic time in American history, but there is much we can learn from it and apply today. Teaching a course like this is not just some listing of battles; rather, it’s an opportunity to meditate deeply ourselves about the impact Christians can make in the world and how the events from this era still reach down to our society now.

Two Errors: Privatizing & Collectivizing the Faith

“No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as ‘what a man does with his solitude,” began C. S. Lewis in his “Membership” essay. “It was one of the Wesleys, I think, who said that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion.”

Why is that? “The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.”

Lewis continues by pointing out that modern society tries its best to confine religious beliefs and practices to the private life, and what he said in this essay decades ago is even more true today. He then notes the paradoxical nature of the “exaltation of the individual in the religious field . . . when collectivism is ruthlessly defeating the individual in every other field.”

The society of Lewis’s day, as he describes it, tried to denigrate any time for the individual as it pushed the idea of collectivism.

There is a crowd of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies, whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude exists. . . .

If a really good home . . . existed today, it would be denounced as bourgeois and every engine of destruction would be levelled against it. And even where the planners fail and someone is left physically by himself, the wireless has seen to it that he will be . . . never less alone when alone.

We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.

One wonders how much more Lewis would emphasize this if he were to witness what takes place in our day with the barrage of entertainment and social media drowning out genuine solitude and friendship. We think we are reclaiming both through social media platforms, but we may be fooling ourselves.

Both in Lewis’s day and in ours, the world “says to us aloud, ‘You may be religious when you are alone,'” yet “it adds under its breath, ‘and I will see to it that you never are alone.'”

Make Christianity a private affair and then banish all privacy is how Lewis explains that approach. Christians then fall into the trap of reacting against this “by simply transporting into our spiritual life that same collectivism which has already conquered our secular life.” He calls that “the enemy’s other stratagem.” Here’s what he means:

Like a good chess player, he is always trying to manoeuvre you into a position where you can save your castle only by losing your bishop.

In order to avoid the trap we must insist that though the private conception of Christianity is an error, it is a profoundly natural one and is clumsily attempting to guard a great truth.

Behind it is the obvious feeling that our modern collectivism is an outrage upon human nature and that from this, as from all other evils, God will be our shield and buckler.

So, we have a tendency to accept an error (collectivism) in our attempt to reject the privatization of our faith.

Collectivism is found primarily in politics. Lewis goes on to make this statement, one that I find quite appropriate to our current societal state:

A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion; to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.

We are a society immersed in politics. For many, it is the be-all and end-all of life. Any society in that state remains sick.

Christian faith should be our focus, not politics. Yet this faith cannot be either a private thing or a copy of secular collectivism. We lose if we go in either of those two directions. The true Body of Christ as explained in Scripture is of another nature entirely.

What is that nature? I’ll deal with that as I conclude Lewis’s thoughts in this essay in a future post.

A Man I Respect

Reposting from my very first month of Pondering Principles back in August 2008.

When people say that there are no principled men in government, I must disagree. There are men and women who are living their principles in public life.

One of the men I respect most is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. For the record, Justice Thomas does not know me personally and would not recognize me if introduced. I did meet him twice–once at the Supreme Court when the government school at Regent University took students there in 1995, and again a few years later when he came to the Regent campus to speak. As a faculty sponsor for the Federalist Society, I did once again greet him at a reception.

But I have read his recent book, an autobiography entitled My Grandfather’s Son. Once I began the book, I could hardly put it down. The story he tells–of his childhood in poverty, his anger over racism as a young man, his return to the Christian faith in his later years, and the trials of his Senate confirmation hearings–is riveting. It shows, to me, how God will use everything in a person’s life to shape and prepare that individual for a calling in this world.

Thomas has been attacked by many people because he espouses a view of the Constitution that says you don’t ignore the limitations that the document places on the authority of the federal government. But in taking the stance that he does, he is abiding by principle.

Yes, principled people are in the minority, but they do exist. Rather than promoting cynicism about government, we should be sharing the stories of those who try to apply Biblical principles such as the rule of law to society.

The Prickly Tariff Issue

I know that writing about tariffs doesn’t sound all that appealing, but I wouldn’t have to do this if President Trump hadn’t decided to make them so central to his policy. After all, here’s what he tweeted a couple of days ago:

Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that – and everybody’s talking! Remember, we are the “piggy bank” that’s being robbed. All will be Great!

Are they really all that great for everyone?

I’ll come back to that further down in this post, but first, a short history lesson.

Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution gives the Congress the authority to pass tariff laws, so they are constitutional. No argument there. However, it is Congress that has that authority. Why, then, can President Trump unilaterally impose tariffs? Sadly, it’s because Congress passed some laws that he can use to assume that power.

Basically, that is Congress relinquishing its responsibility. Some in Congress are trying to change that, but the effort seems to be going nowhere. Apparently, Congress doesn’t want that responsibility too much—tough decisions might lead to losing a re-election bid.

The first time a tariff became an issue was with the so-called Tariff of Abominations, which passed in 1828. The tariff sought to protect northern and western agricultural products from competition with foreign imports; however, the resulting tax on foreign goods would raise the cost of living in the South and would cut into the profits of New England’s industrialists.

South Carolina, under the leadership of John C. Calhoun, declared that the tariff was unconstitutional because it was not primarily for raising revenue but for protection of certain segments of society. That led to the Nullification Controversy of 1832-33 when South Carolina simply said that the tariff wouldn’t apply in that state.

Regardless of the merits of the objections to the tariff, it’s pretty clear that no state can just decide that a federal law passed by Congress won’t be carried out in the state. Challenging the law in the courts would be the way to go, or finding a compromise in legislation, but there is no basis for nullification. Eventually, a compromise bill was enacted that soothed ruffled feathers on both sides, but not without lingering animosity.

Let’s see, who fired the first shots of the Civil War? Oh, yes, that would be South Carolina.

Tariffs later became a vehicle championed by the Republicans as a means to protect American products by making foreign goods more expensive. Democrats, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were actually the party of free trade. The tariff was a big issue in the 1880s and 1890s, particularly. One political cartoon of the era made fun of the need to protect American industries that were fully capable of holding their own in the world:

But the one tariff bill that always strikes terror into the hearts of those who know history is the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, passed in the throes of the Great Depression.

This tariff increased protection to an all-time high in American history. The purported goal was to raise the price of foreign goods so high that Americans wouldn’t want to buy them, would turn to American industry instead, which would then need to produce more, which would mean they would hire more workers, thereby ending the unemployment problem.

Voilà! Depression ended! All will be well! It made a certain amount of logical sense. But that rationale left out one salient feature—a response from those nations who were the targets of the tariffs.

Other nations reacted to these tariffs by raising their own against American goods. After all, they didn’t want their citizens buying American when they could buy homegrown products. Consequently, the overseas market closed to a lot of American industry and the opposite happened from what was promised: more Americans were thrown out of work.

While there may be a place for tariffs, one must be very careful that they don’t boomerang and create new problems at home: higher costs, lower production, and greater unemployment.

Ever since Trump initiated his tariffs, a number of productive companies, along with certain types of farmers, have been hurt.

Because farmers, especially those who grow soybeans, are being affected, Trump came up with a solution that most conservatives and/or Republicans would have never agreed to (but they didn’t have a vote because everything is coming straight out of the executive branch—something conservatives always legitimately criticized when Obama did it). What is the solution? A $12 billion bailout for those farmers.

Yes, it’s the tried and untrue government subsidy solution made possible by taking more from the American taxpayers: taking from all (well, all who actually pay taxes, at least) to benefit a targeted group.

Some will say that Trump’s approach is working because the EU is now in negotiations to reduce tariffs all around. Some are referencing a recent Wall Street Journal editorial as proof.

While it’s true that the editorial expressed relief that we might be stepping back from the brink, it’s instructive to read the entire editorial, where one finds this warning/caution:

The White House will crow that Europe blinked, but it’s more accurate to say the two sides are stepping back from mutually assured economic destruction. The car tariffs would certainly have punished Germany, the locomotive of Europe’s economy.

But Mr. Trump also had ample political and economic incentive to call a truce. The retaliatory tariffs from China, the EU, Mexico, Canada and Japan are beginning to hurt U.S. farmers and manufacturers.

Mr. Trump felt obliged this week to bail out U.S. farmers by providing up to $12 billion to buy surplus crops that can’t find a foreign market. Harley-Davidson and other firms are moving plants abroad to avoid higher import costs and duck retaliatory tariffs. All of this in turn is beginning to have political consequences as more Republicans in Congress are finding their voice in favor of free markets.

The combination of a potential economic crisis followed by an electoral crisis undoubtedly entered into the reasoning for trying to bring the tariff war to an end.

By the way, it’s not necessarily ended. These are only the beginnings of talks; we still have to wait and see how they develop.

I’m a free-trader at heart because I believe that protective tariffs put the government in charge of picking winners and creating losers, thereby messing up the market system. I also believe that American manufacturing and agriculture can compete with the world without tying themselves to the government, with all its attendant strings, and regardless of how unfair some other nations might treat our trade.

When did conservatives stop believing this?