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rookie
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Joined: 2003/6/3
Posts: 4792


 Politics

I have found these essays to be thought provoking. The author deals with issues found in conservative and liberal political thoughts. The first essay covers conservatism. The first part of this essay covers the first of eight aspects discussed by this author...

The Problem With Conservatism



J. Budziszewski


Copyright (c) 1996 First Things 62 (April 1996): 38-44.

My first conservative experience was in second grade, when I learned America the Beautiful. Verses one and two were merely baffling: I could not picture waves of grain, I could not believe that mountains were purple, and I could not form an association between liberty and pilgrim's feet. But the third verse broke me like glass and made me an idolater. O beautiful for patriot's dream, that sees beyond the years, we warbled; thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears. Somehow the song called forth in my childish heart an answering music that I had never heard in church. I seemed to hear the whine of gulls and the murmur of the sea before a white throne; I was afflicted with a sense of the Fall and a longing for the City whose light is the Glory of God. But I misidentified the City. The song sent me questing for Columbia, not the New Jerusalem. I was told to seek in the ideal futurity of my nation what cannot be made by hands.




What then is a Christian to make of conservatism? The danger, it would seem, is not in conserving, for anyone may have a vocation to care for precious things, but in conservative ideology, which sets forth a picture of these things at variance with the faith. The same is true of liberalism. From time to time Christians may find themselves in tactical alliance with conservatives, just as with liberals, over particular policies, precepts, and laws. But they cannot be in strategic alliance, because their reasons for these stands are different; they are living in a different vision. For our allies' sake as well as our own, it behooves us to remember the difference. We do not need another Social Gospel-just the Gospel.




In a previous essay, "The Problem With Liberalism" (FT, March), I described liberalism as a bundle of acute moral errors, with political consequences that grow more and more alarming as these errors are taken closer and closer to their logical conclusions. Conservatism may be described as another such bundle. The parallel is not perfect, for American culture is balanced at the top of a liberal ridge and is only now considering the descent. Because conservative moral errors have had less time to work among the powers and principalities, we cannot always discern their political consequences. But we can anticipate their fruits by their roots. The moral errors of conservatism are just as grave as those of its liberal opponents.




A minor difficulty in setting forth these errors is the ambiguity of the term "conservatism." Conservatives come in many different kinds, and their mistakes are equally heterogeneous. I should like to stress, therefore, that not every conservative commits every one of the errors that I describe in the following pages. But there is a common theme. Each kind of conservative opposes the contemporary government-driven variety of social reformism in the name of some cherished thing which he finds that it endangers. One speaks of virtue, another of wealth, another of the peace of his home and the quiet of his street-but although these pearls are of very different luster, none wishes his to be thrown before swine. So it is that conservatives are often able to make common cause, putting all their pearls in a single casket.




The first moral error of political conservatism is civil religionism. According to this notion America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration; according to Christianity America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more.




Our civil religion seems to have developed in four stages. The first stage was the Massachusetts Bay colony. Although the Puritans accepted the orthodox view of the Church as the New Israel, they also viewed it as corrupt. The Church's role of City Upon a Hill had therefore passed to themselves-to the uncorrupted remnant of the faithful, fled to North American shores. Like the Israelites, they viewed themselves as having entered into a special covenant with God to be His people. The same blessings and curses, however, were appended to their covenant as to the one at Sinai; therefore, warned Governor John Winthrop, should the settlers embrace the present world and prosecute their carnal intentions, "the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us [and] be revenged of such a perjured people."




The second stage was the colonies just before the Revolution. Increasing unity among the settlers had given rise to a national sense of covenant with God, but the shared experience of English harassment aroused suspicion that the covenant had been breached. Isaiah's warnings to Israel were invoked by way of explanation: "How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers." Preachers like Samuel Langdon declared that if only the people would turn from their sins, God would remit their punishment, purge the nation of wrongdoers, restore a righteous government-and deal with the English.




The third stage was in the early and middle republic. God was still understood as the underwriter of American aspirations, but as the content of these aspirations became more and more nationalistic it also became less and less Christian. It appeared that God cared at least as much about putting down the South and taking over the West as He did about making His people holy; patriotic songwriters like Samuel Francis Smith used expressions like "freedom's holy light," but they meant democracy, not freedom from sin.




The fourth stage was the late republic. By this time American culture had become not just indifferent to Christianity, but hostile to it. Conservatives still wanted to believe that the nation was specially favored by God, but the idea of seeking His will and suffering His chastening had been completely lost. President Eisenhower remarked that what the country needed was a religious foundation, but that he didn't care what it was. President Reagan applied the image of the City Upon a Hill not to the remnant of the Church in America, but to America as such-its mission not to bear witness to the gospel, but to spread the bits and pieces of its secular ideology.




The mistake in all these stages is confusing America with Zion. She is not the inheritor of the covenant, not the receiver of the promises, not the witness to the nations. It may well be that all nations have callings of sorts-specific purposes which God in His providence assigns them. But no nation can presume to take God under its wing. However we may love her, dote upon her, and regret her, the Lord our God can do without the United States.


(end of first thought)

Do you agree or disagree with this thought?

In Christ
Jeff


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Jeff Marshalek

 2006/10/27 2:18Profile









 Re: Politics

agree.

 2006/10/27 2:55
rookie
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Joined: 2003/6/3
Posts: 4792


 Re:

The second observation on conservative thought...


The second moral error of political conservatism is instrumentalism. According to this notion faith should be used for the ends of the state; according to Christianity believers should certainly be good citizens, but faith is not a tool. To be sure, the pedigree of instrumentalism is not purely conservative; it has followers on the left as well as the right. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for instance, wanted the state to invent a civil religion to his order and then make use of it. Its articles would be proposed "not exactly as religious dogmas" but as "sentiments of sociability without which it is impossible to be a good citizen or a faithful subject." Most instrumentalists, however, are not so fastidious. They are willing to make a tool of whatever religion comes to hand, whether civil, traditional, or revealed. Religious conservatives who pine for the days when jurists called America "a Christian country" and recognized Christianity as "the law of the land" are deeply in error if they think such statements expressed belief; what they expressed was instrumentalism. In those days the religion that came to hand was Christianity (or at least its counterfeit in civil religion), and the speakers were interested primarily in how it could be used. The eminent nineteenth-century jurist Thomas Cooley admitted as much. Supreme Court Justice David Brewer, controversial author of America a Christian Country, was only slightly less explicit.




Viewed from this perspective, the contrast between the jurisprudence of yesterday and today is not nearly as sharp as religious conservatives make it out to be. Although language describing Christianity as the law of the land has disappeared from our cases, judges and legislators are just as interested in the social utility of the faith as they were before-and just as indifferent to its truth. Consider for example the 1984 Supreme Court case Lynch v. Donelly, which concerned whether a Christmastime nativity display could be financed by a municipal government. Members of the Court likened erecting a creche to adopting "In God We Trust" as the national motto and opening judicial sessions with the invocation "God save the United States and this honorable Court." By the comparison, they meant three things.




These acts and declarations have nothing to do with religion. They do not "endorse" the faith, but merely "acknowledge" it, said Justice O'Connor. Indeed they have "lost through rote repetition any significant religious content," said Justice Brennan. Otherwise, they said, they would be establishments of religion, which are forbidden.




On the other hand, they are socially indispensable. They are "uniquely" suited to serve "wholly" secular purposes (Brennan) which could not reasonably be served in any other way (O'Connor). These purposes include "solemnizing public occasions" (Brennan and O'Connor), "expressing confidence in the future and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society" (O'Connor), and "inspiring commitment to meet some national challenge in a manner that simply could not be fully served if government were limited to purely nonreligious phrases" (Brennan). The last of these purposes is especially interesting-in plain language, it means getting people to do something they would refuse to do otherwise.




In fact, they are a noble lie. Obviously, if the mottoes and creches and so forth had really lost all their religious content they would be completely useless for achieving any purposes whatsoever, secular or otherwise. Our rulers feel free to use them because they have lost religious meaning for them; they work, however, because they retain this meaning for the masses.


(end of second observation)

Is this true?

In Christ
Jeff


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Jeff Marshalek

 2006/10/28 12:39Profile
rookie
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Joined: 2003/6/3
Posts: 4792


 Re:

Third observation on conservative thought...


The third moral error of political conservatism is moralism. According to this notion God's grace needs the help of the state; Christianity merely asks the state to get out of the way. We might say that while instrumentalism wants to make faith a tool of politics, moralism wants to make politics a tool of faith; on this reading, what instrumentalism is to secular conservatives, moralism is to religious conservatives. Surprisingly, though, many religious conservatives seem unable to tell the difference. Whether someone says "We need prayer in schools to make the children holy" or "We need prayer in schools to make the country strong," it sounds to them the same.




Now I am not going to complain that moralism "imposes" a faith on people who do not share it. In the sense at issue, even secularists impose a faith on others-they merely impose a different faith. Every law reflects some moral idea, every moral idea reflects some fundamental commitment, and every fundamental commitment is religious-it proposes a god. Everything in the universe comes to a point. For moralism, therefore, the important distinction is not between religion and secularism, but between faiths that do and faiths that do not demand the civil enforcement of all their moral precepts.




To the question "Should the civil law enforce the precepts of the faith?" the biblical answer is, "Some yes, but some no; which ones do you mean?" The New Testament contains literally hundreds of precepts. However, Christianity is not a legislative religion. While the Bible recognizes the Torah as a divinely revealed code for the ruling of Israel before the coming of Messiah, it does not include a divinely revealed code for the ruling of the gentiles afterward. To be sure, the Bible limits the kinds of laws that Christians can accept from their governments, for "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). However, it does not prescribe specific laws that they must demand from them.




It is not even true that all of God's commands limit the kinds of laws that Christians can accept. To see this, contrast two such precepts: (1) I am prohibited from deliberately shedding innocent blood; (2) I am prohibited from divorcing a faithful spouse. Both precepts are absolute in their application to me, but that is not the issue. If we are speaking of governmental enforcement, then we are speaking of their application to others. The former precept should require very little watering down in the public square, for even nonbelievers are expected to understand the wrong of murder. That is why I may be confident in condemning the legalization of abortion. But the latter precept requires a good deal of watering down in the public square, for before the coming of Christ not even believers were expected to understand the true nature of marriage. "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard," said Jesus, "but it was not this way from the beginning" (Matthew 19:8). No doubt the Pharisees to whom He was speaking were scandalized by the idea that their civil law did not reflect God's standards fully. They must have been even more offended by the suggestion that it was not intended to. Among religious conservatives this suggestion is still a scandal, but it does not come from liberals; it comes from the Master.




Christians, then, may certainly commend a law as good or condemn it as evil. They may declare it consistent or inconsistent with the faith. But not even a good law may be simply identified with the faith; Christians must not speak of a tax code, marriage ordinance, or welfare policy as Christian no matter how much, or even how rightly, they desire its enactment or preservation. That predicate has been preempted by the law of God. The civil law will be Christian-if it still exists at all- only when Christ himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected.

(end of third observation)

Where do you find yourself in this observation?

In Christ
Jeff


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Jeff Marshalek

 2006/11/1 22:06Profile
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 Re:

I more or less agreed with the authors depiction of modern conservatism...even if he did somewhat caricature the trends for the sake of brevity. Yet, I could not find myself in these articles, even though I would have considered myself more or less a conservative..(.if we must give ourselves one leaning or the other.)

Thinking on the reason for this gulf between my convictions and the conservatism described in these articles led me to conclude these articles are really about neo-conservatism.

A true American conservative remembers that our founding fathers, when planning government, made it a chief aim to keep power from accumulating in the hands of sinful man ...they attempted this by building limitations and structural balance among several bodies of men.

This political philosophy stands in sharp contrast to the neo-conservatism depicted in these articles.

My point is this: Historically speaking, a true conservative would not want to give the government the instrumental, financial, and moral power that today's so-called conservatives seem all too eager to do.

Just a subtle but important point I felt worth mentioning in this thread. :-( Perhaps this is another sign that all men...even Christian conservatives, are all too willing to make idols of government in return for security.

MC


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Mike Compton

 2006/11/3 2:02Profile
rookie
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Joined: 2003/6/3
Posts: 4792


 Re:

Brother Mike wrote:

Quote:
A true American conservative remembers that our founding fathers,



Many of the founding fathers where strong adherents to the religion of humanism. Many were influenced by the politics of France and the age of enlightment where humanism finds it's birth.

I have recently visited Plymouth Mass. We took our kids there to learn of the lives of the Pilgrims. I picked up a book that I have started reading. It was written by William Bradford. As I read the history of that first generation, I find that that time was the closest anyone ever came to establishing civil government found upon the precepts of the NT.

Quote:
Perhaps this is another sign that all men...even Christian conservatives, are all too willing to make idols of government in return for security.



In another thread I posted a sermon by Voddie Bauchman. In it he described two truths. One is of this world the other is of God. One of his observations pointed to the fact that you have stated above.

He said that those who look for government to secure properity and peace will find themselves to be part of the religion of humanism. Think about that statement....Scripture tells us of a time coming where the majority of the human race will submit and worship a man who is the seed of Satan...

God Bless
Jeff


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Jeff Marshalek

 2006/11/3 4:38Profile
rookie
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Joined: 2003/6/3
Posts: 4792


 Re:

Here is a side note to this thread...A.W. Tozer speaks about things that are germane to this topic...

http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/mydownloads/visit.php?lid=2405

In Christ
jeff


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Jeff Marshalek

 2006/11/3 4:44Profile
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Joined: 2003/11/23
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 Re: Politics

Hi rookie...

This is a very interesting essay, and you bring up some very good points. The only issue that I see with this essay (and the previous) is that I don't believe that ANYONE is a true liberal or conservative. On certain issues, we can be considered "conservative" while consider "liberal" on other issues. A person might be "pro-life" in a sense that they oppose abortion. This would make him or her a "conservative" according to the established definition. However, this same person may oppose the "death penalty." This would make that person a "liberal" using the same established definition.

When I vote, I do so using my conscience. I do not have any sort of "allegiance" to a political party or ideology. Rather, I vote with my alligiance to Christ.

Far more often than not, the Republican Party is the party that (at least vocally) opposes abortion, homosexual marriage, unlimited expressions of immorality in the media or restrictions on religious liberty. While this is not always the case with every candidate, it is certainly the norm -- and it is written within the party's "platform." Regardless of whether you live in the United States, Canada or Europe, there is typically a close relationship between political "progressives" and anti-religious sentiments.

I suppose that there is a movement within the Church that calls for almost pure political isolationism. I know a great number of believers that vote for third party candidates. While I admire their convictions, a vote for a third party candidate is often simply a "protest" vote. I would prefer to use my vote against practices like abortion or homosexual intrusion.

Paul used the "political" and "legal" system of the Roman Empire as a means to bring the Gospel to Rome. He used his Roman citizenship as a means of protection from being scourged (Acts 22:22-30). He "appealed unto Caesar" (Acts 25:11) even when he was probably going to be judged innocent by Festus.

It would be easy to simply seperate ourselves from the world by our votes. But many of us vote according to our spiritual convictions about life and liberty. While both parties are far from perfect, one in particular embraces the godlessness far more than the other. When I vote, I try to vote against the greatest advance of godlessness. While the end is going to come regardless, I will not hasten the acts of godlessness within society by my votes.

:-)


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Christopher

 2006/11/3 12:24Profile
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 Re:

Quote:
While the end is going to come regardless, I will not hasten the acts of godlessness within society by my votes.



This pretty much sums up my 'politics' as well...

MC


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Mike Compton

 2006/11/3 16:31Profile
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Posts: 2732


 Re:

Quote:
Many of the founding fathers where strong adherents to the religion of humanism. Many were influenced by the politics of France and the age of enlightment where humanism finds it's birth.



I see that. The 'virtue' I see in those men is not their Christianity per se or that their Government is a miracle of biblical values...I just think they came closer then any other before them.

For me, it's worth noting that our George Washington refused to be a king. Regardless of what we think about his faith, his holding to the American course over his own ambition and glory is a singular achievement in the whole history of government. Compare to Napolean after the French revolution...Napolean seemed indignant over the criticism of his self-crowning..."Who do they think I am? Washington?"

When Washington refused to be any more then a President, he became for me the embodiment of conservatism. It's an expression of an ideal without being oblivious that the ideal is rarely realized.

Blessings,

MC


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Mike Compton

 2006/11/3 16:52Profile





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