Government as force for secularization

Conservative Christians used to be all over the map politically, with probably more of them in the Democratic camp.  What happened?   Why are they now tending towards small government political conservatism?  I think Michael Gerson, in the context of a column on another issue, hits it exactly:

Among conservative Christians, government is often viewed as a force of secularization — a source of both bureaucratic regulation and moral deregulation.

via Michael Gerson – Obama’s new culture war over government’s role.

Government, including liberal governments as in those who followed the New Deal, left religion and traditional morality alone.  Then the government  outlawed prayer in public schools, legalized abortion, scrubbed the public square of religious references, says that homosexuality is OK, etc., etc.  Christians started seeing their government, as Gerson says, as a force for taking religion out of consideration and for promoting secularism.

I’m not saying that some of those changes might not have been necessary.  I’m just saying that this is why so many Christians are now alienated from their government.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Kirk

    Maybe this is an over-spoken criticism, but can the religious right really be considered small government when the advocate for more government regulation of morality? Outlawing prayer in school and legalizing homosexuality seems like the government removing itself from the public square as opposed to imposing its morality of Christians. I know that the government hasn’t restricted itself over-all, but to me, the traditional religious right doesn’t seem to advocate for less government, just a different sort of government.

    And alienation appears to be more related to who’s in office than the size of the government. These alienated masses didn’t appear that upset under big-government conservatism, two years ago.

  • Kirk

    Maybe this is an over-spoken criticism, but can the religious right really be considered small government when the advocate for more government regulation of morality? Outlawing prayer in school and legalizing homosexuality seems like the government removing itself from the public square as opposed to imposing its morality of Christians. I know that the government hasn’t restricted itself over-all, but to me, the traditional religious right doesn’t seem to advocate for less government, just a different sort of government.

    And alienation appears to be more related to who’s in office than the size of the government. These alienated masses didn’t appear that upset under big-government conservatism, two years ago.

  • EricM

    Unfortunately, the government is not neutral in society. If it were to say that all murder is bad and punishable that would be one thing but to say that some murder is just bad and other murder is worse because the victim was part of a particular class says that the government is no longer neutral. In this case government makes a value decision – one life is worth more than another and therefore the punishment is to be greater.

    This is what we see today around homosexuality. Since homosexuals are now listed as one of these protected classes, the government is saying that the life of a homosexual is of greater value than others in society. I think this is what religious conservatives are speaking against. They see government extolling things that they feel are anti-Christian.

  • EricM

    Unfortunately, the government is not neutral in society. If it were to say that all murder is bad and punishable that would be one thing but to say that some murder is just bad and other murder is worse because the victim was part of a particular class says that the government is no longer neutral. In this case government makes a value decision – one life is worth more than another and therefore the punishment is to be greater.

    This is what we see today around homosexuality. Since homosexuals are now listed as one of these protected classes, the government is saying that the life of a homosexual is of greater value than others in society. I think this is what religious conservatives are speaking against. They see government extolling things that they feel are anti-Christian.

  • Joe

    I hope we do see a shift to conservative Christians embracing small gov’t. I don’t t hink it has happened yet. When I think of the moral majority, Tony Perkins, etc. I don’t think of small gov’t. I think of “our kind” of big gov’t. Think of GW Bush’s campaign for “compassionate conservatism.” That was just a push for big gov’t done the “right way.” I don think that these groups have lost some of their political power (and I think that is a good thing) but I am not sure it is because conservative Christians have embraced smaller gov’t. I think it is because the fiscal issues we are facing are just more important right now.

  • Joe

    I hope we do see a shift to conservative Christians embracing small gov’t. I don’t t hink it has happened yet. When I think of the moral majority, Tony Perkins, etc. I don’t think of small gov’t. I think of “our kind” of big gov’t. Think of GW Bush’s campaign for “compassionate conservatism.” That was just a push for big gov’t done the “right way.” I don think that these groups have lost some of their political power (and I think that is a good thing) but I am not sure it is because conservative Christians have embraced smaller gov’t. I think it is because the fiscal issues we are facing are just more important right now.

  • Frank M.

    The notion of Christian Conservatism is overrated.
    There are plenty of unabashed Christian liberals and progressives. I know because I am one of them.

    The usual response to that is somebody declaring that I must not be a “real” Christian. To that I say, if all this hate and condemnation is “Christian”, then perhpas I am not one in the eyes of those who think like that.

    My judgement comes before God and my Lord Jesus. To me, the teaching of the New testament are directly synonymous with my views and politics as an outgrowth of Christian faith.

    I am not afraid. I don’t reject science. I don’t hate gays. I don’t condemn others for actions they take in making it through life. I am not afraid of separation of church and state. I love my Muslim , Buddhist and Jewish brothers and sisters. I am not afraid of social programs to help the needy and poor. Does that make me a bad Christian?

    God’s kind grace and love fills my heart. I am an orthodox Lutheran who loves the traditions of the church to which my family has belonged since 1642.

    My faith determines my thinking, even if my political interperetation and action according to that faith may differ from yours.

  • Frank M.

    The notion of Christian Conservatism is overrated.
    There are plenty of unabashed Christian liberals and progressives. I know because I am one of them.

    The usual response to that is somebody declaring that I must not be a “real” Christian. To that I say, if all this hate and condemnation is “Christian”, then perhpas I am not one in the eyes of those who think like that.

    My judgement comes before God and my Lord Jesus. To me, the teaching of the New testament are directly synonymous with my views and politics as an outgrowth of Christian faith.

    I am not afraid. I don’t reject science. I don’t hate gays. I don’t condemn others for actions they take in making it through life. I am not afraid of separation of church and state. I love my Muslim , Buddhist and Jewish brothers and sisters. I am not afraid of social programs to help the needy and poor. Does that make me a bad Christian?

    God’s kind grace and love fills my heart. I am an orthodox Lutheran who loves the traditions of the church to which my family has belonged since 1642.

    My faith determines my thinking, even if my political interperetation and action according to that faith may differ from yours.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    My take is that yes, conservatives are discovering the perils of big government about half a century after the train left the station. Back in the 1950s, it was seen as a good thing to establish a sort of civic religion, and today, we’re surprised to find that the courts are going to insist that that civic religion has nothing to do with the God of the Bible.

    The apostle Paul, and every other apostle, knew that from personal experience.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    My take is that yes, conservatives are discovering the perils of big government about half a century after the train left the station. Back in the 1950s, it was seen as a good thing to establish a sort of civic religion, and today, we’re surprised to find that the courts are going to insist that that civic religion has nothing to do with the God of the Bible.

    The apostle Paul, and every other apostle, knew that from personal experience.

  • Tom Hering

    “To me, the teaching[s] of the New testament are directly synonymous with my views and politics as an outgrowth of Christian faith.” – Frank M. @ 4.

    As a fellow liberal and progressive and Lutheran, that sounds backwards to me, Frank. All of Scripture comes first, even when that means giving up certain liberal and progressive views. Or have I misunderstood you?

  • Tom Hering

    “To me, the teaching[s] of the New testament are directly synonymous with my views and politics as an outgrowth of Christian faith.” – Frank M. @ 4.

    As a fellow liberal and progressive and Lutheran, that sounds backwards to me, Frank. All of Scripture comes first, even when that means giving up certain liberal and progressive views. Or have I misunderstood you?

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I have always had small government leanings thanks to my parents, but now it has become the case that I recognize what government has become to our people. It has become their god, they expect all good things to come from our government. So as a Christian, I have come to see the need to return government back to its place as God’s instrument for maintaining order and peace. In order for that to happen many if not all social programs need to be eliminated and many laws struck down.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I have always had small government leanings thanks to my parents, but now it has become the case that I recognize what government has become to our people. It has become their god, they expect all good things to come from our government. So as a Christian, I have come to see the need to return government back to its place as God’s instrument for maintaining order and peace. In order for that to happen many if not all social programs need to be eliminated and many laws struck down.

  • Tom Hering

    Doc @ 7, do you know anyone, personally, who has said to you, “Government is my god” or “I trust the government rather than God to provide for me”? If not, how did you arrive at your “recognition” of what government has become to the people?

  • Tom Hering

    Doc @ 7, do you know anyone, personally, who has said to you, “Government is my god” or “I trust the government rather than God to provide for me”? If not, how did you arrive at your “recognition” of what government has become to the people?

  • SKPeterson

    Okay, Tom. How about government as an idol, then? A question theologians would ask is, “In whom do people put their ultimate trust?” Some people may say, “the government.” If so, the government has become an idol for them. They may not say so explicitly, but often implicitly. You recognize it in statements like “there outta be a law” or “why won’t somebody (i.e., the government) do something about X?” or some other expression that transfers the trust of the people from God and their own vocational responsibilities onto an idolized someone else to take action or authority over some issue, usually being the government.

  • SKPeterson

    Okay, Tom. How about government as an idol, then? A question theologians would ask is, “In whom do people put their ultimate trust?” Some people may say, “the government.” If so, the government has become an idol for them. They may not say so explicitly, but often implicitly. You recognize it in statements like “there outta be a law” or “why won’t somebody (i.e., the government) do something about X?” or some other expression that transfers the trust of the people from God and their own vocational responsibilities onto an idolized someone else to take action or authority over some issue, usually being the government.

  • DonS

    Hmmm, it doesn’t look like Dr. Veith finished his thought. We’re hanging on that last “I’m ……..”

    I think it probably is true that a majority of Christians were in the Democratic camp prior to the 1980′s. A major reason for this is that the South, by far the most Christian region in the country, was still largely Democratic, because of its residual hatred for Abraham Lincoln. However, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, legalizing abortion, and its strident support by abortion rights groups and politicians mostly affiliated with Democrats, was the catalyst for beginning to help southerners realize that the Democratic party no longer represented their values.

    The initial reaction of Christians was to fight back against the moral degradation which began to more openly afflict society beginning in the ’60′s by trying to pass “conservative” laws. This was the stance of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, neither of which is a blip on the screen anymore. As our federal government has continued to grow and amass power and debt, and to increasingly attack those advocating traditional morality as “extremists” and “far right”, more and more Christians are coming to realize that merely turning government to their purposes is not right and will not work. Government has its role, but it is a secular and coercive hammer on its citizens, a last resort to be used for essential governmental purposes only. Christians are increasingly focusing on advocating the rollback of government, particularly the federal government, and on having their individual liberties, including their economic liberties and their liberty as parents to direct the upbringing of their children, restored to them.

    This is a healthy development for everyone. A small government, focused on providing only essential government services and disabused of the notion of furthering the interests of politically favored groups over those of the less favored, is the most neutral and fair government, particularly in a society that has become increasingly pluralistic.

  • DonS

    Hmmm, it doesn’t look like Dr. Veith finished his thought. We’re hanging on that last “I’m ……..”

    I think it probably is true that a majority of Christians were in the Democratic camp prior to the 1980′s. A major reason for this is that the South, by far the most Christian region in the country, was still largely Democratic, because of its residual hatred for Abraham Lincoln. However, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, legalizing abortion, and its strident support by abortion rights groups and politicians mostly affiliated with Democrats, was the catalyst for beginning to help southerners realize that the Democratic party no longer represented their values.

    The initial reaction of Christians was to fight back against the moral degradation which began to more openly afflict society beginning in the ’60′s by trying to pass “conservative” laws. This was the stance of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, neither of which is a blip on the screen anymore. As our federal government has continued to grow and amass power and debt, and to increasingly attack those advocating traditional morality as “extremists” and “far right”, more and more Christians are coming to realize that merely turning government to their purposes is not right and will not work. Government has its role, but it is a secular and coercive hammer on its citizens, a last resort to be used for essential governmental purposes only. Christians are increasingly focusing on advocating the rollback of government, particularly the federal government, and on having their individual liberties, including their economic liberties and their liberty as parents to direct the upbringing of their children, restored to them.

    This is a healthy development for everyone. A small government, focused on providing only essential government services and disabused of the notion of furthering the interests of politically favored groups over those of the less favored, is the most neutral and fair government, particularly in a society that has become increasingly pluralistic.

  • John C

    Dr Luther, it is unlikely God is a Republican.
    Perhaps more laws and social programs not less are required if government is to be God’s instrument for maintaining order and peace.

  • John C

    Dr Luther, it is unlikely God is a Republican.
    Perhaps more laws and social programs not less are required if government is to be God’s instrument for maintaining order and peace.

  • –helen

    “In order for that to happen many if not all social programs need to be eliminated and many laws struck down.” –Dr. Luther @7

    Dr. Luther is probably a Republican and well off enough to think that he and his will never need help. He may be wrong.
    [What have I gotten into here?]
    Thousands of Enron employees thought they had their lives, property and retirement organized, only to find that their bosses had looted their savings and w/o jobs, they couldn’t keep their (one) home. [Meanwhile Mrs. Lay moaned publicly that she had to give up three of six private residences!]
    We could feel her pain. Not much!

  • –helen

    “In order for that to happen many if not all social programs need to be eliminated and many laws struck down.” –Dr. Luther @7

    Dr. Luther is probably a Republican and well off enough to think that he and his will never need help. He may be wrong.
    [What have I gotten into here?]
    Thousands of Enron employees thought they had their lives, property and retirement organized, only to find that their bosses had looted their savings and w/o jobs, they couldn’t keep their (one) home. [Meanwhile Mrs. Lay moaned publicly that she had to give up three of six private residences!]
    We could feel her pain. Not much!

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Regarding Dr. Luther’s point about government becoming a god, well, yes, I’ve seen people treating government as such. Currently, I know a couple that is holding off on marriage because government is paying the young lady to stay unmarried for college cash. Any number of people on public assistance are trusting in government rather than God to provide, and there is also a strong divide along those lines in terms of religious faith, or lack thereof. So yes, the welfare state does indeed attempt to enshrine government as a god–just like in Rome.

    Also, if you take a look at any issue of Sojourners, you will see many people transferring the requirement for compassion from the believer to any number of neighbors of the believer that can be taxed. So in the worldview of Wallis and company, “compassion” means “sending armed agents to your neighbors’ homes to extract their resources to be used for your purposes.”

    Used to be that kind of thing was rightly called “armed robbery,” but apparently no more for Sojourners and the like-minded.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Regarding Dr. Luther’s point about government becoming a god, well, yes, I’ve seen people treating government as such. Currently, I know a couple that is holding off on marriage because government is paying the young lady to stay unmarried for college cash. Any number of people on public assistance are trusting in government rather than God to provide, and there is also a strong divide along those lines in terms of religious faith, or lack thereof. So yes, the welfare state does indeed attempt to enshrine government as a god–just like in Rome.

    Also, if you take a look at any issue of Sojourners, you will see many people transferring the requirement for compassion from the believer to any number of neighbors of the believer that can be taxed. So in the worldview of Wallis and company, “compassion” means “sending armed agents to your neighbors’ homes to extract their resources to be used for your purposes.”

    Used to be that kind of thing was rightly called “armed robbery,” but apparently no more for Sojourners and the like-minded.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m sorry, but I don’t believe these complaints about how a more statist government somehow fosters or creates the notion of “government as god”.

    Why? Because I’ve known plenty of people who do trust in God alone who nonetheless favor some level of government aid/spending/intervention. In fact, I don’t think anyone here favors a complete lack of it.

    What’s more, no one’s simultaneously complaining about how the free market and capitalism foster or create the notion of “money as god”. It’s just not something that “conservatives” appear to worry about.

    More to the point, if you’re truly worried about people’s spiritual states, you’re not going to solve it by changing the government. It seems ironic to have to point that out, but there you go. If, in fact, the problem is that people don’t trust God, but that they trust the government to provide for them, what do you think will happen to those people when you enact your small-government changes? Either they will despair (because they have no help), or they will trust in those who do come to their help (charities as god?), or, if they “help themselves” (ha!) they will trust in themselves (self as god, money as god, willpower as god). But they’re not going to magically trust in God just because you took away their Medicare or Social Security.

    So while I appreciate that some of you favor a smaller government (in many ways, so do I), please don’t try and pretend there’s anything else behind your comments, much less some greater spiritual concern.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m sorry, but I don’t believe these complaints about how a more statist government somehow fosters or creates the notion of “government as god”.

    Why? Because I’ve known plenty of people who do trust in God alone who nonetheless favor some level of government aid/spending/intervention. In fact, I don’t think anyone here favors a complete lack of it.

    What’s more, no one’s simultaneously complaining about how the free market and capitalism foster or create the notion of “money as god”. It’s just not something that “conservatives” appear to worry about.

    More to the point, if you’re truly worried about people’s spiritual states, you’re not going to solve it by changing the government. It seems ironic to have to point that out, but there you go. If, in fact, the problem is that people don’t trust God, but that they trust the government to provide for them, what do you think will happen to those people when you enact your small-government changes? Either they will despair (because they have no help), or they will trust in those who do come to their help (charities as god?), or, if they “help themselves” (ha!) they will trust in themselves (self as god, money as god, willpower as god). But they’re not going to magically trust in God just because you took away their Medicare or Social Security.

    So while I appreciate that some of you favor a smaller government (in many ways, so do I), please don’t try and pretend there’s anything else behind your comments, much less some greater spiritual concern.

  • Tom Hering

    Okay, let’s say people are trusting government rather than God to provide for them. What does this mean? That God isn’t actually the One doing the providing? Or only that people don’t acknowledge Him as their Provider? I would say the latter, because He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall (both are good provisions) on the righteous and the wicked alike. And He doesn’t stop providing for people because people don’t acknowledge Him. Yet conservative Christians would raise themselves above Him, and stop all the provision He gives to men through the means of government. Indeed, through governments of all kinds – both good and bad – all over the world!

    So maybe Christian conservatives should limit themselves to limiting government for Constitutional reasons alone. And stop guilt-tripping the people who need what God provides through government.

  • Tom Hering

    Okay, let’s say people are trusting government rather than God to provide for them. What does this mean? That God isn’t actually the One doing the providing? Or only that people don’t acknowledge Him as their Provider? I would say the latter, because He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall (both are good provisions) on the righteous and the wicked alike. And He doesn’t stop providing for people because people don’t acknowledge Him. Yet conservative Christians would raise themselves above Him, and stop all the provision He gives to men through the means of government. Indeed, through governments of all kinds – both good and bad – all over the world!

    So maybe Christian conservatives should limit themselves to limiting government for Constitutional reasons alone. And stop guilt-tripping the people who need what God provides through government.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Looks like Tom and I (@15) had similar thoughts at the same time. I want to try and make my point a different, perhaps clearer, way.

    Believing in “government as god” is not a political problem. It is a spiritual problem. Those who are trying to solve the issue of people’s misplaced trust by forcing the government to do less to help them are committing the same error that those they are lambasting and the secular statists have: they are trying to solve spiritual problems with political solutions. That will not work.

    If you are concerned about the spiritual problem, then you need to find a spiritual solution for it. If, however, you are concerned about a political problem, then a political solution will be appropriate. Please do not confuse the two.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Looks like Tom and I (@15) had similar thoughts at the same time. I want to try and make my point a different, perhaps clearer, way.

    Believing in “government as god” is not a political problem. It is a spiritual problem. Those who are trying to solve the issue of people’s misplaced trust by forcing the government to do less to help them are committing the same error that those they are lambasting and the secular statists have: they are trying to solve spiritual problems with political solutions. That will not work.

    If you are concerned about the spiritual problem, then you need to find a spiritual solution for it. If, however, you are concerned about a political problem, then a political solution will be appropriate. Please do not confuse the two.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I love the pathetic cheap shots. Do some research and learn to respond with reasoned debate rather than emotional and dismissive ad hominims. I have made my political views abundantly clear, if you had bothered to educate yourself you would have known the answer. I don’t think the GOP is God’s party of choice. I don’t think any party is God’s party of choice. I have largely abandoned the Republican party, and see them for the most part as little different from Democrats. I don’t care for either party.

    I actually don’t mind the government having short-term safety nets that help people who have fallen on bad times until they can get back on their feet. Our current system indirectly discourages people from trying to improve themselves and makes them dependent on the government to survive, this I do mind. I would much rather do my financial charity through a far more efficient non-profit than the bureaucratic bloat that is our government, but I am limited in that ability because I have to pay an arm and a leg in taxes. I am cynical enough to believe I will never see a reduction in government spending and size, because Congressman Joe Doe needs to buy votes with a pork project and nobody in Congress is going to stop him because they all do the same thing.

    John C, 600+ laws didn’t stop the pharisees from being hypocrits. Why do you think more laws and programs are going to help anything?

    Tom, in answer to your question, it is not so much a direct statement as general attitude that I have witnessed. Be it Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, people are looking more and more to the government to solve all their problems and provide them with their every need. Going from Luther’s definition of god in the explanation to the First Commandment, they are setting up government as their god. And I am not referring solely to the welfare state. Conservative deification, particularly with in Christian circles, generally comes in the form of their attempts to bring about Christ’s reign via government fiat – the Moral Majority/Christian Coalition. In pursuing their goals they end up straying over into governmental idolatry seeking hope in governmental rule than in the Gospel.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I love the pathetic cheap shots. Do some research and learn to respond with reasoned debate rather than emotional and dismissive ad hominims. I have made my political views abundantly clear, if you had bothered to educate yourself you would have known the answer. I don’t think the GOP is God’s party of choice. I don’t think any party is God’s party of choice. I have largely abandoned the Republican party, and see them for the most part as little different from Democrats. I don’t care for either party.

    I actually don’t mind the government having short-term safety nets that help people who have fallen on bad times until they can get back on their feet. Our current system indirectly discourages people from trying to improve themselves and makes them dependent on the government to survive, this I do mind. I would much rather do my financial charity through a far more efficient non-profit than the bureaucratic bloat that is our government, but I am limited in that ability because I have to pay an arm and a leg in taxes. I am cynical enough to believe I will never see a reduction in government spending and size, because Congressman Joe Doe needs to buy votes with a pork project and nobody in Congress is going to stop him because they all do the same thing.

    John C, 600+ laws didn’t stop the pharisees from being hypocrits. Why do you think more laws and programs are going to help anything?

    Tom, in answer to your question, it is not so much a direct statement as general attitude that I have witnessed. Be it Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, people are looking more and more to the government to solve all their problems and provide them with their every need. Going from Luther’s definition of god in the explanation to the First Commandment, they are setting up government as their god. And I am not referring solely to the welfare state. Conservative deification, particularly with in Christian circles, generally comes in the form of their attempts to bring about Christ’s reign via government fiat – the Moral Majority/Christian Coalition. In pursuing their goals they end up straying over into governmental idolatry seeking hope in governmental rule than in the Gospel.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @15 Tom and @16 tODD I did not see your responses before posting, so my previous @17 is not in response.

    It is a spiritual problem. One that I don’t see actually being solved through political means. But it does seem logical that few programs means less temptation. It is one of the reasons, I have in my own congregation been discouraging people from looking to solving things politically and more towards preaching Christ crucified in words and action. The only solution to idolatry of any flavor is Jesus, Himself.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @15 Tom and @16 tODD I did not see your responses before posting, so my previous @17 is not in response.

    It is a spiritual problem. One that I don’t see actually being solved through political means. But it does seem logical that few programs means less temptation. It is one of the reasons, I have in my own congregation been discouraging people from looking to solving things politically and more towards preaching Christ crucified in words and action. The only solution to idolatry of any flavor is Jesus, Himself.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DLi2C (@17), and to whom was your first paragraph directed?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DLi2C (@17), and to whom was your first paragraph directed?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Ah, cross-posting (@18, 19). Gotta love it. Gotcha, DLit2C … hey, when did you start inserting “the” in there? Anyhow, thanks for clarifying.

    “It is a spiritual problem. One that I don’t see actually being solved through political means.” Well, we’re agreed on the principle, at least, if not the tactics. :)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Ah, cross-posting (@18, 19). Gotta love it. Gotcha, DLit2C … hey, when did you start inserting “the” in there? Anyhow, thanks for clarifying.

    “It is a spiritual problem. One that I don’t see actually being solved through political means.” Well, we’re agreed on the principle, at least, if not the tactics. :)

  • DonS

    The point that tODD and Tom make is a valid one. Certainly, it is appropriate to argue against the popular liberal notion that Jesus, when commanding us to love our neighbor, actually meant to tax the heck out of the rich and give the poor their money. Obviously, that’s not what He meant. It is also appropriate to point out that John C’s premise @ 11 (“Perhaps more laws and social programs not less are required if government is to be God’s instrument for maintaining order and peace”) is, to put it mildly, flawed. However, having a smaller government, conversely, will not magically make us more reliant on God or otherwise more spiritual.

    We should certainly be arguing against the awful theology that is invoked with the assertion that big government and social programs are God’s intended solutions to the problem of the poor. However, beyond that, we who fall on the politically conservative side should be arguing that smaller, efficient, properly limited government promotes liberty, including religious liberty, and frees up private resources for stoking productivity and the economy, as well as for increasing disposable income for more private charity. This is a political argument, not a theological one.

  • DonS

    The point that tODD and Tom make is a valid one. Certainly, it is appropriate to argue against the popular liberal notion that Jesus, when commanding us to love our neighbor, actually meant to tax the heck out of the rich and give the poor their money. Obviously, that’s not what He meant. It is also appropriate to point out that John C’s premise @ 11 (“Perhaps more laws and social programs not less are required if government is to be God’s instrument for maintaining order and peace”) is, to put it mildly, flawed. However, having a smaller government, conversely, will not magically make us more reliant on God or otherwise more spiritual.

    We should certainly be arguing against the awful theology that is invoked with the assertion that big government and social programs are God’s intended solutions to the problem of the poor. However, beyond that, we who fall on the politically conservative side should be arguing that smaller, efficient, properly limited government promotes liberty, including religious liberty, and frees up private resources for stoking productivity and the economy, as well as for increasing disposable income for more private charity. This is a political argument, not a theological one.

  • DonS

    And, to further clarify my comment @ 21, in view of subsequent comments that have been posted, I didn’t see anyone on this thread arguing that smaller government would make people more spiritual. It seems to me that the arguments from the right have all been politically oriented, and thus, appropriate.

  • DonS

    And, to further clarify my comment @ 21, in view of subsequent comments that have been posted, I didn’t see anyone on this thread arguing that smaller government would make people more spiritual. It seems to me that the arguments from the right have all been politically oriented, and thus, appropriate.

  • Frank M.

    There are millions of Lutherans worldwide, many with liberal, social democratic and even socialist leanings. Sweden and Germany are two examples where not many Lutherans would share the hardline Conservative take on things, which is much more prevalent here in the US than in Europe .
    Lutheranism , as I know it , is not synonymous with any one political outlook.
    In the wonderful church where I practice, there are Tea Party Conservatives alongside tree hugging, bleeding heart liberals and Obama Democrats like me.
    Conservatives don’t own Christianity.

  • Frank M.

    There are millions of Lutherans worldwide, many with liberal, social democratic and even socialist leanings. Sweden and Germany are two examples where not many Lutherans would share the hardline Conservative take on things, which is much more prevalent here in the US than in Europe .
    Lutheranism , as I know it , is not synonymous with any one political outlook.
    In the wonderful church where I practice, there are Tea Party Conservatives alongside tree hugging, bleeding heart liberals and Obama Democrats like me.
    Conservatives don’t own Christianity.

  • Porcell

    Gerson’s key point comes at the end of the article:

    As I argue with my co-author Pete Wehner in a new book, “City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era,” Christians have often been compromised by identifying too closely with narrow ideological agendas.

    Christians need to be chary of falling for any any sort of extreme Caesar agenda, though, as Paul taught, the government sword in a fallen world is justified. That’s something quite distinct from a nanny state.

    The best form of charity comes from individuals and their churches who sensibly care for the worthy poor including widows, orphans, and the truly disabled; the rest of us are obligated to fend for ourselves morally and economically; Americans actually, compared to most nations, are generous to the worthy poor and disabled.

    What’s happened is that Marx ideologically accused the capitalists as a class of exploiting poor people. Ideological leftists, including “progressive” Christians continue to parrot this stance. While there are indeed some capitalists who exploit people, for the most part capitalism [meaning essentially a free economy] coupled with a rule of law has created a relatively wealthy middle-class and is perfectly capable and willing to support the worthy poor and disabled. Poor people in America don’t really need to suffer cold and hunger and are better off materially than most really poor people in the world.

    What Obama/Pelosi/Reid are about is rank statism in the interests of power. Christians and secular independents have caught on to this and are about to hand these feckless secular liberals a devastating defeat, The American people including devout Christians are not fools. They well know that Caesar’s realm, while necessary, is a mere idol in the broad scheme of things.

  • Porcell

    Gerson’s key point comes at the end of the article:

    As I argue with my co-author Pete Wehner in a new book, “City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era,” Christians have often been compromised by identifying too closely with narrow ideological agendas.

    Christians need to be chary of falling for any any sort of extreme Caesar agenda, though, as Paul taught, the government sword in a fallen world is justified. That’s something quite distinct from a nanny state.

    The best form of charity comes from individuals and their churches who sensibly care for the worthy poor including widows, orphans, and the truly disabled; the rest of us are obligated to fend for ourselves morally and economically; Americans actually, compared to most nations, are generous to the worthy poor and disabled.

    What’s happened is that Marx ideologically accused the capitalists as a class of exploiting poor people. Ideological leftists, including “progressive” Christians continue to parrot this stance. While there are indeed some capitalists who exploit people, for the most part capitalism [meaning essentially a free economy] coupled with a rule of law has created a relatively wealthy middle-class and is perfectly capable and willing to support the worthy poor and disabled. Poor people in America don’t really need to suffer cold and hunger and are better off materially than most really poor people in the world.

    What Obama/Pelosi/Reid are about is rank statism in the interests of power. Christians and secular independents have caught on to this and are about to hand these feckless secular liberals a devastating defeat, The American people including devout Christians are not fools. They well know that Caesar’s realm, while necessary, is a mere idol in the broad scheme of things.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    tODD; you’ve got things a touch backwards when you note the opinions of fellow politically liberal Christians and how they don’t seem to be setting the state up as a god. The trick is that the state tends to become a god when it goes beyond its bounds in Romans 13, insisting on worship.

    Examples: fighting over what is going to be taught in schools, especially in biology and cosmology, are essentially religious in nature. The anathemas poured out on those who would reduce welfare spending–or for that matter, spending in general–indicate that the proponents of big government are, all too often, treating government as their religion, effectively. (e.g. “you’re greedy” when all you want is the paycheck you’ve earned) Witness the controversies over “In God We Trust” on our currency, the Pledge of Allegiance, flag burning, Obama’s proposal for (oxymoronic/moronic) mandatory national service…..

    …it’s all about government getting too big for its britches and wanting to play god. You can argue until you’re blue in the face that YOU personally don’t advocate this, but that doesn’t stop the natural trend that when government leaves the bounds of Romans 13, it doesn’t stop with the initial proposal. Ambitious people (self-worshippers) tend to incline towards government buildings, and hence it’s no surprise that when we take the shackles off government, it tries to take over the role rightly owned by God.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    tODD; you’ve got things a touch backwards when you note the opinions of fellow politically liberal Christians and how they don’t seem to be setting the state up as a god. The trick is that the state tends to become a god when it goes beyond its bounds in Romans 13, insisting on worship.

    Examples: fighting over what is going to be taught in schools, especially in biology and cosmology, are essentially religious in nature. The anathemas poured out on those who would reduce welfare spending–or for that matter, spending in general–indicate that the proponents of big government are, all too often, treating government as their religion, effectively. (e.g. “you’re greedy” when all you want is the paycheck you’ve earned) Witness the controversies over “In God We Trust” on our currency, the Pledge of Allegiance, flag burning, Obama’s proposal for (oxymoronic/moronic) mandatory national service…..

    …it’s all about government getting too big for its britches and wanting to play god. You can argue until you’re blue in the face that YOU personally don’t advocate this, but that doesn’t stop the natural trend that when government leaves the bounds of Romans 13, it doesn’t stop with the initial proposal. Ambitious people (self-worshippers) tend to incline towards government buildings, and hence it’s no surprise that when we take the shackles off government, it tries to take over the role rightly owned by God.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS said (@22), “I didn’t see anyone on this thread arguing that smaller government would make people more spiritual.” Well, let’s look at the comments again.

    Dlit2C said (@7) that, “I recognize what government has become to our people. It has become their god.” Clearly a spiritual problem. His solution? “Return government back to its place as God’s instrument for maintaining order and peace.” More specifically, “many if not all social programs need to be eliminated and many laws struck down.” A political solution. Which would somehow address the spiritual problem. That was the main comment I addressed at first (@14).

    Bubba (@13) continued in a similar vein, going so far as to, somehow, conflate “a couple that is holding off on marriage because government is paying the young lady to stay unmarried for college cash” with “people on public assistance … trusting in government rather than God to provide.” Because waiting to get married is always tantamount to idolatry. That odd assertion aside, Bubba makes his case when he says, “the welfare state does indeed attempt to enshrine government as a god.” The clear implication being, Don, that if we get rid of the welfare state, we at least get rid of a potential idol. Which would be a boon to people’s spiritual states.

    Of course, while DLit2C’s subsequent comment (@18) may or may not have any bearing on his earlier comment (@7), either way, he said, “it does seem logical that few programs means less temptation.” So see? Smaller government means a better spiritual situation: less temptation. Pretty much what Bubba said.

    What DLit2C (et al.) seem to be missing is that the tactic of reducing government will not address the problem of people seeking to place their trust in something other than God. The “temptation” is to trust anything else. You could live in an anarchist state and still have the exact same amount of temptation to not trust God. Only in such a situation, you would be tempted to trust not the non-existant government, but yourself, or other people, or money, or guns. The temptation is not going to go away even if the government does. Altering our government is not going to address, much less solve the spiritual problem of idolatry. Many “conservatives” here are, in fact, suggesting it will.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS said (@22), “I didn’t see anyone on this thread arguing that smaller government would make people more spiritual.” Well, let’s look at the comments again.

    Dlit2C said (@7) that, “I recognize what government has become to our people. It has become their god.” Clearly a spiritual problem. His solution? “Return government back to its place as God’s instrument for maintaining order and peace.” More specifically, “many if not all social programs need to be eliminated and many laws struck down.” A political solution. Which would somehow address the spiritual problem. That was the main comment I addressed at first (@14).

    Bubba (@13) continued in a similar vein, going so far as to, somehow, conflate “a couple that is holding off on marriage because government is paying the young lady to stay unmarried for college cash” with “people on public assistance … trusting in government rather than God to provide.” Because waiting to get married is always tantamount to idolatry. That odd assertion aside, Bubba makes his case when he says, “the welfare state does indeed attempt to enshrine government as a god.” The clear implication being, Don, that if we get rid of the welfare state, we at least get rid of a potential idol. Which would be a boon to people’s spiritual states.

    Of course, while DLit2C’s subsequent comment (@18) may or may not have any bearing on his earlier comment (@7), either way, he said, “it does seem logical that few programs means less temptation.” So see? Smaller government means a better spiritual situation: less temptation. Pretty much what Bubba said.

    What DLit2C (et al.) seem to be missing is that the tactic of reducing government will not address the problem of people seeking to place their trust in something other than God. The “temptation” is to trust anything else. You could live in an anarchist state and still have the exact same amount of temptation to not trust God. Only in such a situation, you would be tempted to trust not the non-existant government, but yourself, or other people, or money, or guns. The temptation is not going to go away even if the government does. Altering our government is not going to address, much less solve the spiritual problem of idolatry. Many “conservatives” here are, in fact, suggesting it will.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@25), I’m really not sure what you’re replying to in what I wrote, particularly the bit about “the opinions of fellow politically liberal Christians.” Anyhow, there are a number of errors in your reasoning.

    “The trick is that the state tends to become a god when …” I’ll stop you right there. You have the problem of idolatry exactly backwards. The problem in idolatry is with the idolator, not the thing that is worshipped. Thus, the Bible condemns not money, but “the love of money”. You will never rid the world of would-be “gods”, especially given the would-be god that lives inside of you and each of us. So blaming the state for the problem of idolatry is like blaming money. Or trees. Getting rid of those things will not end idolatry. Those things were only ever “gods” in the minds of the idolators. That is the problem. That is where the solution lies. Otherwise, I soon expect to hear you blaming money and trees for causing people to worship them.

    More interesting to me is your twice-repeated statement on government “bounds in Romans 13″. Is that in the American Conservative Version of the Bible? Because my translation doesn’t mention any bounds as such. It does say that the government’s duties include commending what is right and punishing what is wrong, but it nowhere states that that’s all the government can do. Of course, it also says that the governments tax people, but you protest that as “highway robbery”. Maybe the ACV doesn’t have Romans 13:6-7?

    Also, last time I checked, “conservatives” were on the side of government doing something, not nothing, when it came to most of the “controversies” you mentioned: “‘In God We Trust’ on our currency, the Pledge of Allegiance, flag burning.” In all those cases, it is “conservatives” who want a more powerful government passing laws requiring or forbidding things.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@25), I’m really not sure what you’re replying to in what I wrote, particularly the bit about “the opinions of fellow politically liberal Christians.” Anyhow, there are a number of errors in your reasoning.

    “The trick is that the state tends to become a god when …” I’ll stop you right there. You have the problem of idolatry exactly backwards. The problem in idolatry is with the idolator, not the thing that is worshipped. Thus, the Bible condemns not money, but “the love of money”. You will never rid the world of would-be “gods”, especially given the would-be god that lives inside of you and each of us. So blaming the state for the problem of idolatry is like blaming money. Or trees. Getting rid of those things will not end idolatry. Those things were only ever “gods” in the minds of the idolators. That is the problem. That is where the solution lies. Otherwise, I soon expect to hear you blaming money and trees for causing people to worship them.

    More interesting to me is your twice-repeated statement on government “bounds in Romans 13″. Is that in the American Conservative Version of the Bible? Because my translation doesn’t mention any bounds as such. It does say that the government’s duties include commending what is right and punishing what is wrong, but it nowhere states that that’s all the government can do. Of course, it also says that the governments tax people, but you protest that as “highway robbery”. Maybe the ACV doesn’t have Romans 13:6-7?

    Also, last time I checked, “conservatives” were on the side of government doing something, not nothing, when it came to most of the “controversies” you mentioned: “‘In God We Trust’ on our currency, the Pledge of Allegiance, flag burning.” In all those cases, it is “conservatives” who want a more powerful government passing laws requiring or forbidding things.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 26: Ahhh, I missed DLit2C’s comment @ 7. No wonder John C made his comment @ 11, which I remarked upon as being out of line. I disagree that secular government is necessarily “God’s instrument for order and peace”. Yes, civil authority is ordained by God (Rom. 13), but the “order and peace” part isn’t promised in Scripture and certainly hasn’t historically come to pass, has it? It IS man’s instrument for order and peace, and this is the federal government’s principal role under the U.S. Constitution.

    Now @ 13, Bike Bubba never says that reduction of government will make people more spiritual. His point, I believe, is to counter the spiritual argument by religious liberals, such as Jim Wallis, that social programs are required by Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor, by asserting that sometimes they can be a spiritual harm. That’s a lot different than asserting that people are “… going to magically trust in God just because you took away their Medicare or Social Security”. And if someone is going to make a spiritual argument for bigger government, it is fair game to counter that argument with another spiritual argument.

    As for DLit2C’s posts @ 17 and 18, post 17 focuses on the negative spiritual impact both a desire for big liberal government and a desire for big conservative government can have. A fair point. Post 18 also focuses on negative spiritual impact, and the fact that a reduction in temptation might lessen that impact in some cases. This is a reasonable argument, and is a far cry from arguing that a certain political approach is spiritually advantageous. Arguing that someone might be exposed to less temptation is far different than arguing that they will become more spiritual. Whether the argument is persuasive might be an issue, depending upon your point of view, but it is definitely fair game to make it.

    So, bottom line, it is only the argument that a certain form of government is spiritually mandated, or will result in greater spirituality which I discredit.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 26: Ahhh, I missed DLit2C’s comment @ 7. No wonder John C made his comment @ 11, which I remarked upon as being out of line. I disagree that secular government is necessarily “God’s instrument for order and peace”. Yes, civil authority is ordained by God (Rom. 13), but the “order and peace” part isn’t promised in Scripture and certainly hasn’t historically come to pass, has it? It IS man’s instrument for order and peace, and this is the federal government’s principal role under the U.S. Constitution.

    Now @ 13, Bike Bubba never says that reduction of government will make people more spiritual. His point, I believe, is to counter the spiritual argument by religious liberals, such as Jim Wallis, that social programs are required by Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor, by asserting that sometimes they can be a spiritual harm. That’s a lot different than asserting that people are “… going to magically trust in God just because you took away their Medicare or Social Security”. And if someone is going to make a spiritual argument for bigger government, it is fair game to counter that argument with another spiritual argument.

    As for DLit2C’s posts @ 17 and 18, post 17 focuses on the negative spiritual impact both a desire for big liberal government and a desire for big conservative government can have. A fair point. Post 18 also focuses on negative spiritual impact, and the fact that a reduction in temptation might lessen that impact in some cases. This is a reasonable argument, and is a far cry from arguing that a certain political approach is spiritually advantageous. Arguing that someone might be exposed to less temptation is far different than arguing that they will become more spiritual. Whether the argument is persuasive might be an issue, depending upon your point of view, but it is definitely fair game to make it.

    So, bottom line, it is only the argument that a certain form of government is spiritually mandated, or will result in greater spirituality which I discredit.

  • Cincinnatus

    Is it just me or is it the progressives in this thread who are coming across as the most self-righteous and annoying? After all, their politics are apparently based on the words of Jesus.

    I thought that was the conservative right’s schtick.

  • Cincinnatus

    Is it just me or is it the progressives in this thread who are coming across as the most self-righteous and annoying? After all, their politics are apparently based on the words of Jesus.

    I thought that was the conservative right’s schtick.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Many complain that big government is redistributing wealth to the poor. Really though, as government has got bigger it seems wealth has been redistributed to the top. The rich have got richer. So, my question is whether bigger government has a hand in increasing the income disparity. It has already been noted that both republicans and democrats increased the size of government as they saw fit. Still there is the secular trend of growing income disparity. I have figured that is mostly due to social changes, but maybe the growth of government contributes as well. There is a correlation, what about cause?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Many complain that big government is redistributing wealth to the poor. Really though, as government has got bigger it seems wealth has been redistributed to the top. The rich have got richer. So, my question is whether bigger government has a hand in increasing the income disparity. It has already been noted that both republicans and democrats increased the size of government as they saw fit. Still there is the secular trend of growing income disparity. I have figured that is mostly due to social changes, but maybe the growth of government contributes as well. There is a correlation, what about cause?

  • ptl

    Would Europe be a model of what happens to religion when you have “big” government? Of course, in many case, the Churches derive some support from the government, but there must be some reason the attendance on Sunday’s is so low? Maybe not, don’t know, just putting it out there…..thanks!

  • ptl

    Would Europe be a model of what happens to religion when you have “big” government? Of course, in many case, the Churches derive some support from the government, but there must be some reason the attendance on Sunday’s is so low? Maybe not, don’t know, just putting it out there…..thanks!

  • Tom Hering

    Nah. Europe is a model of what happens to religion when you have religion. But who knows what God may yet do there. And the bigness of government won’t stop Him.

  • Tom Hering

    Nah. Europe is a model of what happens to religion when you have religion. But who knows what God may yet do there. And the bigness of government won’t stop Him.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    My plan is simple destroy people’s misguided faith in government and proclaim the God who has never made an empty campaign promise.

    The kinder version takes the first part and retools it by trying to minimize temptation, much like how addicts are encouraged to avoid people, places, and things closely associated with their addiction,

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    My plan is simple destroy people’s misguided faith in government and proclaim the God who has never made an empty campaign promise.

    The kinder version takes the first part and retools it by trying to minimize temptation, much like how addicts are encouraged to avoid people, places, and things closely associated with their addiction,

  • John C

    Dr luther at 17
    ‘Why do you think more laws and social programs will help anything?’
    The Thatcher /Reagan revolution of the last 30 years has lead to more and more market deregulation — remove market restraints, we were told, and we all stand to gain from market efficiency.
    However, the free market is amoral. It does not have have a position on the minimum wage or the price of carbon. Nor does it care about the devestation created by are a ‘market correction’.
    So yes, I would like to see more regulation and I would like to see more oversight in key areas such as banking and the environment. I would also like to see a regulatory regime that had sufficient resources and was more than just perfunctory.

  • John C

    Dr luther at 17
    ‘Why do you think more laws and social programs will help anything?’
    The Thatcher /Reagan revolution of the last 30 years has lead to more and more market deregulation — remove market restraints, we were told, and we all stand to gain from market efficiency.
    However, the free market is amoral. It does not have have a position on the minimum wage or the price of carbon. Nor does it care about the devestation created by are a ‘market correction’.
    So yes, I would like to see more regulation and I would like to see more oversight in key areas such as banking and the environment. I would also like to see a regulatory regime that had sufficient resources and was more than just perfunctory.


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