Business and the rule of law

Bernie Marcus, one of the founders of Home Depot, is worried that the rule of law is being undermined when it comes to businesses:

Politicians in Washington are using the current economic crisis to cram through a series of policies that increase the power and size of government without regard to the sound checks and balances our Constitution’s Framers put in place. This deeply concerns me, because free enterprise and the certainty provided by the rule of law made America the most prosperous and generous nation in the world. Now this is in jeopardy. I cannot think of anything more detrimental to the future of free enterprise than turning bankruptcy proceedings on their head as has happened with Chrysler.

Banks and other financial institutions were willing to loan money over the years to a troubled company like Chrysler because their loans were secured by the auto company’s assets, and because these lenders would be first in line in the event of a bankruptcy. But in the Chrysler bankruptcy unsecured creditors were effectively put ahead of secured creditors.

The biggest beneficiaries are Chrysler’s union employees. Let’s not forget that the union — which demanded and won uncompetitive work rules, pay and benefits — is just as responsible for the company’s failure as are its shortsighted executives. Yet according to reports, a union trust fund will own 55% of the auto maker, as well as receive from the company a $4.9 billion promissory note and a boatload of cash after it emerges from bankruptcy.

What lender today would loan money to a company without the certainty of a secured position in the company’s assets? A company may seem healthy today, as Chrysler once did, but without the certainty of the rule of law in bankruptcy proceedings, capital for business will either dry up or be prohibitively expensive. . . .

There are also threats to the rule of law in the “Employee Free Choice Act” pending in Congress. If a company and its newly organized employees are unable to agree to contract terms, an arbitrator appointed by the federal government would set the work rules, pay, benefits and other terms for at least two years. Couple this with the Treasury Department effectively firing the CEO of General Motors and telling Chrysler how much it can spend on advertising and the situation does not look good for free enterprise.

I hadn’t realized that Chrysler workers will end up owning the company, at the expense of the capital investors. So the workers, rather than the capitalists, will own the means of production.

Marcus’s point is that businesses need consistent laws–such as contract laws, which he also thinks are under attack–in order to function effectively, and if the rules keep changing for political expediency, our prosperity will be threatened. Indeed, this was part of the problem in former Communist countries trying to transition into a free economy. Does Marcus have a point, or is this just capitalist self-pleading against the emerging proletarian paradise?

The first use of the Law

We’ve talked here quite a bit about the doctrine of vocation and the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. But there is one other teaching in what we might call the Lutheran theology of culture: the first use of the Law.

To review, the first use of the Law is as a curb, reigning in external sinful behavior so that human society is possible. The second use of the Law is as a mirror, showing us our sinfulness and our need for Christ’s forgiveness; the third use is as a guide, showing Christians what kind of actions please God. The latter two uses get the most attention, but let’s reflect on that first use.

This “civil use” does not create righteousness and is only concerned with external behavior. I may be so angry that I am killing someone in my heart (such is my sinful nature), but I would never kill that person in reality–not just because I fear getting caught but because I would be too ashamed and my conscience would not allow it. The first use of the Law is working. Despite my external obedience to the civil use of the Law, though, I still need the Gospel to grant me forgiveness, and I need Christ to change my hatred into love of my enemy who is also neighbor, whom I am to love and serve particularly in my vocations.

OK, now help me out:

(1) What is the relationship between the first use of the Law and the laws of the civil authorities? (I can see that the two are not coterminous, since the first use works through conscience and not just civil power. But isn’t the civil power obliged to enforce the first use of God’s Law as it relates to civil order and the agency described in Romans 13?

(2) The first use of the law is for all sinners and not just Christian sinners. That is, there is no question of a separate morality for believers and non-believers, at least not in the law’s civil use. Is there?

(3) Doesn’t the first use of the Laws regarding sexual morality apply to the entire culture?

(4) Some Christians are saying that we should let the state set its own standards for marriage and the like–including allowing for same sex marriages–but that the church can insist on its own standards for its members. Wouldn’t that violate the first use of the Law?

(5) It seems that at different times and with different people, the various uses of the Law have been under attack: the legalists rejected the second use; the antinomians rejected the third use. Aren’t we seeing now in our culture the rejection of the first use? And shouldn’t Christians defend it? Or does God’s law need to defense, since it will be at work no matter what man’s laws and customs dictate? If so, how will the first use of the law manifest itself in a morally relativistic, pro-choice-in-all-things culture?

California Supreme Court upholds vote banning gay marriage

The California Supreme Court upheld the Proposition 8 election results, meaning gay marriage is illegal in that state. The court did, however, rule that the 18,000 homosexual couples already married in California before the referendum was passed could remain married.

The obsessions of atheists

I referred to Rev. Cwirla’s blog post on Charlotte Allen’s takedown of the new atheists in the LA Times. Her article is worth blogging about in its own right. It’s entitled Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining :

I can’t stand atheists — but it’s not because they don’t believe in God. It’s because they’re crashing bores.

Other people, most recently the British cultural critic Terry Eagleton in his new book, “Faith, Reason, and Revolution,” take to task such superstar nonbelievers as Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”) and political journalist Christopher Hitchens (“God Is Not Great”) for indulging in a philosophically primitive opposition of faith and reason that assumes that if science can’t prove something, it doesn’t exist.

My problem with atheists is their tiresome — and way old — insistence that they are being oppressed and their fixation with the fine points of Christianity.

She then documents the hysterical, obsessive, ludicrous, shallow carryings-on of these atheists, who rant and rave and whine about something they do not even think exists. Then she concludes:

The problem with atheists — and what makes them such excruciating snoozes — is that few of them are interested in making serious metaphysical or epistemological arguments against God’s existence, or in taking on the serious arguments that theologians have made attempting to reconcile, say, God’s omniscience with free will or God’s goodness with human suffering. Atheists seem to assume that the whole idea of God is a ridiculous absurdity, the “flying spaghetti monster” of atheists’ typically lame jokes. They think that lobbing a few Gaza-style rockets accusing God of failing to create a world more to their liking (“If there’s a God, why aren’t I rich?” “If there’s a God, why didn’t he give me two heads so I could sleep with one head while I get some work done with the other?”) will suffice to knock down the entire edifice of belief.

What primarily seems to motivate atheists isn’t rationalism but anger — anger that the world isn’t perfect, that someone forced them to go to church as children, that the Bible contains apparent contradictions, that human beings can be hypocrites and commit crimes in the name of faith. The vitriol is extraordinary. Hitchens thinks that “religion spoils everything.” Dawkins contends that raising one’s offspring in one’s religion constitutes child abuse. Harris argues that it “may be ethical to kill people” on the basis of their beliefs. The perennial atheist litigant Michael Newdow sued (unsuccessfully) to bar President Obama from uttering the words “so help me God” when he took his oath of office.

What atheists don’t seem to realize is that even for believers, faith is never easy in this world of injustice, pain and delusion. Even for believers, God exists just beyond the scrim of the senses. So, atheists, how about losing the tired sarcasm and boring self-pity and engaging believers seriously?

The new Supreme Court nominee

President Obama will nominate U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. She would be the first Hispanic justice.

Christendom and vocation

Thanks for last week’s discussion of “Christendom.” I agree that the church must not get caught up in wielding power. The church is all about the Gospel of Christ. There is another piece of the puzzle, though: Vocation.

“God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.” Those who receive Christ’s forgiveness through the Word and Sacraments are then sent out into the world to love and serve their neighbors. They are called to do so in the family (the vocations of marriage, parenthood, and childhood), the workplace (as master and servant, as a worker using whatever gifts and opportunities God has given), and the state (as ruler and citizen, as member of the particular community, culture, and society).

The different vocations are intrinsically culture-making. Not culture ruling, but culture-making. Historically, Christians have had an impact in their cultures, and not just Western cultures as we are still seeing today in Africa and elsewhere. Christians in their diverse callings always open schools, establish hospitals, reject tribal revenge codes in favor of the rule of law, make contributions in the arts, promote productive economic activity, etc., etc.

So if we could fully recover the doctrine of vocation, keeping the Gospel central, what would that look like today? How could that bear fruit, if not in a new Christendom, in a positive Christian presence in the culture?