Common Grace, 3.25

Common Grace, 3.25 January 3, 2023

This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace

There are three areas in which government must know God’s will:

  1. The role of government itself;
  2. The relationships in society;
  3. “the basic distinction between good and evil.” (203)

This tells us that there is no “neutral state” possible. More specifically on this topic later, but generally this matters because Kuyper himself has been called the standard bearer of the neutral state.

That’s not to say there is no neutrality anywhere in the state:

“neutrality has to do with the diversity of churches and various forms of worship, it has to do with religious belief, and it has to do with matters of morality, justice, and decency.” (204)

Even questions like whether government should exempt conscientious objectors from the draft or whether it should punish attempted suicides both have to do with neutrality. This question has gotten more difficult given our fractured state. Once we were united religiously, and when that ceased at least we were still united morally. We thought that the moral unity would be good enough, but now we have lost even that. All this shows us that there’s really no such thing as ‘neutrality’ in a state. Even if a state supports no specific church, it still must take a moral position on specific issues. Having justice requires a penal code, which in turn requires a sense of good and evil. Even the murderer: does he deserve punishment as a villain? Or is he sick in need of a cure? This is a moral question–we can’t even outsource this to doctors, since they’re not the government.

What about freedom? Should it be “military”? As in, a compulsion used to shape a uniform society? Or should it be “domestic”? As in, raising a properly-shaped generation? We don’t want to go too far either way here, and need to account for the people’s character. But the approach we use and the way we balance these questions affects legislation.

This same contrast between “accountability and freedom” applies when we get more specific, say, with marriage. Are men and women fundamentally without distinction? If so, marriage collapses and the state must raise children. If not, marriage is upheld and parents must raise children. State “neutrality” defaults to the former, neopagan, view. In this case “free love” wins and marriage becomes a mere “private pastime.” (207) A “choice must be made and is always made,” and government should make it with open eyes. (207-208)

The same applies to property. Historically it has belonged to the individual. Today, people have begun to claim that property belongs to all humanity. Government must take a side, or else it’s aiding and abetting theft (whichever side is the accurate side). What’s more, the government must be clear about the consequences of its policy. Private property tends to disproportionately collect with the few, and government should ameliorate the consequences of that.

The same applies with regard to “public decency.” “Order and safety are not enough.” (209) Honor should govern, but this means having a conception of honor and decency. Neutrality “would be nothing but surrendering all decency” and the most degenerate would rule. Where boundaries exist, they must be considered by the government–this is a moral question.

All laws are moral, though this can be hard to see at times. We could see that when there was cultural cohesion in morality, but now we cannot. This is not  to say that the government should engage in “moral formation”–that always ends poorly. The government has enough trouble self-limitation to throw that in as well.

More on this next time.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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