CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A Conflict of Visions

Oct 19, 2007

With the Federal election now well underway, it is time to turn the spotlight on some of the competing visions of the two main political parties. This essay will examine some of the philosophical distinctions between the two parties, outlining some of the broad differences found between left/liberal parties and conservative parties.

But first, several disclaimers. What is written here is very much a broad-brush approach, really examining two competing political visions. Not everything discussed here will necessarily fit in every respect with the Labor or Liberal/National parties and their platforms. And given space limitations, what is said here will of necessity be somewhat broad and in outline form.

Also, as in many Western nations, often the two main parties of left and right find themselves looking more and more similar, as they both seek to stake out the middle ground, or develop much more centrist approaches to policy and governance.

Thus this is more of a generic framework with which to think about the two main political options, and how and why the major parties may differ on some key values and beliefs. The greater visions of left and right, in other words, will be explored here, in the hope of shedding some light on why Labor and Liberal believe what they believe, and do what they do.

Two Opposing Visions

There are many ways I might tackle this subject, but I will limit myself to drawing upon the insights and perspectives of one important American writer. The man happens to be a conservative economist and social commentator. Yet before one is tempted to dismiss him out of hand, it might be pointed out that he is also a Black-American. While most American blacks of course tend to side with the left, this man thinks that the right is the best side to be on, all things considered.

I refer to Thomas Sowell, the author of around 40 important books on many topics, such as economics, race, political philosophy, education, and international relations. Of course his perspective is not perfect or unassailable, and there obviously are other ways of viewing these issues. Nor is his position necessarily all that unique. In many respects he simply reflects and reinforces the traditional conservative worldview, and has sought to flesh it out both on the broad scale and in particular details.

I wish to concentrate on only a portion of his output. Indeed, I only own 13 of his books, and I just want to speak to three of them. But these volumes really offer an incisive way to contrast the two main competing political philosophies. The three volumes I address are: A Conflict of Visions (1987); The Vision of the Anointed (1995); and The Quest for Cosmic Justice (1999).

Sowell argues that the left and right operate from fundamentally different premises. These premises really amount to differing worldviews, with differing ways of looking at the world, man, his predicament and possible solutions. Thus the foundation, or vision, on which political ideas are built is hugely important.

The two main visions Sowell discusses are what he calls the constrained and the unconstrained visions. The constrained vision (the conservative worldview) acknowledges that there are limits. There are limits to human nature, limits to what governments can do, limits to what can be achieved in a society.

The unconstrained vision (the radical or leftist worldview) tends to downplay limits. Mankind is seen as more or less perfectible; social and political utopia is to a large extent achievable; and evil is not endemic or inherent in the human condition, and therefore is able to be mostly eliminated.

The conservative vision tends to reflect the Judeo-Christian understanding that mankind is fallen, is limited, is prone to sin and self, and cannot produce heaven on earth, at least without the help of God. The left-liberal vision, by contrast, tends to see the human condition as innocent, malleable and perfectible, and tends to think that utopia on earth is achievable under the right social conditions.

Edmund Burke may best exemplify the former vision, and the American Revolution one of its main fruit. Rousseau may best exemplify the latter vision, with the French Revolution a key expression of it.

Prudence and caution describe the first; radicalism and change the second. But these big picture themes have been discussed by others. What is of help is when Sowell provides specific examples of how these competing visions play themselves out in the social, political and economic arenas.

The American Situation

Consider the issue of poverty. Both sides are concerned about the poor and their plight. But they differ on the causes and the cures. The conservative vision, reflecting the Judeo-Christian worldview, seeks to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor. That is, some are poor due to no fault of their own, but may be victims of exploitation and injustice. But some are poor by choice, that is, they are lazy, irresponsible, refuse to work, and so on. The Old Testament was clear about helping the deserving needy, while it chastised the undeserving poor. And even Jesus offered some realism to the debate when he spoke about the poor as being always with us.

Image of The Quest for Cosmic Justice
The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Array Amazon logo

The leftist vision, by contrast, tends to think that every problem can simply be solved by more government intervention. Instead of seeking to distinguish the various reasons as to why people become impoverished, the general response is to increase government spending, implement more programs, and increase government bureaucracies.

When the US declared war on poverty in the 60s, all these responses took place. Yet over the next several decades, instead of a decrease in poverty, there was in fact an increase. Indeed, not only did the ranks of the poor in fact swell, but so too did the number of people dependent on government largesse. Indeed, the whole problem of welfare dependency and a corresponding unwillingness to work was simply compounded.

Take the related problem of illegitimacy. The conservative vision recognises that government solutions alone are not enough. Cultural, moral and spiritual considerations also must be taken into account. Thus emphasis on things like abstinence and self-control are part of the overall conservative position to reduce such things as teen sexuality and teen pregnancy.

The leftist vision again looks to expanding government programs and increased spending. Lacking a more realistic picture of human behaviour (one that takes seriously human sinfulness and selfishness), it takes a much more optimistic view of things. Simply provide more sex education, more condoms, and a more value-free climate, and things will be just fine.

Unfortunately the latter vision triumphed in political and social circles in the US. Thus there was a huge increase in comprehensive sex education courses throughout America from the 60s onwards, and a huge increase in funding for “family planning” clinics and the like. The belief about sex ed was that the more and the earlier, the better. Thus so-called safe sex education was introduced even in the kindergartens.

And the result? The very opposite of the intended outcomes. Teen sexuality rates soared. Teen pregnancy rates skyrocketed. Abortion rates increased. Sexually transmitted diseases rapidly expanded. And when confronted with such lousy results, the elites simply said that more money, more programs, and more condoms were needed.

An Australian Example

Let me here just quickly provide one Australian example. Consider the way the two main parties approach the issue of illicit drugs. The recent Government report, “The Winnable War on Drugs,” produced by a House of Representatives committee headed up by Bronwyn Bishop (and recently reviewed on this website) offers a good example of some major differences of vision and policy.

The majority report, produced by all the Liberal Party members (and one former Labor MP, now an Independent), argued for a harm prevention strategy. Recognising the shortcomings of human nature, they believe that people should be deterred from getting on to dangerous drugs in the first place, and helped to get off if they are already hooked. In an important issue like this, a strong just-say-no approach is preferred to weaker approaches. And that has been shown to be very effective indeed in nations such as Sweden.

The minority, or dissenting, report, written by all three Labor members on the committee, baulked at this idea, and argued that harm minimisation is the way to go. This approach says that people will always take drugs, there is not much we can do about it, so let’s teach drug users how to more safely use illicit drugs. It is a counsel of despair, and it is an approach that does not take seriously human responsibility or will power. It is a defeatist approach, which reflects a libertarian, amoral approach to such issues.

This one example demonstrates how the competing conservative and leftist visions are played out in specific policy issues. It shows how in many ways the two main parties rest on quite different and competing worldviews and visions.

Conclusion

In summary, let me return to Sowell. He provides numerous other practical examples of how a faulty vision results in faulty programs and faulty consequences. He makes it clear that there really are two quite different worldviews which translate into quite different policy responses to most issues.

Of course neither Sowell nor I claim that only one vision, philosophy or set of policies is perfect, while the others are not. No one political philosophy or platform will be without fault. Yet we can judge the two main visions, and look carefully at the outcomes produced by them.

Ideas do have consequences. And all political parties and policies are based on various sets of core beliefs and values. It is important that those core visions are critically assessed, especially in terms of the fruit they are producing. Sowell argues that on the whole, the conservative vision, being much more closely grounded in reality, will usually produce better outcomes for those intended to benefit by them, than those of the leftist vision. I tend to agree.

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38 Responses to A Conflict of Visions

  • Thanks Bill. With the Australian Federal election coming up in a bit over a month, now more than usual we as Christians need to be thinking about the views of the various parties in considering who to vote for. I found this article quite interesting.
    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Well put, Bill.

    To take up a minor point:
    “This approach [harm minimisation] says that people will always take drugs, there is not much we can do about it, so let’s teach drug users how to more safely use illicit drugs.”

    Isn’t it odd that those who hold to an idea of the perfectability of humanity, also tend to hold the contradictory view that bad things like drug abuse, pornography, crime, prostitution etc are both unavoidable and inerradicable!

    John Angelico

  • Bill, that is a great essay. Not enough people understand these basic, big-picture issues.

    As you say, both the left and the right implement policies according to their vision of how to fix the problem. I think both are well meaning. But both these worldviews can’t be right. And the one that fits reality will work while the one that doesn’t fit, won’t work.

    Interestingly, Noel Pearson said something about thirty years of left wing policies on the Aboriginal problem. He said: Listen to what the left says, and do the opposite.

    Tas Walker

  • Bill, do you know if Sowell is a Christian?
    Andrew Kulikovsky

  • Thanks Andrew
    As far as I know he is not, or at least he makes no claim to being one.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • A Conflict of Visions is my favorite, while Sowell’s own favorite was The Vision of the Anointed. It’s the former which discusses the practical issues you raise, and does so well. Here he contrasts the “anointed” vision with the “tragic” vision, which are about the same as the “unconstrained” v “contrained” visions he talks about in the latter book.

    One can see that the modern global warming alarmism follows just the pattern of the other crusades of the Anointed. This pattern is four stages (although we have yet to work through them all in this case):

    1. Assert that the issue is a Crisis, so the Anointed decreed that Something must be Done. Never mind that the issue complained about was often getting better, not worse. E.g. teenage pregnancy and venereal disease, which were actually on the decrease for more than a decade before sex ed was force-fed into schools. STDs in the 1960s, before sex ed, were actually only half the incidence that it had in1950. [Compare the climate catastrophe doom-mongers]

    2. This Something is a Solution of the Anointed. The Anointed predict an imrovement, while those with the Tragic Vision predict problems. E.g. when you teach kids about sex apart from morality, then they will practice what they learn. (My own observation: especially so when the prevailing educrat ethos is that we are evolved animals who can’t control our urges, so kids learn that they are not expected to practise self-control anyway.) But the Anointed dismiss these criticisms, declaring that the critics don’t care about the people that their policies are ostensibly designed to help. [Compare the vilification of critics of global warm-mongering]

    3. The results come in. After sex ed was introduced, venereal disease and teenage pregnancy skyrocket, and remember they were on the decrease before sex ed was introduced. I.e. contrary to the lofty goals of the Anointed and just what those with the Tragic Vision predicted. [Compare how population doom-monger Paul R. Ehrlich is still revered by the Greenies despite his repeated failed predictions]

    4. The Anointed explain away the results. Sometimes there is revisionist history on what their goals were. Other times the very failure is used as proof that things would have even been worse without their “solution”. And they have the chutzpah to demand even more money for more of the same! Then we hear “correlation is not causation”, which is right as far as it goes, but the Anointed apply this only when their “soluion” fails in just the way that those of the Tragic Vision said it would.

    See some good quotes from The Vision Of The Anointed.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • A courageous step in raising this and calling a spade a spade, Bill. It is essential for us to realise that we must know and understand the philosophy behind, and the foundations of, a movement before ‘buying into’ the structure or programs.

    At times I have been asked if I would like to support Greenpeace, or the crusade against global warming. When I decline I am questioned as to why I do not want to care for the environment or safeguard the future of our children.

    I feel that leftists often feel that their approach is the only approach and to disagree is to be against the fixing of things generally all of us agree need to change. However, it is purely because I disagree with the philosophy for which they stand, and from those philosophies come false principles and misguided actions, however much the end purpose may be the same. That is why the end does not justify the means. The means must come from a sound knowledge of truth.

    Garth Penglase

    The bible tells us how we are to live our lives in harmony with nature, and how we are to prioritise our activities upon this earth. When we get our priorities out of sync then it leads to chaos.

  • Bill, the dilemma for me as a voter is that neither of the two major parties have a complete package that I can support. Both parties have some policies that I agree with but other policies that appear to be devoid of any values or are blatantly anti family. My greatest disappointment however is that both parties seem to be too greatly influenced by secular thinking and the vocal minorities.
    I agree with you that there are some underlying philosophical distinctions between them, but as that distinction becomes more blurred as they fight over the middle ground, I find myself losing interest in the whole political process. I have no doubt that many others feel the same.
    Frank Norros

  • Thanks Frank
    Yes very good point. It is a dilemma for many. Of course there are still the options of the smaller parties (including those that would largely be on side here, such as the CDP, Family First, and the DLP), and Independents as well. But yes, in a fallen world, no major party will be prefect, and often it may be a case of choosing the lesser of two evils.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Much of what is put forward by the major political parties is purely appealing to our wallets, nor does it prioritise the resolution of social ills such as the big issues of depression, a generation of fatherless children, mental and physical health, the philiosophy behind the education system and the better education of our children etc. We should be focusing on bringing Christian morality to bear in these important issues moreso than whether we receive $150 in tax cuts, and better roads.

    I feel that as Christians it is our responsibility to vote people into positions of influence who stands for Christian values and trust them in the way they organise their preferences so that our vote counts for Christ. And I think it is important to remember that God places all authority so we get the ruler that we deserve in many respects. If we as the body of Christ were to rise up as one and vote for Christian men and women in parliament and trust them to bring godly counsel to bear then I believe that our nation would prosper greatly.

    Garth Penglase

  • Frank, if you are frustrated that both major parties are lacking then why not join one and attempt to reform it from the inside. Get some friends to join as well. This is my (and my friends) strategy.

    Consider this: if we don’t join in and participate, others who do not share our Christian vision will, and they will reform things in the very opposite direction to the way we want. Recall that Julia Gillard and others from radical socialist organisations have joined the ALP and will (if they get into government) bring in socialist ideas and policies.

    Andrew Kulikovsky

  • Right wing politicians may propose human prevention strategies in dealing with issues such as drugs but christian church denominations have declared that it is acceptable for their pastors, leaders and role models to drink alcohol openly. They decree that it is acceptable to divorce for reasons other than the biblical one of adultery. Church leaders pontificate on issues of importance without reference to the bible for any form of accountability. They (mis)use their positions of authority as the sole basis for their unscriptural decisions. Immoral church leaders are honoured by church leaders daring to call on politicians to have high moral standards. The reality of Australian politics is not clear cut but a “carnal” game designed to give social and economic privilege, advantage and power to those considered to belong to the ruling elite. Political pragmatism, pandering to vested interests for personal advantage, is the real philosophy underlying decision making. It is absurd to assume that authentic biblical christian values significantly impact worldly pursuits of political power. Christians cannot legislate righteousness. Genuine Born Again Christians should preach the Word of God fearlessly and pray for God to have His way on earth. People should seek the Lord about how their vote will best serve their own individual interests and vote accordingly. That is the way politics and economics will be best served.
    Wayne Capell

  • “And I think it is important to remember that God places all authority so we get the ruler that we deserve in many respects.”

    Garth, I think you may be conflating two things which need to be seen separately here.

    1) God is sovereign and His will is not thwarted so, yes, all authority comes from Him
    2) God has given us enough rope to almost hang ourselves with ie. He holds us accountable for our actions as individuals and societies, and we reap what we sow.

    There is a distinction between power (especially as wielded in governments) and authority. There are many governments which do not reflect the authority of God in m/any of their actions and decisions, but they nevertheless make decisions, spend money etc.

    Particularly, many government systems and government office-holders attempt to usurp God and/or to grossly exceed the boundaries of His delegated authority. For example, governments do not have a mandate from God to be involved in Health, Education or Welfare but these areas represent over 40% I think of government budgets.

    Whilst we are not privy to His complete will, we recognise that God has permitted us to reap what we sow in this area, despite the obvious excesses and abuses.

    John Angelico

  • Of course, no party will be perfect. But Australians are obliged to vote, since Christians must obey the law of the land (Rom. 13) except where it contradicts God’s law (Acts 5:29). And our votes are between the available alternatives, not between them and a non-existent ideal.

    It is also crass to vote against one party because you disagree with 30% of its actions, when this will result in the election of a party where you disagree with 70%. This is the sort of self-indulgent nonsense many American conservatives indulged in during the 2006 election. So the Republicans betrayed their base by their over-spending. Is this any reason to vote for the chronically overspending as well as unborn-baby-hating Democrats, or to waste your vote on the Constitution Party (NB, the Americans still have the backward ‘first past the post’ system instead of our superior preferential voting). It might make you feel good that you have voted in a ‘principled’ way, but you’ll end up with a government even further away from you in policy.

    It is also moronic for conservative supporters to vote against the more conservative party to “teach them a lesson”, “send them a message” or other nonsense. The “lesson” or “message” is highly ambiguous. Maybe the message they learn is to be more like the winners in their policies, so the conservative party drifts further left.

    The best place to reform the conservative parties is in the selections process for the seats.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Thanks Wayne

    You raise a number of issues here. Let me speak to a few. You might be a bit too cynical about the political process. Yes it is corrupt and fallen, just like everything else in this world, but it is also something that we are called to be salt and light in. It is our biblical responsibility as believers to extend the Lordship of Christ into every area of life.

    And it depends on what you mean by “Christians cannot legislate righteousness”. The righteousness that makes us right with God of course comes only by faith in Christ. But we are called to promote social and political righteousness and goodness in this world as part of our calling to be salt and light.

    Thus if one argues against abortion rights in the political arena, or seeks to influence politicians to do the right thing on marriage, then we are in fact seeking to see Godly legislation and righteousness brought about. It cannot be coerced of course. We simply seek to bear godly influence and offer a biblical voice, as every other group is seeking to do.

    As to whether biblical values can influence the political arena, I would suggest that in a very real sense that is exactly what happened when Wilberforce took his Christian convictions seriously, and used political means to end the slave trade. The whole Parliament did not become Christian, but biblical values were implemented in the public and political arenas. Many other examples can be cited.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I concur heartily on the limitations to governmental authority, that always seem to be ignored and violated during spending spree election campaigns.

    Is it even reasonable to expect a candidate or party to be elected on the basis of doing less, but leaving the voters to do more with more of their own money from lower tax?

    It appears to me that the economy and culture would have to crash before government is limited and reduced in any way.

    Perhaps there are examples in history where governmental roles reduced without such a crash?

    Jeremy Peet

  • Thanks John Angelico for your comments…

    Maybe you are correct that the statement was two issues in one, but I do see that there is a direct relationship between the scripture that says that if we (God’s people) will humble ourselves and turn to him then our land will be healed and all forms of authority that are placed over us.

    I cannot agree with your statement…
    “There are many governments which do not reflect the authority of God in many of their actions and decisions, …”
    Either God places men, good and bad in positions of authority over us or he doesn’t and as such Christians must obey the law of the land (Rom. 13) except where it contradicts God’s law (Acts 5:29). John Sarfati beat me to the punch on that one 🙂

    Keep in mind that when this statement was made when King Herod Agrippa III was ruler and he was killing Christians. The apostle Paul pointedly showed that we must be submitted to those in authority over us regardless of whether they should know better or whether they are doing God’s will or whether they are abusing their power – it doesn’t mean that we have to agree but it does mean that we are to respect and honour their position, and obey where it doesn’t bring us into sin.

    In democratic nations we have developed the mindset that we will obey if we think it is correct, that those in authority have to earn our respect before we give them due honour. This is not scriptural. We have the democratic political processes available to us to get involved and attempt to change things we do not agree with, and use our vote to bring Christian influence to bear.

    In regards to your statement
    “For example, governments do not have a mandate from God to be involved in Health, Education or Welfare but these areas represent over 40% I think of government budgets.”
    I am confused as to where the bible clearly states this. I know it is generally regarded that the church should be the primary source of welfare to the people but let me say that modern Christian churches seem more interested in their latest CD, building programme or ‘inspirational & motivational’ conference than in feeding the hungry, attending to the orphans & widows, destitute and homeless, and visiting the prisoners. To say that the government shouldn’t pick up the slack where the body of Christ has failed is to question God’s sovereignty once again.

    So, once again I do believe that we have the government we deserve. And my reference to “The apostle Paul pointedly showed that we must be submitted to those in authority over us..” was from Acts 23:3 where he asked for forgiveness for talking against the high priest when he struck Paul. On the other side of th coin, an example of how Paul understood authority was in his submission to the Sanhedrin but he still continued to preach to the gentiles because he knew not to sin against God.

    Garth Penglase

  • Wayne, I have to agree with much of what you say – I have been wrestling with the fallout from teaching and moral stances from the pulpit that has personally caused much grief. However, even if the pastors and the governmental authorities are openly and plainly incorrect and even corrupt we must leave that between them and God and avoid rebelling against their authority for in doing so we are rebelling against God’s authority – we are saying that God’s not in control and that he is too slow in removing them from their positions. This is dangerous mindset to embrace and bring destruction upon us.

    However Wayne while I strongly agree that Christians should preach the Gospel fearlessly and be praying for God’s will constantly, I strongly disagree that Christians cannot legislate righteouseness. We are to be the salt and the light, and to act (and vote) according to our Christian morals and conscience.

    Garth Penglase

  • Garth Penglase:

    To say that the government shouldn’t pick up the slack where the body of Christ has failed is to question God’s sovereignty once again.

    This is precisely backwards. It was the massive growth of government welfare bureaucracies that crowded out private charities. E.g. before that charlatan FDR implemented the New Deal, one in three men in the USA belonged to mutual aid societies. The conservative Orhodox jewish commentator Michael Medved wrote just today in How government expansion worsens hard times:

    6. GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS CROWD OUT THE MORE EFFECTIVE WORK OF PRIVATE CHARITY

    A paper by Daniel Hungerman of the National Bureau of Economic Research demonstrates the precipitous decline in church-based private charity to benefit the needy as government aid expenditures increased more than six-fold from 1933 to 1939. In Faith-Based Charity and Crowd Out During the Great Depression he shows that in 1926, congregations invested vastly more ($150 million) on these charities than federal, state and local agencies combined ($60 million at most). With the rise in New Deal expenditures, each dollar of government-relief spending in a state led to between three-and-seven cents less church spending. Since overall federal investment dwarfed the charitable investment (by a ratio of more than 10 to 1) this meant a significant reduction – an estimated 30% — in the amount devoted by churches to helping the poor.

    In The Tragedy of American Compassion (1992), Marvin Olasky of the University of Texas explores numerous reasons that private charities function more effectively to uplift the poor. For instance, “A century ago, when individuals applied for material assistance, charity volunteers tried first to ‘restore family ties that have been sundered’ and ‘reabsorb in social life those who for some reason have snapped the threads that bound them to other members of the community.’ Instead of immediately offering help, charities asked, ‘Who is bound to help in this case?” This approach of course discouraged the extension of poverty as a semi-permanent status passed on from one generation to another. As Olasky maintains, faith-based and private aid organizations also maintained the crucial ability to make distinctions between “deserving” and “self-destructive” poor. “Charities a century ago realized that two persons in exactly the same material circumstances, but with different values, need different treatment. One might benefit most from some material help and a pat on the back, the other might need spiritual challenge and a push.”

    One of the great difficulties of all bureaucratized and governmental interventions, no matter how well intentioned, is the official difficulty in making such distinctions, or helping to repair or encourage the family relationships so essential to escape from poverty and dysfunction.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • John Angelico and Jonathan Sarfati are right to point out that many governments (especially in the West) exceed their God given mandate especially in the area of State welfare. Garth Penglase asks where in the Bible this is stated. I ask him where in the Bible is the State ever instructed to take money from its citizens by compulsory acquisition to then redistribute it by inefficient means to those who in many cases don’t need it anyway? It is socialism and a classic case of the State usurping the responsibility that God requires of the individual to help those in genuine need. It is a kind of State enforced compulsory ‘charity’, and yet the Secular Left have the audacity to accuse the Religious Right of wanting to legislate morality!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Hi there, Garth.

    In reply to your post of 24.10.07 / 1pm.

    It would take a complete article by Bill to deal with the issue of limited government, but let me try some short points:
    a) Rom 13 and 1 Peter give civil government a mandate to preserve law and order, protect the citizens, uphold the right (was the motto of Victoria Police “tenez le droit”, not sure now), and punish evil. AND NO MORE.
    b) family is primarily responsible for education (Deut 6:1-6, Num 11 and various places in Proverbs, Eph 6:1), along with some health, all economics and business
    c) the church is responsible for teaching and preaching the full gospel from the full scriptures, plus health and welfare
    d) both civil government and church are limited in scope of authority but family although the smallest individual unit has the widest scope
    e) these three authorities are the only ones with the delegated authority of God to discipline (family: the rod of Proverbs; church: the power of the keys – excommunication and church discipline; civil government: the power of the sword)

    2 Chron 7:13-14 deals with the spiritual realities behind physical phenomena eg. the drought, but I don’t see where that requires civil government involvement other than calling the nation to prayer. Sorry but I don’t see where you explained the connection you were trying to show.

    You stated:
    “Either God places men, good and bad in positions of authority over us or he doesn’t and as such Christians must obey the law of the land (Rom. 13) except where it contradicts God’s law (Acts 5:29)”

    Jonathan would agree with me I think that his statement doesn’t exclude civil disobedience, but you appear to have embraced too much in the “law of the land”. As I said Rom 13 offers a limited scope, a constrained mandate to civil government. It is a favourite passage of non-Christians and carnal Christians in public office to attack Christians, and force them away from the public forum. It usually degenerates into “you can’t legislate morality” statements.

    Taking up your next par without quoting, yes, we obey when it doesn’t bring us into sin, but how far can we go in permitting sinful government actions before it becomes a problem of condoning structural sin? When do we fail as watchmen to the nation (Ezekiel and Jeremiah)?

    Your next par: “In democratic nations we have developed the mindset that we will obey if we think it is correct, that those in authority have to earn our respect before we give them due honour” shows two separate aspects of disobedience.
    1) the first part is scriptural (Samuel charged both the people and the new king Saul to obey God’s Word: 1 Sam 10, BUT did not require the people to obey the king “just because he’s the king”). HOWEVER we have to declare that our standard of what is “correct” is the Truth of God’s Word and not mere man-made rules or empty philosophies
    2) the second part is contrary to scripture as you say, and we should have more respect for public offices.

    Others have responded to your point about governments displacing the church in welfare, so I will only add that
    a) in some cases, parts of the church (sadly including the famous Salvation Army) have yielded to government money, or to internal theologies of defeat, and allowed the government into areas where it should not be
    and
    b) government money and bureaucracy has never solved a welfare problem (see George Grant “Bringing In the Sheaves”).

    “So, once again I do believe that we have the government we deserve.”

    If that were truly so, we’d be dead because that is what we deserve. By the mercy of God we get something better than that – the opportunity to influence the government for good, and to hold it accountable for the discharge of its God-given mandate.

    Sorry to make such a lengthy rebuttal, but it’s a good discussion! 🙂

    John Angelico

  • I also don’t know whether Sowell is a Christian. But certainly his “tragic” or “constrained” view is consistent with the Fall. Sowell has also said that the Garden of Eden would not count as an economy, because there would have been no scarcity of resources before the Curse. He defines economics as the study of the most efficient use of scarce resources which have alternative uses. But then he has also compared Adam Smith to Darwin, ostensibly showing that a lack of central planning can still generate order, although the likes of Hayek make it clear that the free market, with a lack of central planning, is NOT Darwinian. But overall, many of his points in economics, race and visions are consistent with a Christian worldview.

    In this he is somewhat similar to Dr Anthony Daniels aka Theodore Dalrymple, a social commentator . Dalrymple likewise blames a lot of the plight of the “underclass” with the worldview of the Leftintelligentsia that denies personal responsibility, and wittily shows the fallacies, e.g.:

    Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small.

    The intellectual’s struggle to deny the obvious is never more desperate than when reality is unpleasant and at variance with his preconceptions and when full acknowledgement of it would undermine the foundations of his intellectual worldview.

    There is nothing an addict likes more, or that serves as better pretext for continuing his present way of life, than to place the weight of responsibility for his situation somewhere other than on his own decisions.

    If a lack of money had prevented people from improving their lot, then mankind would still be living in the caves: unless you believe that investment capital first arrived from outer space.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Dear Bill and others,

    A good friend once said: GOOD MORALS = GOOD ECONOMICS!

    That works in a person’s life, the family, the community, in a town, in a city, state and county, and the world. Find a party that promotes that, and vote for them.

    Jim Lyons

  • The two antithetical paradigms commence with a conception of the cosmos. If the cosmos is closed to outside influence/constraint (Creator, absolutes, ideas, forms) it is ultimately an undifferentiated monistic whole. So conceived, history is an epic process/struggle of emergence: matter under complexification, impinging upon itself: atoms getting themselves into different configurations, certainly, but reducible nonetheless, to atoms. Ideologies as seemingly unrelated as pantheism and materialism are equivalent under monism, for where nature itself is completely malleable, our concepts about it are a matter of arbitrary perspective. If deity is not utterly distinct from the cosmos, neither can anything within the cosmos be truly distinct. No individuation (and hence no individual responsibility!), no male/female complementarity (which is why to deny the Creator-creature distinction is to be given over to same-sex depravity, as per Romans 1). No love, no altruism. All is maya. All is matter-energy. Within this morally indifferent cosmos, the “individual” is free to be autonomous: to Epicurus “undisturbed”; to Rousseau, without “chains.”

    The monistic struggle to emerge entails self-organisation, self-interest (‘selfish gene,’ survival fitness), antagonism between species (Darwin), class (dialectical materialism) and race (national socialism) struggles, and so on.

    The so-called “Enlightenment” was really about enlightened self-interest: seeing the barriers and clashes between autonomy-seeking individuals (antithetical interests) and seeking their resolution (synthesis) through a utilitarian compact. For the first time in the monistic drama, enlightened human beings are uniquely able to direct their own evolution, from past emergence to future convergence upon the common goal, Utopia/Babel.

    Ideologically, even though a person may never expect to experience this Utopia, it represents an anti-type of the New Jerusalem, insofar as its citizens need not be “righteous.” The age-old delusion: no consequences. Any truly committed utopian will seek to expunge any perceived obstacles to this future

    autonomous/hedonistic society. When you think about it, the need of the working class to strive for survival is quite a constraint on their unfettered hedonism (not to mention their cashflow problem). Also in this context it’s easy to see how notions of climate change could breed paranoia by threatening to thwart such a focused goal. Conversely, autonomists will strive to reinforce whatever preserves the utopian goal, such as notions of this-worldly justice (while not in itself a wrong goal), personal legacies, medical and technological advance, etc.

    It bears repeating: liberation for the oppressed is a worthy goal, it’s just that there is an even greater context for life and justice. This greater liberation involves a denial of autonomy, and a submission to the King of Kings, whose city is not merely a monistic construct – not merely the best we can achieve on our own, but is genuinely transcendent and ideal.

    Peter Grice

  • I am very concerned about the emphasis on social welfare programs creeping into the church. World history shows christians of the calibre of William Wilberforce initiated state run social welfare programs as a realistic way to address social justice issues within secular society. History shows Alfred Deakin, reportedly a christian, introduced social welfare in the form of old age pensions and rudimentary social welfare to the Australian public when Prime Minister of Australia in the very early 20th Century. Charles Dickens, the novelist, emphatically highlights the need for secular Governments to have a heart of compassion towards their citizens by pointing to the extreme social conditions of the day. Governments opted out of social welfare responsibilities and austere church run programs ultimately led to a range of abuses against the target populations. It is very reasonable to expect the general population to contribute to compassionate social objectives through taxation.
    Please let the government of the people do their job for ALL the citizens of the country and the Church of Christ do the job appointed to it by God without being sidetracked by false emphases on social welfare.
    It is ludicrous to suggest the church should direct resources away from spreading the Gospel of Salvation through faith in the Biblical Jesus alone and the teaching of biblical principles for living a life pleasing to the God of the Bible to the provision of social welfare programs.
    This false emphasis is a works based false gospel taking the focus away from the biblical injunction for the Church to Preach the Word of God faithfully and fearlessly demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit for righteous living NOT smoke and mirrors “magic shows”. Biblical calls for social welfare need to be placed within the social context from which they emanated not distorted to provide a sense of self-righteousness to people who feel the need for good works to justify their salvation or to provide a false basis for it.
    All of society has an equal responsibility to provide a MINIMUM standard for ALL citizens. Church resources are exclusively for the Preaching and Teaching of the Word of God. Much of the “christian” church has already lost its scriptural focus and God given reason for existing. The Bible refers to the great end time delusion when people shall turn away from sound teaching and seek after false teachers with strange teachings.
    Please let those of us who choose to remain faithful to the Word of God maintain the focus of our very purpose for existing, the Preaching and Teaching of the Word of God and the demonstraion of the Power of The Holy Spirit for living a life pleasing to the God of the Bible.

    Wayne Capell

  • Thanks Wayne
    You raise some points here that are worth responding to, but perhaps a full length article might be a better place to do it, so stay tuned.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Wayne, can you show me where in the Bible it is the job of governments to provide social welfare?

    Contrary to your claims, Christians are told to look after the poor and powerless, not governments. Indeed, it is one of the true marks of Christianity. See Matt 25:34-40:
    “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

    Andrew Kulikovsky

  • Wayne Capell, AK has a fair question about the lack of biblical support for giant state welfare bureaucracies. Please also check out the Medved article I cited above, showing how the growth of government welfare has killed the far more effective private charities, and why.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Andrew, the passages you refer to are clearly directed at individuals NOT the corporate body of Christ.

    You may personally feed, clothe and visit any one you wish but do not attempt to impose your particular calling on any one else within the Body of Christ and certainly NOT the Corporate Body. You may apply any and ALL of those passages to yourself as you see fit.

    Institutionalised social welfare is NOT consistent with the scripturally constituted local fellowship of believers and should be avoided at ALL costs by those responsible for the local church body seeking to remain faithfull to the HIGH calling of sharing the BIBLICAL Gospel of Christ.

    Individual Christians MUST refuse emphatically to accept the bondage of good works that you seem to be trying to impose. The Bible directs the corporate body to accept responsibility for Preaching and Teaching the Gospel of Salvation. It never directs it to engage in corporate acts of social welfare. To do so is to accept a diversion from this high calling and therefore a spiritual delusion.

    Biblical Christianity is always about the unmerited grace of God to those who believe and repent of their sins. The Good Works referred to in James are about Righteous Living certainly NOT about accepting a bondage to good works as the false cults teach.

    References to helping members of the local church body who may find themselves in temporary trouble due to circumstances beyond their control must also be seen within their cultural context. This cultural context is something we as christians should always try to avoid.

    The Bible is NOT directed at secular Governments it is written to instruct believers in how to live and to provide guidance for corporate worship. Cultural context and relevance should be primary to our considerations of what it directs us to do. The Bible is NEVER to be used to ensnare believers into the bondage of good works. That will always remain the domain of false religion.

    Wayne Capell

  • Wayne Capell, I doubt that anyone is trying to replace the true gospel with the social(ist) “gospel”. Rather, the point is that the church has historically been at the forefront of charitable organizations, and did a far better job than the secular government. And historically, they did not perform charitable works for salvation, but because they were saved (e.g. Eph. 2:8–10).
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • “the passages you refer to are clearly directed at individuals NOT the corporate body of Christ.”

    Those individuals make up the body of Christ. Your distinction is not only false, it is disingenuous.

    “You may personally feed, clothe and visit any one you wish but do not attempt to impose your particular calling on any one else within the Body of Christ and certainly NOT the Corporate Body. You may apply any and ALL of those passages to yourself as you see fit.”

    Where in my post did I say that these directives should be imposed? They are implied commands which we as Christians who make up the body of Christ, can either obey or disobey. If you feel that these directives don’t apply to you, then fine. But you WILL have to give an account to God.

    “Institutionalised social welfare is NOT consistent with the scripturally constituted local fellowship of believers and should be avoided at ALL costs by those responsible for the local church body seeking to remain faithfull to the HIGH calling of sharing the BIBLICAL Gospel of Christ.”

    So great Christian activists such as George Muller of Bristol who started orphanages, and William Booth, founder of the salvos were really actiing unbiblically? You make frequent reference to things BIBLICAL, yet don’t offer any biblical support for your ideas…Come on, Wayne, cite some Scriptural support. If you don’t/can’t then we cannot take you seriously.

    “Biblical Christianity is always about the unmerited grace of God to those who believe and repent of their sins. The Good Works referred to in James are about Righteous Living certainly NOT about accepting a bondage to good works as the false cults teach.”

    Agreed. Where in my post did I suggest that good works were anything different? In fact, I said that such works were the mark of a true Christian–”righteous living” as you put it.

    “The Bible is NOT directed at secular Governments it is written to instruct believers in how to live and to provide guidance for corporate worship.”

    The Bible is directed to ALL humanity, no matter what place they occupy in society.

    “The Bible is NEVER to be used to ensnare believers into the bondage of good works. That will always remain the domain of false religion.”

    Who said it was? Not I.
    Not sure what you are going on about Wayne. You have not responded to anything I or Jonathan Sarfati have said. You either have a reading comprehension problem or you are being disingenuous.
    Andrew Kulikovsky

  • Jonathan, it has been my observation that every church organisation that has been “lured” into institutionalized social welfare programs has either been NOT scripturally based to begin with or has gone on to dilute their presentation of the Word of God itself.
    They are compromising their scriptural purpose in favour of worldly popularity.
    This has ultimately led to doctrinal and spiritual bankruptcy.
    Much of the “christian church” has accepted doctrinal bankruptcy in an attempt to be “relevant” and/or “popular” with society.
    Departing from the Word of God to introduce “schemes” and “programs” is the DEATH KNELL for spiritual vitality.
    I am sure you are aware that there are numerous examples of this.The true church has a specific purpose and institutionalized social welfare is definitely NOT it.
    Wayne Capell

  • Andrew.

    I repeat, you are welcome to feed, clothe and visit whoever you wish but leave the church and the Government out of your schemes.

    Institutionalised Social Welfare is part of the great end time apostasy ravaging the church. I will have NO part of any organisation prepared to engage in such divisive and diversionary nonsense at the expense of the REAL gospel of Salvation by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ.

    Wayne Capell

  • Hi John & John, while I could in turn rebutt much of what you are saying, you’ve both sort of missed the point I was making. I would be the first to agree that governments and kings overstep their marks significantly – indeed government today has become a behemoth and incredibly intrusive, but we could argue ’til the cows come home on exactly where that begins and ends.

    Also I strongly believe in Christians ‘legislating’ morality, and I couldn’t agree more that Gov’t welfare often does not solve problems and creates as many or more. I, too, have seen enough of the inequities created by the D.O.C.S.

    Whether we are pushed out (you admitted that we often yield) or allowed others to step into the vacuum Christians have a job and that is to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and stand up for what’s right. How we do that is for each person to decide in their own heart, not for me to say, but sitting around criticising or complaining achieves little, for in this case, actions do indeed speak louder than words.

    I guess if we did make a real and significant stand then we run the risk of being persecuted for our beliefs, but *that* is what we are to do.

    Since we deserve death due to our personal sin against God, it’s a bit erroneous to compare that with what we deserve as Christian citizens in relation to a government. So I do believe that we have the government we deserve. Maybe not us personally or even generationally but as Christians we allow and even hasten these things to come upon us when we do not stand up for what is is right early in the piece. Erosion of morals is a drop by drop affair, and Christians have to realise that.

    So what government do we want our children to have, what culture do we want our children to live in, and what are we going to do to secure it?

    Garth Penglase

  • Wayne, I don’t think any of us contributing to this discussion misunderstand that we are purely saved by grace, but I ask have you forgotten that faith without works is dead? Andrew’s already mentioned Matt 25:34-40 – this was a defining teaching from Jesus before he gave himself up. We are to be recognised as Christ followers by our love for one another – truly how else but through physical demonstration of that love in word, gesture and in deeds?

    I guess where I do tend to agree with you is that this call to displays of love to our fellow man is to be built on relationship, just as all of our Christian experience, and not through the corporatising of this welfare. The extreme example of this is DOCS which has a policy-driven approach to welfare which often fails simply because each situation should be taken on a case by case basis with a personal application of God’s love for those in need and an eye to God’s adequate and ever available provision, not on the basis of upholding ‘rights’. God’s preferred order in this is for those with a heart to serve to take upon themselves the burden of others in need in loving self-sacrifice and servanthood. Where programs come to replace the requirement of personal faith and dependence upon God then we know that we have missed it for we cannot please God without it.

    Garth Penglase

  • Andrew Kulikovsky
    23.10.07 / 8pm Frank, if you are frustrated that both major parties are lacking then why not join one and attempt to reform it from the inside. Get some friends to join as well. This is my (and my friends) strategy.

    Today’s article by Michael Medved (The third party temptation discredits its candidates (and their ideas)) supports this, pointing out the lamentable failure of third parties in American. After all, if you can’t win over the relatively small numbers in the local branch of the party, how will you be able to win over the electorate as a whole? And he notes that some of the ideas of the tiny parties became much better known when the candidate joined a major party:

    Among the faceless cavalcade of Libertarian losers, one of their Presidential candidates manages to stand out – not because of his strong showing (he drew only 0.47% of the vote) but because he drew the right message from his embarrassing experience. Texas obstetrician Ron Paul carried the fringe-party’s banner in 1988 but soon thereafter returned to the Republican Party, won election to Congress, and conducted a dynamic and much publicized campaign for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2008. Dr. Paul garnered vastly more attention for his ideals and proposals as a contender for the Republican nomination than he ever did as the Libertarian nominee—a living demonstration of the ill-considered idiocy of fringe party campaigns.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Maybe Jonathan, but as you’ve said elsewhere, in the USA they have first-past-the-post so it is a great disadvantage to have third parties. Our preferential system can accomodate third parties without undermining support for our preferred major party.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • John Hawkins, Keep Religion In, Not Out Of, Politics:

    Put another way, Christians may want to stay out of politics, but politics isn’t going to stay out of the domain of the church. Since that’s the case, we need more Christians involved in politics, not less.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

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