Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Religion, Faith and Politics

I said at the end of "Establishment and Free Exercise":

when Rick Moran started to talk about relgion and natural law in the last part of his piece - he gave me some things to want to look at a bit closer. However, that is another diary.
This one in fact.

What Rick said in "Drunk with Religiosity" was:
I realize I’m treading on dangerous ground since most “natural rights” adherents believe that freedom is God’s gift to humans at birth. As an atheist, I reject that notion based simply on the fact that God is not necessary in this equation. Being born free is our patrimony as human beings and does not require any kind of Supreme Being to validate it.

Just as government is designed by man to regulate the affairs of citizens – who in an ideal situation grant the government the powers necessary to do so – religion is designed by man to regulate behavior. While some recent research shows that we have genes that give us a conscience and perhaps even a gene that grants us a propensity to believe in a higher power, the fact is cultural and moral strictures must be taught and are therefore excluded in any debate over the necessity for faith and freedom to co-exist in a democracy.
Leaving his butchery of the theory of natural moral law aside, I do not have much of a problem when people talk about religion as a human institution with all the problems that entails - it is and it has them. All of the religions have all of the problems - Christianity included.

I do not think that it is so easy to say, as Rick does, that government regulates affairs and religion behavior - because both seek to regulate both to a large degree. However, I think religions are primarily communities for allowing their members to share common worship or other activity in regards to a shared object to faith. By extension, they are communities where we know, by profession, what that common object of faith is. Religion is not faith; however, it is the human institutional expression of the shared faith of its members as they relate to their common object of that faith.

Which brings us to the important thing here: faith.
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see [NET Bible]
All human beings who are not suicidal or otherwise terminally pessimistic share that – but faith has an object. Before that though, let us make sure we understand the word "hope". This is not "I hope I get a pony for Christmas" - this is elpiß : "joyful and confident expectation [of eternal salvation"]. As Peter said about hope:
1 Peter 3:15 . . . always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.
Stepping aside from my personal object of faith and where my hope lies - Christ Risen - there is a political lesson here.

My pastor defines his principle role as casting a vision for our church: defining a path and a future based on our hope. This is what the country wants, and needs, from its political leadership:
someone with a confident expectation of the future based on what they cannot see (the outcome) while being able to give an answer to anyone about what that hope is based on (the object of their faith).
That has nothing to do with God. This is why Reagan, and Carter, and Obama, and Huckabee are successful: by casting their visions in religious (or nearly religious) language they offer a hope in the unseen future of the country based on an object of hope that resonates with Americans. That is why folks like Dean, Clinton, and Thompson struggle to connect - people just do not grasp their vision, their hope, or the object of their faith. It is not their political policies that folks do not attach to - it is their heart and their hope they do not find attractive, or find at all.

This is not necessarily (actually not usually) a religion with God as its object. J. Budziszewski on civil religionism:
The third stage was in the early and middle republic. God was still understood as the underwriter of American aspirations, but as the content of these aspirations became more and more nationalistic it also became less and less Christian. It appeared that God cared at least as much about putting down the South and taking over the West as He did about making His people holy; patriotic songwriters like Samuel Francis Smith used expressions like “freedom’s holy light,” but they meant democracy, not freedom from sin.

The fourth stage was the late republic. By this time American culture had become not just indifferent to Christianity, but hostile to it. Conservatives still wanted to believe that the nation was specially favored by God, but the idea of seeking His will and suffering His chastening had been completely lost. President Eisenhower remarked that what the country needed was a religious foundation, but that he didn’t care what it was. President Reagan applied the image of the City Upon a Hill not to the remnant of the Church in America, but to America as such—its mission not to bear witness to the gospel, but to spread the bits and pieces of its secular ideology
and instrumentalism (the use of religion for the purposes of the state - and not God)
. . . Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for instance, wanted the state to invent a civil religion to his order and then make use of it. Its articles would be proposed “not exactly as religious dogmas” but as “sentiments of sociability without which it is impossible to be a good citizen or a faithful subject.”
The danger is to buy into the vision of the leader without really understanding upon what his hope is based. What is the object of their faith in America's future? It's institutions? It's people? It's military strength? It's rightness or purity?

What is the object of your faith in America's future?

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly