Thursday, November 05, 2009

Culture wars:
Moralism is the Medium

[Point two of Jared Wilson's criticism of the "culture wars": (Index)]
Jared Wilson: "The 'culture war' is going to Hell because . . ."

2. Its medium is moralism, not gospel. It makes kingdom militancy about religion, not gospel. It seeks a Christian coercion of others toward better behavior, not an incarnational sharing with others of the better Way.
When I think about moralism I think about a few different passages and excerpts. First, after the famous passage on homosexuality along with a large "sin list" in Romans 1, there is this passage.
Romans 2:1 Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?
This, IMO, changes the whole focus of the Romans 1 section - including the part on homosexuality. Next, is Jesus:
Luke 6:42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while you yourself don’t see the beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
That is not really a criticism of attempting to legislate morality - it is more a criticism of hypocrisy. However, it is not really separable. This speaks to the idea of legislating morality very well:
The third moral error of political conservatism is moralism. According to this notion God's grace needs the help of the state; Christianity merely asks the state to get out of the way. We might say that while instrumentalism wants to make faith a tool of politics, moralism wants to make politics a tool of faith; on this reading, what instrumentalism is to secular conservatives, moralism is to religious conservatives. Surprisingly, though, many religious conservatives seem unable to tell the difference. Whether someone says “We need prayer in schools to make the children holy” or “We need prayer in schools to make the country strong,” it sounds to them the same.

Now I am not going to complain that moralism “imposes” a faith on people who do not share it. In the sense at issue, even secularists impose a faith on others—they merely impose a different faith. Every law reflects some moral idea, every moral idea reflects some fundamental commitment, and every fundamental commitment is religious—it proposes a god. Everything in the universe comes to a point. For moralism, therefore, the important distinction is not between religion and secularism, but between faiths that do and faiths that do not demand the civil enforcement of all their moral precepts.

To the question “Should the civil law enforce the precepts of the faith?” the biblical answer is, “Some yes, but some no; which ones do you mean?” The New Testament contains literally hundreds of precepts. However, Christianity is not a legislative religion. While the Bible recognizes the Torah as a divinely revealed code for the ruling of Israel before the coming of Messiah, it does not include a divinely revealed code for the ruling of the gentiles afterward. To be sure, the Bible limits the kinds of laws that Christians can accept from their governments, for “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). However, it does not prescribe specific laws that they must demand from them.

It is not even true that all of God's commands limit the kinds of laws that Christians can accept. To see this, contrast two such precepts: (1) I am prohibited from deliberately shedding innocent blood; (2) I am prohibited from divorcing a faithful spouse. Both precepts are absolute in their application to me, but that is not the issue. If we are speaking of governmental enforcement, then we are speaking of their application to others. The former precept should require very little watering down in the public square, for even nonbelievers are expected to understand the wrong of murder. That is why I may be confident in condemning the legalization of abortion. But the latter precept requires a good deal of watering down in the public square, for before the coming of Christ not even believers were expected to understand the true nature of marriage. “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard,” said Jesus, “but it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). No doubt the Pharisees to whom He was speaking were scandalized by the idea that their civil law did not reflect God's standards fully. They must have been even more offended by the suggestion that it was not intended to. Among religious conservatives this suggestion is still a scandal, but it does not come from liberals; it comes from the Master.

Christians, then, may certainly commend a law as good or condemn it as evil. They may declare it consistent or inconsistent with the faith. But not even a good law may be simply identified with the faith; Christians must not speak of a tax code, marriage ordinance, or welfare policy as Christian no matter how much, or even how rightly, they desire its enactment or preservation. That predicate has been preempted by the law of God. The civil law will be Christian—if it still exists at all—only when Christ himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected. -- J. Budziszewski

and, finally, C.S. Lewis:
"The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question-how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one . . . the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not. " -- Mere Christianity
Moralism denies the freedom we have in Christ (see pretty much all of Romans again) to those who do not know Christ. While, as Paul says, all things are legal for us (even if they are not good) - the moralist tells folks that God restricts their freedom even if they are not Christians. This is the type of religion Christ accused the Pharisees of loading down people with:
Luke 11:46 But Jesus replied, “Woe to you experts in religious law as well! You load people down with burdens difficult to bear, yet you yourselves refuse to touch the burdens with even one of your fingers!
Again, this is a condemnation of hypocrisy - but there is little difference in expecting someone to carry a burden that you should, but will not, carry; and telling them they are expected to carry one that you know you are not required to carry at all. Indeed, the latter is exactly anti-Gospel. If the Good News is that God's Grace saves us even though we are sinners, why would we attempt to impose religious requirements on folks who have the same grace available to them - especially before they are even part of the Body of Christ?

As mentioned under point 1 -- and will probably be mentioned under every point -- it is incumbant upon Christians to work for right order and justice in the society in which we live. However, our duties to the Body of Christ, the Great Commission, and the Kingdom of God trump our requirements as Christian citizens of a nation state.

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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