Archive for category Law

Is Marriage About What Adults Demand or What Children Need?

I have written previously on the ways in which the current push toward gay marriage is rooted in a larger cultural obsession with self-fulfillment over self-denial. This is not a “gay” or “straight” issue as much as it is an issue of a predominantly self-seeking culture that continues to debase and transform basic definitions of love, commitment, devotion, and sacrifice.

In the same way, a vote for or against marriage amendments like those currently in play in Maryland, Washington, Maine, and my home state of Minnesota doesn’t just represent a moral statement on the ways in which we view gays or straights, but, more fundamentally, it speaks to the ways in which we view our overarching moral and social obligations to others—i.e. to everyone. When we redefine and contort that which is natural and sacred to meet our own personal wants and demands, who else is impacted?

In marriage, and specifically public marriage, our consideration should extend well beyond the husband and wife, or whatever other combination we might try to invent.

In a short ad put together by i2open, this point is made clear:

Every child has a father. Every child has a mother. And the government does abuse to every child by further legitimizing and promoting the fantasy that this needn’t be the case if the grown-ups wish to pretend differently.

If social justice is about right relationships, then rightly ordering our relationships should be where the marriage debate begins.

For those in Minnesota, I urge you to vote YES.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Great Despotic Rot: Obamacare, the Supreme Court Ruling, and Spurious Claims to Deity

Health care, sign, rightsDoug Wilson recently wrote a powerful repudiation of Obamacare and the recent Supreme Court ruling, focusing largely on the (non)biblical implications—which is to say, all of the implications (HT).

Wilson begins his critique by exploring the meaning and Biblical importance of limited government, kicking things off with the following verses:

And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.

Here we find the gospel, with all of its political implications (meaning authority and submission implications), rubbing up against a culture and a system that has its own version of things. And here, where Christians overtly ride tensions with earthly despots, we see a push toward the intended order of things—a rendering of the rendering, we might say.

Here we see a glimpse of why government must be limited, and what or who does the limiting:

Limited government does not refer to the size of government, but rather refers to a certain concept of government. Limited government means that vast portions of human life and experience lie outside the business of the civil magistrate, and that everyone, both governors and governed, understand this boundary. False concepts of government will indeed affect the size of the state eventually, but the size is not really the main issue. Size is the symptom, not the cause. The cancer is one thing, and the fever, fatigue, or dizziness is quite another. Limited government recognizes, and rejoices in, its finitude. Government that has metastasized does not.

So in the absence of a functional limiting principle, every act of legislation is a grasping after the serpent’s promise—you shall be as God. Absolutist governments are therefore anti-Christian in principle long before any decisions are made, whether those decisions are good or bad. If the Supreme Court upheld a law that required all of us to carry an umbrella whenever it looked like rain, the issue would not be the umbrella, or the rain, or the accuracy of the weather report, or the wisdom of taking the umbrella on any given occasion, but rather what such overreach revealed about who on earth they think they are.

The Bible requires limited government because any claim to unlimited government by mortals is a spurious claim to Deity. To make such claims is a fatal conceit, and to acquiesce in them is cowardice in the face of such conceit.

Next, Wilson applies this approach, revealing the “fatal conceits” and “spurious claims to Deity” in Obamacare and the Supreme Court’s upholding of the law—developments that most Americans seem to now shrug off as inevitable ends of Western civilization.

The application:

The heart of the problem is that the Supreme Court has now in effect declared that there is no limiting principle in our form of government at the federal level. This means that if we are to live under limited government—the kind of government the Bible requires—that limitation must be enforced at the state and local levels and, failing that, at the level of the church, and failing that, at the level of families and individuals.

Simply repealing Obamacare as a policy matter is no longer enough. Obamacare must be rejected because it is inconsistent with the moral obligation of limited government, and not because it was “unpopular” or “will cost too much.” The problem we are facing is not because of a stupid law. Of course Congress will pass stupid laws from time to time. The problem is the claimed prerogative to a stupidity without limit. We can bear with stupidity from time to time. It is the claim to omnipotent stupidity that has awakened our concern. In a godly form of civil government, we must reject anything that concludes with those fatal words—“without limit.”

Congress is not Jesus, the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and there was no baptism for any of them at the Jordan; there was no fluttering dove that descended. Congress did not die for us, and if Congress were to die, Congress could not rise from the dead. This means that Congress does not own me, or the members of this congregation. We have all been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, and therefore cannot be possessed in this manner by another. We have already been bought with a price—Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Talk about a single payer.

Lastly, the solution: Read the rest of this entry »

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Conservatives and Coercion in Morality and Economics

One Way signOver at Public Discourse, Nathan Schlueter explains why he’s not a libertarian, providing concise conservative responses to 10 popular libertarian claims.

This week at Values & Capitalism, I look at two of those claims, related specifically to coercion and market intervention. Finding myself arguing alongside libertarians on most economics-related issues, I thought Schlueter’s points were helpful in illuminating a key distinguisher between conservatism and libertarianism, even if the policy outcome ends up looking similar.

Here’s Schlueter’s sixth point/response:

6. Virtue cannot be coerced, therefore government should not legislate morality. Coercive law cannot make people virtuous. But it can assist or thwart individuals in making themselves virtuous. Law is both coercive and expressive. Not only does it shape behavior by attaching to it penalties or rewards; it also helps shape attitudes, understandings, and character … The law, both by prohibition and by silence, is a powerful signal of acceptable behavior, and thus a powerful influence on character. When the behavior in question involves moral norms that are consequential for the rest of society, it is a proper object of law.

This is not to say that the law must prohibit every vice or mandate every virtue, as libertarians often suggest. Aristotle, Aquinas, the Declaration itself all make clear that “prudence will dictate” whether the costs outweigh the benefits in concrete circumstances (e.g., difficulty of enforcement; more pressing needs with scarce resources; the danger of encouraging underground crime, etc.). But this is prudence in the service of principle, not mere pragmatism. (emphasis added)

The question for conservatives, I argue, seems to be that we think coercion may sometimes be justified and/or helpful. We certainly don’t think it should be in play to the extent progressives do—who seem to pursue centralized control as an ideal—but conservatives recognize that certain features of human nature demand it.

In the end, I argue—piggy-backing on Schlueter—that much of this comes down to realism:

This hits at the deeper level of why conservatives think coercion in economics is sometimes necessary to preserve order. It is here, I believe, that conservatives find themselves fighting between two forms of utopianism: one which actively pursues coercion with little regard for real-life liberty, and one which actively pursues so-called liberty with little regard for real-life humans (or the real extent of certain real-life consequences).

Schlueter points out this distinguisher in his #9 response, which I believe draws the clearest line between both orientations. Conservatism’s “true realism,” as Schlueter notes, is summed up aptly by James Madison, in a line from Federalist No. 57 containing plenty for both libertarians and progressives to detest:

‘The aim of every political constitution is first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.’

Read the full post here.

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The Immateriality of Wealth: Ten Ways to Alleviate Poverty

Jay Richards recently wrote a fascinating piece for The American, in which he argues that many of the “preconditions of wealth creation” are immaterial and spiritual, contrary to many of our materialistic assumptions.

Alas, humans have long been ignorant of what is necessary for wealth creation to occur, and  modern-day perceptions have unfortunately leaned toward the common materialistic superstitions of the past.

As Richards explains:

For most of human history, discovering the sources of wealth creation would have been devilishly hard, since most economies, such as there were, tended to be static. If a Mesopotamian farmer or Greek shepherd in the second century BC ever asked, “Where does wealth come from?” he would have assumed that wealth came from rain, common labor, good luck, or some combination of these. He probably also would have assumed that to get really wealthy, you need to plunder other people.

Thankfully, we don’t need to plunder other people in order to create wealth, whether on our own or through the government. In fact, plundering people doesn’t achieve much of anything in the long run.

Instead, we should focus on getting the proper immaterial preconditions in place. When that is the case, wealth creation will begin foster in a way that is truly beneficial for all (…even for the would-be plunderers).

Richards provides a list of ten specific items that he believes lead to healthy preconditions for wealth creation. “The more of these a culture has or does,” says Richards, ”the more likely it is to be prosperous.”

Here is the list (and I quote):

  1. Establish and maintain the rule of law.
  2. Focus the jurisdiction of government primarily on Read the rest of this entry »

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Melting Pot (or Not?): Democracy and Cultural Diversity

Melting PotI’m in the middle of reading Kenneth Minogue’s new book, and so far it is all-around brilliant.

The basic premise is that democracy has wrongly evolved from a mere process to a supreme ideal. More and more, Minogue argues, the West is substituting individual moral responsibility for a superficial form of collective salvation. In short, decisions at the ballot box have subtly become the supreme authority on moral truth.

I’ll be reviewing the book in the near future, but at the moment I wanted to focus on a point Minogue makes in a chapter called “Democratic Ambiguities.” In the chapter, Minogue highlights various elements we need to understand before holistically evaluating democracy. One of Minogue’s many points therein centers around the social conditions necessary for successful democracy. One of those conditions, in Minogue’s view, is cultural homogeneity.

As Minogue writes:

…[T]he ideal of democracy has little purchase on plausibility unless “the whole people” is a relatively homogeneous set of people who “speak the same language” (even if it is only in a metaphorical sense, as in states such as Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium).

But what about the claim that there is no definitive “American culture”? Minogue apparently disagrees:

The United States established its cultural homogeneity as virtually a condition of admission to its shores. A pays politique can hardly exist unless individuals share similar sources of information and talk to each other in mutually comprehensible terms.

To prove his point, Minogue offers several examples where democracy has failed due to competing cultural (or “tribal”) forces. By examining situations in Lebanon, Spain, Northern Ireland, and Africa (no country in particular), Minogue concludes that some degree of cultural Read the rest of this entry »

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Legislating Morality: We Can’t Help It!

Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Lincoln-Douglas Debate (1858)

Whether morality can or should be legislated has been a common topic of this blog, and Micah Watson has some insightful thoughts on the matter over at The Witherspoon Institute.

Here is the opener:

“You can’t legislate morality” has become a common turn of phrase. The truth, however, is that every law and regulation that is proposed, passed, and enforced has inherent in it some idea of the good that it seeks to promote or preserve. Indeed, no governing authority can in any way be understood to be morally neutral. Those who think such a chimerical understanding is possible could hardly be more wrong. For, in fact, the opposite is true: You cannot not legislate morality.

When speaking of these matters, I think a certain distinction needs to be made. Many would read Watson’s words and take away an argument about the inevitability of moral entrance in the realm of political decision making. But while such inevitability is indeed a reality, Watson is pointing to something beyond mere inevitability.

What is often missed is that morality is inherent in all legislative decisions. It is not a matter of this or that, but of this and this (and so on). Morality is not confined to matters of gay marriage and torture, but is equally involved in those of taxation and sanitation.

Thus, the distinctions we pursue are not to be found in the moral inherence within particular decisions but in the moral consequences thereof.

As Watson continues:

Not every decision has profound moral consequences. But even drawing the line between morally innocent choices and morally culpable choices demonstrates our Read the rest of this entry »

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Christian Morality and Human Rights: Standing Outside the Prison of Culture

William Wilberforce

British abolitionist William Wilberforce refused to accept the cultural morality of his day.

I’ve been reading Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner’s new book, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, and thus far it has been an enjoyable read.

I’ll write a full review in the near future, but for the moment I just wanted to highlight a few of the book’s ideas about the “morality of human rights.” There is an entire chapter on the subject, in which the authors argue that although we should be careful about how religion feeds into politics, we should also recognize that religion should play a role in shaping our political understanding of human rights.

This view is based on the following understanding about human nature and morality:

What truly marks human beings is the tendency to care for self, family, clan, tribe, race, religion, nation. To care for every human being would appear to require a moral law. To sacrifice for the rights of other human beings — merely because they are human beings — would appear to require a holy law.

Gerson and Wehner go on to explain that “the contribution of religion to this [moral law] debate is narrow but essential,” meaning that although plenty of religious beliefs may not yield to political synthesis (e.g. eschatology, ecclesiology), some of them do and must (e.g. “beliefs about human worth, human nature, and human destiny”).

As the authors explain:

The Christian ideal of human dignity is important precisely because it transcends culture. It has proven its ability to stand in judgment of many cultures, including our own. The theologian Max Stackhouse calls this “one of the greatest revolutions in the history of humanity”… Religious people have a unique ability to stand outside the prison of culture and call attention to a set of universal ideals. In other words, they can represent, in the kingdoms of this world, the values of another Kingdom.

This view obviously rejects any sort of cultural or religious relativism (note the referral to “a set of universal ideals”). For the Christian, there is a right and wrong that applies to everyone, regardless of culture, race, or Read the rest of this entry »

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Jesus Paid Taxes: Mark Dever on Rendering to Caesar

Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist ChurchMark Dever recently gave a sermon at his church in Washington D.C. called “Jesus Paid Taxes,” in which he promotes what he believes to be the proper Christian approach to politics. I came across the sermon from Justin Taylor, who came across it from Collin Hansen.

Hansen provides some great notes on the sermon and even goes so far as to call it “the best sermon I know on Christianity and government.” I probably wouldn’t go that far, but it is indeed quite good. I listened to the sermon in full and found very little to disagree with.

Dever bases the discussion on Mark 12:13-17 (“Render to Caesar!”), and although his approach leaves quite a bit up to interpretation, I think his outlook would translate pretty well in application. His main points are as follows:

  1. Good Christians are good citizens (law-abiding, tax-paying, etc.)
  2. Christianity is international (spiritual ties transcend national ties)
  3. Christians are ultimately accountable to God (“Our duty to earthly authority is limited.”)

You can listen to the sermon here:

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I don’t have anything to add, but I thought I’d post some highlights for those who aren’t up for listening to the whole thing.

One of Dever’s most fundamental points has to do with authority — how it is Read the rest of this entry »

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Biblical Justice vs. Worldly Justice: Avoiding the Scapegoat Mechanism

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Job's accusers were well aware of his innocence.

I am currently reading Douglas Wilson’s Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, and I was particularly struck by a chapter that focuses on what Wilson calls Christ’s “inexorable love.” The chapter’s fundamental argument is that Christ’s love is widely available to humanity and cannot be suppressed by natural forces.

Wilson begins by discussing the common approach that paganism has taken to achieving justice, namely scapegoating murder to achieve serenity:

Pagan civilizations have always been built on the bedrock of scapegoating murder — this kind of turmoil is managed until it gets to a crisis point, and then everyone wheels on the designated victim. After the murder of this victim, everything becomes tranquil again…For the carnal man, this is the most natural thing in the world. Accusation equals guilt, and condemnation for him equals salvation for us. (emphasis added)

But Christianity also has its fair share of scapegoating, so what’s the difference?

From beginning to end, the Scriptures stand squarely against this pagan mentality — the mentality that is always serene and self-confident about the guilt of the designated victim. Think of Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused. Think of Job, falsely accused by Satan in the heavenly courts and by his so-called comforters here on earth. Think of all the prophets, from Abel to Zechariah, son of Berechiah.

As we can see, Christianity is told from the perspective of the victim rather than the accuser. In addition to this, the victims are almost always innocent and are understood to be so by their accusers — a significant departure from paganism. On this point, many of Wilson’s arguments echo those of René Girard (see The Scapegoat). As we all know, Christianity’s history of scapegoating climaxes with the ultimate (and finally redeeming) murder of Read the rest of this entry »

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James Madison on Proposition 8: Factions, Federalism, and Gay Marriage

No. But you certainly can.

By now, I assume that most of you have heard the news regarding Proposition 8, which was overturned this week by a California judge.

From The New York Times:

Saying that [Proposition 8] discriminates against gay men and women, a federal judge in San Francisco struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, handing supporters of such unions at least a temporary victory in a legal battle that seems all but certain to be settled by the Supreme Court.

As usual, the media has been buzzing, but it seems that the majority of the arguments (from both sides) have to do with the morality of gay (or straight) marriage, and whether we as a society should “accept” it.

These are necessary arguments to have, but the fundamental issue at the moment has to do with whether this decision holds up on Constitutional grounds. I would argue that it does not.

The decision centers around the last part of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says the following:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Obviously we can’t just interpret the Equal Protection Clause all by itself (it has years of jurisprudence coloring its words and meaning), but rather than dive into a nuanced, methodical discussion of how we should interpret the clause, I will simply say that I don’t believe the clause has anything to do with homosexual marriage, or heterosexual marriage for that matter.

In this particular instance, perhaps one good way to understand what it should apply to is to detach ourselves from thinking of “marriage” as Read the rest of this entry »

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