Recently in a First Things article, Thomas Joseph White said:
Unfortunately, modern culture focuses (maladroitly) on only one constituent element of the act of human freedom: the act of choice, electio in the terminology of the scholastics, the act by which we embrace voluntarily one preferred means to the realization of our happiness. And so a culture of autonomous choice is one in which freedom is defined in primarily negative terms: as non-compulsion from without and self-determination for any possible realm of goods from within.(electio originally italicized)
Yes, and yet, as Connor Friedersdorf recently pointed out in response to Ross Douthat, our society is not becoming less legalistic, but more so (see here). In other words, as our morality changes, we actually need more laws and not less.
As I have said in the past, it is not that we should want government out of our consciences (see here) – ideally, in this fallen world where the force of government must now play an important role, it would be more helpful than not in helping to curb our sin and form our consciences (see here).
That is happening less and less now though. The other day, for the first time ever, a bill passed in the Senate (“ENDA” – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that would not allow employers to discriminate against persons due to their sexual orientation (“LGBT”). I note that it is not even enough for some persons that institutions affiliated with religious organizations would be exempt (as the bill currently stands).
It seems that Jesus’ statement in His parable about the Master having the right to do what He wants with His own money will get harder and harder to identify with every day (thought I’m sure this will somehow be less true in Texas, for example!).
As is in evidence from pieces like this recent one from George Will, religious liberty – especially in light of our “decadent democracy” – is the big topic of the day for Christians, and will increasingly become more so. I will confess that I have not reflected as deeply as I perhaps should about how Christianity and modernity in general, and how Christianity and democracy in particular, do – or don’t – go together (for instance, like Jim Yeago, ever thoughtful, does in this essay). Note that as is the case with many of my posts but particularly for this one, I have written this largely for myself – a devotional practice of sorts to force myself to think more critically about these issues. No doubt I am out of my element here, but I am trying to help myself, even as I invite more help from others if they feel so inclined.
In the reality of this fallen world in which we live, we can say with confidence that the Christian is to be the one who defends the well-being of his neighbor before His own (see Philippians 2:3-4) We should be more concerned with others than even ourselves. Of course, our first responsibility should lie with the family that created us and that we create – even if they are not a part of our church. Christ’s words about hating them, for example, are to be understood in a very specific context.* That said, the Bible also talks not only about our responsibility to our families and the family of believers, but also each and every human being. Now, it has been said that most cultures around the world will largely agree with what is said in the second table of the Ten Commandments. If I recall, this is largely C.S. Lewis’ argument in his book, the Abolition of Man.
That said, have they upheld absolute sexual purity to be of great importance for all human beings? Have they believed abortion to be wrong, and upheld the rights of all children, even in their earliest stages of life? Have they been opposed to mercy killing for the aged? Have they believed they ought to be a good neighbor to all their neighbors and even have love for their enemies? In short, have all the various tribes and nations of the world – in general – believed, as Christians do, that all persons are created in God’s image and thereby endowed with unalienable human dignity and certain rights before their Creator?
They have not. And given that the Christian Scriptures have not been ubiquitous in the world throughout its history, I do not think this should surprise us. As the Christian apologist Dr. John Warwick Montgomery has argued on numerous occasions, the particular knowledge of God’s Law that the West possesses must in large part be seen to derive from the presence of the Christian Scriptures at work in Christian people.
Tomorrow, I will share an amazing quote from the Indian Christian Vishal Mangalwadi, as he explains how this concern for all human beings came to be made more explicit during the times leading up to the Reformation. He depends on the work of Charles Trinkaus, who claims “Renaissance humanists evolved and elaborated significant new conceptions of human nature… ’Anthropology’ and ‘theology’ belong together in Renaissance thought”.
* “…what about the parables of the “treasure in the field” or “counting the cost”? It is true – on the other side of this banquet of grace, the parables of Jesus also call us to recognize that this love interest is going to cost us everything. The church cannot fail to see that being the bride of the King means “losing our earthly lives” – relatively speaking, we must see that they are, in a very real sense, “dead to us”. When He leads us to the treasure in the field, we see that the things on this earth really are – and must continue to be left behind – “buried” in the ground like the treasure was. After He finds us and brings us into the banquet this is the cost that Jesus demands we recognize and actively participate in. In his small catechism, Luther said: “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness…” (see more on this here, from the most excellent Lutheran blog Pastoral Meanderings). This can mean nothing but a radical change – as He exchanges His righteousness for our sins, we also see that our world has been exchanged for His world.
We are in but not of the world – all our earthly loves must now be seen in the context of our relationship with Him. It is only when faith in Christ is supreme that we can see all our earthly loves and commitments in a new light, loving those around us not with a “worldly” love, but with the beginnings of a proper kind of love – a love that flows from our hearts in which our Savior is residing.”