Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Impossibility of Neutrality

One of the major alleged positive points put forward by secularists for a secular civil society is that secularism is religiously neutral.  Once that's established, they usually go on to tell you why you're wrong and they're right about how civil government should be done.

I hope you caught the irony in that.  The fact is that religious- or worldview-neutrality is impossible, because any system of laws and public policies will inevitably reflect some people's worldview assumptions over those of others.  Ethics is nothing other than applied worldviews, and civil law is nothing other than publicly applied social ethics.  So long as there are multiple worldviews represented by those who live in the society (which will be the case in any society that contains more than a handful of people), the law will reflect some views and reject others.  Secularism is nothing other than the establishment of Agnosticism/Atheism as the official religion of the society, to the exclusion of other worldviews (other worldviews may be tolerated to some extent, but only at the sufferance of the values of the established worldview).

This basic argument for the impossibility of religious neutrality in civil law has been made lots of times and by many different kinds of people, though it has failed to gain a strong foothold in the general American psyche at least partly because the entire American project of "religious equality" is rooted in the idea of religious neutrality.  To admit that the latter is impossible is to give up on the mainstream idea of the former and thus to give up on something that is seen to be a part of America's core, unique identity.

Below I have provided links to an array of articles making the argument against the possibility of neutrality.  The articles represent the thinking of very different people with very different worldviews but who are united in having come to admit that neutrality is impossible and in their choice to speak out about that fact.  These articles can provide a place to dive in for those who wish to think about this issue with greater depth.

First of all, one the best mainstream academic authors I have come across in the modern day who points out the impossibility of neutrality is Steven D. Smith.  Smith is a University of San Diego law professor.

Here is a list of his books on  They are all excellent.

Here is an excellent article he has written entitled "The Paralyzing Paradox of Religious Neutrality."

Here are some more great articles on this subject:

Is Secularism Unprincipled? - by Ian Polluck.  Polluck is an Atheist, but one who recognizes the inherent hypocrisy of the secular project so often favored by modern American Atheists (though he advocates for it anyway even while recognizing its hypocrisy).

Down with Secularism! - by Richard Smyth, another Atheist who recognizes the non-neutrality of secularism.

Is God Unconstitutional? - by Phillip E. Johnson of Intelligent Design fame.  Johnson provides a very perceptive analysis of modern popular, legal, and academic cultures and how they are influenced by Naturalism (Agnosticism/Atheism) despite their claims to be worldview-neutral.  His book Reason in the Balance is a fantastic work along these lines as well.

I'll also add a couple of articles I have written on the subject on my blog:

The Impossibility of Neutrality

The Impossibility of Governmental Neutrality in Religious Matters

As I continue to think of more articles and books on this subject, I'll add them periodically to this list as updates.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Philosophical Foundations of the Reformation Party, and Why Christians Should Join With Us

The Reformation Party is unique in many ways in today's western political climate, though it would not have been so unique in time past before the advent of secularism in western cultures. Because of its unique, non-secularist stand, it is important to provide a thorough explanation of the philosophical basis upon which its platform lies. This article is an attempt to do that. Of course, the themes we will look at in this article are discussed elsewhere in much greater depth, and we will refer to some resources at the end of the article where the reader can go to get a fuller treatment of them.

The fundamental assumption of the Reformation Party is that Christianity is true. We also hold that the classic Reformed tradition, as summarized in the Westminster Standards, is the purest expression of biblical Christianity. Just about everyone would agree that it is better to live in accord with reality than out of accord with it. Since Christianity is reality, the right and sensible thing to do is live in accordance with it. Individuals should live according to the principles of Christianity. Families should order themselves in line with them. Businesses, educational institutions, churches, and all other human institutions should be ordered according to biblical principles, for the simple reason that those principles are true. And this applies to the civil sphere, the state, as well.

It would be absurd for any human individual or human institution to ignore the true worldview and to base laws on that which is known to be false. This is why the currently prevailing (in the west, anyway) philosophy that the civil government should be neutral makes no sense. Secularism is the position that the civil government ought not to endorse any particular religion. Secularists claim that this view is neutral, but in reality it is the establishment of Agnosticism as the official religion of the nation, for it requires the government to take a “know nothing” attitude towards religious claims. It is in effect the embracing of Atheism or Naturalism, as it implies that the civil government should ignore information derived from religious sources (like the Word of God) and should base its decisions only on information derived from the natural world without taking into account anything else. This is completely irrational, if Christianity is true. What would we think of a father who took a position like this with regard to his family? “Well, I know that Christianity is true, but I choose to structure my family around the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita instead.” Or, closer to the case under discussion, “I choose to structure my family around the principles of Atheism.” This would be absurd, and it would also be wicked, for God is the ultimate moral authority of the universe and all human beings, both individually and corporately, are under a moral obligation to regard God as Lord over all things, to obey all his commands, and to structure their entire lives according to his desires and standards. Many Christians get this when it comes to individuals, families, businesses, classrooms, etc., but they don't see that it clearly applies to the state as well.

So we are obligated both by prudence and moral obligation to work for Christian standards to be implemented in all areas of life, including the state. We should therefore look to the Bible to see what God has to say about the nature, role, and authority of civil magistrates, and to see what specific instructions God has given to those functioning in that role. The Bible's teachings on this subject can be found throughout the Old and New Testaments. One of the most important summary passages is Romans 13:1-7:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

There are descriptive as well as prescriptive elements in this passage. Paul is instructing the Roman Christians to submit to the governing authorities who are currently governing. But in giving this instruction, he also sums up the prescriptive role of the civil magistrate. The role of the civil magistrate is to protect those who do good and to punish evildoers. The Westminster Confession sums up the overall role of the civil magistrate in this way, almost paraphrasing Paul:

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (WCF 23:1)

God is the ultimate moral authority, but he has delegated limited authority to human beings in various spheres, such as in the family, in the church, and in the state. Each of these spheres has roles that are complementary to the others. The role of the family is to provide mutual help for husband and wife and to raise up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, training them to grow into faithful Christian adults (Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:1-4). The role of the church is to shepherd the people of God, teaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, and exercising spiritual discipline (Titus 1:9; Matthew 18:15-20). The role of the state is to protect the society from actions which promote evil and which thwart good (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Acts 25:10-11). The family uses parental instruction and discipline as its tools. The church uses spiritual teaching and discipline. And the state uses the power of the sword (lawmaking and law enforcement). As all of these spheres are mutually complementary, none of them should attempt to encroach into the domain of the others. None of the authorities should attempt to take upon themselves that which is outside their proper sphere (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 for an example of the civil power attempting to take on spiritual duties and God's response). Parents should not attempt to administer the sacraments or to excommunicate their children from the church. Church officers should not attempt to arrest or execute people for civil crimes. Civil magistrates should not take it upon themselves to be the primary caretakers of children. And so on. All the spheres should work in complementary harmony under God, the Head of all.

The Scriptures say it is the role of the state to protect the good and punish the evildoers. The civil magistrate is “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Whose wrath is he a revenger of? Where is he to look for the standard of good and evil by which he must decide how to carry out his functions? Dictatorship would tell us that the ultimate standard is the will of the dictator. Modern secular democracy tells us that the ultimate standard is the will of the people. But the Scriptures tell us that it is the will of God, expressed in his law. The civil magistrate is not ultimately the minister of himself or the minister of the people, but he is the minister of God. He is to care for the people under his jurisdiction, but his authority is from God and it is his task to rule according to God's standards. God's moral law is to be the foundation of the civil laws and policies of the society.

Some Christians will grant this with regard to what are often called “offenses against the second table (of the Ten Commandments)”--that is, offenses that are immediately horizontal, directed to human beings, such as murder, theft, adultery, etc. But they shrink back from holding that civil magistrates are to enforce the first table of God's law—that is, laws that more immediately concern our relationship with God, such as laws against the worship of false gods, idolatry, blasphemy, etc. But there is no biblical basis for this distinction. Nowhere in all of Scripture do we ever find it taught that the state is to limit itself to the second table of the law. Romans 13 makes no distinction: The state is for the praise of the “good” and for the punishment of “evildoers,” in general. This idea that the state must not enforce laws dealing with man's relationship to God is simply a myth that has become popular due to the prevalency of modern secular ideas in western culture, a prevalency that has infected even the church to some degree. In the Law of Moses, we find that the society is to civilly punish not only murder, theft, and the like horizontal crimes (Exodus 21:12-14; 22:1-4), but also idolatry and blasphemy (Deuteronomy 17:2-7; Leviticus 24:10-16).

This raises a question: Do the civil laws in the Law of Moses have continuing authority for the state today? The Westminster Confession, following the general Christian tradition (and ultimately the Bible), divides the law of God up into three sorts of laws: moral, ceremonial, and judicial. The moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments and is forever morally binding (though we are freed from its curse in Christ and rely on God's grace to live it out in our lives). The ceremonial portions of the law have to do with ceremonies and practices that were earthly shadows pointing forward to the work of Christ and to various moral duties and are no longer in force to be literally followed by Christians today. The judicial law refers to the case laws—that is, the applications of the principles outlined in the Ten Commandments to particular circumstances (such as many of those found in Exodus 21-23). In this category are included the laws addressed to the society in its civil capacity. These laws, being addressed directly to the people of Israel in Old Testament times, have much in them that no longer applies to us today given the significant changes in our circumstances from the conditions of God's people in the Old Testament. However, there is also much in these laws that is moral and universal in character, and these aspects do apply to us today. Here is how the Westminster Confession summarizes the Scriptural position on the judicial laws:

To them also [that is, to the people of Israel], as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require. (WCF 19:4)

Aspects of laws that relate to temporary characteristics of the state of the people of God in the Old Testament (such as laws separating Jews and Gentiles, laws regarding what foods can be eaten, laws regarding the earthly Tabernacle, etc.) no longer apply in their literal form today. Aspects of laws that relate to permanent and universal moral principles (such as laws dealing with such permanent evils and dangers as murder, theft, and blasphemy) are still binding on people today. Many of the civil laws fall into this latter category. Particularly, the Reformed tradition has historically acknowledged that laws commanding the punishment of sins against the first table of God's law, such as laws against the public toleration of idolatry, still apply to the state today, as is evident from the entirety of WCF 23. As an example, here is what commissioners from the historic Reformed Church of Scotland had to say about the public toleration of idolatry in 1649:

As the Lord by his servant Moses, in the 17th of Deuteronomy, requires of him that shall reign over his people, that he have a copy of the law of the Lord by him, and that he read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and to keep all the words of that law; so in the 13th [chapter] of that book he gives a command to put to death the false prophet, and the brother that speaks to his people to turn them away from the Lord their God; and the reasons taken from the nature of the duty, whereby he persuades unto the obedience thereof, are perpetual and no less binding unto us now, than to them of old. How strongly doth the Lord plead, in the 22d [chapter] of Deuteronomy, against toleration and false worship, and all the occasions thereof, and provocations and incitements thereto? and how severe is he about the removing and destroying all these, and in tying all his people to one way according to the rule of his word? (

God is no less concerned now for his public honor and for the protection of true religion than he ever has been. Idolatry is just as wicked and harmful now as ever. Just as we recognize the continuing role of the civil magistrate in protecting the life and property of citizens today as well as in ancient Israel, so we should recognize the continuing role of the magistrate in protecting the public honor of God and the spiritual welfare of the people. To quote again from the representatives of the Church of Scotland in 1649:

As that infinitely glorious divine Essence is one in himself most holy, most righteous, most true, so hath he given unto the children of men, one eternal, unchangeable law, according to the rule whereof they are to square their profession, and order their conversation: Therefore as his justice requires in the covenant of works that we should walk according thereto without declining to the right hand or to the left, so he in his mercy promises in the covenant of grace to give unto his people one heart and one way to fear him for ever: And in both covenants they are obliged to walk after the rule of this law. It is acknowledged by many of those with whom we have now to do, that no liberty is to be allowed unto men in the breaches of the duties of the second table, which we owe unto our neighbours, but that if a man sin against his neighbour, and disturb the peace of the common-wealth, he is to be restrained and punished: Can there any solid reason be given why it should not also be thus in regard of the duties of the first table which we owe unto God? Is not one Lord author of both? hath not conscience influence upon both? Is not the Lord's glory interested in the one as well as in the other? Doth not his image shine as brightly, and may it not be as much defaced in the one as in the other? Are the things of God less precious than the things of men, and that which concerns the soul less to be cared for than that which concerns the body? or are we more to value our own damage than the Lord's dishonour? We know that no man hath dominion over the conscience: But the Lord who made it, exercises his sovereignty therein; and he hath set a law unto the spirits of men, after the rule whereof they are to order both their judgments and affections; and hath given power to those whom he clothes with authority, which they are to exercise in these things so far as they are manifested in expressions and actions unto the dishonour of his name, and hurt and prejudice of others.

As we mentioned earlier, secularism claims to be neutral. It also claims to be tolerant and loving and accuses biblical law of being harsh and bigoted. But secularism is not neutral. Nor is it inherently more or less tolerant than any other philosophy. All societies have something in common: They all make and enforce laws according to their own beliefs and values, tolerating what their worldviews consider tolerable and not tolerating what their worldviews consider intolerable. We have seen that blasphemy (dishonoring God's name) is a civil crime according to God's law. It is not so in a secular society. Is this because the secular society is “nicer”? No, it is because a secular society, being an Agnostocracy, does not care at all about the public honor of God because it considers God to be a myth. If God is a myth, then having laws against blasphemy makes no more sense than having laws against publicly insulting the Keebler Elves. But if God is not a myth, if he is instead the Supreme Being and Creator and of infinite value, then blasphemy is a grossly wicked moral action and ought not to be tolerated. All societies become intolerant when values they see themselves bound to protect are threatened. Modern liberal secular societies generally put value on human life and private property to some degree, and so they make laws against theft and murder. The problem with the argument for having a secular society is that it asks us to accept a non-Christian foundation for determining which values the society ought to protect and how it ought to protect them. And we've already seen that since Christianity is reality, it is foolish to base our policies on false, unrealistic non-Christian beliefs and values.

It also needs to be pointed out that though secularism claims to be a neutral safe haven for people of all views, there is no reason to believe that secularism will be tolerant of distinctively Christian beliefs and practices. So far, in the United States in particular, Christians have indeed been relatively safe in our secular society. But times are changing. Secularism has been to a large degree kept at bay by the fact that the United States has for most of its history been made up mostly of Protestant Christians of varying degrees of doctrinal purity and faithfulness. Over the past century, this has begun to change dramatically. We have seen remarkable growth in the number of people with non-Christian views in our society, including a rapidly growing Agnostic/Atheist community. These non-Christians are taking full advantage of American secularism to push out of the public sphere Christian beliefs and values and to instill their own. Many of the culture war battles we have seen and are continuing to see in the United States—including battles over abortion, physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, prayer in schools, and many others—are really front line battles in the war of worldviews. And we are consistently seeing Christians beliefs and values losing these battles to the beliefs and values of Agnostics and Atheists as the United States resolves itself more and more into consistency with its declared secular political ideology. Unless there is a dramatic shift, we can expect to see more of the same in the future, with greater and greater acceleration. As this happens, there is no doubt that toleration of some distinctively Christian practices is going to significantly decrease. Atheists and Agnostics often preach toleration for religious viewpoints today, but much of this is owing to the fact that they do not yet have the power to squelch dissent to many of the items on their agenda. We should not expect them to keep this up forever. Already, both in the United States and in Europe (which is further along the road to full secularism in some ways than the United States and which many secularists in the US look to as a model), there are signs of decreasing toleration for many religious practices. The fights over homeschooling, the battles over tolerating circumcision of male children, and the attempts of anti-discrimination laws to stop people who own apartments and businesses from refusing the demands of homosexuals, are just a few examples of what we should expect to see much more of in the coming years. Unless things turn around.

Ultimately, only God can turn the tide of secularism. Only God can overcome any of the false ideologies that dominate human societies today. But God often chooses to work through means, and he invites us to be his fellow-workers, in reliance on his grace and strength, in the battle. It is time for Christians to stop accepting the status quo that secularism and other non-Christian ideologies should be dominant in our societies. It is time that we refuse to be put into the secular box of “religious fundamentalists whose beliefs belong in private life” and instead employ all our powers and opportunities to proclaim and work for the crown rights of Christ the King and of his law and gospel in all areas of life, including politics. The Reformation Party is one of the few political parties in the world today that proudly, consistently, and unashamedly stands for a consistent and explicit Christian foundation for social/political ethics. And of the few parties that do stand for this, we are part of an even smaller group of political parties (I am only currently aware of two, including the Reformation Party) that stand for a fully consistent version of Christianity as the foundation for politics—the historic Reformed faith, summarized in the Westminster Standards. Don't get your values from the Agnostic world that surrounds us, or whatever false ideology is dominant where you live. Live and advocate in all areas of life for the beliefs and values that are rooted in reality, in the Word of the true and living God. Join the Reformation Party and help us show the church and the world a better way!

Some resources for further research on the biblical principles of civil government (besides documents already quoted from above):

The Absurdity and Perfidy of All Authoritative Toleration - An excellent work by John Brown of Haddington outlining a biblical case for biblical civil government and responding to objections.  A series of MP3 readings of the book can be found here, and a hard copy of the book edited by Gospel Covenant Publications (under the title of A Refutation of Religious Pluralism) can be purchased here.

Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty - A great article by Scottish Presbyterian George Gillespie discussing the classic Reformed view of liberty of conscience.

A Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience – Another excellent work on liberty of conscience by Scottish Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford.  A hard copy of this book edited by Gospel Covenant Publications (under the title of Conscience, Liberty and God's Word) can be purchased here.

The Written Law, or the Law of God Revealed in the Scriptures, by Christ as Mediator; the Rule of Duty to Christian Nations in Civil Institutions – Great book by American Reformed Presbyterian theologian James R. Willson on the role of God's law in the Scriptures for the exercise of civil magistracy.

Essay on Tolerance – A nice little essay on the rhetoric of tolerance, also by James R. Willson

One Hundred and Eleven Propositions – Another work by George Gillespie articulating biblical principles of church and civil government in a series of propositions.

Fighting the Battle While Throwing the War?

This article was originally published last May, but the issues remain current.  In fact, they are more current now than they were a year ago.

This past March saw the United States focused on the issue of same-sex marriage, as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two important cases having to do with the subject. The first focused on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The second dealt with the constitutionality of the federal act DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) which also defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

To a great extent, the US is divided on the issue of civil recognition of same-sex marriages along the predictable liberal vs. conservative line (although a few noteworthy Republicans and conservatives have recently embraced the legality of same-sex marriage as well, as the cause rapidly gains cultural popularity). The liberal arguments tend to focus on the demand for equality and the protection of civil rights. To grant legal recognition to heterosexual but not same-sex marriage, they say, is discriminatory against the LGBT community and denies them full access to all the rights they are entitled to as equal citizens.

Conservative arguments have tended, especially recently, to focus on the need to preserve a traditional two-parent two-gender family structure for the raising of children, arguing that same-sex relationships are incapable of providing children all the resources they need for a proper upbringing.

What is notably absent on both sides to a great extent is an explicit appeal to any higher standard than that of human need and desire. Although liberals typically claim that opposition to legal recognition of same-sex marriages is driven by "religious concerns"--by which they mean any concerns that aren't rooted in an Agnostic worldview--you would not know this from listening to how conservatives typically argue their position, particularly when you get to the level of courtroom arguments. Conservatives act as if they are just as much committed to a secular government, where the established religion is Agnosticism, as their liberal counterparts. 

Why is this? No doubt a good deal of it stems from pragmatic motivations. You can just hear the thinking going on (whether consciously or subconsciously): "We have to use secular arguments. We can't refer to God and the Bible! Why, if we do, we'll be swept right out of court easily by our adversaries! If you want to win the game, you have to play by the established rules." The prevailing understanding of the nation's religious orientation these days by our leaders is that the US is a secular nation which must remain neutral on religious matters (neutrality turning out to be the rejection of how everyone but Agnostics look at everything). The feeling is that if we don't bow to that prevailing cultural trend and play by those rules, we won't possibly be able to win the battle for marriage, and therefore we must act prudently and try to win the game on secular grounds.

But there are a number of problems with this reasoning. One is that it tends to be disingenuous or at least question-begging, and it tends to gut the substance of the conservative arguments. A lot of conservatives seem clearly to be thinking about God even if they are not talking about God when they make their arguments. For example, conservatives will often argue that we cannot have same-sex marriage because "marriage has always been defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, and you can't just go and change the traditional meanings of words!" The answer to that? Sure, you can! We do it all the time. We've changed legal definitions of marriage in the past. Marriage used to involve, legally, the idea that the husband is the head of the household, but now that has been legally removed from the definition. In many states up until the 1960s, there were legal definitions of marriage which precluded interracial marriages of various sorts. And beyond marriage, we have redefined all sorts of words and concepts throughout human history. Words are invented by people, right? So people can change them whenever they need to, right? Makes sense to me, IF (big, gigantic IF here) we assume the Agnostic rather than the Christian worldview. So why are conservatives putting forward this silly claim that we can't redefine words and concepts when it suits us? Could it be, perhaps, that lurking under their argument is the assumption that the real reason we can't just change marriage is because God, not man, has defined it for us? If that were the case, as it is if we assume a Christian rather than an Agnostic worldview, I think they've got a knock-down argument. The problem is, the conservatives are smuggling in their Christian assumptions without explicitly expressing them in an attempt to avoid alarming the "separation of church and state" gatekeepers who watch all our language for any tiny hint of non-Agnosticism and are ready to pounce on anything they find and rule it out of bounds in political discussions on the grounds of the First Amendment. But by concealing their Christian assumptions, they end up masking their real motives as well as vitiating their argument.

And I would argue that this is the case with pretty much all the conservative arguments. They simply aren't very good arguments, from a secular point of view. From an Agnostic point of view, I think the conservatives deserve to lose this battle, and this is evident to many people watching this controversy drag on. The secularists simply have a better case on secularist grounds. (For a more full analysis of how this is so, and also a point-by-point exposure of how both sides in this debate stake their position on the principles of a secular worldview, see my two-part blog article examining in some detail the arguments that were presented by both sides in the California Proposition 8 court case back in 2010.)

But the most important problem with the strategy of playing on secular grounds for pragmatic reasons is that it is a betrayal of our calling as Christians to stand up for God and his truth in all areas of life. Our job is not to try to win individual battles in the culture wars by pandering to Agnostics and reinforcing their conviction that God has no place in the laws and policies of society. Even if we win such a battle in that way (and I would argue that we are far more likely to lose over time, for reasons mentioned earlier), we've only won the battle by throwing the war. It would be far better, and more honest and principled, to risk losing this one battle in order to engage in confrontation with the culture over the larger, ultimately fundamental, questions--What is the ultimate standard of morality? Is it human opinions and desires, or God's moral law? Who is the ultimate moral authority over all men? What are we meant to be as a society? Just a large group of people making stuff up and doing whatever we want until we die, or created in God's image to glorify him and find our joy in him and in conformity to his Word? In an ultimate sense, who really cares if we end up succeeding in getting a Godless culture to put off same-sex marriage for fallacious or at least weak reasons, while they continue on overall dishonoring God and on the path to destruction? Sure, in itself it's better for the society to not recognize same-sex marriage than to recognize it, but far, far more important is that our society learn to embrace the full truth that is the Christian worldview. For the sake of our calling as Christians, for the sake of honesty, for the sake of the welfare of our culture, and ultimately for the glory of God, let's fight the real ultimate battle and confront our culture with the full claims of the crown rights of King Jesus on this issue and on every issue!

The Social Contract Isn't Worth the Paper It Isn't Written On

What do you get when you have a society that doesn't want to base its laws and policies on God's law?  Well, you can get all sorts of things:  You can get Islamic republics, societies based on the divine right of kings or the ultimate will of a dictator, or any number of things the creative mind of man can invent to try to fill the gap.

In the western world right now, and especially in the United States of America, the gap-filler currently in vogue is the "social contract."  Examining it carefully provides a beautiful case study revealing the depths of absurdity and emptiness societies plunge themselves into when they try to abandon God.

Let's take a look at the basic idea:  The whole things starts with a Naturalistic point of view, in which there is no objective moral law--that is, there is no absolute moral law that transcends the particular desires and goals various finite beings tend to have.  Since there is no objective moral law, there is no basis for any idea of objective authority.  Morality reduces to nothing other than "What do I want and how can I get it?", and it follows from this that nobody is the boss of anybody else.  My ultimate boss is my own desires, and your ultimate boss is your own desires.  It would seem to be a difficult prospect to get a set of laws to govern an entire society out of this sort of ethical philosophy.  Basically, you can go two ways:  1. You could go what I call the "dicatatorship" route--basically, that would be when one person or a group of people come up with a set of laws and then tell everyone else that they have to follow them or they will beat them up.  2. You can go the choice way of the modern west, the "social contract" route, which goes like this:  I'm my own boss and you're your own boss, but I want to respect your "autonomy" and I want you to respect mine (perhaps for reasons of self-interest mixed with feelings of compassion, etc.).  That means I don't want to impose laws on you and I don't want you to impose laws on me.  So what we do instead is come up with a set of laws that we all can agree on.  Then we can unite into a common society without having anything being imposed upon anyone.  Governing authority can be based on the "consent of the governed."  "We the people" will ordain our own laws and be the ultimate source of governing authority.

At this point, things start to get interesting.  It sounds really cool to base laws on the "consent of all the governed."  The problems start when we realize an important fact--the governed don't agree on nearly anything at all.  That would seem to pose a bit of a problem.  So what are we going to do about it?  At this stage, we get to watch the creativity of the fallen human mind go into full gear.  One possibility is that we can go with the majority point of view.  We have some kind of a vote on everything, and then we do whatever the most people want to do.  That's basically how John Locke, the great political philosopher of the seventeenth century, seems to look at it:

MEN being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it. This any number of men may do, because it injures not the freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the liberty of the state of nature. When any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest (

The problem with this approach is that it only preserves the consent of the majority and not that of all the governed, which was the whole point of the social contract in the first place.  Why should the majority be able to tell me what to do?  What gives them that authority?  If we say they have that authority intrinsically, without my consent, then we've abandoned the whole "consent of the governed" idea for something entirely different, and we then will have to provide a justification for why the majority, merely by being such, gets to have authority over other people.  If we want to stick to the social contract, we have to say, as Locke does above, that it is the consent of each and every one of the governed that gives the majority the right to rule.  But then that returns us to the original problem:  What if I don't consent?  What if I say that I don't want to do what the majority wants me to do, because I'd rather do something else instead?

This is where things start to get amusing.  The typical next move the social contract advocate makes, in response to the uncooperative pestering of its critic, is to explain to the critic that although he may not think he consents to a certain law, he really does.  For example, take this dialogue between a Social Contract Advocate (in this case a police officer) and his Uncooperative Critic:

SCA: You were driving 100 mph in a 65 mph zone.  I'm giving you a ticket.

UC:  But I don't want a ticket.

SCA:  Well, of course you don't want a ticket.  But you're going to get one anyway, because you broke the law.

UC: But I don't consent to the law that says I can't drive 100 mph in 65 mph zones.

SCA: Yes, you do.

UC:  No, I don't.

SCA:  You chose to live in this country, didn't you?

UC:  Well, I was born here and didn't have much say in that.  But I suppose I could have moved someplace else, so yes, I guess I have chosen to live here.

SCA:  Well then, you see, by choosing to live in this country, you implicitly consented to obey the laws of the land.

UC:  No, I didn't.

SCA:  Yes, you did.

UC:  Look, you say that merely by living in a place one consents to its laws.  But I don't consent to that principle, and so you can't impose it on me.  According to my principles, I chose to live here without consenting to agree to any of the particular laws.

SCA:  You can't do that.

UC:  Why not?

SCA:  Look, we can't just let you go around breaking laws.

UC:  Are the laws of this country based on the "consent of the governed," or not?

SCA:  They are.

UC:  Well, I don't consent to this one!  You can use force to make me do what you want me to do, but you can't claim to have my personal consent as the basis for your authority to do so when in fact you do not have my personal consent!

SCA:  But you chose to live here, and that means you consented to obey the laws--implicitly.

UC:  No, I didn't!

SCA:  Yes, you did!

And so on.  Where this approach gets really interesting is when it is used to impose laws or policies that are extremely controversial, such as policies allowing civil recognition of same-sex marriages.  Political theorists have spent a lot of time and energy over the past few decades trying to justify imposing controversial laws and policies on entire populations while still claiming to be preserving the consent of all the governed.  Perhaps the most famous of those political theorists was John Rawls.  Here is Rawls's formula for how we can be sure our laws and policies are legitimately based on the consent of all the people:

Our exercise of political power is fully proper only when it is exercised in accordance with a constitution the essentials of which all citizens as free and equal may reasonably be expected to endorse in the light of principles and ideals acceptable to their common human reason (John Rawls, Political Liberalism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1996], 137).

Well, there you go!  Just base your laws on things that all people can reasonably be expected to endorse, and you'll be fine!  The trouble is--once again--that the list of things that all people will endorse is very small.  "Don't be pessimistic," say the social contract advocates, "There are a lot of things that all people can reasonable be expected to endorse, such as policies allowing civil recognition of same-sex marriages!  You see, opposition to same-sex marriage is based simply on religious beliefs, and everyone knows that you can't expect everyone to endorse those.  So, unless you want to be an unreasonable bigoted dictator, which we know you don't, you won't want to make laws limiting people's freedoms based on your religious beliefs, and so you will be in favor of same-sex marriage!  You see how easy it is?"  At this point, the dialogue between the Social Contract Advocate and the Uncooperative Critic may go something like this:

UC:  But I don't consent to allowing civil recognition of same-sex marriages.

SCA:  Yes, you do.

UC:  No, I don't.

SCA:  Why are you--or, excuse me, why do you think you are against this?

UC:  Same-sex marriage is a violation of the laws of God, which I believe that the civil government should uphold.

SCA:  But you don't want to impose your religious beliefs into law, do you?

UC:  Well, yes, actually, I do.  They are not simply my religious beliefs.  They are what I believe to be the truth.  God wants civil rulers to base their laws and policies on his moral law, and so that is what they should do.  All laws impose some set of beliefs and values into law.  I just think we should impose true beliefs and values instead of false ones.

SCA:  But it is unreasonable to impose one's religious beliefs into law!

UC:  No, it isn't, not if they are true.

SCA:  But people disagree with your religious beliefs, so you'd be imposing them on people who disagree with them!  And that's unreasonable!

UC:  All laws impose beliefs and values on people who disagree with them.  Hence the need for law enforcement, prisons, etc.  For example, you want to impose on me a civil policy of recognizing same-sex marriage, even though I disagree with the idea of having the sort of society that kind of policy will help to create.

SCA:  You're comparing apples to oranges!  It's not the same thing, because what I am trying to do is reasonable while what you are trying to do is unreasonable.

UC:  Perhaps you see it that way, but I see it differently.  I think that I am being reasonable and you are being unreasonable.  And anyway, whichever of us is actually reasonable, I don't consent to your same-sex marriage policy, and so you can't impose it on me according to your own rules.

SCA:  No, I am preserving your consent.  You're just being too literalistic and superficial.  You see, because what I want to do is reasonable, all reasonable people will agree with it.  Therefore, I can reasonably expect all people to agree with it.  If someone says he doesn't, it is simply because he is ignorant and uninformed.  If he were more reasonable, he would see that he really wants what I want.  So while he may protest that he does not consent, in a deeper sense he really does consent, even though he doesn't realize it.  So, for example, you may think that you don't consent to civil recognition of same-sex marriages, but that is only because you are confused and ignorant.  The deepest and best part of you, if adequately educated and trained in good thinking habits, and perhaps given some lessons in compassion, would recognize that I am right and fully support my position on this.  Therefore, in the deepest and most important sense, you really do consent to what I want, even though you say otherwise.

It should be plain to any objective (dare I say any "reasonable"?) observer that the social contract idea is in deep trouble if its advocates have to resort to these sorts of bizarre contortions in order to maintain its validity.  The obvious fact of the matter is that you can't claim to have the consent of all the governed for any particular law if in fact all the governed don't consent to that law, and no amount of game-playing or fancy rhetoric can change that.  The social contract is a sham.  It doesn't work.  It isn't worth the paper it isn't written on.  It is simply a way for Naturalists who don't want to think of themselves as dictators to feel better about themselves when they tell other people what to do and punish them for not doing what they want.  The fact is, our modern Naturalistic societies, on their own principles, have absolutely no moral authority whatsoever to make anybody do anything.  We have thrown out God, the true ultimate moral authority of the universe, and in his place we have nothing but a gaping, empty hole.  We can try to cover up this hole by placing over it the rotted covering of fancy political rhetoric and hand-waving, but the hole remains.  In fact, nothing can fill it except the God whose law we have rejected, the God who created us and owns us, and whose will is the true objective standard of morality for all the universe, whether particular beings in that universe consent or not.

Why Bother with Biblical Politics While We Are a Minority in a Secular Culture?

The Reformation Party advocates for a biblical, Reformed view of politics and social ethics.  We are active both in setting forth a biblical view of civil government on a theoretical level and in encouraging people to take practical action in various ways towards the realization of the biblical ideal.  This activity raises a very natural question/objection that goes something like this:

Why are you bothering to talk about biblical politics, the biblical role of civil magistrates, and what a biblical society would look like in this day and age?  Haven't you noticed that we are very, very far from having anything like a Christian civilization?  Sure, it made sense to think and talk about biblical politics back in the 1600's, but now we live in a secular western culture that doesn't even understand the basics of the gospel or the fundamentals of Christianity, much less a proper view of biblical politics.  Doesn't it make more sense at this time to simply focus on preaching the gospel and leave the political implications of biblical theology to be pursued by society when there are enough orthodox Christians around to actually make such ideas remotely realistic?  When the church focuses too much attention on political issues in our modern society, such as the constant harping on same-sex marriage that has gone on of late, we alienate non-Christians and obscure the preaching of the gospel, making it look like all we are concerned about is imposing our bigoted values on others who cannot possibly understand the rich theological context of our beliefs regarding such things as homosexuality and other moral issues.

These concerns are very natural ones, and I confess that I myself have sometimes felt swayed by them.  But I think their plausibility is merely superficial.  Here are some points I would make in response to them:

1. God has given us his Word as a whole, and he doesn't want us to neglect any portion of it just because it may not seem relevant at a given time.  God's Word gives us teaching that has social and political implications.  The church has a task to read, study, ponder, and come to understand what God has revealed to us on any subject his Word addresses.  That is why the church has always been in the business of developing systematic theologies.  Even if it was completely impossible at this time to implement any biblical principles regarding politics at all, it would still be important for us to consider what God has told us on these matters.

2. Even if it were the case (which it is not, as I will argue below) that biblical political ethics is of no practical value whatsoever at this time, there is no reason to assume that this will always be the case in the future.  I won't get into eschatology at this time, but whatever your eschatological views there is no reason to think that what happened in the past cannot happen again in the future.  We have had explicitly Christian civilizations in the past.  In fact, until very recently, the entire western world was nothing but explicitly Christian civilizations for nearly 1700 years.  None of these civilizations were perfect, by any means, but they were explicitly Christian, and they cared (at least theoretically) about biblical social and political ethics.  It doesn't make sense for the church to wait until the culture becomes more Christian and only then begin to work out how we as a society should function in a biblical manner.  We ought to be ready with answers before the time comes that we need them, just as we recognize in every other area of life.

3. The "Great Commission" Jesus gave to the church was to "go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."  The command was not simply to teach a twelve-point statement of "essential Christian doctrines," or to teach individuals how to be "saved" on a purely individual level.  The command was to teach the entirety of the Word of God to the nations, and that includes its teaching regarding social and political ethics.

4. Following up with #3, we are not just to preach the gospel to the nations (in the sense of the fundamental biblical teaching regarding salvation), but the law of God as well.  The law is the context for the gospel, without which it makes no sense.  And the purpose of the gospel is to bring people into a right relationship with God and his law.  And that law includes not just instructions for isolated individuals but also commands for how humans are to live in relationship with each other.  The gospel does not just save us as individuals from hell.  It conforms us to God's law as individuals but also as fathers, mothers, children, husbands, wives, employers, employees, church elders, church members, civil rulers, civil citizens, etc.  The world does not consist of humans living in isolation from one another, but of humans living together and forming societies.  The preaching of God's Word to the nations, therefore, is not merely for the salvation and sanctification of individuals, but for the sanctification of families, churches, and entire societies.  The social and political teaching of Scripture is an essential part of God's instructions to us which he uses to sanctify us, and all of it must be taught to the church and by the church to the nations.

5. Our non-Christian world is very interested in social and political ethics.  Such matters are frequently and enormously discussed, pondered over, and worked out in our societies.  This is quite natural, as social-ness is such a central feature of human life.  The world wants to hear what we Christians have to say about such matters and how God's Word speaks to them.  They will not be impressed if we refuse to think about or discuss such central issues and instead choose to focus only on matters of individual salvation.  If we refuse to confront the world with God's Word as it speaks to social and political matters, we will present the impression that that the Bible has nothing important to say to such matters and that only the prevailing Naturalistic secularism has any insight in such things.  When we present a Christian worldview to our secular culture, we need to present that worldview in connection with all the matters that come under the purview of human concern.  Certainly, we need to remain balanced in our presentation of the Christian worldview.  Same-sex marriage, for instance, surely isn't the most important issue in the world, and we should not treat it as such.  However, we do not want to fall into the opposite "pietistic" extreme either.  We do not wait until our culture is already Christian before we speak out on matters such as child sex trafficking, abortion, justice in warfare, and many other social issues, even though the moral principles that are relevant in these matters, just as with same-sex marriage, only ultimately make sense in the context of the full Christian worldview.  We do not refrain from speaking out against theft, murder, etc., even though these are only objectively wrong because God's will is opposed to them.  So why would we wait to speak out on same-sex marriage, or euthanasia, or even religious freedom and toleration?  Secular people are not stupid.  They know that we have views on such matters, and they will not be fooled by our patronizing attempts to avoid bringing them up for fear of "turning people off."  This tactic will rightly be regarded as an attempt to dishonestly distort the presentation of our point of view in an effort to be more popular, and it will not be respected.  Instead, we ought to confront the culture with a balanced, holistic picture of all that God has to say.

6. Finally, there are practical things that can happen here and now, despite the minority status of those of us who hold consistently biblical views of social and political ethics.  We may not be able to get a fully-consistent, Reformed Christian president elected in the United States in 2016, but there is much we can do in the meantime.  In addition to confronting our culture with the fullness of the Christian worldview, we can be working on a more local level to influence civil government as it exists closer to us.  We can exert influence in our local communities and towns, and we can work towards the establishment of local Christian communities that can shape the culture around them.  See here for some specific suggestions from the Reformation Party as to how you can get involved in promoting biblical politics in a practical way.

We live in a world today dominated at the highest echelons by Naturalistic, secular thinking.  But rather than making us slink away, afraid of offending prevailing sensibilities, the times we live in should be an encouragement to us to do as the early Christians did in the pagan Roman culture in which they lived--boldly confront non-Christian culture with the full force of God's truth.  Secularism may seem very strong, but it is rotten at heart and must one day fall, just as the Roman Empire eventually submitted to Christ as Lord.  Let us, trusting in God's grace and providence, confront our society with the alternative that is the only thing that is truly of real substance.