Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

Why Socialized Health Care… is Unbiblical

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Bronze Serpent in Wilderness

I have heard a lot of talk and conjecture here recently about social justice and national health care.  I agree with Kevin DeYoung when he says the term “social justice” should never be used unless it is defined.  Perhaps a lot of the discussions concerning a national health care plan are futile with the “Ted Kennedy” seat going to Scott Brown.  However, it is important for Christians to be able to think about everything from a Christian worldview.

Are we thinking with a Christian or Republican worldview (aren’t they the same)?

I have been a bit saddened by the lack of evangelical disagreement with the socialized healthcare debate.  For the most part, all I hear is that I am a conservative and/or republican… and my party disagrees with that.  This may be true but it does not get at the heart of a Christian view of government.  Now, there is substantial disagreement of what the proper relationship of government is to the church and vice versa.  Much of this disagreement comes down to one’s eschatological position (some Postmillenialists favor theonomy, Dispensational Premillenialists favor Neoconservativism and pro-Israel).

Why do we have human kings?

Before we delve into what the Scriptural principles given to non-theocratic governance, we must first look at the history of the Hebrew people.  Up until Saul, Israel was a theocracy where God was King and the Mosaic Law was its governance.  God’s people rejected YHWH’s kingship and instead wanted a human king like the cultures around them.  God warned them of the error in asking for this but granted them Saul.  Saul’s regime was oppressive and tyrannical (especially in comparison with his predecessor YHWH).  He imposed hefty taxes on Israel.  The question of church and state was not a question until Israel asked for Saul, ever since, it has been an issue.  We shall examine the issue of church and state at more length in a later post.  However, suffice to say that I think it good for the state to keep their nose out of the church and for the church/Christians to have a worldview – a worldview that includes political thought.

What does the Bible say about human governments?

Romans 13 is clear that God’s sets up and takes down rulers.  They are not somehow outside his providence.  This does not mean that human rulers are just, righteous, or equitable.  This does mean that they are accountable to God for their actions and that God will use their actions, moral good or moral evil, for His purposes.  The Scriptures do establish a non-theocratic (civil) government’s authority to establish certain rights for its citizens.  The Scriptures establish a civil government’s authority to protect negative rights.  Negative rights are rights that prevent harmful or morally evil things from happening to its citizens.  For example, the civil government is obliged to protect its citizens from murder, theft… etc.  It does so by establishing and enforcing laws that punish moral evil.  In my view, the Scriptures do not establish a civil government’s authority to protect/assert positive rights.  Positive rights are rights that affirm that some beneficial thing ought to be provided for its citizens.  In other words, Scripture does not affirm that it is a civil government’s responsibility to care for the sick.  Scripture does not affirm that it is the civil government’s responsibility to give alms to the poor.

If not the civil government, then whom?

It is principally the church’s responsibility to care for the sick and the poor amongst us.  During some points in our history Protestants have been good at doing this through the establishment of hospitals and such.  However increasingly these hospitals have come out from under the care of denominations and become secularized and institutionalized… succumbing to all of the ails of reactive health care, pharmacological manipulation… etc.

Final Thoughts

The church needs to take better care of the widow and the orphan.  Our churches have become so narcissistic and inward.  Caring for others is a blessing.  If someone is truly in need (and not all with an open hand are…) then we ought to be caring for them.  I would strongly recommend reading When Helping Hurts:  Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Ourselves.  I would also recommend forming a partnership with organizations that have experience in Biblical community development (vocational, health, counseling…).  One such organization for Biblical vocational community development is Jobs For Life.  I can wholeheartedly affirm their ministry firsthand.  I would also recommend reading Marvin Olasky’s books The Tragedy of American Compassion and Compassionate Conservativism.

I think it is also important for us to remember that human kings will always be imperfect and will never be fully just. Human kings ought to make us long for the perfect king in Christ whose kingdom is righteous, just, and perfect.  His administration is flawless.  His world, Universe, and creation redeemed.  His Kingdom and His government need no alms.  His Kingdom and His government needs no health care.

Post-Script

For point of clarification, the church (nor the people of God) does not have a monopoly on common grace.  The government can be an agent of common grace in a culture, society, or world.  However, civil governments are not Biblically mandated to be the institution that provides all the “good” things in that culture.  If anything, the Biblical narrative presents civil governments in a very negative light that is nearly universal:  The Egyptians, the Canaanites, Saul, Jeroboam/Rehoboam, Judah/Israel and almost every king in the divided Kingdom period, the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Roman occupation.  The few kings that are presented with any measure of high regard are David, who prefigures Christ, at points Solomon, and Cyrus, who God raises up to release Israel from exile.  But even those kings all had major blunders that hurt both their people and the perception of those people.  I do not think it is a huge interpretive jump to say that the Biblical narrative supports smaller government.  It is really quite simple, if civil government is run by fallen humans and the Biblical/historical record shows a pattern of oppression and tyranny, then we can expect tyranny from human governments unless we afford for checks and balances to their power.

Another point of clarification, I think socialized health care is unbiblical in our present American context.  The church and the private sector have the ability to provide these means of common grace.  There is no reason to cross pollinate our hospitals with the ills of the DMV or the Postal Service.  In entirely different, largely secular contexts, pragmatism will win the day (for better or for worse).  If a country has the economy to support it, then health care will/ought to be taken care of by the private sector.  If a country is small enough a social health care system could theoretically ‘work.’  Least common denominator services help no one.  Hospitals already don’t turn people away.

Things such as roads, or city infrastructure (water, sewer…) are drastically different cases than health care.  The U.S. Interstate system was built initially primarily for military purposes.  Sometimes roads are built by the private sector also though (toll roads, turnpikes, some bridges…).  Pragmatism can dictate (and this is not always evil) that the government, local or federal, take on some project that is beneficial to all of the society.  The critical distinction between these infrastructural elements to society and a socialized health care system is that no one is ‘hurt’ if a new interstate is built, or you now have water/sewer access to your home/business that was not their before.  Whereas, with health care, substantial harm could be done to the quality of one’s own health on the altar of “social justice” or “equality.”  Laying pavement is much different that a quadruple bypass.  Laying pipe is much different than cancer removal.  In my view, federal-government has the anti-Midas touch.  We all like our roads, but even the DOT is quite a mess.  If the private sector can provide a product that the federal government is monopolizing and disallowing competition, I think a strong case be made (both through sound reason and moral principles) that privitization is the right thing.  Further, I think the burden of proof rests on big government folks and not small government folks.  I see no Bible verses commanding that government be large and tyrannical.  The Biblical burden of proof is on those who play the ever-so-vague “social justice” card.

Evangelicals have shirked and punted many responsibilities to the federal government.  Previously (here and here), I have traced this habit back to the split of Protestantism into liberalism and conservativism (the fundamentalists originally, who are now called evangelicals) .  I do not think it would be all that massive of an undertaking for evangelicals in the country to completely eliminate the foster care system.  This would take 250,000 families adopting one child into their family.  I think this is feasible.  Elders at local churches would vet potential families, and the deacons at those local churches would oversee the transfer of children out of government foster care and into adoption into elder-approved families.  I think the whole process could take less than 10 years.  It is highly idealistic with regards to the current status of American evangelicalism but, in my view, entirely possible.

Unless, non-governmental institutions step-in to provide value-added social care for a nation-state, one runs the risk of the endless march of bigger government and tyranny, as its government continues to expand its power and control by nationalizing previously private businesses and service sectors.   It is one thing to keep a wealthy nation with a small military of 10 million people in check… it is entirely another thing to keep a nation of 350 million (with a strong monopoly of violence) in check.  Evangelicals cannot think that merely voting will stem the tide of bigger government and/or socialism.  If you do not want to see this happen, then I suggest we corporately affirm James 1:27:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

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Worthwile Article on Policy, Terrorism, and Underwear-Bomber

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A good friend of mine, Steve McGregor, has taken up to writing some solid political and policy analysis.  He has written a worthwhile read on the implications of the recent underwear bomber on current American foreign policy.

Written by Michael Graham

January 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Climategate: Over-realized Anthropology and The Biggest Story Getting NO Mainstream Press

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Global Warming: Over-Realized Anthropology

The Story

This post is a brief departure from the Top XX lists.  No major tv news network has yet to pick up this story over two weeks after it broke.  The gist of the story is the Climate Research Unit had their email servers hacked.  1000 emails and 3000 documents were taken from the servers.  These emails and documents allegedly reveal highly incriminating evidence implicating many of the world’s top ‘climate researchers.’  Notable figures at Penn State University, University of East Anglia, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research have been implicated.  Here is one quote (via Wikipedia):

The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem“–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommended not using the post-1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

Copenhagen hosts a world summit on climate change from December 7th-21st.  Climategate will/ought to cast a long shadow over the Copenhagen summit.

My Analysis

This is a major story and the lack of coverage is deplorable.  I think how the information has come to light is reprehensible, nonetheless is has come to light.  I think the main reason why Global Warming has had traction as an idea, is that it puts MAN at the center of the world.  WE have caused this problem, now let US show our greatness and sovereignty by fixing it.  I have yet to see good scientific data on Global Warming.  I think Global Warming has been successfully marketed by a handful of people (Al Gore… et al) and it struck a chord with our heavily man-centered society/world.  The problem is that if Global Warming was founded on rhetoric, conjecture, and marketing, then it was a deck of cards waiting to fall.  For me, Global Warming is at its essence and over-realized anthropology.  Politicians decided that they could use climate change to their advantage.  Big corporations found a new marketing tool:  being ‘green.’  It is pretty rare that a major corporation be gift wrapped a completely new thing that they can market themselves with, especially with a lemming public clamoring and groveling to eat it up.  I am tired of shoddy science, whether Neo-Darwinian drivel or Global Warming.  Someone please email me when you there is some good data.

Further Reading

Many of you probably already know about “Climategate“, but in case you have not, here is a survey of internet stories:

Washington Times Editorial:  “Hiding evidence of global cooling”

Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’?

Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation

Climategate: University of East Anglia U-turn in climate change row

BBC NEWS:  Inquiry into stolen climate e-mails

Secrecy in science is a corrosive force

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: Despite research dispute, ‘climate change is happening’

Saudia Arabia calls for ‘climategate’ investigation

FOXNEWS:  Obama Ignores ‘Climate-Gate’ in Revising Copenhagen Plans

Copenhagen climate summit: 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges

FOXNEWS:  Bah Humbug! Christmas Trees Axed From Copenhagen Conference

Update:

Justin Taylor has a nice article that concisely explains the UN role and Copenhagen conference in the whole climategate debacle.  It is a worthwhile read.

The Economist Subscription for $64 (51 Issues)

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The Economist: The Finest Political and Economic Analysis, Period.

Many of you know my affinity for the The Economist.  For those of you who have not heart of The Economist, it is a weekly magazine of some of the finest political, sociological, and economic analysis.  In my view, they have the brightest minds and best writers working on their staff.  Few things have helped me understand globalization, micro/macro-economics, foreign policy better than this magazine.  They also cover never-covered-highly-important stories.  This magazine never goes on sale so getting 51 issues for $64 is a steal.  Here is the link.

Written by Michael Graham

December 6, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Top 10 Books on Culture

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The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington

These are books that are helpful for the Christian in better understanding their world past and present.  Some of the books are not written from an explicitly Christian perspective, but are nonetheless quite valuable.

1.  The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntingtonn  [y, l, e, p, s]

Huntington’s thesis is that the world is broken down into 9 different civilizations that each have a different main worldview/religion and that wars are most likely to occur where several civilizations come in close contact with each other – due to the friction created by mutually exclusive ideas.  Huntington’s work has proved to be a solid predictor over the last 20 years.

2.  Culture Wars by James Hunter  [y, l, e, p, s]

Hunter provides acute analysis on the American cultural landscape, describing battlelines drawn over American culture of the orthodox vs. progressive.  A must read for getting a better look at hot-button issues in contemporary America.

3.  Social and Cultural Dynamics by Pitrim Sorokin  [e, p, s]

Sorokin has a mountain of historical and cultural analysis on the history of western civilization.  He describes this history as oscillating between ideational culture and sensate culture.  Ideational culture is where the Western civilization was driven by the world of ideas (typically Christian ones).  Sensate Culture is where Western civilization has abandoned ideas and been preoccupied with pleasuring ourselves (#10 on this list does a great job in explaining the latter in our present context).

4.  Intellectuals by Paul Johnson  [e, p, s]

Johnson takes a look side-by-side at the thoughts and lives of several key intellectuals over the past two centuries (specifically:  Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Kenneth Tynan, and Noam Chomsky).  He lets the reader come to their own conclusions… but the conclusions are obvious:  these intellectuals lived lives either horribly inconsistent with their ideas OR their horrible lives drove their suspect ideas.  Paul Johnson also happens to be a very well respected historian whose other works are standard texts at Universities everywhere.

5.  Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber  [y, l, e, p, s]

Weber’s thesis for the first half of the book is pretty shocking – the Puritans started capitalism and that no one but the Puritans could have started capitalism.  Never before had capitalism been created because no one had a Calvinistic view of the world before where work was sacred and one did not spend one’s wealth because their focus was on the world-to-come.  Capitalism required an immense amount of initial capital to begin the new paradigm and the Puritans were the first people to be able to inadvertently create the system.  Weber spends the second half of the book explaining how capitalism destroyed the Puritans four generations later as the wealth accumulated became an iron cage.

6.  Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn  [y, l, e, p, s]

Kuhn levels the idea that the history of science follows the Darwinian model of slow-and-steady progress.  He coins the term “paradigm shift” to explain how the history of science is a history of completely new-and-superior paradigms leveling older paradigms (ie.  Quantum Mechanics and Newtonian Mechanics).  The thesis of the book has implications though for other fields as well.

7.  Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey  [y, l, e, p, s]

Excellent book on worldview that I have commended here numerous times.  Get it and read it.

8.  Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr  [e, p, s]

See write-up on this one here.

9.  Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark  [y, l, e, p, s]

Fascinating look on how Christianity spread from a marginalized Judean sect to the state religion of the Roman empire in under three centuries.  Stark is a well-respected historian and this book is a standard text at most Universities.  I think the implications of how Christianity was so successful in the pluralistic Mediterranean area has important lessons to teach Christendom today.

10.  Sensate Culture by Harold O.J. Brown  [y, l, e, p, s]

Brown picks up where Sorokin (#3) left off.  He takes a good hard look at Sorokin’s categories in light of modern American culture.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 10: Final Analysis

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Hard Work Ahead

I have stated before that there is cause for optimism in evangelicalism.  There are some solid movements, positive shifts, and creative/bold people.  Broadly speaking, I have concern for evangelical populism and am more encouraged by Reformed evangelicalism (see blog series for why).

Our world is becoming more complex and it is changing faster.  We need to be proactive in thinking about these shifts, ready to address them with the Gospel, rather than writing books about the shifts 10-20 years after they have happened.  Our thinking about our world/culture(s)/context need to be thoughtful and not intellectually sloppy.  Are we positioning ourselves to have influence in all areas of America – transcending class, ethnicity, politics, geography, technology, and social media?  Are we seeking balance in our theology, philosophy of ministry, and relationships?

I have hope for the future.  However, I think we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

Up next, there will be a series on book recommendations and online resources.

Written by Michael Graham

November 23, 2009 at 11:38 am

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 7: No Cultural Center

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Is there really a cultural center to America?

Evangelicalism’s Strategy

Last time we examined how hasty evangelicals sought to lump an entire country into one philosophical category:  post-modernism.   Evangelicals like to do this – we like shortcuts, we like other people to think for us.  Evangelicals want someone to:

A.  tell them what is at the center of culture

B.  give them a brief definition of that thing

C.  give them some brief answers for why this thing is wrong

D.  make assembly line material on the wrong cultural belief

The Strategies Fundamental Flaw

The problem with this strategy is that it assumes that there is a center to American culture.  I wholeheartedly believe that there is no cultural center to the United States.  There may have been at some point in time, even so, that time is long gone.  In my view, there are at best several sub-cultures some of which overlap with other sub-cultures and some that do not.

Consider the following thought exercise:  Post in the comments section any adjectives that can describe all of American culture.  (I forbid the use of “consumer,” “sensate,” or “democratic.”)

We are not a melting pot, this would presume homogeneity.   We are at best a stew, and even this analogy seriously breaks down.

So What?

What are the consequences of America having no cultural center to the mission of the church?  Moving forward, evangelicalism needs to do what some missiologists have been saying for a little while:  Evangelicals need to acquire the skills of the cross-cultural missionary.  We need to be able to communicate the Gospel in ways that people understand and do it in a manner that does not compromise it’s message.

Every believer is sent by Jesus, with the message of the cross, from a community, to every culture, for the King and His Kingdom.

Moving forward, evangelicals need to avoid oversimplifying both individual people and the many (sub)culture(s) of America.  The evangelical strategy of trying to change America through politics alone is/was a dismal failure, as if politics was the center of an American mono-culture.  I have tried to show the fallacy of America also being a “post-modern” culture in the previous post.  I am trying to help us think beyond insulting misunderstanding in the evangelical mission to North America.

If we are to become more active in understanding the (sub)culture(s)-at-large we need to properly contextualize the Gospel.  Up next we will look at the twin dangers of over-contextualization and under-contextualization.

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