Friday, August 31, 2012

Summary: Christian Political Philosophy

Wrote this summary today:
Throughout history, people have lived under various forms of government. While many of us are privileged today to live in places where we can participate in our own governance, most throughout history have had little say in how they were governed or about the rules of society. We can argue that the representative democracies of today are perhaps the best form of governance for large numbers of people even though this form of government did not exist in biblical times. For this reason we can’t say it is a biblical form of government—indeed, almost all forms of government can be run in a Christian way. But the way a representative democracy tries to “love” every individual, give each person certain basic rights, and take everyone into consideration not only fits with the core principles of the Bible and Christianity in general. It probably fosters those values as strongly or more strongly than any other form of government.

The Enlightenment sense of a social contract seems not only a very helpful but a very Christian way to conceptualize how we live together with one another in a society today. Every individual is part of a society and everyone should be taken into consideration when formulating the rules of that society. God does not show favoritism to people because of their social status, gender, or race (Gal. 3:28), and so everyone needs to be afforded certain basic rights. This translates into the love command, since “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10).

Within this framework, a society that is structured in such a way as to bring about a maximum amount of true happiness is a better one than a society that only leads to the happiness and pleasure of a few. Your understanding of God can come into play here. If you believe as I do that God wants people to choose him freely, then you will resonate with an approach to society that allows its individuals extensive freedom—even to live life unwisely—except when it hurts or impinges on the rights of others. But the tension between individual and societal happiness will always be a matter of give-and-take, following the whims of a nation at a given time. While a Christian might favor individual freedom when it does not affect others, Christians will surely err more on the side of helping the many than defending the self-oriented freedom of a few.

The idea of bringing about maximal happiness for a society was a founding principle behind capitalism as an economic system when it began in the 1700s. This is why a Christian can potentially support such a system, because of the principle of loving one’s neighbor. But it is also easy to lose sight of the reason why we can support a capitalistic system. The New Testament sounds very strong warnings about how money can work against fundamental Christian values. Money brings a power that, given human nature, is more likely to oppress others than to work for their benefit. We can cautiously endorse capitalism if we believe it will bring about a greater good for a greater number. While its fundamental orientation around one’s individual self-interest is fundamentally unchristian, we as Christians can support it when it is working in everyone’s best interest.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

You might agree with Obama's imposing taxes for healthcare for this very reason, instead of people being self responsible, because Christians are to be their "brother's keeper".

What about transparency in government or with "Christian leaders"? Is that not also a "duty" to one's fellow man to deal honestly? The healthcare plan was not done honestly, or in transparency. ****, most didn't even know what was in the legislation before passing it!!! Is this not an unwise decision to support this legislation simply because government has dictated it?

I understand that each of us ends up paying more because of those that do not have health insurance. So, what is the difference, then, except that government is overseeing it, making certain stipulations that might not be beneficial to a particular State, as to budget issues, or a particular individual (Medicare), as to conscience (birth control).

I think it is dangerous to set a "political philosophy" and equate it to Christianity, because it justifies a particular policy action and view on "God's Will". While Marx might justify his political philosophy on money or the material, many Christians justify theirs on a social philosophy (collective)...and others, still will justify their "Christian understanding" on 'leadership principles" of individual self responsible behavior....It seems to me definitions are too diverse to define "Christian" in a political philosophy, unless you want to implement your particular brand of Christianity upon others! Human choice is the fist principle of "political righteousness"!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And I speak of "Christian Marxists" like Liberation Theology would claim as to politicizing "faith".

Ken Schenck said...

If anything, Angie, I might Christians to say that I have been too favorable toward the Enlightenment. The principles above are those of Jeremy Bentham and the Founding Fathers like Jefferson. Bentham had himself stuffed to show people that there was nothing to fear about death, no hell, no afterlife at all. Jefferson was a Deist. What I've outlined above fits with my Arminian faith, but if anything, my Arminian faith might be criticized for being "tainted" with the Enlightenment.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You mean that "reason" must be confined to scripture in "other traditions" other than Arminianism? I was only trying to argue that one cannot politicize their faith understanding upon others without understanding that one has to have a bias to commit to any frame (interpretive lens).

The Enlightenment gave us science, as natural philosophy was being challenged in the Church, which was the "Catholic Tradition" via Aristotle (unmoved Mover).

Jefferson as a Deist would argue for "natural rights", which ha been argued in Catholicism by Aquinas. Jefferson's argument in the Declaration of Independence was argued from a "creator"/"creation" order. But, today evolution challenges natural rights by developmental models (ego, faith, moral, intellectural, etc.)and "leadership principles".

Observation was the ruling "principle" of determining "truth" in the Enlightenment, as most FF were empiricists. Therefore, it was not so much what one believed as how one behaved. Behavior was the evidence of "faith". But, behavior is still understood within some framework of what people think define "true faith".

Evangelicals might think that protesting homosexual marriage is the "correct behavior", while the Marxist Christian might think that no one could seek profit, before meeting the needs of the poor. And others might argue for change in the Church concerning homosexual civil rights, ETC. One's presupposed interpretation "delivers" the correlating behavior.

Oppression would be imposing your interpretive understanding upon another. We all judge things this way because we cannot help but be biased by our beliefs about the world and how it functions.

Even atheists have "faith", just not in "Theism". Their faith is in science, man's reason and understanding from experimentation.

Our country allows for all kinds of interpretations of life, as long as it does not harm another. And we should be grateful that each of us can "be" whatever we choose.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You mentioned the "social contract", which most people "take for granted".
Americans (and other Westerners) believe that there is some "expectation" that can be granted from living in a society protected by the rule of law. Isn't law the basis of living peacefully in coexistance, because of the agreed "contract"?

We don't expect that people will break in and steal our belongings, when we leave on vacation, as my friend in Namibia does. Even though there is a possibility that there could be a break in, then there is justice that will be "met out", if the criminal is found. Most of these "laws" make a society "free" from fear, anxiety, and promotes a healthy sense of "self" because we believe in Private Property rights! I respect your property, just as you respect mine. Such a society allows for difference, because it tends to "mind its own business". The "golden rule" is a corrolary to the social contract. People don't act in ways that aren't conducive to another's well being. But, Americans disagree as to what defines another's "well being". What is most important to protect for another's well being? Is "well being" a personal matter, or universal matter?

Collective societies do not believe in personal rights or differences of value. Entitlement means that one demands certan things from society. Entitlement gives one a particular exemption from working, earning and saving for yourself and your family. Entitlement can lead to demands because of injustices of the past. But, there is no restitution that can satisfy a memory that benefits from remembering.... Entitlements become "social mores" for a particular victimization. Isn't "entitlement" what has happened in our political climate? It was not the FF understanding of "the good".

John C. Gardner said...

The idea of the common good(not statism) but the common good goves back to the ancient Christian world and continued to the New England towns. All businesses, government, and individuals(as well as churches) are tainted by original, systemic, and individual sin. Jeremy Benthan and other utilitarians are weak philosophically since they hold to the greatest good for the greatest number(this produces a problems with minorities in slavery, segregation and apartheid) whose human rights were are (and were) violated. Capitalism can be merit based(see Zingales) and can also be crony capitalism(think of the number of tax breaks for wealthy individuals and businesses). All of us are created in God's image and we must work to help others(and not simply be hyper individualistic based on selfishness). Zingales is pro-competition and pro meritocracy(leavened by assistance such as education to help all move up the social mobility ladder without guarantees).