Summaries Now Available!

310D727a2fL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Now available in summary form is Politics for Christians.  This is an election year and the candidates for both the Democrats and the Republican parties are less than stellar according to many.  Moreover many people while having opinions on their preferred candidates have no grid from which they clearly decide on a particular person for office.  As Christians, we divide on many things and our preferred political party is certainly one of them.  Whatever party lines believers find themselves coming under, a fundamental question needs to be answered: “what policies come closest to our worldview as ambassadors for Christ?”

Answering that question takes careful thought and humility.  It’s my hope that the summaries of this book will help the Christian in particular be salt and light as they engage to the glory of God, the political process.  Moreover, it’s my desire to see the citizens of heaven consider their temporary earthly citizenship as a means to rule and reign that honors Christ and their fellow man, rather than shaming his name.  Take up and read friends.

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Summary of Chapter #4: SECULAR LIBERALISM AND THE NEUTRAL STATE (Pgs.119-143)

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In this chapter Beckwith begins pointing out that Christians who support a liberal democracy (see chapter 2) nevertheless are dismayed at the fruits of incivility, relativism, and the use of tax dollars to support abortion, SSM (same sex marriage), and public education that’s less educative and more indoctrinative in nature.

In all spheres of life people have embraced “secular liberalism” as the position to maintain and safeguard democracy while simultaneously marginalizing “religious positions” for making public policy.  There’s much confusion concerning the term “religious” but it’s assumed by far too many people such that the  cultural haze is continues to be perpetuated.

After considering the aforesaid, Beckwith delves into the meaning of secular liberalism which at its core makes the individual king when moral disputes arise in order to resolve them.  That is, the individual is ultimate never the state nor any “religious” tradition, all of which is a relativized view of the “good life”.

When it comes to the meaning of “secular” Beckwith notes that restraints on citizens can only be enforced through “non-religious” arguments or worldviews.  The problem of definition of course obtains but no one bothers with this.  They just assume everyone “knows” the meaning being employed.  In other words, “religion” brings bondage to citizens, but the “secular” non-religious bring liberty.   The state here may even pay for the poor to have an abortion, but it must never stop said procedures from obtaining lest personal liberty be hindered.

The reality here is that a relativistic presupposition is being employed in absolute terms.  It’s Secular Liberalism that’s largely responsible for advocating SSM, Abortion, etc., which is fine because the reasons used to support such acts are secular, not religious.  That’s bogus because it’s also coming from a worldview that is absolutely not neutral but “closed minded”.

Beckwith continues and points out three arguments used to advocate (SL) that doesn’t measure up to rationality and are thus self-refuting in nature.  First, is the Golden Rule argument advanced by philosopher Robert Audi which holds that we ought not to impose our religious viewpoint on those who disagree with us because we would not want that done to us.  Two problems obtain here; one is that the term “religious” is vague and second there’s always a worldview governing human affairs telling us what is and is not good.  Why is SL better than a “religious” point of view?  Beckwith then uses examples which either expose SL’s relativism or radical subjectivism [pgs123-132].

Second, there’s the Secular Argument which essentially hi-jacks reason to mean “non-religious in nature” but Beckwith rightly points out that reason has the properties of either true or false  right or wrong, not black or white, religious or non-religious.  This muddies the waters of reason and clarity  and is used to justify the issue of abortion [pgs.133-138].

Third, there’s the Err on the Side of Liberty argument which ends up being not just obtusely incoherent but also shoots itself in the foot when applied to itself [pgs.139-142].  Beckwith concludes the chapter by pointing out that secular liberalism is no more dogmatic in its stance than any “religious” view ever has been.  The irrationality here is legion and yet largely goes undetected by throngs of people.  It’s bizarre.

Chapter Summary #3: THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE (Pgs.91-117)

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In this chapter Beckwith tackles what the Bill of Rights says as to how state and religion are to relate, what their boundaries are and specifically the interpretation of the “establishment clause” and the “free-exercise clause”.  It’s here where the battle rages for all advocates.

The establishment clause from the First Amendment states that: “Congress may not employ legislative power to establish an official national religion”.  Thus, for example, Congress (not any other branch of government) can’t legally put into law that citizens become a Muslim and financially support its local place of worship.  The free-exercise clause asserts that the Constitution protects the religious liberty of citizens from any legislative act of Congress.  Thus, laws should be set-up to protect a citizen’s right to worship as they deem fit, without the interference of the State (or so it seems to me).

As a form of legal shorthand, Beckwith notes that the phrase “separation of church and state” is now employed to describe the religious clauses of the First Amendment.  However, ambiguity is an infamous problem with the phrases, “free-exercise”, “establishment”, and “religion”.  It’s this lack of clarity that causes so many interpretations, nevertheless, as the author notes:

The notion of “separation of church and state” exists as a largely unquestioned dogma in American political and legal discourse, even though the phrase does not appear in the text of the Constitution and a plain reading of the religion clauses is just as consistent with some forms of moderate separationism as it is with strong separationism. [pg.93]

 Beckwith goes on to explain the similarities and differences between moderate and strong separationists.  Both affirm that government religious liberty should be maximized for the public good and that neither government nor ecclesiastical powers should attempt to control the other’s sphere of duties.  Yet there are disagreements.

On the one hand, moderates don’t attempt to exclude religion from public life, thus supporting public funding programs of similarly situated religious and secular entities.  On the other hand, strong separationists forbid any aid to religion even when similarly situated secular entities are given aid.  These also exclude any political input from a religiously based worldview from its citizens (i.e., if the view is informed from a sacred book, it is de-facto unacceptable).

Beckwith asks if there’s any place where government and religious institutions can cooperate together (e.g., school vouchers for private religious schools).  Important to point out is that there’s no definition of religious or religion that can be pointed towards which both exposes the ambiguity that obtains in people’s minds and also hides the myth the state comes from a neutral, non-religious position.

Beckwith further reflects on the interaction between the Danbury Baptists and Jefferson in order to clue in on the “slogan’s” original intent [pgs.95-98] and explains that the letter, far from being in the US Constitution, was routine presidential correspondence that strong separationists hi-jacked (my view) and gave it the status of “holy writ”.  Unfortunately, the strong separationist movement of the time won the day on a false epistemological  view that religious principles are not based on reason or logic and thus have no place in the making of public policy [pgs.98-107].

Beckwith then contemplates the limits of religious freedom and the exercise thereof which at the end of the day anyone can relativize according to what I’ve seen.  According to Beckwith, the application of the establishment clause has not only been misapplied, it has also muddied the understanding of what the Separation between the Church and State mean.

Summary of Chapter 2: LIBERAL DEMOCRACY AND THE CHRISTIAN CITIZEN (Pgs.59-89)

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Beckwith begins the chapter by explaining that Liberal Democracy (LD) has been absent from most of history and thus our Christian heritage.  Yet, Christians have largely embraced (LD) because it accentuates the liberty to worship, holds governments accountable, empowers people to form the mores of society, and because it seems consistent with the Christian worldview concerning its views of  persons and natural rights which are grounded on natural law (NL).

The term Liberal concerns the freedoms government is to guarantee and Democracy refers to the principle of self-governance and equality each citizen possess before the law.  Beckwith notes that self-governance deals with having a representative government which is ultimately accountable to the people.  Thus, for (LD) to work well a nation must be under the rule of law and have a developed civil society.  These laws are to be equally applied to every citizen and under all of this must obtain 1st principles that are unassailable by government or the masses thus guaranteeing the proper use of power to move a nation.

Accordingly, the duty of government is to protect certain freedoms while simultaneously having limited power by the law and individuals they protect.  For this to work and society to flourish, individuals must be civil.  This is where the problem with a relativistic society comes in.  Such a society kills objective truth, the result is that might makes right and the mob mentality wins the day because no “1st principles” exist above the people.  Sadly, we’re there today.

Beckwith continues and explains that by separation of powers each branch of government has jurisdictional authority to perform their duties unique to themselves.  This often affords a compromise of views held between differing parties and ultimately reduces the occasion for despotism or tyranny to arise.  Historically the Parties in the USA have been the Democratic-Republican Party and the Federalist Party.  Today, it’s the Democrats and Republicans holding opposing views on many issues precious to Christians (e.g., the state of the unborn, gay rights, public education policies, religion/state relations, etc.)

The Christian citizen is the subject of two cities (e.g., one of earth and one of heaven).  As resident aliens, Beckwith accentuates the fact that justice and doing good to others is based on people being created in the image of God and both Church and State can work together to achieve such ends.  Yet, the Church must beware of backing government programs which would halt evangelism.  Doing justice is part of God’s rebuke of the nations in the Old Testament and the Good Samaritan as a swift reprimand to the Church in the New Testament (Pgs.68-69).

Inevitably, to love neighbor will require that God’s truth interrupt the cultural moral climate and when this obtains, true tolerance is carried out and thus true civility will obtain.  For this to happen, it’s critical for Christians to know the laws of the land in order to use them for the advancement of the common good as Paul often did in the book of Acts with his Roman citizenship.

Beckwith accentuates how Paul understood that all authority comes from God (Rom.13) but it’s also limited.  Significant also is to fight the split view of knowledge within Western Society that says Science gives us objective facts binding on everyone and religion provides only private subjective values binding only on the community holding said values.  For when people have this view of knowledge it prevents the Christian worldview from even being considered for making public policy.

Beckwith holds that supporting non-Christian candidates can be done and sometimes it should be done, the grounds of which is competence to rule rather than religious persuasion.  A major mistake to avoid is to think that only a “religious” view (whatever that means) is not neutral.  The fact is that neutrality is impossible specifically because everyone has a worldview from which they try to make sense out of reality.  Thus, worldviews play a vital role in deciding the desirability of a candidate.  Moreover, one can champion democracy and natural law and be informed by their theological position for the good.