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Faith, Freedom, and Governance

Did you know your freedom is dependent on your faith?  I believe that it is; please allow me to explain.

Freedom - The ‘What’

Freedom is a gift that comes from God, and not man.  It is inherent in our nature, and not granted by some man-made institution.  It lies within the image of Him we were given during creation, and that we each now possess as we are all Adam’s descendants.  It is essential to fulfilling our purpose, that of becoming good - like God who is The Good.  Our becoming good requires us to make choices so that:

·         We learn from our mistakes.

·         We improve on our successes.

Inferred in both of these is the notion of progress.  We can be better tomorrow than we are today; we can do things tomorrow that we cannot do today.

If others make choices for us, then how can we become better?  Instead we simply accept rather than striving to achieve.  We no longer have responsibility for either the decisions or their outcomes.  Those become the duty of someone else.  An elite possessing special knowledge we are incapable of knowing or effectively using.  What incentive can there be to improve?  Instead one is simply left to focus on one-self rather than others.  This too is contrary to our purpose.

God is Good, His nature is good.  God is the creator of everything that has ever been created.  As He is good, he does not hate, but instead must love all of His creation as demonstrated by Clement of Alexandria.

He does not hate anything, and yet wish that which He hates to exist.  Nor does He wish anything not to exist, and yet become the cause of existence to that which he wishes not to exist.  Nor does He wish anything not to exist which yet exists.  If, then, the Word hates anything, He does not wish it to exist.  But nothing exists, that cause of whose existence is not supplied by God.  Nothing, then, is hated by God, nor yet by the Word.  For both are one – that is, God. . . If then He hates none of the things which He has made, it follows that He loves them.  Much more than the rest, and with reason, will He love man, the noblest of all objects created by Him, and a God-loving being.  Therefore God is loving; consequently the Word is loving. 

‘But he who loves anything wishes to do it good.  And that which does good must be every way better than that which does not good.  But nothing is better than the Good.  The Good, then, does good.  And God is admitted to be good.  God therefore does good.  And the Good, in virtue of its being good, does nothing else than do good.  Consequently God does all good.  And He does no good to man without caring for him, and He does not care for him without taking care of him.  For that which does good purposely, is better than what does no good purposely.  But nothing is better than God.  And to do good purposely, is nothing else than to take care of man.  God therefore cares for man, and takes care of him. . . But the good is not said to be good, on account of its being possessed of virtue . . . but on account of its being in itself and by itself good.’[i]

Charity - The ‘How’

Becoming good is the ‘what’ of our purpose, and charity is the ‘how.’  If one loves, then they must care for both self and others.  This caring is displayed by performing actions of charity.  The following diagram lays out the relationships and shows how freedom and virtue (righteousness) are critical components.[ii]

 

All virtues begin in the act of faith, based upon what is internal to man—what he holds in his heart.  They are voluntary, and therefore require freedom and the will to choose, and are grounded in moral precepts, which is why the imposition of one man’s morality upon another ceases to be moral.  They also end in acts of charity, performed out of love for both our Creator and fellow man, expecting nothing in return.  This is not just any love but what is called agape.[iii]

Charity itself supports and directs all virtues to their proper end.  Augustine and many other early church fathers, used the terms charity and love interchangeably.  I have kept them separate to identify charity as an act of love, and love itself relating to our emotions.[iv]  Connected, but each distinct.  Love orients man to his Creator as ‘God is love,’[v] through both our actions and motivations.

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

The difference in freedom’s source, God or man, is similar to the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  Orthodoxy has to do with correct belief, while orthopraxy has to do with correct practice. 

Orthodoxy has historically underlay Christianity.  The focus is on belief, that we can improve over time and become better—as we increase in the virtue of wisdom.  This notion is inherent in the following passages from Augustine:

Accordingly, though the obscurity of the divine word has certainly this advantage, that it causes many opinions about the truth to be started and discussed, each reader seeing some fresh meaning in it, yet, whatever is said to be meant by an obscure passage should be either confirmed by the testimony of obvious facts, or should be asserted in other and less ambiguous texts. This obscurity is beneficial, whether the sense of the author is at last reached after the discussion of many other interpretations, or whether, though that sense remain concealed, other truths are brought out by the discussion of the obscurity.’[vi]

All of us who read strive to trace out and understand what he whom we read actually meant, and since we believe him to speak the truth, we dare not assert that he spoke anything we know or think to be false.  Therefore, while every man tries to understand in Holy Scripture what the author understood therein, what wrong is there if anyone understand what you, O light of all truthful minds, reveal to him as true, even if the author he reads did not understand this, since he also understood a truth, though not this truth?[vii]

We are created to have a personal relationship with our Creator.  If we strive to become good and are focused on God, we will perform acts of charity out of love, and this requires us to make our own decisions.  They are our responsibility and ours alone.  Allowing someone to make a choice on your behalf through enacting laws and regulations is also a choice, one which we are each accountable for - regardless of the law made.

Orthopraxy places a ‘fundamental emphasis on law and regulation of community life,’ on interpretation instead of understanding.  Orthodoxy, on the other hand, places ‘greater emphasis on belief and its intellectual structuring of creeds, catechisms, and theologies.’[viii]  It seeks to find better understanding over time.  From Rodney Stark, ‘Legal interpretation rests on precedent and therefore is anchored in the past, while efforts to better understand the nature of God assume the possibility of progress.’[ix]  Orthodoxy orients man toward trying to better understand God.  Orthopraxy orients man toward better interpretation of what has already been given. Man’s interpretation.  Again the potential for man to separate himself from his Creator, by focusing on the ends alone without examining the means used to attain them.  It is this notion that makes all the difference.

If Man Alone

Let’s look at the preceding model without God.  As man is alone, there is no Creator.  This brings up the question of existence, which we’ll ignore for the purpose of this article.  Can there be faith?  Not really.  ‘Faith rests on divine truth itself as the medium of its assent.’[x]  While this faith includes many things (including faith in another human being), ‘the assent of faith terminates in such things only in so far as they have some reference to God.’[xi] With no Creator, there can be no faith.

While man can acquire virtue on his own, this is unlikely as history has repeatedly shown.  Left to himself man turns inward and slips from virtue into vice, from freedom into slavery.  A slavery not necessarily to another man but instead to his vices and their idols: money, material possessions, greed, lust, power, dependency, etc. So we have an environment where there is no Creator, no faith, man slips from virtue into vice, and from freedom into slavery.  All the things that support and orient man to charity are gone.  Can man fulfill his purpose in such a state?  No.  This has profound implications for the way he governs himself.  It is also the road we find ourselves on today, just look around.

Governance Implications

Let’s apply the above to governance.  What should it look like given the preceding principles supporting our purpose?  It should:

·         Provide an environment that allows us as individuals to:

o   Make as many of our own decisions as practical.

o   Have the opportunity to acquire virtue.  These are learned.  We are not born with them.  They require education, effort, and practice.

·         While the preceding relates to individuals, these must also be carried out as a single people.  As we all have the same Creator, we all have an equal nature.  Only the manner in which each of us fulfills our purpose will be different as we each have different skills, abilities, and talents.

·         To do this, a government should be:

o   Tied to moral principles.

o   The primary moral principle is the execution of justice, the virtue of meting out what one is due based upon one’s actions.  This is accomplished both in the law it makes and the judicial process it executes.

o   It is minimalistic in that it would have powers limited to those areas where individuals are better equipped to take action as a people, therefore they need a proxy that serves their interests.  Some examples would be the making of war with another country/people, immigration into a country, and trade agreements that benefit both parties.

How would the above be reflected in governance structures?

·         The scope of powers are well-defined and limited in scope.

·         There are few departments/agencies as powers and scope are limited.

·         As size and scope are limited, so too should taxation be limited.

Consider this, the median income in the U.S. is about $50,000/year, and the earner pays a marginal tax rate of over 50% on each additional dollar they earn.[xii]  A religious organization's purpose is to instill morality into a people, to provide them the basis allowing them to fulfill their purpose.  Would you accept a religious organization which requires you to tithe more than 50% of your earnings?  If not, why would you accept that from a government that limits you fulfilling your purpose?

[i] Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Fathers of the Second Century:  Hermas, Tatian, Athenagora, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), Vol. 2, p. 459, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989.  Stromata, Book V, Chapter X.

[ii] Wolf, Dan, Collectivism and Charity:  The Great Deception, p. 13, Living Rightly Publications, 2016.

[iii] Ibid, pp. 13-14.

[iv] Ibid, p. 14.

[v] 1 John 4:16, p. 2809, Today’s Parallel Bible, New International Version, New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition, King James Version, New Living Translation, Zondervan, 2000.

[vi] Schaff, Philip, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, Augustin:  City of God, Christian Doctrine, p. 215, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.  Book XI, Chapter 19.

[vii] St. Augustine, Confessions, p. 320, Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1960.  Book 12, Chapter 18.

[viii] Denny, Frederick, Islam and the Muslim Community, in Earhart, H. Byron, Ed., Religious Traditions of the World, p. 605-718, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993, as cited in Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason, Random House, 2005.

[ix] Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason, p. 9, Random House, 2005.

[x] Aquinas, St. Thomas, Summa Theologicæ, Vol. 31, p. 119, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., 1970. Part 2a2ae, Question 1, Article 1.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Wolf, Dan, Collectivism and Charity: The Great Deception, p. 185, Living Rightly Publications, 2016.

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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.