The Place of Faith in Shaping Political Views • Part 2

Building on the momentum of Part One, we now consider how the Judeo-Christian Worldview helped shape the modern world.

As is well-documented in numerous works, it was the blending of the Judeo-Christian understanding of reality with the Greek philosophical tradition of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.[1] The Judeo-Christian worldview provided the concept of an objective reality centered on an eternal, all-powerful Creator-God Who created the universe for a reason. Humanity’s original mandate was to have dominion over Earth and in our submission to God to participate with Him in the goal (teleos) of creation. Far from that original dominion being an excuse to misuse and abuse the Earth, it was a mandate to study and use what was learned to advance toward its beneficent goal. In short, Humanity’s original dominion assignment was a mandate for science and technology.

 Greek Philosophy provided the intellectual tools needed in the pursuit of that mandate, things like Socrates’ deduction and rigorous inquiry, Plato’s forms and attention to language, Aristotle’s logic and classifications. This blending of Jerusalem with Athens produced the intellectual climate of Medieval Europe and gave birth to the Renaissance. The Renaissance then moved in two directions, Reformation and Enlightenment.

 While the Reformation liberated the Church from man-made traditions, returning it to its source material in Scripture, the Enlightenment liberated human beings from religion.
 Step One in the Enlightenment’s wedge between faith and reason was taken by Oxford professor John Locke. In 1690, Locke published his Essay on Human Understanding, in which he contended all knowledge is derived from the experience of ours senses and the working of our minds. That working of the mind produced a kind of knowledge he called “probability.” Probability works like this; We repeatedly experienced someone’s existence; we’ll call him “George.” George is a friend we see a couple of times a week. When George isn’t standing in front of us, we still have reason to believe He exists, even though at that moment, we have no purely empirical basis to believe in his existence. Still, sound judgment gives us reason to discern the probability of George’s existence. Probability allows us to get on with the practical affairs in life.
 Faith, Locke maintained, is assent to knowledge derived from revelation rather than reason. Therefore, although highly probable, knowledge derived by faith can’t be certain. Reason must be used in order to measure the degree of probability of what we believe by faith. Using this criterion, Locke remained a Christian. In 1695, he published a treatise, The Reasonableness of Christianity, in which he claimed Christianity is the most reasonable of religions. But Locke didn’t believe the Christian Faith had added anything of importance to what could have been known by the proper use of reason.

 Others came along after Locke and drove a wedge between faith and reason, divorcing them. In the settlement, Faith was left impoverished while Reason drove off with all the goodies.
 Locke was followed by David Hume, who drew a border around empiricism prohibiting probability. Hume went so far as to deny cause and effect. Just because something has happened repeatedly in our experience, that doesn’t mean at some time and place it would do something else. All we can know for certain, Hume claimed, is what we are at this moment experiencing. Hume’s skepticism became a corrosive ideology that began to eat away at the foundations of Rationalism itself and led eventually to the philosophical underpinings of post-modernism, which denies absolutes and objective truth. In post-modernism, truth moves from being something that corresponds with what is real to a purely subjective, self-validating affirmation of personal preference, captured by a phrase oft heard on college campuses, “That may be your truth, but it’s not mine.”

 I’ve taken this route in speaking about Faith and Politics to set our context. An essay on Faith and Politics would not have been deemed necessary throughout most of history. Until the advent of Rationalism, people didn’t set faith in opposition to reason. Tell Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle the day would come when the intellectual tools they developed would one day be used to divorce faith and reason, and they  would have thought you a lunatic. Yet today, we’re told religious faith has no place in the public square. Faith must not intersect politics because, well, you know “Separation of Church and State.” If the Founders could see how that idea has shaped today’s political landscape, they’d start a Twitter-storm the likes of which has never been seen. Their worldview was profoundly shaped by both faith and reason because faith for them wasn’t an irrational “blind leap into the dark.” It was a reasonable response to the evidence their sense presented them. So they made frequent appeal to God and His ways in the Declaration of Independence. It was precisely because human beings are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, with civil government given authority by God to safeguard those rights, that moved them to sever ties with England because it had abrogated its God-ordained duty.

 Following through on that understanding of rights and the transcendent basis of government, the Founders set about to apply principles of governance they gleaned from Scripture. A handful of historians have identified how the thinking of the Founders was shaped by the sermons they heard. It all combined to produce the US Constitution, a document that has been the model for dozens of other nations’ charters and has led to the greatest degree of personal liberty with the highest standard of living for the most people in the history of the world.
 Like those Greek philosophers who would be appalled at how their philosophical tools have been misused to divide faith and reason, the Founders would be speechless at how antagonistic modern society has become toward, not just the presence of faith in informing politics, but its necessity in doing so. John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
 The opening pages of the Bible tell us of God creating human beings in His image and likeness. Our capacity to reason lies in that image. Reason quickly moves us beyond the “how of things” to the far more important “Why?” Why did God create the universe and human beings? That’s a subject for a different essay. What’s germane for this piece is the realization that there is a God to Whom we owe our existence. As a super-rational being, God had a reason for creating. That means we have a purpose. We don’t just possess reason; we have A reason. Life works best when it aligns with that reason. Ignoring it leads to ruin.

 God created us as social creatures, meant to share life together. For that to work optimally, some form of government needs to be established so that competing interests can be negotiated. Where there’s government, there’s politics. So God gives the mandate for civil government early in the Bible, in Genesis 9, just after The Flood. The mandate for human government is to protect the sanctity of human life through a system of justice.
 Later, when God gave Moses the Laws by which Israel was to operate, He repeatedly called them to obey because He was Holy. The Law was a reflection of His character and nature. Since human beings are created in God’s image, life is designed to function within the scope of its purpose. When it deviates from that, it doesn’t work. Obedience to God leads to human flourishing, while disobedience leads to diminishing.

 The place of faith in politics lies in connecting the unchanging God-ordained purpose for all things to the government’s task, to justly negotiate competing interests. Law will either be determined by the timeless guidelines provided by God in Scripture or by the arbitrary whims of whoever is in power.

 The Founders of our nation were profoundly shaped by a Biblical Worldview and sought to shape our national constitution on unchanging natural law. Their genius produced a system of personal liberty under law that has seen the highest standard of living, for the most people, of every class and station, for the longest period of time in history.

 What role does faith have in politics? A central role.
   [1] cf. Seven Revolutions, Aquilina, James & Papandera, James L. Image; New York
Faith & Reason, Searching for a Rational Faith Nash, Ronald H. Academie-Zondervan; Grand Rapids
The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great by Ben Shapiro Broadside Books