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Should the secular state legislate morality?


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#21 Christina M.

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 06:17 PM

I believe it is also relevant to mention that the EU has been trying to allow women visitors on the Holy Mountain, because they think the monks there are being "sexist".

#22 Christina M.

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 06:32 PM

What is far worse if Obama gets his way, now that ALL Americans are forced by law to buy Insurance, if that insurance covers Abortion, Christians in the US will be forced to pay and finance the killing of unborn babies (I think in the UK and Canada this is already happening).


US taxmoney is already being used to fund abortions, through government-funded organizations such as Planned Parenting, so I don't think it is anything new. I'm not saying it's "okay", I'm just saying it's already going on.

#23 Angelos

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 06:42 PM

I believe it is also relevant to mention that the EU has been trying to allow women visitors on the Holy Mountain, because they think the monks there are being "sexist".


As a native Greek, I can say that the EU has been a complete cultural/religious (and lately economic) disaster for Greece.

Edited by Angelos, 01 February 2011 - 07:06 PM.


#24 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 02:45 PM

Dear Angelos,

This is difficult to speak of in general terms since each country has such a different way of looking at government; at what it is and what its role is. Here in Canada the drift in recent decades has been to wards something much more European, with the strong idea that government is a mechanism to serve the community. An election is the community choosing members of its own community to serve its needs: infrastructure, laws, defense, etc. Therefore in such countries there is little idea of seeing the government as interfering since government is there precisely to be involved in our lives. To say it another way- Canadians are much more likely to get upset over: 'where was the government when we needed them?'.

Now this is a secular and social point rather than a religious one. What is common in all of our western countries is that the Church and its moral values no longer play a determining role in society. Even where such values are put forward (more likely in America than elsewhere) this must go through government legislation first. Unrealized by many Christians is that in all modern understanding of this, the state is sovereign- not the Church. And this was the whole point of the various secular revolutions which occurred in our societies during the past centuries. All western countries share this heritage and live in this reality in various forms.

One legacy of this sovereignty of the state is precisely how in our various countries it is now government which is called to play the critical role-be it either through hands on or hands off. In other words once the Church has been removed, and then in recent times the removal of its last moral legacy of laws which govern moral behaviour, then the only thing left is government in order to determine such things in a social way.

I think then that this is why Orthodox Christians in the west are now so ambivalent about government. Government for us always did mean moral management of the community- this was its Orthodox definition. And this in many ways is how the Orthodox were comfortable with government and engaged in it up until recent times. It wasn't the Church- but it was necessary for the sake of society.

Now however in the west government is almost entirely disengaged from the Church and its values. Even if you try to adopt legislation which carries a moral value, you can only do this by going through government channels, which in the long run always distorts your original intent.

Of course then, we are left with the question of whether government really does make up such a large degree of social reality as we might think. Are we forced to either be involved with government or to live in complete isolation from society? Here I think that many recent thinkers & activists (especially young people) are ahead of us in understanding that social involvement or activity does not depend on government. You might feel like you live on the fringes of society. But there is still very much a way of bringing what we believe to how we interact with others. And this can range from the individual interaction all of the way to the larger social sphere.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#25 Jason H.

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 04:39 PM

Father,

What is far worse if Obama gets his way, now that ALL Americans are forced by law to buy Insurance, if that insurance covers Abortion, Christians in the US will be forced to pay and finance the killing of unborn babies (I think in the UK and Canada this is already happening).

.


Before anyone starts spouting off about Health Care law, let's make sure that they know what they are talking about:

http://www.whitehous...es/health-care/

#26 Jason H.

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 04:40 PM

This is a little misleading as morality is usually judged by a person's spiritual/theological point of view.

And exactly which "moral" teachings would the State take it's guidance from? Christianity? Judaism? Hinduism? Buddhism? Jainism? Taoism? Paganism? Islam? Humanism? Alienism? :-)


I'm still waiting for someone to answer this question for me. For those who believe that the state should judge and implement "morality," exactly WHO will do the implementing??

#27 Evan

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 05:33 PM

I'm still waiting for someone to answer this question for me. For those who believe that the state should judge and implement "morality," exactly WHO will do the implementing??


Jason,

Since I've spoken a great deal on this point already, I though I'd address your question.

We have it on the authority of the Apostle to the Gentiles -- himself beheaded for obeying God rather than men-- that the State is obliged, not only to "execute wrath upon him who does evil," but to do positive "good"-- the State is "God's minister to (us), for good." (Romans 13:4-5). Both of these functions require moral discernment. One can't punish evil or do good unless one has some appreciation of what is good and what is evil.

Of course, we KNOW that those who occupy positions of power in the State may not only not be Christians, but positively hostile to the word of the cross. Even if they claim to be Christians, we have reason for serious concerns about Caeser. One needs only to read about the lives of St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Maximos the Confessor, among a cloud of other witnesss, to appreciate this. When Lord Acton, so often cited for the proposition that absolute power corrupts absolutely, mentioned "the general wickedness of men in authority," he began with "Luther and Zwingli and Calvin and Cranmer and Knox." Professed Christians are not exempt from the demonic assaults attendant upon positions of authority. Something about thorns and choking comes to mind.

As Christians, it is our duty to bring to bear what influence we can to ensure that the State fulfills its appointed functions. To the extent that there are those in secular authority who do not know good from evil, or have very confused ideas of it, we must speak the truth in love, keeping our conscience clear, that we might bring them to knowledge of the truth. If they do resist it --and they have, and will-- our duty is clear. We are to obey Caeser, so long as he does not require us to do things that are ungodly. In that case, the State is claiming an authority it does not have and never will have.

If we are bound in conscience to obey the State, insofar as it does not itself require things of us that are ungodly, the State MUST address itself to our conscience. If civil government truly acts as “God’s servant,” then the political order of a State can hardly be amoral, or morally neutral.

That the State's resources can be abused is obvious. There is no evil like state-sanctioned evil. We've seen it in action in our own country, as Angelos has pointed out repeatedly. That is an indictment of practice, not of principle. To affirm that no political order should aspire to moral neutrality is not to deny that men together can do evil on a scale more terrible than they could ever do apart.

There are complex questions of political theory involved in considering what government is best ordered to serve the functions demanded of the State as God's minister. I've tried to avoid addressing them, because I don't think the Church has a position on what political order, whether it be monarchy, obligarchy or democracy is to be preferred. Obviously, political orders that accept as a premise such things as, say, the non-existence of God and the diminished worth of particular groups of human beings made in the image and likeness of God, must be rejected. But debating the comparative merits of various governmental structures I think is outside the scope of this forum, however interesting Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Tocqueville, Mill, Locke and Jefferson might have found it.


In Christ,
Evan

Edited by Evan, 02 February 2011 - 05:53 PM.


#28 Antonios

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 07:10 PM

I have tried to stay away from this thread because I have tried to keep the Church and the state separate (much as I would like a government to be run). Personally, I agree with the founding fathers of this country which envisioned a government made whose sole purpose is to defend the liberties of the individual. Frankly, this is what made this nation great and why almost every nation in this world has adopted similar themes in their own nation's constitution.

The idea of the government being the enforcer of morality is a romantic idea which unfortunately fails, every time. Some of the more famous quotes are:

Thomas Paine : "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."

George Washington : "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

Lord Acton (not a founding father of the US, but a brilliant defender of liberty) : "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

We know that a pure democracy fails (every time), starting with the Ancient Greek civilization, as eventually it become a mobacracy. The old adage "Democracy is two wolves and one sheep deciding whats for dinner' is a wonderful example.

The form of government that is a republic (not unlike how the Church militant itself is structured) is by far the best means of governence to protect the rights of the minority, especially one that is based on a rule of law such as the Constitution. There is no doubt that the US Constitution is amongst the greatest written declarations of human governance in all of human history and what caused a giant leap in advancing all human civilization by promoting the ideas of liberty and justice. There is no wonder that such a Constitution could only come out of a people who identified themselves as Christians, as only would a society which believes in love and respect for their neighbor would allow such great declarations of freedom of speech and assembly and religion, etc.

Of course, the abuse of these ideals (or the potential for abuse) were acknoweldged even when they were first written and the casual straying from such ideals such as personal responsibility and respect for another's liberty and private property and individual rights has led us to this great decline in the American dream. As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention and was asked by a lady what kind of government did they decide on, he replied " A republic, if you can keep it". Unfortunately, we have lost it because of the increasing centralization of power which has happened over the past century, not unlike what happened in the Christian West with the Papal states and the Roman heirarchy. 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely'

Oh well, I can go on and on, but I wont because I rather not :) There is really not much I have read on this thread or in life in general which makes me believe that a powerful centralized State should dictate morality. I will finish by saying that I believe it is not the role of the State (especially a centralized Federal Government!) to dictate morality, but rather the parents, the community, and the person's particular church to do so, which is how the founders of this nation envisioned it and which worked remarkably well up until the decay of this nation through the progressive idealists who fantasize that government is the solution. The government's role is not to tell us how to live.

PS: Herman, you statement about curtailing the rights of what an individual decides to do with their own body (that is, eat, inhale, etc) because it affects your insurance costs made me chuckle. I strongly do not agree with your statement. I, nor the government, have absolutely no right to infringe on what a person wants to do to their bodies or with their bodies if it is done in their own bedroom/private property and with consensual adults. Oh well, that my 2 cents.

#29 Angelos

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 07:20 PM

Stating the obvious, I just want to say that I completely agree with Antonios.

I also think there has been some confusion as to whether a Christian should obey the Law (I agree with Evan, that with the exception of cases where the Law directly contradicts God's will, Christians should obey the Law) vs. as to whether a Christian should give his secular Government unlimited power to regulate his and everyone else's behavior and morality.

When St. Paul and the early Fathers expressed their opinions on the relationship between the Government and Christians, individuals had zero power to decide how big and strong their Government will be. So nothing they wrote pertains to the 2nd issue, because such an issue was not existent. So to take St. Paul's letters and try to apply them to a completely different political environment for an issue he could not be addressing is just wrong

Edited by Angelos, 02 February 2011 - 07:42 PM.


#30 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 11:48 PM

PS: Herman, you statement about curtailing the rights of what an individual decides to do with their own body (that is, eat, inhale, etc) because it affects your insurance costs made me chuckle. I strongly do not agree with your statement. I, nor the government, have absolutely no right to infringe on what a person wants to do to their bodies or with their bodies if it is done in their own bedroom/private property and with consensual adults. Oh well, that my 2 cents.


I don't think I said anything about rights. The question was not about rights, it was whether or not what one person does "in private" affects others. Just about everything we do affects others in some way or another, my sins impact your life, thankfully you just aren't aware of how. It does, whether you want to acknowledge that or not, in many perhaps subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, regardless our "right" to do so.

I don't believe in the separation of Church and State. I absolutely bring with me the values inculcated by my Faith when I interact with the government. Oops wait a minute, I AM the government! I am a government employee, American taxes pay my salary. I don't make or enforce the laws but I support them as best as I can.

Herman the government Pooh

#31 Antonios

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 12:33 AM

I don't think I said anything about rights. The question was not about rights, it was whether or not what one person does "in private" affects others. Just about everything we do affects others in some way or another, my sins impact your life, thankfully you just aren't aware of how. It does, whether you want to acknowledge that or not, in many perhaps subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, regardless our "right" to do so.

I don't believe in the separation of Church and State. I absolutely bring with me the values inculcated by my Faith when I interact with the government. Oops wait a minute, I AM the government! I am a government employee, American taxes pay my salary. I don't make or enforce the laws but I support them as best as I can.

Herman the government Pooh


Maybe I misunderstood you Pooh, but when Angelos mentioned about someone smoking in the privacy of his house and eating McDonalds happy meals, you stated that such poor health habits affect your insurance costs and I interpreted to mean you think it should thus be outlawed. Perhaps you were just joking around, but there are people who really feel this way, and this would be all about rights- specifically rights in regards to one's own body. The problem is where does it stop? Too much salt is hazardous to one's health, thus does that mean laws should be made about salt intake? Or if someone wants to enjoy a dish of ice cream! It is not the role of the government in a free society to tell anyone what they can or cannot do with their own body. We should never allow the government to dictate control over our own bodies. Even God, Who bestowed upon us free will, does not prevent us to do so; man-made state should have even less authority! Does this mean that people will harm themselves and do things that might be against our own morals? Of course! That is partly the price to pay to live in a free society! But that is between the individual and God to sort out, not the State, lest we make the State have more authority over our bodies than ourselves or God Himself. While there would be dangers and failings allowing such freedoms, the alternate is much worse, namely tyranny. The benefits of a free society far outweigh the dangers of one.

I would agree with you that I personally do not believe in the separation of Church and state in my own life- that is, I will not compromise the morals of my faith with how I try to live in society. But, while that may be good for me and my worldview, I do not have the authority or the place to force my morals and what my Church teaches on others who do so in the privacy of their own lives without compromising my own liberties.

The government's sole purpose is to protect the God given inalienable rights of the individual similarly as beautifully described in the Constitution. To best do this, a republic is the most reliable means to do so, with a government which is limited and decentralized. This creates a free exchange of ideas and human ingenuity and an advancement in the society as a whole, as long as the basic precepts are followed: namely that no one is above the rule of law, that justice must be maintained, and that most importantly by far, the individual's rights and liberties be protected.

#32 Angelos

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 01:10 AM

I actually think the separation of Church and State (not in my life, but in general) is in practice good for the Church. One only has to see what is the condition of the Church (both Orthodox and Catholic) in countries where Church and State were one. Most people in a country like Spain or Russia are Catholic/Orthodox in name only. Churches are mostly empty. No-one even cares if the killing of innocent pre-born babies (abortions) is legal. Even the local Churches themselves have been in many cases corrupt.

For example, in a Gallup poll asking How important is religion to you? only 33% of the people in Belarus, 33% in Russia, 45% in Ukraine but 65% of the people in the USA answered very much. http://en.wikipedia....gion_by_country

Due to the sinful nature of man, Power and Monopoly corrupt both Church and State

Edited by Angelos, 03 February 2011 - 01:52 AM.


#33 Paul Cowan

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 04:48 AM

Before anyone starts spouting off about Health Care law, let's make sure that they know what they are talking about:

http://www.whitehous...es/health-care/


HAVE YOU READ THE ENTIRE BILL JASON? I have. We are screwed if this is allowed to take effect. So are our employers. Read past the pretty words. Read the text! DO you not expect the owner of the bill to put the best spin on it? If you need an example, read section 312 ©. or section 323 paragraph (f) and lets not forget about granny in section 1233.

Now do we really want the State dictating our morality?

#34 Kosta

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 09:34 AM

I actually think the separation of Church and State (not in my life, but in general) is in practice good for the Church. One only has to see what is the condition of the Church (both Orthodox and Catholic) in countries where Church and State were one. Most people in a country like Spain or Russia are Catholic/Orthodox in name only. Churches are mostly empty. No-one even cares if the killing of innocent pre-born babies (abortions) is legal. Even the local Churches themselves have been in many cases corrupt.

For example, in a Gallup poll asking How important is religion to you? only 33% of the people in Belarus, 33% in Russia, 45% in Ukraine but 65% of the people in the USA answered very much. http://en.wikipedia....gion_by_country

Due to the sinful nature of man, Power and Monopoly corrupt both Church and State



So if thats the case we should pray that we all live under shariah law. Afterall the most fervent christians are the ones living in muslim lands. America is not better off, the problem lies with caucasians period. Whether canadien, american, european, australian, we as westerners have stabbed Christ in the back, as the gospel prophecizes the first will be the last and the last will be first..
America is not a religious country, its the home of the pornography industry run by self professed christians and jews, likewise with hollywood. Over 40 percent of pregnancies in NY ended in abortions last year, worse yet the highest abortion rates are in the bible belt. America is the home of 33,000 schismatic sects thanx to the constitution and the ideology of freedom from religion. The reason americans seem more religious is because they lie in those polls. You actually think more than 1/3 of americans (over 100 million) are regular church goers as these polls tell us? I can tell you that no where in america is there traffic jams at 9 am on sunday mornings. Idont see arenas and stadiums selling out every week for religious service because thats what would be required if over 35% of americans attended church weekly as these polls claim.

#35 Kosta

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 10:19 AM

The state has the right to regulate what is proper. For the most part though the state does not neccesairly have to codify everything, because law is a reflection of the culture and values of that state in a given point in time. When the populace is monolithic there already exists a sense of what is right and wrong, this stems from being more culturally cohesive. This is best scene in Japan where one generation after another uphold the same values and where bringing disgrace upon the family name is a no no.
The problem is we in the west have been conditioned in the past 40 years to believe certain things are virtuous when they are not. And these pseudo-virtues are now crumbling right before our very eyes. The concept of diversity has perverted us into not knowing what is right or wrong, trying to appease and accomodate a plethora of cultural values and ideas which may or maynot be proper. Everyone can run to the court and argue discrimination or violation of freedom of expression even though its outside the norm of that society. This has then been taken to extremes by an irresponsible western media.

In 1955 the television comedy program 'I Love Lucy' featured a couple who were married (in real life) yet their beds were always seperated. The morality of that era did not allow for an actor and actress to share a single bed for the both of them on television even if their roles was that of a married couple . Two generations later we are in 2010 and we have reality programs like 'Jersey Shore' where real life youth are shacking up in real life and whose parents encourage them! We have programs on regular television made for youth showing graphic lesbian relationships and pot use, and its glamorized. Journalist themselves write columns calling for the destruction of 'traditional values'. I guess St Sophronius of Jerusalem was right, God has sent the muslims to punish the christians for their sins.
As a radio personality remarked we went from I love Lucy to I love loosely in less than 2 generations.

#36 Salaam Yitbarek

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 01:25 PM

I like what Evan, Herman, and others have said about how everything we do, even in what we may consider 'private', affects everyone else. From an Orthodox perspective, that is, insofar as these actions have an effect on one or more person's souls and therefore affect everyone else's soul.

From a political perspective, as Herman said, again many things done in private affect others. As Herman said, not taking care of your health means you might become an 'unreasonable' burden on shared health costs. If you decide on nursing as your career, you increase the supply of nurses, increasing their availability and decreasing their wages, affecting all sorts of people, and so on!

What the state's role should be in light of this is of course another question.

I have a little story that my wise priest related to us last evening. A couple of frogs were frolicking in their pond when they noticed a fire break out in a nearby house. As the house was burning, one frog said to the other, "That's terrible. How awful for those poor people." "Yes, but what is it to us? Nothing we can do," replied the other, and he kept on playing in his pond. A little while later, people fighting the fire started using water from the pond. A huge bucket came and swept up the frogs along with water, and they were dumped in the fire.

Edited by Salaam Yitbarek, 03 February 2011 - 02:17 PM.
Missing word


#37 Mark Harris

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 01:36 PM

God gave us freedom to choose but sadly we generally collectively take the path of least resistance and that path is the secularisation of society, the "political correctness" of society and liberalisation and we will push the boundaries until they break.
The breaking point comes in many guises: the financial collapse and recession of the last 2 or 3 years, outbreaks of disease like HIV from sexual practices, food and health scares from husbandry malpractices causing BSE, CJD, H1N1.
Where is our counter to these? The survey on the importance of religion may be flawed but the overall pattern is telling. I understand that we cannot proselytise but we Orthodox Christians collectively make very little religious noise that counters the degredation of our societies.
Christianity is out there but Orthodox Christianity , except where it exists through ethnicity, seems to "have to be discovered" and for many only by chance. I think a little bit of PR would help to get the Church influencing and on an on-going basis (not from a relic of an old constitution ) how the state legislates morality. I would like to see the Bishops collumn in the daily paper, his daily prayer, the Church's view on ...... whatever it may be.

#38 Owen Jones

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 02:18 PM

This discussion points to the need for an Orthodox political science. Not political science in the contemporary sense which is nothing more than quantitative analysis, but real political science that deals with the proper ends of a society as well as of individuals, and the proper means for achieving those ends. Which implies that a society cannot exist without a telos in God, just as we would say with any individual, believer or no.

The historical problems are significant. The NT has no political vision, other than a very brief statement by Christ regarding rendering unto Caesar, etc., which is really in the context of the Pharisees trying to get him to say something seditious so that they can have him arrested. Another reason for this was that, if you look at least at some of the Epistles, it appears that the Second Coming was deemed to be eminent. Therefore, what is the need for a Christian view of politics? This changes of course with the advent of imperial Christianity, which becomes the model until the 17th Century or thereabouts. With the French Revolution you have the idea that a society can and should exist apart from God as its essential creed. The American Founders tread both sides of the issue here. They understand that to defend freedom and liberty apart from a God-given right is solipsistic. On the other hand, they reject the one symbolic form of Divine sovereignty: the monarch, and they erect a constitution with no reference to Divine sovereignty. So you have a situation in which the Second Coming is projected into an unknowable future, and Christianity becomes personalized and individualized to an extent that is arguably tinged with gnosticism.

The ideal from a Biblical standpoint is when a people exists directly under God's rule, as in the nascent Israelite society. The Israelites demand to be ruled by a king and God condescends to grant them kingship only after taking pity on their sinfulness. But if we draw on classical, pre-Christian sources, and line that up with post-325AD sources, we find some agreement in that both the Platonic and Christian vision of politics is that it should promote virtue, and that only a virtuous people can have a healthy, virtuous political system. However, the number one political virtue is self-restraint, a virtue that is lost on most politicians, ( and pretty much the rest of of as well).

A very misunderstood Machiavelli (who is falsely accused as being a kind of nihilist by people who have never actually read what he wrote), argues forcefully for the self-restraint of the Prince, that he should not try to manage peoples' lives for them, that they will love him more if he leaves them alone, and that his primary concern ought to be foreign and domestic enemies who seek to kill him or overthrow his rule by other means, i.e. people who are jealous of his position. But Machiavelli also decries the decline of Christian virtue that he sees. You just have to look for this in his writings.

The modern state is a gnostic inversion of Christian Trinitarian doctrine. As Edmund Burke pointed out, the modern idea of politics is that the state is "all in all," and we all know where that allusion comes from! Modern politics the world over is really a reversion to pre-Christian politics in a sense, in that it claims a consubstantiality between Divinity and the World. It's view of a fallen world is that it needs to be re-divinized through political action, not virtue, such that there is no longer any distinction between divinity and nature. So virtually every political speech you hear contains this hidden premise.

Intimately linked to this is the idea of progress in history, which no serious Christian or classicist would have been tempted with prior to, say, the 1600's in Europe. Modern political ideology is dependent on this gnostic belief, which is an inversion of the uniquely Christian idea of the progress that the soul makes from this world to the next, through the adoption of the theological and ascetical virtues, and not just as an individual endeavor, but as part of a larger whole, beginning with the communion of believers, but also on behalf of all mankind and the entire astro-physical universe as well. So as I am being saved from my sinful and corrupted state, the whole universe is being saved. The "problem" with this is that it is very hard and a rare occurrence. Much more tempting to promise salvation for all through a program of political salvation. So the essence of modernity is salvation in an immanent, historical sense, through politics (or science, or economics, or psychoanalysis, etc.).

So the intellectual environment is littered with the misuse of Christian symbols, which is why I say that we need a Christian political science. Some of the work has been done by some philosophical minds like Eric Voegelin, but the same problem exists today as it did in Plato's time -- only a very, very few people have the capacity to acquire some degree of divine order in their lives through the philosophical arts. Christ makes salvation available to all, including the ignorant, uneducated peasant, through His simplicity, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

One of the most pressing requirements in a Christian political science today is, what is the believer's relationship to an anti-Christian society and government? This is a very practical question. Again, something that Jesus addressed, but it's up to us to develop that principle given our current historical condition. The other challenge is to offer an alternative political vision to the current disorder. I know Orthodox people (mostly converts) who say that it is already there for us in the form of absolute Christian monarchy. I have found that these are usually converts who try to affect the persona of a Russian peasant. I think we can and should do better.

#39 Father David Moser

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 02:50 PM

The government's sole purpose is to protect the God given inalienable rights of the individual similarly as beautifully described in the Constitution. ... This creates a free exchange of ideas and human ingenuity and an advancement in the society as a whole, as long as the basic precepts are followed: namely that no one is above the rule of law, that justice must be maintained, and that most importantly by far, the individual's rights and liberties be protected.


I have to disagree with this from an Orthodox POV. The purpose of a civil government is not to protect the rights of the individual, but rather it is to create and maintain a society in which it is possible for us to work out our salvation. The whole idea of the "rights" of the individual are, imo, not consistent with Orthodox Christianity. Regarding the "inalienable rights of the individual" I would like to offer a piece I wrote at least 10 years ago (in response to an article advocating the necessity of a "catacomb church" in the US due to the intrusion of government into our private lives). This excerpt deals with the issue of the "inalienable rights" mentioned by the Constitution of the US.

A well-known psychiatrist, Thomas Szasz, in speaking about the means by which our society exerts control over individuals, says:
“The concept of coercion implies two closely related notions: namely, power and freedom. One person, A, cannot coerce another, B, unless A has power over B; the weak, in other words, cannot (literally) coerce the strong. Conversely, one person, B, cannot be coerced by another, A, unless B has certain aspirations and desires, typically to go on living, to be free to possess property, and to "pursue happiness". The person devoid of all wants - indifferent to whether or not he lives or suffers - cannot be coerced. This is why, in the West, people have sought to protect themselves from coercion by political means, principally by restraining the powers of the state (limited government) - and why, in the East, people have sought to protect themselves from coercion by spiritual means - principally by limiting their own desires.” [Szasz, Thomas, MD; Justifying Coercion through Theology and Therapy, 1987]

This statement regarding the relationship of power and control to the traditional Orthodox Christian values of limiting the desires or conquering the passions, and adopting the values of the Kingdom of God as opposed to those of the world, has much to tell us about how to begin our own preparations for martyrdom. Dr. Szasz lists for us the basic assumptions made by our society, through which it exerts control over its members. These assumptions are of the desire and right "to go on living, to be free, to possess property, and to pursue happiness." This is confirmed by the fundamental document of this society, the Constitution of the United States. These are the three "inalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" which are supposedly guaranteed by this very document. In order to prepare for martyrdom, and therefore be beyond the influence of any worldly and antichristian authority, these desires must be controlled.

The first of these desires, "to go on living", is a value totally antithetical to the teaching of Our Lord - "he who would save his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for My sake will save it." As Orthodox Christians, we know that this earthly life is only a shadow, an image, an icon of true life, which can be obtained only through Christ. How audacious of the state to "guarantee" life! Only God can do this, for only God is the source of all life. In order, then, to be released from the hold of this desire for the natural, false life, we must redefine our concept of "life". Life can no longer be seen from this world's perspective, a merely earthly existence, but rather, we must adopt God's eternal view of life, as emanating from Himself, and possible only in unity with Him. The Apostle Paul confirmed this in teaching that "if you live after the flesh you shall die, but if you, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live" [Rom 8:13].

Our second action must be to address our desire "to be free", for "liberty". What is this freedom? What does it mean to have liberty? For most, it means to be self-determining, autonomous, having the ability to function without outside forces exerting undue influence. Even to the novice in the spiritual life, the temptation to pride and self-absorption is evident in this idea. By striving for this kind of freedom, we become slaves to that self-same freedom! We willingly bind ourselves with shackles labeled "liberty" or "human rights" or "personal dignity" or any number of other popular names in the service of this "freedom". Compare such a notion of freedom with the true freedom exemplified by Christ in His prayer, "Not My will, but Thine...", and taught by the Apostle Paul: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof... Know ye not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servant you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience unto righteousness?.. Being then made free from sin, you become the servants of righteousness... But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, you have fruit leading to holiness..." [Rom 6:12ff]. From this, we learn that "freedom" exists only in Christ, and that by accepting the easy yoke and light burden of obedience to Christ, we (paradoxically, in the eyes of the world) are free. Freedom in the world is slavery to sin, while becoming the slave of God is freedom. Therefore, to become truly free is to fulfill the commandments of God. The only place where this obedient freedom can be maintained is within the Orthodox Church, which has preserved the freedom-giving commandments of God without error or change. In order to continue our preparation for martyrdom, we must become obedient servants of our Lord Jesus Christ as we are taught through our mother, His holy Church.

The third desire, "to possess property", is remarkably absent even from the Constitution. Our popular conception, fortified by advertisers and secular entertainment, as well as some so-called "Christian" groups, however, is that this right exists - and if we do not get it, something is wrong. This desire is clearly addressed in the Sermon on the Mount: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal, but rather lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." We must value the things of God more highly than the things of man even to the point of giving up (or "trading in") our earthly possessions in order to obtain heavenly possessions. The holy Apostle Thomas, when engaged as an architect to build a palace for a great earthly king, took all the money and material entrusted to him for the construction of the palace and distributed it to the poor. When this was discovered by the king, he at first had the Apostle arrested; but following a vision of heaven and the great palace his alms had constructed there (even without his knowledge and against his will!), this king released the holy Apostle (who was certainly "guilty" of grand larceny) and embraced the Christian Faith. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."

Finally, there is this nebulous right and desire to "pursue happiness". In the eyes of the world, this often means the indulgence of passions and chasing after every fantasy of the mind and heart. The "pursuit of happiness" is the opposite of discipline and obedience. To pursue happiness too often means to lead a life of dissipation and fruitless wandering. True happiness, however, is found only in Christ. Separation from Christ is true sorrow, but union with Christ is true happiness. In the Kingdom of God, to pursue happiness is to follow Christ. This pursuit of happiness is the way of the Cross; to be happy is to enter into the death and resurrection of Christ. For the Christian, discipline, self-denial and martyrdom are synonyms of happiness.


God did not give us "inalienable rights" - He only gave us the opportunity to work out our salvation. He does not guarantee us our rights, He offers us something of much greater value - mercy. If we paid less attention to our "rights" and more attention to our salvation, to repentance, to loving God and neighbor, we (both this world and ourselves) would be in a much better place.

Fr David Moser

#40 Angelos

Angelos

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 04:46 PM

Father,

God, as you said "did not give us "inalienable rights"", but Jesus did give us (in John 13:34) the command to ""Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" How did jesus love us? Did He try to force anyone to obey His commandments? No, He didn't. What did Jesus say to His overzealous disciples when they wanted to rain fire to the sinful Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56)? He "rebuked them"

So it is very clear that, while we are on this earth, Jesus does not want His disciples to use power to force others to obey His commandments. Respecting "individual rights" is much more in line with Jesus' teaching and example, than using police/State power trying to force people to obey Jesus' commandments.

The model of the "Absolute Christian Monarch" who uses force to regualte people's behavior was tried and failed for more than 1500 years...maybe following Jesus' example (who denounced earthly power and refused to use His own great powers) serves us better to "work out our Salvation".




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