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Should the secular state legislate morality?


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#121 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 September 2011 - 04:59 PM

Today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on the new calendar, and in meditating on this I realized that there is something quite fundamental and basic to our theology and the understanding of ourselves that we get from our faith that we have forgotten.

So fundamental that when it came to mind I wondered why it hasn't been brought up earlier on this thread, and yet I think the fact that we so often forget it, and even when we remember, live in such a distorted and watered down version, tells us something about how deeply embedded in our hearts, how second nature, this whole idea of "natural rights" has become.

We understand that as God, Christ was not getting what he deserved at the Cross, His "rights" were being violated and He humbled himself to being treated unfairly, in obedience to the Father. And yet we forget that as a man, He was simply suffering the just penalty of God's judgment. In the Garden man freely choose to obey Satan, and the resulting consequence was that he came under a sentence of death and ended up in a condition of living in slavery under a tyrant that was out to destroy him. The death that Christ died was nothing more then the fulfillment of the penalty man inherited at the fall.

When Jefferson writes, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights..." it is not true. The rights are not inalienable. In fact when we fell, we lost life; we lost liberty; we lost happiness, and most of all we lost any claim to them as rightfully ours. If we as fallen sinful men have any degree of these at all it is not because we are entitled to them, but rather an act of completely undeserved mercy on the part of God and our fellow men.

There is a real sense in which the Unjust Tyrant, if such is the govt we end up under, is simply a manifestation of us getting what we deserve. But this whole idea of natural rights tries to do away with this truth.

We might protest, but isn't it a good thing at least to recognize that man is made in God's image and as such is deserving of being treated in accordance with this? But I don't think we can really defend this point. Please bear with me.

The saints don't see themselves as the only sinners with everyone else being righteous, rather they reach the point of being able to say that they are the worst of all sinners. There is much in enlightenment philosophy that is in complete denial of the fall and which is an attempt to aggressively wipe out any remembrance of this reality. But the truth is that man may be made in God's image, but he is currently in a state of destroying this image, and as such is not deserving of being treated as if he were something he is not. This is why we only venerate saints, not just anyone. It is a recognition that those who are still fallen, are undeserving.

How then should we treat each other? The way we deserve to be treated? Lord have mercy - certainly not! We treat others as God treats us -- with undeserved mercy and boundless love. Not as something owed them because of their "natural rights" -- (in reality, if examined, this just leads to hardness of heart and contentiousness in our relations, rather then the tender-mercies the Scripture calls us to (Col 3:12))

When I spoke above about a change of mind rather then a change of govt. this is where the rubber hits the road. We have to work to recapture this truth and remember it as part of our "Christian politics" as citizens of this country. Before communion every week we pray:
"I have provoked Thy goodness by transgressing Thy commandments an by not obeying Thy ordinances. But Thou O Lord who are forebearing, long-suffering, and plentious in mercy, has not given me up to perish in my iniquities... Wherefore, though I am unworthy of both Heaven and earth, and even of this transient life, since I have wholly subjected myself to sin, and am a slave to pleasures, and have defaced Thy image, yet being Thy work and creation, I the wretched one, do not despair of my salavation, but emboldened by Thy immeasurable compassion I draw nigh."

This, our sinfulness, which makes us undeserving of anything in heaven or on earth, is not something that is only true when we stand before God in church, it true all the time for all people.

#122 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 September 2011 - 05:01 PM

but rather applied a life of transfigured and martyric love to the conditions they lived in and the authorities they encountered


For an example of this I highly recommend Fr Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father

#123 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 14 September 2011 - 05:13 PM

So, then, who is volunteering to move to North Korea, in that case?

#124 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 September 2011 - 05:47 PM

So, then, who is volunteering to move to North Korea, in that case?


Well, we may deserve this kind of suffering, but certainly to volunteer for it is simply pride. We accept the mercy and goodness that God gives us, and if He gives us temptation and trial we accept this with faith and humility also. And certainly it is right to have compassion and mercy in our hearts towards those so suffering, praying for them to be relieved. Don't we pray for God's mercy on the world and on ourselves too in our litanies?

#125 John Mitchell

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Posted 14 September 2011 - 06:36 PM

As Christians we have a view of what actions (or thoughts) are sinful. The question is do we want the State to make sinful actions illegal, when these actions do not hurt our neighbor or anybody else for that matter.

Lets not forget that when the State legislates behavior, it has a tendency to also force Christians to do things they find sinful, such as forcing Catholic Hospitals to perform abortions or Catholic adoption centers to give babies to Homosexual couples.

What is the Orthodox position on this. Should behaviors like smoking pot, prostitution, gay sex, adultery be illegal or the State should let people exercise their free will as long as what they does not hurt others??


im confused? just because abortion is not against the law, like chemotherapy, how could a hospital be forced to perform abortions when there are hospitals that dont have chemotherapy.

also, as a private institution, how could a Roman charities' decision making process be interfered with by public funds or officers? I am unfamiliar with this.

#126 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 14 September 2011 - 06:55 PM

Beacuse if they do not give the babies to Homosexual couples they are charged and taken to court on grounds of discrimination.

In Christ.
Daniel,

#127 Father David Moser

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Posted 14 September 2011 - 08:10 PM

A gentle reminder that this forum is not about politics, but about Orthodox Christianity. Please center your posts on the Orthodox Christian view of the role of the secular government in ordering the lives of the people. Discussions about the "ideal form of government" are certainly off topic here.

Fr David Moser

#128 Evan

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Posted 15 September 2011 - 07:59 PM

When Jefferson writes, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights..." it is not true. The rights are not inalienable. In fact when we fell, we lost life; we lost liberty; we lost happiness, and most of all we lost any claim to them as rightfully ours. If we as fallen sinful men have any degree of these at all it is not because we are entitled to them, but rather an act of completely undeserved mercy on the part of God and our fellow men.

.



Anna,

The distinction between the authority of God over man and the authority of man over man, is, I think, Jefferson’s point of departure, precisely because of his awareness of the effects of the Fall (if not an appreciation of their cause). Man’s subjection to the authority of God is unconditional because God is perfect and man’s subjection to the authority of man is conditional because man is not perfect. The idea is that what God in His mercy allows us to have and is sovereign in His disposition of, no fallen, sinful man ought have absolute, arbitrary power over because no man, being fallen and sinful, has any such natural authority and is not safely trusted with it.

I think this distinction is valid. Indeed, it seems crucial to rendering to Caesar that which is his, and rendering to God that which is His, and recognizing the effects of the Fall in our political life. It’s worth pointing out that the gods were always the source of law in the ancient Greek polis, and that there was no distinction between divine and human authority in political life (hence Socrates, at his trial, did not argue that impiety against the gods was within his freedom of conscience). Because we consider that the state is not capable of perfecting man, and because those who run the state are fallen human beings like the rest of us, it would be incoherent to allow the few wise who run the state to have unbounded authority, as the ancients speculated might be ideal. You've said that you're not endorsing unbounded authority per se, but I'm struggling to understand what precisely is intended by your statement that we hold our lives, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness, such as they are, as an "act of completely undeserved mercy on the part of God and our fellow man." I think that there is good authority for the proposition that we are in fact obliged to be merciful to our fellow men, and those who are not so merciful will not be shown mercy. A political order that recognizes this to be true for those in authority and those subject to them seems quite reasonable to me.

More broadly, I don't see in the notion of "natural right" (perhaps I should simply refer to it as natural law?) anything inconsistent with what the Church has always taught concerning the Gentiles who "by nature" do what the law requires. Can we not agree that there are great principles of right and wrong, accessible to man even when He is dead in trespasses and thus binding "in conscience" upon him, within and without political society? Were not the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah held accountable for their crimes, though they had received no specific instruction from the Lord that was not written in the created order itself? It is this moral obligation, accessible to man qua man, that I take St. John Chrysostom to be speaking of when he states that "a natural law of good and evil is seated within us. God from the beginning, when He formed man, made him capable of discriminating both these." (from one of his "Homilies on the Statues.")

Of course, even if one grants that political authority ought be circumscribed by and directed to ensuring conformance with natural law, one could argue that Jefferson’s understanding of the natural law is not only deficient (in the sense that it doesn’t capture the fullness of what God has revealed about the human potential) but actually wrong (in the sense that men are not created equal and/or his “rights” do not represent correct inferences from God’s worksmanship, even from the point of view of “unassisted reason”). As I understand you, you are of the opinion that this is so. I don’t see anything wrong with the proposition that God gave us life, gave us reason, and gave us the capacity for virtuous pursuit of (if not ultimate realization of, left to our own devices) satisfaction of soul, and that the proper role of government is to "secure these blessings" (to borrow a phrase from the "Preamble" to the Constitution) to the extent possible. I see incompleteness befitting the limitations of unassisted reason, which limitations correspond to the limitations of secular government. That doesn’t mean that Jefferson’s understanding of natural law is the best understanding we can hope for. We’ve gone through some of the problems with Locke’s opinions on ecclesiological and social issues in critiquing his political philosophy, and noted the bleed-through. One can say the same, I think, with respect to Jefferson’s thought.

At any rate: This discussion has been immensely fruitful for me, and I hope you'll respond to what will be my last comments on this thread-- I've got a great deal of preparation to do for a mission trip coming up, and I will be occupied therewith. Pray for me, that I may bear fruit, and so prove to be His disciple.

In Christ, in love
Evan

Edited by Evan, 15 September 2011 - 08:49 PM.


#129 Evan

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Posted 15 September 2011 - 08:27 PM

A final point: You are right to draw attention to Our Lord’s obedience unto a humiliating death that He did not deserve, but accepted nonetheless. We can never, I think, turn our attention from the price that was paid for us. But nor can we lose sight of the fact that it was not paid to anyone. Satan got nothing, because he deserved nothing. Our Lord suffered injustice in order to deliver us from one who held us unjustly in bondage, to plunder goods that were acquired through deceit and usurpation of authority. Death may be the just penalty of our turning from God, but it was not God’s will that we be subject to that penalty and he who led us to incur it did so wrongfully.

We are called not to simply accept injustice, but to overcome it through identification with Our Lord, Who through His life, death, and resurrection vindicated God’s own zeal for justice and His hatred of robbery and wrong. The Father delighted in His victory over the tyrant who enslaved us against all right. Satan acquired nothing justly through our Fall, and thus was deprived of nothing that was his own, no more than Pharaoh was when the Lord redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt.

Insofar as we would follow Our Lord, we must strive with all the energy He mightily inspires within us not to let evil have the last word.
There is more than one way to wrestle against principalities and powers. Different circumstances have called forth different responses by different Christians. We may be seeing that in this discussion.

In Christ,
Evan

#130 Anna Stickles

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Posted 17 September 2011 - 02:03 AM

Man’s subjection to the authority of God is unconditional because God is perfect and man’s subjection to the authority of man is conditional because man is not perfect. The idea is that what God in His mercy allows us to have and is sovereign in His disposition of, no fallen, sinful man ought have absolute, arbitrary power over because no man, being fallen and sinful, has any such natural authority and is not safely trusted with it.

No man has absolute authority. Even fallen man has whatever authority he has because God has granted it. From the prophets to the Apostles it is taught that God is in control of who is in charge, and that disobedience to govt is actually disobedience to the God who gave that govt their authority. And if they abuse that authority, they are sinning, not primarily against the people, but against God. "It is mine to repay", says the Lord. So much in your post revolves around the assumption that a govt can somehow be in absolute control, and then you write in response to this assumption, that I don't know what to say. We simply are not coming to this with the same assumptions.

I think that there is good authority for the proposition that we are in fact obliged to be merciful to our fellow men, and those who are not so merciful will not be shown mercy. A political order that recognizes this to be true for those in authority and those subject to them seems quite reasonable to me.

If someone is not so merciful do you feel obliged to be the one to make sure they "get what they deserve"? Should we then take a stand to make sure they don't get any mercy? ( I highly doubt this is really what you wanted to say, but lets look at where what you have said is leading) Should the govt see itself as dealing out to people in absolute terms, what the lawbreaker deserves? Lord save us! The govt should see itself as keeping as much order as possible, as a service to the people, but not see it's job as dealing out ultimate justice. But this is kind of a natural consequence if we have a govt which sees its job as enforcing the laws God put in our nature, rather then the more humble job of safeguarding the integrity of the community as much as possible. Likewise the people should not see their job as trying to make their govt conform to these laws either. This is just putting an expectation on the govt that the people aren't willing to bear. They too should see their own job also as fulfilling whatever responsibility they have, in whatever capacity their given community allows,to participate in safeguarding that community.

Were not the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah held accountable for their crimes, though they had received no specific instruction from the Lord that was not written in the created order itself? It is this moral obligation, accessible to man qua man, that I take St. John Chrysostom to be speaking of when he states that "a natural law of good and evil is seated within us. God from the beginning, when He formed man, made him capable of discriminating both these." (from one of his "Homilies on the Statues.")

God punished Sodom and Gomorrah, not human govt. And more importantly, a concept that you seem to be completely missing is that because we have an obligation to treat others a certain way, does not necessitate that we have a right to, or deserve to be treated that way.

We recognize that a judge, a priest, a president or king deserves respect because of their position in relation to a higher authority, and this respect is due even when the people themselves are not worthy of much respect. Likewise our moral obligation toward each other is based on our being made in the image of God - the veneration of the image goes to the prototype - but that does not necessitate that we are deserving of that respect in and of ourselves. It is quite proper to say that before God and before men, we in ourselves, are found lacking and in need of mercy, because our just due is slavery, exile, and sorrow and even death.

it was not God’s will that we be subject to that penalty

It was not God's will that we fall and turn away from him, but having disobeyed, the penalty incurred was just. Man can't just say "the Devil made me do it." Satan had every right to enslave us. We gave him that right when we obeyed him. ("We are slaves to the one we obey" (Rom 7)) The fact that Satan acted deceitfully and wrongly does not mean man did not also act wrongly and therefore deserve what he got.

#131 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 01:50 PM

If God has placed us under a Republic, why are we to complain how wrong God was for allowing this Republic?

#132 Antonios

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 12:34 AM

How would the Church structure be classified compared to secular political systems, that is? A Federation? A Republic? I know Mount Athos is a Federation...

#133 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 10:37 AM

How would the Church structure be classified compared to secular political systems, that is? A Federation? A Republic? I know Mount Athos is a Federation...

A Kingdom with Christ as the King, and the bishops as the overseers of his flock. :)

#134 Owen Jones

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 02:43 PM

The State always and inevitably legislates morality. Tax law legislates morality because it taxes some people more than others and then transfers that tax money to people they say are more deserving of the people who earned it. The closest thing that Christendom has had to a theocracy was Calvin's Geneva. A theocracy is when the religious and political authorities are one and the same, as in Iran today. There has never been an Orthodox theocracy.

In theory, the best alternative to a Christian rule of law in a society would be a libertarian type of extremely limited government. The last, closest thing we had to that was under Calvin Coolidge, but of course we still had a lot of Christian based laws on the books back then. As Father has noted, these laws have all been swept away. Coolidge was probably the last President who understood that the principle of limited government was only viable in the context of a people practicing Christian virtue. Of course, his Christianity was very much in accord with that of the non-conformists in Britain, who he cited as the real inspirations for the American Revolution. Christian virtue is a thing of the past, which is precisely why government expands exponentially.




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