Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Speaking of (to) values voters

Our friend RC2 has some characteristically smart and sharp observations on the speeches made at the summit this past weekend. She liked Fred Thompson’s speech the best, for reasons that I find persuasive, and she called attention to a weakness in Huckabee that one finds all too often in evangelicals: there’s an articulation of a "worldview" that, at its best, amounts almost literally to preaching to the choir, but isn’t worried about appealing beyond the sanctuary. (We’re often told that God will take care of that.)

On this point, I’m with my "natural law" friends and not so much with my "worldview" brethren, who should probably be paying attention to arguments like this. I hasten to add that I’m not making an argument for not being distinctive, but a distinctiveness articulated and argued for "rationally" might actually have a larger audience than one that doesn’t. (God can work in non-mysterious as well as mysterious ways.)

Stated another way, I don’t necessarily fault Mike Huckabee for engaging in evangelical "identity politics" (I owe this phrase to someone, but I can’t remember who) last weekend, so long as he can "reason with" other audiences. But too many evangelicals have drunk too deeply of the well of postmodernism (and its critique of rationalism as if it were all dogmatic Enlightenment rationalism), and have forgotten (if ever they knew) what they should have learned at the feet of C. S. Lewis, if not of his much greater teachers.

Might this needless disdain of reason be at the root of the way all too many evangelical leaders engage in politics? Rather than try to "reason with" folks with whom they disagree, they assume that reason has no force in a fallen world, leaving themselves far too open to the temptation to rely on the heavy artillery, which in a fallen world doesn’t so much mean God as the emotionally mobilized evangelical foot soldiers. They think they have an answer to the question: "How many divisions does Focus on the Family have?"

Discussions - 16 Comments

I've gone from Evangelical college to E. c. preaching against the worldview worldview. But on Huckabee's hell of a speech written by himself and almost off the cuff, apparently: When you're in the choir, that's who you preach to.

I love this bit - Romney has a whiff of the prig about him that I can't get past. which is just the thing!

Yes, the needless disdain for reason is a problem with the "worldview" crowd. If I have my worldview firmly in place, then I do not have to understand you or even listen to you because you are going to be wrong. I can't see you through my worldview, all I can see is your worldview.

And yet, the four main grounds of complaint against Christianity can make me laugh.

1. Judgmental (87%)- Christians have such nerve to proclaim absolutes! Someone tell the world that for Christians, "All have fallen short of the glory of God."

2. Hypocritical (85%) - Who is denying whose essential humanity? "There is none righteous, not even one" Let's throw the whole book of Romans at them. How else does a fallen man relate to society except with hypocrisy?

3. Old-fashioned (78%)- There is just something about eternity that denies the supremacy of modernity.

4. Too involved in politics (75%) - (and yet everyone ought to vote.) If we are to be salt and light, how do we help this? Aside from that, if we are just to survive as moral beings in society, has any Christian any choice but to be involved in politics?

Does the complaining about Christianity relate to the problem of excessive self-esteem we have written about here? I can hope that as young people grow out of their adolescent self-centeredness, ("I am the most unique person you have ever met." is expressed in about 1/3 of the papers I get when I ask my students to write about themselves.) "Do not presume to judge me." is implicit in the responses recorded in unChristian. One boy in my class said, "I hate the idea of a judgmental God. Isn't He supposed to just love me as I am?" I don't think so.

However, if Christians are setting themselves up as the judges of mankind, then that is another aspect of the same self-esteem problem.

Ideally, a Christian should have a pre-modern view, not a modern or post-modern view. The pre-modern view allowed for both reason and revelation. While there are good and bad aspects of the "worldview" view as I understand it, no Christian can or should limit their moral insights to what can be arrived at through pure reason. We have done that. It was called the Enlightenment, and its results were none too positive for Christianity.


I am arguing for a pre-modern view of reason and revelation.

"I am arguing for a pre-modern view of reason and revelation."

OK. Good. I understand the preaching to the choir issue, but I don't necessarily believe that Christians should limit their appeals to non-Christian (or non-Evangelicals) to just things that can be universally appealed to. Take gay marriage for example. If we can only appeal to history or health or reason, then our hand is pretty weak. Opposition to gay marriage then just appears to be an "unprincipled exception" to liberalism. There needs to be some room to appeal to Christian morality. Christianity should be proclaimed, not marketed. This is one reason pure democracy is necessarily hostile to Christianity. Some things are not subject to a vote or consent.

Is that worldview? When I hear worldview I think theonomy, which I am not. But I assume you are referring to some softer version of worldview. Do you mind elaborating?


I'll go to the mat defending the right (if not necessarily the political prudence) of religious believers to say pretty much whatever they want (short of issuing fatwas calling for someone's assassination) in the public square.

As for the "worldview" issue, it's complicated. Some conservatives have seized upon it as a way to talk about sola scriptura in fancy-sounding language; in other cases, it's a kind of soft postmodernism, which has infected a lot of evangelicalism. In both cases, it seems to me to go too far in deprecating the reason (distorted by sin, to be sure) that God gave us.

How about a more interesting critique of christianity: It speaks of a God that has agency in this world...yet if people are living longer today it isn't due to miracles it is due to modern science. If an earthquake whipes out pornographers...If southern California burns...If New Orleans is hit by a Hurricane...If the Titanic sinks...if an atheist is struck by lightning for proclaiming there is no is quickly made to appologize for saying or insinuating that God is punishing moral depravity/arrogance...Everything has a natural explanation that precludes the agency of God. God is reduced to Newton's God a God who created the world and rules it by natural law...that is by the laws of physics. The only reasonable christians are those who really believe that God acts in the world...and yet they are constantly made to look like idiots who should appologize when they offend people by stating how they think God is acting in the world. I feel bad for the turn or burn baptists they believe in a God who acts in the world...they believe in a real heaven...and a real hell...and they act accordingly. If the world is akin to the story of Narnia these turn or burn christians are like Lucy...only there is no edmund because no one is really being disingenuous...the wardrobe is a set amount of inches thick...there is no platform that leads to Hogwarts...all adults are like Susan, and somewhat disparaging of fiction most of the time. The discussion with Linker+Lilla is spot on. We live in the world created by Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, Mill, Newton, Darwin. Christianity lives on...but it isn't fundamentally true in a world where miracles and divine retribution are impossible.

The greatest sign that Christianity or religion no longer relies on any epistemic or metaphysical that no one is really interested if the claims of Christianity can be true...instead people resort to discussing perceptions and feelings towards christianity.

It is too judgemental: Somebody told me I was going to people immediately mean, how judgemental!...and they think this because they have already decided there is no such place. Since Hell doesn't really exist...someone who says you are going to hell simply means that by their lights you deserve to burn for eternity...they are simply expressing hostility. People would rather be told: you are going to heaven...ahh how sweet, of course there is no such place as heaven either...but saying this is kind of like speaking well of the means, hey: you are good enough guy. I like you bucko, your a real Royal Ranger kid.

There is no God who brings fire down on Soddom and Gomorah, there is no God who does miracles, no God that bothers to answer the prayers of those who don't answer them for themselves, no angels that watch over people, wardrobes are just wardrobes there is no Narnia, no platform 9 3/4 leading to Hogwarts, we are all Muggles, no magic, no curses, no ghosts, no gouls, no dragons, no dwarves, no elves, no dementors, no hobbits...It is as Tolkein said: The age of man has come...Susan has come.

With apologies for a long quotation, I believe Thomas Aquinas' discussion in Summa Contra Gentiles (I.2) about this issue should inform and instruct Christians about the question of how we speak to the world about moral and political matters when many human beings simply do not accept the Christian revelation. To the extent evangelicals and others insist on remaining grounded on their "worldview", which is a soft way of saying their revelation, they have no hope of persuading large polities such as the US to reform legal codes to reflect Christian morality. Whereas, in truth Christian morality is defensible by reason, such Christians foolishly abandon their strongest defenses. Note carefully the conclusion that it is reason that allows us to enforce morality in a society where all do not share the same (Christian) beliefs:

"On two accounts it is difficult to proceed against each particular error: first, because the sacrilegious utterances of our various erring opponents are not so well known to us as to enable us to find reasons, drawn from their own words, for the confutation of their errors: for such was the method of the ancient doctors in confuting the errors of the Gentiles, whose tenets they were readily able to know, having either been Gentiles themselves, or at least having lived among Gentiles and been instructed in their doctrines. Secondly, because some of them, as Mohammedans and Pagans, do not agree with us in recognising the authority of any scripture, available for their conviction, as we can argue against the Jews from the Old Testament, and against heretics from the New. But these receive neither: hence it is necessary to have recourse to natural reason, which all are obliged to assent to."

The problem with "worldview" is that ultimately it is just a fancy word for perspective. You have your worldview, I have mine. It leads people who should know better into defending subjectivism.

A similar problem arises with the use of the word "value" as opposed to principle. There is a way of talking about values that is entirely wholesome and sound(see for example the writing of John Paul the II), but it is extremely subject to misuse.

Very difficult with either word to get from there to objective truth.

Well, dennis, RC2 etc. of course are right. (Read the chapter on "Stuck-with-Virtue Conservatism" in my HOMELESS or in the book discussed below edited by Dunn.) But the Evangelical activists etc. are getting better fast about giving the secular or natural argument against abortion. And the reason for not voting for G. in the primaries is powerful and secular, just as the decision not to support him in Nov. is lacking in prudence. The threat to withhold support is a proven political technique that probably lacks prudence in this particular case, but I think it almost goes without saying that the threat is probably only a threat.

The first person to make us apologize for thinking misfortune and disaster is the wrath of God is Jesus in the Gospels. See for example Luke 13, where Christ rebukes people for thinking that the victims of two disasters were being punished for their sins. Or John 9:2, where people ask Christ who sinned to cause a man to be born blind --and Christ says neither. See also his description of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place where the weeds are permitted to grow among the wheat until harvest time (Mt 13). And his observation that God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on just and unjust alike (Mt 5).

Christians believe in God's agency, but it is an agency by which he makes "all things work together for good for those who love him" while nonetheless respecting human agency --even when we sin. As Joseph said to his brothers: what you meant for evil, God meant for good.

This is the mystery of history --that the disastrous fall of Jerusalem should have led to the spread of Christendom,eg. We have to do what's right as God gives us to know the right, but not be so arrogant as to think he's bound by our program or interpretation.

It's tricky stuff, this agency of God, because what we experience as evil may be good for us and vice versa. Who hasn't heard of people whose life was ruined by winning the lottery or people who mysteriously found peace and reconciliation and happiness as fruit of some personal tragedy? You're right to resist the flattening of reality, but it's also possible to make God's agency too cheap.

Isn't that the difficulty of the Koran?--the claim that every human act is a direct result of divine intervention or divine will? But this means ultimately there is no personal ability or freedom to choose good over evil or vice versa. It also means God is not reasonable, hence science (qua understanding the laws that govern nature) is also impossible. It means finally that when jihads, terrorist acts, and other forms of violence are committed against "unbelievers" but fail, it was God's will that they fail...a theological lesson the West must understand as we Christians who believe in personal freedom struggle against Islamofascism.


To the extent evangelicals and others insist on remaining grounded on their "worldview", which is a soft way of saying their revelation, they have no hope of persuading large polities such as the US to reform legal codes to reflect Christian morality.

Well dennis, there is this little thing called the Holy Spirit, and the historical precedent of the Great Awakening.

“Whereas, in truth Christian morality is defensible by reason, such Christians foolishly abandon their strongest defenses.”

Christian morality is defensible by reason to a degree, but reason is certainly not its strongest defense. Too much reason has actually created the world that John Lewis describes.

Regarding the quote, It matters whether the people that Christians are contending with today are more like Muslims and Pagans or more like Heretics. Most Americans (especially in the South) start out with at least some Christian underpinnings which liberal education tries hard to beat out of them.

The problem with the "worldview" deal is that it sanctifies a person's perspective in a way that is just not reasonable. As one man I know says, "It is seeing the world through God's eyes." This sounds awfully presumptuous to me. "How do you know you are doing that?" I ask. "I know the scripture," he says. I tear my hair, rend my clothes, and raise my doubts. Biblical interpretation of modern issues is one thing, but "seeing the world through God's eyes" is just not possible. "We have to do what's right as God gives us to know the right, but not be so arrogant as to think he's bound by our program or interpretation." is quite right. God help us when dealing with those who think they have sanctified vision.

John, God is or I am mad, but I will allow for your benefit of the doubt on the point.

The length of any given man's life is not remarkably longer than it ever was. More people live longer thanks to improved medicine. I have no experience of bad things happening to people as a result of my prayers. I do know of good things happening to people, healing primarily, and am loathe to describe other things you mention as positively being of the agency of God. (Yet we have had church picnics where the sun shone on our 1/4 square mile while all around was rain.) and I will take serendipity whatever the cause.

You might be going to Hell, John. What do I know? I am very mighty happy that I do not have to judge you. I think one of the joys of being a Christian is that I can leave all such judgments to God. "I like you bucko, you're a real Royal Ranger kid."

I have to admit I like John Lewis's radical post. I agree to the extent that it's lame, especially in our time, to speak of the political utility of religion or the inevitability of political theology. But I don't agree that Bacon thru Locke thru Darwin is the last word on reason. As Rat/Ben says, it's been unreasonable to think we've done away with the rational case for a personal Logos who governs the world. All in all we live in very unreasonable times, full of Lockean/Darwinians who think of themselves as autonomous chimps.

"Unreasonable times", you bet. There is a democracy of belief, even in the Catholic Church. We have apprehended liberty of conscience to an amazing degree. Most of my students talk about God, but do not say, "I believe...." they say, "In my opinion, God is...." and when I suggest that opinions can be easily changed we can have an awkward moment.

There is a difference between religion and faith. People can have one without the other, especially if "religion" is taken to mean "to tie back". There is a utility to religion, especially in a political sense.

Are all religions so democratic as Christianity has become? I know there are different sects in Islam, but don't remember the idea of conscience being applied to being an adherent of one of those over the other. Does anyone here know how that works for them?

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