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How can there be civil discourse with someone who believes he has “heard it from on high” and enacts laws based on the certainty of belief in a highest authority? “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!” It’s the idea of absolutism mixed with the compulsion of civil government that is troublesome to many people.
What few people seem to realize is that there are all types of non-religious belief systems that hold to an absolutist ideology and use the power of the State to impose that ideology on the citizenry. Civil governments can confiscate property, tax earnings, put us in prison, send us off to fight in a war, mandate how many MPG our cars must get, order what type of toilets we can use, require that foods contain no trans fats, and, well, the list could go on. The law of the land is enforced by the full authority of the civil government that made the law. As long as a law is on the books, that law is absolute. A law doesn’t have to be tied to any particular traditional understanding of religion to be made a law and enforced by the power of the State. In fact, the above short list of government freedom-inhibiting laws is not tied to any particular religious creed, but the result is still the same.
A secular ideology can be just as sacrosanct and absolute as any religious doctrine or creedal formulation but with a significant difference:
Pure ideology differs greatly from the Judeo-Christian tradition that locates sin in the human will; ideologists disdain such ideas and cite evil “structures,” “institutions,” and “systems” as the problem. Sin is political, not personal. Get the structure rights, so the argument goes, and all will be well with individuals.
These “structures” can only be restructured and made right by increased government control, bureaucratic management, and, as always, more money. We are told that these new freedom-limiting laws are for our own good and the good of society. Take the trans fat ban. Dr. Alacia Tarpley wants the New York ban expanded because it would mean “taking a huge step toward bettering the health of” the populace. . . . “Shouldn’t the government look out for the health and welfare of its constituency?” Isn’t it odd, given this argument, that while we know that ingesting tobacco products is harmful in so many ways, they are still legal. The ideology of the caretaker-State is about control, and it needs money and power to control. Tobacco products are a huge revenue stream for civil government. Trans fats aren’t.
The biblical view of change is that what people believe and understand must be restructured before there will be any appreciable change in a person’s lifestyle. Self-government (self-control) is the operating principle. No amount of government control can make it happen without the result of dire consequences for society at large. Christians who want to use the power of the State to manage people for what they perceive are good causes are equally misguided.
Liberals have always believed that civil government should be in the personal management business since their ideas for other people are always for their good. So they don’t see their laws as ideologically (religiously) motivated. Take the case of taxing soft drinks in San Francisco. The mayor says that high fructose corn syrup leads to obesity which puts a strain on the city’s health care system. This proposed law is overtly religious in that it is designed to “save the children” from the potential harm of sugar-saturated soft drinks. What will be next? Pizza? Potato chips? Fries and a Big Mac? Video games and computers that contribute to a sedentary lifestyle among young and old? In the same city, a different kind of ideology protects sex acts that result in numerous sexually transmitted diseases that cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives each year in America. The homosexual religious ideology has its own set of anti-blasphemy laws. Anyone who gets caught uttering a negative word about homosexuality is immediately censored. Hate-crime legislation is designed to silence all criticism.
Christians who understand the proper mix of religion and politics would argue that it’s not the role of civil government to micro-manage people’s lives. There is no prescription in the Bible to use the power of civil government to control a person’s diet through taxation. Long before there were high fructose corn syrup drinks, there were fat people. The king of Eglon was fat (Judges 3:17, 22), and Eli is described as “old and heavy” (1 Sam. 4:18). The Bible warns against drunkenness and gluttony (Prov. 23:20–21), but there is no call to tax alcoholic beverages and food in an attempt to modify these behaviors. A change in these behaviors comes by way of persuasion.
Part of the problem is that government controls and funds healthcare. There is little incentive for some people to eat healthy and embrace a moderate lifestyle when someone else is paying for the negative side effects. Private insurance companies could increase premiums for people who are overweight. They do it with smokers, drinkers, and sky divers. If people wanted to continue an unhealthy lifestyle, they would be forced to pay for it through higher premiums. The financial burden would be absorbed by the few and not spread to those who eat moderately. There are lots of people who drink sweetened drinks who do not have an obesity problem. Why should they be forced to pay a tax?
In the end, all ideologies are absolute, but it’s only with Christianity that civil government is limited. Christians need to understand this when considering voting for people who promise to use the power of civil government to do things for them and us for the supposed common good.