Thursday, August 03, 2006

What is the American Way?

In the 1950s TV series “The Adventures of Superman,” the Man of Steel was said to be fighting “a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way”. The first 26 episodes were “action-packed, sometimes gritty and often violent storylines in which Superman fought tough gangsters and crime lords,” often by repeatedly “slugging them on the jaw.” Sometimes, in our zeal to defend the American way, patriotic citizens may unintentionally come across as metaphorically doing the same thing to those who disagree with us. But is the American way about forcing our beliefs on others? Is it about bullying our opposition into submission?

No. The American way can be summed up in two sentences: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Although Americans have often failed miserably in living up to this ideal (e.g., slavery, our treatment of Native Americans, abortion on demand), the American way is about respecting the rights of others to live freely without government coercion. Americanism recognizes that rights come from God, not the government, and that no one may infringe on our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms unless we violate the rights of others.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “That government is best which governs least.” Limited government, respect for private property, and freedom of conscience are the hallmarks of the American way.

3 Comments:

Blogger CrimsonLine said...

Hey! Just what I asked for. A cogent, well-thought-out post on the purposes of government. Great job, Julie!

Let me throw a couple of monkeys into the wrench, though.

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. ”
(Rom 13:3-4 ESV)

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. ”
(Rom 13:3-4 ESV)

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”
(1Pet 2:13-14 ESV)

Government exists to establish justice - as the Declaration insists, "in order to secure these rights" - and these passages (bolstered by others, it's a long study) say that this includes both restricting evil AND promoting good. I see your position as affirming the restriction of evil, but not the promotion of good. Am I missing something?

August 03, 2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger CrimsonLine said...

The other monkey is this:

Consistently in the OT, it seems like caring for the poor, the orphans, widows, and aliens, is charged as a responsibility of the King, the government of the day. How does that responsibility translate into our society today?

I post these "monkeys" because I'm still wrestling with them. I'm still struggling with the right and just place of human government in the world. How active should human government be in legislation of morality (technically, you can't legislate anything else!)? How active should government be in establishing a level playing field for all participants? At what point does governmental involvement foster dependence and sinful laziness? How effectively can a secular government involve itself in promoting the good and restraining evil?

These are all open questions for me, but I think the basic categories: 1. Restraining evil, 2. Promoting good, and 3. Defending and providing for those who cannot protect and provide for themselves, are the basic Biblical categories in which government may legitimately operate. We have to think in those categories if we are to think Biblically about these questions.

August 03, 2006 9:37 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

Great questions, Crimson Line! These are issues I have wrestled with, prayed about and studied for many years, and it would take some time for me to to answer your questions in depth. Off the cuff, I will say that "promoting the good" does not necessarily mean that the civil government has a biblically mandated role to be involved in charity or force people to give alms via wealth redistribution. When Jesus commanded us to give to the poor, it was always to be voluntary. He never told his followers to appeal to Caesar to raise taxes in order to care for the poor, nor did the apostles of the Early Church. Instead of lobbying the Roman Empire to raise taxes to help the needy, the early Christians sold their own property and laid the proceeds at the apostles' feet, who dispersed it to those among them who had need.

Right now I am reading an excellent book called "Idols for Destruction" which deals extensively with this subject. The author (whose name escapes me) argues that when we make the civil governent the provider of our needs, we are assigning the government a messianic role and making the government our savior. Simply put, this is idolatry.

In every society where the government assumed responsibility for caring for the poor via wealth redistribution, economic decline--and even collapse--was the result. The early American settlers experimented with this type of economic system, and they nearly starved because farmers lost the incentive to provide for themselves and their families (I will probably discuss this early experimentation with communism in a future blog).

To conclude, promoting the good can be about commending those who do good and fostering an economic and political environment where people have the maximum amount of freedom to choose to do good. And that's all I have time for today.

August 03, 2006 5:33 PM  

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