"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Friday, June 09, 2006

Luther, Calvin, and Gay Marriage

How exactly is the Christian to view the state? The answer to that question answers a slew of other ones, including, perhaps, the thorny question of gay marriage sanctioned by the state.

Three options jump out at me as I think about Christianity and the state:

1. The medieval Catholic view
2. Calvin's view
3. Luther's view

The medieval Catholic view has the state below the church. If we were to draw an org chart, the state would be at the bottom, the church in the middle, and God at the top. In this scheme of things, it clearly makes sense to speak of a Christian state.

Calvin's view is a little different. The church and the state are not in a hierarchical relationship. Each answers to God separately, but the implications are not what you might think. Because God invests government with authority, governors should be primarily concerned with things like right worship and doctrine. Heresy would absolutely be a punishable offense.

What is similar about the two views described above is that the state is a sacred entity and it is going to be involved in matters of religion.

Luther represents a definitive break. His state is not sacred or confessional. Instead, it is purely instrumental, which is to say that the state has no eternal destiny but it has a job to do. The job is simple: restrain evil. Because of the fallen state of man, sin is everywhere on the earth and without the restraint of rulers the world would be a desert as the wolves preyed endlessly on the sheep. Luther's state shouldn't worry so much about correct doctrine and punishing heretics. That is for the church to handle through persuasion and excommunication. Instead, the state should wield the sword against those who will do evil in the form of violence, theft, and fraud.

Of the three options, it may be clear that I think Luther's view is the best and is of the closest accord with the New Testament. Christ really didn't bring a doctrine of the sacred state, at least not as far as I can tell. The church's mission is far more important than the state's, but we often act as if we believe the state is where all the action is. I think that is a legacy of Calvin. I should also add that I see foreshadows of Locke in Luther, but Luther rarely gets the credit.

Gay marriage comes into the picture because it is of such great moment for Christians involved in American politics. I still recall talking to John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute in 1998 with a group of fellow summer associates. Whitehead told us gay marriage was already lost. We protested. I think he was right and we were wrong. The question is how upset we should be about that.

If you take Calvin's view of the state, then I think gay marriage is completely unacceptable. The honor of God is implicated in the Calvinistic state and something so clearly at odds with Christian doctrine would be an ultimate affront. The result is that you have to fight and fight hard because the state is a covenant entity and God will punish a faithless people.

If you take Luther's view, the picture is a bit less bleak. Gay marriage is really outside of what the state should be doing, but the honor of God is not on the line because we are only talking about an instrumental entity for earthly convenience. It is quite possible that gay marriage will represent a milestone that immediately fades into insignificance as we discover the whole thing was primarily about making a point rather than about the desire to build nuclear families.

Just to clarify a bit through comparison we can see that in Calvin's world gay marriage would be every bit the problem abortion is. Gay marriage might be even worse than abortion because it runs directly counter to scripture. In Luther's world, abortion would be far more grave because the state is licensing real harm and violence against innocent parties. Gay marriage represents something less troublesome by several degrees.

Love to hear discussion and feedback on this one. The thinking here is early and tentative.

Update: I mentioned three models of the state from a Christian point of view, but there are others. For example, one could embrace a radical reformation view in which the church withdraws almost completely from the state, viewing it as a source of corruption and malignant worldliness.


Amy & Jordan said...

For now let's leave aside the question of the validity of your attribution of these positions to the particular historical period/persons (I know you have to do some caricaturing to fit these topics into a blog post). I do think you are right to note the importance of Calvin's view of the role of the magistrate regarding the Church as definitive for his praise of the State.

I can't speak about Luther offhand in a direct way, but I can say that to the extent Bonhoeffer represents a Lutheran perspective on this point, it doesn't quite fit your picture.

Bonhoeffer's four mandates are marriage (family), work (labor), government, and church. The four are of equal standing and each have an independent measure of divine authority (relative to each other).

Here's a relevant quote from B's Ethics: "The divine mandate of government already presupposes the mandates of work and marriage. In the world that it rules, government finds already existing these two mandates through which God the Creator exercises creative power and upon which government must rely. Government itself cannot produce life or values. It is not creative. Government maintains what is created in the order that was given to the creation by God’s commission. Government protects what is created by establishing justice in acknowledgment of the divine mandates and by enforcing this justice with the power of the sword. Thus, marriage is not made by the government, but is affirmed by the government."

The government can neither "make" gay marriage any more than it can "make" a square circle. It could only rightly "affirm" gay marriage if gay marriage were a valid form of the mandate itself. And although B. admits there are a number of valid forms of marriage, they are all heterosexual:
"That is, the mandate of government should not be identified with a particular administration or regime; nor should the mandate of marriage and family be identified with a particular historical form, such as the patriarchal family, the polygamous family, or the nuclear family. The mandate itself, namely, the God-given task, is not identical with particular concrete forms of changing historical institutions." And beyond this, it hardly fits with B.'s depiction of sexuality (see "Ethics as Formation").

Amy & Jordan said...

I also have to add that the phrase "Luther, Calvin, and Gay Marriage" is rather unfortunate. I don't think they were that close.

Hunter Baker said...

That is some funny stuff. Who ever said those Acton guys don't have a sense of humor?

On Luther, I think I've given a fair view of the way he represents himself in On Secular Authority. It is a little oversimplified make conversation easier, but I think it's still definitely Luther.

The question I have for you, Jordan, is this:

What is our reaction to gay marriage (state-sanctioned) as Christians? I'm going to vote against it and oppose it, but is this merely problematic as Luther might have it or is it a REALLY BIG DEAL insulting the honor of God? Or are the radical reformation factions right as they say, "See, dally with the kingdom of man and you'll be disappointed and dirty every time."

James Elliott said...

It's probably tangential but potentially important to note that Luther's view of the State would shift to accomodate whomever was most willing to shelter him from Catholic mobs with torches at the time.

Michael Simpson said...

A few (rather unorganized) thoughts here:

1) Why is it the "honor of God" that is at issue? What does that mean, anyway?

2) There are at least three other important Christian views that probably need some consideration: (a) Modern Catholic Social Thought (see the Mirror of Justice Blog for lots of discussion in this direction); (b) the neo-Calvinist "sphere sovereignty" argument (made famous by Kuyper); and (c) the Mennonite radical separationist view. All three are, of course, variations on the three you've mentioned, but the difference are important enough to warrant inclusion (in my view).

3) When you say that "Christ really didn't bring a doctrine of the sacred state," that seems right in the sense that the state doesn't have or shouldn't have "spiritual" responsibilities. But when Christ tells Pilate that the authority he has is from above and when Paul (in Romans) makes clear that temporal authorities have their authority designated to them by God, it doesn't suggest that political authorities stand apart from God's sovereign rule.

4) I take the distinction between Calvin and Luther to come (apart from different social and political circumstances) from their different views regarding whether government is pre- or post-lapsarian. That is, Luther largely seems to think that government is a creation purely for fallen creatures, whlie Calvin seems to think it ordained as a natural part of a good creation.

5) Even if (your) Luther is correct, and the state is supposed to be purely "secular," that doesn't mean it stands apart from God's purposes or that it can't violate God's "honor" (again, pending what you mean by that). I'm guessing that the ol' USSR would count here.

6) Perhaps a better way to approach the question is to ask what sorts of intellectual and moral resources are we to bring to bear when thinking about the nature and purposes of government? Classical and modern political thought both share a kind of rationalism (though the latter is sometimes leavened with religious thought as well), though the two differ on whether that would include a perfectionist view of the state. The medieval (and neo-Calvinist and modern Catholic) views suggest (at least on some accounts) that you have to do some theological thinking if you want to get politics right.

Hunter Baker said...

I'll take time to think more carefully about the rest, but when I think about the honor of God, as I put it, I'm thinking about Calving saying that the ruler owes his authority to God and THEREFORE should be working hard to maintain right worship and doctrine because that is what God cares about.

The state permitting gay marriage or putting its stamp of approval on it would represent an affront to God's honor because God expressed his will differently through scripture. That's what I'm driving at in this analysis.

It just seems to me that an instrumental view of the state works because it simultaneously puts the state in its place rather than in lofty Hegelian heights and relieves the church of responsibility for making sure the state honors Christian doctrine.

Hunter Baker said...

What would please me, Michael or Jordan, would be if either of you would offer your own version of how the Christian church should handle the gay marriage question and maybe give your account of the state as well. Jordan, if you do it I'll promote it to the front page as a post. Michael, you already have the ability to make a post out of it if you like. It's a nasty issue and it can only help to discuss it.

Amy & Jordan said...

Let me think on it over the weekend. I'll try to have something for you on Monday.

Hunter Baker said...

Jordan, I'm a little relieved it doesn't jump out of your head like Athena out of Zeuss's cranium. This is the stickiest of problems and I look forward to whatever you might contribute.

Matt Huisman said...

I'm thinking about Calving saying that the ruler owes his authority to God and THEREFORE should be working hard to maintain right worship and doctrine because that is what God cares about.

I’ve never been one to worry too much about the honor of God; He seems quite secure in who He is and more than able to address the issue where needed. Right worship and doctrine, it seems to me, were created for our benefit – so that by following them our development as children of God will flourish and thereby enable us to have an even grander appreciation of our creator. That our government may be a hindrance to this growth is a tragedy. But this failure is only different in scale from those of the individual.

The role of the church in this mess is be a redemptive force for individuals and institutions. But the significance is always with the individual, as the institutional is just another distraction that will eventually be removed by an iconoclastic God. If the church wants to resist gay marriage, fine. But the reason to resist is that it harms people - and as long as we’re concerned for their well-being, we may as well redouble our efforts to show the world the God who loves them.

James Elliott said...

The state permitting gay marriage or putting its stamp of approval on it would represent an affront to God's honor because God expressed his will differently through scripture. That's what I'm driving at in this analysis.

Bus is that really His will? And do you really think it matters? The only place in Scripture where such a prohibition arguably takes place is in a book full of rules that no one but the most orthodox, like Seventh Day Adventists or Hasidics, take all that seriously. After all, I don't hear any Christians or Jews complaining about not being able to stone anyone anymore, or getting torqued off at people who wear rayon and cotton together, or who get worked up about the surf n' turf special down at Red Lobster. Seems to me that God's Will, if such it is, gets ignored all the time, work of the state or no.

Complaining about gay marriage is like if you run stop signs all the time in your car and then complain about other people doing it when you're trying to use the crosswalk.

The very idea this post discusses simply seems inconsistent when placed in the context of the real world. It's a fine academic discussion, but that's where it remains.

Tom Van Dyke said...

For the record, Mr. Elliott, prohibitions aganst homosexuality don't appear only in the Book of Leviticus, but in the New Testament epistles of St. Paul as well, unaccompanied by the other stuff you mention.

Jesus Himself is silent on the subject, but considers sex with a non-spouse as sinful. Like the constitution, He has no ban or approval for gay marriage.

Per the discussion proper, the Bible does not address the problem of democracy, that the people are sovereign, and we are the people. The government and the believer are not so easily bifurcated in a democracy.

As Mr. Huisman points out, natural law theory would proscribe that which is harmful and not just on a humbug alone. It seems to me that the individual must inform his conscience and decide whether homosexual activity is intrinsically harmful, then exercise his sovereign duties pro or con with his vote as a member of a democracy.

S. T. Karnick said...

Hunter, your analysis of the three positions you present, although of course not definitively worked out (as you freely admit), is definitely on the right track and a very useful perspective, in my view. Your thoughts on how Luther would have seen the political issue at hand are very interesting and have much force. (Mr. Elliott's untoward remark about Luther's political consistency can be forgiven as the product of ignorance. Luther's political principles were firm, consistent, and deep, which is why he was able to respond flexibly to changing circumstances.) I think that your suggested approach to gay marriage, derived as it is from your studied understanding of Luther, is an excellent one. I hope that you will wrote more on this particular subject and on how Luther's principles can be applied to other topics as well. This is very bracing stuff!

Hunter Baker said...

Thanks, S.T.

James, this conversation is super-relevant. We are living in a predominantly Christian nation with at least a third of voters seriously motivated by their faith. Determining whether the state is sacred or merely instrumental has a big impact on members of our community would see something like gay marriage. It's anything but academic. I'm trying to figure it out for myself, as well.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Luther's thoughts on the 6th Commandment may be helpful here. In that he thinks men and women were designed to be married, which conforms to a natural law teleology of sex, it's dificult to imagine him down with Adam and Steve.

As to Luther's thoughts on a separation of government and morality, I would be willing to listen, but it seems out of character for him since elsewhere he seems quite vociferously against the state's (and Aquinas' [reluctant]) toleration of prostitution. (Sorry, I can't locate Luther's source document "Thoughts on Brothels" online.)

But interesting stuff. I'm no Luther scholar, so I'm sure there are contrary theses.

Hunter Baker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hunter Baker said...

Tom, I think you misunderstand me. I'm not saying Luther would be in favor of some kind of heavy separation of government from morality. The decision to have the government restrain evil is itself a moral decision. I'm speaking more about the relationship of scripture to the actions of government and how Christians should view that.

James Elliott said...

Mr. Elliott's untoward remark about Luther's political consistency can be forgiven as the product of ignorance. Luther's political principles were firm, consistent, and deep, which is why he was able to respond flexibly to changing circumstances.

"Changing circumstances" is a pleasant euphemism. Luther's "consistent" principles actively laid the seeds for the fomentation of a peasant revolt - based on pretty interesting precursors to democratic principles - and then, when those peasants and their burgeoning principles threatened the authority of the nobles sheltering him from papal fury, Luther turned around and condemned them. His theological principles remained sound; his political views appear somewhat more... relative.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I'm not surprised I'm not getting your point, HB, since I don't know my Luther. (But I spent last night with him.)

The NT understanding of government I'd think was predicated on it being the enemy and the oppressor (Rome) at the time. And Luther's time still was one of kings and princes. What is our role as sovereigns (voters) in a democracy?

Now if one informs his conscience by scripture alone, I suppose that's fine; in a way it doesn't matter if one comes to his morals from the Oracle of the Unholy Weasel, everybody gets a vote.

But scriptural arguments won't hold much sway, and are indeed anaethema (!) to those who don't accept them as inherently true. At least natural law tries to speak a ("the") more universal language.

My fondness for natural law arguments in secular society is that they (logic term here) are not arguments from authority, they claim deviations from it are intrinsically harmful. If the Bible and natural law are in harmony, then the Bible is also empirically true, altho it need not be counterproductively thumped in order to guide our ordering of society.

I'm sure I'm confused at your invoking Luther at all, because I find him in favor of solving the "Jewish question" with the power of the state, if you're familiar with his most infamous tract. But the "Jewish question" is beyond the purview of natural law. And if homosexual activity is a question only of eternal reward or condemnation, then it too lies outside natural law and thereby any politics. (And I had the same thought as Mr. Elliott re the peasant revolt.)

But perhaps your question is on the nature of government itself. The classical view (shared by the Founders) is that it promotes virtue and thereby self-governance. But the modern view is that it is for the purpose of improving man's estate, adjudged basically by a materialist set of standards.

Now if our democracy ends up accepting that view (and we're at a tipping point, and virtue is expelled from our polity, then I suppose Christians are no longer a real component of the sovereign, "we the people," and it's time to join the Jehovah's Witnesses in near-total disengagement from such things.

There seems to be a strong streak in Christianity that the world is evil anyway, and if so, disengagement from its ways seems a proper course. A little too Manichean and Epicurean for me, but what do I know?

Am I getting any closer?

Matt Huisman said...

TVD>> As Mr. Huisman points out, natural law theory would proscribe that which is harmful and not just on a humbug alone.

James>> Bus is that really His will? And do you really think it matters?

One point of clarification here – my definition of harm is fairly expansive. We have become quite good at dodging (more like delaying) consequences these days, and may be tempted to conclude that these 'avoidances' grant us license to all sorts of taboo behavior.

But harm is more than immediate pain; there is an opportunity cost component to it as well. God’s design does more than protect us; it draws us to Him. This is where we can start to see how all of life is worship. We all have a need to be filled with a sense of wonder and gratitude by something, and our behavior both reflects and reinforces the who/what we choose to fill it. Lewis and Zacharias call this an appreciation love, and God’s concern with our behavior flows from His concern for our ultimate end – the who/what we choose to worship.

James Elliott said...

James, this conversation is super-relevant. We are living in a predominantly Christian nation with at least a third of voters seriously motivated by their faith.

Perhaps I'm inserting myself in here untowardly, since my knowledge of theology is pretty limited. My training is as a political/social scientist (perhaps thinker is a more apt term), not a philosopher/theologian, and if there's one thing I've learned, the two think very differently, even on the same subjects. Honestly, I'm just trying to learn more here, rather than insert contrary thought for the sake of contrariness. I do think it's critical to keep conversations within their critical contexts: Removing Luther the theologian from Luther the political animal and the historical context in which he lives is a disservice to honest discourse.

My thought is this: Can the state, even in a democracy, adhere fully to the principles of the majority without becoming a tyranny to the minority? This is an especially pertinent question in the context of American government. This question is not limited to Christian faiths, but I'll do so in the spirit of the conversation.

My clumsily made point above was that Christians have made accomodations with the limitations of the state before, and existed in perfect harmony with it. Only the most fringe of Christians lament that they cannot stand outside the Power Exchange (a notorious sex club in San Francisco) and stone people as they exit for unchastity.

Even in Plato's day, the problem wasn't homosexuality in Greece; it was sex purely for pleasure, without an emotional component or regard for the other. Hedonism, pleasure without responsibility or purpose, was the danger.

It seems that the real question to ask is whether rights and morals must be linked. In the American system, government's purpose is justice, as Hunter stated, but that justice is based on the idea of rights, not morality. It seems that, in order for the instrumentality of state as an organ of religion (whether subservient or equals) must rest on two questions: Are morals the same things as rights, deserving of the same weight? And are morals inextricably linked to the things that influence them, like Christianity?

James Elliott said...

Tom, that last post of yours (2:23pm) was very eloquent and well-reasoned. I liked it very much. It also helped me to understand your thought processes better than anything else up to this point.

This is something I wanted to say below in the natural law post, but the thread is too far buried and I was far too late. You spoke of first principles and natural law. My thought is that, at some point, first principles rely upon an assumption of value and existence. Now, this is not the same as questioning their value. Just because they are assumptions doesn't rob them of their importance; I would argue that such principles are worthwhile and valuable. My concern is, always, the underlying assumptions of truth to such principles. When it comes to morality, religion, ethics, and truth, we are picking something as the base for our future reasoning. And this is fine; not choosing leads to paralysis (a problem with modern thinkers). The key is to make your choice while acknowledging that you could be wrong and being prepared to deal with such consequences.

Which brings us to the idea of intrinsic harm or cost in natural law. When I see such discussions, I see them resting on assumptions at the bottom. Take the kind and thoughtful Matt Huisman: He sees behavior and feeling (such as homosexuality) that is contrary to the purpose he views of life - to bring one closer to worship of God (I hope I haven't oversimplified that too much). But at the foundation, it's a judgment call (there's a God and life should be lived as worship of Him; if your life runs counter to worship, you are hurting yourself).

The question I'd pose to you, Tom, is whether or not the "costs" or "harm" of homosexuality are cultural/societal or "natural" - that is, physical or psychological I would argue that they are the former, and not of a fundamental nature to those institutions, rendering them harmless.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, it's tough to straddle the Bible and Aristotle, but that's just what Aquinas attempts to do with his concept of natural law.
Truth is truth, he might argue.

It's fair to say there's tension between the two, between Athens and Jerusalem, as they like to say, but it's interesting that the great medieval thinkers (the Muslims Ibn Rushd and al-Farabi, the Jew Maimonides, and the Christian Aquinas) all attempted to resolve it.

The tension can't be resolved, of course, but the real problem is that the moderns don't even try, placing virtue and expedience in non-intersecting spheres.

The best I can offer is a non-biblical yet still classical examination of virtue. Aristotle (and Mr. Huisman, I think) would submit that eating sawdust isn't harmless, because it substitutes for nourishment.

But to a social scientist, even arguments like that are useless, I think. Our real conflict isn't between Athens and Jerusalem, but between Athens and Paris.

James Elliott said...

"The best I can offer is a non-biblical yet still classical examination of virtue. Aristotle (and Mr. Huisman, I think) would submit that eating sawdust isn't harmless, because it substitutes for nourishment."

Well, I would agree that it's useless, but rather because as an analogy it's completely stupid. It's totally outside the realms of both applicability and probability. It's removed from the context of the discussion. Reduction to abstracts is to place an interesting conflict in absurdity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And we were playing so nice. I was not expecting to convince you, I was explaining why I did not expect to. I thought you wanted to learn the vocabulary of the Other, so I used it.

As noted, our conflict is not between reason and revelation; we are not that deep, or perhaps we're deeper: the dispute is between the classical and the modern.

Social science explicitly aims at rendering value-free judgements, so it's of no help here. And modernism places its faith in not just reason, but empirical reason, that social science can definitively answer whether or not something is harmful. But the best it can do is assert statistical tendencies. It cannot truly say what is harmless, because it cannot say what is good, except in its own material terms.

So the discussion doesn't take long with modernism: unless something is proven "harmful" right here, right now, it shall be held harmless and in the name of "liberty" it should be countenanced. Immediately.

OK. Done.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And I'm sorry my analogy was inadequate, James. Firstly, it was shorthand for the complex subject of virtue, secondly, mundane analogies to First Things are always vulnerable because of their inherent insufficiency, and that insufficiency leads to the analogy being argued with and not the underlying concept.

I did not want to do "virtue" an injustice. It is crucial here, whether taken theologically or in the Aristotelian sense as a base for the Founders' political philosophy. Unlike the moderns, who are hard-pressed to defend liberty (or anything non-material) as inherently good, the classical liberals saw the pursuit of virtue as the purpose of fostering liberty, and thus why liberty carries an inherent good.

Especially since European history to that point made it clear to them that our definitions of virtue will vary somewhat.

Virtue and therefore liberty are abstractions, then, at least for practical purposes, if you get my drift.

And so, ironically, it's I who have hijacked this thread. My intention was to slip you a few cribnotes to include you in the discussion, so that you'd continue to be a valuable auditor of this all, with no horse in the race yourself. The core question is how Christian theology and the duties of moral conscience deal with citizenship in our democracy. I think.

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, and I must pause till it come back to me.

Hunter Baker said...

Oh, Tommy boy. You dinged James about niceness, but the shot at Luther wasn't very sweet either. It's true that he took a swing at the Jews late in life, but that's not completely fair. Earlier on he had been very philo-semitic. Though I'm no expert, he may well have been a bit off his game toward the end.

Luther was a guy who not only wrote constantly, but who also had people hanging around taking notes about everything he said. Thus, we know about his bowel movements,his feelings about beer, and his thoughts about the Jews while cranky!

You should understand that I'm not claiming to have set out some complete framework that solves all problems. I'm just looking at gay marriage and some different models of the Christian view of the state that can help me decide how to approach the issue. Luther's instrumental view is appealing. That's all I'm saying, bro.

Even if we do get into natural law, though, there are still problems about what legislation we should pass. Aquinas thought prostitution was harmful per the natural law, but that it might be even more harmful to outlaw it!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not exactly accurate, HB, if we recall this author's historic monograph St. Thomas and the Ho's from these very same cyberpages.

There's a distinction between benign indifference and creating new norms (or obliterating the present ones). There's no groundswell among gay marriage opponents to reinstate sodomy laws or overturn Lawrence v. Texas, for instance.

As for Luther, there's still the peasant revolt. The idea was not to embarrass him but to propose that he was less than unconcerned with the powers of the state.

And I still don't see how to get around our own citizenship in a democracy and the duties of conscience visited on a sovereign.

Hunter Baker said...

Tom, there is no getting around it. Again, I'm not suggesting that Luther's insight renders the debate null. What I am doing is suggesting it takes the Christian to a different place in determining how to proceed. The end result may well be the same.

Michael Simpson said...

Sorry, Hunter, been off line most of the weekend. Maybe one thing to look at is here: http://www.religiouscoalitionformarriage.org/

I'll try to post something else on this tomorrow...

Tlaloc said...

"We are living in a predominantly Christian nation with at least a third of voters seriously motivated by their faith. Determining whether the state is sacred or merely instrumental has a big impact on members of our community would see something like gay marriage."

A simple reading of the first amendment answers the question neatly: the state is not sacred. It is an earthly contract between humans. God quite simply doesn't enter into the equation.

Saying we are a ajority christian nation is true but also misleading, we have a majority of people who call themselves christians but they show an enormous diversity of faith, and no small number consider the various other branches of christianity to be borderline, if not outright, heretical.

We do not have a majority who all believe a consistent religion.

S. T. Karnick said...

Mr. Elliott, your interpretation of Luther's political views is tendentious and incorrect.

Hunter Baker said...

A simple reading of the first amendment emphatically does not establish what you say it does. It simply says what Congress will not do and leaves the decision in the hands of the states. It has been interpreted in something like the fashion you suggest, but that is far from "a simple reading."

In addition, to say that God doesn't enter into a contract between human beings is silly and artificial. It's sort of a "well, if you say so" kind of thing. But I wouldn't count on it to keep God out or to keep believers from counting God in on their account.

Tlaloc said...

"A simple reading of the first amendment emphatically does not establish what you say it does. It simply says what Congress will not do and leaves the decision in the hands of the states."

If congress (and hence the entire federal establishment) is precluded from enforcing any sort of religious imperative then it would seem pretty obvious this is a secular state? How can you have a sacred state that denies any attempt to act in a sacred manner?

Well maybe if you were taoist...

"In addition, to say that God doesn't enter into a contract between human beings is silly and artificial."

Not with you here at all, hunter. What I'm saying is that god doesn't enter into the contract as a matter of being a subject of the contract, which would seem to be a requirement for the state to be a sacred object.

For example in monarchies where the royalty is declared to be appointed by god you can say that the state is a contract between god and mankind. Or in the case of Vatican city where the head of the church is also the head of state. But in a explicitly secular state it seems pretty much axiomatic that the state is not a sacred instrument.

Hunter Baker said...

Again, the first amendment was written to affect the federal government, which for a long time was a lot less than half of the equation. States had established churches at the time of ratification and it was explicitly understood those were unaffected.

As to the question of how a secular state stands with relation to God, even if you have a secular state (which we do), that doesn't mean citizens aren't free to lobby and vote from a religious point of view, thus rendering secularism purely structural rather than substantive.

James Elliott said...

Apparently something I wrote was taken as rude or attacking someone. Such was not my intent, but I apologize for leaving any such impression.

"Social science explicitly aims at rendering value-free judgements, so it's of no help here." - TVD

I would argue that this is perhaps a more black and white reading of what actually occurs, and certainly a misreading of what I was writing, but it's a conversation for elsewhere, and one where Tom and I, I think, will forever come down on opposite sides.

"Mr. Elliott, your interpretation of Luther's political views is tendentious and incorrect."

A Protestant gets mad at me and a Catholic has similar thoughts along the same line as mine. Intriguing.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The question, and Mr. Baker's in particular, isn't what the state thinks of Christianity, but what Christianity thinks of the state.

I think Luther is not in agreement, but Aquinas and Jefferson would agree (and I believe stated explicitly) that when the state exercises a tyranny over the individual conscience, its authority is no longer legitimate.

Word up.

S. T. Karnick said...

Tom, thanks for the link to the NY Times article. As to Luther's opionion of what makes a legitimate government, that's an interesting question. I'll defer to Hunter on that, as he has just finished reading a good deal of Luther, but at this point I'd note that Luther did not base legitimacy on a particular set of policies or form of government. In fact, I'm not at all certain that he expressed much concern over the legitimacy of governments, as such. Here Hunter can be of much assistance, I suspect. As to Aquinas, church and state were more intertwined in his thinking than they have been since the Reformation, which is a good rough measure of Luther's influence.

tony c said...

Firstly I think this is a well written and calm discussion. I hope I don't damage that by saying its sad to see that scripture can blind people to witnessing and celebrating love.
On topic, Luthers views have to be assessed in light of his belief that he lived in the end times. He was thinking short term when he condoned suppression of a peasants revolt for example. He wasn't necessarily proposing a long term principle of government.
That's similar to the early church attitudes to slavery (and women's leadership). They need to be heard in the context of expecting the imminent return of Christ - not as if 2000 yrs of slavery was anticipated.
It is taking a long term view that encourages religious people who have power to nethertheless eschew power because the wheel of fortune turns. That's why refugees from Anglicanism argued for the separation of Church and state in forming the U.S. It wasn't tolerance or kindness but enlightened self-interest.
So what does a long term self-interested (for your faith) view encourage in regard to gay marriage? For the wheel is turning.