Politics and godliness
Since the mid-1980s I’ve counted myself as a conservative. I spent time on the abortion barricades and in the public square, advocating for morality and for America’s return to her Constitutional roots, as the only basis on which we can survive in any recognizable or good form.
America’s founders based our government upon the unique paradoxical biblical revelation of the nature of man. Man is made in the image of God. As such, he deserves dignity, freedom, and human and civil rights.
But the Bible also holds that man is fallen, a sinner that cannot be trusted. Therefore we must have government. And because fallen man is also the one who runs the government, that government must be strictly limited.
There’s a tension between those truths, and the best solution we can come with is a dynamic equilibrium that balances them successfully. It never will be perfect, but if we keep working to maintain the center, we can survive and preserve the freedoms we have gained.
The problem is that for several decades now, the nation has been increasingly run by humanistic elites whose purpose, stated or not, is to erode the biblical foundations of our republic. They have systematically stripped the culture of as many references to God as they could. Prayer and morality left the school, and condoms filled the vacuum. How could it have been otherwise?
It’s heartening then to note that the nation of late continues in a tilt toward conservatism. Fully 40% of the population so self-identify, more than even the 33% who claim the middle, leaving liberals with less than a quarter of the count. This is a stunning reversal at the grassroots, even if we don’t see much reflection of it yet in the halls of power.
We need to keep working, with both prayer and action, to win America back. The situation is dire, but with God’s help we will succeed.
But while I continue to hold conservative political values, at the same time two important truths have been impressed on me lately, as I watch the pace of cultural decline accelerate.
First, conservativism and godliness often overlap, especially at this critical time, but essentially they are distinct entities. This was strongly impressed on me recently when a story about the detrimental effect of pornography on men’s ability to bond qualitatively to women was posted to a conservative blog I frequent. Very predictably, I’m sorry to say, the reaction from the crowd there was a bunch of snide jeering and a celebration of the joys of porn. These were conservatives.
Because of the attack on moral values, coupled with the unrestrained Internet, America and the world is awash with an unprecedented amount of pornography. And we are suffering for it. While in some ways they have obtained freedom, women are now openly objectified as never before, and often by their own choices have become their own worst enemies. The values that used to protect them – morality, fidelity and monogamy – are in short supply indeed. And women, in competition for attention, have largely allowed themselves to be degraded to the level of the culture’s expectations. They are the worse for it.
It is short-sighted that many conservatives have an implicit belief that the morality they labor for in foreign and domestic policy can long endure if personal morality is jettisoned. They ought to give Washington’s farewell address a good read, in which he warned the nation that it could not long stand if it abandoned the “twin pillars” of democracy – morality and religion.
Jesus said that judgment will take place in this manner: two will be working in a field, and one will be taken; two will be grinding at the wheel, and one will be taken. Let me apply that to our current day. Two will hold conservative political values, and only one will be pleasing to God.
It’s a good thing to labor to restore the nation to its roots. But it’s not a good enough thing. It’s a terrible thing to work conservatively in the external political sphere but not attend to restoring one’s own spiritual roots.
The other issue that I think needs reassessment is conservatism’s claim to exclusive correctness. In that same farewell address, Washington also warned against involvement with other nations. That is no longer possible, and indeed it never was. It was only shortly after Washington left the scene that the Barbary Pirates – read: Muslims – began to severely harass American ships. If we were going to have any commerce with the world at all, it quickly became necessary to deal with international problems.
With increased information flow, the world is getting smaller. If nothing else, the latest Muslim incursion, on 9/11, proved that we simply cannot shut out the world.
And I’ll go one further. We are not meant to shut out the world entirely. America was blessed with resources and governance not merely for her own freedom and prosperity, but that she could bring them to others. More precisely, America, founded on Christian principles, is meant to be a Gospel light to the nations. We cannot do that by hiding our light under a bushel.
Strict isolationism will not work. God’s love and grace has been shed abroad in our hearts liberally, not conservatively, and that’s how we need to spread it to others. In this regard, the motivations of liberals are many times correct. Their mistake is their inordinate faith in the state, which becomes a substitute for the church and the individual as the means of dispensing that grace. Jesus warned, call no man ‘father’, but we have forgotten.
The point of this article is this: we should acknowledge civic virtues, and we should work to bring America back to her roots, but we need to do it all, first and foremost, for the glory of God. When we do that, we not only have the chance of earthly achievements, we have the certainty of heavenly rewards.
An added note on porn:
Those who embrace pornography are squandering their affections. They are building walls around themselves that make real intimacy with their wives impossible. They are sowing seeds of cynicism, resentment and alienation, and one cannot do that without consequences.
In this regard, a good woman is like anything else: what you put into her, you will get out of her, and more. What better is there to invest in but your family? Or for that matter, God?
If you make a commitment to avoid porn, you can get to a place where you recognize when women are using their appearance as a substitute for good character. Trust me on this, you will be avoiding a world of pain if you do so. The benefits of devoting yourself to your wife, and the detriments of squandering your affections, are both so great that the difficulty of disciplining yourself morally are well worth it.