Reading and Listening

I’m currently reading Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin, which is not what I expected. It’s much, much better than I expected, and smaller too. The tone is not angry (so far) in the least, but remarkably reserved. The author succinctly captures the essence of my own concerns, and also educates on aspects of which I had not been aware. Theme: statism is nearly finished transforming the government founded in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution into a soft tyranny. Statists will continue eliminating the individual freedoms that have uniquely blessed this nation, unless those who appreciate the Constitution actively reform American governance to exist within the limits prescribed therein.

Not long ago, I listened to an Issues, Etc. show about the theology of Rush Limbaugh. The chief criticism was that Limbaugh seems to hold a somewhat utopian view of the free market. Levin corrects that impression. I haven’t heard whether Limbaugh disagrees with Levin on the free market, but I suspect he does not. Levin acknowledges that there are injustices and passing inefficiencies in the free market, as well as creative destruction. However, he points out that the free market is nevertheless the most efficient possible environment for the creation of wealth and the overall improvement of living conditions. I strongly suspect that most specific counter-examples of corporate pollution or abuse of workers can be linked to governmental limits placed upon the free market, such as legislation, rules or practices favoring certain enterprises, or even favoring those who pay big bucks for political access.

Meanwhile, I’ve begun listening to a free audio book from Project Gutenberg by Bishop Ambrose of Milan. It’s called “On the Duties of the Clergy,” and though the readers seem to have a soft, monkish quality, the book is edifying. Ambrose was the chief theological influence upon Augustine, and lived only shortly after Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire.

Render to Caesar

Is it possible for Caesar to overstep the divinely-ordained bounds of his authority?

The Founders of the United States would have answered “yes” straight away. Despite the classic Lutheran concern for keeping the fourth commandment (to honor parents and superiors), we also recognize bounds for the authority of earthly rulers. If your ruler forbids you to honor God’s name or keep his word, or commands you to worship an idol, then you must disobey your ruler. Daniel and his three friends provide good examples of this.

What about other aspects of our lives? Can we separate faith from the food we eat? From our health care? From our work ethic? From interactions with our neighbors?

If a person breaks into your house with apparent intent to harm or kill one of its occupants, but the ruler forbids you from using deadly force (either because the person is authorized by the ruler, like the KGB, or because the ruler simply wants a docile populace, like any number of tyrannical regimes), is it wrong to defend your household against the assailant? Early American society agreed that you ought to defend your household, and that doing so was also a necessary defense of our society at large. That was a primary reason that most of the states and finally the nation protected the right of individuals to “keep” arms. In fact, they extended this principle beyond our homes with the right to “bear” arms.

The fifth commandment (You shall not murder) also enjoins Christians to protect the lives of our neighbors, recognizing that there will be some lawless people who murder anyway. If we fail to do what is in our power to protect the lives of others, then we break this commandment. But does this hold true when it would involve defending against those authorized by Caesar? Does it hold true when Caesar simply wants a docile populace?

Martin Luther wrote colorfully against the Roman requirement that priests refrain from marriage. It continues to be recognized that this requirement is contrary to nature, contrary to the way God has made us. Unless there is an unusual gift from God, humans will always find it impossible to remain celibate. Therefore, the priest’s vow is contrary to God’s will, and he should be allowed to marry. (Marriage is the only proper context God has provided for intimate relations.)

Does Caesar have the authority to change what God has established, when the Pope did not? Can Caesar permit or even require intimate relations outside of marriage? Can the ruler rightly forbid his citizens from being joined in holy matrimony? It would seem that the God’s sixth commandment (You shall not commit adultery) should rate higher than the laws of any earthly ruler.

Consider God’s seventh commandment (You shall not steal). Whose property has God forbidden us to steal? Some might try to tell us that it’s the property of the state, perhaps the U.S.S.R. or the communist Cuban state. The Caesars of those places owned everything, and the people owned nothing. Promising to eliminate inequalities among the people, the Caesar made all of them like medieval serfs, taking away their property, their honor, and their ability to improve their own lives.

Private property is also a gift from God. This notion was reinforced by the peculiar property laws in ancient Israel, which protected a family’s land for that family even after it had been sold to pay debts. When the Jubilee arrived, all land reverted to its original owners. While this doesn’t apply to other nations, it does show that God recognizes privately-held property. So then, must Caesar also recognize privately-held property? What may his people do when he does not?

The Founders of the United States would draw a sharp distinction between the American people and those of other nations. We are not subjects, but free citizens. Here, the government serves us. Yet government in general — like all aspects of fallen human nature — tends to overstep its bounds, regardless of the politics involved.

Still, the politics involved these days revolve around the question of Caesar’s role in society. Are there prescribed limits to government power? What may be done if government transgresses such limits? You can answer the first question by reading the United States Constitution and its amendments, but some disagree. Some would have us put the Constitution in a museum as a relic of bygone days. What say you?

In light of this question concerning limits to the powers of Caesar, consider this ongoing summary of the nationalized healthcare bill currently being debated in Congress. Like most citizens, I don’t have time to read the whole thing (though I would expect my representatives in Congress to read it), so I appreciate this “Reader’s Digest” version. Does it represent a transgression on the part of Caesar? If you are an American, you get to decide.


Continue reading “Render to Caesar”

The Founders’ Second Amendment

Good book. Thoroughly researched and documented. If you’ve ever read the founding documents of the United States, you already know the conclusion, because it’s written in easily-understood English. The Second Amendment follows upon the heels of the first because the individual rights enumerated in the first require the protection afforded by the exercise of the individual right to keep and bear arms.

I’m impressed at how much our our nation has changed since its founding. Some changes are for the better, such as the abolition of slavery. That was a necessary consequence of adopting the ideals in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. However, the people of our country, and particularly its political leaders today do not have the same liberty-loving mindset as its founders. Reagan was a rare recent example of a true statesman who could both articulate and teach the classic American love for liberty. As for the rest, some genuinely try, but progressivism has replaced classical liberalism (now called conservatism) in the ideals of far too many hearts.

As progressives drag us all into their utopian nightmare, it’s encouraging to see that our constitution remains. The Bill of Rights was crafted for such a time as this, and the wisdom of the Second Amendment may well be tested soon, if the forces of progressive tyranny continue to disembowel the principles of personal liberty and responsibility that have been such a blessing to our society.

This book was not a quick read, especially on my schedule, but I recommend it for those who actually care what our constitution says and means, and also for those who would like more insight into the founders’ point of view. Having read this, I could never accept the claim that Americans should be prevented from retaining small arms of any kind, nor from carrying them at will. There are laws currently on the books that likely infringe upon the right protected in the Second Amendment, in the opinion of someone like Thomas Jefferson. Yet for better or worse, the law of our land is interpreted through the imperfect efforts of the judical branch, and some of those battles are yet to be finished.

If you think the abuses against which the Bill of Rights were written “could never happen here,” then you need to pay more attention to the news. Not the news that comes from the professional “news media,” because that’s filtered by the political perspective of those who produce it. Find the news sources that are vilified and mocked by the professional newsies, and read or listen carefully, understanding that everyone has an axe to grind.

The way forward for personal liberty and responsibility, for classical liberalism (aka conservatism), is probably not through the government of our country or even our states. We can elect conservative politicians, but even the best will find the needed reformation to be impossible, when tried only through the government.

The way forward is through regular people, through citizens like you and me. We need to exercise our rights to speech, to religion, to publish, to gather, to petition, and to bear arms. Maybe not all at once, and maybe not all for each person, but as a whole, the people need to be a free people at heart, and then we will be able to reform the soft tyranny that has been progressively gripping our nation through the last century. When we know liberty, then we will know the kind of change that must take place. We the people are the best hope for our country. You and me.

I may have written about it before, but I think I’ll post again soon on why I think freedom is such a precious thing in this world.

One in Nine

Food stamps can be a blessing. If I recall correctly, my family qualified for a food program when our first child was born. The food was great, and better in general than we usually bought for ourselves. I know some whose lives are improved by food stamps too.


One in nine Americans uses food stamps to buy groceries, a record number due to recession and job losses, and more than 30 million children count on USDA-funded school programs for lunch.

So out of nine people, eight are paying taxes so that the last one can get help with food. And those USDA funds for school programs (in which I also participated)? Yep, they also come from taxes.

Now, you might disagree. It’s not tax money that pays for these things any more, but borrowed federal money. OK, but isn’t that just another kind of tax? It’s like saying “I didn’t really pay for that big screen TV; I put it on my credit card!” Somebody will pay.

But here’s my question. That tax money now spent for food stamps and lunch programs — what would have been done with it had it not been taxed in the first place?

The claim is made that some rich guy would have just kept it moldering in his massive bank account. (Because really, only one or two of those eight people are paying nearly all the bill.) But that claim doesn’t make sense. Savings accounts are only federally insured through something like $250k, and their interest rate is abysmal. If you’ve got many millions to look after, you’ve got to find better places than that. You’ve got to invest it in various ways.

So business owners grow their businesses. Investors grow the businesses of others. Growing businesses hire workers. Workers do something with their time that benefits other people, and they take home a paycheck. Their paycheck is used to buy things like groceries and school lunches.

It’s a great system. A free economy is really God’s gift, as wealth is generated and distributed according to the biblical maxim: “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.” Those who do work benefit from their own labor, and they also have the opportunity to help others. God doesn’t need our help, but all our neighbors do. When we work together and help one another, we become God’s blessings to each other.

Now inject food stamps and USDA lunch programs into the free economy. It saps vigor from the overall economy in the form of taxes, and it encourages a few to eat without working. Or seen another way, it encourages a few to buy that essential big-screen TV or those custom chrome wheels first, and then let their uptown neighbors pay the grocery bill.

Understand, I have no problem with charity. Gifts of charity are a good thing, a natural and beneficial outgrowth of the Christian faith. Just don’t confuse charity with taxes, which simply can’t do nearly as much good for anyone. They are not given voluntarily; they are taken. Then they are used in ways that undermine the economy that generated the tax money in the first place. Perhaps not intentionally. Perhaps.

I think I’ll have some tea now.

HT: The Mom