Faith-Based Politics Versus Faith In Politics

Last Friday and yesterday I’ve pointed out that “conservative” writers for Town Hall have claimed — without offering any evidence — that American law is somehow founded on scripture. Today Terry Paulson joins the club. Yet there’s a bit more to like in Paulson’s article than in the other two.

Paulson quotes Newsweek: “A third of Americans say they are born again; this figure, along with the decline of politically moderate-to liberal mainline Protestants… suggests a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more ‘evangelical’ outlook among Christians.” Paulson sees that trend as positive; I see it as troublesome. There are fewer Christians per capita, but there are still a lot, and they are more hard-core in their beliefs.

Paulson claims, “Contrary to what most secular Americans fear, most Christians want nothing to do with a government-endorsed religion.” If we’re talking about the government endorsing one sect to the exclusion of others, Paulson’s claim is true. But many Christians want to impose their religious dogma by legal force by banning abortion, forcibly transferring funds to religious organizations, legally discriminating against homosexuals, censoring unsavory expression, beefing up the drug war, restricting birth control, and banning all sorts of “vices” among consenting adults.

Thus, Paulson’s concerns about “attempts to banish God from the public square” ring a little hollow. I don’t care if some politicians prays to God in public or invokes some Biblical passage in a speech. I do care if a politician wants to impose Christian dogma by force of law. Paulson, and many other Christians I have read, conflate these two issues.

Paulson does admit — nay, brag — that Christianity advocates an altruistic foreign policy. He writes:

For our rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness come not from Presidents or legislators, but from God. It’s our Christian values that have driven us to extend those freedoms to others, even if it means sending our young men and women to defend Muslim citizens in Bosnia and to free Muslims from tyranny in Iraq.

Well, the Declaration says “Creator,” not “God,” but at any rate our rights are separable from the question of how we came about. But Paulson’s comments illustrates that Christian “liberty” is not at all the same thing as the government protecting the individual rights of its citizens. For Paulson, Christianity demands that the government forcibly redistribute wealth from its citizens and put soldiers in harm’s way to intervene in foreign conflicts absent any clear gain to American security.

Then there is the obvious fact that, historically, Christianity tended to promote oppression, censorship, inquisitions, and conquest over liberty. America’s Founders may have been mostly Christian, but what made their revolution in government possible was not the influence of religion, but the influence of the Enlightenment.