Legislating Righteousness - The Loss of Love and Dignity

As I've grown as a Christian and as a person who believes in and loves liberty, my perspectives have changed over the years. I find myself increasingly departing from the mainstream view of conservative Christians lately. As I develop a deeper understanding of liberty, something which I firmly believe that God endorses, my political viewpoint changes. Whereas once I believed and supported whatever leading Christian pundits were advocating, now I notice where certain positions are at odds with what I believe the bible says and at odds with the principles of liberty.

In general I'm referring to the pressure to pass laws regulating personal behavior that comes from the Christian community. Laws regarding drugs, alcohol, sexual choices, etc. By no means is legislating behavior limited to Christianity; however, it is the Christian I want to address. To make my point, let me give you my moral orientation.

In a nutshell, I believe in the God of the bible and in His Son Jesus who came in the form of a man in order to redeem mankind. I believe that God is good, that He loves all men and women, and that He wants every single person to be saved. I believe God is personal and wants to have an interactive relationship with everyone. I believe the essence of relationship is freedom. Freedom gives relationships value. An unchosen relationship has no value; therefore, without the choice to love (which must allow space for the opposite choice, which is not to love) a relationship is meaningless (or valueless).

I believe this freedom extends to all human endeavors. We are relational beings and everything we do in life revolves around our relationships. It is for this reason that I believe in free markets as the ultimate system for bringing two parties into an economic relationship. That is why I believe prices should move freely as both parties determine for themselves the value of an economic exchange. So that is why I believe that the role of government is simply this: to protect our liberty. That means it should prevent one person from doing harm to another. Willfully harming another person destroys their liberty; therefore, as a nation we collectively act to restrict the freedom of those who do not respect the freedom of others.

I say all of that to lay a foundation for this point: the government should not be in the business of making me righteous - even if I generally agree with the behaviors required by those laws. As I've said, government should be in the business of preserving my liberty. As a free human being, I am free to try those things that might bring me harm. In trying those things, I gain experience. I learn. I am able to decide for myself what things bring good into my life and what things bring harm.

If choice brings value to relationships, choice also brings value to our actions. Doing the right thing has more value when it is chosen than when it is compelled. Doing the right thing starts with love. When we choose to do what we believe is right, we do so because we value the good that comes from that right choice.

Consider these choices: I choose to eat right and take care of my body. I value my body and make the choices necessary to keep it healthy. Good comes from that choice. I want a happier relationship with my wife so I choose to be kind to her. I value her and her happiness. Good comes from that choice. I want to take care of my fellow man by returning the $20 bill he dropped. I value my fellowman more than the $20. Good comes from that choice. Maybe it is the good that comes to a young woman by the choice of a young man to respect her heart and respect her body. He values her more than his own sexual satisfaction. Good comes from that choice.

All of these right choices produce something wonderful in the soul. These choices are the result of love. These choices are the result of loving something more than the self. These choices are the result of loving God, loving His wisdom, loving what God has created, and valuing what He values. It is love that leads us to make right choices.

Choice reveals value. Our choices reveal what we value - they reveal what we love.

If you remember, God gave the law to Israel because they did not understand that concept and had no love for the truth or for God. "What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made." (Gal 3:19). The coming of Jesus fulfilled a promise to Abraham that through his Seed, all the nations of the world would be blessed. That promise was Jesus. Abraham followed the leadership of God because he loved God and valued the promise that God made. Abraham also wanted the world to receive that blessing that God was promising, showing that he valued the people of the world more than himself. Abraham was even willing to kill his own desperately wanted son Isaac, showing how completely he valued the will of God over his own will. That is love.

It is our love for the good that comes, our love of true value and worth, that compels us to make right choices. If we allow the government to compel us to make right choices by legislating matters of morality, then we no longer do it for love. If the law forces me to do what is right, then the value is lost. I am no longer responding to love, no longer recognizing the value in a decision or action. Instead, I become self-centered once again. I do the action required by law to avoid the penalty of the law, not because I value the object of my action.

Compelling righteousness also removes the dignity that comes from struggling with our natures and learning to overcome. We have two "selfs". One self wants instant gratification and is me/pleasure/now oriented. My other self looks to others and is willing to delay gratification for a greater good. These two selfs are at odds with one another. These two aspects of our character, the "Dr. Jeckyl, Mr Hyde" inside each of us compete on every level over every issue. Whether it is a decision about having a brownie, the decision about our attitude that day, the decision to offer a kind word to someone, the decision to drink, smoke, or look at a dirty magazine - we have to learn to manage the decision process and choose the good. I have struggled mightily with learning to overcome some aspects of my character. But I have learned! I have grown! And I am a better person, a person of dignity, for having had the opportunity to "sin" and learned how to overcome the slavery that results from sin.

One thing the founders of this nation resisted was the idea of "central planning." It is not the role of government to shape society. In order to shape society, one person must exercise his will for the direction of society over the will of another. For example, socialism, environmentalism, humanism, feminism, multiculturalism are all attempts to shape society according to the vision of a small group. Christianity, while typically the true defender of liberty, in many cases tries to do the same thing.

Again, this limits liberty. One person doesn't know better what is good for another person. Each person needs to take his own path, fight his own fight, learn his own lessons - write his own story. If you believe you know better than another, become a teacher, start a church, begin an advertising campaign. Attempt to influence others by allowing them to hear your message and freely come to your conclusion by the logic of your arguments and the strength of your love for them. But don't compel them to adopt your conclusion by the force of law.

Compelling righteousness, whether done by Christians or an "ism" destroys human dignity by removing the value that comes by learning from poor choices how to make good choices.

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Calling Evil Good

I came across an amazing point this morning. I was reading the new Dennis Prager column in which he tries to figure out why the left is hysterical (did you know the etymology of the word hysterical? Its interesting, check it out) about global warming and the right isn't. He makes some interesting points, but I don't think he gets to the bottom of it. I've tried to figure it out as well - my attempt is written here.

Several people commented on his column on Townhall.com. One commenter said:

In an effort to justify greed and envy, defend sloth, etc., the Left will define
virtues as evil. According to the Left, it isn't "greed" to demand treasure from
others that one did not earn; it's "greed" to wish to retain the fruits of your
own labor. To the left, it isn't justice that someone should benefit from
undertaking actions that create jobs; jobs are an entitlement that no one should
have to "earn" and should be paid a minimum amount no matter how much the work is actually worth. And on and on...

What a great point! Isaiah the prophet made the same point a few years ago:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light,
and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe
to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own
sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Isn't that the battle we face? The fight for truth is the fight to see things as they really are. We fight a war of paradigms - how will information be presented, how will information be characterized?

There is poverty in the world. That's a fact. What then do we do with that fact? The left will use it to advance their cause while the right will use it as an individual call to action (there are probably exceptions on both sides).

Its up to those who love the truth to fight for it while loving those who disagree. It's a tough mission, but I know we've got what it takes.

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The Real Crisis

Everything is a crisis! Everything is a scandal! Everything is a threat to our way of life! Why can't we just have the news? Tell us what's going on in the world. But no, that's not the way the media works, that's not the way government works.

By the way things sound in the media, you'd think the world is coming to an end. The reporting and hysteria about global warming is just one great example. How about bird flu? Are we running out of fuel? The kids in this article worry about war, pollution, and global warming. Politicians in Antarctica are asking for government action. So many looming problems. But is it really that bad? You might think that these stories make the news because they are attention getters. "If it bleeds it leads." That kind of thinking. I don't think that is the motivation.

I think the manufactured crisis is the most effective means that the left and pro-government forces have at their disposal for generating the public reaction necessary to motivate people to give up their liberty. When people begin to truly believe that there is an environmental crisis, or a medical crisis, or a human rights crisis, or a hunger crisis - they give permission to the government to "do something."

Unfortunately, the "something" is actually a bigger threat to us than any of the other perceived threats. As a matter of fact, we could probably demonstrate that most of the crises that we face today are the result of "doing something" in years past. Laws get passed every day that make it harder for businesses to solve the problems that we commonly face, allowing those problems to loom larger. An "environmental crisis" (like Three Mile Island) in the past prevents nuclear power plants from being built, resulting in expensive energy today.

The real threat is government meddling. When the government gets involved, things get ugly. Vote buying helps the few at the expense of the many. It is the "crisis" that gives the politician what he needs to move legislation through the system.

Fake threats advance the cause of the real threat - government regulation.

The godless left (as described by Ann Coulter's new book) will do anything they can to advance their "vision." They have a plan for you, a plan for me. They are full of "isms." They believe in socialism, environmentalism, humanism, feminism, multiculturalism, just to name a few. An "ism" is nothing more than one man's dream that he would like to see imposed on all others. Unfortunately, when one person seeks to advance their ism, they must suppress the rights and liberties of others to do it.

And ultimately, that is what every ism is really about - the suppression of liberty. God loves freedom because it is the only road to happiness on earth. As each person pursues their idea of happiness, they write their own story. Adam Smith railed against the "system men" who see the world as a chessboard to be manipulated. He noted that each chess piece though was a person with their own dreams and aspirations, and that it was immoral for the government to move those chess pieces without their consent. When one man tries to advance his "ism", he does so at the expense of another man's freedom.

That's why I don't actually like the term "capitalism." It was coined by Karl Marx to describe what is more properly called "free enterprise." Free enterprise is not government planning, it isn't one person's vision imposed on others. Free enterprise allows each person to live and dream according to their own dictates, their own plans, their own religion, their own desire.

We were all given the freedom by God to write our own story. Our nation at one time recognized that "we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Our Declaration of Independence says that "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." Government should not be in the business of advancing isms, they should simply secure our liberty.

The real threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this world is not global warming or the bird flu. The left will milk these concerns for all they can to advance their isms, but in the end, we won't face any real crisis other than a crisis of liberty.

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Relationship, Not Religion

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27

As you can probably tell from many of my blog entries, I am a bible believing Christian. I believe in God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe that the bible is reliable and is the basis for truth. I believe that God wants to have a relationship with everyone on earth and to see them come to salvation.

Religion is a different matter. I don't believe in religion. I am not religious. Now don't get me wrong. There are lots of great religious men and women doing fabulous things: building communities of believers that love God, serving their fellow man, advancing the kingdom of God, all that stuff. But religion is not God. It is merely a system of beliefs advocated by those who do their best (in most cases) to adhere to the principles of scripture. Even Christianity is about people and made up of people. In that sense, it is highly fallible.

So why do I say all that? Because people love to be part of something. I love to be part of something. Being a part of something bigger than the self helps to give life meaning. Christianity and the activities and ministry of the local church helps to add meaning to the lives of many people. But it also distracts them sometimes from the real purpose of our existence.

God created us for relationship. He wants to walk with us, talk with us, help us to learn and grow. We are spiritual beings, created to know God. One of the problems I see with Christianity as a religion is that it takes its focus off of the relationship and puts it onto the "lifestyle" of Christians. There is a Christian lifestyle - common dos and don'ts, ways of talking and behaving, an expected political outlook - and unfortunately, a common critical eye towards those who believe differently and act differently. In this I find the biggest fault with Christianity - the focus on sin, both personal sin and the sin of others.

Jesus Christ did not come and die on the cross to get us to stop sinning. He came to set us free from sin. He came, not to put our focus on sin, but to take our focus off of it. The distinction is huge and the consequences even bigger. We are now dead to sin; dead to the law. It is fulfilled. If you got killed in a car accident and you were at fault, would the officer give you a ticket? No, you're dead - a ticket is pointless. We are dead to the law.

God wants our focus to be on Him, not on the rules. I don't lay down a law against my wife. We have a relationship, we love each other, and learn and grow together. Rules don't make that relationship work, love does. God wants the same thing to be true with the relationship He has with us. He wants it to be about love, not sin, not punishment, not getting it right every time, but learning and moving forward. "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor 13:13) Love is mankind's greatest motivator. If anything stirs the heart of man, it is the desire for love. You see it everywhere - movies, books, music, poetry, art. We were made for relationship, and the beginning of any successful relationship is God.

If we are in a relationship with God and commune with Him via the Holy Spirit (our spirit relating/connecting to His Spirit) we will be lead into right behavior. Jesus Christ set me free from the worry of sin, from the condemnation, from the fear. Now I walk with Him. I try things, I make mistakes, I fall, the Holy Spirit speaks to me, I learn, and I grow. It is by living that we become the men and women God wants us to be. Its partly by failing that I grow in my sensitivity to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

So does God want us to sin? Absolutely not. The wages of sin is death. It hurts us dreadfully to sin. But God wants us to be able to let it go and move on. He wants to lead us out of sin as we commune with Him in a love relationship - not because we are fearful of hell or the criticism of fellow Christians. God wants to teach us to avoid sin because it is an assault on the relationship He has with us and because it is an assault on life itself. God has good plans for us and sin prevents Him from leading us into that blessing. Sin is the choice to do something our way, contrary to the leadership of God. God is the author of life and knows what it takes to provide for life. Sin produces death because it is contrary to God and to His wisdom. Follow God and live - that message is everywhere in the bible.

We often sin because we hurt. All people need love, acceptance, and leadership. God promises to meet all of those needs through the Sprit - He is our comfort (love), provides fellowship (acceptance), and offers counsel (leadership). When we connect with God, we can receive all of these things and be made whole. Our hearts can be filled, so to speak. When we are disconnected from God, our hearts become empty. It's at this time that we often turn to sin as a remedy for the pain of an empty heart. Only the love of God can fill an empty heart. Sin is man's attempt to fill his own heart; to find a little relief; to escape the pain of life. As we grow in our relationship with God, we learn how to recognize when we are disconnected from God by the desire for sin that sometimes rises within. We can sense our own "heart level" and use that nudge to step back into fellowship with God.

So why did Israel have the law? The bible says in Gal 3:19 that it was "added because of transgressions till the Seed should come." And in verse 24 that it "was our tutor to bring us to Christ." Like a child needs rules and laws provided by the parents for protection - Israel needed those laws because they had very little love for God and weren't interested in pursuing a relationship with Him. God made a promise to Abraham (Gen 22:18) that He intended to keep. Specifically, God promised that from Abraham's descendents a savior would come that would bless the entire world. Israel was the promised vessel through which Jesus Christ would come. If Israel didn't follow God, like so many other ancient nations, they would cease to exist. God gave them the law to protect them and hence His ability to keep His promise to Abraham. He didn't give the law to other nations and He doesn't give the law to us. The law was not God's wish - it was added because of Israel's sin. God has no love for the law. The law had a purpose; that purpose has been fulfilled - Christ has come.

Focusing on the sin is legalism - and legalism kills. Here are 6 serious problems with legalism.

1) A legalistic person has a relationship with rules rather than a relationship with God.
2) Legalism produces a sense of self-righteousness in the person who follows the rules. Fake holiness. A self-righteousness that keeps them from seeing their need for God. Remember the pharisees? They had no love for God because they were convinced of their righteousness.
3) Legalism produces self-condemnation in those who recognize their own inability to obey consistently. "I'll never be able to do this!" People give up and leave Christianity in their hopelessness.
4) Since the heart is still empty, a legalist is tempted to think that there might be relief in that which is forbidden. People begin to think, "I'm so unhappy, but those people sure seem to be having a good time. Maybe I'll try what they're doing." For that person, the remedy for the emptiness must be sin. The legalist is drawn to sin by his own desperation for peace within his heart.
5) Legalism makes Christianity look unappealing to the lost; like a bunch of boring people trying to be good. Who wants that?
6) Legalism prevents people from learning to listen to the Holy Spirit and recognize when they are disconnected from God and how to reconnect. It puts them in a state of spiritual blindness.

Our job on earth is to reach the lost. Legalism prevents us from doing so and focuses us on the sin of others rather than on ways to love them. Commenting or pointing out the sin of others never led them to Christ. Its love that draws people, not condemnation, not the fear of hell. Have a relationship with someone, find out what moves them, get interested in that. If you want to save them - love them. The Holy Spirit is already convicting them of their sin and you'll have opportunities to teach them as they grow in their relationship with God and learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. We are called to exhort, edify, and comfort (1 Cor 14:3) - not criticize.

Legalism steals the life that God intended for us to have. He wants us to live wonderful lives. Full of joy and blessing. He wants us to fully enjoy the kingdom of God. A great deal of Christians today are nothing more than modern day pharisees.

So, again I quote Jesus from the book of Luke:

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (10:27)

Love God, love your neighbor - its about relationship, not religion.

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Is Marriage About Chemistry?

I spoke with a 29 year old woman the other day who is still single and eager, but not desperate, to get married. I've been married 13 years tomorrow - my anniversary. Sometimes I'm amazed we've made it this far, but we learned a few things along the way that made it possible. So in chatting with this woman, I realized how much my thinking about marriage has changed over the years (and how hard it would have been to learn this prior to being married).

One of the notions that I kept hearing in her language (I don't remember the words she used) was the importance of the right chemistry between two people. She mentioned friends who think they might have settled too quickly for the wrong guy. These kinds of mindsets are so common. I believe that kind of thinking is dangerous. One of the points I made with her was that there is no value in discussing chemistry or if two people are right for each other after they are married. Once married, it is quite harmful to wonder whether or not you are with the right person. Here is the right way to think about it: "you're married, your spouse is now the right person, start thinking about how to improve your relationship rather than decide if you should be in it."

The thinking that wonders if someone is the right person assumes there is something critical about the combination of two people that makes relationships work. I don't believe things work this way. What makes a relationship work is the choices that each person makes, not some innate quality within the individuals that cannot be altered.

Relationships operate according to principles. These principles can be learned. As I've said previously, we enter into relationships that benefit us and both parties in any relationship expect certain terms to be adhered to. In marriage those terms are written as vows. Many of the relationship difficulties people face in marriage come from violating those vows. The other difficulties people face in their marriages come from selfishness and what I call "following with love" rather than "leading with love."

When a person "follows with love" they say to themselves, "I'll do something loving after my spouse does something loving." A follower waits until they feel loved before they do loving things. When dating, the relationship is all about the way the other person makes us feel (chemistry). Once married, there is a job to do. There are bills to pay, chores to do, problems to solve. Marriage then requires teamwork. It stops being about how you feel (reactive) and starts being about what you do (proactive). People get resentful because they no longer feel what they used to feel when dating. They want to feel that same thing again. Therefore they only do what they need to do when they feel what they want to feel. Unfortunately this results in two people who rarely feel what they want to feel and rarely do what they need to do.

My wife and I practice "leading with love." This means that we attempt to do loving things (we don't always succeed) even when we don't feel loved, even when the other person is not doing anything that qualifies them to receive our love. If Christ loved us when we were still in sin and utterly unlovable, then we should be striving to be like Him and do the same. We're actually commanded to do so in 1 John 4:10-11 "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

Christ loved while we were in sin and then asks us to love the same way. Wow. Tall order, but it is a principle that works. Plus, and here's the real benefit, the feelings of love follow "leading with love." The feelings of love are the result of loving actions. If I choose to do what I should do and my wife chooses to do what she should do, we both get the benefit of feeling the passion and the love that we enjoy so much. In God's economy things always work this way - the benefit follows the work.

The reason the woman I spoke with hears from friends that are wondering if they "settled" for the wrong person - they've lost "those loving feelings." (Think of the song - "You've lost that loving feeling") The feelings weren't lost, the couple just isn't doing what's necessary to produce them - serving each other. The person who wonders if they "settled" is assuming that if they had chosen a better spouse things would have worked out better. If already married - it doesn't do any good to wonder that! The marriage difficulties are not the result of marrying the wrong person, they are the result of not adhering to the principles of successful relationships.

Jesus Christ came to serve. As we learn to be more like him, especially in our relationships, we will find that our relationships will start to work. My marriage has lasted 13 years because my wife and I have realized that marriage is about serving, not being served. Loving first, not waiting to first be loved. We've learned that our marriage success comes from deciding that our marriage is more important than anything else. We have not given ourselves the liberty of deciding that "this isn't going to work out." We're going to make it work out. It's no longer about the chemistry - its about the choices.

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Government Demand and Vote Buying

I listened to a discussion this morning where people were discussing the cost of sending their kids to school. I noticed another article in a magazine this morning about college costs. Here is another one in the Washington Post. College is expensive and getting more so. Why?

Prices of all things move in order to equalize supply and demand. If lots of people want something, and they have the means to buy it, prices will rise. If they don't rise, for any reason, there will be a shortage. An increase in price is the only way to avoid the shortage.

When government "visionaries" or what libertarians call "central planners" decide to promote something that they consider to be in the best interest of society, they alter its price structure. In the college issue, politicians searching for votes see a large vote base among the "disadvantaged" youth who may not be able to afford college. In their thinking, its only right that government should help out these youngsters who cannot afford college.

Unfortunately, government assistance only shifts the group who cannot afford college from one disadvantaged group to a different disadvantaged group. You see, when government provides funds for a given purchase, there now exists in the marketplace buyers who previously could not afford that product - an increase in demand. Thus, the price increases to bring demand into equilibrium with supply.

There are only so many "seats" out there in colleges at a given moment in time. When government funds one group in order to help them buy those seats, the price of each seat goes up; therefore a new group is going to find them unaffordable. Now, a politician rather than the fairness of the market is determining who gets to go to college. That of course, is just the way the politicians like it!

When I say "fairness" of the market, I mean it in this respect: those who are able to buy are those who have acquired the means to buy via service to the marketplace. Politicians love to celebrate the "virtues" of the poor. As much as I feel sorry for the difficulties that a poor person faces, they are poor because they have not brought their abilities to the market and used their time, talent, and energy to improve the lives of others. We might be able to blame their decision not to participate in the free market on many factors, but the end result is that they don't serve humanity like a rich person does. Rich people are rich because they do something that others find valuable enough to spend their money on. (This conclusion could obviously provoke debate. Let me clarify by saying a lot of the system is corrupted already. In a true free market, with a government functioning as it should to preserve liberty, our wealth would be a product of our service alone.)

The fairness of the market allows those who serve their fellow man to buy goods and services from their fellow man. Government intrusion into the market alters this moral principle. The government takes from one group and gives it to another. Since the group that gets it didn't earn it, and yet they have access to goods and services from the market that they otherwise wouldn't have had, we must recognize that an injustice has occurred.

So in our college example: since prices have risen and a new group that otherwise could have afforded college now cannot, we must recognize that in their case, an injustice has occurred. Government demand drove prices up to help a favored group at the expense of 2 other groups - 1) the group that paid taxes for services they didn't receive and 2) the group that can't afford education because the price is now too high.

Of course, the problem here is not limited to college tuition. The same injustices occur wherever politicians venture. Take for example farm subsidies. When the government supports a crop, the price rises above its natural price making it less affordable for buyers and removing the ability for other suppliers to compete effectively - thus keeping the price high since competition is suppressed. The same thing happens to the price of medical services with government subsidized health care such as Medicaid.

Many might agree with the governments choice of groups to favor. Unfortunately, any favored group creates injustice. Again this is an example of the impact of vote buying at the expense of the liberty and at the expense of fairness.

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