"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Which Comes First–God Or Government? Surprisingly, This Question Is Still Being Asked



Every religion asserts that its principles, doctrines, and laws take precedence over any secular code of conduct. The Ten Commandments are not just suggested rules of behavior, open to interpretation, but the word of God handed down to Moses.  The were transcribed on the tablets by Moses; but since they came from God who has always existed, then they also have always existed.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1-3)


To speak of the Word (logos) in relation to the beginning of creation would make sense to both Jews and Greeks. In some schools of Greek thought, the universe is kosmos, an ordered place, and what lies behind the universe and orders it is reason (logos). For the Jews, creation took place through God's speech (Gen 1; Ps 33:6).

In other words, the admonitions, laws, and exhortations present in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament have existed forever.  Moses and Jesus were only the human voices of God.

The notion of God-given eternal laws is not restricted to Judeo-Christian thought.  Islam, an Abrahamic religion, also subscribes to the same principles. Hinduism’s metaphysical conception of the origin of the universe is no different. Brahman is very much like logos, an eternal, force/being that has always existed and out of which came Siva, Vishnu, and the pantheon of Hindu gods.

The idea that moral principles have always existed but made them manifest to Man at certain points in human history is universal to all religions.

Thomas Jefferson understood and believed this, and the Declaration of Independence so states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

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Man created government to guarantee the inalienable rights granted by God.  Government does not create inalienable rights nor, in the words of Justice Clarence Thomas does it bestow dignity:

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built…

And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away (Obergefell v Hodges)

Dostoevsky, speaking through his character Ivan Karamazov (The Brothers Karamazov) argues for subsuming the State within the Church, and not the other way around.  If the Church’s principles are God-given, then they should take precedence over any secular ones.  Moreover, morality – the best way to assure social order – can best be enforced by the Church:

The Christian Church entering into the State could, of course, surrender no part of its fundamental principles—the rock on which it stands—and could pursue no other aims than those which have been ordained and revealed by God Himself, and among them that of drawing the whole world, and therefore the ancient pagan State itself, into the Church. In that way (that is, with a view to the future) it is not the Church that should seek a definite position in the State, like ‘every social organization,’ or as ‘an organization of men for religious purposes’ (as my opponent calls the Church), but, on the contrary, every earthly State should be, in the end, completely transformed into the Church and should become nothing else but a Church, rejecting every purpose incongruous with the aims of the Church. (Book II, Chapter V)


For over two hundred years, this religious primacy was never challenged; but in latter part of the 20th and first decade of the 21st, secular interests placed within the context of civil rights gained currency.  A woman’s ‘right to choose’ to have an abortion was considered by the Warren Court (Roe v Wade) to be more important than any religious principles based on conceptions of the sanctity of life or on Biblical law.  Regardless of any such considerations, abortion should be the law of the land.  Rather than acknowledge and respect the profound religious objection to abortion and to respect the will of the electorate, the Court by judicial fiat denied the rights that Jefferson had hoped to protect.

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“If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one” say abortion advocates of the progressive Left; yet this is a specious argument.  If Christians of a state believe profoundly that abortion is a sin against God, a mortal sin, and an almost unforgiveable one, than having thousands of abortions taking place within their communities represents a defiance of moral if not divine law.  Why, they ask, should Government insist that abortion must take place. .

The same is true for other issues which cross religious-secular lines. Many Christians and Jews take the words of the Hebrew Bible regarding ‘the abomination’ of homosexuality seriously. Most Christians understand that Christ’s words in the New Testament about a male-female family were not just reflecting human evolution, but the spiritual nature of sexual union.  Although Christ never specifically condemned homosexuality, his words about marriage, divorce, and the permanence of heterosexual union and the integrity of the family were unequivocal.

What right, these Christians say, does government have to force me to deny my beliefs?

Once again, advocates of the progressive Left have presented a ‘Live and Let Live’ philosophy.  The sexual practices of one group of Americans can in no way interfere with yours.  Yet, this is again a disingenuous and specious argument.  For Christians who believe in the fundamental rightness of the Bible, living in a community whose government has deliberately and forcefully enabled legislation which goes counter to their beliefs, is overstepping the bounds set by Jefferson and his colleagues.  In a federalism, the residents of a state should have the right to debate religious or philosophical issues and to vote for or against them.

“Ah”, say progressives. “If that principle were adopted, then Mississippi would surely still have slavery. The Court must rule.”  Civil rights – the equal rights of all individuals to secular institutions of society, e.g. the vote, employment, education, etc. – are not contended.  There is no question of higher authority or divine vs. secular rights. The principle of civil rights is not contended although various interpretations of them may be.

The issues of abortion and gay marriage, because opposition to them is religious in origin, are not like any others.  They must be debated not only within a judicial, legal, and social context, but also within a religious and philosophical one.

Both Francis, John Paul II and Hindu philosophers speak not only about the moral implications of preventing one life from emerging, but what that act means to all life. In other words, both religious traditions teach about the sanctity of life, and how the lack of respect for one life leads inevitably to an erosion of respect of all life.

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Such moral principles are at the foundation of human society. If all life is not sacred, then exceptions can be made.  Justifiable homicide, socio-economic determinates of crime, historical imperatives, retribution, can all be used to excuse violence, assault, and murder.

Respect for life is equally at the heart of social justice.  The law has become a procedural tool for adjudicating disputes, but it is based on the “God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  Jefferson and his Founding Father colleagues designed the American political system to be a moral one, based on religious principles.  They would be surprised and sorely disappointed to see how legalistic and procedural society has become.

The issues of abortion and gay marriage must be discussed within the most comprehensive context possible, and there must be an appreciation for the principles behind them.  Pope Francis and Hindu philosophers are quite right in citing the sanctity of all life and in stating that the taking of one life – or even preventing its emergence – corrodes the moral fabric of society.  It is wrong to scrutinize the Bible for injunctions against homosexual sex but important to accept and respect its unequivocal statement about the nature of sexual relationships, their origins and their meaning.

One does not have to accept Christian principles or Biblical interpretation – only to listen to those who believe them.  Tolerance is defined not by respect for the right to hold opposing views, but to grant that they might be right.

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