Sunday, March 25, 2012

Who do we belong to?

The subject I am exploring here is a bit experimental. It almost certainly will involve some oversimplification, but I am hoping it is fruitful. (Of course, the question "Who do we belong to?" would better be stated "To whom do we belong?".)

Now I know that we Christians will immediately respond to this question with "We belong to God" and that is right. But as we look at this question we will hopefully learn something about how our we actually think. What I mean is that it is very easy to say that we belong to God, but it is probable that we actually reach conclusions based on other premises. So let's look at a couple of ideas that are at odds with the Christian conception that we belong to God.

One conception that I heard recently comes from a university professor who is conservative, or really, libertarian in philosophy. He definitely is not alone in his idea.

His idea is that we belong to ourselves. Since we belong to ourselves, then nobody has a right to take something that belongs to us. Nobody has a right to do something to us that we do not want them to do. He added that the government, in particular, has no right to take something from me and give it to someone else without my agreement.

This idea is very attractive and I think that it has much to commend it. I don't think that any of us wants to give someone else the right to our stuff or be able to do anything to our body without our express permission. We are all in favor of that. (I hope.) And I think that if you ask most people if the government has the right to take our money and give it to someone who the government thinks is more deserving of it, they would agree that this is wrong. Of course, the government does this all the time. They do not call it taking from one to giving to another; they call it 'compassion' or 'investing' or 'fairness' or 'equality' or some other positive term. When they call it that, some believe that it is a good thing, especially when it is said to come from the rich who can well afford it. I would just remind you that if it is wrong to take something from a poorer person and give it to someone else, it is just as wrong to take it from a richer one.

Another idea that is prevalent in our society that would be more associated with political and social liberalism is the notion that we all belong to each other. Unlike our previous idea that is more individualistic, this idea is more socially oriented. (I do not use the term socialist here because in socialism people essentially belong to the state, not to one another.) The idea of belonging to one another is very attractive to many who hate to see the grinding poverty and oppressed condition of many in our society and around the world. Those who hold this idea generally like the government to be heavily involved in programs to help the poor and to bring greater 'fairness' to the way that goods are distributed among us.

These folks are also concerned about the individual and, like the professor who espoused individualism, want to protect human dignity. But they think about it a bit differently. The individualist/libertarian believes that human dignity is upheld only when a person is left to take care of himself and keep his own goods and person. To the liberal, human dignity is upheld when everyone has what he or she needs. (Needs are usually defined according to what would be expected in the life an average person in a Western society.) To the liberal it is insufficient that the well-off in society freely give to the poor. Only government can fairly distribute and guarantee everyone's "right" to what (Western) society provides.

It seems that our society is divided between these points of view. There is a sharp philosophical difference between the modern libertarian/conservative and the modern liberal. But I do not wish to talk about these two groups or the pros and cons of each. Rather, I want to look at the idea we started with: We belong to God. And if we belong to God, then we must follow the precepts that He has laid out in His Word. We also must replace our libertarian and liberal thinking with God's thoughts as He has revealed them to us.

In fact, my purpose here is to challenge us to examine our own thinking and discover whether our thinking is, in fact, libertarian or liberal and repent of that and renew our minds with the Word of God. The tricky part of this is the fact that these philosophies and the Word overlap and sometimes come to the same or similar conclusions. Libertarians are strong on private property rights. So is the Bible. Liberalism is strong on helping those in need. So is the Bible.

We need to examine the reasons behind our thoughts and find where they actually originate. Do they stem from libertarian or liberal ideas about who we belong to, or are they truly biblical? It is not enough that our conclusions correspond with what the Bible says or seems to say. We must make all thoughts captive to Christ.