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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Govern the Least

“Why be afraid of government?” a Princeton professor writing for CNN recently asked. Touting the need for Obama’s healthcare plan, disappointingly the professor added that, “Democrats are still scared about defending the value of government.”

As an example of “the value of government,” the good professor went into significant details about the massive government program known as Medicare. Declaring Medicare a resounding success, the professor concluded that, “The program succeeded. Government worked.”

It is true that governments do many things well. I’m no anarchist. I certainly believe there is a role for good government in our country.

Consider some of the many areas of our lives that government currently occupies: healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid), retirement (Social Security), mail service (USPS), education, transportation, recreation (state parks), public utilities (power, water, sewer), and so on. As does the Princeton professor, many folks, liberal and conservative, see the government’s current role in these various institutions as a positive thing.

Of course, recently government got even more of a boost. With its foray into the automobile, insurance, and banking industries, there seems to be no institution into which the government (at least the current one) will not interject its mighty self.

Also, as there supposedly would be with Obamacare, some of those in support of big government will note, there is successful “competition” with government and private industry in many of the aforementioned institutions. FedEx and UPS compete with the U.S. Postal Service, private schools compete with public ones, private transportation competes with public transportation, and so on.

However, government, even when it has competition, never plays fair. For example, consider the mail. By law, UPS and FedEx are prohibited from offering to deliver First Class mail. Therefore, the government has a legal monopoly on a significant part of mail delivery.

When it comes to transportation and recreation, the government has the right to eminent domain. And, of course, the government has the power to tax to support everything from education to transportation. Also, the government can print money, make law, and has the power of the police and the military to enforce the law.

In addition, government programs don’t have to turn a profit, nor do they have to pay taxes. In other words, private industry competing with government is like a local high school football b-team heading down to Athens to take on the Bulldogs. It is simply no contest and it is ludicrous to think otherwise.

Furthermore, once the government gets involved, to end its participation is like finding an NFL team that wants Michael Vick. Entitlement programs, such as Social Security, are the classic example of this. These programs are massive: As of 2008, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up 42% of the federal budget. Medicare alone has $36 trillion in unfunded liabilities. As president Bush found out, it is practically impossible to reign in and reform these beasts.

Once the government gets itself established in an additional part of our lives, another piece of our liberty goes out the window—perhaps never to return. This is the real danger. Even the folks over at CNN have recently (see here) pointed out five significant freedoms that would be lost under Obamacare: 1.) Freedom to choose what’s in your plan 2.) Freedom to be rewarded for healthy living, or pay your real costs 3.) Freedom to choose high-deductible coverage 4.) Freedom to keep your existing plan 5.) Freedom to choose your doctors.

Undoubtedly, there are real problems with our healthcare industry—or more appropriately with the health insurance industry. (One of the great myths in this debate comes from confusing the word “care” with the word “insurance.”) Most of these problems are a result of the role that government already plays in the matter.

For example, currently many state governments mandate that insurance companies cover all sorts of services—from chiropractic care to hair transplants—that many people don’t want or need and that should be paid for out of pocket. This practice alone is a major cause for increased health insurance costs. The current version of Obamacare in both houses would impose such “standard benefits packages” on every plan offered.

Whatever the shortcomings of our current healthcare industry, more government is not the solution. “That government is best which governs least,” said Thomas Paine. In this succinct, but profound proverb, lies the heart of the solution to the healthcare debate. Congress and the president would do well to begin and end with this in mind.

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Founders Understood the Nature of Man

I have found common ground for liberals and conservatives. In general, most liberals have a significant distrust of corporate America, as well as a somewhat healthy distrust of capitalism. As a recent rather liberal blogger noted, “Industry after industry after industry and within them big corporation after big corporation after big corporation has acted recklessly and with only their narrow interests and avarice in mind. Often killing, maiming and poisoning tens of thousands of people without consequence or justice. That is why we have an EPA. That is why we have a CPSC. That is why we have federal oversight (supposedly) of the crooks and thieves on Wall Street and Main Street.”

Similarly, on the whole, conservatives have considerable distaste for big government and are rather suspicious of government in general. Attorney/writer Tommy De Seno highlights this in his definition of conservatism: “Conserving the rights of the individual against the trespasses of government, and the trespasses of others.”

These institutional misgivings are not without merit and they are very much rooted in the Christian view of human nature. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Christianity teaches that it is in the basic nature of each of us to be selfish. I submit to you that this take on humanity was well understood by our founders, is reflected in the founding documents of the United States, and thus is further evidence of the Christian heritage of our nation.

“There is a degree of depravity in mankind,” wrote James Madison in The Federalist Papers, “which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust.” Over a period of 11 months between 1787 and 1788, to persuade the state of New York to ratify the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay authored The Federalist Papers.

In Federalist 51 Madison summarized the misgivings of both today’s liberal and conservative: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

The first governing documents in this nation, the Mayflower Compact (1620) which united the Pilgrims, and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1638), considered the first Constitution written in America, both were contracts adopted by Christians and were predicated upon the Christian view of mankind.

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut was such a significant work that it served as a model of government for the other colonies and eventually as a model for the U.S. Constitution. As noted in The Light and the Glory, “the (U.S.) Constitution…was constructed on the realistic and Scriptural assumption that the natural self-interest and self-love of man has to be checked. The checks and balances were ingenious: there would be three separate branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial.”

For further evidence of the influence of Christianity on U.S. government, consider the work of French social philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville. In the early 1830s, Tocqueville toured the U.S. seeking to discover why the representative democracy present in America was so successful here while failing in so many other places. His efforts produced Democracy in America, an early classic account of the democratic system of U.S.government.

Tocqueville devoted a significant portion of his work to the effects of Christianity on American life. Upon his arrival in the United States he declared that, “the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention.”

Having noted the direct influence of religion upon politics in America, Tocqueville concluded that “In the United States the sovereign authority is religious…there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth…The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”

Human beings are cursed with a sinful nature that, while yearning for freedom, requires significant accountability. Our founders understood this well and gave us the finest documents ever produced by man for his own self government which has resulted in the most enduring form of government that the world currently knows.

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Is America a Christian Nation? (A Response to Rick Bellows)

Mr. Bellows (letter to the editor, Gainesville Times) obviously misread my most recent column (Is America a Christian Nation?). He begins by noting that I failed to make the distinction between a “Christian nation” and a nation of Christians. This is so ridiculous it makes me wonder what column he was actually reading.

I went out of my way in the column to define what is a “Christian nation." I used historian David Barton’s definition: “A Christian nation as demonstrated by the American experience is a nation founded upon Christian and Biblical principles, whose values, society, and institutions have largely been shaped by those principles…Christianity is the religion that shaped America and made her what she is today.”

I then went on to given multiple examples of significant individuals who verbalized this understanding of America’s true heritage. I also gave examples of how Christianity is woven into the very fabric of America.

Nevertheless, for those who would like more evidence, note the following:

After the victory over Great Britain, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both served the freshly birthed United States of America as ministers in Europe. Quoting from David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography,John Adams:

“Of the multiple issues in contention between Britain and the new United States of America, and that John Adams had to address as minister, nearly all were holdovers from the Treaty of Paris, agreements made but not resolved, concerning debts, the treatment of Loyalists, compensation for slaves and property confiscated by the British, and the continued presence of British troops in America. All seemed insoluble. With its paper money nearly worthless, its economy in shambles, the United States was desperate for trade…To Adams the first priority must be to open British ports to American ships.”

During this time Adams and Jefferson corresponded regularly. According to McCullough:

“In eight months’ time, from late May 1785, when Adams first assumed his post in London, until February 1786, he wrote 28 letters to Jefferson, and Jefferson wrote a nearly equal number in return…Increasingly their time and correspondence was taken up by concerns over American shipping in the Mediterranean and demands for tribute made by the Barbary States of North Africa—Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, and Morocco. To insure their Mediterranean trade against attacks by the ‘Barbary pirates,” the nations of Europe customarily made huge cash payments…On a chill evening in February came whatAdams took to be an opening. At the end of a round of ambassadorial ‘visits,’ he stopped to pay his respects to a new member of the diplomatic corps in London, His Excellency Abdrahaman, envoy of the sultan of Tripoli…The conversation turned to business. America was a great nation, declared His Excellency, but unfortunately a state of war existed between America and Tripoli. Adams questioned how that could be[Adams was told that], without a treaty of peace there could be no peace between Tripoli and America. His Excellency was prepared to arrange such a treaty…Were a treaty delayed, it would be more difficult to make. A war between Christian and Christian was mild, prisoners were treated with humanity; but, warned His Excellency, a war between Muslim and Christian could be horrible.[emphasis mine]

Thus, here we have a foreign diplomat, during the infancy of the United States, recognizing that the U.S. was indeed a “Christian nation.” A diplomat of the Barbary States nonetheless, of which the Treaty of Tripoli was with, which contains the one sentence (see paragraph below) which those who wish to deny our Christian heritage love to refer.

Also, it was not Jefferson, as Mr. Bellows stated in his letter, who “included it [the sentence to which is referred] in a treaty with the Barbary pirates in the early 1800's.” The “Treaty of Tripoli” almost always refers to the first treaty struck between the U.S. and the Barbary States, which was drafted and signed at Tripoli in 1796 when Washington was still president. It was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1797 and signed shortly thereafter by President Adams. The sentence “The government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion” is usually attributed to Washington since he was president when it was drafted.

For an explanation on the proper context of this sentence see here.

Furthermore, as to the First Amendment of the Constitution:

The initial draft of the First Amendment was made by James Madison on June 8, 1789. His wording was:

            The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.

The House Select Committee on August 15, 1789 revised Madison’s statement to read:

            No religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed.

A representative from New York, Peter Sylvester, objected to the revised statement, declaring:

            It might be thought to have a tendency to abolish religion altogether.

Madison changed the wording slightly, but Congressman Benjamin Huntington still objected saying,
            The words might be taken in such latitude as to be extremely hurtful to the cause of religion.

Madison later responded to Congressman Huntington and Congressman Sylvester agreeing that he,

            …believes that the people feared one sect might obtain a preeminence, or two combine and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform.

The House agreed on the following, proposed by Ames on August 20, 1789:

            Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience.

The Senate then took up the debate with versions that read:

            Congress shall not make any law infringing the rights of conscience, or establishing any religious sect or society.

            Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination of religion in preference to another…

            Congress shall make no law establishing one religious society in preference to others…

Both houses agreed on the wording we have today:

            Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Given this small bit of history, one can see that what our Founders were trying to accomplish with the initial part of the First Amendment was to prevent an “official” government denomination/religion, one that people could be required to follow, not the removal of God and His Word from our government. This becomes more obvious when one examines the summary of words and deeds of all our Founders and not eight words of Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. I can imagine that hardly any, much less a majority, of our Founders would intend for the First Amendment to be used to deny or disprove the Christian heritage of the United States. I think to conclude otherwise, one would have to rewrite our history.

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is America a Christian Nation?

Given that we are on the doorstep of Independence Day, I thought this the appropriate time again to deal with the true heritage of this great nation. This is especially true in light of President Obama again declaring thatAmerica is not a Christian nation.

First of all, we must define what exactly is meant by a “Christian nation.” Is it a nation where the majority of the inhabitants are Christians? This is certainly true of the United States. According to most recent polls, around 80% of Americans consider themselves Christian (Gallup: 77%, ABC News: 83%, Newsweek: 81%).

Would a Christian nation have the majority of its leaders subscribe to Christianity? This is also true of the U.S. The vast majority (over 95%) of the current congress describe themselves as Christian. This could be said of every Congress in the history of the U.S. In addition, virtually every U.S. President has been described as Christian.

Nevertheless, according to noted historian David Barton, these characteristics in and of themselves do not make a Christian nation. So what does make a Christian nation? In 1905, Supreme Court Justice David Brewer (1837-1910) wrote a book entitled The United States: A Christian Nation. In his book he wrote, “This republic is classified among the Christian nations of the world. It was so formally declared by the Supreme Court of the United States. But in what sense can it be called a Christian nation?”

Justice Brewer answers his own question, noting that America is “most justly called a Christian nation” because Christianity “has so largely shaped and molded it.” Barton adds that, “A Christian nation as demonstrated by the American experience is a nation founded upon Christian and Biblical principles, whose values, society, and institutions have largely been shaped by those principles…Christianity is the religion that shaped America and made her what she is today.”

Prominent politicians, statesmen, and historians alike throughout our storied history repudiate Obama’s assertion concerning our heritage. For example, John Jay, Founding Father, member of both Continental Congresses, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, and first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stated that, “it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians as their rulers.”

John Adams, Founding Father, U.S Vice President and President noted that, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were…the general principles of Christianity.”

Noted historian Benjamin Franklin Morris (1810-1867) wrote that, “These fundamental objects of the Constitution are in perfect harmony with the revealed objects of the Christian religion.” He added that, “This is a Christian nation, first in name, and secondly because of the many and mighty elements of a pure Christianity which have given it character and shaped its destiny from the beginning.”

President Woodrow Wilson stated that, “America was born a Christian nation.” In 1947, writing to the Pope, President Harry Truman said of America, “This is a Christian nation.”

Regarding the U.S. Constitution, authors David Marshall and Peter Manuel wrote that the Constitution works so well because, “Aside from the divine origin of its inspiration, the Constitution was the culmination of nearly two hundred years of Puritan political thought. The earliest church covenants started with the (same) basic, underlying assumption” upon which “the Constitution was conceived and framed.”

We don’t only have to rely on the words of others to see the true heritage of this nation. Christianity is woven into the very fabric of America. For example, preceding the Civil War, 92 percent of the 182 colleges and universities in the U.S. were established by some branch of the Christian church. Everything from our calendar to our currency reflects Christianity.

In America you are free to practice Christianity, or any other religion, or none at all. This freedom is a by-product of Christianity. From the beginning God created us free to choose to follow Him or not—and so it is with Christianity. This is not the case in Muslim nations, Communist nations, and so on. One finds the kind of freedom we have only under Christian principles.

For Obama to deny our Christian heritage is either the height of ignorance, the height of foolishness, or an arrogant attempt to paint the U.S. as something he would rather it be. Whichever it is, he must deny both history and the facts, and thus he is simply wrong.

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World