Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ron Paul and Religion

A friend of mine asked me to comment on some comments Ron Paul made in an interview with Christianity Today after he won the straw poll at the Values Voters Summit. Ron Paul tends to talk about his Christian faith less than some of the other candidates but as he explains in the interview he was asked to talk about his Christian faith and values. The full transcript of the Ron Paul speech can be found here. I'll start with the original speech.

Ron Paul makes reference to Biblical passages throughout his speech. The first passage Ron Paul deals with is in 1 Samuel 8 where the Israelites come to Samuel and tell him they want a king. Ron Paul interprets this passage as an instance where people suffer because they have turned away from a family based government to a king. Paul warns against relying on a king in Washington. There is some truth in what Paul says. We can certainly make an idol out of government. But the problem in the case of Israel was not that they would rather be ruled by a king than by a family based form of government. The problem was that they would rather be ruled by a human king rather than God. The passage doesn't really have much to say about the form or structure that governments should take or the size that they should be. It calls us all to repentance for putting our faith in human leaders. Some might try to use this passage to establish a theocracy but the New Testament church is never told to try to establish a theocracy and Ron Paul doesn't seem to be interested in trying to set one up anyhow.

Ron Paul says, "You know, morality of the people or the lack of morality of the people can be reflected in the law. But the law never can change the morality of the people. And that is very important." In some sense Ron Paul is correct. The law cannot make anyone truly moral. But the law is designed to stop immoral behavior. All laws are about enforcing a moral code on people. Ron Paul says a bit later:

...we also had the breakdown of our monetary system, the rejection of the biblical admonition that we have honest weights and measures and honest money. And not to have honest weights and measures meant we were counterfeiting the money and destroying the value of the money, which implies, even in biblical times, they weren’t looking for a central bank that was going to counterfeit our currency.
I think this might actually be a legitimate use of this Biblical text. You could make the same argument from natural law but the use of this Biblical text is probably appropriate for the audience that Ron Paul is talking too.

But, you know, biblically there’s a lot of admonitions about what the family should be in charge of. Certainly the 10th commandment tells us something about honoring our parents and caring for them. It didn’t say work out a system where the government will take care of us from cradle to grave. No, it was an admonition for us to honor our parents and be responsible for them, not put them into a nursing home and say the federal government can take care of them. Besides, sometimes that leads to bankruptcies and the government can’t do it anyway. So that responsibility really falls on us.
I'm guessing Ron Paul is actually referring to the 4th/5th Commandment (depending on how you number them). The commandment does deal with the child's responsibility to take care of his parents in his old age. However, the commandment is silent on how the government should deal with citizens in their old age. Ron Paul seems to be attempting to find a Biblical command about the size and scope of government but there really isn't a command there. Societies must create policies that are based on Christ's command to love our neighbor. But what that means isn't spelled out and Christians can arrive at different conclusions.

In the Bible, in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, Christ was recognized to be the prince of peace. He was never to be recognized as the promoter of war. And he even said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be the children of God.” He never said blessed are the war makers. It was the peacemakers that we must honor and protect. (Cheers, applause.)

Christ was very, very clear on how we should treat our enemies. And some days I think we quite frequently forget about that. Early in the history of Christianity, they struggled with the issue of war and peace, because Christ taught about peace. Did that mean Christ was advocating pacifism? The early church struggled with this and came to the conclusion, at least in those early years, that Christ was not a pacifist, but he was not a war promoter.

And this is when they came up with the just-war principles, saying, yes, war could be necessary, but only under dire circumstances, and it should be done with great caution. All other efforts should be exhausted before we go to war, and always under the proper authority. And today I think the proper authority is not the U.N. or the NATO forces to take us to war.
This part of the speech is actually pretty impressive. Ron Paul sets himself apart from the rest of the candidates in showing a proper historic Christian understanding of just war theory. He makes some good points later in the speech about this as well. I encourage you to read the rest of what he says about war in the original speech. Then Ron Paul says:

We are taught in the New Testament about caring for the poor and caring for our families and our neighbors and friends. But never did Christ say, you know, let’s go and lobby Rome to make sure we’re taken care of. It was a personal responsibility for us.
The problem with Ron Paul's statement is that Jesus wasn't addressing the civil government at all. So he is right to be critical of those who would take the statements from the Scriptures about caring for the poor and apply them directly to the government. But the Scriptures don't tell government not to do this either. Ron Paul says:
Christ was confronted at one time by a prostitute, but he didn’t call for the centurions. He didn’t call for more laws. But he was very direct and thought that stoning was not the solution to the problem of prostitution.
The problem is that Christ was not addressing civil leaders, he was addressing religious leaders. The point of what He said was to show everyone present that before God they were all deserving of a good stoning. He isn't saying one way or another whether capital punishment is appropriate for prostitution. Paul tells us that the government has been given the power of the sword by God. The sword is used to punish criminals by killing them. That doesn't mean that the government must kill all criminals but it has been given that power. Each society must determine when the use of the sword is appropriate and when it's not. The rest of the speech is basically a repitition of principles that Ron Paul has laid out in the previous sections so I'll move on to the interview Ron Paul did with Christianity Today.

In the interview Ron Paul was asked, "Can you talk about your faith background? For instance, did you have a conversion experience?" He responded,

Not as some others describe it. I think the most important religious experience I had was when I was raised in a Lutheran church where confirmation was very important. Church was obviously very important. We all went to church every week as a family affair. But confirmation was when we got to be teenagers and make a decision to go through the lessons and study and learn and make a commitment. At home, birthdays were something, but no parties. Of course it was during World War II and the Great Depression, so there weren't a lot of parties, but there was an acknowledgement. But confirmation was a very important event. Everybody in the family came and it was acknowledged. Yes, I remember that very clearly, because we were old enough to make a commitment and that was when the commitment was made.
I thought it was very strange that Ron Paul would bring up birthday parties. The point seems to be that for Ron Paul the most important thing about Christianity is personal committment and being individually recognized for this personal committment. Ron Paul did not remain Lutheran. He became an Episcopalian and then a Baptist because of the Episcopalian support of abortion and politically liberal organizations. When Ron Paul is asked about how he would identify himself he says:

I'm not a hyphenated Christian. I believe. I am a Christian and I believe in it, and I am influenced by my upbringing and my understanding and my biblical understanding. I don't think there are ever two people who are exactly the same, so I don't usually use hyphenation.
Next, Ron Paul is asked about his views on same-sex marriage. He says:

Biblically and historically, the government was very uninvolved in marriage. I like that. I don't know why we should register our marriage to the federal government. I think it's a sacrament. I think it should be biblical, and politically I don't like to fight with people who disagree with me, as long as they don't force their views on me. So for that reason, I think the real solution to some of this argument is to have less government, rather than government dictating and forcing understanding on different people. I don't think much can be achieved. As I mentioned in my talk, Christ doesn't come and beg and plead for more laws. He pleads for more morality, and I think that's very important.
Ron Paul doesn't really address the real arguments against same-sex marriage. Marriage laws have historically been written in most societies to protect children and attach children to their biological parents. That is why the government has an interest in marriage. All laws are written to encourage moral behavior, that is why we have laws. Ron Paul was also asked about how he thought America should encourage religious liberty in Iran and Afghanistan. He said,

By striving for perfection here and setting a good standard so that people would come and say America is a wonderful place. It's free and prosperous, just like de Tocqueville said in the 1850s. America is a great nation because it's a moral nation and people go to church. Others should look and see the results, but I don't believe in the use of force. If you're not a Christian, I don't force you to go to church. The use of force backfires, it has unintended consequences. So you can only do this through persuasion and changing people's hearts and minds, not the use of political force. Political force should be rejected in trying to mold the economy or mold people's spirituality.
This passage is really bizarre. I don't think anyone is talking about forcing the Iranians to go to church. It would make more sense if Ron Paul simply said that the best way to encourage religious freedom is to show by example that religious freedom encourages prosperity. Instead Ron Paul is saying that being moral and going to church results in a great nation but that we shouldn't force other people to be moral and go to church. Instead we should show other nations that they can be prosperous if they are moral and go to church. By certain standards some Muslim nations are actually more moral than America. Abortion and pornography are illegal in many Muslim countries. The two big motivating factors behind Muslim terrorist attacks on the U.S. are the U.S. occupation of Muslim countries and the pornography that U.S. exports into Muslim countries. Ron Paul would want to end the occupations but would have no desire to interfere with the American porn industry. There are other nations where church attendance is much higher than we find in America and the laws reflect a greater morality, but are far less prosperous than the United States.

Ron Paul is portraying America as a Christian nation where everyone is behaving morally and going to church. America is a secular nation that established laws based on Judeo-Christian standards of morality. In some ways I think Ron Paul might hold to beliefs similar to that of the founding fathers of America. They understood being a Christian as going to church and holding to a set of moral principles.

No comments: