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Jul
09

The Cult of Statism

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This guest post is by Rev. Donald Ehrke. He is a Libertarian, a former GOP campaign manager, and ordained minister living in Alexandria, Virginia. Many thanks to Donald for his excellent work! For guest post opportunities, please use the LCC Contact Page.

“You have heard that is was said… But I tell you…” (Matthew 5: 21-22).  When reading the New Testament, it is helpful to recall that Jesus was a transformational teacher – people were astounded by what he said and did.  The Sermon on the Mount is itself a collection of challenges to assumed beliefs – “You have heard…But I tell you…”  An encounter with the Pharisees further demonstrates Jesus’ willingness to confront assumptions.  Seeing Jesus eat with Matthew and his friends the Pharisees asked His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Overhearing the question, Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9: 11-12). To the modern reader, Jesus’ response is noteworthy but not remarkable.  His answer demonstrates God’s desire to call the lost to salvation; the self-assured and self-righteous have (they believe) little need for mercy.  This insight offers the foundation of Law and Gospel preaching.  Jesus’ words, however, may not be astonishing to today’s Christian because we have grown accustomed to the analogy of Jesus as the “Great Physician.”

In their day, however, the Pharisees would have interpreted Jesus’ words according to Old Testament Law; their education would have alerted them to the meaning of His response. As Old Testament experts the Pharisees would recall Deuteronomy 32: 39, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”  While in Capernaum, Jesus had cured people, He had forgiven sins, and now He claimed to be the physician who healed.  The Pharisees would have recognized that Jesus was claiming the authority of God.

Christians, naturally, accept God’s authority.  We recognize that He – as Creator – has the right to produce or extinguish life; God may grant or withhold healing according to His will.  Trusting in His divine will, we both offer God our prayers and accept His response.  Jesus remains the Great Physician.

Mankind, nevertheless, often seeks to usurp God’s authority.  The first sin, in fact, was premised on the pledge that eating the forbidden fruit one would make one “like God” (Genesis 3: 5). Mankind’s desire to be God was acted upon again when Cain killed Abel – man demonstrated that he, like God, could end life.  In truth, the Old Testament has many examples of mankind trying to be a god – the Tower of Babel, Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, the construction of the Golden Calf – are only a few instances of man’s proud attempts to usurp God’s authority.

Today, cults may best represent mankind’s attempt to be a god.  Rather than preaching of freedom from sin and salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, cults teach control.  Cults must control believers to seize godlike authority.  Cult members have exclusive, intimate relationships with one another because, they are told, these are the only people one can trust.  In this manner, members become isolated and dependent upon the cult.  Cult members are commanded to rely on the cult’s leader, even when he or she isn’t personally obeying cult rules.  More, charismatic leaders develop a “cult of personality” and twist God’s word to encourage it.  Leaders brainwash cult members into supposing that the cult is unique and that it possesses a special, elite mission.  The individuality of cult members is crushed, their wealth stolen, and their thoughts controlled all to the glory of the group and its leadership.  Loyalty is not requested, it is demanded.

Christians should be cognizant of any human attempt to steal God’s authority.  We must challenge – as Christ did – those who twist God’s word in order to promote themselves.  We have been warned that these “anti-Christs” would appear in the church (2 Thessalonians 2: 4, 1 John 2: 18) and we should assume that many have emerged.

Likewise, the secular world owns its version of the cult and its presence deserves our attention and challenge.  Statists share the goal of cultists – control.  Statists and cultists create dependency.  Statists and cultists promote “group think” and demonize non-conformists.  Statists and cultists glorify their leaders.  Statists and cultists preach exceptionalism.  Statists and cultists employ intimidation to extract obedience.  The tactics employed by statists and cultists so closely resemble one another that they are often indistinguishable.

Statists also seek to usurp the authority of God by mirroring His attributes.  God is omniscient; the statist supports state surveillance – they must know what we’re reading, writing, or speaking.  God is omnipresent; the statist wants to enter our home to tell us what light bulb to use and into our schools to tell us what to serve for lunch.  God is beneficent; the statist wants all good things to come from the state (healthcare, welfare, jobs, etc.).  God is omnipotent; the statist desires unlimited central authority.  God is sovereign; the statist wishes to commit aggression against his fellow man.  The statist wishes that the state, not God, was our refuge.

Occasionally people will ask whether a Christian can be libertarian.  They may question whether a Christian can place his or her Bible on their library bookshelf next to “Atlas Shrugged” (see The Soul of Atlas for more on that).   Fellow Christians attempt to discern whether free markets and free thinking are inherently incompatible with Christian theology.  

An alternate question is to ask whether a Christian could be anything but libertarian.  This response will be received as conceited and close-minded, so one would not normally apply it.  Nevertheless, freedom and Christianity are undeniably connected.  We are uniquely positioned to understand how limits to Christian freedom and God’s authority to liberate us from sin are threatened by cultist thinking.  Christians know what an “anti-Christ” looks like – we can detect counterfeit saviors.

Our unique position also affords us the opportunity to better detect statist philosophy and activity.  While many citizens unwittingly support statist schemes under the guise of “progressivism” or “conservatism” the libertarian Christian recognizes counterfeit liberty when he or she sees it.

Jesus preached a transformational message that challenged Pharisaical authority.  He challenged – at great risk – the presumptions of mankind.  Libertarian Christians can be encouraged by His example.  Both our churches and communities can be transformed.  Perhaps we can begin by professing that God is God and that God set man free.

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Introducing Christians for Liberty Conference speaker Dr. Mark Cherry! We are thrilled to have Mark address attendees about issues of bioethics and government.

Mark J. Cherry is the Dr. Patricia A. Hayes Professor in Applied Ethics and Professor of Philosophy at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Houston and his doctorate degree in philosophy from Rice University in Houston, Texas.

His research compasses ethics and bioethics, together with social and political philosophy. He is Editor of The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (Oxford University Press), Associate Senior Editor of Christian Bioethics (Oxford University Press), and Editor-in-Chief of HealthCare Ethics Committee Forum (Springer); he is Co-editor of the book series The Annals of Bioethics (Routledge) and Editor of the book series Philosophical Studies in Contemporary Culture (Springer).

Professor Cherry lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Mollie and their three sons, Jacob, Thaddeus, and Matthias.

See a complete list of his writings on ethics, philosophy and more here.

Check out Mark’s website and sign up for the Christians for Liberty Conference today!

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Mar Mattai monastery outside Mosul, continually inhabited by monks since the 4th century A.D. Chris De Bruyn / cc

Under Saddam Hussein, Christians in Iraq were not well-loved but they were tolerated. However, following the military adventurist campaigns of the United States and its allies, the situation for Iraqi Christians has become increasingly dire. A few days ago, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took over the Iraqi city of Mosul (incidentally, this city was once called Nineveh) and displaced over 500,000 people including most of Iraq’s remaining Christian population.

Interventionism often escalates extremist activity, and the Iraq War has spawned a variety of spin-off terrorist groups. Many of these groups strike out at their own people, including Christians. ISIS, remarkably, was even renounced by al-Qaeda for being too brutal. Read More→

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settje_faith_and_warDavid E. Settje, Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars (NYU Press, 2011), xi + 233 pgs., hardcover, $36.

This informative book reminds us that the divide that has existed between Christians over the issues of war and militarism since World War II has usually been a theological one. I mean this in the sense that Christians with a more liberal theological outlook have generally disdained war and militarism even as their conservative Christian counterparts have generally supported these things. As a conservative Christian, I shake my head in amazement that so many of my brethren have been hoodwinked by the state to support its wars, its military, and its foreign policy, whether in the name of fighting communism or terrorism.

Settje is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Chicago. Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars (hereafter Faith and War) is not his only book on this subject. His first foray was the more narrowly focused Lutherans and the Longest War: Adrift on a Sea of Doubt about the Cold and Vietnam Wars (2006).

Read More→

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