By David Beilstein
March 6, 2013
Visiting Hillsdale College Professor D.G. Hart—of Old Life Theological Society fame—reflected on the basis of American law in light of Religious Right and Theonomic fatuousness.
For Americans, as well as the Brits before them, law is not simply the embodiment of God’s moral standards. Laws against stealing and perjury do, of course, reflect God’s righteousness. But legal documents like the venerated Constitution are not primarily about morality. They are primarily procedural. Such laws place limits on government. The Constitution, for instance, prescribes and limits the powers of each branch of the federal government. Such restraints are at the heart of the Anglo-American notion of liberty, namely, the idea that people need to be protected from arbitrary and despotic power. To enjoy a life free from a potentially coercive government, we as a people drew up a body of laws that were designed not to constrain the actions of individuals but to prescribe the power of the magistrate.
In other words, looking for the laws of the state to mirror God’s righteousness by Christian saints is antithetical to what Professor Hart likens as “to enjoy a life free from a potentially coercive government”.
Since American politics is about realising the ideals of constitutionalism through public polity matters, it seems quite absurd to base such a system on religious authority, slash law.
Important for Christians to understand, saints who are worried about declining culture, that politics concerns the perspective of the state toward citizens—not the realisation of God’s righteousness.
To realise God’s righteous law via the state, would have to usurp individual liberty.
D.G Hart continues,
Those who want more of God’s law in public life do not appear to understand this basic aspect of civil society in the U.S. They seem to think that if God’s moral standards are on their side, they have the power, duty, and right to make sure that the rest of Americans know that they deserving God’s wrath. They also apparently believe they have responsibility to condemn the state if it fails to enforce God’s law, hence the double-down point about the magistrate’s duty to require observance of both tables of the law.
That argument about both tables of the law is almost entirely at odds with the American notion that law restrains government from exercising power unspecified in the Constitution.
U.S. Constitutional parameters are to protect individuals from their government. The Constitution was not a means—a pedagogical tool—in guiding free citizens on objective moral standards. Objective moral standards were thought to be the acreage of what Edmund Burke called society’s “little platoons”—mediating associations essential in guiding and producing free, sovereign citizens.