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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Natural Goodness?

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the holiday provides the Edwards Academy a nice introduction to our Tapestry of Grace Year 4 study of the civil rights era. As you think about King and his influence on our culture, consider this quotation from "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence (April 1960)" which I discovered in TOG Year 4, Week 23:
At this stage of my development I was a thoroughgoing liberal. Liberalism provided me with an intellectual satisfaction that I could never find in fundamentalism. I became so enamored of the insights of liberalism that I almost fell into the trap of accepting uncritically everything that came under its name. I was absolutely convinced of the natural goodness of man and the natural power of human reason.

The basic change in my thinking came when I began to question some of the theories that had been associated with so-called liberal theology....
It was mainly the liberal doctrine of man that I began to question. The more I observed the tragedies of history and man's shameful inclination to choose the low road, the more I came to see the depths and strength of sin. My reading of the works of Reinhold Niebuhr made me aware of the complexity of human motives and the reality of sin on every level of man's existence. Moreover, I came to recognize the complexity of man's social involvement and the glaring reality of collective evil. I came to feel that liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism.

I also came to see that liberalism's superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin. The more I thought about human nature the more I saw how our tragic inclination for sin causes us to use our minds to rationalize our actions. Liberalism failed to see that reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man's defensive ways of thinking. Reason, devoid of the purifying power of faith, can never free itself from distortions and rationalizations.

King speaks of theological liberalism, but TOG points out that the definition of political liberalism is "A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority." (From the American Heritage Dictionary, see full definition here.)

Sometimes when evaluating the worth of public policy, it is difficult to ascertain what a Biblical or Christian opinion should be. Can we really say what Christ would have us do for health care? For wealth-transfers? Regarding the economic stimulus package? But the path is a bit clearer when one examines the beliefs that underpin the policy, as King relates doing in this article. We can say with confidence that a belief in the natural goodness of man not only conflicts with our experience, as King found, but it also conflicts with Scripture. We can beware of policies that depend upon this belief.


Sharon said...

Are you planning to do any study with regard to Obama's inauguration? It seems (from the coverage here in Australia) that there is a huge amount of joy in the US over the fact that an African American has finally become president, a sort of triumphant end result of the civil rights movement of so many years ago. Any thoughts?


Mrs. Edwards said...

As we progress through each week-plan of Tapestry of Grace, we are studying the civil rights movement next week. The timing is pretty good, given all that is happening in our nation right now.

Politically, regarding Obama's inauguration, even conservatives are applauding his achievement. It is astounding to see the joy--there is no other word for it--that many people feel in his inaugural. I think that it reminds many of us that there are still deep feelings of hurt held by the African-American community, not just their more vitriolic leadership (Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson).

But, what now? Obama has been rewarded with this job for his politics that do not depend on race issues. His political appeal has come from that fact that he does not seem to see race as a central struggle that guides his policies in the same way that previous black politicians have (again, Sharpton, Jackson). Although that is true, he continues to speak of economic equality and continues to show signs that he prefers government to equal things out in the marketplace through tax policy.

I heard on the National Public Radio that it is likely that minority organizations will be lining up for Obama's favor and that it will be interesting to see how he reacts. After all, he made it to this position by showing that there should be no difference in treatment based on race. A conservative black writer, Juan Williams, argued in a Wall Street Journal piece that if we are truly triumphant in overcoming race the media should give Obama every bit of pressure that it gave Bush and Clinton. (There is widespread agreement that the media pretty blatantly favored Obama during the Democratic primary, even against Hillary Clinton.) If they continue to be afraid to criticize, it suggests that he is not getting fair treatment.

The historical treatment of blacks in America's South shocks my children when we study about it. And it still shocks me. I think that while there are still pockets of America that hold on to racist beliefs, most generations born after the sixties can't comprehend it. Because of this, people like Sharpton and Jackson seem to be nursing old wounds or keeping alive old resentments.

Meanwhile, I'm glad to have a black President but extremely disappointed with his policies. He's worked hard to appear "centrist" in the transition period, but I do not think his economic policies (it seems we're all Keynesians again) will help our nation's economy, or the world economy for that matter. And, he didn't waste any time ordering Federal dollars to pay for abortions in non-government organizations (NGOs) internationally. This particular policy see-saws as the Presidential party changes, so I suppose it is to be expected.

This wasn't a well-thought-out reply, but it will do for now. Toby wants breakfast!

Sharon said...

Wow! It may not have been well thought out, but it certainly was comprehensive! Thank you so much for taking the time (and thank Toby on my behalf for lending his mom to me).

Here in Australia, there seems to have been some of that sort of reaction as well. Aboriginal people have been shown on the news saying things like, "now I know it's possible for my child to grow up and become prime minister". However, it seems from what you have said and from some things I have read about his family upbringing etc, Obama has become president in some ways without regard to his race. Of course, many people would have elected him on the basis of his race - as you say, some expecting favouritism of minorities, others just because they feel "he's like me, he'll understand my needs". Others, presumably, voted for him because they liked his policies.

One of the messages for parents of children who are on the "wrong side" of the social "tracks" might be that it is more who you are and who you strive to be that matters, than what you are. Very humanistic, I know, but this is all in terms of earthly achievement, not heavenly glory.

From a biblical point of view, it is the inner man, the heartfelt decisions and often sinful desires that we have that are of consequence to God. Not the colour of our skin, but how we live out who we are. And we can do that badly or well regardless of our skin colour; it is only through regeneration by the Holy Spirit that we can live according to His will, and be truly good.

~ Sharon

Mrs. Edwards said...

I've noticed that sometimes Christians lend support to a politician or public person if they say they are a Christian, without really examining what they are supporting or how they think. I see the same phenomenon with minority communities: they tend to support a fellow minority without examining if they are, in fact, worth supporting. It is a lesson worth learning for all of us.

It is a bit funny about the "now I know it is possible for my child to grow up and be PM or President" idea. I think one thing I learned during the last campaign is that the intellectual elite is still very strong, even today when supposedly we are past the "blue blood" days. Watching Sarah Palin get ridiculed for her lack of qualifications and lack of "intellectual curiosity"--translation: pathetic education and lacking intellect--taught me that regardless of skin color it really is difficult to make it to high office if you do not have a strong education and have managed to make money in some fashion.

All the same, as you said, I would rather my children find God's call for their life. As much as I love America, it is Christ's Kingdom that I first serve! I know God works through governments and through nations, but he also works through His Church for His glory and however humble my part in that may be (pretty insignificant I think), I hope to be obedient to it!

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