In America today, there are two primary worldviews which are most prominent in society. There are, of course, two other worldviews which are also represented, but the culture war in modern day America is primarily being fought based on just two of them. One of the worldviews is founded on a religious (primarily Christian) worldview foundation. The other is based on a foundation which does not acknowledge the existence of a supernatural reality.
As we look at the primary outward expressions of the two main political parties in America, they each tend to reflect one of the two most prominent worldviews. The Democrat Party primarily reflects a Naturalistic outlook which does not acknowledge the existence of a supernatural reality, while the Republican Party primarily promotes policies which reflect a Theistic understanding of reality.
Now don’t get this wrong. There is a lot of overlap. First, there are many people in the Democrat Party who are Theists and many in the Republican Party who are Naturalists. Additionally, there are some policy expressions from the Democrat Party which emerge from Theistic thought and some from the Republican Party which express Naturalistic ideas. Thirdly, the very purpose and goals of both parties are to further a “this worldly” outcome. Neither one of them has as its goal to promote the purposes of God (even if some individuals within the parties have that as their own personal goals). Let’s take a moment and explore how this all plays out.
Think Like a Democrat
The approach of the Democrat Party is to help people by redistributing wealth. The people in power look around and see people in need, make a plan, then take the tax money collected from other people and use it to work their plan and help the needy. This approach logically flows from a Naturalistic worldview. This does not mean that only people who do not believe in God will take this approach. In fact, there are many well meaning Christians who see this approach as a very compassionate way to help the needy.
So just how does the Democrat approach reflect a Naturalistic point of view? As we have already observed, Naturalism is the worldview which does not acknowledge the existence of anything supernatural – that is, there is no God. From this point of view emerges a particular understanding of the nature of a human being. Since there is no supernatural deity to create the natural universe, or give special spiritual qualities or value to mankind, human beings are understood to be nothing more than the animal with the most highly evolved brain. In other words, humans are simply one form of animal among many.
When it comes to looking at human society, the Naturalist conclusion is that there can be no transcendent reason for its existence. As with every other form of animal creature, humans evolved a particular way which made it advantageous for us to form cooperative societies for the purpose of survival. As a result, in evolutionary thinking, it is not the individual that is of highest importance. What is ultimately important is the survival of the species. This means that the needs of the society are far more important than the needs of the individual.
With this kind of thinking, the viewpoint naturally emerges that it is the responsibility of people in the society to consider and develop what they believe to be the best way to advance humanity’s survival. The result is that a socialistic approach to ordering society emerges. Everyone’s activities are geared toward “the greater good of society” rather than toward that of the individual.
As it relates to governing style, the tendency is to favor an approach which encourages societal advancement over that of the individual. Of course, to actually put this into effect there must be someone, or some group, who determines what that “higher good” might be. In practical terms, this ends up becoming those who are able to gain positions of power which allow their ideas to prevail. While a totalitarian or dictatorial governmental style is not a necessary result of this kind of thinking, it is certainly not ruled out, and there is a tendency in that direction.
Economically this translates into a system where those who govern decide how to best meet the needs of society, collect society’s resources in a central location (by means of taxation), and then distribute the resources based on a plan they have developed. This is exactly what is happening with all of the entitlement programs which exist in America right now. Things such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, farm subsidies, free drug benefits, welfare, food stamps, and many more, all fit into the approach to doing economics which naturally flows from a Naturalistic worldview.
When it comes to social policy, the power and personal inclinations of the ones who are in positions of political power again rise to the top. In our day, we are seeing much of the social policy of the nation being put in place by unelected judges and bureaucrats who are bypassing the legislative process and imposing their own personal beliefs on society in general. Under the American republican form of government, this can be overcome in some instances. But when a large enough number of elected politicians are in favor of the policies put forth by the unelected officials, no attempt is made to overcome them, and those policies cannot be changed until new politicians are elected.
Again, be careful not to misunderstand what is being represented. This is not saying that the Democrat Party’s approach itself must be godless, or that those who prefer this approach do not believe in God. In fact, many very compassionate Christian people see this as a good and viable means of carrying out the work of God by helping those in need. What is being said here is that this approach emerges out of Naturalistic thinking. There is nothing to give special value to individual humans so, by default, the survival of our species becomes of ultimate value. Thus, protecting humanity in general becomes the ultimate goal beyond the needs or rights of the individual.
Think Like a Republican
The basic approach of the Republican Party, as it relates to helping people, is to enable individuals to make it on their own. Rather than taking the resources collected from the citizenry in taxes and redistributing it to help those in need, Republicans seek to free individuals up to make their own way. This approach gives people opportunities to take risks and either succeed or fail based on their own initiative. It is not a cold-hearted indifference, though. It is just that the solution to people’s personal needs are believed to be in the private, rather than the public sector. Private institutions and charities are looked at as the primary source of lifting the down and out rather than the government.
Of course, the same situation exists with the Republican Party, as an institution, as with the Democrat Party. There are those who self-identify with the Republican Party who do look to government as the primary means for helping individuals. But the policy positions of the party in general put the focus for dealing in this area on the private sector.
So just how does the Republican approach reflect a Theistic point of view? Theism is, of course, the worldview belief that there is a creator God who created the world for a purpose. Central to that purpose was the creation of mankind who was made in God’s image. This “image” includes such characteristics as self-awareness, the ability to think and do analysis, and a free will to make and follow through with decisions. It is a viewpoint which emphasizes personal responsibility. This, of course, does not preclude receiving help from other people, but it does not require that it take place.
Of course, the needs of society are seen to be important and there are provisions within a Theistic framework to address those needs. But it is the individual who stands central rather than society. It is, then, the individual’s responsibility to participate in society in ways which make it operate smoothly.
A Theistic approach to governance looks beyond the thoughts and desires of human beings as its source for setting up and operating a governing structure. God is recognized as the source for understanding how every part of life ought to operate, and this includes governing. The principles of governance are seen to be an expression of the morality of God, himself, and are revealed to mankind by God. There is believed to be an objective right and wrong which should be expressed by a particular way of governing which emphasizes the needs and rights of individuals.
Republican Party economic policy is also affected more by a Theistic point of view. Rather than redistributing the resources of the collective society (via taxes) to meet the needs of individuals, the Republican approach is designed more to create an economic environment where individuals and the private sector are able to succeed to the highest degree possible. This typically means to set policy which eliminates government interference and facilitate fair competition in the marketplace.
The Republican approach, then, is designed to operate with a focus on the individual. They do not see it as the government’s responsibility to make sure that everyone has health care, retirement benefits, subsidies for their crops, a living wage, etc. It is the government’s responsibility to make sure that the playing field is level and that everyone gets a fair shake, but individuals are responsible for making their own way. The private sector should be used as the primary safety net for those in need.
Social policy, for the Republican Party, is also influenced by a Theistic approach. This does not mean that the political party, in particular, looks directly to God or the Bible to set its policy. Rather, it is the approach that the individuals in the society, rather than a clique in positions of power in the government, should be the ones influencing the policies. As a practical expression of this, it should be people who have been selected as representatives by the people who should be setting social policy rather than unelected judges and bureaucrats.
Of course, Theists are not the only ones who want to take advantage of this approach. There are many who self-identify as Republicans who have no interest whatsoever in God. These people see the free enterprise system and the emphasis on the private sector as a great mechanism for making money and as a means of acquiring power. It is certainly possible for people to abuse the system and to harm individuals and society by unethical acts. It is not a matter that the Republican approach to governing, economics and social policy is a particularly “godly” thing, it is simply that this approach most naturally results from a worldview which has as its primary focus an emphasis on the individual rather than on society.
Think Like Jesus
As we have seen above, there is a natural tendency of governance, economics and of social policy which emerges from the two major political parties. On top of that, we have also seen that these tendencies naturally emerge from particular worldview perspectives. The disconcerting thing, though, is that we see that both systems are subject to abuse and can have a destructive impact on the individual and society if they are not led by people who do not have the right knowledge and moral perspective. So, what is the missing element that must be in place?
Let’s take a look at a third perspective. Jesus’ thinking takes us below the surface to see the spiritual needs which are the supporting foundation for fulfilling any physical needs. A perspective which takes into account the motivations of Jesus actually provides a means for us to solve the problems which both Republicans and Democrats seek to address. Once we understand the worldview options, it is up to the individual to decide whether or not they want to take Jesus up on his solution.
First of all, it must be said that there is value in solving physical human needs. Our physical environment is the context for individual growth and provides the opportunity for individuals to move forward in every part of life. People who are raised and live in a bad physical environment are influenced toward living out bad outcomes. Those who grow up in a good physical environment gain the perspective and personal discipline to effectively move forward in life.
But as important as this principle is, it is not the most important thing. There are many people who overcome a bad environment and make good. By the same token, there are many who grow up privileged and turn out bad. We have the ability to make personal choices and move beyond the influences of our environment. The fact that most people do not do this is a strong reason for us to be engaged in helping to shape our physical environment in a good way.
But in the ultimate sense, all physical needs are temporal – they only apply to this life. It is the understanding and fulfillment of spiritual needs which ultimately places people in a position to recognize what parts of our physical environment need attention, and to receive a positive eternal outcome. This is where thinking like Jesus comes in. It provides us with something that neither Democrat nor Republican thinking can offer by themselves, and it sets the parameters which can keep either party from getting off track. We need to think like Jesus and depend on that to give life to the work of any political party.
So, What Should We Do?
As we look to live our lives in this world, can we conclude that it is important to engage the political process? In fact, yes it is! Not, though, merely for the sake of politics. There is a higher purpose related to our existence, and that is the purpose of God himself. The reason any Christian should ever want to become a Democrat or a Republican is not to further the cause of a political party. Rather, the political parties (along with other elements of our lives) are nothing more than means which Christians can use to make a difference in accomplishing the purpose of God. We should never compromise our Christian convictions for any political party. Rather, we should engage ourselves in the political process and use the political parties as a means of allowing God to work in us to shape society according to his purposes.
A political party is not a power unto itself. It is a collection of people who are united around a common goal – to exercise political power in society. As Christians, we need to be engaged in ways which seek to influence the work of the political parties to help them conform to the thinking of Jesus.
© 2010 Freddy Davis