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How Society Works: Two Teachers Who Often Clash, Sometimes Seriously

church, state 1 comment

Society has many teachers but the two biggest ones are the state and the church (shorthand for religious practice).  When they are fairly well aligned on moral issues society goes smoothly.

The Church teaches a universal morality (one that holds for all men at all times).  Reflection shows an enormous unanimity across cultures and religions on most of the tenets of morality as C.S. Lewis demonstrated in his essay “Illustrations of The Tao.”  The State teaches a state morality in the laws which forbid specific evils and protect specific goods.  Chaos comes when the state and The Tao are in conflict. Such are the clear lessons of history.

Both teach but in totally different ways.  The State teaches its “government morals” through the force it is prepared to use in arrest, judgment and punishment (from fines all the way to death).  The Church teaches by word but even more by example and most powerfully when both are combined (or most disastrously when word and example contradict each other).   Its most effective teachers are those who are obviously happy, peaceful and kind.

Both institutions have a very close relationship with evil.   The Church, at its best, inspires one to repent. Roman Catholics are quite used to this close encounter with evil in the confessional with their secret revelation and repentance of personal evils ranging from small faults to heinous crimes.  Other religions have their own form of repentance. The state, on the other hand, has a different intimate relationship with evil, in those it condemns to punishment.  For many prison is hell today, not because of the punishment, but because of their close encounter with truly evil people.

In a well-functioning society the church’s core competence is in leading individuals to lives of goodness and virtue, while the state’s core competence is in containing evil.  They both take on other tasks but these are the sine qua non of their roles in society. Thus the saint (the ‘ordinary’ everyday person of wide virtue) is the church’s best product (and its best preacher) while the brave soldier and just policeman is the best embodiment of the state.  By the nature of goodness the saint is very idiosyncratic while the good soldier or policeman are of the same mold. The first is very relational, kind and adaptive, the second are very instrumental and treat us all the (much) same way.

The church’s competence is in growing, the state’s in protecting. Society thrives when they both teach much the same lessons when what needs to be grown is also what is protected. (Hence the deep chaos-causing nature of laws permitting abortion).

How can the two be brought into alignment?  In democracies the only way is conversion of individual minds and hearts.  In dictatorships alignment is achieved by force.  So that leaves the United States with only one way to go: conversion.   We know who the best persuaders are, but are there enough of them?  Are we growing them?

Our Floating Sexual Anchor

church, culture, Dating, gender, MARRI, marriage, young adults 1 comment

By: Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern
      Joshua Kelsey, MARRI Intern

The “2014 State of Dating in America” study, conducted by ChristianMingle and JDate, examines the dating behavior of Christian young adults. The study’s most ominous finding is the rapidly growing Christian acceptance of sex outside of marriage.  When asked if they would have sex before marriage, 63% of Christian young adults answered yes, and only 13% said no.  When asked how far into the relationship it was acceptable for the couple to move in together, 27% said after six months of dating, 30% said after a year of dating, and only 13% said it was only acceptable after marriage.

This data does not describe the US population at large—this is the state of things within Christendom (or at least the Christendom according to Christian Mingle and JDate). With thoughts like this harbored in Christian minds throughout our land, it makes sense that marriage is falling apart in our country, divorce rates are remarkably high, and the definition of sexuality is in perpetual flux.  Such research should shock and disturb Christians—the church, after all, ought to be the solution, not the problem.  Our biblical roadmap shows us the way to joyously hold out the single answer to how things work. Shouts of solutions, remedies and programs reverberate through our social conversation, but evidence of their success is grim.  As Christians leave the voice of true reason (divine design), they will enter the age of parenting in the midst of moral and ideological chaos. What follows is that our next generation of children will be raised outside God’s paradigm—they will be the first generation, in theory, to have no background of stability.  The current generation is rebelling against a standard they despise—the next generation won’t be rebels so much as followers of the new social norm.

How can we Christians who hope for cultural redemption fight chaotic societal trends when 63% of our own are captivated by the same trends?  Christian leaders are frustrated, saddened, even angered, by the socio-sexual battle cries thundering against any righteous standard they uphold.  The homosexual marriage movement is gaining ground, more children are born out of wedlock, and cohabitation is increasing — all working to undermine the bedrock of society, the family.  We as Christians expect the unbelieving world to choose its own paths, to stray from God’s design.  Throughout the ages, in varied cultural contexts, societies have turned towards sexual disobedience (among other kinds)—and, one by one, have fallen from splendor. We also know that God’s call to His own people is to turn from sexual immorality, to be set apart, and, most shiver-inducing of all: Be holy, for I am Holy. We adhere to His design for the sexual out of obedience to the Creator of sexuality.  We adhere because…it works.  Simply put, His design makes sense.  He created sexuality, and therefore His way works.

And yet even self-proclaimed followers of God are so blind in the sexual arena.  Society’s proposed sexual system only leads to chaos—first within family relationships, leading to breakdowns in the other key institutions.  In what other context does society so energetically encourage actions that blatantly do not work?  The family (and how sexuality is conducted within this framework) is the root of a functioning society, the stream feeding the tree that grows the branches of government, of economy, of education, etc.  The United States will struggle to maintain any coherent identity or global presence if we continue on this road.
The people of God have always been the symbol of hope.  In theory, we know what it is that works. This is where we mourn the most tragic part of our national story—Christians are following the tide. Those entrusted with the beautiful knowledge of how to grow a thriving society are putting such wisdom aside and stepping into chaos with the rest.

Many think that people leave the Faith and then become sexually promiscuous. But as the State of Dating in America study showed, this is simply not the case.  An increasing many are maintaining their Christian title while adopting the cultural standards of their choice.  We should not simply force our adolescents to sit in church pews. We must teach children of relational beauty, young people of sexual wholeness. We must reach out to the young Christian adults facing a sexually chaotic culture, come beside them, and help them discover true sexual order. We must seek to restore faithful zeal, but also to restore sexual clarity and obedience. We must, with care, ask sexuality and religion to lead each other hand-in-hand away from the pit that consumes them. Only then, when our own Christian culture has changed and sex is honored among us, can we have a hope at all of changing the secular culture and thus offering our nation a happy end.

The People-Forming Institutions: Preparing the Soil

children, church, education, family, MARRI, religion, social institutions No comments
By: Patrick Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
      Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern

Although there are five basic institutions in society, only three of them are what I call “person-forming”.  The marketplace and government function to protect individuals and to provide for goods and services, but they do not function to directly form the individual.  It is the family, the church, and the school that shape character, instill moral principles (which are universal and timeless), and which develop the person as a whole.  Thus these three institutions serve society in this, the most foundational and critical of its long range tasks.  They each play a direct role in the formation of a person as he moves toward adulthood—additionally, the marketplace and government rely on the primacy of these three person-forming institutions in order to have people capable of serving in their economic and citizen roles.

Why are the institutions of family, church, and school able to form an individual while the institutions of marketplace and government are not?  The answer profoundly impacts our national discussion about policies and their implications.  Even more importantly, as we delve deeply into this question, we can see more clearly what it means to be human.

There is something foundational to human life that the institutions of marketplace and government simply cannot provide: it is the intimate relational formation of a person.  People’s deepest need is relational—love, care, affection, and personalized guidance.  In the family, a child finds the nurturing intimacy he needs.  In the church, he finds the relational intimacy with the divine that speaks to his soul’s questions.  In the school, through good relationships with his teachers, he learns how to understand the world in which he will soon act.  The marketplace and the government are the institutions through which he can later exercise who he has become through the shaping of his family, church, and school.  When it comes to directly forming who he is, however, marketplace and government have significantly less direct impact—though, in their proper context, laws can teach a great deal, and services from the dark side of the economy can corrupt (e.g. pornography).

As we will explore in future blog postings, the consequences are grave if we misunderstand the distinct nature of the person-forming institutions.  To return to our farming analogy: it is ignorant and futile for a farmer to expect abundant crops and sustainable returns without first preparing the soil for harvest, planting good seeds, and caring for the land.  Failure to do so results in stunted crop growth and insufficient income for the farmer.

Similarly, we must protect the “three sacred spaces” of family, church and school to permit the harmonizing of the person-forming tasks:  the family, where the child most deeply develops as a relating and belonging person; the church, where he orients himself to life and its big issues; and the school, where he learns about the world around him and how to make sense of it.  As the farming analogy shows, a child’s future productivity and stability depend on the person-forming institutions’ foundational actions.  Giving improper weight to the instrumental institutions—or disconnecting the person-forming ones from each other—will lead to societal destabilization (indeed, this is already happening).  When families are treasured and intact, when those families worship God weekly, and when schools aid the work of parents in teaching children according to their worldviews: children from such families thrive, and a society made of these families grows in well-being.  Such is the task of each generation—of all societies, across the globe.  These are universal truths.