7. Losing Who We Are (or At Least Have Been)

Last week, we discussed the importance of a transcendent foundation for liberal democracy. Faith, Neuhaus believes, is an essential foundation for freedom. In a chapter in The Naked Public Square entitled, “Denying Who We Are” Richard John Neuhaus defends the idea that, despite the hostility of the media and elites, America remains a fundamentally religious and overwhelmingly Christian nation and that religious belief has an important place in public life. [1] Perhaps there was a public consensus on this in 1984. It is pretty clearly less so in 2020.

In my view,  the limitations on Neuhaus’ analysis involves not foreseeing the implications of the passing of the “Greatest Generation,” which fought World War II and built many of the business and social organs of Modern America, and the passing of leadership into the hands of the Viet Nam War Generation (or “Boomers”), which is morally, spiritually and emotionally scarred by the upheavals of the 1960’s. In forty short years, what Neuhaus thought unlikely has become a reality: An educational system, media and entertainment industry dominated by persons hostile to American values and traditions, has substantially eroded the cultural foundations of our democracy. We have seen evidence of this every day during the last two or three political seasons.

The Founders Consensus

This situation would have puzzled the Founders of our nation, most of whom, whatever their religious beliefs, thought of religion as fundamental to a well-ordered democracy.[2] Washington, in his Farewell address put it this way,

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. [3]

Thomas Jefferson put it this way:

The practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral principles of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in His discourses.[4]

Perhaps John Adams put it most succinctly when he said, “… [It is] religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”  [5]

The Situation Today

The question remains, “Is Neuhaus correct when he assumes that America is still a religious nation, and if not, what does that mean for our republican form of government?” According to a recent Gallup Poll, In 2019, American religious convictions were something like the following: About 70% of Americans gave their religious preference as Christian. About 1.9 % are Jewish, .9% Muslim, .7% Buddhist, and .7 % Hindu. Other world religious were at .3%, and other faiths, 1.5%. In 2019, about 22% listed themselves as “Unaffiliated,” with about 3% being atheists, 4% agnostic, and 15% of the unaffiliated listing their religion as “nothing in particular”. [6] A Gallup study shows that as recently as 1967, only 2% of Americans listed themselves as religiously unaffiliated. That number has grown consistently in recent years and is now 22%. [7]

The figures indicate that, while America remains a religious nation, and Christianity remains the dominant religious force, the real change has not been to “other religions” but to no religious affiliation at all. This may explain the difficulties in maintaining the public consensus that the Founders felt important. The drift in America has not been away from “Judeo-Christian Values” to some other religious view, such as Hinduism, but from Judeo-Christian values to no definite religious belief whatsoever. It is this trend that Americans should view as most concerning, especially since those who are religiously unaffiliated probably are disproportionately represented in the media, entertainment and higher education, which probably accounts for the trend more than any other single factor.

The Secular Society and Religious Proclamation

In The Naked Public Square Neuhaus makes the following important observation:

As in the media, then, so also in the courts and centers of higher learning it is more or less taken for granted that ours is a secular society. When religion insists on intruding itself into the public square with an aggressive force that cannot be denied it is either grudgingly acknowledged or alarums are raised about the impending return of the Middle Ages. Then the proposition becomes more explicit: if ours is not a secular society, then it ought to be. [8]

The media, entertainment industry and higher education, as well as a number of elites in government and industry take it as an article of faith that religion and public life should be divorced. This is faulty on at least two accounts: First, secularism of the type espoused by these groups is, in fact, a substitute religion, a truth felt by those who hold it to be the ultimate truth about reality. It is my view that the growth of the religiously unaffiliated from 25 to 20% explains the way in which anti-religious voices have come to dominate public life.

Second, religious views should continue to be important in concerning policy alternatives. A very significant number of Americans subscribe to the view that there is a creator God, that the universe displays something of the wisdom of that God, and that compassion (self-giving love) is a kind of ultimate virtue. [9] If religion is necessary for the stability of the society, then hardly anything could be more relevant to policy decisions than the impact of a decision on this crucial element of public life. They key is that all participants remain faithful to their fundamental views while acting with compassion for everyone, even those with whom they disagree.

The danger that secularists are concerned about, and it is a danger, is that of a return to the kind of religious strife that characterized the Thirty Years War. [10] In the Middle East, in Africa and other places we see evidence that there continues to be a danger of religious violence. This is where religious groups can be helpful by assuring everyone that believers do not view force as an appropriate way to achieve either political or religious objectives, but instead view the rational choice of people as the only sound method for making religious decisions. This involves a commitment to the First Amendment and the avoidance of any action that would indicate a purely sectarian interest in a piece of legislation or policy choice.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1984), hereinafter, “The Naked Public Square.” This week’s blog reflects upon Chapter 6.

[2] There are varying views about the depth of religious conviction of the founders. It is apparent, however, that all the major figures, even the deist Jefferson, felt that religion and morality were fundamental to a functioning democracy.

[3] George Washington, Farewell Address 1796, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldmand Law Library: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp (downloaded February 25, 2020).

[4]  Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Alberty Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XII, p. 315, to James Fishback, September 27, 1809.

[5]  John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, 1854), Vol. IX, p. 401, to Zabdiel Adams on June 21, 1776.)

[6] Pew Research Center “Pew Research Religious Landscape Study, https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/ (Downloaded February 27, 2020).

[7] Gallup News “Religion” https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx (Downloaded February 27, 2020).

[8] Naked Public Square, at 103.

[9] I have used the term compassion deliberately. Christians and Jews share with Buddhists, Hindu’s, Taoists and others that the compassion is a virtue. For Christians, that compassion is revealed as an ultimate attribute of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In this common view, I think that we have a ground for political and social action and harmony among groups that differ on the ultimate nature of God and of reality.

[10] The Thirty Years’ War engulfed Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. Although initially a war between Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire, it ultimately involved most of the great European powers and resulted in millions of causalities. It was ended by the Peace of Westphalia. This conflict is credited with alienating many intellectuals from both religion and the interconnection of religious institutions and the state.


6. The Danger of the Empty Public Square

There is no question but that certain powerful forces would like to see the voice of religion, and especially the voice of Christians, eliminated from the American public square. When Richard Neuhaus initially wrote The Naked Public Square, the so-called Christian Right was in ascendance. [1]There was a great deal of liberal concern, culminating with Hilary Rodham Clinton making her famous “vast right-wing conspiracy” comment, alleging that the election of conservatives was the result of some kind of conspiracy. (One interesting aspect of contemporary American politics is the constant allegation that,  for example if the Koch brothers make political contributions, it is part of a right-wing conspiracy. If George Soros does, it is a result of a vast left-wing conspiracy. The paranoia of contemporary politics is, perhaps, a reflection of the absence of religious faith in the public square. If there is no God, then we are responsible for everything that happens or does not happen. This alone is enough to drive a person mad.) Today, as I mentioned last week, there is little to be worried about from the Religious Right. This does not seem to prevent the media, and left-wing politicians from alleging that there is and from attempting to expunge religion from American public life. It is Neuhaus’ view that this is a gigantic mistake.

For the past 300 years, intellectuals impacted by the Enlightenment and the revolutionary spirit of the French Revolution, have attempted to create a purely secular state. The goal was and is a “Naked Public Square,” that is the exclusion of religious views from public debate. Because the Enlightenment began in Christian France, the initial and consistent focus of this effort has been Christianity, but it can be easily seen that eventually the logic demands that all merely religious convictions and expressions should be removed from public discourse. Sometimes this demand implies that, since religious views are “private,” and not scientifically verifiable, they should not guide public debate or policy.

This notion is at least partially based on an outdated materialistic world view that sees the world, and therefore human society, as nothing more than matter and material forces. The genesis of Marxism in all of its various forms is the notion that all there is are material forces, and in the realm of political economy, all that exist are economic forces. The result is a kind of “economic determinism.” [2] This same idea also infects Radical Capitalism, with its notion that blind economic forces can lead to the optimal distribution of wealth. Those captured by a materialistic world view are inevitably hostile to spiritual values.

In the Naked Public Square Neuhaus develops an attack on this view that has three main observations: (i) such a truncated view of the world ignores much of what ordinary people value; and (ii) the observation that wherever this has been tried in the past, a totalitarians state has resulted with untold human suffering resulting; and (iii) finally, the naked public square is an impossibility. Where religion is excluded either “eratz religion” by another name will enter the square or a kind of secular religion will be developed to provide a basis for society. [3]

While much of the media focuses attention on the danger of a Nazi-like dictatorship, Neuhaus rightly observes that the 20th century shows that left wing, socialistic dictatorships are both more probable and more dangerous. One need only look to the suffering and slaughter of Communist China, Soviet Russia, and other communist states and the current situation in Venezuela to see that the siren song of “free stuff” and economic equality spun by current proponents of a socialized economy are either misguided or worse. In an American election year in which we hear about the virtues of a socialized economy, perhaps Americans should take not of this danger. there has been but one Nazi Germany. There have been several Marxist disasters, creating totalitarianism and human suffering.

More importantly, at one point in his analysis, Neuhaus makes a comment that has a continuing relevance for thinking people concerning the danger to America of the naked public square: In all likelihood the naked public square in America will look somewhat different than in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. It would be a distinctly American, probably technologically driven,totalitarian monism that attempts to create a society without religious foundation, and therefore without meaning. [4] Those who think it cannot happen here might read the daily papers.

It turns out that a liberal democracy can only be sustained if all voices, and especially the voices of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other religious mediating institutions, can be heard. When these voices are excluded, then some elite will create its own moral and spiritual basis for society, and one in which religious voices are silenced. In contemporary America we see the danger of this happening.

This does not mean that religious people, and Christians in particular, should expect to control or dominate the public square. While religious voices are one voice in a pluralistic public square, they are not the only voice. Tolerance is a public virtue necessary to sustain a liberal democracy. We all have to listen to points of view we dislike or even regard as dangerous. More importantly for

Christians must remember that we are not called to dominate the public square but to serve it in self-giving love, emulating the One who gave himself for us. When his own leaders argued about who should be the greatest and in control, he gave this teaching:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Next week, I am going to continue the analysis of this idea that all mediating institutions are necessary for a proper functioning liberal democracy.

God bless,


Copyright 2020, G Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] [1] Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1984), hereinafter, “The Naked Public Square.” This week’s blog is taken from Chapter 5, entitled “The Vulnerability of the Naked Public Square.”

[2] Id, at 79.

[3] Id, at 81.

[4] Id, at 85.

5. Critical Patriotism and Civil Community

Last week, we discussed the need for greater reliance on dialogue as opposed to political debate in the public arena. This week, this discussion continues. In The Naked Public Square, Neuhaus has a chapter on “Critical Patriotism and the Civil Community.” [1] The major point of the chapter is that, while civility is a virtue in public life, civility cannot exist without some notion of the worth of the civil community of which we are a part. If our civil community is hopelessly corrupt, as extremists left and right imagine, then there can be no warrant for civility, what is needed is a revolution. [2] It is with wisdom that Neuhaus begins the chapter with its best quote: “Civility is highly valued by the uncertain. It needs most to be exercised by the certain.” [3] We live in a time when this observation is important.

Political Certainty and the Problem of Radical Solutions

One most discouraging aspect of contemporary politics is the certainty with which the political extremes, left and right, are certain of the correctness of their policy preferences. This aspect of American politics is made more troublesome by the fact that identity politics, of which we spoke last week, has made rational compromise difficult to obtain. If, for example, decisions about how to best manage our health care system are caught between the extremes of “there can be no single public funding system” and “there must be a single payer system,” compromise becomes impossible. In a variety of areas, this lack of ability to compromise harms our nation.

Secondly, where extremes control the debate, moderate, smaller, and less disruptive policy prescriptions become impossible. The recent debate over “The Affordable Care Act” (ACA), known as “Obamacare” is illustrative.  President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and their advisors were determined to make a complete, radical change in the American healthcare system. Opponents were determined to prevent this. Many experts doubted that the public and private exchanges ACA exchanges could work, since they would attract the worst and most expensive risk and charge the lowest rates—something everyone in the insurance business knows is financial suicide. One party, did not mind this, since they saw the ACA as a step on the road to nationalized health care. The other party did not care because they believed (it turned out correctly) that the inevitable collapse of Obama Care would return them to power. Lost in all this was the need for America to have a more efficient and cost-effective medical care system. Because the extremes controlled the debate, a bad policy result obtained and billions of dollars and years of time were and are still being lost. Only recently has a more incremental revision been possible, perhaps because both parties feared the consequences of a complete collapse of the system.

The Virtues of Dialogue and Compromise

A rational government trusts that, over time, the public will embrace rational decisions if they are given time, information, and results. Even if one considers that the current policy in some area is not functional and dramatic change needs to be made, small changes in the right direction over time will lead everyone to recognize that fact. On the other hand, if the proposed polity solution turns out to be incorrect, then small changes will be easier to undo than dramatic ones.

In order for small changes to be made, the parties must set aside their ultimate polity preferences, enter a real dialogue, and compromise. This cannot be done in the setting of irrational charges, personal attacks, and public anger. Compromise requires the quiet moment of reflection on what is possible and necessary under the circumstances obtaining. In other words, it requires that wisdom and restraint be public virtues.

The term “civility” derives from the term “civil” and relates to public life. Civility is that public virtue that allows courteous, rational public debate, the absence of violence, physical, moral, or mental violence, all of which are counter-productive in the search for rational public policy. As America moves into a new era, restoration of (or at least an increase in) civility to public life is important. Without this, we are trapped into a series of policy missteps that ultimately damage our “civilization,” which is the end product of a civil public arena.

Civil Patriotism

Many on the left of America fear what they believe is a “jingoistic” irrational Patriotism. To the extent love of country, support common institutions, and care about the fundamental institutions (like the Constitution) are unreflective, there is a real danger in this fear. However, there is also a danger in jingoistic, irrational rejection of our social institutions, institutions that have served our nation well and allowed the social and economic progress we have made since our founding. True Civil Patriotism, and a love for our civil society, does not mean a lack of concern for its shortcomings and failures. It means a willingness to display respect for those who disagree with us and to listen with respect and openness to the critique they offer in the search for a better society for all.

As a Christian, I believe that it is only by injecting that most Christian of virtues, self-giving love into the public life of our nation that this is possible. Today is President’s Day. At the beginning of our nation, the wealthiest and most powerful figure of its birth, George Washington put everything at risk to create, form, and sustain our public institutions. He resisted every temptation to gain permanent power as he served our nation. At the moment when our nation was most fractured, Abraham Lincoln served our nation to maintain our union and fundamental institutions, and in the process eliminated the greatest evil present in the formation of our nation.  Perhaps it is to their example we should return as we face the problems of today.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1984), hereinafter, “The Naked Public Square.”

[2] Id, at 69; “…civility assumes, if not a consensus about, at least a search for a reconstituted vision of the civitas.”

[3] Id, at 55.

4. Religious Pluralism, Identity Politics, and the Public Square

In this week’s post, I want to focus on an aspect of The Naked Public Square that has long troubled my thinking. [1] Neuhaus, writing in the 1980’s, was concerned to fashion a position in over and against both to secular liberalism and the resurgence of highly conservative thinking represented in his writing by the Moral Majority. The position he was staking out was eventually given the name of “Neo-Conservatism” or New Conservatism. [2] Neuhaus, as a mainline Lutheran and then Roman Catholic thinker was concerned to show how his views were different from those of, say, Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority. Naturally, in so doing, he has critical things to say about the fundamentalist reentry into American politics.

The Reality of Religious and Moral Diversity

The Moral Majority that Neuhaus was so concerned about is no more, however, the problem he recognized is still with us: One difficulty in outlining a Christian political philosophy is the great divergence within Christian groups on matters of faith, morals, and their implications for government. For example, when St. Augustine wrote City of God, there was no diversity of opinion among Christian leaders concerning the ethics of infanticide or abortion. They were universally condemned. Today, this happy situation no longer exists.

More importantly, if America was a diverse society in the 1980’s, it is immeasurably more religiously diverse today. Christianity has declined as the primary religious faith of Americans. Other religious traditions and people of no particular religious tradition have increased. There is no consensus among these traditions about many aspects of public life, and very little hope that a consensus will ever emerge.

Finally, in the 1980’s, Neuhaus did not fear that secular forces might drive Christianity out of the public square entirely. Today, we cannot be so sure. Recently one political candidate for President implied that Christians should not run for public office. Routinely candidates for confirmation to public office are attached for their Christian convictions. The danger of “anti-Christianism” has joined anti-Semitism as a real threat to our free polity.

The challenge to Christian people is to speak into this diversity with faithfulness to their particular tradition, but with wisdom and some level of respect for other competing traditions. Abortion is a case in point. For nearly half a century, different Christian groups have been speaking their views into the public arena, sometimes virulently. The public has become accustomed to conservative Christian groups opposing abortion and mainline denominations supporting it. As a result, both groups are ignored by the great majority of people. There is some evidence that the public believes that the legalization of abortion late in the term of pregnancy has little public support, but efforts to change this law spark heated debate, with charges and counter-charges being levied among the parties. Often these charges and counter-charges are levied in emotional language cut off from rational argument. It is hard to see how the bitterness of the debate helps the witness of Christians to the greater society at large. Thus far, it has also been ineffective.

Identity Politics and Its Consequences

As in so many areas of American politics, there needs to be a step beyond debate to dialogue and reasoned argument. One of the many things that the left and right hold in common is a completely modern view that politics can be reduced to political combat between variousinterest groups. The idea is to motivate various groups to support your bid for power by appealing to their opinions and prejudices, and especially those that give them their identity:  race, religion, economic class, sexual orientation, and similar characteristics. This is given the name “identity politics” and explains so much of what is deeply wrong with American politics today.

A major problems with identity politics is that it enables candidates and parties to focus on a small, emotionally laden group of issues to the exclusion of other important issues. If I can get votes by emphasizing sexual orientation or the evils of carbon based energy and promising some simple, if impossible action, I can avoid complex issues with complicated solutions that will involve compromise between various options.

For example, the national debt is only considered from the viewpoints of “they are trying to take away this or that public benefit” or “they are irresponsibly bankrupting the nation.” This allows the parties to ignore the fact that too much debt will impoverish all of us and our children and we have to compromise to bring about rational spending. The solution, if there is one, is not in the agenda of either party, but in some kind of compromise.

In another recent case, a candidate proposed eliminating the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels in a very short period of time. Lost in this proposal was the fact that such a policy would involve building something like 250 nuclear reactors in five or so years, covering large areas of the nation with solar panels that could not even be built in such a time frame, and other impossible alternatives. Perhaps a more realistic proposal would be better for the nation. This candidate did not have to deal with the reality of the situation. He just wanted to get votes from the environmental lobby.

This leads to the final problem with the political atmosphere identity politics creates: It makes compromise impossible. Once the parties have radicalized and polarized their voting base, they can never compromise on any rational solution to a problem. In the areas of the budget, medical care, entitlements, and the like we have seen the paralyzing results of identity politics at work.

Christians and Identity Politics

In the face of this, it is perhaps the best and most important witness that Christians can give is to be especially careful in how we express our internal disagreements in public. I have always felt that there was a demeaning tone to some of Neuhaus’ argument in The Naked Public Square regarding the new evangelical emergence, a kind of “snarkyness” that is both off putting and demeaning. It is as if he were trying to purchase the respect of the intellectual elite at the price of belittling fellow Christians. This is a strategy that cannot work and needs to be avoided at all costs.

I am pretty sure that a true Christian public theology for the 21st Century will attempt to transcend the polarization of 20th Century public theology. It will attempt to be dialogical as opposed to debate oriented. It is hard to conceive how this might occur, but it is an endeavor that is worth the effort.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1984), hereinafter, “The Naked Public Square.” The critique Neuhaus gives is so pervasive that I have not given citations.

[2] One problem with this name has to do with the fact that it is also used for a branch of the Republican Party and the defense polities it promotes. This means that religious Neo-conservatives are often mistaken with political Neo-conservatives. While they have certain similarities, they are very different. one can be a religious Neo-conservative and not support the “Neo-con” ideas on what is the best middle Eastern military posture.

3. Why Government Should Not Be “The Primary Thing that Gives Us Unity”

I thought that I might continue the line of thought that I began last week. One of the most discouraging things about the state of our national polity is the extent to which our national government has become both dominant over other levels of government and intrusive into the life of persons, families, communities and other social organizations.

In The Naked Public Square, Richard Neuhaus makes the following important statement:  “The things that matter most happen in the Mediating Structures of our personal and communal existence. These structures, family, neighborhood, church, Voluntary association—are the people sized” institutions where we work day by day at our felicities and fears. The public square is not limited to the Government Square. At the same time—and for reasons that unavoidable—government impinges on all public squares.” [1]

There is a lot to ponder in this little quote. Neuhaus begins with an observation that we too easily dismiss: even in the most intrusive of dictatorships, the family, friendships, neighborhood, community, church, and other societies have not only great influence, but they are the source of the day-to-day meaningfulness of life for most people. This past week, my wife and I have visited two of our children, entertained guests from out of town, attended an historic preservation community meeting, and been to two different church activities. We also listened to the State of the Union Address and wrote a check to a political group we support. Guess which of those activities were most meaningful and important to our happiness and to the fullness of our lives? It was family and friends. Then it was helping our local neighborhood and church. Finally, it was those activities that impinge upon our national politics.

The Tao Te Ching has a passage that I find important in thinking about politics and persons:

If the Way is carefully cultivated in a person,

virtue grows and becomes genuine.

If the Way is carefully cultivated in a family,

virtue grows by loving transmission.

If the Way is carefully cultivated in a community,

virtue grows through careful schooling.

If the Way is carefully cultivated in a nation,

virtue grows by wise leadership.

If the Way is carefully cultivated in the world,

virtue grows as the Way is followed. [2]

One does not have to ponder this quotation for very long before what is deeply wrong with our political culture becomes obvious: We pay too little attention to the smaller, more intimate and personal aspects of our society. In so doing, we weaken our national polity, which inevitably relies upon the health of other institutions.

The modern world has created a kind of schizophrenia as “self-actualizing individuals” seeking their own happiness paradoxically diminish the very institutions that give the most meaning, purpose and wholeness to life. The rampant incidence of divorce in our society is but one example.

As a result of the interconnectedness of society, social institutions, and personal happiness, it is one of the roles of government to respect the limitations in its potential reach. The power of the sword is an important power. It inevitably creates the potential for governments of all kinds to emasculate and diminish other institutions. The temptation to do so in the search of some public good is ever present, but the temptation must be resisted, or the society as a whole will suffer.

In the United States, the national government has intruded itself into almost every aspect of life, personal and communal. It tells farmers what they can grow, small business persons what they can sell and to whom they may sell, businesses how they can manufacture, community schools what they can teach, doctors and hospitals what care they can deliver—the list could go on and on. The point is not that what they government is doing is necessarily wrong or that the motives of the national government are suspect. It is that we would all be better off if local communities decided for themselves what to do as much as possible.

One of the primary goals of any Christian public philosophy should be to give a general kind of guidance to policy makers concerning how much power they should exercise and how much restraint they should exercise in the public good. The principle I gather from all this is quite simple: Every public decision should be made at the lowest possible level and when there is a question, the lower body should remain free to do as it believes best.

[1] Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1984), hereinafter, “The Naked Public Square.”

[2] See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/ Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love an Adaptation of the Tao Te Ching for Christ-Followers (Cordova, TN: Permissio Por Favor (Booksurge), 2014). This quote is found in Chapter 54 on page 108.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved