BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
No sense have they of ills to come
, October 13, 2012
Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late
by James Robison and Jay W. Richards
(Sydney: Hachette Australia)
Paperback: 364 pages
Reviewed by Bill Muehlenberg
I love a paragraph found early on in this book: “We’re like tourists on a sunny beach. We’ve heard news of an earthquake on the seafloor, hundreds of miles away, but everything looks normal. People are sipping iced tea or mai tais with little umbrellas, enjoying the warm sand and the sun overhead. Many think, ‘We’ve never had it so good.’ And yet, when we look closely, we notice that the beach is growing wider as the tide recedes toward the horizon.”
This is a really incisive quote — it perfectly captures the situation we find ourselves here in the West, and even in most Western churches. We are basically asleep at the wheel, oblivious to the imminent destruction and carnage which is either all around us, or about to overtake us.
Everywhere we have signs of the gathering gloom and impending doom, but far too many people are either unaware or unconcerned about what is going on. We need a major wake-up call, and that is just what this book seeks to do. It also seeks to show that freedom is indivisible.
That is, religious freedom, political freedom and economic freedom stand or fall together. Thus concerns about moral and cultural issues must be part of any defence of freedom. And Christians need to be thinking about all these areas. The authors argue that biblical principles can be applied to many areas of public policy, and seek to deal with many of the hot-potato issues of the day.
The economy is certainly one major area which seems to be unravelling at the seams, with urgent action required. Richards has done work in this area before, including his very helpful earlier volume, Money, Greed, and God (HarperOne, 2010).
The two American authors consider a number of economic issues, such as the size of government, the nature of the free market, the welfare state, globalisation, and so on. They remind us of the US Founding Fathers’ vision of restraining government while empowering people.
The Founding Fathers would be aghast at the growing dependence on the state, the decline of individual responsibility, and the mushrooming of the entitlement culture. Robison and Richards write “We’re in a mess because we’ve looked to government to give us what it can’t or shouldn’t provide and what we should have gotten elsewhere or not at all. Unless we change this entitlement mentality, we’ll be in deep trouble, even if we do fix the current entitlement programs.”
While specific biblical outworking of contemporary economic policies may be a matter of some debate, we nonetheless have many general principles to guide our thinking here. The authors write: “No Proverb says, ‘A wise man keeps its federal budget below twelve percent of GDP, while a foolish country keeps voting for more and more entitlements.’ Nevertheless, the Bible, history, and our God-given reason strongly suggest that large and unconstrained government tends to undermine the common good and lead, in the end, to bondage.”
They spend a lot of time dealing with the myth that economic justice is somehow exclusively the domain of the state. “In well over a hundred biblical passages about the poor, not one mentions the government. Yet practically everybody has gotten the idea that it is the government’s job to eliminate poverty.” But “nothing in the US Constitution suggests this. Nothing in Scripture or Christian theology justifies this assumption.”
Another clear area of demise has to do with the institutions of marriage and family, which are under relentless attack. The authors warn, “And we could soon reach the day when defending conjugal marriage between a man and a woman will be denounced as bigotry and hatred, and compared with the truly unjust treatment of minorities.”
But sadly I must point out something here. While this book only came out earlier this year, it is already outdated — at least in this section. These things are already happening right now. Those standing up for marriage and family are being accused of these very things, and worse.
But the authors rightly show that something like same-sex marriage is going to impact negatively on everyone. Some might argue that what happens in one place will not harm others in another place. How can same-sex marriage hurt anyone else, the advocates ask.
The authors respond: “This is like asking if the value of a real dollar in Texas would be affected by flooding the market with counterfeits in New York. Yes it would, because counterfeits degrade the value of all real dollars and the economy. As economists say, bad money chases out good money.”
Governments need to affirm the institution of marriage, which has historically preceded the state. “Just as government can’t redefine our rights as individuals made in the image of God, it has no authority to redefine marriage.
Communism was totalitarian because it tried to redefine the individual, to create a new ‘Communist Man’. We’re now struggling with another totalitarian impulse to redefine reality.”
Thus the libertarians need to get the bigger picture here: “Libertarians are all for limited government, free markets, and individual rights, but some treat the family as a private matter with no bearing on public policy. Without strong families, however, we won’t have freedom and limited government for long.”
The authors warn that the “destruction of families leads to a larger, more intrusive nanny state”. This is because the family “is a huge check on government power…. The better a family functions, the less you need from local, state, and federal governments.”
That is why socialists have always sought to destroy the family. “The socialist would much prefer a mass of isolated individuals all dependent on the state from the beginning, rather than having to work through a complicated thicket of family ties. Socialist states don’t like other sources of authority that limit their power.”
The life issues are also crucial here. There can be no genuine freedom without the first freedom: the right to life. “We don’t oppose abortion because it violates something peculiar to Christianity, however, but because it’s a form of murder. If you can’t make laws against murder, you can’t make laws against anything.”
They add: “Without rule of law, there can be neither free markets nor free men. And the first rule of law is to protect innocent human beings at every stage of their lives from harm and death at the hands of others. Protecting innocent, preborn, human life, then, is not only consistent with economic freedom. It is one of its prerequisites.”
In this the authors differ from the radical libertarians such as Congressman Ron Paul who argue that the US federal government should have nothing to do with the abortion issue. It is a paramount issue, and it is a fundamental justice issue — indeed, it is a life and death issue.
All in all, this is a very helpful volume to help people — and Christians especially — to think about freedom in general, and how best to deal with various public policy issues. It is a much-needed corrective to the leftist “social justice” thinking which has crept into so many churches.
The authors have produced a very informative and worthwhile volume here which deserves a wide reading.
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com