By Jonathan Waits
So apparently John Kasich, Ohio governor and longshot Republican presidential candidate, wants to create a government agency tasked with spreading the values and morals of the Judeo-Christian worldview. Let’s start by calling this what it is: a really bad idea.
There are a host of reasons for this. For starters the government tends to not do much of anything well. This would be no exception. Second, given the relative worldview diversity among both Jews and Christians, exactly who will serve as the worldview promoters in this new agency? Perhaps most importantly, in our representative democracy, it is not at all clear that a majority of the country is interested in seeing this kind of thing promoted.
So Gov. Kasich’s idea is bad and would probably be disastrous if implemented (consider which governments have had official propaganda agencies in the last hundred years). But — he is on to something. And here’s why: Governments have and are created out of specific worldviews. Without that worldview in place, the government cannot any longer exist as it was created.
Let me explain what I mean. Our Constitution, which is one of the most brilliant political documents ever written, came out of a specific worldview framework. It is the special outcome of a particular confluence of ideas which came together at a single point in history in such a way as never before or since. These ideas resulted in the enshrining of concepts like fairly tight limits on government, personal freedom, personal property ownership rights, republicanism, freedom of religion, and so on and so forth — ideas which, again, had never appeared all in one place like this in any other nation in history, and which, by the way, have resulted in the freest, most powerful, most prosperous and most generous nation that has ever existed.
Here’s why this matters and why in spite of his bad idea, Gov. Kasich was on to something. The foundational ideals of our nation are not themselves our nation’s foundation. It is instead the worldview which gave rise to them. Without that worldview the ideals never would have come into being in the first place, or at the very least they would not have been collected together in a bunch and made the foundational points of a brand new system of government which had theretofore existed only in theory. The point here is that ideals such as these do not exist independently. They always come out of a particular worldview context and absent that worldview context cannot stand on their own. Now, they may remain standing for a time even as a house with a crumbling foundation remains standing for a time, but eventually, as the wear and tear of a new worldview continues to weaken their foundational structure, they will be phased out in favor of ideals more consistent with whatever the new worldview is.
Allow me to be even more specific. The ideals which served as the animating force behind the founding of our nation 239 years ago were born out of the Judeo-Christian worldview as Kasich rightly identifies. Absent that worldview these ideals cannot last. More to the point, the worldview comprised of equal parts secularism and postmodernism which is increasingly supplanting the Judeo-Christian worldview as the dominant one in our culture cannot sustain most if not all of these ideals.
A single example will perhaps suffice to show how troublesome this could potentially be. Consider our particular and rather ferocious commitment to religious liberty as a people. No other nation has had something come even close to this. Religious liberty the likes of which is practiced here, even if imperfectly, had never existed before we put it into place, first colonially and then federally. It existed in theory to be sure and our founders drew heavily from an invaluable body of philosophy, but no government had ever put it into practice. It was not until a government was created from the ground up resting on the foundation of the Judeo-Christian worldview that genuine religious liberty was made real. Or perhaps to put that another way: no other worldview had allowed for its creation before and no other worldview has allowed for its creation since.
The evidence of this is manifold. While the nations of Europe today may give lip service to freedom of religion most of them still have state churches which receive government financial support. To wit: if the government recognizes and financially supports one religion and not any others you can’t very well say that the others are as free to pursue their ends as the one is. Certainly no government erected on a foundation of secularism has ever achieved religious liberty. Consider the explicitly secular French Revolution. Or how about the various Marxist revolutions in the 20th century? Hinduism has never produced a nation committed to religious liberty. The recent rise of nationalist Hindu political parties in India is threatening to roll back recent religious liberty advances in “the world’s largest democracy.” Buddhism never has. Islam does not even have a category for such a thing. Postmodernism can’t handle it. New Ageism can’t take it from the realm of theory to practice. On and on we could go.
The simple truth is that no other worldview is capable of sustaining a commitment to religious liberty, not without borrowing heavily on the Judeo-Christian worldview anyway. Like it or not, while our government is officially neutral when it comes to matters of religion it does have a worldview and we should be grateful for and supportive of that.
So what’s the point here? I already made it: Kasich is on to something. As our nation’s worldview shifts away from anything recognizably Judeo-Christian many of the freedoms we have long enjoyed will no longer have the worldview foundation they need in order to be maintained. And without such a foundation they will gradually fade or at the very least transform into something entirely less desirable than their historical forebears. This is not simply a tension to be managed, but a problem to be solved. Kasich’s proposal to create a government agency to address it isn’t any good (and not terribly conservative for a Republican presidential candidate). But if we do nothing, we will eventually lose the treasure we have long since enjoyed. It may not be in our generation, but it will go.
If you enjoy things like freedom of religion — and I know the Baptist News crowd tends to be pretty high on at least that one — then my suggestion would be to get to work sharing not simply your passion for freedom, but the worldview necessary to sustain it.