Public Square

Three Popular Worldviews & How They View Government

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In our previous article, we discussed how Jesus relates to all things from money to sports—and even politics. Today we’re going to review the three main worldviews and their relation to big government. Throughout this series, we will interpret how the bible teaching implies a minimal government with a specific function.

Three Current Worldviews

In the current cultural and intellectual milieu, three worldviews fight for the allegiance of the minds of men and women in our culture. One worldview, I am happy to tell you, is Christianity. Christianity is still a vibrant worldview. It is being propagated through the churches. It is also making a comeback in the seminaries and in the secular universities. In the field of philosophy, my academic discipline, nothing short of a minor awakening has broken out. It is now widely recognized that the finest thinkers in various branches of philosophy include evangelical Christian thinkers. This was unheard of fifteen or twenty years ago. So Christianity is one worldview that is a major voice today.

The second worldview is postmodernism. There are many definitions of it. I will give you the strict philosophical definition. Postmodernism is roughly the idea that all truth and reality are relative to a given culture, so that there is no such thing as an objectively real world. There is no such thing as objective truth. All truth, all value, all that is real, is what one’s culture says. One culture says that God is there, another says that God isn’t, and they’re both right. No one is wrong, because there is no such thing as objective truth.

The third and most dominant worldview is scientific naturalism. Scientific naturalism encompasses two ideas. The first one has to do with knowledge; it says that knowledge comes only through the hard sciences. The second component of naturalism is “physicalism,” the view that the physical world is all there is, and everything within the physical world is physical or depends on the physical. What science tells us is real is all there is, and the physical world is all there is.

Why Postmodernism and Naturalism Promote Big Government

There are three reasons why postmodernism and naturalism provide pressure toward expanding the role of government. The first reason is the need for transcendence. All of us need to transcend our own lives and to believe that we are a part of something bigger than we are. Nietzsche said that with the death of God—roughly, the secularization of society—people would no longer be able to find transcendence in a supreme being and would instead find it in the state. And this is what is happening today. In my view, the more secular a society becomes, the more its citizens turn to government to give them a sense of transcendence. Postmodernism and naturalism kill off an objectively existing, knowable God and leave people with the state as their best hope for transcendence.

The second reason that postmodernism and naturalism provide pressure toward an expanded role of government is the problem of agency. Both naturalism and postmodernism imply in different ways that free, responsible agency is an illusion. Naturalism is explicitly deterministic in that it implies we are merely physical objects whose behavior is determined or has its chances fixed by factors—environment, genetics, brain chemistry—outside our control. As critic Terry Eagleton points out regarding postmodernism, since the self is a passive social construction, “there are no subjects sufficiently coherent to undertake . . . actions.” Active agency and free action disappear under the postmodern cloud of constructivism. It follows that as naturalism and postmodernism gain ascendency, the idea of individual, responsible agency vanishes, and therapeutic justice and a culture of victimization take its place. Now those that advocate free will and responsible agency tend to want government to be small and off people’s backs. By contrast, those who eschew such agency tend to want government to provide care for various victims of the natural lottery.

The third reason is the need to have a cause to live for while retaining the space not to have to change personally. Let me explain. In Christian morality, change begins with me. If I am to be a part of a cause, say, caring for the poor, I must start by examining my own spending habits. Personal change is at the very root of giving oneself to a cause. By contrast, while at least naturalism does not entail it, naturalism and postmodernism sit most naturally with a relativistic view of ethics. Now, given that people are made in the image of God, they need to find a cause to which to give themselves; yet they don’t want to have to change personally because everything—especially personal sexual ethics—is relative and they are victims as much as everyone else. Giving oneself to supporting big government is just the solution. It provides the catharsis of being a part of a worthy cause without the commitment requiring the individual to start by examining himself or herself and having to change.

Cultural Pressure On The Church To Support Big Government

I know my remarks here are terse, and I don’t have space to develop them further. My hope is to get them before you, the reader, so you can weigh them for yourself. If I am right, then as the influence of naturalism and postmodernism increase, there will be increasing cultural pressure on the church to support big government. But is that what the scriptures teach? Does the Bible support an expansive or a limited government? We will dig into that topic in our next article.

Editor’s Note: This series is adapted from the IFWE research paper, A Biblical Case for Limited Government by Dr. J.P. Moreland. Read the full paper here.

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