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The soul of the state

Christian values are not fundamentally at odds with government. There's room for debate and constructive criticism, but not an all-out attack on government's legitimacy. Instead, Christians should consider the role of the state within the framework of their guiding principles.

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One of the errors both Christ­ians and non-Christians make is to plunge into the midst of political debates without sufficiently reflecting on first principles. Just as we need a blueprint to build a house, people need to think through what ought to be the role and purpose of government in our lives. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve?

There are four categories that can help Christians think through the proper role of government in our lives.

1. Order. Order is the first responsibility of government. It is the , the necessary precondition, for a thriving society. Without it, we can hardly expect things such as justice, prosperity, and virtue to flourish. And order cannot be achieved without government, which is itself an instrument sanctioned in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

2. Justice. "Justice is the end of government," James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 51. Justice has been defined as the quality of being impartial and fair, the equal treatment of equals, and living in accordance with the natural law and the divine plan. What Judaism and Christianity have added to our understanding of justice – their distinctive and lasting contribution – is the importance of caring for the weak, the disadvantaged, and the oppressed. At the core of justice is the belief that everyone, no matter at what station or in what season of life, has inherent dignity and rights. This is not only a private concern but also a public one.

3. Virtue. For the ancient Greeks, happiness was defined as the soul acting in accordance with virtue. The Founders understood that the need for virtue is greatest in free societies because they depend on self-government, on citizens who govern themselves and their passions, and who lead decent, law-abiding lives. The role of government in the formation of human character tends to be indirect and limited. But from time to time, statecraft engages in soulcraft as well. Just as attitudes, mores, and manners shape laws, laws shape attitudes, mores, and manners. Beyond that, laws and government policies can affirm, or weaken, character-forming institutions like the family.


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