Published Sept. 18, 2012
Guest columnist Kelly Boggs has a perceptive view of why we're seeing what we're seeing happen in America today. And it's not a pleasant picture. His enlightening column is presented below.
God or Government?
By Kelly Boggs
Has the growth of irreligion in American occurred at the same time state and federal government has expanded? A recent study conducted by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde, political scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle, suggest as much.
Their survey found that there is a correlation between state spending, especially welfare expenditures, and irreligion.
Simply put, Gill and Lundsgaarde found: "Countries with higher levels of per capita welfare have a proclivity for less religious participation and tend to have higher percentages of non-religious individuals." Sweden, for instance, has one of the largest welfare states in the world and is one of the most irreligious as well. The same can be said of some other Scandinavian and European countries. In sharp contrast, countries with a history of limited government, like the United States, have significantly higher rates of religiosity.
What the Gill & Lundsgaarde study seems to indicate is that as a government grows, its citizens' reliance on God declines (and vice versa). Gill was quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal, "as the welfare state has expanded, many people have found that they can get these same services from the government without having to give a time commitment to the local church."
While American government has grown in recent years, it has been a relatively gradual expansion. However, the growth rate of government is accelerating significantly. The current Washington philosophy seems to be that the government is, and must be, the answer to all of our problems. Whether it is health care, education, mortgages, financial difficulties, the environment or joblessness, the government is the solution.
If the believers in big government have their way, Americans will not have to trust God for anything because their benevolent Uncle Sam supposedly will provide everything. When that happens, according to Gill and Lundsgaarde's study, irreligion will increase accordingly.
But atheists and secularists should not be too quick to celebrate the rise of irreligion in America. With the decline in religion will come a rise in immorality and crime especially white color crime and incivility. We may have already seen an increase in the aforementioned social ills. A recent study found that in 2007 births to unwed mothers in the United States reached an all-time high of approximately 40 percent. Scams and scandals infect the financial sector of our country and civil discourse continues to erode.
While religion does not guarantee a person will be moral, lawful and civil, at the very least there is a moral authority that informs the individual conscience. In the case of Christianity, there is not only the authority of the Bible, there is also accountability to an all-knowing God. Christians obey the government because the Bible instructs them to do so. Followers of Christ pay taxes because Jesus said to "render under to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar." A Christian is motivated to be moral, lawful and civil because he or she is accountable to an omniscient God.
While an irreligious person can be a moral person, what is it that informs his or her conscience? Why should an atheist or secularist be moral, lawful or civil? Because the government says it is required? What accountability is there other than to the government?
Our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, wrote, "There are three points of doctrine, the belief of which forms the foundation of all morality. The first is the existence of a God; the second is the immortality of the human soul; and the third is a future state of reward and punishments." Adams continued, "Suppose it possible for a man to disbelieve either of these articles of faith and that man will have not a conscience, he will have no other law than that of the tiger or the shark; the laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy."
"Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled by a power within them or by a power without them," former Speaker of the House Robert Winthrop said, "either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet." Winthrop, who was speaker from 1847-1849, was correct in his assessment.
Man will have his behavior regulated by the fear of God or he will be forced to have it regulated by the fear of government. With the recent trend toward irreligion in America coupled with the expansion of government, the latter seems more likely than ever before in American history.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Copyright (c) 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. Used by permission.
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PS: Relevant scripture: "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes" (Psalm 118:8,9). See also Psalm 146:3, Jeremiah 17:5, Proverbs 29:25.
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