Part 1: Chapter 3: Humanism and Politics

Gary North and Gary Demar

Narrated By: Daniel Banuelos & Devan Lindsey
Book: Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t


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Chapter Text


Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning Jury furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?

Daniel 3:15

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.

Matthew 24:9

Humanism is an old religion. It is with us still. We live in an era of humanism. Humanism is a simple enough religion. The humanist believes the following:

  1. Man, not God, owns the earth. Original ownership, meaning the original title to the earth, belongs to man. Man is sovereign.
  2. Man the creature rules over God the Creator. In fact, man is the creator, for he alone understands and controls nature. Man represents only man.
  3. Man, therefore, makes the rules, which means that an elite group of men make the rules for everyone else.
  4. “Man proposes, and man disposes.” He takes an oath only to himself. He answers only to man, which means of course that the vast majority of men answer to a handful of other men. Man is the sovereign judge of the universe.
  5. The future belongs to autonomous (self-law) man, meaning to those who worship man as God.

Christians disagree with each of the above humanist assertions.

  1. Original ownership belongs to God. God, not man, created, owns, and controls the earth. God is sovereign.
  2. The Creator rules the creature, but God has delegated subordinate ownership to mankind. God is in charge; man is fully responsible to God.
  3. God has made the rules (laws). The Ten Commandments express the fundamental principles of God’s law.
  4. Men are responsible before God to abide by the rules. Man proposes and disposes only within the eternal decree and plan of God. God judges man in terms of His law.
  5. The future belongs to God and God’s people.

Here we have it: two rival religions based on two rival views of God. This earth is the battlefield in this war of ideas. The two religions are locked in deadly combat. This conflict takes place in history. The humanists have had a much clearer view of the true nature of this historical battle than the Christians have. They have planned for it far longer than the Christians have.

Politics is a major part of this battlefield. “Not the only one,” the Christian hastens to add. “On the contrary,” the humanist immediately replies, “politics is by far the most important part.” Even here, the two religions disagree.

We must not make the mistake that the humanists have so often made: identifying politics as the heart of the battle. This war is taking place on all fronts: church, State, education, art, economics, and all the areas of life that are engulfed in sin and in need of revival and reform. Politics is one aspect of this fight, but it is not the central aspect, for politics itself is not central. The worship of God is central. The central issue therefore is this: Which God should mankind worship? The God of the Bible or a god of man’s imagination?

The Power Religion

Most humanists see the State as man’s most powerful institution. Theirs is a religion of power, so they make the State the central institution. They make the State their church.[1] What Christians say is that the church, as the institution entrusted by God with His Word and His sacraments, is the central institution. Neither the family nor the State is of equal importance to the church in history or eternity. The Bible teaches that the gates of hell will not stand against the onslaught of the church.

Because the prevailing humanist tradition from the Greeks to the present has made the State into man’s primary agency of earthly salvation, Christians in self-defense need to focus their attention on this battlefield. We must remember, however, that this battle over politics is important today primarily because our opponents have chosen to make their stand on the political battlefield. Christians need to understand what the humanists seldom if ever understand, namely, that the battle for political dominion will not be won primarily through political action. Politics is the working out of religious first principles in the civil realm (covenant). It is a battle over the true nature of God, man, law, and time.[2]

Only recently have both the humanists and the Christians begun to understand clearly that Christianity must either be subdued by the humanists or else it will subdue them. There is no neutrality. So, the battle intensifies. The humanists and the Christians can agree on only two things: first, there is an earth, and second, somebody owns it and therefore controls it. The question is: Which God? Another question is: Who speaks in the name of this God?

A comprehensive war over these explicitly theological issues has been fought throughout history. Part of this battle is political, but only part. There will be political winners and political losers in history.

Who Wins, Who Loses?

Thirty years ago, I took a university course in the history of political theory. It was taught by a graduate student who had studied political philosophy under Sheldon Wolin. Some eight years later, when I was a graduate student in history, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Professor Wolin. I had no idea what he would be discussing, but I decided to attend. Wolin, then of the University of California, Berkeley, later a professor at Princeton University, gave a one-hour speech to a small group of graduate students. Most of the others had never heard of him.

It was the most important academic lecture I ever heard. He introduced us to Thomas Kuhn’s crucial book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,[3] one of the most important books of the 1960’s. That book became extremely important for me, as it did for thousands of other young scholars in that era. Wolin argued that many of the major concepts of political philosophy were not discovered in some rational, academic manner, but have in fact been formed during periods of religious and political conflict.[4] We live in such an era.

Finally, a quarter century after I took that undergraduate class, I read Professor Wolin’s textbook in political theory. It is far more than a textbook. It is a brilliant humanist defense of political participation as something remarkably close institutionally and psychologically to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He traces the history of political theory as something bordering on being a secular substitute for worship. This was what I had not understood so many years before: the history of humanism is the history of man’s attempt to achieve secular salvation through politics.

Early in his book, he makes a very important observation. I believe the phenomena described by this observation will become increasingly important to Christians over the next few decades. Wolin writes:

…most of the great statements of political philosophy have been put forward in times of crisis; that is, when political phenomena are less effectively integrated by institutional forms. Institutional breakdown releases phenomena, so to speak, causing political behavior and events to take on something of a random quality, and destroying customary meanings that had been part of the old political world.[5]

This is fancy academic language for a simple idea: when things blow up politically, new people pick up the pieces, and then other bright new people start rethinking the proper arrangement of the theoretical puzzle of politics and government. The theoretical puzzle gets put back together very differently, just as the various institutional puzzles get put back together differently, and new words and concepts are developed that help justify (and even actively promote) the new arrangements. In short, some groups win, while others lose. Most people don’t care who wins one way or the other, if they are left alone – if they are allowed to be left alone.

In the revolutionary political changes of the last two centuries, almost nobody has been allowed to be left alone. It is this fact of political life that Christians in the United States have only begun to recognize since about 1980: the humanist State is not going to leave Christians alone. Furthermore, it never intended to leave them alone; and this disturbing realization on the part of American Christians is part of the present political transformation.

The non-neutrality of the modern humanist State has been readily apparent to anyone living in Communist-dominated nations, but Americans have naively imagined otherwise for over two centuries. They have imagined that atheist tyranny was Eastern Europe’s problem, or Communist China’s problem, but not their problem. Slowly and painfully, they are learning the truth. Every time a church is sued in civil court for disciplining or excommunicating someone, or a Christian school is attacked by some state Superintendent of Public Instruction, they learn. Unfortunately, they learn incredibly slowly.

Changing Opinions

As American Protestant Christians have begun to rethink their political vulnerability, something unique has been taking place in their thinking. They are at last becoming aware that they are biblically responsible for participating in politics, not just as citizens but as self-conscious Christians. They have repeated the slogan, “The Bible has answers for every area of life,” and now they are being called upon publicly to articulate these answers in such controversial areas as politics.

Christians have had very few specific answers. Why? Because we must go to the Old Testament to find specific, authoritative, Bible-revealed social and political answers, and Christians have been taught for over three centuries that the Old Testament is “off limits” judicially to Christians in the New Testament era. Only the Christian Reconstructionists today affirm the continuing validity of Old Testament law. They alone insist that the civil laws of the Old Testament commonwealth also applied to all nations of the earth, not just to Israel. The coming of Jesus Christ in history did not alter these laws.[6] These same civil laws apply today, unless overturned by New Testament revelation.

Christian Reconstructionists offer specific solutions to the social problems of our time, specifics based explicitly on biblical revelation. Our critics offer no explicitly Bible-based alternatives. Christians today are beginning to turn to the Bible for answers. This is why Christian Reconstructionism has been winning the intellectual battle by default. Reconstructionists alone honor the implications of an old political slogan: “You can’t beat something with nothing.”

[1] This is not true of anarchism and libertarians.

[2] Sheldon S. Wolin, “Paradigms and Political Theories,” in Preston King and B. C. Parekh (eds.), Politics and Experience (Cambridge, England: At the University Press, 1968), pp.147-48.

[3] University of Chicago Press, 1962.

[4] Sheldon S. Wolin, “Paradigms and Political Theories,” in Preston King and B. C. Parekh (eds.), Politics and Experience (Cambridge, England: At the University Press, 1968), pp.147-48.

[5] Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (Boston: Little, Brown, 1960), p. 8.

[6] Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law 1bday (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985).