Thursday, February 16, 2012

The HHS Ruling and the Boundaries of the Secular

The HHS ruling is highly problematic (to say the least!) and perhaps a bad political move on the part of the president. We could analyze this if we were on a political blog. I'm very proud of President Harrison for taking such a strong leadership position during this time of crisis. I believe he is testifying before congress as I write this.

In any case, my friend Adam and I were talking on the phone yesterday and he brought up a deeper issue in the entire ruling. Namely, that what the HHS ruling is actually doing is trying to define the Church. What most people don't recognize is that the administration is not eliminating the religious conscience clause totally. Rather, what they are doing is defining religious institutions is very narrowly. For them, a "religious" institution must necessarily be an institution that explicitly deals with worship.

Now this is very interesting because as my friend pointed out, this makes their move something like a version of "Augsburg Interim II." To explain briefly for those who are unfamiliar: Just after Luther died, the Charles the V took over a lot of the Lutheran lands and then tried to enforce a watered down version of Catholicism on the Lutherans. The initial attempt (the Augsburg Interim) was too harsh and none of the major Lutheran theologians would buy into it. The second (the Leipzig Interim) was an attempt (mainly) to impose Catholic ceremonies on the Lutherans. Melanchthon bought into this (initially) and claimed that the faith of the Church couldn't be determined by the state, but in external things (smells and bells), the state could impose anything it wanted to on the Church. Flacius, on the other hand, stated that the Church was free in these matters unless it needed to publically confess Christian freedom against tyranny (see Galatians). Moreover, the Church, he stated, was to in no way under the control of the state.

Flacius technically won (see FC X), but in practice Melanchthon won. At the peace of Passau (1552), the princes were given the power of bishops in their individual Churches. Later after the Wars of Religion, the secular state (conceived as living in its own autonomous realm) was born. Since then, the secular state in continental Europe has had the right to define what the Church is and where the boundaries of the Church are. This was the birth of modern. Modernity mean the birth of a new and neutral realm called the "secular." Such a realm was invented de facto by an agreement by the princes to keep religion out of the politics of the nation-state. What began as an agreement among princes, quickly turned into a way defining all reality. Since secularity defined all reality, it was something to which the Church had to unquestioningly conform to.

This can be observed in several areas beyond the realm of politics. So, for example, secular biblical studies (which arose shortly after this period) argued that in reality only non-spiritual forces could explain why the biblical texts said what they said, and not divine inspiration. The interesting thing about how modern biblical studies works is that all biblical texts must be de-coded in order to discover the power-play that underlines the author's intentions. In other words, all reality is based on politics, even religion is covert politics. Science becomes essentially defined by non-spiritual realities called "laws," that could be manipulated by human beings, much like political offices and power arrangments. Any claim to the contrary is treated with horror and charges of religious fundamentalism (see the Intelligent Design movement).

Every time religion insisted on its unique character and its ability to define reality, those who believed in the secular charged it with regressiveness. For secularists, religion can only be useful when it either 1. is harshnessed to secular ends (Liberation theology, et. al). 2. remains something interior (Liberalism, Neo-orthodoxy). Therefore, it is no surprise that Schleiermacher said that religion was merely a "feeling" at the same time as Prussia nationalism was rising and the king of Prussia was creating a Union Church in order to solidify northeran German national unity. Neither was it terribly surprising that Karl Rahner invented an essentially Roman Catholic version of Schleiermacher during the time when the II Vatican Council was embracing secularity as a valid source of meaning alongside Christian truth.

This brings us back to the HHS ruling. In ruling that religious institutions could only ones that deal directly with "worship" the administration was saying that only the interior realm of religious experience, (that is, a realm that does not interfere with the rights of the secular state to control every external mode of life and define the "real"!) can validly be accepted as religious. Much like Flacius, we cannot accept such a judgment. The Triune God is the foundation of all reality, and his Word of law and promise is what defines the Church. The realm of the state and its law possess a valid use, but only insofar as they serve their divinely appointed purposes. God and his Word define the Church, and not the secular.


  1. Thanks, Jack. I was hoping that you would write on this. I am going to spend my afternoon and study it. Most of the previous public statements. have been, to say the least, disappointing. I am particularly disappointed and offended by those who have loudly pronounced that 'We are all Catholics now!"

  2. Norman, I stand in solidarity with the Roman Catholic Church on this issue.I would hope that you would support religious liberty.

  3. Thank you, Jack. I will continue to study.

  4. The question addressed was "Who defines the Church; Christ or Caesar?" President Harrison left no doubt we follow Christ. Amen.

  5. " I am particularly disappointed and offended by those who have loudly pronounced that 'We are all Catholics now!"

    That is exactly the agenda.

    "Norman, I stand in solidarity with the Roman Catholic Church on this issue."

    That is a dangerous position to take.

    Remember when the last pope died? Bush II ordered the US flag to be dropped to half mast? What does that tell you?

  6. Joe- I'm not trying to be rude, but I have no idea what you are talking about here. Why wouldn't we stand in solidarity with other people of faith who want to maintain the first ammendment? Also, even if we have issues with the RCC on second and third articles, why wouldn't we stand in solidarity with them on first article issue? If we didn't stand in solidarity with people of other denominations and faiths on first article issues, then it would be impossible to have civil government.

  7. Jack--
    I really appreciate your taking us through history here; it filled in some steps for me. I'd come across an excellent paper regarding the "red-blue" state divide. That paper discussed the rise of the "non-foundational" as contrasted with the "foundational" treatment of Nature, History, & Revelation. To summarize... the foundational use of Nature, History, and Revelation was always epistemologically verifiable by going to the reality of Nature, the actuality of History, or the concrete words of Revelation. The non-foundational use of Nature, History, and Revelation turned the three in "ideas" and then used the idea of Nature, the idea of History, and the idea of Revelation. Of course, you can't epistemologically verify an idea but it can be politically endorsed. The switch from foundational to non-foundational meant changing the grounding of truth from epistemology to politics.

    This is turn leads to Stephen Koch's book "Double Lives" which exhaustively chronicles Stalin's propaganda war against the West. At the outset, Koch claims the most sweeping triumph of this propaganda was the twentieth century transfer of the arena of righteousness from religion to politics.

    The secular now has its own righteousness: the practice of politics. Of course, the "correctness" of your politics determines the amount of your righteousness. The secular with its political righteousness really cannot understand (nor can it stand) the sacred which receives its righteousness religiously.

    Thanks again for explaining the rise of the secular.


  8. Jack...certainly you are aware of the BTW...this is a good read concerning ecumenism and standing with those according to a lowest common denominator:

  9. Joe- Historically speaking I think the Counter-Reformation era has been over for a while. Believe me, I do not think that the statements that our Lutheran Confessions make about the Papacy are inappropriate when understood correctly. Neither do I believe we should reach any theological agreements with RCC that compromise our confession of faith (I was of course very much opposed to JDDJ). What's at issue here though is a matter of the civil law, which we must cooperate with others on. This has nothing to do with fellowship. Neither is cooperating with them anything new- we've always done this! Like I said, civil government only works if you cooperate with people you disagree with theologically. There's really no other option.

    Concerning your story: What I'm advocating here isn't ecumenism. It's a civil matter. No one is compromising any principles here. That's what makes most ecumenism bad. We are agreed with the RCC on a matter of the first use of the law. Part of this is a failure on your part to distinguish between law and gospel and the two kingdoms.

    Also, the stuff about the one world government conspiracy is utterly bizarre. I mean, do you serious believe all that stuff? Your reference to the book of Revelation is more like something you'd get out of left behind than a Lutheran interpretation.

  10. You are either foolish or dumb like a fox. LCMS is perfectly capable of standing alone on this issue. Let the others take their own paths. There is too much palsie walsie going on. The lesson of Abraham post Lot's rescue is good for review. I am a firm believer in separatism.

    I spoke to a Roman Catholic a few years ago. He told me the pope is still my pope and that I need to honor him. The RCC has been working on reuniting all faiths since the Reformation.

  11. Again, Joe.

    "You are either foolish or dumb like a fox."

    I know you've picked up the typical Jackson sectarian verbal ticks, like insulting people when you can't defend your position (his entire website is an exercise in this). But if you're going to be insulting, I'm going to have to start erasing your posts.

    Look, this is a deeply odd position for a Lutheran to take. Historically, Lutherans have said that civil matters are things we can cooperate on with people of different denominations and faiths. This has nothing to do with compromising on articles of the faith. I guess I can't see how you can't see that.

    Here's a question: If we "stand alone" and are separate (as you desire), how would we work to govern this country? Are we only supposed to vote for Lutherans? Are we supposed to set up an independent Lutheran government in the US?

    "The lesson of Abraham post Lot's rescue is good for review. I am a firm believer in separatism."

    An interesting example in light of the fact that Abraham cooperated with pagans to rescue Lot. But you are saying that he stopped cooperating with pagans after he rescued Lot? I see no evidence of this. I think that there are an number of instances when he did, for example when he made a covenant Abimelech (Gen. 20) and when he engaged in business dealing with the Hittites to secure a place of rest of Sarah. So, no, I think you're wrong about that one. I don't even know where you got that idea. Probably from Jackson.

    "I spoke to a Roman Catholic a few years ago. He told me the pope is still my pope and that I need to honor him. The RCC has been working on reuniting all faiths since the Reformation."

    Yes, Joe, that's generally the line of post-Vatican II Roman Catholics. What of it? Of course they think that they're the true Church and we're some how secret member of it. We say something similar. Luther always taught that the RCC contains remnants of the true Church. Saying that the Papacy is a false teacher in the midst of the Church presupposes that the true Church is at least somewhat present in the RCC. Otherwise the Pope wouldn't be in the "midst of God's temple."

    And yes, we shouldn't compromise with them in any way the nature of the true faith. But I don't see how Harrison (who opposes false ecumenism and JDDJ, among other things) is doing that. I recognize of course that your leader, Jackson basically holds the same position as you stating here. But outside the enclave of the Icha-abode you're going to have to come up with better arguments than "Thus saith Jackson." Pronouncements of your false prophet hold no authority with me or anyone else who reads this blog.

  12. LOL...when all else fails, blame it on Jackson. Someone else has a tick.

    You are young and brash. Time will tell.

  13. Wow. Well I came here to say your comparison with Flacius was quite apt.

    But LutherRocks, yeah, that's crazy. If you can't cooperate with Christians when they are attacked, because you're so Lutheran first... ... ...Well, I suppose I would ask you if you were baptized into Luther.

  14. Joe- Way to not answer any of my arguments. Saying that I'm "young and brash" is rather like Jackson saying that I'm wrong because I work with a few Catholics.

    My reference to Jackson was basically just an observation. I frankly don't see anything original about your arguments or rhetorical style. It's pure Jackson. Brett and LPC act the same way you do as well.

    BTW, "time will tell" what? I think my arguments are about stuff in the present (i.e. the nature of civil government) or stuff in the past (for example, Abraham exists in the past and actually did cooperate with pagans. There's no "time will tell" with that. It already happened!).

    So, just curious. What will time tell?

  15. Abraham didn't cooperate with pagans while rescuing Lot. He had an alliance with his neighbors, but the Bible does not call them I don't know where that is coming from...and your example of Sarah's burial bears no resemblance to the discussion. I was referring to the spirit of this passage: Gen. 14:22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’

    The law will stand or it will be rescinded. Regardless, as Christians we will obey God and not the state. Harrison did not have to go to DC to say this and stand with other faiths. Doctrine divides, but service unites. There is a danger in this. Do not be unequally yoked.

    Revelation prophesies about the coming two beasts. They are coming into view...the church and the state; they will be in alliance with each other. If you regard that as a conspiracy theory, you go right ahead and think that. Time will tell.

  16. Joe- They obviously were pagans, since Abraham and Melchizedek were the some of the only few worshipers of YHWH left in the world. The Bible is pretty clear about that.

    You give no rational basis for saying that Harrison should not have testified with the other folks. Why not say that you agree with people to the extend that you agree with them?

    Revelation is primarily addressing first century people, though there are lessons for Christian of all ages. Obviously the beasts represent the attack on the Church by state and false religion throughout the ages. John primarily sees this as happening through the Pax Romana and Domitian, the current emperor at his time. Domitian was the beast who was wounded, yet lived because he was a new Nero. There is graffiti that has been discovered in recent digs in Asia Minor (where John lived) that say "Domitian is Nero reborn." So, John is just drawing on this idea as a critique of how the current Roman Empire embodies the spirit of Anti-Christ that attacks the Church-catholic in every age. It has nothing to do with some end-times world bank, UN conspiracy. All of this is an utterly non-sensical reading of Revelation, based on an ignorance of its historical context. It's bizarro quasi-Gnostic speculation, which as a Lutheran you should no better than to engage in.

  17. Jack...I made an 'objective' observation. For one who has the market cornered on the usage of the word, I thought you would get it. I don't think it was prudent in light of the Lutheran Confessions to do this.

    He is representing himself with denominations who; supplant Christ as mediator; deny Baptism and Holy Communion and must make a decision for Christ; deny Christ altogether. But never mind about these things. They are trivial in light of what we might agree on.

    Come to think of it, according to the B.S. of '32, the world has been declared righteous (guiltless, sinless and holy) in His sight before faith. I was was good for him to be there.

    I know you fancy yourself a master debater, but I am out.

  18. Joe- I guess my point is that you haven't given me a clear basis under any theology of fellowship that I'm aware of (whether that of Missouri, or the more restrictive view of W/ELS)for saying that this is inappropriate. What you gave me was an assertion that it was. But as I demonstrated, under the Reformation and biblical understanding of the civil realm, this in no way can be viewed as inappropriate.

  19. That was weird, but that is why you don't feed the trolls,