After reading the first couple of chapters of this book I have come to understand why it is that Schaeffer's son has broken with the groups that his father was involved in and moved over to the Christian Left. While I do generally like Schaeffer's writings, and also his ability to connect with people from various backgrounds, this book, at first, felt like a rant against the direction that US society is heading, and in particular his attacks against abortion. There are a number of things that I agree with in this book, and a number of things with which I disagree.
Schaeffer is correct when he writes about the separation of church and state and that the state should not seek to enter and influence the realm of the church. In a sense that is similar to how the state should not be overtly interventionist in the lives of the individual person, however while standing up against the state seeking to combat and attack the church, he seems to advocate that the state also take a moral stance with regards to the lives of individuals.
He speaks about how the laws of our society are based on a Christian world view, and he clearly has the Ten Commandments in mind. This is something that I generally balk against because the first five commandments deal with our obligations towards God (which includes honouring our parents as that is reflective of our relationship with God) and the last five deal with our obligations towards our fellow human beings. However, Jesus clearly stated that all the law and prophets come down to two points: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. While he speaks of our law losing its Christian foundation and moving into a more relativistic mindset it is clear here that he is speaking mainly of abortion, and this is something that I will address a little later.
I actually support the removal of the Ten Commandments from the Schools and from the courts. These laws are personal laws that apply to us, and in fact, if the state begins to legislate religion, in the form of the first and second commandments, then suddenly the whole argument of the separation of church and state becomes a moot point because all of the sudden the state is legislating religion. However, let us consider the last five commandments:
6) You shall not murder: with the exception of abortion, it is pretty much understood that we cannot go around killing people, and those who do tend to suffer the full wrath of the law. However, one needs to consider the definition of murder, and that is an unlawful killing. There are numerous instances were the state has sanctioned a killing, such as during war, for self-defense, and a policeman in the line of duty. However, in all of these instances (with maybe the exception of war) the state will vigorously examine each of these events to determine whether it has been sanctioned or not. However, then comes the issue of the death penalty. It seems that there are a lot of people in the United States that support the death penalty, and in fact the Republicans (known colloquially as God's Own Party) have since brought the death penalty back in a lot of states. Thus, we have on the one hand a reaction against abortion, but on the other hand an acceptance of the death penalty. To me that sounds like hypocrisy.
7) You Shall Not Commit Adultery: okay, this has fallen off the radar in our permissive society, but we must remember that marriage is a civil contract (actually, it is more a covenant, but that is a specific legal term, so we will leave it as a contract) between two people, and to impose a Christian moral stance upon non-Christians is once again the State entering into a realm in which it should not enter. While I am a big believer in faithfulness in marriage, this is one area of the law that the state needs to back away from. However, there are always repercussions, for marriages will and do break up over these things, and the results of adultery can be quite tragic for many people. However, to make adultery a criminal offence, or to return to a fault based system for divorce pretty much winds the clock back.
8) You Shall Not Steal: Isn't it interesting that the one law that seems to dominate our society is number eight on the list, and that is the law of private property. To say that we have moved away from our Christian roots is to ignore the fact that private property plays a huge importance in our economic system. In fact, it is probably right in saying that our laws have become ambiguous when we hold private property far above everything else. However, you try to steal somebody's lawn mower, break into their house, or even try to steal their idea, you will find that the law of private property comes into play very strongly.
Okay, this book was written in 1982 so the whole concept of patenting genes and seeds was not as evident as it is today. However, it is very much the case today, and many people can find themselves on the wrong side of a law suit simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Companies like Monsanto are pretty much buying up the rights to living organisms, and corporations are drowning out public places and replacing them with shopping malls where their laws hold greater power. In a shopping centre one is restricted in many ways, including freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
9) You Shall not bare false witness: This does not necessarily restrict to lying in court but takes in all forms of defamation and gossip. I can assure you that the libel and slander laws are alive and well, and actually go to a point where criticism of anybody or anything is banned. The axiom of if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all is alive and well. Of course, that does not apply when one is criticising religion or somebody's left wing political views.
10) Though shall not covet: This is simply having a desire to possess something that somebody else has, but the idea I get from the Bible is that it is extreme. Basically this is a thought control type of law and is impossible to legislate against. On the other hand, it seems that the idea of covetousness is what makes our current economic system work. If we were not forever 'keeping up with the Joneses' then our economy would grind to a halt. Thus, the basic human desire of coveting something, means that they will go out and spend money that they do not have to acquire something that they do not need.
Therefore I have outlined a number of areas briefly as to how the current legal system is nowhere near as bad as what Schaeffer, and others, are saying. However, there are a few more points, such as the story he tells of how somebody committed suicide when he attended counselling with a pastor and not a professional. I have spoken to a pastor recently who has agreed that while a psychologist may not be a Christian, he may be much better to deal with mental illness than a pastor. In fact Pastors are not, and are not trained to be, psychologists. My experience with using pastors as psychologists (and even small group leaders) has always ended up in disaster. Simply put, they are so biblically focused, and many are so caught up on the 'don't worry, God loves you' mentality that they do not understand the root causes of mental illness.
From my experience, one major issue I had in church was bullying by self-righteous Christians, and that caused me significant angst to say the least. However, when one approaches a pastor about this, the standard response is 'forgive them and reconcile with them.' Forgiveness and reconciliation is one thing, however a bully will always be a bully unless confronted, and the nature of any religion (and I am not limiting myself to Christianity here) is that it gives rise, naturally, to self-righteous individuals who seek to dominate others. However, responding with 'this is a fallen world, and the church is full of fallen people, so grin and bare it' does not address the problem, and in the end punishes the victim and rewards the perpetrator.
So this now comes down to the issue of abortion (which I have said that I will talk about). Basically I am pro-life meaning that any sanctioned taking of human life by anybody should be very few and far between, and that includes war. War should be the absolute last resort for any dispute between countries. People should be tried and given the opportunities to repent of their actions, and the death penalty may end up hindering that process (even though from conviction to execution in the United States still takes years). Abortion should be used in rare circumstances and not on an on demand basis as an exception to contraception. However, abortion is also a form of oppression against woman, and to make abortion the central facet of what is wrong with America is to completely miss the point. By bringing abortion to the centre stage is to say that women should be punished for promiscuity and not men, but is also to say that you have freedom of choice, unless of course you are a woman, then that freedom is denied to you.
Now I am going to jump back a bit to education and suggest that while I am a creationist I do not believe that creation should be taught in public schools. Once again that is the state encroaching into the area of the religious, and to force creationism, especially seven day creationism, to the exclusion of all other theories, is to force one brand of Christianity onto a society that is not necessarily Christian. The same with the Ten Commandments in the schools. If a child asks a teacher, who does not understand the underlying nature of the Ten Commandments, what they are, they are probably going to be more confused than otherwise.
Which brings me to my final point, and that is the idea that we we're a Christian nation. That is absolute rubbish. The past may have had the state dictating our religion (as was the case in England) or a large portion of the population claiming to be Christian, but we were never Christian. If we were Christian we would not have brutally murdered the natives of our respective countries, overthrown governments in the pursuit of business interests, or oppressed minorities simply because they were different. To say that the American Rebellion had Christian foundations is also to miss the point because it was purely an economic rebellion. It was based mostly upon taxation. Further, the rebellion was a rebellion of the American ruling class against the British ruling class. The founding fathers were all wealthy, white, male, land owners. In fact, many of the people in the United States at the time were against the rebellion. However, I should refer you to Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States for a further exploration of that.