Why, as an evangelical Christian, I will vote for Mitt Romney even though he is a Mormon.

I am an evangelical Christian. I just finished reading an article in Christianity Today that cited an evangelical pastor who would not vote for Obama because of his ethical views on gay marriage and abortion. On the other hand the pastor said he has difficulty voting for Romney because he is a Mormon. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/october-web-only/largest-block-of-undecided-voters-pastors.html)

I am having no such anxiety because I am not voting for someone to be my pastor, but to be the president of the country. I wonder what other past presidents this pastor might have not voted for even though he might have agreed with their ethical positions because they didn’t fit his litmus test for religious orthodoxy. Certainly our early Deist fathers would have to fall into that category.

It is not the specific religious practices or beliefs that are crucial in selecting a president or senator, but her/his foundation beliefs concerning the world,  human nature and ethics which will influence his/her political policies and principles. What I want in an elected official is someone whose foundational beliefs correspond with mine as much as possible so that their policies will be configured with them too. Unless someone has plans on enforcing their particular religious practices or ideas on the rest of us, how do those things come into play?

I happen to believe in believer’s baptism. Does that mean that I wouldn’t vote for someone who supported infant baptism? Not unless they were going to try to pass laws enforcing that position. But if that were the case, there isn’t much of a chance that they would get elected anyway. Thomas Jefferson didn’t believe in the Deity of Christ, but he had strong principles regarding the role of government with which I strongly agree.

Those of my ancestors who were part of the great Puritan Migration helped found Hartford, Connecticut. In their day, a person had to stand up and make a public confession of faith in order to be a full, voting citizen of their community. Thus, anyone who would have been eligible for elected office would have had to meet the same standard. At that time, there was no separation of church and state. They were one and the same. We are not in that place, and haven’t been for a long time.

As a child, I remember when John Kennedy ran for President and the fear that having a Catholic in office would mean the Pope was really in charge. (Interestingly, this fear of loyalty to a “foreign power” was the same reason John Locke thought that Catholics should not have freedom of religion in his time. Of course I can give Locke some latitude here given the bitter and bloody disputes for the English crown of the day. ) Do we have people today that worry that Romney would be subservient to the elders of the Mormon Church in his role as President? Do we have any evidence for that? No, we don’t.

Is the Mormon belief of baptism for the dead going to have any impact on economic or social policy proposals under Romney? I can’t imagine how. Will the Mormon’s unorthodox (in my view) perspective on the person and work of Christ have any impact on Romney’s political stances? I can’t conceive of those possibilities. And frankly I could care less if Mitt Romney wears special garments.

However, his views on such foundational ideas such as human nature, the value of human life, the meaning of marriage, liberty, freedom, responsibility, the role of humans with respect to the rest of creation….. well, all of those ideas will make a huge difference in the policies that he will propose as president. And as I examine what he has said, and what his positions are, I find, that as an evangelical, that my beliefs on those fundamental principles align with his.

On the other hand, I find that President Obama and I view the world with diametrically opposed perspectives. Our views on human nature and its impact on economic policy, on the value of human life, on marriage, on the role of government itself, on liberty and freedom… on a whole host of foundational concepts… are in essential opposition.  (And yes, I accept that President Obama considers himself a Christian, but then what he means by that, and what I mean by that are two different things as an older interview with Christianity Today clearly exhibits. (http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctpolitics/2008/11/obamas_fascinat.html)

We are not a “Christian” nation in the sense that we have been inhabited or governed by only Christians. However, our governmental structure and principles are ones that came from a worldview that was coherent with and built on a foundation of a Christian worldview.  John Locke may have been a deist, but his father was a staunch Puritan and Locke saw the world through that lens.  The founding fathers built our government based on that worldview and their own Christian heritage, but they built a country, not a church. They designed a system to give us leaders that shared that worldview, and to assure us the rights given to us by the God they worshipped.

I want a President who supports that worldview and that role of government. I find in Mitt Romney a person whose own worldview on crucial foundational ethical and political positions corresponds to mine, even though I also see a person with whom I theologically vehemently disagree. I would not vote for him to be an elder in my church. However, I will vote for him for President … and do so enthusiastically. I hope and pray that many of you will do the same.

Amazing Love…. and Saving Private Ryan.

At the end of Saving Private Ryan Tom Hank’s character Captain Miller, as he lay dieing, says to Ryan, played by Matt Damon, “James, earn this….earn it.” . Then, as the scene goes back to the cemetery in Normandy, the now elderly Ryan, standing at the grave of Miller, turns to his wife and says “Tell me I have lived a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” In recognition of the sacrifice made specifically for him, Ryan realizes the debt he owes and is overwhelmed by the price paid for his life. “No greater love…..”

This morning in our church, the choir did a great rendition of “And Can it Be?” by Charles Wesley. The first verse of that song has these words:

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain— For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, should die for me? Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, should die for me?

Ryan needed to know that he had lived a life worthy of the sacrifice made for him. How often do I forget the sacrifice made for me? Can I repay the debt? Of course not. Am I supposed to earn the sacrifice like Captain Miller told Ryan? Impossible!! But what I do need to do is to live my life aware of that sacrifice and thus live life with thankfulness and gratitude to Him who died for me. And I am to live my life aware that my life is not my own, but has been bought and paid for with a price that I can never fully comprehend.

“Oh how marvelous, Oh how wonderful and my song shall ever be.

Oh how marvelous, Oh how wonderful, is my savior’s love for me.”

“Revolution” and Human Nature

I have been watching the new television series Revolution whose storyline is the situation in the former United States after a worldwide loss of all power. At this point we don’t know exactly why the power went out, but slowly, thanks to flashbacks, we are learning about what happened in the weeks and years following this event.

The thing that keeps smacking me in the face is the prevalent belief about human nature that has to be the foundation for the series. The premise is that since the government failed, that there was no real police or military protection, then chaos ensued and people immediately became lawless. In other words the idea is that without a government to keep things in order, people will resort to a “kill or be killed mentality.”

From what we have seen so far in the series, in order to stop that annihilation, some individuals stepped in and imposed a strict, totalitarian, military order, and of course, they have convinced themselves that they did it for the good of the people. As the argument goes, without us, everyone would have died. So if we have to sacrifice a few for the many, then it is justified.

What does that say about human nature? I would encourage you to pick up a copy of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. The writers of Revolution appear to subscribe to his beliefs about humanity. In Leviathan, Hobbes laid out his political philosophy based on the belief that humans, by nature, are barbarian egoist. In other words we are violent and selfish and without government are in a constant state of war with each other. It is simply kill or be killed. And in this state of nature, culture and society, commerce and business, cannot exist. Therefore, in order to keep from the annihilation of the human race, governments come into being out of enlightened self-interest.

From that perspective, the purpose of government is to keep control of the people, to keep order. Recognize that Hobbes believed that without government people did not have rights, or property, nor did any ethics exist. Nothing was inherently right or wrong.  Rights come only from the government. Thus, there is really no such thing as a government infringing on someone’s rights in an assertion of its power. Ultimately, whatever a government has to do to keep control is right, because the only alternative is to revert back to chaos. And in chaos, we all face certain death.

All of that is based on the foundational belief about human nature. (As well as the rejection of a worldview that had a loving, creative God who had established an order in the first place.) Is that really who we are? Are we really barbarian egoists who only have social, cultural and economic relationships because of government controls? If that’s the case, then the logical conclusion is the more government the better and the stronger the government the better.  And that’s what the military rulers in Revolution seem to assert. “We are here because without us, you would all kill each other. You are barbarian egoists.”

But that is a crucial question. What do you believe about human nature? Your belief about human nature is an essential premise for your view of the purpose and role of government. As things go forward in the TV series, I anticipate seeing more and more of a competition between conflicting views on human nature and the resulting political philosophies.

Evaluating Beliefs: The standard of coherence

So how do we go about evaluating various myths or ethical positions? How do we discern among the various belief systems in the world which ones are preferable and which ones have serious flaws? Is it no more than personal opinion and which one or ones that you like? If that’s the case, then we might as well go back to ethical relativism.  We would be left with a position of not being able to say any action was right or wrong. But ethics is not like choosing a flavor of ice cream. It’s not just a matter of personal preference. There are logical standards that we can utilize to help us in our quest.[i]


The first test that we must apply to a myth or ethical position is the question of coherence. This is going to be extremely important as we move forward examining political positions on issues. Coherence is the question of whether or not the various aspects of one’s beliefs fit together as a whole. Does what one believes about a supreme being make sense with what one believes about purpose and meaning in life? Does what one believes about human nature make sense with what one believes about an afterlife? And as one’s ethics is part of one’s myth and is based on that myth, is one’s position on abortion or euthanasia coherent with one’s beliefs about human nature for example.

The standard of coherence does not mean that we have all the answers. After all, we are dealing with beliefs. However, it does mean that the things we do believe have to somehow fit together logically. You cannot believe two logically contradictory ideas. If there is no god of any kind, and people are just chance products of evolution, then it is not coherent to assert that there is some form of afterlife. The only possible coherent position on the question of what happens when you die is to admit that people, like trees, are just fertilizer waiting to happen.

Similarly, if we are just fertilizer waiting to happen, then why do we eat animal meat and vegetables, but not humans? Now it may be that we don’t prefer it because of taste or toughness, but is there an ethical reason? Is there a difference in value between humans and other animals, or between all sentient beings and plants? If one is going to be coherent in their reasoning, then they have to provide the belief that is going to undergird their ethical position. Preference and taste will suffice for choosing ice cream flavors, but it is not sufficient for ethical arguments.

One of the things I will attempt to do in discussing particular ethical issues is to connect the dots between various beliefs and ethical positions. Sometimes this will be done by examining the logical implications of certain beliefs, and other times it will be accomplished by exploring what premises must necessarily be asserted in order to provide the foundation for a proposed ethical position. One of the things we will discover is that people often assert ethical positions that they believe are correct, but then attempt to distance themselves from the requisite beliefs that are the necessary foundations for their position. Whether it’s because they don’t want to be labeled in a certain way, or it’s because they don’t like some of the other logical implications of those beliefs, or they just haven’t thought through their position, I don’t know. However, what I do know is that such a stance is not rationally defensible. It is incoherent.

[i] Note that here we are not going to fall prey to the enlightenment trap of making reason the ultimate arbiter of truth. However, we are going to use reason in its proper role as a tool to help discern truth and falsehood.

Aren’t all beliefs just a matter of opinion?

Comparing and Evaluating Myths and Ethics

Is it possible to compare and contrast belief systems and ethical positions and somehow evaluate those ideas? The multicultural perspective that has been popular in modern times supposedly asserts a position that says that we can’t really judge people’s beliefs or their ethics because all in all it’s just their opinion and we can’t really know what’s true or not true. That is often the first argument that my students put forth. There are several reasons for that. Often students are just trying to be what they have been told is open-minded and tolerant. Sometimes it’s because they are resistant to anyone judging their ethics and therefore “telling them what to do.” It might be because they have never been given the tools to approach such a discussion. They think they know what’s right and wrong, and they know that they think others with whom they disagree are wrong, but they have no idea how to approach the discussion other than getting into passionate arguments and yelling at each other. So therefore they choose to avoid such interactions. But they soon learn that not only is it possible to evaluate various myths and ethical positions, but it is necessary in order to live in society. And we do this even when we don’t admit it.

The Bankruptcy of Ethical Relativism

Cultural relativism as a descriptive theory which says that beliefs and ethics vary depending on one’s culture and background is different from ethical relativism that asserts that there are no universals or absolutes and that right and wrong are contingent on one’s culture and society. Cultural relativism just observes our world and tells it what is and it is useful just as an anthropological tool. Ethical relativism says that what a culture says is right and wrong is right or wrong for that culture because there are no universals in morality. We cannot judge another culture either positively or negatively. Ethical relativism is a bankrupt theory that cannot be coherently supported or lived.

One of the many rational problems with ethical relativism is that the position proclaims that there are no ethical absolutes but then immediately turns around and asserts that tolerance is the ultimate virtue. Additionally it eliminates the possibility of social change. How can you criticize the present societies ethical values when “what a culture or society views as right, is right?” Ethical relativism would have to pronounce that the civil rights movement was wrong. It also promotes the tyranny of the majority. If the majority are in control of the society and culture, then do they not decide for the whole society what is right and wrong? Or if you assert that there are multiple cultures within a society that have their own ethics, then how do you determine for an individual which culture is the determinant one for her/him? Ultimately, although people may think that they are just being open-minded by supporting ethical relativism, they have put themselves in an intellectually untenable and indefensible position.

It is not only intellectually bankrupt, it is also practically impossible. Should we tolerate the racial demagoguery of white supremacists because that is their culture, or should we condemn it? Should we tolerate the anti-semitic rantings of Iran’s Ahmadinejad as a cultural product or should we condemn them? At least I would hope that most people would agree that you have to condemn some positions as being unacceptable. (I find it interesting that some of those promoting tolerance as the ultimate virtue are among the least tolerant folks when it comes to those with whom they disagree.) And if you reach that point where you have to discern among those beliefs and positions that are acceptable and those that are not, then you have decided that it’s not just a matter of opinion and there must be some rational way to examine and evaluate beliefs and ethical positions. And it’s not coherent to just assert that other beliefs are okay as long as they don’t impose in your life. At that point you have again asserted an absolute position. So how do you evaluate beliefs and ethical positions?? That’s for the next post.


Foundational Beliefs Part Two: Human nature, purpose and meaning, and what happens when you die?

Human Nature

The concepts of human nature have a second aspect that has ramifications for political issues. What are people like? What motivates people? Are people predominately selfish creatures who, as Thomas Hobbes asserted, are barbarian egoists who need to be controlled so they don’t kill each other and ultimately exterminate the human race?  Or are people selfless beings who will work for the good of the others without concern for themselves as Karl Marx asserted would be true of the proletariat when they took over the means of production after the worker’s revolution?[i] Or perhaps people predominately work from a position of self-interest. This would not mean that people cannot act altruistically or be charitable toward others, but that their basic motivation comes from concern for themselves and their loved ones. When politicians start addressing economic issues, such convictions concerning human nature must be taken into account.

When we get to economics, the ramifications of the positions on human nature will be more thoroughly developed, but as you read this, ask yourself how you look at people. What do you expect from people? How do you expect them to react? Are you surprised when people do horribly cruel things to others, or are you more surprised when people do very gracious and giving things for others? If you left your wallet on a park bench, or in a store, would you anticipate a kind person returning it to you, or would you assume it was gone forever and start cancelling your credit cards? Why are you working for a living? Do you do it in order to be able to give the money to others, or is it because you do have bills to pay? Why do businesses exist? Is it to serve the greater interest of society, or is it to make money? Now, those might seem like overly simplistic questions, but your answers to those should give you some insight in to how you view human nature. And that perspective will be explored more as we examine the impact of beliefs on economic issues.

Purpose and Meaning in Life

What about the ideas of having some purpose or meaning in life? Why are you alive? Why are people as a species alive? Does your life or my life have any significance outside the impact on our immediate environment? What is life all about? If indeed we are just a product of chance evolution, then you may be able to arbitrarily pick a purpose for your life, but in reality you are nothing more than fertilizer waiting to happen. You and I serve no greater purpose than being, and we are of no more inherent significance than a slug. On the other hand, if there is some greater being who either designed the world or which is the force behind the world, then it would follow that not only our lives, but the rest of nature could have purpose and meaning. And if that’s the case, then it would also follow that discerning that purpose or meaning would have serious ethical implications.

An Afterlife??

What about what happens after your “three-score and ten” on this planet has passed? What happens when you die? From all the books written about near-death experiences, the afterlife is certainly a topic of interest to most of us. People have been fascinated with our own mortality for all of recorded history. Perhaps it is because, as far as we know, we alone among this world’s animals can contemplate our own demise. Is there a heaven and/or hell? Is there a paradise? Do we get reincarnated?[ii] Maybe we get to become gods on another planet. Or maybe we really are just worm food. Maybe this life is all there is and when we die, we are just dead. Again, as with all aspects of one’s myth, one’s beliefs about what, if anything, follows death has great implications in ethics and related political issues.


[i] One of the major problems  with Marx’s theory is his assertion that the bourgeoisie are by nature selfish whereas the proletariat, once they are in control, would act selflessly, working for the good of the whole. Unless the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are two distinct species which operate with two different inherent natures, Marx’s theory is incoherent at this point.

[ii] Interestingly in the western world we have taken the concept of reincarnation from Hinduism and converted it into a positive escape from our mortality. The western version of reincarnation is that we “get” to come back again and again. However, in traditional Hinduism the goal is to escape the Samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, rather than to keep getting reincarnated ad infinitum.

Foundational Beliefs Part One: God and origins

Belief in God

Possibly the expected starting point is the recognition that a person’s belief would naturally include any conception of the existence of God. Do they believe in God? Do they believe in multiple gods? Is their God a loving being who answers prayer and is involved in the goings on in this world as in Christianity and Judaism? Or is their God just watching from a distance as in Deism? Is their God a more capricious taskmaster who demands submission as in Islam? Or maybe there are two gods, an evil and a good god who are doing battle as in Zoroastrianism? Maybe their God is actually in and of the world as in Hinduism. Or perhaps nature itself is the God. And there is also the belief that there is no God at all. And despite what some atheists would like to assert, their position is as much of a faith position as is belief in a God.

Whichever position one takes here, it is one of the most crucial parts of a person’s myth and it is not just from the aspect of a supreme entity being a lawgiver and thus being the foundation of morality. The existence or non-existence of an ultimate spiritual being in the universe impacts every other single aspect of a person’s beliefs and how they function in the world. Certainly, in some instances, people may view all of their ethical and political positions as directly given by their God, but generally, it is a little more complex than that. It is the logical implications of that belief that have to be discerned in order to understand the complete influence of one’s beliefs, or lack of belief, in a God. And all too often people treat their beliefs as if they are not inter-related and don’t need to be coherent. But since those beliefs are actually the foundation for how we live our lives, the premises for our ethical and political conclusions, then it is crucial that we think through what exactly are the logical results that are necessarily implied by our beliefs, beginning with a belief, or not, in God.


How we and the rest of the universe came into existence, or how we got here is a second part of an individual’s myth. The question of origins has major implications for how someone views nature and people. Are we, and the universe, merely the result of pure accidental chance, for example in the so-called Big-Bang theory, or as in other variations of the evolutionary theory?[i] Or maybe a God used the process of evolution to bring the universe and us into being as is the position of theistic evolution. Possibly God created the world from nothing in a special way as in creationist theories. As religious and philosophical ideas from the history of our world are examined, it is seen that every culture has had beliefs concerning their origins. Those stories gave, and continue to give, an understanding of who we are as people and our relation to others and nature. The stories gave to the people an identity. Those understandings continue to be an influential aspect of one’s myth.

The convictions concerning origins have implications for one’s views on human nature. What are we as people? What is our makeup and what makes us act how we do? Stories of origins served the purpose in tribal cultures of giving the people in the tribe an identity that was distinct from other tribes.  Those stories ultimately serve the same purpose today. If you believe that a God created human beings in His own image distinctly from the rest of His creation then that implies that humans are unique among all of creation. Depending on the understanding of being created in the image of God, that belief might also imply that humans are uniquely spiritual creatures, with a heritage, value, and responsibility that is theirs alone on this earth.

On the other hand, if one believes that humans are presently the apex of an evolutionary process that itself was simply an accident of purely chance events, then humans are not inherently any more valuable than any other part of nature.  They may be more intelligent at this point, but that is just a product of evolutionarily developed synapses firing in their brain. Indeed, it would be difficult to produce a rational explanation from an atheistic evolutionary position as to why we can eat beef and chicken and not humans. Certainly individual humans may be more extrinsically valuable than a particular cow, but not more intrinsically valuable. [ii] Obviously, this should have implications for a variety of political positions if a person’s myth and ethic is to be coherent. That is true with the variety of other possibilities as far as stories of origins and human identity are concerned.


[i] (Despite the evidence gathered by scientists over the past couple centuries to bolster the theory first developed by Charles Darwin, ultimately, at its foundation, it has to be admitted that evolution remains a theory, an asserted belief.  You may think that the evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming for any reasonable person, but regardless none of the beliefs about origins can be proven beyond question.)

[ii] If one wishes to support evolution as the process by which the world and humans came into being, and still believe that somehow humans are uniquely and intrinsically valuable, then one must believe that a God guided that process and at some point put his unique fingerprint on human life. If not, then humans are just a more highly developed slug.

What exactly do people “believe?”

In discussions concerning beliefs I have found much more helpful, instead of using religion or philosophy, to use the term myth to talk about people’s beliefs.  The term has a long history in academic circles. Myth, in this usage, does not connote something that is inherently untrue. It does not mean a fairy tale, nor does it necessarily mean talking about Greek or Roman legends. What myth does entail are the beliefs a person has about life, the world and all that is in it. You could call it a belief system or a worldview. Myth is multi-faceted but the central idea is that it involves premises that cannot be proven, but are assumed to be true. That does not mean that those beliefs cannot be examined, evaluated and the evidence for and against them weighed. It does not mean that all beliefs are equally valid or supportable. But it does mean that ultimately those beliefs are just that, beliefs. What I have found is that it is much more beneficial to dialogue than the traditional terms of religion and philosophy. People often mistakenly understand religion being a matter of faith while philosophy involves reason not faith. By using the more generic term of myth, it allows individuals to move beyond that faulty dichotomy.[i]

What does “Myth” entail?


When we start to discuss the idea of myth, what foundational concepts are we saying compose this realm of assertions that cannot be proven and instead can only be asserted? What exactly makes up this thing called myth? In the subsequent posts I will examine the most crucial aspects of peoples’ beliefs and then in the following sections I hope to show how those beliefs impact political and ethical positions, or at least how they should if the believers are logically coherent.

So what are the most common aspects of a belief system?

  • A belief in a God, gods, divine force or its equivalent… or not.
  • Origins: How did we get here? Where did we come from?
  • Human nature: What exactly are we as humans?
  • Purpose and meaning in life.
  • What happens when you die?
  • Ethics? How should we act and why? (This is not only part of our belief system but is also dependent on the other parts of that belief system.)

These are the most essential aspects of a person’s worldview or myth. We can examine all of these ideas, but we can’t finally prove any of them. And they all should have a significant impact on our political and ethical positions.


[i] Certainly, using myth brings its own possible negative implications because we tend to think of legends and fairy tales. However, I have still found it to be a more useful term than using religion and philosophy. People who claim to not be religious have a much easier time understanding that they have a myth, even though they are not involved in any organized religion and do not believe in any deity.