The Presidency: “Commander in Chief” and, or versus “Leader of the Free World”?

Johns Hopkins professor Francis Fukuyama  writing in the 13 October 2008 issue of Newsweek, The Fall of America, Inc., offers one analysis and explanation for what has happened to America’s economy.  His basic idea is that Reaganomics have run their course.  Reaganism favored deregulation of the economy, less government and lowering taxes as the basis for all good things.  Fukuyama suggests all good things come to an end.  Reaganism which started with such promise worked in its early years, but as it became guided by ideologues it lost the ability to adapt to the changing conditions of the world, and in the end it bankrupted the very economic explosion it had created by collapsing in on itself. 

Fukuyama worries that the greatest damage though is not the economic loss which is severe, but the loss of American prestige in the eyes of the world.  The nations of the world are watching how following American “cowboy capitalism”  has led to worldwide financial disaster.  America created a world economic system that was not sustainable, and now the world will have to suffer for this.  He points out that Russia, China, Venezuela and other nations are eager to step into the void created by the collapse of Reagan ideology.  The Reagan mantra that government is the problem has led to the government having to do the largest financial bailout in history to deal with a mess partially created by the failure of the government to regulate.  And to the surprise of the Reaganomic cheerleaders, deficit does matter – an ever expanding deficit is no more sustainable for the government than it is for families.  Fukuyama doesn’t spare the Democrats either for he blames them for failing to come up with candidates or a plan to address the problem which was becoming increasing obvious to many.

He also says that America’s other great idea and export – democracy – got hijacked by the current administration’s war on terrorism, and today when America says they are promoting “democracy” the world hears this as American hegemony.   As the world sees it the Bush administration used “democracy” as “a code word for military intervention and regime change.”

Personally in the next Obama-McCain debate, I would like to see NEWSWEEKS’  Fukuyama and Fareed Zakaria formulate the tough questions for the candidates to answer.  I would like to see some foreign policy questions that center on world economics, not just commander in chief issues.  The president of the U.S. still claims to be the leader of the free world, and that is an aspect of the presidency that seems to get ignored as foreign policy questions get shrouded in military overtones.  Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates has criticized “the creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy.   The president has to see and approach the world not simply as the Commander in Chief of the American Army, but also as the leader of the free world.   When American foreign policy focuses exclusively on its military (the one part of American foreign policy that seems to have no financial limits), is it any wonder that other nations – even our allies –  feel threatened by US?    

If Fukuyama is correct, the next president is going to have a lot of work in improving the image of the U.S. to the world, and this is not going to be accomplished by increased militarization, but by better foreign policy.

Is Freedom of Religion the Christian Way of Church & State?

When I look at Adam and Eve in paradise I’m always struck by the fact that there were so few rules, even though the possibility to sin must have been there.  For example, there were no stated rules about worshipping God, nor any rules forbidding murder, nor any rules forbidding talking to serpents let alone obeying them.

God appears to have been willing to let the humans make choices with little guidance from Him.   Only much later, after God saves the Israelites from slavery in Egypt does He lay down the law (Torah, teachings) to guide His chosen people.

And while the Torah offered the people a way to holiness, and to being more human, it could not save them.  In fact in his Epistle to the Galatians St. Paul argues that the Law didn’t save the Jews but enslaved them!   It is Christ who saves us by His crucifixion not only from slavery to sin and death but also from the Law (see also Colossians 2:14).

Whenever I listen to Christians insisting on passing and enforcing “Christian” laws in the U.S., I wonder whether we sometimes forget how we are saved – through faith in Christ – and whether we imagine that the way to save the world is through passing the right laws which will thus prevent people from sinning.   This I think is the Muslim attitude about God – we don’t need to be saved from sin, we need only obey God.  We don’t need Christ, we need the Koran.

I see nothing wrong with endeavoring to influence civil law through the legal democratic means which are our political inheritance.  On the other hand, I also know from history that monasticism came to power and influence not when the Empire was hostile to Christianity, but when Christianity became the imperial religion and the laws of the Empire became Christian law.   The men and women monastics understood that their salvation was not determined by the laws of the Empire and obedience to them, no matter how “Christian” those laws might be.  Civil law could not bring people to holiness.

The monks did not oppose the adoption of state laws that were supposedly Christian, but they did flee from them.  They endeavored to find ways to live the Christian life DESPITE living in a Christian empire.

Monks aside, most Christians in Byzantium lived under the rules of the supposedly Christian state.  And when that state was swept away in history, they endeavored to live their Christian lives sometimes under hostile or adverse rulers or anti-Christian rulers. 

All this tells me that there is nothing which prevents me from practicing my Christianity if I choose to do so, no matter what the laws of my nation say – and yes martyrdom is also sometimes the only way to remain Christian.   Whether my neighbors or country choose to follow a Christian morality does not determine whether I can or should be a Christian. 

Maybe living in a Christian nation isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be – that would seem to be the monastic movement’s message.   Maybe living in a free nation, where we can practice our faith to the full extent to which we desire is a better place to live than in a nation which attempts to impose a state enforced morality governing every aspect of life.

Obviously humans need laws, standards and a morality to enable us to live together as a society. It is also possible that at some point trying to enforce “Christian” laws for everyone becomes counterproductive.

In history, we can look at how many Coptic Orthodox welcomed the Arab Muslims to free them from the domination and oppression of the Orthodox Byzantine Empire. So too some Greeks thought the Turkish
Turban was preferable to the Pope’s tiara – they didn’t want to live under “Christian” domination: something for us to think about!  Our Christian ancestors who were privileged to live in an Orthodox Christian nation were not always enamored with that possibility.  The monks fled it, and Coptic, Arab and Slav Christians welcomed the opportunity to be freed of that most Orthodox Christian of nations.