The Meaning of Righteousness

"Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense."  

- Henry St. John


"Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness."

- Romans 6:13

J. Budziszewski is a political philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin. A number of years ago he published on the web his detailed explanation of the differences between the liberal and conservative ideological perspectives. He wrote two different pieces and in each he identified what he felt was the error within each of the most significant facets in each perspective. He contrasted each notion with the way that he believes Christianity holds such considerations. Some of those things were reasonably accurate, and I like how he emphasized that Kingdom thinking is often radically different from World thinking. Some of his explanations, however, were quite simplistic or even qualified misconceptions. To his credit he did explain further in each section of his eloquent pieces, and to give him the best consideration those are here and here.

I share this because I have discovered that there isn't a single thing that is irrational. All things anyone does are completely rational. The issue is whether or not they are righteous. So many things people do are wholly unrighteous, but often people do things quite justified in that there is some substantive righteousness in them. In simpler terms, everyone believes they are doing something good whenever they speak or behave. When large groups of people come together with the intent to translate their "goodness" into some kind of public policy based on their righteous causes, whether liberal or conservative, there is some legitimately good reason to do that.

With that in mind, I've added my remarks. All of the following "errors" have the cited righteous aspect to them, wholly, fully authentically righteous  it is a truly good thing! The problem is that while each has a righteousness, much of it is unrighteous as well, as Budziszewski is articulating. My goal is to point out that if one looks deeply at any given perspective, he will discover much more about it than he previously knew, identify the genuine rationale behind it, and distinguish the righteous and unrighteous aspects of it however nuanced each may be.

We'll begin with the article Budziszewski wrote first, on liberalism, then further down you'll see the treatment of conservatism.


The "error" of liberalism Budziszewski's remark What is actually righteous about it




Propitiationism "According to this notion I should do unto others as they want; according to Christianity I should do unto others as they need." Because it is very hard to distinguish between wants and needs, it is often the proper thing to do to err on the side of graciousness. There may be a point where it is easy to identify where codependent enabling begins, but that is why the truest way to measure that is in Christ and by being immersed in His words and wisdom. It is righteous to acknowledge that we all do need at least a few of other people if we are to regularly thrive in our lives to some degree. The simplest example of this: we may work hard in our employment whatever that may be, but there must be some purchasing customer who provides our income. Essentially, we all do need others. Additionally, very few have problems with what we should all do with the young and elderly, the sick and injured. It has been much more disconcerting about what to do with the disabled or exploited, those who for whatever reason (not just physical) cannot earn an income as well as others, and this has been the case through the ages.
Expropriationism "According to this notion I may take from others to help the needy, giving nothing of my own; according to Christianity I should give of my own to help the needy, taking from no one." Helping others requires an investment. It is righteous to help others, but whose money and resources will be used? Isn't it just as righteous to solicit funds for that help? Why is it any less righteous to enlist government  an economy of scale and thus theoretically a lower-cost operation  to do that? Look at how many people say they're perfectly happy to pay taxes (and as such enthusiastically support the use of government force) to accomplish this.
Solipsism    "According to this notion human beings make themselves, belong to themselves, and have value in and of themselves; according to Christianity they are made by God, belong to Him, and have value because they are loved by Him and made in His image." We all acknowledge each of us is a self, with some measure of autonomy. It is how we are made, and is the basis for the meaning of relationship, discovery, and accomplishment as God wants us to feel connected to His joy and purposes. Yes, without God that gets really messed up, but having the most accurate perception of self is wholly righteous. When Jesus tells us to "die to self," He wants us to have that perception and from that we may truly live.
Absolutionism "According to this notion we cannot be blamed when we violate the moral law, either because we cannot help it, we have no choice, or it is our choice; according to Christianity we must be blamed because we are morally responsible beings." Deep compassionate expressions of mercy are highly righteous. Acceptance of the ways people behave rationally, however unrighteous, is healthy. The key is this also requires understanding of justice no matter how much people say they dismiss the meaning of temporal forces of justice, they don't. Punch a relativist in the face and he'll still call the police. He may be saddened very righteously indeed but he still cries for the most perfect justice to be executed, all the time.
Perfectionism "According to this notion human effort is adequate to cure human evil; according to Christianity our sin, like guilt, can be erased only by the grace of God through faith in Christ." It is quite ironic that all I ever seem to hear is revulsion at any attempts at reaching perfection. The truth is everyone very righteously wants their world to be perfect, even if they pronounce how perfectly imperfect they and their perspective of it want it to be. Even when an individual genuinely seeks God's very best in all things, he finds that God still uses frail and faulty humans to accomplish His ends, and that even the worst among us have some conception of achieving things for a higher purpose.
Universalism  "According to this notion the human race forms a harmony whose divisions are ultimately either unreal or unimportant; according to Christianity human harmony has been shattered by sin and cannot be fully healed by any means short of conversion." It is perfectly righteous to consider that all humans are made in the image of God, even more that Christ died for each individual on the planet through all of history. He is no respecter of persons. There are indeed those universals that apply to all, and very rationally considered by all. The trick again is to insightfully understand what things are universals and what things are particulars, or things in-between. It is also very righteous to hurt when accepting the very real and, yes, universal reality that there are at least some humans who stand condemned because of their unrighteousness.
Neutralism "According to this notion the virtue of tolerance requires suspending judgments about good and evil; according to Christianity it requires making judgments about good and evil." It hurts to think of the real condition of man, that he is indeed evil, and that just saying he has a "propensity" for evil doesn't really make it any better. It doesn't matter how evil is understood, defined, explained, it's still there. Most people are very righteously grieved by evil and repulsed by the laborious efforts to try to rationalize it away. On the other hand, seeking that which is truly good even when called "neutral" is also an exceedingly righteous endeavor. 
Collectivism           "According to this notion the state is more important to the child than the family; according to Christianity the family is more important to the child than the state." There are few things more righteous than to fully acknowledge that each of us needs others in some meaningful manner and substantive measure. Why wouldn't it be righteous to arrange all of that to best manage and conserve resources required for optimum living among all in family, community, and nation? The real question is which people are doing that? Are they working in the World System or in the Kingdom of God? And how can one know which is doing what in their proper role?            
The "error" of conservatism Budziszewski's remark What is actually righteous about it
Civil Religionism "According to this notion America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration; according to Christianity, America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more." Christians have a vibrant connection to the biblical narrative of God's work in communities through which He moves. They very righteously desire to replicate the best from the nation of Israel and New Testament church. They merely want to find ways to have some current expression of that community. It may be quite misguided to forcefully conscript others into a powerful group's cultural expectations, but working toward some civil religion is a perfectly rational response to this desire.
Instrumentalism "According to this notion faith should be used for the ends of the state; according to Christianity believers should certainly be good citizens, but faith is not a tool." People get nervous knowing so many around them would do awful things unless powerful law enforcement officers of some stripe are vigilant. There is a grounding for goodness that everyone acutely senses somehow no matter how "neutral" they try to be. Though it is tremendously foolish to try to make Caesar a follower of Christ (even though he often looks very Christian), the efforts to make bad people good are definitely not unrighteous.
Moralism "According to this notion God's grace needs the help of the state; Christianity merely asks that the state get out of the way." One of the most righteous principles of all is the meaning of the law. To the follower of Christ it is good to shine light on our sin out of that we can be free in Christ. To the World inhabitant it is good to be used by the state to crack heads as necessary, whether that head is yours (not so comfortable) or it is any other murderer, liar, or thief (much better!)
Caesarism "According to this notion the laws of men are higher than the laws of God; according to Christianity the laws of God are higher than the laws of men." The World inhabitant must have someone to follow if it isn't Christ. That followed individual will always be Caesar, despite the many avenues of temporal governance one must go to ultimately see him there. Caesar himself is instructed and manipulated by the ordained World operatives whose will he labors valiantly to do. Furthermore, the Catholicist a "Christian" living by the World will always respect, honor, and carry out Caesar's work quite righteously in the name of the law.
Traditionalism "According to this notion what has been done is what should be done; Christianity, however, though it cherishes the unchanging truths of faith, insists that any merely human faith may have to be repented." There is a reason familiar things are so appealing, compelling, and gripping. God made each of us to desire security; at the opposite extreme is the equally desired novelty. Many traditional things are very good, indeed righteous, things that move us to work hard at maintaining important and very legitimate security things. If we do indeed build our house on the rock instead of the sand, isn't it just as good to enjoy it many years after building it?
Neutralism "Whereas the liberal sort of neutralist exclaims, 'Let a thousand flowers bloom,' the conservative sort cries merely, 'Leave me alone.' Conservative neutralism is the notion that because everyone ought to mind his own business, moral and righteous judgments should be avoided. Christianity holds that [they] can never be avoided." It is righteous to desire righteousness that not only emanates from one's own being but is seen, recognized, and lauded by others. Each of us wants our own brand of righteousness derived from our own unique, innate character, and we'd like to believe it is not up for grabs, it is not subject to others' whimsical dismissals of it. It is even more important when we've had to work a bit to cultivate it through our lives. This principle means it is quite righteous to be suspicious of any government's judgment about our firmly girded righteousness, and people get quite nervous when the force of large government is employed against us in the face of the industriously bold sustenance of said righteousnesses, if you will.
Mammonism "According to this notion wealth is the object of commonwealth, and its increase even better; according to Christianity wealth is a snare, and its continual increase even worse." Money is legitimately used to measure value. The question really is, what is it that is truly valuable? Often money is an accurate reflection of that. But acknowledging that many sinful people in powerful places are in the mix of determining what value matches up with what money reveals the true nature of man and this issue. When followers of Christ are managing value, it is sowing into others by love. When World operatives are managing value, it is extracting from others by fear. Because so many only know of the latter, it is quite righteous to believe that increase of wealth is a bad thing.
Meritism "According to this notion I should do unto others as they deserve. With the addition of mammonism matters become even simpler, for those in need of help are by definition undeserving, while those in a position to help are by definition deserving. According to Christianity I should do unto others not as they deserve, but as they need." It is one of the most natural things to do: match up work with reward. In fact God made it that way; it is extraordinarily righteous! The things that make this very tricky are our deficiencies in accurately knowing those matches, as well as our woeful capacity to act on God's love in effectively caring for those who appear to have done less than others. Really, that's the issue: who's done what things that are actually valuable? We could try to break those things down into categories, indeed. But this relates to the greatest problem of all: when talking about our merits spiritually, what we really deserve to get is something no one wants. The follower of Christ knows well biblical meritism: Mercy - not receiving what we really deserve (death, hell, separation from God). Grace - receiving what we don't deserve (salvation, life, eternal bliss with God).


Jonathan Haidt is a psychology professor at New York University. One reason I assembled the above treatise is in response to his book The Righteous Mind. In it he does the very same thing Budziszweski does: attempt to work through the liberal and conservative perspectives.

Haidt does it this way. He breaks down the important commitments each individual has and measures the intensity of each depending on his/her ideological constitution. Those commitments are (for/against) care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/submission, sanctity/degradation. Most of his book involves analyzing these. For instance, he points out that liberals score very high in the "care/harm" area, and their political positions will put that above most of the other concerns.

While quite edifying, Haidt's work suffers from the typical error of all World scholarship. He is indeed being very rational, but because of his willfully poor thinking it is also very unrighteous.

First, Haidt is a Darwinist. As such he rejects God who has ultimate rule over all things and incisively judges men's hearts. Even though Haidt may believe in God, go to church, and do nice charitable things, his rejection of God is based on his clearly expressed commitment to an evolutionary paradigm as the explanation for the way man behaves, something all those in mainstream academia must pledge to do or suffer pedagogical demonization.

This is important because if God is meaningless (as He is in such a model) then nothing makes sense, and the concepts rational and irrational have no meaning because there is no firm grounding for that meaning. He echoes the standard behavioral economists' claim that there are all kinds of things people do that are irrational, but how can that be in an evolutionary model? Why is anything I do irrational when I naturally evolved into what I naturally do now anyway? No, I think the word Haidt is looking for is unrighteous.

The problem here is that this concept has no place in his system, because his system has no true, firm standard for goodness. Everything must then be righteous as well, and if that is the case then this term loses its meaning. When he speaks of the righteous mind it makes no sense, and as such he knows he can only really say that unsavory things are irrational, but this too makes no sense if God is effectively non-existent.

The giveaway is in his brief section titled "The Rationalist Delusion" where he spills his real impression all over the page. He dismisses reason wholesale declaring that it cannot be trusted (again the idea: people are hopelessly irrational) and instead champions intuition. Reason just leads us to deceptive rationalizations, he says, while intuition is where real identification of truthful things lies.

What is the truthful justification, however, for any given individual's intuition? Isn't reason employed to determine that? Yes, there are objectively truthful things, and I also believe intuition helps us see those things. The problem is that intuition is not the same as righteousness. All of our perspectives are irreparably messed up whether formed by cold logic or heated passion and we need God's perspective to make them right again. Without God, there is no way the highest human reasoning or deepest abiding intuition can guide us to the truthful, especially about what is most important of all: that which is righteous. Furthermore both reason and intuition are heavily exploited by World Operatives who for millennia have made mush of anyone not regularly reading, studying, and praying over Scripture.

While Haidt does share some genuinely insightful things about human behavior, the ultimate result is that he has nothing to say there's just nothing there when it all comes down to it. He does certainly spout the party line of all academics, that we need to see the good in everyone and try to find agreement and get along anyway. His conclusion is about being civil to one another, which is great, but why? He finishes with the pukifyingly weak (as it always is with these types of works) "We're all stuck here for a while, so let's try to work it out."

The real conclusion to what is really reality is that most civility is flimsy window-dressing and every single person very rationally wants to kick the crap out of one another. Those who straight-away dismiss this plain truth are abjectly fooling themselves and wallowing in their mucky prisons of denial. The only righteous thing one can do is acknowledge this, turn to Christ who is the only Righteous that matters, and then experience the blinders coming off to see why and how people act the way they do insightfully, comprehensively, righteously.

In brief, every perspective, every one of them, has profound righteous dynamics in them. What is the big deal, then? Those living by the World still hold on to their sin contaminating any righteousness they claim to embrace or labor to manifest. They use the law to try to justify themselves (perfectly rational, thus the more accurate term "rationalize") and the World System is authoritatively mobilized to arrange this.

The Kingdom way is to abjure that realm, drop oneself into the arms of Christ unconditionally (He accepts no other way), and enter into community to sow His love, truth, grace, and power by Him and for all. It is then and only then when whichever truthfully and vibrantly righteous aspect of liberalism or conservatism finds its most bountiful expression. "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."




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More about the Catholicist Nation


Extraction by Fear


Why Jesus is the Only Righteousness


How to Have Righteousness Reign in a Community


Epiphany About the Irrational  |  Economic Rationality


(The closing verse in the last paragraph above is from the tenth chapter of the letter to the Romans.)






This page was originally posted by David Beck at on August 18, 2012