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Back in 2001 on BreakPoint, Chuck Colson talked about a concept that would become a cornerstone of his Christian worldview teaching on government and politics.
That concept was “the political illusion”: the idea that government can create the good society and solve all our problems.
In the midst of this extraordinary presidential race, we thought it was time to hear Chuck on this topic again. And be sure to tune in next week, as John Stonestreet will share with us his thoughts on the election. Now, let’s hear from Chuck:
Congress recently shot down a constitutional amendment that would have required the federal government to balance its budget. In essence Congress said, We can’t do it. We can’t do what it takes to balance the budget.
It was a major admission of defeat. Politicians have been promising to fix the deficit for years. In 1976 both presidential candidates made promises to balance the books. But today the debt is bigger than ever, and growing. And it’s finally beginning to dawn on people that government is not able to deliver on a lot of its promises.
For most of us, that’s a hard lesson to learn. We instinctively turn to government to solve our social problems. It’s a habit reinforced from the time we’re young.
Listen to these quotations from the Teachers’ Edition of a fifth-grade social studies textbook.
“Today, when people lose their jobs,” the textbook says, “they can get some money from the government.” A few pages later the book says, “Today, families who do not have enough money for food can get money from the government.” And a few pages later we read, “Today families who cannot afford to pay their rent can get help from the government.”
The message is obvious: Government is the solution to every social need.
And here’s a quotation that sums it all up. It’s from a junior high civics textbook, explaining why the national government has grown so large. The book says that over time, “People were no longer content to live as their forefathers had lived. They wanted richer, fuller lives. They wanted the government to help make their lives rich and full.”
What is this book teaching kids? That government can make our lives “rich and full.”
This goes far beyond the traditional philosophy of limited government, in which the state is given only certain specified tasks, such as operating a police force and regulating traffic.
Modern societies have fallen prey to what political writer Jacques Ellul calls “the political illusion”: the idea that government is actually capable of creating the good life, the good society.