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The Perfectibility of Man
Holding a constrained vision in government but an unconstrained vision in theology and private morality.
I’m currently reading Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, and I had an intriguing realization that I hold what he would consider a constrained vision when it comes to government and earthly institutions but an unconstrained vision when it comes to the power and majesty of God's plan for his children.
I do, in fact, believe in the idea of the perfectibility of man, that each individual can proceed line upon line, precept upon precept, toward greater understanding and virtue. This falls into an unconstrained vision of human nature. But this view is tempered by the principle of rendering unto God that which is God's and unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.
Man cannot perfect himself. Human nature is fallen and corrupt. The natural man is an enemy of God. Human nature, as a whole, is not variable or perpetually improved from generation to generation. Every human being ever born begins at generally the same starting point, a fallen creature.
Light cannot come from darkness. Light must be shed upon darkness from a source of light. When man enters into light, he partakes of virtue and starts down the path of perfection by entering into God's kingdom. And His kingdom is not of this world.
And not even with God is perfectibility a mass project. The Great Plan of Salvation is really a host of plans, one for each of God's children, with no two plans alike. Each living soul must work out their own destiny with fear and trembling, exercising their agency as they are prompted by the competing voices of the holy spirit and their own fallen nature. Each person must choose to accept the gospel path.
Men are not cogs in a gospel machine, churning out perfected disciples automatically, repeatedly, and without variation. God approaches each of His children as individuals, a loving Father who knows each of us as the unique creations we are and exhorts us in ways unique to each of us.
The purpose of government, then, in the matter of the perfectibility of man, is largely to get out of God's way. We have no wisdom, we have no insight, we have no independent light of our own that can approach an inkling of God's. No government program, no policy measure, no basis of legislation can imitate the gospel path or stand in for God's kingdom.
And the more we try to turn men into constructs of their government, the more we try to push and prod people toward our limited sense and understanding of virtue through the coercion of law, the more we will be frustrated in our designs, for, again, we have no independent light of our own to shed upon the darkness of our own nature.
The more we try to play God, the more we stand in the way of God's plan, a plan built upon the agency of man and the way He sees to the care of each of His children uniquely and based upon freely choosing His gospel path.
Virtuous society and the perfectibility of man rely upon the ends of government being nothing more and nothing less than establishing the sovereignty and liberty of free people. Only then can the spirit of God act upon men uninhibited and unfettered. Only then can men be free to act according to the dictates of their conscience and freely choose the unique paths God has prepared for them.
Justin Stapley received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Utah Valley University, with emphases in Political Philosophy and Public Law, American History, and Constitutional Studies. He is the Founding and Executive Director of the Freemen Foundation as well as Editor in Chief of the Freemen News-Letter. @JustinWStapley
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