James Madison, in the Federalist Paper #51 says: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." He concludes that since neither is the case we must have governments and that they must have a system of checks and balances in order to function well. In effect, he is saying that since we are not divine, and therefore can't be counted upon to always do what is right, we need a government. At the same time, since those who govern are also not divine, we must have a system of checks and balances to keep them from abusing their power. Alternative political parties, other branches of government and regulatory agencies fill this role in society. Madison goes on to say that "experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." There are too many people throughout history who have abused their position in government for Madison to be optimistic about the future.
Reading between the lines, we see that he views man as sinful and unable to be trusted to do what is right. As we look at the recent debacle over the financial bailout, hs words appear almost prophetic. While we can't blame everyone, some are guilty of misconduct. There are rumors of books being cooked, congressmen receiving larg sums of money from Fannie Mae, excessive bonuses being paid out, Wall street dishonesty and extravagant trips on the part of CEOs. Avarice, greed and corruption have played important roles in the failures. Those who should have been providing oversight didnt'. Those in power abused the privilege to govern wisely that had been granted to them. The system of checks and balances that we had in place didn't work. We can ask why?
The society in which we live has strived diligently to isolate anything religious from the public square. We are now beginning to see the results. Ethical responsibility and public morality have gone by the wayside. It is every man or woman for themselves. As John Mark Reynolds noted in a recent Christianity Today article "Without morality on the individual level, no laws, contracts, or rules will help our society. Bad men will always find a way to cheat." Without a moral sense, there is nothing within a person to which he can hold himself accountable. The only deterrent becomes the fear of getting caught. As one's power and prestige increase even the fear of exposure diminishes. This leads to the corrupting atmosphere that we see today in government and in politics. As our society continues to lose its moral stance, there will be less and less to keep people from acting badly.
There is a legitimate reason for religion to be involved in the public square. It promotes the rule of law which is historically based on both reason and the moral law of God. It acts as a deterrent to the abuses of power and the excesses of evil. Having the awareness that an all knowing, all seeing God in Heaven is acutely aware of our thoughts and deeds also helps us to examine our own lives. It points to the reality of sin in our lives, requiring us to deal with it.
In addition to casting blame of those who caused the economic meltdown, we need to examine ourselves. Have we taken advantage of others or misused our own power? Are we living the same ethical and moral life we desire our leaders to follow? Or have we done many of the same things they have done, only on a much smaller scale?