Sunday, June 26, 2005

Caution: Politics AND Religion!

So, I was in church this morning. It is Sunday, after all. The sermon was an exposition of Judges chapter 18. My pastor has been on a lengthy series in Judges, and I'd guess he has another half-dozen Sundays to go in that book. As I listened to what he said, a couple of side thoughts came to me.

In recent years, I've been doing some extensive rethinking about the fundamental basis and justification -- or lack of justification -- of what I'll call the state. By "the state," I mean political government in any form, at any level. Obviously, this covers a lot of ground, and one state is very unlike another; but I'm thinking of a couple of fundamental things that they all have in common: a claim of moral authority from some source or other, and a related claim to a rightful monopoly on the use of force.

Statelessness (or anarchy) is a recurring theme in the book of Judges. Chapter 18 starts out like this: In those days there was no king in Israel ... , which is repeated at the beginning of chapter 19 as well. Verse 17:6 says, more familiarly, In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. To which might have been appended, I'd guess, the words "at best" -- I suppose it's likely that a lot of people were doing things that they knew weren't right, but were, perhaps, pleasurable or advantageous.

Back to chapter 18: after stating the kingless condition of the Hebrews, the chapter tells of the deeds of Micah, a thief (from his own mother!) and an idolator, who starts his own private little pagan religion and uses some of his ill-gotten wealth to hire a Levite as his pet priest. Eventually, some of his fellow Israelites from the tribe of Dan make the Levite a better offer, steal Micah's idols, and go set up shop somewhere else. The misdeeds described in the chapter are primarily ecclesiastical in nature, and that was the thrust of my pastor's sermon this morning.

But it got me to pondering. On the whole, the book of Judges is not especially cheerful reading for the anarchist. The Israelites are free of the state, and their behavior is quite beastly, for the most part; Judges presents a lurid catalog of brutality and wrongdoing, of theft and murder. But the Israelites did not remain stateless. Just two books over in the Bible (1 Samuel chapter 8), they demand a king, so that they can be just like the other nations of the earth, and God explicitly tells them what a terrible idea that is. They insist on acquiring a king, and the rest is history ... and, as usual, God is correct.

So, what's the answer? No state: bad. State: bad. What's the third choice? Or is there a third choice?

It seems to me that no one ever makes a really airtight argument for any political system -- for any "-ism." The anarchist seems to rely on the implicit assumption that everyone is rational, or at least that the reasonable people are more powerful than the wicked. The statist (meaning everyone who's either a Democrat or a Republican) implicitly assumes that the holders of the levers of state power are enlightened and well-motivated ... a notion not encouraged by history. The economic protectionist seems to think that Daddy Washington is un-bribable, and knows best for everyone; the free-trader has a similarly high view of Wal-mart's board of directors.

Where's our political salvation?

A Christian might say that man is corrupt and fallen, and that no system of man's devising is ever going to "work right." And he might recall the words of his master, who said (in John 16:33):

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.


TW said...

IMHO, no state is anarchy and anarchists plying their stock and trade make life much more difficult for the meek and anyone else they might hold some advantage over.

The same essentially applies to a totalitarian political system absent some sort of benevolent dictator. Of course, we all know what unlimited power does to a mere mortal.

If I had to choose a political system I think I'd tend to choose the one that is most in accordance with Godliness. God gives us free will and has already provided us with the proper guidance for living. A political system that provides as much free will as possible and that adhears to the guidance that has already been provided will in my estimation have the most success.

If the people are of good and moral stock they should have a fair amount of success governing themselves in some sort of democratic fashion.

I believe it was George Washington that said, "It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are the indispensable supporters. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

The longer I live the stronger my belief in these statements becomes.

Naturally there will be problems with even the most Godly system. Afterall, this is the good earth that is inhabited by mere mortals. It's not heaven you know?

Bartleby said...

Yes, "no state" is "anarchy," just as "Utopia" is nowhere. Statelessness is one of the many -isms for which, as I said, I have yet to hear a completely convincing case. the only thing an anarchist can claim is that his -ism hasn't ever really been tried on a large scale. The bloody history of statism, on the other hand, is well-established.

And you're right, again: this isn't heaven, not by a long way. From a biblical viewpoint, this world is totally temporary, just as the people in it are totally permanent. Perspective is a necessary thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm surfing a little tonight, and stumbled across this post, and it caught my attention.

This is a subject I've thought about a lot the last couple years, particularly since last summer when God woke me up one morning with these words: They wanted a king.

At the time, I applied it to the church I was attending that was acquiring a new pastor. That's proved to be prophetic, which is why it's a church I WAS attending.

A couple weeks later, I started hearing all the Messiah Obama stuff, and realized that it applied to our country, as well.

It seems to me that we in America had a chance to give people the freedom to choose Christ, to be led by the Holy Spirit, which I think is the best we could ask of human government. We blew it, of course, which is why this is a very tiny summary of the book I'm working on titled "They Wanted a King: when America rejected God."