Monday, October 25, 2010

If God Says Civil Government is Oppressive, Haughty, and Abusive, Why Do Religious Institutions Promote It Anyway?

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How many of us have heard those in the mainstream religious community, examining the purpose of government, say, “Government was divinely ordained or instituted by God for the purpose of punishing evildoers?” The obvious derivative to this mainstream conclusion is that we should obey, honor, and give reverence to ‘the powers that be’ because they are God’s ministers or servants doing the work of God. Those making this proclamation rely heavily on Romans 13:1-7 in arriving at what we believe to be an erroneous conclusion.

It is a great disservice to the reader to discuss the purpose of government, from a biblical standpoint, without first examining the nature of government, from a biblical standpoint. We also believe there to be no greater commentary on the bible than the bible itself and after examining the nature of government, from a biblical standpoint, the reader may want to revisit Romans 13 and determine if commonly held premises about the purpose of government still hold water. We contend that the mainstream religious institution’s bucket has a pretty large hole in it juxtaposed to what God says about the nature of government.

The most compelling biblical portrayal of the nature of civil government is found in 1st Samuel 8. God explains to Samuel what he is to tell the people who are begging for a king to rule over them. God’s description of civil government is not a flattering one nor does it portray civil government as being worthy of our honor, respect, or fidelity. The desire for civil government is described in simple terms as being rebellion towards God.

The account in 1st Samuel 8 contradicts the notion that government was ordained by God, at least in the classical sense the words ‘ordained’ and ‘government’ are commonly used and referenced today. There is certainly nothing divine about human government even though religious authoritarians would have you believe otherwise. And, even though we, as Americans, don’t live under a monarchy, God’s description of the nature of this form of government certainly seems to rhyme with much of what we’ve seen in world history and our own country’s history pertaining to the ongoing tyranny of civil or human government.

What miraculous transformation occurred in the nature of man, or the nature of government, between the old and new testaments that would justify the common rendering religious authoritarians have extrapolated from Romans 13:1-7? Did not God unequivocally state, in 1st Samuel 8, that a desire to be ruled by man is an outright rejection of Him? Would God institute or ordain something He disparaged in such a way, as depicted in 1st Samuel 8? We don’t think so. Neither do we accept the statist spin many religious institutions place on Romans 13:1-7. The mainstream religious institution’s rendering of Romans 13:1-7 would, by necessary inference, imply either that God lied to Samuel or that the Apostle Paul lied in his letter to the Romans. Even worse, is when their extrapolations make it appear that the Apostle Paul contradicted himself in Ephesians 6:11-12. Why would it be necessary to put on the whole armor of God to protect us from evil world rulers if they were ordained by God to be nicey-nicey? Does God ordain evil? If we were placed in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between the veracity of the Apostle Paul’s translated and seemingly contradictory words as opposed to the veracity and logic of God’s translated words, we would naturally be inclined to choose the latter over the former. God characterizes civil government, in 1st Samuel 8, as being evil and characterizes those seeking to be ruled by it as rebellious. We wholeheartedly agree.

Why are religious institutions promoting the fallacy that civil government is wonderful and good, in the shadow of God’s declaration to the contrary, and in spite of the civil government tyranny readily apparent to anyone willing to look out the window and observe what is going on in the world, at the moment, and what has transpired throughout history? Why do religious institutions continue to promote rebellion against God? We think we’ve found the answer to this most troubling question. If you’ve struggled with the meaning of Romans 13:1-7 and are a bit skeptical and weary of mainstream religious institutions who dutifully and exuberantly pull out their pom-poms and take you through the statist cheer every time this passage is discussed, you may be interested in reading our recently released book The END TIMES Hoax and the Hijacking of Our Liberty.
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9 comments:

kevin said...

I think you're on to something quite deep with your analysis. I've long suspected that Rom 13:1-7 has been largely misinterpreted and overworked.

What I've noticed over the years is that when a government is in power that we approve of, Rom 13 becomes a foundational concept of conservative Christians. Thus we had a heavy application of the passage during the Bush years, while it's largely fallen into conspicuous disuse now that a democrat is in office.

My opinion is that Pauls description of government is at best generic. What he's describing is good government--a ruler who commends the good and condemns the wicked. You'd have to dig long and hard in history to find occurences of that kind of leadership on a consistent basis.

King David was such an example, but when you read the accounts of his rule, you realize how rare it is.

The broader implcation of Rom 13 and of the Bible in general on the topic is that we are to submit to authority except where that authority clashes with our faith. That last part is where the controversy comes in, and I suspect it's what you're taking aim at in the post.

Logically, we can't say that all government--all authority--is good. If we believe that, then where do Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin fit in? Did God ordain them? Where they God's chosen rulers set over the people?

The contradiction there is beyond obvious, and clashes with another important passage of scripture: a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:24).

Many times, government has not merely been less than "holy", but it's been oppressive toward Christianity and other faiths. Rom 13 doesn't address this important point, but clearly it's addressed elsewhere in scripture and cannot be ignored.

Why do Christians find Rom 13 so comforting, even apart from when "our guy" is on power?

For one thing, we are called upon to submit to authority...so that it will go well with us! (1 Tim 2:2) Rebellion is not a very good witness to the world or to each other. For another, stiff authority is usually better than raging chaos. That's why we have authority in the first place.

But I think the biggest reason of all is the misguided Christian notion that the highest and best virtue is being a 'good neighbor'.

Often the desire to be seen in a positive light puts us in bed with unholy elements, especially when those elements are cloaked in some form of respectability, as authority is.

For example, where was the Church during the persecution of Jews in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s? For the most part, the maintream denominations went silent. It was more important to be good neighbors in the broader society than to stand up for what was right. Opposing the Holocaust would have put the Church in direct conflict with the State. Apart from the potential for Christians to be brothers in martyrdom with the Jews, this wouldn't fit well with the Good Neighbor policy.

Christians in Germany might have been able to do this with a clear conscience because they were bowing to the authorities; they were being good Germans--which is what all patriotic Germans wanted to be, Christians not the least of which. The desire to be- and be seen as patriotic was considered a higher virtue even than doing the will of the Father.

This is where I think believers run into problems, and where we may go soft on our faith as a way of appeasing and joining with the secular world. We can do it because we think we're doing the right thing--we might even be doing God's will. Utimately, that approach clears open the path of least resistance, a path we all want to take.

~ said...

Kevin,

Thank you for such a thorough and thoughtful reply to the ideas we presented in the article.

Christians should certainly desire to live peaceably with all men and to be ‘good neighbors,’ and, as you imply, kings, rulers, and others assuming positions of authority should not be denied our love and goodwill. This principle is unconditional as God or Christ is no respecter of persons. By necessary inference, we, too, should be no respecter of persons. We should, therefore, honor all men and not exclude the king or others in authority, as they are mere mortals just like the rest of us. We should honor and love the bread baker, the shoemaker, the candle stick maker, the carpenter, the longshoreman, the dope dealer, the policeman, the military industrialist, the terrorist, the prostitute, the bureaucrat, the politician, the president, the king, and the queen NOT for the sake of their societal position, occupation, or ranking, but for the mere fact they are made in God’s image. They may not always be doing the will of God, but, as humans, they are made in God’s image and deserving of our honor and goodwill on that basis alone. And, as you suggest, how well we accomplish this most important task determines the degree our example has a positive influence on others.

Unconditional love and honor for our fellow man doesn’t equate, however, with unconditional trust. Only God is deserving of our unconditional trust. Many Christians confuse the concept of love and trust and give an equal weighting to both and an unbalanced rendering of Romans 13:1-7, by religious institutions, has contributed greatly to this misunderstanding.

Conservative Christians (the religious right), as you’ve astutely observed, who’ve been somewhat on-again or off-again with Romans 13, contingent upon whether their guy or gal is in office or out of office, were preceded in biblical history by a Jewish sect commonly referred to as the Zealots. The message in Romans 13 was largely being directed at those zealots who were gearing up to take up arms against the Roman government instead of adhering to the more prudent advisory, earlier given by Jesus, of fleeing to the hills. The zealots of yesteryear and today share the same malady. That malady was a desire for a political kingdom of God here on this earth and one in which they would be at the top of the political power pyramid. We explain in our book why this political kingdom of God many modern day zealots are continuing to lust after isn’t going to happen.

Christ’s example of how we are to behave towards civil government is one largely of indifference. Christ largely ignored civil government and went about his business. We certainly can’t envision Christ stepping into a polling booth, going to a political rally, or running for political office. His kingdom is not of this world. His energies were spent for the kingdom of God. This fact, by logical extension, requires Christians to examine where they are spending their energies.

Christ’s example of how we are to behave towards those assuming unearned positions of authority in the religious realm, however, is a bit more interesting. Christ was viewed, by the religious authorities, as a rebel who didn’t submit to their traditions and rules. Otherwise, they would not have conspired with the Roman authorities to have him murdered. When the religious authorities begin conspiring with the secular authorities there is no limit to the amount of mischief that can be imagined and carried out in God’s name which, in our view, is tantamount to taking God’s name in vain.

continued...

~ said...
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~ said...

The desire for government is borne out of the desire for protecting our property. The classical problem in world history is how to have government protect our property without it becoming the plunderer of our property. In each and every case where man has unconditionally entrusted other men with the protection of their property, they wake up and find their protector has become their plunderer. There are no known exceptions to this phenomenon. The bottom line is that we should trust God unconditionally, not man. The common rendering of Romans 13:1-7, by religious institutions, erroneously places God as the originator or inventor of civil government and thereby lures the naïve into trusting government (man) unconditionally. Civil government is clearly an invention of man, as depicted in 1st Samuel 8, and should be viewed with skepticism, distrust, or indifference. Never should we revere an individual’s societal position or rank (as men pleasers or suck-ups), but instead we should honor all men as being made in the image of God.

Kevin, thank you, again, for the stimulating dialogue. This is a topic many are fearful of exploring. There is a tendency in all of us, as you pointed out, to take the course of least resistance and accept the status quo. Someone once said, “Taking the course of least resistance is what makes men and rivers crooked.”

Steven and Debra

kevin said...

I agree with all that you wrote in your response to my comment. But I think that this is a good time to take the case a bit farther.

You mentioned that Jesus was indifferent to the politics of the day--this is true. The easiest route for him to take, from a purely human standpoint, would have been to align himself with one of the popular political factions of the day. He didn't of course--he ignored them.

More significantly however, was the fact that the people and especially the Jewish leadership were so convinced that the messiah would be an eartly political leader that they completely missed him when he came. Yes, even the religious leaders, which should serve as a warning to everyone in the faith today.

They were so vested in the political angle that they were even opposed to the real Messiah when he came. This is what happens when you come to view the world through a certain lense; you miss the obvious because you've conditioned yourself to the point that you can't/won't/categorically refuse to see anything beyond your paradigm.

For this reason, I think it's critical for the believer to have at least some sense of detachment from the world. One of the "proofs" that Jesus was the messiah was precisely that he didn't fit the messiah mold that had been constructed by men. His very life (and death) were counterintuitive to all who expected an earthly deliverer.

This is what happens when we develop paradigms. If we're too deeply rooted in world, we can't help but focus our attention and place our trust in it, rather than in Jesus. We're as spiritually blind as those who should have known better 2000 years ago.

~ said...

Kevin,

We couldn't agree more. The point you made about paradigms is the pivot point to this entire discussion.

The nature of our paradigms, in our view, is largely determinant upon which of two basic views of religion or spirituality one embraces. If one holds to the view that they are human beings having a spiritual experience (the institutional model), on this earth, they are predominantly flesh oriented. If one holds to the view that they are spiritual beings having a human experience (the kingdom of God model), on this earth, they are predominantly spirit oriented. We realize the cliché sounds a bit New Age, but we’ve not discovered a more succinct way to put it.

It is this basic orientation, either to the flesh or to the spirit that determines where we spend our energies.

If individuals perceive themselves to be human beings having a spiritual experience, it facilitates compartmentalization and the holding of two opposing and conflicting paradigms at the same time. It allows one to talk their religion while failing to live it and without suffering any shame from their obvious hypocrisy.

If individuals perceive themselves to be spiritual beings, the world (the flesh) is of much less significance and there is much more congruity and harmony in their lives.

Thanks for great comments!

Steven and Debra

Danny S. said...

You guys couldn't have said it better.

And, by the way, I just can't agree with our government about anything anymore,knowing that government, in this country, and in all others around the globe, are completely controlled by big business, the global elitists and money masters who don't give a xxxx about the citizens of this country or any other.

It's truly sad that people in the church, usually proclaimed Republicans, will tell you to obey our president when their guy in is office (Bush), but now that it's Obama, they say we shouldn't follow him.

It's funny, sad really, but political parties are nothing but a facade created to form division of citizens; there really isn't any parties when it comes to the people who control our government and others around the world in the name of power and money.

So yes, put your faith and trust in God, and not government, controlled by evil men. I just wish people, especially Christians, would get a clue as to what is really happening in this world.

They talk about the anti-Christ and Satan controlling evil men, and say that the Bible is God's word. But, when the Book of Revalations is happening right before their eyes, they are too blind to realize that the current state of the world is completely biblical.

Danny

Kevin said...

Danny – The response, or I should say 180 degree turn, by conservative Christians in the aftermath of George W. Bush, has contributed mightily to my already strong non-political tendencies. I just don’t see any answers to our most pressing problems, nor does there seem to be any sort of unity by the people. The objective indication is that we’re collectively lost. We know we’re lost spiritually, but it seems clear we’re lost in other directions as well, including politics. What’s most troubling is the “faith” that so many have that the false god of politics is the answer to our problems.

I’d like to weigh in with a comment on Revelation though. For a time I believed that we’re right on the very edge of The End, and that all would play out approximately as the Left Behind series outlined. I’ve since changed my opinion.

The End Times could literally happen at any time—or not. That isn’t to go wishy washy on it, but rather to say that we don’t know. If you study history, there have been times of relative stability and times of relative chaos. While I think we’re closer to the latter right now, that doesn’t mean that the end is near.

From a Christian standpoint, whether or not the end is near, we’re to do what we’re always supposed to do, which is to trust God, proclaim Christ, and live to the best of our abilities in a fallen world. If we think that there’s a deadline in there somewhere—other than our own deaths—we might weary of the fight. We might also mistakenly assume we know how events will play out, and that could lead us in some poor directions.

I do believe that this is part of the political drive behind many (but by no means all) conservative Christians. There’s a sense that time is short and we—as in the nation—need to get right with God, and be prepared to stand with him in the fight against Satan and evil at the end. If you listen to some end times preachers you hear a loose message that America and Israel will stand with God, maybe as his armies, at the battle of Armageddon.

To get back to Steven and Debra’s original point in the post, I think this is contributing disproportionately to a certain type of participation in government by many believers, and it’s a perversion. If you hold to such a world view, the potential for aligning yourself with unsavory elements is enormous. Hitler understood and exploited apocalyptic language in his speeches and style of governance. He appreciated that people who felt threatened or insecure, were unemployed and disenfranchised or just felt out of the predominant loop could be easily manipulated by inferences of good-vs.-evil, or saving the world.

There are many people of secular orientation who thrive on the same inferences, but as believers we should know better. Being human, we don’t always.

Steven and Debra – I’m sorry if it seems I’m taking over this discussion, but as you know, it’s a flash point of mine.

~ said...

Danny S. - Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful comments.

Steven and Debra