Saturday, October 24, 2009

Keeping It Local, Part 1: America the Divine

The bull session that inspired my post on stoning also brought up the issue of the nature of the community that would be involved in stoning. A later post will deal specifically with the social structure needed for such a biblical community, but this post will deal with what I take to be the misconception that prompts that question and, I hope, plough the soil for the idea of life based in small communities.

A recent e-mail critical of my view on stoning ended, “Long live the Republic.” Though a product of government schools, my correspondent is truly appalled by Uncle Sam’s intrusion into the lives of his fellow citizens and hankers to return to the days when the government served the people with justice in a way that matched somewhat the description in Romans 13. He freely admits that when many or even most of his neighbors fly Old Glory they mean by it support for things as they are (abominable as they may be), not things as he wishes they were; nonetheless, he considers Old Glory’s presence proper not only on his porch but in the church sanctuary. In short, he believes in the legitimacy of the nation.

I have problems with this view. The first is historical. It conflates the Declaration of Independence with the Pledge of Allegiance by way of the Gettysburg Address. “Fourscore and seven years” before Lincoln spoke, the fathers did not “[bring] forth on this continent a new nation.” They claimed, rather, “These united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states” like “the state of Great Britain.” A “free and independent state” is free to leave any federation of which it is a part, but those that chose to leave in 1861 found out that they were not free. So my friend’s “Republic” is one top-down imperialist nation, not the original federation of independent states it started out as. I should want such an entity to live long?

(As Lysander Spooner has pointed out, the Constitution was either designed to bring about what we see today or was unable to prevent it. The paradigm shift came during the war to prevent Southern secession: is it not ironic that those who seceded viewed themselves as shooting foreign invaders but those who fought to prevent secession thought of themselves as shooting fellow citizens? Remember that when Robocop comes to your neighborhood.)

The second is practical. With over 300 million people in this nation, how can any one person claim to have a voice in public policy? Take education, for example: If your school or school district consists of twenty families and you’re the only one who believes in, say, teaching young-earth intelligent design alongside old-earth naturalistic evolution, you only have to convince ten other families before your desires become policy. Every time you add a digit to the number of families in the policymaking pool, you multiply tenfold the difficulty of standing against the tide, something Christians should expect to have to do on a regular basis (Mt 7:13).

The third is theological. I find it significant that his salute was “long live the Republic” and not something like “for Christ and his kingdom.” The idea that Uncle Sam is somehow the special apple of God’s eye is presumptuous at best and otherwise blasphemous. For example, how can any Christian sing “The Stars and Stripes Forever” without blaspheming the God who said, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Is 42:8)?
Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.
Only Christ’s kingdom will last forever. To claim that our nation was founded on the right and might of humans is to repeat Nebuchadnezzar’s boast (Da 4:30). Yet whenever the Marine Band plays this song, Christians and non-Christians alike rise (as in the presence of deity?) to sing it.

In short, my bull session friends assume that the need a national- or even province- (“state-”) level community. They don’t see that they have fallen not only for a bait and switch that strips them of the life, liberty, and property that a godly order would permit them but into rank idolatry. They are looking to an idol for what only the Lord can provide. Part 2 of this post will sketch out that provision.

A Reader Responds and I Respond Back

From my private e-mail account:

Couple comments on the post: Let's stick with normal everyday murderers and capital punishment, not cases where government abuse is obvious or suspect.

Secondly, have you read Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics ? If not I suggest you get this. Take a look at chapter 19, The Civil Magistrate in the NT and see where he treats Rom 13. Also, there is a section on the civil magistrate in the WCF.

In a nutshell, he will say that Rom 13 does not give carte blanche to the civil authorities. He will take a Lex Rex position. And you know that us Reformed Americans like the doctrine of the lesser magistrate when the Lord and King gets too big for his britches.

As far as capital punishment, the description as "hired executioner" is colorful but a bit flamboyant and inaccurate. Since you and I can't wield the sword unless we are appointed we can't execute. A representative of the people is appointed for this. We are all saying to him, "throw a rock for me" whenever a jury (who also represents us) says someone has committed murder (with witnesses beyond a reasonable doubt).

For the sake of discussion, I want to turn Jesus' words around 180 degrees from the Sermon on the Hill when he says, about loving our enemies, that we need to be perfect as our father is in heaven. Let's suppose he is talking about God's wrath that included the death sentence for Noah's world minus 8, Sodom and G, the cleansing of Canaan, future destruction of the world of the living and an eternal state of death in hell. Suffice it to say that God is in favor of capital punishment, and I know you agree.

How can we in the 21st century "be perfect like our father in heaven" in this regard ? Don't we want a way to consistently administer death for murderers ? I assume we are agreed on that. Capital punishment is required for justice. It also serves as a deterrent. Are we agreed on this ? If so, what we need is a way to implement it. Stoning is one way. A bit crude.

Tell me why you insist on that method. Is it simply a way to make it a community event ? Although it was the most usual way of execution, there were other methods like a sword and either an arrow or spear. I mention this as it shows that someone can be appointed as an individual to execute.

My response:

Thanks for reading my rant and responding. We are agreed that justice must be administered consistently (that is, I think you mean that what is administered must consistently be just) and that capital punishment is a deterrent (though I agree with Lewis that its primary function is to administer justice to killers and keep them from killing again; executing innocent people “for murder” would be a deterrent, but it wouldn’t be just).

I read Theonomy in Christian Ethics in 1980 and donated it to a Christian college library when we left PNG. It’s been a while. If it’s on North’s site, I’ll download it and read the section on the civil magistrate if you think I’m really off the wall.

It’s the “lex rex” hermeneutic that makes Romans 13 so hard to take at face value. It’s like Jesus’ statement that we are to hate our parents and 1 John’s blanket black-and-white statements about who is saved and who isn’t. By the time you make explicit what Paul was implying, the result looks like those verses in the Koran that are half parentheses. Paul and Peter were writing to people who had no hope of ever influencing society. They was trying to keep their readers from being killed needlessly. They knew the people in power were murderers and were reminding their readers that God would work through the situation whether through life or death. A statement that state execution is morally preferable to community execution those passages aren’t.

I don’t know what a hired person is if not someone who takes money from A to do things for A. You’ve delegated the actual hiring process (i.e., the name on the time card and pay check) to a faceless system populated by people you don’t know and can’t install or remove, but your approval of that system tells me it’s essentially as voluntary as if you were saying “throw a rock for me” to the executioner’s face. Your use of “is appointed” is important here, as it leaves unspecified who is responsible for the appointment. Why on earth you would prefer to delegate your responsibility to an entity you can’t control is beyond me: usually freedom (i.e., control) and responsibility go together, but you seem to prefer responsibility without freedom. The only explanation I can come up with is that you don’t think your responsibility for evil done by the system you support will cost you anything: There’s no purgatory, and your pardon was purchased in full at Calvary, so what if innocent people die? Let God sort ’em out.

Stoning is “a bit crude”? Whose idea was it? If it was moral then, would it be immoral now? On what basis? It seems to me that Bahnsen’s whole point was that the giving of the law between Egypt and Canaan was God building a society from the bottom up: “If you want to know what God’s idea of an ideal society is, read the Torah.” (OK, I’m putting words in Bahnsen’s mouth, but it’s not that far off, given how many times he quotes Ps 19:7 and Mt 5:18 in that book.)

I’m not in favor of stoning because it would be a community event, but I find the community nature of stoning an attractive side effect of obedience, sort of like having a happy, cuddly wife if I don’t chase other women.

God doesn’t call (most of) us to be lone rangers (though there are the occasional Eljahs); he calls us into a body, where we are to be members one of another. Yet I’m sure you’ve heard Christians quote Acts 4:34-35 to support socialism: they don’t know the difference between Christian voluntary community and state coercion. I suggest that “throw a rock for me” is to godly justice what the welfare state is to Christian community.

The bitter fruit of the Industrial Revolution is that we live in neighborhoods, work at jobs, and go to church with strangers. Not only do we not know their names, we really don’t care what happens to them. I’m as guilty as anyone. But the godly ideal is community. Why is that so repulsive?

I have a hypothesis that the Industrial Revolution as we know it would have been impossible without the state. I know the state subsidized the railroads; there’s every reason to believe it also subsidized the steel mills and other entities that made the owners rich and put so many people in mind-numbing jobs. My evidence apart from the railroad subsidies is from John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education, where he quotes documents from the Robber Barons, where they use their influence on the state to bring about an education system that was designed to produce students who knew enough to work for the Man but weren’t creative enough to start competitive enterprises and who were comfortable standing in line, being regimented (literally, in 1917), and doing what they were told. The revolving door between taxpayer dollars, researchers who affirm the need for more state power to fight global warming, and the politicians who are thereby empowered and fund more of the same research is that same melody with different lyrics.

Whatever the state does in the name of X eventually ends up destroying X, whether it be building community, making us safe from foreign enemies, making health care affordable, or educating children. It’s usually no problem to get Christians to agree that this or that X has been destroyed by those “whose job it is [= who are appointed]” to make it right. But for almost 30 years, I’ve heard those who decry any or every possible X balk at what seems to me to be a logical conclusion: the problem is the state, by which I mean a system in which some people Y are allowed to do things that people Z aren’t at the expense of Z, a condition forbidden by Deuteronomy 17. You’ve delegated domestic public safety to the state: how willing are you to let a preteen granddaughter walk a mile to a friend’s house alone on a regular basis? So why are you so hostile to the alternative?

If you need a biblical example, I can only offer Israel from Samuel to Nebuchadnezzar. Every argument I’ve ever heard in favor of the state is there in 1 Samuel 8 and 12, and everything they set up the monarchy to achieve came tumbling down because of the evil of the kings.

On the Train Home

“Where are you headed?”

“Glenside. I’ve never been up this way, and I can’t see the station signs.”

“I know Glenside. I’ll let you know when we get there.”

“Is that where you get off?”

“No, I go to Lansdale, but I have gotten off there to meet clients.”

“What do you do?”

“I edit academic papers for international students. My first clients were Africans and Koreans at a seminary near Glenside. /// So are you from DC?”

“How did you know?”

“Your Howard University sweatshirt. What are you studying?”

“International business.”

“Whoa! So what does an international business major do after graduation?”

“I’ll probably get a job with the Department of State or Department of Commerce.”

“Sounds more like international politics than international business.”

“Yeah, and if Obama’s still in power, I may not be able to get into the system at all.”

“Why, are you a dissident?”

“What do you mean?”

“It sounds like you are not one of the ninety-something percent of blacks who voted for Obama.”

“I’m not. Actually, I’m not an American. I’m Venezuelan.”

“Really? My stepmother’s Venezuelan. I’ve spent two weeks in your beautiful country.”

“Around Caracas?”

“Mostly, though I went to Maracaibo—”

“They have great cheese in Maracaibo.”

“Hmm. When I was there, oil was the big deal. I also went to Mérida and Valencia. And Canaima.”

“I don’t know that.”

“It’s a tourist trap down by Angel Falls.”

“I’ve been to Puerto Ordáz.”

“I spent a few hours there on my way to Canaima. So you’re not a fan of Obama.”

“No, I’m not.”

“I was sitting next to a guy with an Obama hat yesterday, and it was all I could do not to ask him, ‘So what do you like best about Obama? The wars or the bailouts?’”


“I take it you’re also not a Chavista.”

“You’ll be surprised. I think Hugo Chávez is just what Venezuela needs.”

“How so?”

“When he took power, over 90% of Venezuelans lived in poverty. He has done a good job of spreading the wealth. So, I like Hugo Chávez, and I think the next president of the United States should be a Republican.”

“I’m actually less surprised than you think. In the name of helping the poor, Bush centralized power, bankrupted the economy, and enriched his friends, which I assume is what Chávez has done. So I see no contradiction there at all.”

“Um, is this Glenside?”


“Well, this has been … interesting.”

“Enjoy an arrepa for me.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Public Stonings and Hired Executioners

Someone else’s generosity made it possible for me to go on a retreat with some men from my church last weekend. After living I hate to think how long in a feminine atmosphere at home and a predominantly feminine atmosphere at work, it was good to be out in the woods with guys, playing table games, chowing down with abandon, taking a hike, and opening the Bible.

And, of course, before long yours truly was in a bull session, literally and figuratively across the table from four guys whose shoelaces he isn’t fit to untie, discussing what to do with miscreants, specifically murderers. It was a landslide victory for Leviathan: eighty percent said, “The state does not bear the sword in vain,” and only twenty percent said, “The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people.” Finally, one of the victors asked, “What’s the difference between me joining the community in stoning a man to death and delegating the job to the state? The guy dies either way, and I’m still responsible.”

My first answer is that one needs to have an exegetical, systematic reason for annulling the explicit instructions given in the Torah. As my earlier posts and the comments thereto show, Romans 13:1-7 is so difficult to take at face value that it does not qualify as such.

The second is that we become blasé about murder when we delegate execution to the state. If we have rocks in our hands, we have to consider thoroughly whether the evidence convinces us that we are acting justly, but if the deed takes place out of sight, we have every reason to keep it out of mind as well. How many US Christians today care whom their government kills, for what, and how? Was the evidence against Gary Gilmore or Timothy McVeigh, let alone the Branch Davidians, Randy Weaver’s wife, or the drug runners the Peruvians thought they were shooting when they killed Veronica Bowers and her infant, really enough for those who took their lives to say that God would back them up? Would you have killed them out of obedience to God if you had had to do it yourself?

When our current president was at the peak of his popularity, most conservative Christians (I heard discuss him) considered him the most evil president we have ever had. Yet when he ordered bombs dropped on a country we were told was an ally and babies died as a result, I heard no conservatives say this was proof of his evil.

To play a variation on a tune by Barry Goldwater, a government that’s powerful enough to kill all your enemies is powerful enough to kill all your friends. When it comes to life-and-death situations, I want the ball in my court. If I’m going to be sorry to be responsible for someone’s death, I want to know it as soon as possible, before the guilt can compound, if possible before the convict dies, and best of all, before the murder is committed: “Joe, having to stone your son for murder would be the low point of my day. Teach him God’s ways before he does something we’ll all regret.”

Obviously, if everyone in the US had to deal with every murder case, we’d never get anything else done. This is why power needs to be as local as possible. But that’s a subject for another post.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cording the Moabites

[Text of a sermon delivered at the Meadowood retirement center, October 11, 2009]

David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live. So the Moabites became subject to David and brought tribute. (2 Sa 8:2)

I don’t like this verse. It makes David sound like a despot who throws his weight around stealing from people and killing arbitrarily. If this is the “man after God’s own heart,” I certainly don’t want to worship that God. He can threaten me with eternal hellfire and get me to kowtow and grovel with the best of them to avoid it. But that’s not the kind of worship the God of the Bible wants. The worship God wants from me is for me to say from my heart that he is good. And when I read this verse, my first reaction is to say that whatever god led David to do what he did is not good. But I want to think of the Bible as the word of a good God. How can I do that?

The first watchword of biblical interpretation is context: be sure to read any passage in its context. Maybe I can get some help here. Well, the preceding verse says that David defeated the Philistines, but nothing about the Moabites. The preceding chapter describes God’s revelation to David that he would be king and David’s prayer of response. No help so far. In fact, the last time Moab is mentioned at all, we find the Moabites giving refuge to David’s father and mother (1 Sa 22:3-4). (Remember that David’s paternal grandmother, Ruth, was an immigrant from Moab.)

In the broader context, we find Balak, the king of Moab, opposing the Israelites after they had left Egypt on their way to the promised land. But I can understand his concern that this horde would take away all their food (Nu 22:4). I can also see why, after he had seen what they did to the Amorites and the people of Bashan, he would choose to have Balaam curse them and, when that didn’t work, lead them into sexual immorality. So, while I can sympathize with their instinct for self-preservation, we have here our first clue about the nature of the Moabites: they were sexually immoral. In fact, they were named after their forefather, whose name proclaimed that he was a child of incest (Gn 19:37).

Then we read this: “Elisha died and was buried. Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring” (2 Ki 13:20). While this was many years after this action by David, let’s assume that the Moabites had practiced banditry all along. After all, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, [and] theft” (Mt 15:19). We know Moab was a sexually immoral society. It’s not unreasonable to assume that they not only practiced theft and murder, they approved it. “Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Ro 1:32). If David was dealing only with the raiders themselves, and if the wages of all sin is death, then David was giving two-thirds of them no worse than they deserved.

However, it could also be that he actually went into Moab and laid out the women and children who had “support the troops” bumper stickers on their ox carts. In that case, and if God approved of his actions—and there not even a hint of disapproval here—we need to stop looking down our noses at David’s actions and start having concern for ourselves.

I don’t need to tell you that we live in a sexually immoral society. You know what you would see if you chose ten television channels by a roll of the dice and watched them for six minutes each. The humor in sitcoms is sexual. The advertisements are for things to make you sexy. You know who the hero and heroine of dramas are because they have extramarital sex. The most interesting news segments are sex scandals. Or you could stand in front of a magazine rack for ten minutes. Try to find a teaser that glorifies what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy, or people who are patient, kind, interested in others’ welfare, humble, well mannered, self-effacing, forgiving, protective, trusting, hopeful, or perseverant. You might find some, but you’ll wade through a lot of slime before you do.

I must confess that this is the pot calling the kettle black here. I remember deciding when I was in sixth grade that I wasn’t going to be the kind of guy that asked girls out just to see what I could get off them. And as I went through the dating years, I thought I was living up to that decision. But now that I look back from forty years on, I have to admit that though what I was after was tame even by the standards of the day, that’s exactly what I was doing. And there’s more of that lusty youth walking around today than I care to talk about. So if God hates sexual immorality, I’m in trouble.

Moab was also a violent society, and so is ours. Just think of the word infanticide. There is no murder more heinous than infanticide. When the psalmist wanted to curse his Babylonia oppressors, he cited their infanticide: “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Ps 137:8-9).

Our society has been proudly killing babies since at least the 1840s, when Uncle Sam marched the Cherokee from their homes in North Carolina to Oklahoma in the dead of winter and thousands of babies died. George Custer went to the Little Big Horn to kill civilians, including babies. The carpet bombings of Dresden and Tokyo targeted babies, and Uncle Sam is the only entity in the history of the world to target babies with atomic weapons.

Is the pot calling the kettle black here, too? Absolutely. I cheered when the cowboys killed the Indians on TV when I was a kid. The highlight of my week in sixth grade was Friday night, when they incorporated clips from the carpet bombings into the story lines of Twelve O’Clock High. During the first Gulf War, I was disappointed that I couldn’t watch the bombings on the evening news because we were overseas. If I had known at the time that Rush Limbaugh was playing “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iraq” (“Bomb Iraq / Get Kuwait back”) on his show, I would have sung along. When after that war Bill Clinton announced sanctions against Iraq to make life so miserable for the citizens that they would overthrow Saddam, I thought it was a great idea. (The overthrow never happened, but half a million women and children died from the sanctions. I didn’t know about it at the time, but if I had known, I wouldn’t have cared.) After 9-11, I was ready to nuke some Muslim city in retaliation, and if another attack had happened here, I would have been in favor of nuking every Muslim city from Morocco to the Philippines. When I found myself awake when Shock and Awe was scheduled to begin the invasion of Baghdad, I turned on the TV so I could (finally!) see some action. So I’ve not only dropped bombs on children, I’ve done so not from a position of vulnerability in the cockpit of an airplane but from the safety of my living room. I’m not only a murderer, I’m a coward. And I suspect I’m not the only one in this nation.

So if Jesus Christ, David’s greatest son, were to treat me as I deserve, he could well begin by laying me out on the ground along with the rest of this immoral and violent society. And if I were one of those two-thirds who were under the wrong cord, I would die—no worse than I deserve.

This passage is a picture of our salvation. Those of us who belong to Christ are no less deserving of death and hell than those who do not: all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. Yet he chooses to have mercy on some people: he says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” He tells us of a man who was justified because he prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Yet I’m sure that there were those among the Moabites who begged for mercy to no avail, so I assume it is not the act of asking for mercy itself that somehow brings mercy forth. After all, how can anyone ask for mercy out of anything other than the same self-centeredness that causes one to sin in the first place?

Yet Jesus says that he will not cast out anyone who comes to him, and he commands us to live lives that get our neighbors’ attention so we can tell them the good news that he died so that the sins of his people could be forgiven. So I am here to tell you that we are a violent and immoral people. We deserve death and hell. Yet, according to the Bible, he has commanded me to tell you that if you call out for mercy and accept his gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, he will have mercy on you. He will save you not only from the consequences of your sin but from that sin itself. He will work in your heart through his Spirit, teaching you to hate it and giving you the desire and eventually the power to overcome it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize was just given to a guy who bombed babies in a neutral country within hours of becoming president, a guy who puts thousands of poor people in jail for an activity he admits to engaging in ("Of course I inhaled---that's the whole point") but never did jail time for, a guy who has taken money from the unborn and given to the richest people the world has ever seen.

(To the tune of Mahler's minor-key parody of "Frere Jacques": "He's a murderer! / He's a hypocrite! / He's a thief! / He's a thief!")

What's really scary is that the leaders of the anti-this guy crowd, two Evangelical Christians associated with the governorship of states at the beginning of the alphabet, also supported the bombings and the bailout and support the jailing. In this city on the hill, the people are home, but the lights are out.

I seem to remember an old coot with two short names saying that all these things were wrong. He even claims to be a Christian, but Jesus' people ignore him. What was his name again?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bad Guys

I’m a bad guy.

Telling you more than that would be too much information for you and for those who know my situation best, but if you knew, you would say, “E-e-e-w! How can you call yourself a Christian?” To which I reply that the Bible promises forgiveness for those who ask for it through Christ. My salvation is as only sure as those words. Otherwise, I will be spending eternity in well-earned torment. Or there’s no god and nothing ultimately matters.

I’m presently feeling most acutely my failure as a father. I was shown up yet again by, of all things, a baseball broadcast. A foul ball went straight back into the stands, where it was caught by the father of a girl about four years old. He gave the ball as a prize to his daughter, who promptly turned around and threw it back down onto the field. You could see for an instant that the father felt the loss of a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir, but he immediately gave his daughter a big smile and hug. That event has since been replayed as filler more often than any play made on the field all season and is destined to become a cliché for parental forgiveness. (Less known is that the thrown ball wrecked the laptop computer of a fan in the lower deck.)

When my son was that age, I bought a cheapo handheld cassette tape recorder to take to the village to record language data. He made some childish mistake and damaged it—I think it was still usable—soon after we arrived in the village. I can still remember him cowering on my bed while I stood over him and vented my fury. He may eventually have gotten an apology, but I don’t think he ever got a hug.

It is in that light that I share a recent conversation I had with a certain Army captain who has just graduated from a military intelligence school. When I asked him what he had found most interesting, he responded that the most interesting things were things he couldn’t tell me, but he had enjoyed learning how the Army identifies the “bad guys” and gets hold of their plans.

We know what he meant by “bad guys”: Iraqi insurgents. Now, my gratitude for our government is perfunctory at best (until I look around at the alternatives), but I would have a difficult time loving, say, the Chinese if they were to kill my wife or child “liberating” me from it. It is cowardice more than principle that would keep me from joining an insurgency against my purported liberators. So I don’t necessarily consider Iraqi insurgents bad guys.

Then came the real whammy: “What made the whole five months worthwhile was the final exercise, where we pretended we were Germans who had successfully invaded Britain in World War II. Our job was to put down the insurgency.”

Let me back up. There was a Saturday years ago when, instead of spending time making pleasant memories with my children, I joined a bunch of guys for a game of Diplomacy, where you play the role of ambassadors and politicians. After a couple of hours, it seemed obvious to me that the only way to win was to lie to and betray the other players and start wars of conquest. I’m such a pansy I couldn’t take it and had to leave.

So now my tax money pays for the US military to consider those who would defend Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy bad guys? What kind of person would enjoy playing the role of those charged with forcing the Final Solution on Britain? (Hey, it’s just a game, right?) Even if I agree with Pat Buchanan that World War II was unnecessary and that the Allies were every bit as imperialist, though arguably not as murderous, as the Axis powers, I have to wonder. Depraved as I am, I couldn’t hack two hours of doing it in a board game.

I know what kind of person enjoys playing that role: a Christian. Where the atheist Butler Shaffer says that “the state is inherently hostile to and at war with human life in all of its expressions,” the apostle Paul says that politicians, the Ahabs and Neros and Hitlers no less than anyone else, “hold no terror for those who do right…. He is God’s servant to do you good.…The authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”

Today the Brits, tomorrow you and me. Well, me anyway: I’m a bad guy.