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.

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