Thursday, October 14, 2010

Response to a Correspondent

A friend writes:

Take away a system of force that punishes wickedness and wickedness will increase.
Men will do what is right in their own eyes. In a context of great evil God instituted the death penalty for murder. That institution was a civil action against private murdering citizens. If Henry murders the 7/11 cashier for some spending money, we are not going to ask [mutual friends] to stop over with a bag of stones for a neighborhood stoning. We are calling the cops, who will arrest you and stick you in a holding cage until we have a speedy trial with twelve good men. Then we are going to execute you properly with something other than stones.
Of course as a post-millennialist who believes in the power of God to save, we will also preach the gospel alongside of having the sword of the state to punish the wicked. Salt and light are part of a well ordered cosmos. So is a State with servants who are ministers of God. If Paul called first century Christians to submit to a pre-Christian, Non-biblical State, why do you keep imagining a stateless society when we live in a world that is way better as far as the presence of Christians in American society? Some of these Christians are good people who want to see government held accountable. Why not work to call the State to repentance ? Is the State beyond the power of redemption? I thought the church was tasked with calling all to repentance including Caesar.

My response:

Thanks for writing.

Given a choice between being shot by a firing squad and stoned, I think I’d rather be shot. Hanging and the electric chair might be worse than stoning. Anyway, I like to think that I’ve got better reasons for not killing the 7-11 cashier than fear of execution. Unfortunately, as I said in a recent post, the state might someday decide (in a moment of utter paranoia) that the Quill Pig Chronicles give “material support” to terrorists and execute its version of justice on me. If they just shot me, that wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, they might decide I’m of more value to them alive than dead, and that would be tough to go through, even if they didn’t waterboard me. . . . .

The church is indeed tasked to call all to repentance, including Caesar. but what incentive does the state have to repent? How can an abstraction repent? What incentives do state agents have to repent?

"We live in a world that is way better as far as the presence of Christians in American society," do we? I started this blog because I think US conservative Christians are no longer salt and light. They are as zealous to defend their place on the tax-subsidized nipple as atheist liberals, and at least as prone to busybodyness and callous to wanton violence. Ask them how they defend their libertinism (see below) and they'll go straight to Romans 13. As you know, one has to read between the lines considerably before one comes up with even the Westminster Confession's take on Romans 13. Maybe when I get to heaven God will say, "I agreed more with Ron Paul and [my correspondent] than with you; anarchy would never work," but I would need a lot of help getting my mind around it. Meanwhile, I try to be a good neighbor as best I understand the Bible's take on that, and it seems to me an easy way to do that is not to act like I'm government agent.

By ascribing legitimacy to the state, you are removing at least one check on its wickedness, and its wickedness has increased in every situation. Read Colson’s book if you don’t believe my blog post that he chronicles in great detail (considering the size of his book) how this happened. Where he and I disagree is that he somehow thinks that that increase in wickedness was not inevitable given the nature of the state and given human nature.

Statism is indeed libertinism. When the FDA approves a drug that ends up damaging people, no bureaucrats lose their jobs, whereas in a private property system, the endorsing agency would be out of business immediately (remember Chi-Chi’s?). When the drug cops break down the wrong door, shoot the family dog, and make the homeowners get out of bed naked and stand around while the room is searched, said homeowners will be lucky to get a verbal apology; nobody will lose their job, and they'll still be stuck with the repair bill for the door. If that isn't libertinism, I don't know what is.

Jesus said that he who is faithful in little will be given charge over much. The state—at least the one we live under—can’t even be trusted to treat biblically innocent pot growers justly (I forgot: you don't think pot growers are innocent; OK, how about ghetto girls who braid hair or out-of-work carpenters who ply their trades without licenses?), and it certainly doesn’t treat either thieves or their victims justly. What makes you think it would treat murderers justly?

I’m surprised that a man who spends as much time in the Bible as you do would prefer to begin with the death penalty and work down and not with, say, embezzlement and work up (smaller to larger); that you prefer a top-down, coercive system when Romans 12:1-2 seems to indicate that God works from the inside out and the Mosaic system (apart from the giving of the law itself, for obvious reasons) from the bottom up. (Where the Catholics seem to think that the saints have God’s ear in a way that mere mundanes don’t, Paul asked the nobodies to pray for him, like he, The Apostle to the Gentiles, needed their prayers more than they needed his, though he did indeed pray for them.)

Men will indeed do what is right in their own eyes; furthermore, they will do what they think is to their advantage. When Jesus told us that there was no profit in gaining the world and losing our souls, he was acknowledging that people go for the bottom line, but he was saying that the bottom line is further down than we think it is.

The refrain of the book of Judges is indeed that people do what is right in their own eyes. Like the people of those days, you think that the solution is a king—though a godly king, like that described in Dt 17. Forgive me for repeating myself: the job of king was too big for a man who was head and shoulders over everyone else in Israel, for a man after God’s own heart, and for the wisest man who ever lived. (So who besides Jesus can ever fill the bill? How is Jesus present and ruling today? Isn't it mostly in the hearts of those who obey him?) Israel got his king, and he fell to his enemies for exactly the same reasons he fell to his enemies in the book of Judges. The problem was not the lack of a state; it was the lack of devotion to God.

There are only two religions in the world: God (the grace of Christ) and power (mammon, Baal, Molech, Allah, the Force, democracy). When George Washington said that government is force, he was putting it in the second category. And he would know, having exercised it as such. Thomas Paine said that government was a necessary evil, but as an atheist he would have no trouble saying that evil was necessary. Romans 6 forbids me to say that.

We live in an age when people who call themselves Americans almost literally worship at least one politician and certainly ascribe godlike powers to the state. How can we call people to faith in God when we ascribe legitimacy to his biggest rival? That evil needs to be opposed, sometimes with force, is not in question: you read the article I recommended to you, right? The author is not opposed to the use of force in certain situations. The question is, under what circumstances is it just? How does the line get drawn? What reason do we have to suppose that an irresistible state will draw that line more justly than an egalitarian contract system?

Note the question marks. Your questions are worth answering, so I'm grateful for the time you have taken. But your assertions leave me with questions, which you are welcome to answer; or ask more questions, if you prefer. Thank you again for writing.

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