There’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time that I started thinking was important to share. If you agree, I encourage you to repost or print out this post to share with others, especially at church. I was mulling over these principles from a Christian perspective, but they can be made to apply to any theistic religion. Although this post could be used to help understand how I interpret various writings of others, I was concerned that it was not a good fit for The Understanding Project, but then I remembered that this is my blog and I can write about whatever I want.
It seems sometimes that the world is spiraling faster and faster out of control with hate and greed – and of course no one listens to me. People seem to be perpetually at each other’s throats, verbally at least, if not always physically. The world is in trouble. It seems that we should be trying to do at least something, even if only to speak out. There are principles that we once knew but many seem to have forgotten, and I believe that from time to time we need to be reminded.
I don’t normally approve of mixing politics with church teaching. This is not only because it may cause division in the church, and may violate tax law, but because it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the very essence and definition of government. God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of the heart, interested in straightening out our personal spiritual lives and our relationship to God, freeing us from sin so that we may then decide how best to arrange public affairs. God exhorts us to love one another, but he does not tell us what the penalty should be for a second violation of microwave oven manufacture safety regulations. The Bible is a bit short on details. When he came to minister to the Jews, Jesus did not overthrow the Roman Empire to make things right. He came to show everyone – Romans and Jews alike – how to be free of our sinful nature so that we would have the ability to work out an equitable political arrangement among ourselves.
There have been those who think little of The Gospels because they did not speak against the evil of slavery, which was common in that part of the world in those days. I believe the reason is that when we love one another, who is officially considered to belong to whom becomes a moot point. Indeed, if slavery were abolished – as it was abruptly in the Confederate States of America – without love first taking root, the cure may be worse than the disease, including poll taxes, segregated facilities, fire hoses, dogs, bombings, and the Klan.
There have been times when God officially endorsed a new government – but only as a concession to sinful human nature. Before Israel’s first king – Saul – was anointed, God warned that a Kingdom was not what he had in mind for his people. Through the prophet Samuel, he warned, “The king will draft your sons into his army and make them run before his chariots. Some will be commanders of his troops, while others will be slave laborers. Some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, while others will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own servants. He will take a tenth of your harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will want your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves.”
Luther, Calvin, Augustine, and others understood this dichotomy: that the Kingdom Of God exists among and through us while the Earthly kingdoms are still here, and that we fight not flesh and blood, but “principalities of the air.” When directly asked whether it was right to pay taxes to The Roman Empire, Jesus only said to give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to give to God what belongs to him, leaving us to work out ourselves who is owed what.
Once this principle is understood, that God’s Kingdom exists in parallel to human governments, the true nature of government becomes obvious. Government is not sacred, but is a tool of the community, composed of our fellow human beings and equals, to be altered as we see fit. It does not rule us, but rather we rule over it. Put this way, we see that government is not here to protect us from ourselves, as if others know better than we how to run our lives, but only to protect us from each other, so that we may each have the opportunity to run our own lives. This is something that those whom, in the name of our protection, insert themselves into our private decisions by force of law need to be reminded of from time to time.
The very essence of government, without which it could not exist, is rule by the use of force. Because of this, all government activity, no matter how well-intentioned, and no matter how beneficial, is at least somewhat evil. The trick is in balancing competing evils against one another, recognizing trade-offs, remembering that there is no perfect government, and being aware of diminishing returns as government programs reach their maximum effectiveness. This is something that those continually pushing for the creation and expansion of government agencies and programs need to be reminded of from time to time.
I have to share with you today a short paper written by one of my favorite historical figures. It touches upon much of what I have said already, and more. This paper speaks of man’s relationship to God, and of how God respects his children enough to grant them certain freedoms, even when he knows we will misuse them. It speaks of human dignity and the value of life. This paper establishes the concept that right and wrong exist independently of whether any human entity, government or otherwise, recognizes the fact. The paper goes further to speak of man’s relationship to his fellow man, claiming we should treat others as we would like to be treated, with respect and as equals, refraining from the use of force, and that no one should have absolute rule over another. The author of this paper understood that governments exist to serve the community, not the other way around, that all governments are evil, and that no government is perfect. The author of this paper also understood that without the use of force, there can then be no protection from the use of force, and so while governments are evil, governments are also necessary. The author of this paper understood that a people can be enslaved just as well by a lack of laws, than by the laws themselves. The author of this paper valued prudence, and realized that since no government is ever perfect, it behooves us to choose our battles carefully and let some things go. This is something that those blindly opposed to all government activity need to be reminded of from time to time.
This paper is often considered a political document, and therefore unfit for inclusion in church teaching, but I disagree. It endorses no specific policies. It says nothing of the definition of marriage. It says nothing of whether we should belong to NATO or the UN or both or neither. It says nothing of what the top income tax rate should be. Indeed, it is a religious paper, covering the relationship of God and Man, and of Man to his fellow Man, both of which are certainly within the purview of the church to teach. It is not exclusively Christian, but it is certainly not atheistic. Any religion that teaches and values the authority of God and the dignity of human beings should have no quarrel with this paper. Because this paper does not aim to push any particular political agenda, but on the contrary embodies rebellion against the very idea of serving a political agenda, insisting instead that politics should serve us, I claim that it is the least political document ever written. I cannot overemphasize this point: this is the least political document ever written; it is religious, and every church, mosque, and synagogue should be teaching it – not just across this nation – but across the world.
And so, without further ado…
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
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Hi, I'm Dan. I like chocolate, hiking, and politics.