Revisiting the Christian and State Relationship.

Archive for October, 2010

Non political strategies for freedom

I want to finish the series with part 8, but that will wait another day or two. In the meantime, read these strikingly good notes on “Non political strategies for freedom” from wendymcelroy.com.

http://www.wendymcelroy.com/news.php?extend.3514

A Case for Christian Anarchy, pt. 7

Davies argues that Christians actively support the institution of government and therefore Christian anarchism is not really fairly described as anarchist. It must be admitted that many Christians do support the state, and that, often somewhat blindly. But is this really a surprise? The vast majority of non-Christians also support the state. The Christian, at least, has a basis for opposing the state from the context of his belief system.

The Christian understands that men have a distorted, dangerous nature because of the Fall of the race in the garden of Eden. Just as this nature makes it impossible to rule men, so it also makes it impossible for him safely to rule. Secular views have no comparable problem native to the race.

What’s more, Christianity is a canon-based religion, with a set of holy writings. These writings overwhelmingly present what is in essence the endorsement of an anarchic pattern, from beginning to end. The few texts which historically have been presented as teaching the support of the state have to be interpreted in a manner that throws them sharply out of harmony with the broader testimony of the Bible in order to make such a case. The larger thrust of scripture is decidedly weighted in the support of the anarchic approach.

What’s more, this same book prophesies and condemns an illicit union of church and state (Revelation chs. 13, 17, 18 cf. Daniel chs. 1-6).

(For a review of the question concerning Romans chs. 12 and 13, see our part 3 of this series.)

But we ought to remember also that historically, there have been many examples from within Christianity of those who resisted the state. Anabaptists, Mennonites, and others have long been in direct opposition to the state. Many of these who were killed for their faith, historically, were killed, not by religious authorities, but by state authorities because they refused to take up the sword to fight for the state. Just about any 16 pages from the book Martyr’s Mirror will make this clear. These Christians, and many other groups, see the blending of Christianity with Constantine in the forth century in the most negative light.

When it comes to individual Christians, there are the unambiguously anarchist theologians like Jacques Ellul and Vernard Eller, and in recent time, Greg Boyd.

Leading anarchist theorists coming from the economic angle of anarcho-capitalism, including Lew Rockwell Thomas Woods, and others, are Christian. Other less well known names are found too. In even more recent time, there is a steadily growing contemporary interest in Christian anarchism.

It is simply wrong to see Christianity as a united force massed on the side of the state. It is embarrassing how many have supported the state, but it is heartening that many do not.

Next: part 8: Our concluding summary of our response to Jim Davies, Christianity and Anarchism: Oxymoron? and a look to the future.

A Case for Christian Anarchy, pt. 6

Davies’ article suggesting that Christianity and anarchism are irreconcilable includes several arguments in support of his assertion. One is that anarchism is based on selfishness and Christianity is based upon sacrifice, and that these opposing principles demonstrate this incompatibility.

Davies has Christianity wrong here, at least in part. Christianity is actually based on agape love—unselfish love—which is the outgrowth of being created by and worshiping God who is love (1 John 4:8). Christianity says that man is made in the image of this God, that is, in many respects, what God is like is in a lesser way what man is like. Thus, man has an innate attraction to the same.

However, mankind was tested, and failed by choosing to obey Satan rather than God. His nature was bent, and on account of this, all men are born having distortion within. As a result, they choose self first. This is unnatural. Man is born with this unnatural orientation, although it seems normal to him. What else would it seem?

This is a very destructive reality, and explains man’s relentless inclination to coerce and force others—a reality that standard anarchism has little explanation for. We outline this here in order to give some necessary background and expand the idea of self-sacrifice. The goal of Christianity is not self-sacrifice, but restoration of the original, selfless nature. When we look at what the Bible says, Christianity as represented in its primary and prototypical source, contemplates this very change.

In the end, all who freely choose to be, will be changed. That is, healed. The selfishness nature that had been developed is eliminated. During the present, the Christian is engaged in the struggle between the old nature and the new. The end product of this struggle will be a universe filled with unselfish, non-coercive, gentle people.

How can this be? And what about the fate of those who reject this restoration? Those who choose selfishness as their life stance are conforming themselves in a nature that is inevitably unsatisfying and as inevitably irreconcilable with life. We can draw an (admittedly imperfect) analogy to a child who is born with a fatal disease. Without treatment he must die.

The difference is that while we all come into existence with an unnatural “nature,” we also come into existence with the capacity to choose to change it. That is, pursuing the disease analogy, every human’s beginning is as a creature born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil, and in every case this becomes a conscious choice to be a rebel against God. But God makes available a solution. It is as if there is a medicine one may take in order to be cured.

Alas, true Christianity requires much more than the mere taking of a pill. Because of his distorted nature, the Christian faces a continuing daily battle with this inclination, which he must keep subdued in strength provided by God. Over time, this choice for unselfishness becomes ingrained in him. He uses the liberty that God has granted him to be restored to unselfishness. One could say, he chooses the battle for self-mastery and becomes a living, breathing example of the non-aggression axiom.

The person who rejects all the divine initiatives that invite him to be changed, is choosing to forgo the healing, to remain in the unnatural situation of his birth, and to reject the gift of life. He is choosing to become a confirmed aggressor.

Since he has not within himself the power of endless life, he must die. It is as a starving person to whom food is offered but he rejects it. By his own choice, he dies. Perhaps he would be willing to eat the food were it only provided on his own terms. But good is good and evil is evil, and God only offers eternal life to those who choose the good. What we are saying here is that those who die are choosing self-destruction. And, be assured, the Bible does not teach a forever burning torturous existence in hell; rather, those who die are burned up and their suffering and existence is ended (this is another topic).

The point is, God is not arbitrary to give life to those who accept the principle of life, and permit to die those who choose to reject it. But this is the final fate; what about the here and now?

The Christian, aided by a strength outside of himself that comes to him from God, maintains self-control, or denies self. That is, he refuses to give free reign to selfishness. No, denial of self is not the denial of who one is; it is the suppression of what one used to be and what one chooses now not to be. It is the exercise of true liberty.

Davies’ reduction to the absurd argument is indeed absurd. To suggest that the result of Christianity, if taken to its conclusion, could leave us with 50 percent of the people being sacrificed for the other 50 percent is very strange.

Davies says that selfishness can be practiced without limits; the opposite is true. Selfishness has no effective braking system. Rather, the one who seeks power over others is never satisfied; he cannot rest until he seeks more power, and more, and more. But the end result of the gospel will be the twofold demonstration that unselfishness works and selfishness does not.

Moreover, it is a mistake to equate anarchism with selfishness. Christian anarchism does differ from some conceptions of anarchism, in that it has no problem with men being led by the principles of the infinite God. But it does reject, as do anarchists, the rule of mere man over man.

We see the state for what it is, a false legitimization for one group of men to coerce others. The removal of the state is the removal of that which is antithetical to us, which stands in opposition to the government of God, the only way to true freedom for man. There is nothing of coercion in God’s government. Actually, it is seen by Christians to be the one means of true self-mastery available to man. It is the way to actual and ultimate liberty.

Removing the state and all state-like systems of coercion would leave fallen man fallen man still. He would remain as dangerous, as prone to the use of force, to untrammeled imposition over others, as before. But the Bible promises the removal of the human nation-state system and its replacement by God’s reign which guarantees liberty for all who embrace unselfishness, the original, intended design for man.

Next time: Part 7 responds to Davies assertion that the Christian supports the state.

A Case for Christian anarchy, pt. 5

In the second point Davies gives claiming the irreconcilability between Christianity and anarchism, he complains that God demands our worship. But our worship is not needed by God. Read the Bible. You will see God as a self-confident Being. He has no insecurities. He is complete in Himself and does not need any to fall on their knees in worship of Him. That being said, it seems to be that deep within man, innate to him, is a tendency to worship.

How regrettable that Davies replaces the worship of God with the worship of man, for here is where the state steps in and takes advantage. It creates its own alleged center to reality—focused on presidents, kings, and other leaders in centralized involuntary authority structures. Think of all the mischief that has arisen over the centuries, not because of what the Bible says, but because of coercive authority structures set up by men who, in the final analysis, worship men. And yes, sometimes by religious authorities, only let’s be clear—their authority is not sustained as being God’s will in Scripture.

Davies asks if I can imagine the proud John Galt bowing before God. Knowing Ayn Rand was the author, no. However, Davies is being a bit quick off the line even here. Galt is portrayed as enough of a free spirit and eclectic that there is no reason whatsoever to think that if he came to conviction that mankind was the product of a personal, creator God, that he would refuse to bow down to Him. There is a great difference between bowing before finite man and infinite Creator, and no shame in bowing in awe before our Maker.

Davies third argument is that anarchism is based on reason but Christianity based on faith. He sees no reconciliation between these positions.

Alas, he suffers from a false dichotomy. Both, secular anarchism and Christian anarchism use reason and faith. First, let’s think about reason and Christianity. As Davies notes, Christianity works from a standpoint of accepting the validity of the phenomenon of revelation. The Christian anarchist understands via Scripture that when created, the earth testified of God’s goodness. It was entirely the handiwork of God.

When humans sinned, the creation was impacted. Some plants grew thorns or became poisonous, and animals were subdivided between predator and prey. Death had entered the creation. The graffiti of sin now defaced the divined handiwork; creation now gave mixed testimony. What’s more, man’s very nature was impacted. His capacity to reason, to use emotion, to exercise his capacity to choose rationally, was affected. Because of this, God gave direct revelation to help man better understand His situation and the divine plan to restore it.

Thus, the Christian sees the testimony of nature as unreliable in part. It is only reasonable for him then to look to revelation as given in the Bible. As for faith, its exercise is not a question of proof as much as of evidence and trust. Has God given sufficient pertinent evidence to support a system of belief? The Christian anarchist says yes.

The unbelieving anarchist looks at the natural world that surrounds him and does not anticipate revelation; his conclusions are based solely on his use of reason. He, too, deals not so much with proofs as with evidences. He trusts, exercises faith, in his own reason. Looking around him, he does not anticipate that the creation tells a mixed story; he does not operate from the assumption that his own capacity to reason may be diminished. Like the drunk who gets into his automobile uttering that he is perfectly able to drive it safely home, he takes his journey alone. He is unaware that he is weaving back and forth across the road. Unfortunately for him, he has no compelling answer for why the world is the way that it is.

The unbelieving anarchist operates in terms of his own theories and presuppositions. They are just different. Remember, our contention is not that the Christian anarchist holds the same beliefs as the non-Christian anarchist; only that the ideas of anarchism and Christianity are sufficiently compatible that they can comfortably fit together. I am not asking Davies to think or to believe just as I do. I am only hoping that he and others like him will be willing to take those seriously who believe in at least some respects as he does.

And so, Davies is mistaken. Both Christian anarchists and non-Christian anarchists use reason and both use faith. So, if there is a “flimsy foundation” as Davies charges, both groups are guilty.

Next: Part 6, considering Davies’ argument that these groups have opposing ethical standards.

A Case for Christian Anarchy, pt. 4

We here continue our response to Jim Davies article “Christian Anarchist”: An Oxymoron?. Davies contrasts his idea that God has created a divine hierarchy with the idea that in contrast, nobody tells a real anarchist what to do, that the anarchist is his own self-owner.

Actually, God gives to all free choice; He will not force others to live according to His moral code. He sends rain and sunlight, gives air to breath, to the evil and to the righteous. In the end, yes, there is a judgment. And even before the end, bad behavior has its inevitable consequence, much of it in the here and now. Remember too, that as God is the Creator, He has “homesteaded” the earth, and added His labor to it (making it out of nothing). He is within His rights to determine what goes on here. And yet, at present He is permitting the two demonstrations, one of evil and one of righteousness, in order to persuade men that selflessness is superior to selfishness. He has granted time so that we may learn that this is the most just means of ordering the universe so that numerous beings having free will may live side-by-side in liberty in it for eternity.

While God shows us the best way, and even commands it in His Ten Commandment law, He does not loom above us sending instant fatal thunderbolts of wrath. Rather, He gives us space to try the different options and change direction as we grow. No Being is more gentle and gives more liberty than God.

In any case, Davies affirms that the anarchist is a self-owner. Here he is mistaken. From the perspective of the Christian worldview, he is not. Men come into being as an act of creation, and just as a human parent sees her children as her own, God sees the men He has made as His own. What’s more, we belong to God twice over, for not only has He made us, but He has bought us back from the result of our immoral behavior. Jesus not only offered a realistic example of how we are to live in this world, but He died on the cross in a broader-ranging plan to deal with human sin.

An anarchist-ordered world is not a world where immorality is not possible. Theft, violence, and other kinds of crime are just as possible in such a world as they are in the statist variety.

As a result of the Fall of man, each human being begins life with a distorted nature over which he finds it very difficult to exercise proper self-control. He develops in himself a bondage to the lower principles of his nature. God offers him true liberty, strength for self-mastery. God is the source of liberty for damaged man—if he will take Him up on it.

We recognize here that we are talking about CHRISTIAN anarchism, not mere anarchism. Christianity makes certain assertions about human nature which include a mixture of positive and negative elements. Anarchism as some conceive it is seen as naive, in that it takes a too-optimistic view of human nature.

While man is not a self-owner from the Christian perspective, God treats him much as if he were. As for no one telling me what to do, if I were about to eat a poisonous plant, and my neighbor saw what was happening and ran over onto my property yelling, “Don’t eat that!” I would be grateful rather than angry. He is not telling me what to do, he is warning me for my own benefit. Besides, he may appreciate the ordered and friendly, albeit imperfect life of his Christian anarchist neighbor, and would rather not see me replaced with a supporter of state coercion.

God gives excellent advice. There is a way that leads to life and one that leads to death. I am pleased that He loves me enough to tell me and to freely offer help. The Christian anarchist recognizes that it is as if he is free, but he also sees himself, not as an independent atom, but as one person within the broader community of humanity. He treasures the good will of others.

Next, in part 5 we consider Davies’ further argument, that God forces us to worship Him and that anarchism is based on reason while Christianity is based on faith.

A Case for Christian Anarchy, pt. 3

When we left off, Davies was stating the reasons why he felt that anarchism and Christianity are so mutually irreconcilable that it is impossible to do so. One reason he gave was that he thinks that the Bible teaches an unmistakable hierarchy of authority, which must be anathema to the thoroughgoing anarchist. Included among his examples is the idea that the governments of earth, including Rome, are organized as part of a divinely-ordained hierarchy.

Here, however, he mistakes Paul’s purpose in Romans 12 and 13. (Space does not here allow of a larger description of Bible teaching regarding nations and states. Suffice it to say, it is well nigh universally negative with reference to the state.) But back to Romans 12 and 13. Paul does not introduce the governing authorities in order to claim their brutality is part of God’s master plan. Paul is in no way arguing for their legitimacy. Rather, he is using the brutality of Rome as an opportunity to apply the Christian principle of loving all, and not just those we prefer to love.

At Romans 12:14 he reminds the Christian that he is called to love those who curse him. Then, in 13:1 he gives the governing authorities illustration, and at 13:7 he tells us to fear those whom are to be feared. What we actually owe each other, is love. The “governing authorities” are included here as Paul’s example of those people who are the most difficult to love. How we relate to abusive, violent, corrupt, coercive authorities is a test case for us in terms of how willing we are to apply God’s command to love our enemies. In 13:8 he goes for the overall principle: we are to love all.

Back to 13:1, to “be subject to” Rome does not suggest at all the legitimization of Rome. It is completely consonant with anarchism’s not-doingness and with Jesus’ persistent refusal to take Rome seriously that he gives the instruction to submit. Rome really doesn’t matter; it is here today and gone tomorrow. In the grand scheme of things, earthly governments are transitory. To take take them seriously is to do them the disservice of adding to their self-importance.
As for worldly governments being “instituted” by God, we should recall exactly God’s opinion—which is that earthly government is a rejection of divine government. God warned His people NOT to switch to an earthly king (1 Samuel 8-12), but they insisted anyway. So what did God do? He let them have what they wanted (like the quail in another place).

In that sense—that He let them have what they insisted upon (with its attendant consequences) only, did He “institute” that government. It is the same with all governments. In every case, human government is thoroughly unjust and disastrous. It is a reflection of the satanic plan of the rule-of-the-mightiest, the very example that God is permitting all creation to see and which He is running His counter-demonstration against.

Are these governments servants of God? Sure. In the same sense that the Assyrians who attacked Israel were the servants of God (see Isaiah 10:5-7, 12, 13; 13:3-5; 45, etc.). If we read Romans 13:1-7 right, we will see that it neither legitimizes Rome nor legitimizes resistance against Rome.

Remember, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18, 19). And Paul agrees. Remember, the passage in Romans 13:1-7 is found in the wider setting of Romans chapters 12-14. Recall that in 12:1 Paul has urged the reader to NOT be conformed to the shape of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of his mind. If his purpose in 13:1-7 is going to be to urge the opposite, that the believer conform to the shape of the world, then how absurd to start by urging him not to conform to it!

The earthly mind would look at the injustices of Rome and be prepared to start a revolution against it; the transformed mind is ready instead to trust in God and to let the significance of the moment fall under a different analysis. He steps back from high time preference attitudes, and in faith trusts God and the longer-term approach, the low time preference viewpoint.

Finally, let us recall that this same Paul tells us that we are to fight against the authorities that are enthroned in heaven (Ephesians 6:12). These are, of course, the fallen authorities, the fallen angels who have rebelled against God. Satan’s claim in Matthew four that he has control over all the nations of the world, and his control over them demonstrated in Revelation 17 and 18, shows that there is a connection between these fallen angel powers and the power held by earthly governments.

But we must hear Paul in one more place. In Colossians 2:13-15 he tells us that Jesus conquers evil and death and that He has stripped the dominions and authorities of earth of their power. Yes, God has permitted these evil powers, for a time, to threaten and do violence and impose upon man; yes, Satan has been permitted to offer a demonstration of what coercive government is like. In the sense that God has allowed this to go on, that He has not—yet—evicted the demonic squatters from the land He has made, in that sense, yes, He has instituted the powers that be.

But all power is relative, and Jesus has triumphed over these very powers openly at the cross and will do so ultimately through His own followers (Genesis 3:15 cf. Romans 16:20). Which brings us at last to the realization that submission to the higher powers rally means submission to the power that is above all other powers—the power of Christ. Paul did not propose that Rome was legitimate in itself. Rather, he insisted that ultimately, God is the believer’s authority. The believer knows that God is in control and that He is using the believer’s consent to powerlessness in demonstration of the persuasive goodness of responsible, non-coercive living.

In the above, I have added little if anything, to the arguments of Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy, pp. 196-204, and Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, pp. 77-85, from which I have here drawn heavily. Romans 13:1-7 is far from the conclusive argument that Davies thinks. If he has misinterpreted Paul, so have many Christians for many years in the same places. Still, as previously noted, we must be careful not to take as examples of God’s government the very entities which He has warned us are its antithesis. Davies is not the first to fall into this trap. When we let all the Bible inform us, we see an anarchistic river running all through the Bible. Romans 13 does not contradict all the rest, but complements it.

In our next installment, we address the last portion of Davies’ first point, and if space permits, proceed to his second and third points. . .

A Case for Christian Anarchy, pt. 2

We here continue a response to Jim Davies, Christian anarchism–Oxymoron?

The first key problem Davies sees is that “ The Bible presents an unmistakable hierarchy of authority” which we are to obey. According to Davies, God lays down rules for no other reason than the exercise of an arbitrary authority on His part.

There are what we name the so-called laws of physics that are connected with our world. In the middle of a conversation with a census guy at your doorstep, he does not suddenly float away or his skin turn blue. The “law” of gravity is consistent, whether a Christian or an atheist walks off a three story high roof. The result is the same.

This is the old question over whether God’s declaration makes something good, or goodness is goodness whether He declares it so or not. Arminius answered this: “God can indeed do what He wills with His own; but He cannot will to do with His own what He cannot rightfully do, for His will is circumscribed within the bounds of justice.” That is, God’s character is innately good, and He cannot act in a way that is contrary to His essential goodness.

The debate here is over nominalistic voluntarism. A Calvinistic approach says that God is free to use His powers in any way that He sees fit to. Arminius argued that God is not freely good but that he is good by nature. That is, He does not arbitrarily choose to be good; He IS good. He is not free to be ungood. Superficially, this would seem to remove freedom from God. But is it a loss of one’s liberty to be able to be what one is?

God’s directives for man are not arbitrary. They apply to all persons. If a person who is kind and gentle drinks poison, he will die. If a person who is harsh and vicious drinks poison, he will die. Far from arbitrary, this is supremely fair. Some things are beneficial to humankind, others are destructive. The Bible points out that God sends rain for the evil and the just, gives sunshine to the evil and to the just. Air is provided and both coercer and coerced breaths it. Thou shalt not steal is a command for all persons, not just certain ones.

In terms of a hierarchy of authority, Davies is mistaken again. God relates directly to the individual. He does not install a hierarchy of authority. Because He is infinite, He can interact with individual persons directly and no hierarchy is needed. His plan of government has always been minimalistic at most. We see it especially in the Bible’s book of Judges. Here, the deliverer (judge) is raised up from among the common people, does his work, and then returns to his common life; he does not become a king or a looting president. The problem in Judges is not that the people lacked a divinely planned form of government but that they chose to ignore God’s moral direction.

When we join a church we choose it freely; membership in a church organization is voluntary, and many churches include mechanisms that give the members some form of say in decision-making. If there is a hierarchy going on, submission to it is voluntary. What could be more anarchic? More voluntary? Davies seems to be nursing questionable presuppositions. Too bad, because normally I tend to appreciate his writing.

Next installment: Let’s talk Romans 12 and 13. . .

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