Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Reflections on the Worst of the Worst- "Under God" 5

What do we do with a bunch of shiftless, lazy folks who don't want to work but are quite happy to let generous Puritan colonists charitably feed them? Even worse, what do you do with such folks in a time of near-famine, when there certainly won't be enough food for all if they don't get off their duffs and get some farming done?

If you're Governor William Bradford, you read your Bible until you come to 2 Thessalonians 3:10: "If any man would not work, neither should he eat."* Why would Bradford do this? because "'The Bible is a book about government,' he would often say. 'When we don't know what to do, we should look in its pages.'" (92)

There's a serious problem at work here, and it's a little bit Bradford's and a big bit the author of Under God's. This section concludes by relating the success of Bradford's "work or starve" program by pointing out how Bradford divided up the land and parceled it out among the colonists, and that

The opportunity to own their own land was beyond their wildest dreams in England. The colonists worked even harder, the colony prospered, and government according to the Scriptures was established as a principle. (93)

So what is the problem here? Isn't it clearly true that the Bible is a book about government, and that if only we'll do what it says our country will prosper? Well... yes and no.

If what is meant by "the Bible is a book about government" is "the Bible presents a picture of government that finds its clearest fulfillment in America, and everyone else was just getting it wrong for the last 2000 years, and the proof of this is that we are materially prosperous," then the answer is a resounding "No! Absolutely not!" The Bible is not a constitution; it is not a formula which we can use to set up a political government that will do everything right and so earn God's blessing. This is an incorrect use of Scripture which the Puritans in New England were a tiny bit guilty of, and which a goodly number of American Christians today are a huge bit guilty of.

If, however, what is meant by "the Bible is a book about government" is "the Bible provides guidance on how to live as a Christian under a government" then the answer is yes. But what specific guidance does it provide? Well, here's one: pay your taxes (even if your taxes are being paid to Pilate and he's eventually going to have you executed). Here's another one: obey the government (even if that government is run by Nero and is executing Christians left and right).

Now, to be sure we live in a Republic which gives us as individual citizens a good deal of say in government. And to that end, we have a responsibility to live in a way that displays God's truth to those around us. When comes time to vote, we have a responsibility to use that vote in the best way possible in accord with that truth.

With that said, the Bible simply does not draw a moral conclusion about the value of a monarchy vs. a republic, or an oligarchy vs. a democracy, or really any two forms of government. All of those sorts of governments are established by God's decree and under his sovereignty. Some of them might be better than others (I happen to think that some are), but that spectrum of value of governments has not been revealed in Scripture. Our Scriptural obedience to government in a republic looks different than Scriptural obedience to government in a monarchy, but that is not the same thing as saying that a republic > monarchy.

And I'll even carry this one step farther and say that it's probably better that we don't have much politics in the Bible. At the very least, no Christian should ever say (though we all to often do) "I'm a better Christian because I live in country X, and country X is more Godly and Biblical than any other on earth."

Anyway, end rant here. More undoubtedly to follow.

*Technically, Bradford likely would have been using the Geneva Bible (there's an outside chance he'd have the KJV, but probably not), which says: "if there were any which would not work, that he should not eat." The footnote included in the Geneva Bible reads "What shall we do then with those idle bellied Monks, and sacrificing Priests? A Monk (saith Socrates, book 8, of his Tripartite history) which worketh not with his hands, is like a thief."

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