Government: An Atavism
by Paul Hein
by Paul Hein
Even the most primitive people, wherever found, demonstrate a fear of, reverence toward, and obedience to, some force or power or person beyond and distinct from themselves. With growing sophistication, this primal belief is modified. One such modification — or complete denial — was written recently on this site with the words, "Humans are sovereign over their own bodies; few reject that notion on principle." I hope that last part isn't true; I know the first part isn't.
Some of us still accept the idea of some superhuman force, distinct from us, which rules the universe, and must be obeyed. A smaller number believe that a personal God created us, and thus is sovereign over us, including our bodies. A still smaller — barely existing — number believe that God sent his Son among us to redeem us from our own folly, and unlock the gates of heaven, which we could then open and pass through if we wished. Few today believe it, and fewer wish it.
The practice of religion satisfies a basic human need; the same need demonstrated by primitive people. Religion was, at one time, as commonly practiced as irreligion is today. Church and civil rule were virtually the same. Conflict arose, however, with a desire for what might be termed "flexibility," such as the "flexibility" of modern fiat currency, which is heralded as one of its advantages. Religious teaching is inflexible, and rigid. God cannot change His mind, and those who claim to speak on His behalf cannot either. Something is right, or it is wrong, unless it is too trivial to merit moral consideration, such as choosing the color of your new automobile. Choosing the method of acquiring that automobile, however — whether to buy it or steal it — is of great moral importance. It cannot be wrong to steal it today, but right to steal it next week, or next year, or under color of "law."
Henry VIII was a devout Catholic; a defender of the Faith. When the Church could not change its teaching regarding divorce and remarriage, Henry abandoned the Church and established his own. Flexibility is a hallmark of government, which, like Henry, enforces some "laws" and ignores others, and finds innumerable ways of disguising its iniquities as good. Governments are made up of people, and these people are probably not different from the great mass of people over whom they wield authority. Rigidity is out, flexibility is in. Moral relativity is the order of the day, more or less, sort of, which goes a long way toward understanding our world and our society.
By any objective standard, government is a dreadful idea. Its rules are arbitrary and illogical. Its force is often extreme, and wielded carelessly. It imposes a tremendous burden upon those who subscribe to it, and an even greater one on those who don't. It complicates all human activity, and plunders and loots productivity at every stage. It helps a few at the cost of the many, although referring to itself as "democratic." For the benefit of its adherents and cronies it sends our sons off to die, if necessary, in places we've never heard of, and which present no threat to us. Why do we put up with it?
Because the instinctive desire to worship and obey dies hard; indeed, it does not die at all. A loving but stern and unyielding God may not be acceptable, but something must be worshipped, so let it be the state, imperfect as it is. Authority seems to be demanded by human nature. I've had many patients over the decades ask me what they should do about their cataracts. "Well, they're bad enough to remove, if you want to do that," I'd tell them. "Do they have to be removed?" "No, but they can if you want to see better." "Well, what should I do?" "What do you want to do?" "You're the doctor — you tell me!" It always impressed me — especially as a young physician — that people were anxious to let an authority figure make decisions for them. I suspect that many patients left my office dissatisfied that I would not tell them what to do!
The state is today's church; the president is the American pope, or bishop, or head rabbi. As it becomes increasingly obvious that our political leaders have not only feet, but brains and souls of clay, there is growing dissatisfaction with their leadership. Some acknowledge that by proclaiming their own sovereignty — except that they can be quasi-sovereigns only over themselves — an unimpressive realm! To whom can we turn? To turn to the state is to leap from the frying pan into the fire. True freedom is subjection to Him whose burden is easy!
December 15, 2003
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