Let’s Talk About Government
by Matt Voss
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government, which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” –James Madison
Ol’ Madison spent some time ruminating on just how to stabilize this American Experiment, and in Madisonian style, he knocked it out of the park with the first sentence: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” …But men aren’t angels. Citation: history. Read a book, people, or at least turn on the news.
Angels and Politics?
Now here’s something worth talking about (so let’s talk about that). “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
If politicians were angels, the government wouldn’t need checks or balances or independent ethics committees. (*Sidenote: beware any entity that tries to disband the ethics committee that oversees it.) If the Spartan Warriors and Jedi Knights of Christianity fall short of Christ-like on their best days, a regular guy doesn’t stand a chance, and a politician perhaps even less..
We’re not all evil, though; generally, people are complicated. One human person, complete with individual opinions and ideas and favorite breakfast cereals can be very different from the next. In fact, every person is different from every other by the nth degree; that’s infinite complexity. Real people don’t fit well into boxes because they start off different from all others and, from there, are constantly moving through varying degrees of good and bad.
Nobody is all good or all bad, and everybody is either moving progressively forward or is lazily decaying toward entropy along with the rest of the unwitting universe. If any bit of that seems false, you may be at Disneyland. For the majority of us not currently at Disneyland, we see that the world is flawed and messy. People are imperfect, even the good ones, even the Christian ones, and even when they try really, really hard.
A Theocratic society may actually work for a minute if it began with decent enough raw materials- like a good batch of kind-hearted and well-mannered people with a surplus of resources, but not such a surplus that would be tempting for the neighbor to pilfer.
If all these conditions managed to eek their way to being met, the Christian society could actually move along fairly smoothly with minimal bumping into each other, and no doubt with all the little bumps being promptly forgiven with gracious apologies and bountiful fruit baskets.
The kids would obviously always try their best in school and the teachers would teach them boundless love and unfettered unselfishness. The people would be like warrior poets- soft or mighty at any moment, each exactly the right tool for the job, and each knowing that the others are single, irreplaceable parts of a greater whole. They would see and appreciate and give thanks for the good in everything. In effect, they’d be angels, and that’s why this whole idea seems so unlikely; that was kind of the point.
Enter Proper Pride
Now the story begins to sound like the Genesis account of the Serpent showing up in Eden. C.S. Lewis said that “it was through pride that the devil became the devil” and we saw the seeds of pride when the humans decided to taste the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Both of the stories illustrate how pride can sully even that which started off as good- even as good as the people that bore God’s image or as good as the good angel, Lucifer. Lewis later said that “pride is enmity, and not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”
Throughout history, the pride of men has led to the toppling of empires great and small, and throughout history, only one man has ever been immune to it. Even the “good ol’ boys” of the Christian nation described above wouldn’t be immune to it, and were I the devil, that’s where I’d launch my attack.
The Christian Nation could only stand for as long as the citizens could unanimously achieve and maintain a supernatural level of Christ-likeness. Realistically, most people fail to meet that standard twice before breakfast; what are we to do with them?
The Justice System
What would the justice system look like in such a society? Matthew 18, 15-17 lays out an entire system of biblical conflict resolution and 1 Corinthians Chapter 6 lambastes the idea of taking anyone to court before first trying to resolve the issue through peace and humility.
It sounds great on paper and I honestly wish that people would do it this way, but I’ve known to many people to have much hope that they would even if they knew how. What are we to do with the people that can’t follow the rules?
Would a citizen be forgiven seventy times seven times as Jesus tells us to forgive? That’s 490 cars jacked, purses snatched, or buildings publicly urinated on before we press charges. Was Jesus using hyperbole or saying that He draws the line at the 491st infraction before warranting a smiting? It sounds more like The Purge than a justice system.
Just Wishful Thinking
Everyone should definitely try to do their best to be as much like Jesus as possible, but in reality, not everybody wants to try, and you might even see some of them in the pew beside you on Sunday. Nevertheless, “because it’s hard” should never be a reason not to try to do the right thing; you may only get halfway there, but that will be a lot closer than not trying at all, and that alone is cause to celebrate.
As for the idea of America ever being a “Christian Nation,” people need to stop using the phrase as a weapon, and we need to show a lot more love and respect to our neighbors and their decisions before we can even hope for any change.
Let’s follow Jesus’ method (outlined last week). Let’s first create Christian families and Christian homes that will grow into Christian neighborhoods and Christian cities. I think that we should all just focus on Jesus. Let’s be good Christians first and good Americans second, and see where that takes us.
What do you think?