Join Date: Mar 2006
Religion and Politics Don't Mix
Someone posted this subject matter in the Political forum.
I find my own response to be just as valid in either of these forums, but I feel that rather than add to our religion/politics problem over there, I will add my response here, since it takes a good deal of its inspiration from first Samuel.
Far too many in the West are enchanted by the authority of antiquity, the older the better (provided it stays within the religious frame of reference.)
In delving into the earliest stratum of Jewish national existence, some Jews and Christians discover first a loose band of outcasts, then a tribal confederacy living in a state of theocracy (while sometimes fighting among themselves,) and then a largely theocratic monarchy.
Muslims need only look to Islam's founding and history to find a comparably theocratic system in play.
It is a false lure. There is a wonderful recounting in 1 Samuel, in which God allows the peoples' call to have a king, "like the other nations." But he tells Samuel to warn them of what the king will be like. Samuel then discusses evils probably drawn from the reign of Solomon, during which time anti-monarchial sentiment began.
But I digress. In Samuel's warning, he describes to the people how a king will strip their freedoms, tax them, make their daughters perfumers and bakers, and award lands crookedly to his cronies.
But the people cry out for a king like other peoples have. Why?
In the time of the Judges, Israel was a tribal confederacy. In times of crisis, a "Judge" -- or temporary ruler -- rose up, unifying the tribes. But otherwise the ancient Israelites responded to ordinary civil judges, God, the Law, and just about no other authority. They had local government under a theocracy, but no central government.
Eventually external threats, chief among them the Philistines, made it necessary to evolve a central government. In doing so, the people accord this central authority power, and the central authority, as central authorities always do, abused this power.
In the 1 Samuel (1 Sam., ch 8) story, God takes the establishment of the monarchy as a sort of vote of no confidence for Himself, probably reflecting a belief of the writer of this passage, that the establishment of the monarchy is a sin. But God also makes clear that he is separating church and state, as it were, once and for all time. The people may cry out to him once a monarchy is established, but he will disregard them.
So, we have God himself accepting the division of "church" and state by the time of the book of Samuel. This frees the state to respond to modern challenges (the 10th century BCE or so was a "modernizing" time for Israel.)
The Jews could form a central government. They could respond to external enemies. They could forge a national rather than tribal identity, and their chief population centers could begin truly urbal lifestyles, though much of the country was still agricultural.
In other words, the "direct rule of God" did not continue beyond a very primitive time period in Israel's history. Very early on, a king is chosen for them. For better or worse, some "old ways" could now be disregarded, on the authority of the king. Naturally, the prophets are therefore accorded all sorts of opportunities to "speak truth to power."
One wonders, however -- particularly given the various sometimes warring accounts in the text -- just what our society would look like, if we tried to fit the ancient theocracy into a modern lifestyle.
I imagine the days of the tribal confederacy or the wanderers in the wilderness, as like living in a small community like Puritan massachusetts, where a neighbor or spouse could pretty much turn you over for trial by ordeal. The key would be to not pis s off any such parties, and watch your back as best you could.
But a modern state, with its apparatus of invasive oversight and enforcement, on a mission from God, scares me more than just about any other outcome imaginable. This isn't just the occasional angry spouse or neighbor turning you in - it's also Big Brother-in-faith.
The morality suggested in the Bible embodies a lot of best moral ideas from the time, and (in general terms,) builds the idea that I am as valuable as you, and vice versa, in all its dictates. But it's also a morality of its time, with ridiculously disproportionate punishments for petty offenses (by modern standards), and with an emphasis on sexual purity more in step with a community on the edge of cohesiveness/survival, than with a modern community inclusive of diverse lifestyles.
God tells each of us "thou shalt..." and "thou shalt not..." He does not tell each of us, "that other guy shalt" and "that other guy shalt not."
A theocracy armed with that mentality has, historically, universally far surpassed the warning of 1 Samuel in its capacity to do evil.
Regardless of what God would have done with and for us all had we never requested a king to be "like other nations," we now live in a time of kings, of one species or another; that is, temporal authorities.
By biblically instructing and empowering an enforcement apparatus within the modern state, we do not return to some pristine time of pre-monarchic tribal confederacy.
We merely create a blasphemous simulacrum of such a state, but through the mediating influence of a more powerful king than was ever envisioned in biblical times, a king who can see what web pages we go to and where our money is earned and spent, can listen to our phone calls, and pretty much monitor our daily routines (among other powers.)
To marry this potential in information gathering and tracking, with a moral imperative drawn from the iron age, would be to attempt to usurp God's omniscience and omnipotence, both of which he reserved in his original deal with/warning to Israel in 1 Samuel.
This is not the proper role of the State; indeed, God spoke of losing freedoms when the people cried for a king. To take away more freedoms from the individual, is not to make a society more "Godly."
It rather makes God a crutch of the state.