Politics

To do with the organisation and management of society.

Caesar vs. God

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Separation of Church and state, right? Easy. God wants us to be good citizens, and good Christians. Everyone knows this, right?

Everyone is wrong

This isn’t about the entirely modern idea of the separation of Church and state, or the need to be good citizens. It’s about false gods.

“Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.”

The image is of Tiberius Caesar, and the inscription reads, “Ti[berivs] Caesar Divi Avg[vsti] F[ilivs] Avgvstvs”, i.e. “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”. Now that Jesus has drawn attention to the claim that Caesar is the son of a god, is He really going to be immediately encouraging secularism and citizenship?

Or, is He saying to give back what is false to the false god? Let Caesar have his riches, not because he deserves them, but because they are no good any way. St Augustine said we must give Caesar money, that bears his image, and give God ourselves, because we bear His image. The Christian doesn’t live by wealth or power, but by love and lowliness.

I have been told that in Jesus’ day, the question of tax was extremely controversial: If Jesus accepted paying tax, the people would stone him, but if He opposed it, the state would kill Him. Jesus managed to not only avoid being killed, but also to accuse the emperor as a false god, in such a way that no religious leader could rat Him out to the authorities without being forced to agree with Him.

When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

God bless you!

P.S. here’s some more background, if you’re interested

The Sins of Our Fathers

I believe that we are responsible for crimes and sins committed by those who went before us, and also for those done on our behalf by those in authority.

I know this is contrary to our modern ideas of justice, rooted in an individualistic worldview. But that worldview is incomplete.

I am not merely myself, I am also a member of various societies: my family, my school or workplace, my town, my country, and the Church. And each of these societies has a life of its own, living and acting as one, and so, is capable of both obeying and disobeying God. And as far as I remain a member of these societies, I participate in both its merit and guilt.

society

This doesn’t mean that I take on all of the guilt of every individual in society. But I do bear the guilt of society acting as a whole, and every association I belong to, even if I wasn’t even alive when its crimes were committed.

What am I to do? How can I be saved from these sins? How can we be saved from them? I must simply repent. Then in me, my society will be repenting, and being brought to repentance member by member. We must repent, do penance, and pray for the salvation of our families, communities, nations and Church, just as we must for ourselves.

I especially think of our national sins, of wars, colonialism, slavery, exploitation, abortion, etc., and of the sins committed by leaders in the Church, especially in the sex abuse scandal. And I believe that actually, this will be crucial to re-evangelising our society.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you!

P.S. I think it would be especially good in this regard, if on the anniversary of national crimes and sins, we took it as a day of fasting and penance, especially those crimes we are persevering in. For example, the 27th of October and 27th of April for the UK’s abortion act (royal assent and commencement, respectively), and the 20th of March for Iraq war. It would be great if the national bishops conferences could promote this too.

P.P.S. I watched a documentary a while ago about the descendants of prominent Nazis, titled ‘Hitler’s Children’, I think. It showed how they were haunted, even decades later, by the guilt of their parents’ and grandparents’ crimes, with many doing penance by working to prevent such atrocities ever being repeated, and one woman moving to the desert and having herself sterilised. It seems to me, that communal and hereditary guilt is a simple psychological fact, that it would be foolish to deny or dismiss.

God bless you!

What should government be?

[This post got stuck as a draft and now isn’t very timely. Oh well, better late than never!]

As we approach the general election on the 8th May, I thought it would be good to think a bit about politics. So, let’s start at the very beginning…

Where is authority ultimately from?

Authority comes from truth. Equivalently, we can say that authority comes from God, the author of all creation. We should listen to the truth and to those who instruct us according to the truth, simply because what’s in accordance with the truth is in accordance with our true being. As the (virulent atheist) anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin said,

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker.

This requires humility, because we have to recognise that sometimes, the truth, including the truth of ourselves, is not in accordance with our own wills and desires. At times like this, our desires, if not submitted to truth and reason, actually enslave us, denying us our true dignity and glory.

Today, this is probably not such a common concept of authority. We live in a world that is “post-God” and “post-truth”, believing that these tend towards oppression. Instead, the world believes in desire and force. What’s important is that I claim my “rights”, over against yours. Authority is then just a word for more established power.

Where does government come from?

My guess is, that government more or less grew out of natural structures of authority. At the lowest level, a father is naturally and historically the head of his family, as the one primarily responsible for its defense and provision, and therefore most aware of how to make the best decisions for it. In society at a larger level, say an extended family or a village, a father figure will emerge too; one who is strong, wise, and provides for the people. At each larger level, “father” figures may emerge, as and when groups become more integrated, and need someone to give them unity and provide for the common good.

Of course, right from the lowest level, and right from the beginning, violence ruins this lovely human family. There are bad fathers, bad chieftains, and bad kings, and then there are usurpers, often friends and relatives, who take power for themselves with the best or worst of motives, so that “authority” is rarely held by those who deserve it.

Plato believed that the ideal government was that of the Philosopher Ruler, but that this would degenerate into a timarchy (military/honour based rule, e.g. Sparta, or feudal [Samurai] Japan), which would degenerate into oligarchy (wealth based rule- think of the USA), which then degenerates into democracy (people/pleasure based rule- think of ancient Athens, or Norway, Iceland, or Sweden), which finally degenerates into  tyranny (the rule of absolute violence, and unrestrained desire). I think he was onto something. It is essentially the process of men and societies diverging from the highest good, Goodness Itself, to lesser, more divided goods, going through honour to wealth to selfish happiness to unrestrained desire.

What should government be?

The government’s duty is to serve the common good in accordance with the truth (it is impossible in discord with truth). Therefore, it should be honest; should seek the truth on every matter, with open, humble ears; it should respect the freedom of lower levels of government and society, which are generally better placed to look after their own common good; it should be firm in justice, but double so with itself; it should serve all, and respect all; it should be both strong and gentle; both reserved and courageous; it should be genuinely humble, never glorifying itself, but placing itself beneath others; it should be self-sacrificing and unprofitable; and undoubtedly much more. To simplify, a good government, and the people who compose it, should have all the qualities of a good father.

At this point you’re perhaps thinking this is literally paternalistic government. But the issue of paternalism would actually be an issue in a father too. The problem is the same in both overbearing parents and overbearing governments: both children and peoples need freedom in order to flourish, including the freedom to make mistakes.

Is this realistic?

If we could have a government of saints, absolutely! But saints are hard to come be, and generally wouldn’t want such a position. They know too well, how violence and sin thrive in power, and they don’t seek power, or its prestige and rewards. Their humility keeps them from seeking any position except the least. And the struggle for power, is a struggle, and they do not desire struggle and strife, but love and unity.

Still, it’s good to have ideals to reach for. If you’re in government, be like a good father and you’ll do well. For the rest of us, this can shape our engagement with politics, and perhaps we’ll see a conversion of our government.

palace_of_westminster2c_london_-_feb_2007

 

Finally

‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’
[Mk 10:42-45]

Whenever I read this passage, it makes me wonder if a Christian should be in politics at all. I don’t suppose Christian virtue would go very far. After all, the kingdoms of the world belong to satan, and are given to his worshippers [Lk 4:6]. I guess we must engage according to the gospel, and abandon any struggle for domination.

 

Please, share your thoughts! God bless you!

Quotes, quotes, quotes!

‘Justice renders to each one what is his, and claims not another’s property; it disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity.’
St. Ambrose of Milan, (339–397), Doctor of the Church

‘If love ruled on Earth, there would be no need for laws.’
Aristotle

‘Love is delight in what is good; the proper object of love is the good. To love is to wish good to someone.’
St. Thomas Aquinas

‘Remember that every government service, every offer of government-financed security, is paid for in the loss of personal freedom. Whenever a voice is raised telling you to let the government do it, analyze very carefully to see whether the suggested service is worth the personal freedom which you must forgo in return for such service.’
Ronald Reagan

‘The weak are always anxious for justice and equality. The strong pay no heed to either.’
Aristotle

‘Forsake all and you shall find all. Renounce desire and you will find peace.’
Thomas À Kempis

‘Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in anything less or pay heed to the crumbs that fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.’
St. John of the Cross

‘It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that he should not exist.’
Blaise Pascal

Peace is not the absence of violence, but the process of justice.
Aram I, (b. 1947) Catolicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, 2001

‘I repeat: to know how to say the Our Father, and to know how to put it into practice, this is the perfection of the Christian life.’
Pope John XXIII

‘What does it take to become a saint? Will it.’
St Thomas Aquinas

[these have been added to the quotes pages]

God bless you!