politics

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

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!

The Church must unite Britain

[As a postscript to my last post, ‘Britain is split in two, and we must make it one’, I wrote the below about the Church’s role in bringing unity and justice to Britain and the world. Because I expect some readers are interested in the Church more than mere politics, I’m posting this separately. Hope you enjoy.]

In this work of bringing true unity to the country and to the world, the Church should be at the forefront. The Church’s rich tradition embraces all of humanity, and listens to the voice of the poor as much as the expert. The individualist ideology of the modern world could never unite a people, and when people turn to national, ethnic, or religious identity for meaning and community, they only get the unity of a common separation; but true religion offers true meaning and true unity, that reaches out to all in love and service.

We might think Britain is too rich to hear the gospel. The truth is, Britain and the modern world suffer from extreme poverty. As Bl. Mother Teresa said,

‘There is much suffering in the world — very much. And this material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases, but I still think the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.’

Britain is desperate for the gospel. We are desperate to be a people, each turned towards God in our neighbour.

Catholics need to realise, above all others, it is our duty to work for love, justice, and the common good. Jesus, the light of the world (Jn 8:12), told us we are the light of the world (Mt 5:14), and we must realise this.

The sad thing is, to many people, the Church is part of the establishment. We must lower ourselves, identify with all those in need and on the margins of society, and become in practice Pope Francis’ “poor Church for the poor”.

 

God bless you!

ITALY-VATICAN-POPE-IMMIGRATION-HOLY THURSDAY

Pope Francis washing the feet of migrants

‘I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets rather that a church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.’
Pope Francis

‘Mercy is the prophecy of a new world, in which the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity.’
Pope Francis

Britain is split in two. We must make it one

Last Thursday, the People of Britain voted (51.9% to 48.1%) to leave the European Union. I wrote why I believe we should leave here. In the aftermath of the results, we saw just as much anger and division as during the campaign, and possibly even more. The name-calling was genuinely astounding. If there’s one thing to take from this referendum, it’s that Britain is more deeply divided than it has been for a very, very long time.

A YouGov survey (which I’m afraid I can’t find) showed that on the subject of the EU referendum, for every influential voice (from economists and world leaders to actors and sportspeople), Leave voters strongly distrusted them. Which shouldn’t really surprise us, since the majority in practically every field agreed that we should remain.

Leave voters were not just rejecting the European Union, they were rejecting the entire modern establishment, of which it is just another embodiment. Everyone with influence is, by that fact, just another part of the establishment. It’s little more than a matter of us versus them, where, contrary to the narrative that the Leave campaign was mere xenophobia (though there was definitely a good deal of that), they are the “powers that be” in our world. And we are the people of Britain, excluding our elites, because they have already betrayed us, supposedly to serve the foreign devils. When Leavers spoke about freedom, they meant the freedom of the British people, and not the freedom of the British establishment, and as the debate wore on, it became more and more evident these were not the same thing.

If we look now back to the Remain camp, you’ll see just the same division defining them. These are the people who identify themselves as educated, enlightened, freethinkers, on the side of “progress”. They trust our elites. Or at least they trust a portion of our elites, and in trusting them, they reveal their trust in the systems and institutions they work in.  In their campaigning, they quoted economists, politicians, and experts of every kind. They spoke about what’s best for Britain, but were always referring to the Britain of the establishment, of the rich and powerful, because to them, that just is Britain. They weren’t even aware that to much of the population, the British establishment has betrayed the British people. Because they didn’t see this alienation, they could only understand leaving as stupidity and hardheadedness against the obvious good of the nation. In retrospect, their campaign was not tailored towards Leave voters at all.

median

Both education and income correlate to greater support for remaining in the EU

Basically, those who have become part of the establishment trust and support it, and those who feel left out, with no power and no hope, do not.

The EU has, for a long time, been made a scapegoat for the failures of the establishment as a whole, by the media and our government. Any degree of perceived euroscepticism was an easy way for our media and politicians to pretend at being anti-establishment, and pro the people. But ultimately, it is genuine disillusionment from our modern world as a whole, as shown by the general distrust, that fuelled the exit.

In working up these feelings of disillusionment for the sake of their own manoeuvring within the British establishment, those who headed up the leave campaign, in politics and the media, have played a very dangerous game. It won’t be long before people realise that nothing has fundamentally changed, and they are no more free than before. At this point, either we’ll be stuck blaming ourselves (or the “idiots”) for leaving the EU, or we’ll see that the EU was just one manifestation of the worldwide establishment that has failed and excluded the people.

We have to commit ourselves here and now, to fighting for the people. And not just the people of Britain, but the people of the whole world, who are today being oppressed as one man.

That’s not to say that we should ignore everything our established experts have to say. Not by a long shot. There’s no true knowledge or expertise that we should reject, and everyone that works in the establishment, but not for the establishment, must be encouraged. We must bring all knowledge and all expertise to truly serve the people. The people must be heard, and the people must listen.

Britain, and the whole world, is split in two, and we must make it one.

 

Peace and love, and may God’s blessing go with you

 

Postscript on the Church’s role in this

In this work of bringing true unity to the country and to the world, the Church should be at the forefront. The Church’s rich tradition embraces all of humanity, and listens to the voice of the poor as much as the expert. The individualist ideology of the modern world could never unite a people, and when people turn to national, ethnic, or religious identity for meaning and community, they only get the unity of a common separation; but true religion offers true meaning and true unity, that reaches out to all in love and service.

We might think Britain is too rich to hear the gospel. The truth is, Britain and the modern world suffer from extreme poverty. As Bl. Mother Teresa said,

‘There is much suffering in the world — very much. And this material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases, but I still think the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.’

Britain is desperate for the gospel. We are desperate to be a people, each turned towards God in our neighbour.

Catholics need to realise, above all others, it is our duty to work for love, justice, and the common good. Jesus, the light of the world (Jn 8:12), told us we are the light of the world (Mt 5:14), and we must realise this.

The sad thing is, to many people, the Church is part of the establishment. We must lower ourselves, identify with all those in need and on the margins of society, and become in practice Pope Francis’ “poor Church for the poor”.

 

God bless you!

‘I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets rather that a church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.’
Pope Francis

‘Mercy is the prophecy of a new world, in which the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity.’
Pope Francis

The EU and Paradise

image

Tonight, the above EU poster made me finally realise just what the EU really is. By using the image of the tower of Babel (on the left is the 16th century painting it’s based upon), the EU declares its design to bring all of humanity together (which is great, by the way) and reach/create heaven by our own strength (which is very, very bad). This is shown also by the Remain camps appeal to the EU for bringing peace.

What’s so wrong with this? Every attempt to create paradise by our own power always has and always will bring nothing but slavery. The Nazis believed in, and sacrificed to, a glorious Arian future. The Soviets believed in, and sacrificed to, a glorious communist future. Revolutionaries always believe in the post-revolution world, and commit atrocities for it. Whatever we make our ultimate end, will always demand sacrifices of everything else.

What about Christianity, with its promised “Kingdom of Heaven”? The Kingdom of Heaven demands a far greater sacrifice than any other revolution: it demands our very selves. This is the meaning of the cross: the Kingdom of Heaven is giving yourself away in love of others. Do we do this by our own strength? Not at all! How could self abolish self? The Christian’s self sacrifice is not how they win the Kingdom for themselves- it is the Kingdom! Because the Kingdom of Heaven is not our creation, but a gift to receive in us, we have no work in which to sacrifice for a greater, “sacred”, good, but have only to live Heaven now.

‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ -Jesus

The EU believes in itself, and for that reason will oppress people. It trusts in strength to achieve its goals, but strength and power can never bring true harmony, love and joy. The Church on the other hand, believes in God’s gift of Himself to us, and in this gift the whole Church is called to give itself away. It is by lowliness, humility, and love, and these alone, that Heaven is brought to Earth.

“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.” (Mark 10:42-45)

So what’s the problem with the EU? That it believes it can, through mere collective intelligence and power, force the world into unity. The Body of Christ (the Church) on the other hand, calls the world to true unity in its own self-giving sacrifice of love, in which your life is mine and mine is yours.

We are, as always, having to choose between using/forcing others, and loving/helping them, and this time, because the aim is as high as it gets (heaven), so are the stakes.

Peace and love, and God bless you!