16 August 2014

Allegiance to Power

Allegiance to an idea or allegiance to a brand, take your pick.

These seem to be the options that are given to us in American society. The government embraces certain ideas. There are debates within the government as to what the ideas should be, whether they should be static or reminiscent of past 'glory' or for other factions the nation's policies should be dynamic and forward looking.
Despite the seemingly deep divide, they both agree in terms of their basic assumptions regarding the rightness and morality of the state. And all factions embrace certain historical narratives about the uniqueness of the state vis-a-vis the other nations of the world.
And all political factions embrace the notion of power being employed through the threat of violence (implicit in all legislation), to shape the culture and mold the will of people both in our society and in others.
Corporations are only concerned with ideas when they can utilize them in a way that markets their brand. If allowed, corporations will step into the role of government which furthers their task of promoting their brand. Usually this just means expanding their field into a wide array of commercial concerns.
If given the opportunity they will mandate their brand. We can see this in coal towns or how the banking and credit industry functions (e.g. credit scores) or in how the insurance industry labours to promote everything from seat belt laws to building codes.
Save us from the government is a plea we often hear today and it's certainly one Christian's can resonate with. Although many Christians who take up the cry are seem to be unaware of their own allegiances and ideologies. All too often they also are quick to utilize and embrace power and their cry of deliverance is rooted not in the thing itself, but in fear of one form of statism, one twist on the narrative.
And many of these people are blind to the power wielded by corporations and how they too can oppress lives, shape legislation and protect themselves. Ask the people in West Virginia about the tyranny of corporations who pollute and destroy their land and largely do so with impunity. These Corporations have become institutions of power... quasi-states as it were.
The real issue isn't the state vs. the corporation. The issue at hand is the question of power itself. Any time it is accumulated a hierarchy begins to form and the people at the bottom will suffer.
Hierarchies are natural it can be argued. That's life in a fallen world. Perhaps that's true. Any time people live together in a society that is compromised of more than a few families there will have to be some kind of rule. If the rule is unenforceable then it's rendered meaningless.
Hence the need for some kind of government. If the society is small enough the government can consist of the local heads of household standing around the campfire for a meeting. Law enforcement might be little more than a consensus of men showing up at your door with clubs.
But for about 99% of the world today that sort of frontier-style arrangement isn't really plausible. And in truth when we consider the size of the population and the way resources must be shared it's impossible. Even those like the Amish who reject much of modern life are finding it difficult to avoid legal entanglement.
What's the answer? I don't believe there is one. My point is only to suggest that many conservatives are missing the real nature of the problem. Reducing government regulation and pushing for privatization doesn't solve the problem. It's just swapping one type of power for another. Both are corrupting and in the end harmful to many aspects of human life.
As the Church we need to re-think the whole issue of power. It's not easy to do, because it's deeply entrenched in our theology and traditions. As the Church in the world I would argue we're not called to embrace power but to reject it. Government serves its Providential purpose. It keeps men (for the most part) from engaging in mass slaughter. But it does this through the threat of violence, the threat of retribution.
As Christians we cannot escape this reality, but the New Testament teaches we are to have nothing to do with it. From turning the cheek to allowing the Lord to be the executor of vengeance, the state is always the 'other'... outside the covenant purview.
We are like Isaiah. We are martyr-witnesses, a prophetic voice and remnant/altar community. We proclaim the message people don't want to hear and we'll never stop no matter what they try and do to us. We will appear as fools to them and we will certainly suffer if we're being faithful. We don't seek power, we reject it, and like our Lord we despise this world and all it has to offer and declare ourselves citizens of Zion.
We don't do all of this because we're getting something out of it. We turn our backs on the world and die while rejoicing because we have the peace and joy the world cannot understand. We possess the one thing that every philosopher has sought since time began. We have the Truth.
And we possess it in a world of lies and criminality, in an evil age full of those who seek their own wealth and advancement and in the end are perfectly happy to rape, murder and steal in order to get it.
This world is not our home and we have no stake or interest in trying to see it 'reformed' or fixed. We are her to proclaim and die, save and give hope... and then we go home.
Those who embrace power and seek it (as if it were a substitute for the Kingdom) are condemned and having tried to make this earth the Kingdom of Heaven will find they neither can forge it nor will they partake of it. It will always escape their grasp.
Let us not be fooled by the rampaging dialogue in the media and within our churches over political paradigms and visions for society. They're all missing the point and the real issues that are at stake.