Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The curse of big government and the romantic ideal of liberty

We Americans are hearing complaints about the size of government and the threat to individual freedoms, often by persons seeing themselves as quite religious. In a way it is quite strange, in that from a purely social point of view one might see biblical history as that time when “every man did what was right in his own eyes,” to kingship, and after kingship collapsed, the creation of a religious legal system during the Exile. The New Testament story continues that social dialogue between a system of governance and personal liberties, as does the history of the churches to this day. 

As a young apostle, Paul seemed highly opposed to the idea of law; as an experienced missionary moving about the empire, he seemed much less so. Martin Luther, of course, seized on a liberating phrase from Paul to challenge an autocratic organization; my sympathies go out to a young monk getting out from under a monastic situation.

If you ever have an idle day to waste in intellectual unknoting, I suggest you take on the tension referred to in the title of this blog. To get you going, I wake up in the morning and begin going down my row of pills – I am of that age. On trust, I take it that the Federal Food and Drug Administration has done its duty and restrained the greed of somebody or other. I eat my breakfast in that trust, thankful that my appetite is not restrained by the thought of the unrestrained folly of someone or other that makes the noonday news. I water my garden in the knowledge that the act does not transfer the now toxic fertilizer from upstream that would do my wife in. I thank the goodly warmth of the sun – usually without appreciating there is a system in place that cuts down on the threat of acid rain. 

Some would attempt a solution by asking, “Why can’t we all just be law abiding citizens.” Ah, that’s the rub: “law abiding,” rests on a common standard of conduct.

In the days when my father was in the Texas state legislature, one of his favorite stories was of a Texas U football player whose fame resulted in him being elected to that august body. At the close of the session, the House had finished, while the Senate dawdled. To pass the time, legislators offered and passed resolutions. Our football hero outdid them all: he proposed that sin be abolished in Texas. It passed by unanimous voice vote.

Perhaps that is the only way to resolve the tensions between big government and personal freedom: if we could just abolish sin in Texas.

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