Sheep Need Shepherds, Not Critics

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Want to say “does not respond well to authority” without saying it?  Just post a meme proclaiming yourself as a lion and decrying others as sheeple.  Of course, the popular origin of this lion meme was a Trump retweet of the quote, “It is better to live a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”  The irony being that these ‘lions’ who have used the phrase since are still following someone’s lead.

The reality is, even in this current age of individualism, we are social creatures and are more often responding to the pressure of the crowd than thinking for ourselves.  The ideas that motivate us, the narratives and interpretive overlays that we embrace, these aren’t things that we created in our own minds.  But rather we have inherited many base assumptions from our homes or communities and will continue to be influenced our entire life.

And, speaking of influence, there was a review of Downfall, a movie about the last days of Adolf Hitler, that got me thinking about leadership.  For obvious reasons, this is viewed from a negative light in regard to the Nazi dictator.  The faith of the German people in their government is what enabled the atrocities of the regime.  Viewing a flawed human being (or any collection of human authorities) as God is something very dangerous.

I’ve written frequently warning against the mob spirit and peer pressure.  We should learn how to think for ourselves, make our own decisions, or we may be swept up in the latest propaganda campaign and used for immoral ends.

However, I also had to think that this unique ability of humans to organize around one charismatic personality is also the strength of our species and has given us a great competitive advantage over the strongest individuals.  Our hunter-gather ancestors were only able to take down larger animals for food or to protect the themselves from deadly predators by working together.  This took leadership, it required someone to be the point man of the group or coordinator of the collective effort.

So, sure, as the video says, “those full of doubts are desperate to follow those who are sure of themselves,” and “view them as shortcuts to prosperity,” yet this urge to fall in behind the Alpha is not always such a bad thing and is actually key to our success in building civilizations.  A great leader can empower and get more from the group than the sum of the individual parts.  I see this in John, the co-owner and true boss man at my company, without his infectious ambition and decisive confidence I can’t see us being near where we are.

The truth is that there are extraordinary men, there are those who do better embody the collective hopes of their people and thus are granted a right to rule.  One only needs to consider the story of David, a lowly shepherd boy, who faced down the giant Goliath and through his courage inspired the armies of Israel to defeat the Philistines.  Of course, this is not only a role for men either, the confidence of Deborah (Judges 4) or faithful example of Joan of Arc is what led to the decisive victories of their people over occupiers and oppressors.

People Need Leadership, Not Lords

We can talk about the ideal and imagine a world where everyone is completely able to take initiative, where order is always 100% voluntary and there is no need of authority or a leadership position.  That is the design of the Israelite tribes before they demanded a king to rule over them.  But even then, in that sort of anarchist system, there were judges that were appointed by Moses to arbitrate disputes and Moses, for his Divine call and standing up to Pharaoh, was the defacto leader of his people.

Every human is flawed.  Moses fled into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian and, despite hearing from God, needed Aaron to speak for him.  King David, the great warrior leader he was, had a loyal companion, Uriah sent to die in battle in order to cover for his adultery with Bathsheba.  The temptation of every person given power over other people is to use it to their own personal advantage rather than for the good of the group.  That is why the children of Israel were given this stern warning before appointing a ruler:

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

(1 Samuel 8:10‭-‬20 NIV)

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We don’t have kings today, but we do have an all-powerful political class, that is mostly exempted from the laws they apply to us, who never met a new tax they do not like, and always willing to send our children to die to defend their own bloated ego or for the financial gain of the ruling class.  Sure, call it ‘democracy’ as you vote for Tweedledee or Tweedledumb, but neither team red nor team blue actually represent you.  We’re ruled not even by these visibly elected, but by special interests and those behind the scenes who pull the purse strings.

And therein lies the difference between the good leaders and the bad.  The shepherd leader fills the role for the good of the flock, even willing to sacrifice themselves for the life of their sheep.  The corrupt leader uses their power and authority as a means to dominate those who are under them.  A good leader serves as an example, they encourage and try to get the best out of those looking to them for guidance.  The evil politician, on the other hand, delights in creating dependency and keeping others subject to their whims.

In the end, no man is actually worthy to lead of their own authority and it is only through understanding our own place before God, that we ourselves are not God, that we can ever fill the role.  Self-belief and narcissism, with a little psychopathy, is often what will get a person to the top spot.  But humility and faith, valuing all individuals enough to go find the one lost sheep, that is the mark of a Godly leader.  The only person fit to lead is one who is willing to submit to those who have authority over them.

The delusion of the Protestant independent spirit is that every man (or woman) and their Bible becomes their own king.  This “you’re not the boss of me” attitude, in response to flawed leadership or simply as rebellion, is precisely why the church is becoming increasingly impotent.  The Church, at least the one that Christ founded, had those given the authority to bind and loose, a council to decide important matters and those who acted as fathers.  This hierarchy was never comprised of those faultless.  No, what made them worthy, and the only thing that makes any of us worthy, is being clothed in the righteousness of the one Great Shepherd.

We need sheep who know they are sheep and shepherds, appointed to feed the flocks, like Peter:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

(John 21:15‭-‬17 NIV)

In my own spiritual journey, after my own Bible-based authority failed me, God provided me with a man who would end his emails with the phrase “your unworthy priest” and is truly that.  Fr Anthony is a very well-educated man, a college professor, and one who could easily flaunt his credentials as a means to humiliate some like me.  But what has given him true authority, in my eyes, is how he humbly serves as a true example of Christian leadership. 

He is a shepherd and the Church really needs more who are like him.

The King (Government) Can’t Save You… (The Long Delayed Part 2 To “The People Want A King)

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Originally, a few years ago, I had planned a multi-part series, “The People Want A King,” to discuss the establishment of rulers in the Biblical narrative and make it applicable to our own times. The short version is that God gave his people a king, while warning them of the costs, because they wanted to be like other nations.

The costs were great…

  • Kings demanded more and more for themselves.
  • The centralization of power from many to few only increased the magnitude of corruption without providing a solution.
  • And, ultimately, the king could not provide the protection the people had sought when they established the throne.

People then, like people now, wanted an authority figure, someone to lead them and take responsibility for their lives. They ended up with nothing but trouble: Higher taxes, more wars for the glory of the crown, and a growing number of rules that applied to them but never the ruler. Even the good kings did horrendous things with the power that had been entrusted to them and our modern-day governments not much different in that regard.

Despite this, most people can’t even imagine a world without governments and many still look to leaders to act as a wise fatherly figure in times of crisis. Some would even like the government to play a nurturing role, they fantasize about this motherly figure that gives them everything and asks nothing but love in return. It seems that a majority of people believe that government leaders (or at least those of their own political party) are imbued with special powers of discernment and serve a role that can’t be questioned.

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”

(Psalm 146:3)

Christians are told on multiple occasions to pray for and respect civil authorities. We are told by St. Paul that the punishment of evil is for our good and therefore we should not resist. But that said, this idea that government leaders, the representatives of bureaus and bureaucracies, have some sort of god-like infallibility and superior wisdom is plain wrong. We cannot trust them to save us any more than anyone else. And if we learn anything from their mistakes we should know:

The Myth of Special Knowledge or Abilities

For the amount of faith that some seem to have in our institutions, you may think that our leaders have a near-perfect batting average. It does not take long to compile a list of huge government blunders and starting with the handling of Covid-19. The virus wasn’t even on the radar of many of our elected officials before things got bad in Italy and when they finally did respond they did in a manner that did not make sense.

For example, state governments forced nursing homes to take Covid-19 patients. They literally took Covid-19 directly to our most vulnerable populations, where 2/3rds of the deaths in my state have occurred. And, simultaneously, they prevented those least threatened by the disease from working or going to school—which resulted in an uptick of overdoses and suicides. This also at the same time Pennsylvania Health Secretary, Dr. Levine, was removed their own 95-year-old mom from a personal care home.

So, take your pick, gross incompetence, or plain evil, either way, state officials responded the exact opposite of what would actually make sense, in a way that would actually maximize the harm done, and these are the people we trust with our collective welfare?

And then there is the not so small matter of shutting down rest areas in a time when truck drivers, always essential, were as essential as ever. You would think that if the goal were to stop the spread of the virus you would want your road warriors to have clean and easily accessible restroom facilities, along with a safe place to sleep. But, to this day, many rest areas remain closed and those open have dingy unheated porta-potties rather than open their regular restrooms to travelers. In a time when health and hygiene is supposedly our focus, they have forced unsanitary and stressful conditions on essential workers. Even after being confronted on this, they continue to persist with this asinine policy with absolutely no regard for the well-being of truckers.

Sure, this could be a mistake. There certainly is no reason to assume that there is some sort of malicious intention here. But it does demonstrate that they lack a special power of discernment over the rest of us. It should make us consider that maybe their whole perspective is wrong. I mean, if their judgment of small matters is so poor, why should we take their word on large matters?

Could it be that those who were elected for their charisma and/or party affiliation and are not truly qualified to lead anything?

Could it be that various government officials were appointed for political reasons, made their careers in places where job performance didn’t actually matter too much, and are incompetent?

Yes, government leaders can get caught up in hype and hysteria just like the rest of us. No, neither they nor their advisors have a special power of discernment. This reality may be disconcerting to those who want a benevolent dictator to tell them what to do, nevertheless, it is true.

The same leaders who nonsensically force truckers to use the least sanitary option could also be blissfully unaware of the severe (and deadlier) economic impact they are inflicting on us. The same leaders who forced nursing homes to take Covid-19 patients, evidently knowing the likely outcome, could be completely calloused to the pain that they are inflicting on you.

Myth That Only Government Can Do Great Things

There are many who are skeptical of government and yet default to the idea that we need to provide us with various services. I mean, who would build the roads if it wasn’t for PennDOT, right?

Of course, never mind that PennDOT doesn’t build roads, they take our money through taxes and then subcontract the actual building to private companies. The reason for this is very simple: The government can never match private for-profit enterprises for efficient use of resources because there is simply no incentive to do so. Therefore, due to this disconnect, when the government does do anything themselves it is insanely expensive and prone to failure.

Government funded and ready for launch!

A prime example, from a century ago, was the competition between Samuel Pierpoint Langley and two brothers from Ohio, Orville and Wilber Wright, to build the first powered flying machine. Langley, funded by the government and fawned over by the media, he had all the right connections and credentials, but his overwrought design ended up in the Potomac River. The Wrights, by contrast, had little to no attention, didn’t even have high school diplomas, ran a bicycle sales and repair business, and beat Langley to powered flight with a very low budget and simple design. But, despite this, it is Langley’s name that graces an Army airbase, the CIA headquarters, and a NASA center.

Oopsies!

Speaking of NASA, the agency has, at great taxpayer expense, done some amazing things. We take for granted the satellites in orbit, the trips to the moon and back, along with the many things this government agency had pioneered that have since become integrated into our own lives. Could one person ever rival these great accomplishments?

The answer is yes.

The answer is that Elon Musk, with SpaceX, can do everything NASA is doing and at a far lower price. It costs a fraction of what the government spent historically for Space X to launch:

“Between 1970 and 2000, the cost to launch a kilogram to space remained fairly steady, with an average of US$18,500 per kilogram. When the space shuttle was in operation, it could launch a payload of 27,500 kilograms for $1.5 billion, or $54,500 per kilogram. For a SpaceX Falcon 9, the rocket used to access the ISS, the cost is just $2,720 per kilogram.”

But it isn’t just space flight that is made easier and less expensive through private innovation. No, at a time when the US Postal Service, a government entity that is supposed to be self-sustaining, can barely make ends meet, there is Jeff Bezos and Amazon making a tremendous profit while delivering tons of products. Sure, Amazon uses the Postal Service, and yet the lack of ability of the government enterprise to modernize and adapt to the current market conditions that is proving to be a fatal flaw. As they beg for another taxpayer bailout, Bezos and others will continue to prove that the same task can be done better and with lower overhead costs.

The idea that there is any worthwhile project that is beyond the reach of the brilliant innovators of the present, without it being financed directly by the government, is completely bogus. Yes, certainly, unlike the Wright Brothers, the Musks and Bezos of this generation do take every tax break or advantage offered to them by government. But you could eliminate all of that entanglement and they would still do it better than any government agency at a fraction of the cost. The government never actually does great things. No, at best it is only ever a middleman that hires people or companies, supposedly on our behalf, that does the great things.

Myth That Only Government Can Keep Us Safe

If you look at the big problems of the past couple of decades that may require government sized intervention, from the 9/11 attacks to the viral outbreak originating in Wuhan, there is a disturbing pattern that emerges. Not only did this super expensive security apparatus not stop the various events and keep us safe, but it may also have actually been the cause of these events due to their prior interventions.

There likely would not be the Islamic Republic of Iran today had it not been for the CIA’s meddling in the domestic politics of Iran. Osama Bin Laden had been an ally in our government’s proxy war against the Soviet Union before he became a threat that cost trillions. Our top US health advisor, across multiple US administrations, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is linked to the organization that funded bat and coronavirus research in a lab in none other than (drumroll, please) Wuhan, China.

No, this is not a conspiracy theory, I’m not even convinced it was malicious in intent in any of the cases above. I agree with Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” But, regardless, there is certainly a strong case to make that high-ranking government officials do not comprehend the consequences of their actions, do not account for the blowback, and their solutions often create bigger problems.

Are you sure you want the same people who created the problem, in the first place, to manage the response as well?

Maybe it is time for a second opinion…

And then there is the inconvenient truth that many in government are the actual criminals!

Well, not that those truly guilty are ever prosecuted by the same standards applied to us or others of lower political status. Case and point: General Flynn was criminally prosecuted for what amounts to a perjury trap and in the context of an investigation that had no legal basis, to begin with, but a certain prominent US politician lied under oath to Congress and never faced any real threat of punishment.

No, we are no better today than in the time of kings when it comes to equal justice. Those with real power (usually the combination of media and government agencies sympathetic) are never held accountable or to nearly the same standard that is applied to the average person. Even in Pennsylvania, where nursing homes were forced by the state government to take Covid-19 patients, guess who is being investigated by the state Attorney General for the resultant deaths? If you guessed the governor’s administration that ordered the sick into the nursing homes, then you would be wrong. Nope, instead, they will investigate the nursing homes, which is a typical “smokescreen” strategy or means to distract from those who truly should be held accountable.

The Myth of the Significant Party Difference

One of the most persistent and most blinding myths of politics is that the two parties represent something vastly different. If you are one of those Obama fanboys who still believes that his administration was scandal-free even now, because he says so, even after the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal, after weaponization of the IRS against political rivals, and actually believe he didn’t know anything about the Watergate-esque spying under his watch, then you are a complete tool. Likewise, if you see Trump as being a saint because he says some Christian things and posed with some pastors, then you are an insufferable fool.

The real difference between the two men is that Obama is and expects to be catered to as one who can wax eloquent in a manner that sends shivers down the legs of other social elites, while Trump is a populist who knows how to work a crowd and is old (or rich) enough not to care what the talking heads think. If you don’t see Obama as being as narcissistic and corrupt as Trump then you probably also side against Biden’s accuser, with a corroborated allegation of sexual assault, while screaming #believewomen only a couple years ago because that is what you were told to do. Trump might be a bully, an unapologetic Twitter troll, but Obama is the popular snob who snickers behind the backs of those of lower status while knowing how to work the system in his own favor.

The only reason that I find Trump tolerable is that he offends who aren’t accustomed to being called out and is the underdog in the fight. The fact that Trump is loathed by the corporate media and political establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, is enough reason to like him. Most Trump ‘scandals’ amount to little more than elaborate misinformation campaigns. For example, when Trump suggested hydroxychloroquine had promise as a treatment option for Covid-19, something many doctors agree with, this was equated to telling people to drink poison and is still being ridiculed. Why? Well, because Trump said it and they hate him with a blinding passion. They would probably rather die than acknowledge that Trump is right.

But, in the end, I do not see Trump as a savior any more than any other politician. Sure, I am glad that he’s a challenge to the status quo. It’s fun to see his rivals become unglued and expose themselves as being as nasty under the thin veneer of their fancier, more sophisticated, language. However, the idea that any particular political party or person has all the right answers, or that Trump can be trusted with power more than anyone else, is balderdash. Trump should be mistrusted. He is as fallible as anyone else. My only complaint is that those attacking him, often for overtly political reasons, never face the same level of scrutiny nor are ever held accountable for their abuses.

The Myth of Having to Be Pro- or Anti-government

After writing all of that one might assume that I’m anti-government. I’m not. I believe that governments exist for a reason and abolishing them would not result in harmonious perfection. The same evils that plague government leaders would not simply go away because we eliminate the government and there is a moral order enforced by the state even if we do not fully agree with it. Sure, we may not like that a State Trooper gives us a speeding ticket and yet most of us are appreciative when a murderer is brought to justice in a way that we couldn’t do individually for ourselves.

In the Philippines, where the central state is relatively weak and law enforcement resources stretched thin, murderers often face no consequences. I know this from having experienced it first hand, the men who murdered uncle Roland are still free despite strong leads because the police there do not have the ability to follow up. By contrast, in the United States, even with the smallest leads, government investigators were able to find the killer of Sasha Krause recently and Marco Kauffman before that. That closure provided doesn’t bring back those loved ones taken away, but it certainly does help to take a killer off of the street and to provide some deterrence against others who would do evil.

If the United States government were to disband the relief from the tyranny we know would be extremely temporary and the peace short-lived as something would come in to fill the vacuum. A disorganized band of anarchists will do very little to stop even a Mexican cartel, let alone the People’s Republic of China, or anyone else who decided to take advantage. The peaceable folk who enjoy prosperity under the umbrella of government protection would either need to lose their disposition or learn to appreciate the taxation without representation of armed thugs who take whatever they want, including the innocence of their daughters, without ever needing to face consequences. We would be foolish not to consider the benefits of our imperfect order over the likely alternatives.

But, that said, I’m under no delusion as far as the righteousness of our social elites and governing authorities. They are as flawed and lacking in good discernment anyone else and often too often greedy for more power by any means.

Anyhow, I had sat on this post for a couple of weeks because I didn’t know how to finish. The tragic circumstances of George Floyd’s death, while in the hands of the Minneapolis Police, underscores the point of this blog quite well. No matter how intentioned or carefully formed, there is no escaping the reality that governments aren’t any better than the people that populate their nations. There is simply no escape for this reality, that no government in history or currently existing can save us from ourselves. The only hope for perfect justice is through faith in the kingdom where the fears, prejudice and greed, lust for power and lawlessness, are finally defeated in the hearts of men. Where we can govern ourselves according to the example of Jesus Christ.