Years ago I had a nemesis. My counterpart positioned himself as a white knight type of character and was basically there to harass anyone too fond of the religious tribe I was born into. He knew the group, he had been a convert and was now an ex-member, who classified us as “an ethnic church” dismissing what we said about our conversion experience.
Now that I’ve left the group there is no reason to continue to guard the ideas left behind and that includes the notion that my own participation had been completely a choice. There are doctrinal reasons for this denial of the obvious. I mean, if you believe that conversion is a personal choice, a rational and unbiased conclusion, then it really gets under your skin when someone says that you’re more or less a product of a religious culture.
We were, in our own eyes, a sort of remnant church. And then also had to deal with the awkward reality that many, like us, were so inbred that they had distinct genetic disorders. And, unlike our radical forbearers, we had no cultural relevance besides being the quaint old fashioned people who dressed like it was the 1800s and called this non-conformity to the world. So, obviously, the fact that everyone who shared our views happened to be genetically related was the source of cognitive dissonance.
It is for this reason that converts, the more exotic the better, were clung to and even given special treatment. We would say it was out of Christian love and yet some of this had to do with our own insecurities. They were our validation. They were the proof that we were more than just an ethnic cloister, more than a bunch of cousins of a particular European heritage claiming that our own brand of religion represented something universal and relevant to the times.
Those who come into this group, visibly from the outside, are often treated both with mistrust and also with a special adoration as well. They can never be fully accepted, they’re always both more and less than equal, coddled or spared normal rebuke from some to keep them from leaving, and yet also can sense that they’re just the tokens being used to prove a point rather than being treated as people. Sure, they may form real friendships with some, but they themselves are often misfits from whence they came and still remain stuck in no man’s land.
Now that I’m in a church that both spans continents and is mostly converts locally, I don’t have as strong an urge to collect tokens or evidence that I’m not just a product of my ethnocultural roots. I mean, sure, I still want to be right. But the pressure to bring the Gospel to all people is off my shoulders. The Church didn’t take long to spread into Asia or Africa, early Christians didn’t dress like Europeans from a generation ago either, there may be some times to chase down Ethiopian eunuchs in their chariots, and yet there’s also a time to acknowledge that the fullness of the faith has never left Africa.
Evangelicals, of all stripes, have this desperation for relevance. They think that they will win more converts by being more cosmopolitan, and by painting a picture of superficial diversity and inclusion, but Jesus said that his message would make the world hate us and even divide families. If we have the truth, if we know the truth, we are no longer bound to ethnic quotas and, instead, simply love people, especially of the household of faith, as we are commanded. Jesus preached to his own tribe first, his converts were mostly other Jews, like him, and that was perfectly fine.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
“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.