Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

07/04/2011 (11:03 am)

The Assumption of Governmental Holiness

A Christian friend on an Internet-based public discussion board made the following statement in passing. It illustrates a very common, modern mindset that needs very badly to be addressed.

The history since Christ’s first advent shows that many nations of the world have moved closer to what seems to be a Christian ethic while others still remain behind and the world, represented by the UN, judges the nations accordingly.

The partial truth of this masks a less obvious but far more dangerous error. I’ll call the error the “Assumption of Governmental Holiness.” Modern thought is trending in the direction of this error, and it may be the death of many of us.

I saw the same error in a different form on a blog by a very effective writer named Seth Godin. His blog article discussed the unethical representation of sunblock in modern advertising, observing that 95% of the harmful solar rays are not affected at all by the SPF level of these products. (They do, however, prevent painful sunburn, for which reason they’re still useful products.) After explaining, he piously declared this:

How can consumers look at this example and not believe that the regulation of marketing claims is the only way to insulate consumers from short-term selfish marketers in search of market share, marketers who will shade the truth, even if it kills some customers?

Meet the Assumption of Governmental Holiness. Seth somehow misses the fact, discussed openly in his own blog post, that both sunblock and advertising are already regulated. Worse: he actually states the reason, unwittingly, why regulation cannot work:

New regulations were recently announced, though it’s not surprising that many think the regs were watered down as a result of lobbying.

The truth is, millions, and possibly billions, of dollars have been wasted on regulation that had no impact, and millions more have been wasted on lobbying to ensure that that’s the case. But lobbying only works when the government is involved. Lobbying did not prevent me from learning about the scam. I learned about it by reading Seth’s blog. Seth’s freely-provided blog did more to protect me from being scammed than any regulation, or a billion regulations, ever could.

That, Seth Godin, is how a consumer can look at this example and not believe that regulation is the only answer.

How did Seth miss the answer? Somewhere in his unexamined assumptions is this one, utterly false notion:

The government represents pure good, or at the very least represents the best we have to offer.

No other presupposition could lead logically from “false advertising happens” to “regulation is the only answer.” But the error is obvious when we drag it out into the open. The government does not represent our best; it represents political power brokers, people who want control. We’re closer to the truth if we presuppose their corruption. They can only represent our best if they are tightly, closely monitored by ourselves, and if their power to control is severely limited. The less we count on government to enforce decency, and the more we count on ourselves directly to do it, the better.

Moreover, Seth’s blog demonstrates that while regulation does not work, there is something that does. The proper corrective to “false advertising happens” is “somebody needs to broadcast the truth.”

With that in mind, let’s revisit the quotation that introduced this thread, and see where the Assumption of Governmental Holiness leads us wrong.

Separate the statement into two parts. Part I:

…many nations of the world have moved close to … a Christian ethic while others remain behind…

This is partly true. The historically Christian nations of the West have had an enormous influence on both conduct and productivity throughout the world, and some of that influence comes from a godly source. There was no notion of individual rights, for example, before the Christian West produced it. The notion that one human being ought not to traffic in the flesh of another is another example. The near-universal disapproval of child labor is a third.

Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that because a notion has its origin in Christ, that every modern mention of that notion is equally Christian. Take individual rights, for example. In ordinary, human, pendulum fashion, many wicked humans abandoned the old way of domination based on heredity or station, and swung way past Christ’s standard into a sort of egalitarian hell in which every evil thing is allowed and no moral absolutes are acknowledged. They’ve even gone farther than that, using individual rights to ennoble and venerate women leaving their families to pursue “dreams,” and women murdering their children to protect “their rights.” These are just two of a myriad of ways that the godly idea of individual rights has been made extremely unholy. The other godly notions that Christ introduced to the world have not fared better, and have been likewise distorted and overshot.

Wherein lies the error of the Part II of the sentence we’re analyzing:

…the world, represented by the UN, judges the nations accordingly.

Even if it were the case that the UN actually represents the world — it does not — the real, egregious error here is the unstated but controlling supposition that the UN represents the Christian ethic he mentioned in the first part of the sentence, and not the backwardness. He makes the Assumption of Governmental Holiness. The UN has no Christian sanction. Even if the current enactment of the UN were the ideal, it would represent only the current position of the error pendulum.

Worse, the current UN does not come within 3 light years of enacting that ideal, nor can it. It does not represent good; it does not even represent the best of humanity. The UN represents the interests of the corrupt power-brokers who have usurped the power of leadership in their nations.

As such, the UN represents, not the Christ-influenced progress of the world, but the fulfillment of the rebellion Nimrod began way back at Babel, and which the Psalmist describes in opposition to God’s Messiah:

1 “Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.

To assert, without stating it or even really thinking it clearly, that the UN represents the Christianized ethics of the world, is as wrong as wrong can be, and arguably endorses antichrist.

We need also to understand that the Assumption of Governmental Holiness, itself, arises from an even more insidious assumption: the Assumption of Personal Godhood. Ultimately, those who assert the holiness of the government invariably do so by assuming that the government represents ME. The deeper, more evil assertion is that the individual knows what is good for others so well that he or she has earned the right to control their decisions.

We may make ourselves unwelcome, but the Assumption of Governmental Holiness is the central error of the current era, and we need to confront it and dispute it whenever we hear it. But beware the even deeper Assumption of Personal Godhood that is always lurking nearby. And that one actually has a formal name: meet the sin of Pride.

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