Please forgive me if I’m not quite up to date with the latest in the Christian world.
When I was in junior high and high school, we received a notebook every year around January that contained on its cover the Ten Commandments. There were even occasions (at least once when I was in the tenth grade) that we were given those little New Testament Bibles. So naturally our school had no sex education program–abstinence or otherwise, which is fine since it’s a parent’s duty to explain procreation to their children, not the state’s–and only barely had a drug education program.
I’m speaking for… basically all… Mississippians when I say that the Bibles and notebooks were unnecessary. In a pragmatic sense, the notebooks were fantastic, because they always came around the time I needed a fresh notebook to continue my writing and not doing schoolwork. Teachers often loathed me for that, because they knew I was not paying attention, that I was writing some story, but when I passed the tests it didn’t leave them many ways to chastise me.
I’d wager that maybe one in two hundred kids didn’t have their own copy of the Bible, though, and I had at least two.
There was controversy surrounding the Ten Commandments, though (because of course there was), specifically whether it was stated that Thou shalt not kill or Thou shalt not murder.
This is an important distinction for a few reasons. First, God kills a number of people in the Bible by any translation, and, if you really want to split hairs, is inadvertently responsible for every death by creating life (unless you subscribe to the literal interpretation of Genesis, in which case he’s still responsible for putting the tree in the garden, but it’s not my intention to attack theology). Second, large portions of the Bible prescribe killing people as the punishment for everything from witchcraft to adultery. In order to avoid a conflict between “Thou shalt not kill [period]” and “Thou shalt kill these people,” it was necessary to draw a distinction between killing (The taking of life) and murder (presumably the unjust taking of human life).
It’s worth mentioning, though, that if our universe has a creator, then its moral mandates to us are not commandments to itself. Such a being has a perspective on human existence that we simply cannot attain, and is sure to abide what would seem to us as Blue & Orange morality. We silly mortals are unlikely to understand the value system of this creator, its criteria for assessing value, or its reason for doing so. Mandate from such a being would be perfectly acceptable, because we couldn’t even grasp its reasoning.
But the “Do as I say, not as I do” thing isn’t really a point of contention for Christians anyway–whether they’ve given it sufficient thought or not, they understand this. It’s mostly just a masturbation exercise for atheists (The Atheist Experience comes to mind, as they do it a lot) who refuse to accept that the existence of a god would instantly invalidate all moral values that weren’t its own. But he who makes the rules determines who is just; he who defines morality determines who is moral.
So the true importance of this distinction isn’t whether the creator of the universe must abide the moral proclamations it passes down to us; the true importance is whether the state has to.
Whew! What a leap, right? Here we were discussing theology, with no mention of the state, then BAM!
It’s not a leap at all, though, because what is the institution that would be responsible for outlawing and punishing heretics and adulterers? It would be the state.
Obviously, the church and state were not always separate things; if they had been, we wouldn’t today have the phrase “separation of church and state.” However, we’d be delusional to suggest that the separation of church and state has been total, throughout the world or throughout the United States. In fact, many sects within Christianity attempt to legislate based on the moral values that they (correctly or incorrectly) say stem from their religion. North Carolina’s transgender restroom law comes to mind, and anti-sodomy laws have only recently been repealed.
In order to carry out and enforce this fundamentalist morality, it is often necessary to break that morality, as we mentioned above. In order to carry out the moral proclamation “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” it is necessary to break the moral proclamation “Thou shalt not kill.” This is why the state, much as the deity we mentioned earlier, gets a pass on its own moral statements.
We do this with euphemisms. “Thou shalt not steal” doesn’t apply to taxation for some inexplicable reason. “Thou shalt not murder” doesn’t apply to war, the abomination of capital punishment, or a police officer killing someone. “Thou shalt not keep slaves”* doesn’t apply to forced military conscription or prison labor. “Thou shalt not rape” doesn’t apply when you send someone to a place where you know they will be raped.
The knee-jerk reaction is to say that taxation isn’t theft, that conscription isn’t slavery, and that being an accomplice sending someone to a rape factory doesn’t count as rape. But no arguments can be put forward to back these positions. One can only say, “Nuh-uh!” and leave it at that, because the position is indefensible.
It is called “theft” when a large group of people gather together and decide to take money and resources from other people who don’t consent to having their money taken. It doesn’t really matter whether three hundred million people agree and only one objects; it’s still theft to take money and resources from the one who objects. We cannot consent to taxation on his behalf any more than one can consent to sex on his behalf.
We recoil at that analogy, and rightly so. The mere thought of consenting to sex on a woman’s behalf, even though she is expressly against it, strikes us as vehemently immoral, but it’s really only a stroke of luck that we don’t live in a world where “sex” is alongside slavery and murder as things we consent to for other people while they object. There appears to be no limit to what we may mandate for other people. We kidnap them against their will, steal from them against their will, enslave them against their will, and kill them against their will. It’s only a matter of fortune that “have sex with them against their will” isn’t on that list.
We can give an omniscient creator of the universe a pass on our morality, because its perspective is too wide for our tiny minds to grasp, but we cannot give the state a pass. The state, after all, is filled with people of no particular greatness. They are not wiser, smarter, or more considered than anyone else, and that rulers are not special was the great revelation that set forward the rise of governance “by the people.”
We can’t have it both ways, of course. We can’t say in one breath that “we are the government” and then say that our government can violate moral values because it is special and exempt. It must be that trying to do such a thing is merely an attempt to give ourselves a pass on morality, to make ourselves into official hypocrites, because “we are the government” and “The government is exempt from our morality” means literally that “we are exempt from our morality.”
So are we? Are we exempt from our morality?
Of course, the truth is that “we” aren’t the government. Even if we buy into the conceit that our representatives actually represent us, “we” still wouldn’t be the government; our representatives would be.
What use is a morality system if we establish loopholes and exemptions that allow systemic violations more horrible than anything an individual might do? Despite our philosophy that killing is wrong, governments last century managed a body count above 160,000,000–a staggering number of dead people. Despite our maxim that theft is wrong, the American Government steals huge chunks of everyone’s money.
We established this moral system. If we judge ourselves by our own rules and standards, I don’t think we’d like the result.
What role do I play in the atrocities committed by the state? Very little, but I could certainly do more to fight it beyond writing articles and arguing with people. Shouldn’t I be out marching in the streets, demanding an end to war, theft, kidnapping, and slavery? By this measure I’m as guilty as anyone.
What role does the average voter play? Well, the average voter is more of an accomplice than a weakly active resistor. The average voter doesn’t just allow it by not resisting strongly enough; the average voter encourages and legitimizes it. The average voter is the rubber stamp that legitimizes the euphemisms and allows the theft, murder, kidnapping, and slavery to continue.
It’s one thing to perhaps-be-not-as-adamant-as-one-could-be about seeing a moral tragedy ended. At least we Pen and Paper Anarchists do something, even if we don’t do enough. Then again, what more can we do without violating the very moral tenants we are trying to spread? We cannot zerg rush DC with guns–the entire point of anarchism is that violence cannot be used to prevent violence. If we use violence, we cease being anarchists immediately and become statists, because its exemption to violate morality is what defines the state. That’s how authorities always function. “For the greater good, we must do evil.”
Fear is what I think compels us to embrace the state and its lies. “Government is a necessary evil,” went the advocates of classical liberalism. “Government is a necessary evil, except ours. Ours is a good one,” states the modern liberal and modern conservative. They arrive at this conclusion by different roads, but they reach it all the same. For the liberal, the government is mostly good because it protects us from ourselves; for the conservative, the government is mostly good because it protects us from others. And the miraculous thing is that these statements can be flipped without problem.
Any skilled chess player will tell you that there are huge differences between defence and offense, and between protecting and attacking. This isn’t to say that the two are always exclusive, because in chess they aren’t–the best attacking moves are those that defend, too.
But we’re not chess pieces to be moved about on a board and sacrificed to gain the upper hand. The pawn would never advocate a pawn sacrifice.
Unless the king had convinced him it was the only way to win.
* Although, to be clear, the Bible never states this.