The Two Spies Report

The "Minority Report" from J. Michael Bennett, Ph.D, Emeritus Producer of the Future Quake Radio Show, and Author of the soon-to-be-released book series The Holy War Chronicles – A Spiritual View of the War on Terror

Month: March, 2016

Quick Thought of the Day: Government – A Coercive Force to Restrain Coercion

policemen separatign kids

 

As friends and many followers over the years of my radio show Future Quake and my exploits since then (and this blog) have observed, I have been reassessing over this time some fundamental understandings of society, its institutions and the Kingdom of Heaven, beyond the simple, unchallenged maxims of my blessed American Christian upbringing. Never in the journey have I been led to doubt the veracity of the claims of Jesus, the teachings of Him and His Apostles, or the realities and promises they back up with real evidence of a resurrected man, seen by hundreds and testified by them in virtual real-time in widely-circulated written affidavits and oral testimonies for which they paid their lives as guarantees.  What I have discovered is that in my enviable and truly wholesome upbringing I and others find ourselves carrying additional concepts in our “buckets” to defend, be they political ideologies, national agendas, or religious constructs and the high-profile leaders and institutions that subsist on them.  It is an effort (a life-long one, in fact) to de-couple those additives from the purity of the person of Christ and the teaching of the Kingdom, and I know missteps will be made along the way.  I still adhere to my adage that “whatever we do not critique, we worship”, and thus if I am to worship Jesus and what He represents exclusively (thus Him being “beyond critique”, but rather being the standard of critique), then whatever ideas or concepts I entertain in my life, however “good” or “Christian”, must be intentionally and consistently critiqued against what He represents, not for purposes of “judgment” of others, “sitting in the seat of scoffers”, or elevating oneself, but merely as a tangible act of worship of Him, by restricting access to who or what has access to my heart’s and mind’s “throne”.

I concede that most “normal” people do not spend too much of their useful and precious time thinking about the right role of civil government in this era of “grace”, before Christ imposes His dominion over earthly government one day soon.  The hijinx we see in politics today (of which this campaign cycle has taken to new depths) makes peoples’ heads hurt, and they throw their hands up in disgust and helplessness, and change the discussion to more constructive subjects.  However, in a participatory democracy as ours (which we have argued for generations we would fight for to preserve over other forms), I still feel like we have a duty to assist in improving and help preserving a necessary institution that God intented to restrain evil on the earth until His Son directs it without protest; it also is another (but certainly not only) venue for us to gently be “salt and light”, and to “be our brother’s keeper” and “love our neighbor”.  I now see in scripture how God intended human societies and governments, while not coincident with the present “Kingdom of God”, to “hold the fort” until His return while reflecting more universal earth-bound values than Christ’s specific “marching orders” for waging spiritual war in the heavenlies through the Church, such as reflecting the “sum of the Law” – the “Golden Rule” that all peoples know is right.

I have been blessed in many ways by the thoughts and friendship of Robert Heid, as well as many listeners have in his appearances on Future Quake, and the concepts he has presented for which I had been ignorant.  One prominent example is the field of libertarian thinking.  It has opened my eyes as a Christian to principles that now seem self-evident to me, such as the primacy in society of defending the rights of “free association” (or disassociation), “self-determination” and maybe most importantly, “non-coercion”.  In my deliberations in thought and study of God’s Word, I find that these principles are consistent with God’s guidance for secular governments for this age before His return.  It is ironic to note that, since I am a premillennialist who perceives that Christ still intends to rule over a physical earth one day for a thousand years prior to the creation of a New Heavens and New Earth, even with Christ’s on-site rule with a “rod of iron”, reigning over the “Seven Mountains” of dominion some Christians seek to control today, those who do not vountarily submit to Him and His ways then will quickly rejoin Satan’s rebellion once he is again made available to them, even after experiencing the blessings of Christ’s earthly rule.  It reinforces the notion that the Kingdom of Heaven, which will rule over a New Heavens and New Earth cosmos, must be filled with voluntary, non-coerced willing subjects that take on the non-self-serving aspects of the Kingdom so that it may remain intact eternally.  This also explains why in world history when “God’s People” try to enforce the Kingdom of Heaven by coercive force, it has only resulted in bloodshed and corruption, with their dissenting Christian neighbors paying the heaviest price.   However, I have also observed the “dark side” of the libertarian community (or those who corrupt it for their purposes), which is typified in the teaching and followers of Ayn Rand.  It proposes what is no more than Social Darwinism, a “survival of the fittest” – ironically, much of what is today’s Conservative Movement, with Darwinistic emphases on unbridled, banker-led economics and gunboat diplomacy.  Such a community based on “King of the Hill” ethics of selfishness would consume itself eventually.  It flirts with anarchism (using government only for the purposes of the elite) and sees no constraining role of government except to keep the “barbarians from the gate”.

In this line of thinking, I have come to the realization that the unique (and necessary) role of government is coercive force.  In other words, a society gathers and decides it is in its collective interest to embue those they select (by various means) with the authority and power to force certain arrangements to be made.  Many other associations and groups can be formed to pursue other beneficial aims, but governments are uniquely tasked with those that require cocercion.  We have all seen in history that those given coercive force, and the means to enforce it, will likely use it for their own ends, against the people, or for one segment of the population against the rest.  Therefore, wisdom dictates that it should be given for the bare minimum of essential purposes.  It is generally agreed that these essential missions are for the legislators (to codify and legitimize laws for the peaceful and fair operation of society), the courts (to be the final word of when one has broken these laws and harmed others, and the proper course of action and remedy), the corrections community to mete out their findings and restrain (and hopefully rehabilitate) threatening people for extended periods, police to restore peace and provide instant remedy when one’s personal well-being or property is under immediate threat by others (being truly “peace officers” and NOT “law enforcement” – the latter role to be determined by the more knowledgable courts), and soldiers (preferably non-standing armies of citizens) to provide collective defense against other sovereign nations that impinge upon it.  One could argue that any other roles in society are not essential to be performed by government, and should be farmed out to others.  The other principle our Founding Fathers and others before them wisely observed and then deployed was a “separation of powers”, to make sure one small group did not collect and thus abuse all the power vested in government.  When we see the gridlock in Washington and elsewhere in government, we should not be completed incensed; it is fact may be an essential protective “nuisance”, and beware when all the holders of power are on the same page, and in collusion!  This competition is often seen as a sign of societal disfunction, but in fact we should promote a healthy opposition amongst all sectors of influence in our society.  Not only should our branches of government be resistant and suspicious of each other (with the ability to investigate and hold other branches accountable), but the police, military, Wall Street, press and other institutions should all be highly skeptical of each other, and “hold each other’s feet to the fire” in all cases, and not get too cozy with each other at all.  The Press in particular should be combative with all these other institutions, and not fawning over them.  When people do need to get together, to help in disasters or real common threats, constructive collusion will withstand these protective measures and attitudes.  This is why whistleblowers are heroes and not traitors or villians, and we need lawful yet accountable venues for them to expose institutional evils without he ability to submerge them, or create unintended harm.  This also why all the different dissenting Christian denominations and other groups are a type of “blessing”, for they disperse centralized power and influence, which damages Christian communities as much or more than their secular counterparts.

All of this discussion is a preamble to the new question I am now asking: are these roles the limits of “coercive force” that government should be granted?  With a full acknowledgement that coercive force is a very dangerous weapon that should be meted out with great caution, in essence its use of coercion, properly used, is to arrest the use of coercion by one citizen or group over others.  As the picture at the top of this post suggests, and may be merely a policemen stopping a “bully” from coercing others or causing harm.  They restrain those who force their will on others by stealing or threatening them.  However, as this world gets more and more complex, are there new forms of coercion becoming available to exploit others that government must arise to arrest, and is Christian thinking keeping up with it?  Even back in the Middle Ages, the two existing power centers, the Church and the State, realized that a new power center emerged – the financial sector – through the new banking institutions established by the Knights Templar, and thus took strong coervice action (right or wrong) together as an admission that it must be contrained (while other emerging banking empires arose outside the reach of the Church that often colluded with the other power centers for its own preservation).  After the age of the “robber barons” and “Gilded Age”, when America and the West produced all-powerful aristocrats and oligarchs who fought ruthlessly to obtain monopolies on utlities and products Americans considered essential, government stepped in with anti-trust laws to slow down a runaway force that would have exploited the bulk of humanity enslaved in the Industrial Age.  Since that time, these powers (having access to the funds that fuel them and provide them political influence) have not accepted their leash, and find new novel ways of entrapping humanity just like an enemy’s bayonet, often in “guilded cages” that the victim does not even recognize – courtesy of the advanced sciences of advertising and public relations, a “psy op” that fashions the minds, values and self-perceptions of the public.  Gandhi chose one of the purest ways by refusing to buy the salt they controlled, and rather walked to the sea with his fellow citizens to get it – this approach should be employed more via boycotts, but can it solve all the threats imposed on a vulnerable public?  We have not even mentioned coercive acts of others that many see as indirect, such as dumping polluted water across our property or public drinking supplies, or in the collective air we breathe.  Remedies to this problem have just started in the last generation, and many Christians still see this problem as non-existent, planning rather to hitch a ride on the Rapture Express and let others sort out the mess.  Do Christian need to “grow up” to the world around them and see the real threats to themsevles and their neighbors they are ignoring?

We should not naively expect that government bureaucrats or regulators will be more virtuous than average citizens – we know they can be corrupted, or even just go off on their own “power trip”.  However, what types of newer practical “coercion” is society now being exposed to, from being debt slaves in a environment of low wages and predatory interest, collapsing and unhealthy inner cities, a media almost owned entirely by six money-making conglomerates, genetically-modified foods (sometimes without our knowledge) and tainted groundwater, still unrestained air pollution, a government that jails and makes hardened criminals of those who privately use a substance they ban, and a host of other new “controllers”?  If the Church will not use its wealth, network of local and national voices and resources, and moral authority to address these “bullies” and coercive guilty parties, then what resource of contraint do we have other than our government?

What are your thoughts on these matters?

 

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Vote for Pedro

NapoleonAndPedro

Friends,

Tomorrow I have to cast a primary vote in Tennessee for the upcoming presidential election.  I think we can all agree this has been some kind of disturbing election season, which I think portends a work God is doing to show us who we as Americans, and in particular Christians, truly are, in the eyes of God and everyone else.  I am not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to suggest the kind of person to vote for.

Vote for Pedro.

Those of you who are now confused (or think I am being racist) are obviously the few who have not seen the wonderful and insightful (and funny) 2004 movie Napoleon Dynamite.  The “heroes” of the movie were a trio of geeky outcasts at school – the types we all knew, or better yet (as in my case) were.  One of the main story elements was a competition for school student body president between a socially awkward Mexican transfer student Pedro, whose shyness reveals the courage and daring (or madness) he exhibited in even deciding to run, and the domineering “insider”, the popular and beautiful cheerleader “Summer”.  While her many popular friends posted “Vote for Summer” signs everywhere (she probably did not have to compete for Prom Queen), Pedro’s buddy Napoleon sported the now societally-popular phrase “Vote for Pedro”, using an old iron-on “puffy” transfer on a T-shirt.  As the movie’s many viewers fondly recall, Pedro was ready to get his head handed to him in the election, when a school assembly beforehand let Summer and her cheerleader friends use their sex-appeal in a dance number, contrasted to Pedro’s unassuming and unimpressive speech, until Napoleon saved the day with the most exotic dance number ever put to celluloid.

The message of this aspect of the film is more relevant now than ever.  It contrasted the two kinds of people in the world – the “insiders” (“Summers”) and the “outsiders” (“Pedros”).  We and the public make numerous value judgments each day over who are friends are or those we want, the leaders we want to follow, the people we want to trust and then purchase from, the company we keep, and the kinds of people we aspire to be like.  In this context, the “Pedros” never have a chance when it comes to earning our devotion, wallets, endorsements and emulation.  Ads and commercials are filled with beautiful and macho “Summers”, male and female, who have ideal weight and body type, do amazing physical sports and exercise, go on all-inclusive vacations to the Bahamas and dance in formal wear on the beach, walk with a swagger and confidence, and “know what they are doing”.  And then there’s the rest of us – including those who try with great effort but in vain to measure up or gain their acceptance and approval, or those of us who gave up, either due to lack of energy or interest.

Here’s some of the traits I can think of concerning the “Summers” and “Pedros” of the world:

“Summers”                                                                       “Pedros”

Seen as physically attractive, sex appeal    “Average” or less looks, appeal less noticed

Confident in statements and positions             Tentative, self-critical, slow to speak

Swagger in style and image – “big talker”       Meek, self-effacing

Surrounded by adorers or other “insiders”     Loners or small group of fellow “Pedros”

Often born into “Summerdom” by parents     Humble upbringing

Wealthy, connected, advantages for success   Starts from the bottom, no insider help

Gets heard, attention whenever they want     Often overlooked, seen as hopeless, “loser”

Gets all the breaks                                      Gets few breaks

Will drop friends when no longer useful     Loyal to fellow “Pedros” who offer nothing

I could go on, but you get the point.  The “Summers” get picked first in pickup sports, get invited to the slumber parties, get multiple prom date requests, selected as team captains and class presidents, fraternity and sorority offers, lucrative job positions, quick promotions (particularly in the military) regardless of true skill, and offers to join high society.  And then there’s the rest of us “Pedros”, who could only dream of such attention and opportunities, and watch such people adored on TV and elsewhere.  Janis Ian, a backward wallflower growing up herself, wrote of these latter people in her hauntingly melancholic hit song, “Seventeen”.  Some of the lyrics are

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for the beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone

—————————————————-

And the rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly

—————————————————

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me

 

These “Summers” are the people who are “super-salesmen” who we admire and thus succeed, becoming charismatic military leaders, entrepeneurs and CEOS by “looking like they know what they are doing”.  Even well-known pastors in mega-churches and para-church organizations can come from these ranks.

I have been blessed to be around wise Christian family and friends of great attributes but humble estates my whole life.  I have rubbed shoulders with billionaires and connected people in my early career, and even had Lear Jet rides and the keys to executive positions dangled in front of me.  However, I knew then I could never fit in or pull it off, and I am greatful to God to be spared such a shallow and unfulfilling existence.  When one becomes aware of the move-prop facade this type of “success” is, one cannot help losing one’s natural envy of others who do “make it”, and all its material perks and supposed esteem-builders, and feel sorry for those struggling so hard to find that elusive contentment and real acceptance with that crowd, and truly feel pity for their BMW and “work hard/play hard” worlds.  If is particularly sad to see women in Southern California, and now everywhere, who have been told that their value is merely their looks and youth, and thereby mutilate themselves at times in a vain attempt (excuse to the pun) to retain their “utility”.

The ultimate domain for the “Summers” is in the field of politics.   It is often all about image, swagger, “tough guy” mentality, and frankly being a bully.  As you can imagine, in a regular field of narcissists we now have a candidate who probably is the ultimate “Summer” – a wealthy billionaire born into wealth and connections, with people who hang on his every word, whether it is foolish or not, and even if he is insulting them or pandering to them in an obvious condescening way (and I have to say that Christians always seem by and large to be the most gullible).  They are dealing with a “dealer” whose life of deals are not those that are “win-win” for two parties who meet each other’s needs, but where one is a “winner” and the other a “loser”, decided on who has more inside information or assets, or merely by bluff, bullying and intimidation.  Those who are in the way either get out of the way, or get sued – just ask Merv Griffin – to further show his awesome “power”.  His success?  You know what they say – “Everybody loves a winner”.  The people proving this adage the most by beating a path to sit at his feet are many of our most prominent Christian leaders, and professing American Christians in general.

Well, I have started a movement some time ago to start voting for the “Pedros” of the world.  If it is real popular in society right now, be it a television show, style of music, gadgets or other styles, I’m probably going to take a pass on it.  If it is a “trend”, “fashionable” or status symbol – count me out.  If a person comes well-connected or with lots of money in their background, I’m probably going to write them off right on the spot.  If they come with associations with powerful or prominent organizations and institutions, I will probably write them off too.  If they are not selling themselves, but rather a noble idea, particularly one that looks out for the Forgotten People (those in institutional care, the elderly or low-income, all of whom are of no interest to Madison Avenue, Wall Street or the politicians, or others “out of favor”), then I will probably buy in, even if I disagree with them on certain matters; it is a question of integrity.  If “insiders” recommend them, groom them or try to influence them, they are off my list, regardless of the good “positions” they claim to represent – I am old enough now to know whose interests they really represent.

This is a life decision for me, concerning all aspects of life.  Tomorrow I am going to “vote for Pedro” at the ballot box.  Won’t you join me?