Friday, January 11, 2019

People, Nations, Governments

I have detected over the years a belief among Christians, and those raised Christian whether they are now practicing or not, to regard the instructions of Jesus to his followers to apply automatically to nations.  Going one step further, there is the idea that what The Nation should do is synonymous with what The Government should do.

This manifests as requiring that nations turn the other cheek (and even that verse is misunderstood when referring to individuals), and that nations remember the poor, or suffer the little children, or give to the least of these. Not that the individuals in the nation rise up and develop the character to accomplish acts of generosity and mercy, but that we lobby the government to do this.  Same thing, see?

I will note, in a diversion from my main point, that this does not seem to include The Government selling its goods and giving them to the poor.  They are going to keep what they've got, thank you very much.  Nor does the government seem to be very big on being poor in spirit and the like.

The transitive property in mathematics teaches that if a=b and b=c, then a=c. But in conversation, especially in shifty arguments, we have to be careful that people don't try to slip one past us, treating a as sorta equal or mostly equal to b, and b is sorta equal to c, therefore a is pretty much the same thing as c. Individuals make up nations, and they do have some similar properties.  A nation is related to its government deeply, and it is sometimes sensible to speak of them as if they were interchangeable terms. Yet we can see most clearly how this does not at all suggest that they are fully synonymous, and have the same relationship to individuals if we imagine a very bad, oppressive government which is fragmenting a very good and decent people so that they do not dare speak freely to each other, and is holding that nation down. The individuals are only hopefully or potentially a nation then, and the nation is not the same thing as its government, it is a victim, acted upon by government.

The scriptures use the concepts in both ways.  Sometimes the individuals are the pieces of the nation, and have responsibilities to act well for the nation. Sometimes individuals are separated from the nation, and are rather on their own to respond to God.  The government, especially the king or the priest, sometimes represents the entire nation, for good or ill. Yet in other places the scriptures speak of kings oppressing a people.

It is also possible to see the government as the opposite of the people.  It is not something that we all do together, but that entity which makes individuals do things. It is not even a metaphorical individual.  Not everyone holds to that philosophy of government, of Government being the necessary evil that must be held on a tight leash, but most if not all of the framers of the Constitution thought so.


james said...

A government is legal machinery--a thing. Not quite the same thing as "a people;" it's a machine that the people use/are used by.

Some people worship the machine.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yeah, you just said it better in 30 words. Thanks.