Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Our Father, Who Art in Washington
When Diocletian [Roman Emperor and persecutor of the Church], published his draconian Edict of 301, destroying the few remaining liberties of the old republic, he justified it by referring to himself and his associates as "the watchful parents of the whole human race." Rulers have ever been tempted to play the role of father to their people.…The father is the symbol not only of authority but also of provision. "Our Father who art in heaven…Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:9, 11). Looking to the state for sustenance is a cultic act; we rightly learn to expect food from parents, and when we regard the state as the source of physical provision we render to it the obeisance of idolatry. The crowds who had fed on the multiplied loaves and fishes were ready to receive Christ as their ruler, not because of who he was but because of the provision. John Howard Yoder has rightly interpreted that scene: "The distribution of bread moved the crowd to acclaim Jesus as the New Moses, the provider, the Welfare King whom they had been waiting for."
The paternal state not only feeds its children, but nurtures, educates, comforts, and disciplines them, providing all they need for their security. This appears to be a mildly insulting way to treat adults, but it is really a great crime because it transforms the state from being a gift of God, given to protect us against violence, into an idol. It supplies us with all blessings, and we look to it for all our needs. Once we sink to that level, as C. S. Lewis says, there is no point in telling state officials to mind their own business. "Our whole lives are their business." The paternalism of the state is that of the bad parent who wants his children dependent on him forever. That is an evil impulse. The good parent prepares his children for independence, trains them to make responsible decisions, knows that he harms them by not helping them to break loose. The paternal state thrives on dependency. When the dependents free themselves, it loses power. It is, therefore, parasitic on the very persons whom it turns into parasites. Thus, the state and its dependents march symbiotically to destruction.
―Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, pp. 183-184