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“BIG GOVERNMENT”

 

 

A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe

Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, January 15, 2012

Text:  1 & 2 Samuel – “Give us a king to govern us….”

 

 

     Maybe I should run for President.  I don’t need a platform, really.  Just a list of things I’m against.  I’ll bet if I run as someone who’s against big government I’ll get lots of votes.  I could pepper my speeches with quotes like:

*   A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”  (George Bernard Shaw)

*   Or, maybe:  Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”  (James Bovard, Civil Libertarian)

*   Or possibly:  “In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.”  (Voltaire)

     Nah – too cynical.  Maybe something tried and true from the All-American, win-one-for-the-gipper, altar boy of American politics, Ronald Reagan:

*   "Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."

*   Or:  "I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself."

*   Or my personal favorite:  "Facts are stupid things."  (at the 1988 Republican National Convention, attempting to quote John Adams, who said, "Facts are stubborn things").

 

Now that I think of it, maybe I shouldn’t run after all….

 

     But you might be interested to know that Big Government was an issue 3,000 years ago, too.  The riches and military successes of the Hittite Empire were not lost on the elders of Israel, floundering as they were in the loose confederation of Hebrew tribes.  Since Samuel is our main man for today, let’s talk about Samuel the Prophet.  One day they gathered together and let him have it.  “You are old,” they complained, “and your sons do not follow in your ways.  So appoint for us a king to govern us, like other nations.” 

     Well, old Samuel was not too thrilled with this new idea.  After all, following the precepts of Yahweh had been fine up to now.  Nevertheless, you can’t go blowing off your Board of Directors, so Samuel prayed to the Lord and the Lord said to Samuel:  “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you.” 

 

(Wow!  How democratic!  We seem to be going from a theocracy to a democracy in one fell swoop!)

 

     Not so fast….The Lord continues:  “For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected ME from being king over them.  Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you.”

 

     Now, Samuel could go back to the elders and frame his most recent conversation about wanting a king in terms of rejecting God, but he chose instead to take the Big Government approach:  “OK, you guys, here’s what you’re going to get with a king.   He will take your sons make them grunts in the army.  He’ll invest billions of dollars in building up a big standing army.  He’ll take your daughters and make workers instead of housewives out of them.  He’ll tax you up the ying-yang.  Then, some day, you’ll be sorry you ever wanted Big Government.”

 

     But, of course, the people refused to listen to Samuel.  “No!  We WANT Big Government so the king can fight our battles for us!” 

 

     Much has been made this election year over the role of government.  Should it exist at all?  (Nearly everyone would agree that there’s a need for some government, if only to serve and protect.)  Should it be minimal?  (And if so, then in what areas?)  Should it be large, providing an umbrella of economic and physical security?  Surprisingly, few choose the middle road on this question.  Most are either rabidly against what they perceive as governmental coercion or are rabidly for what they perceive as an agency to protect the rights of the underclasses.

 

     I think both views are fundamentally unplumbed – that is, neither position is very well thought out.  Theologian Walter Wink had his 15 minutes of fame when he wrote the trilogy of books concerning “the powers that be.”  He insists that whatever we think of government and the powers that be, we are living out our implicit assumptions about the way the world is.

 

     The “ancient” world view subscribes to a heaven above and an earth below, with events in the one being mirrored in the other.  For example, wars and rumors of wars on earth merely reflect the celestial wars between the forces of good and evil.  The tension between government and the governed merely reflects the age-old battle between gods and humans.  Big government?  Merely acknowledging a higher power than yourself.  Small government?  Merely an expression of freedom from the capriciousness of the gods.

 

     The “spiritualist” world view believes that the world is evil, but that the spirits that are trapped in it are good.  So “salvation” is defined by escaping the material.  In this case, government and everything associated with it is, by association, a necessary evil to curb the passions of an evil creation.  Big government?  Merely saving ourselves from ourselves.  Small government?  Merely acknowledging an irrelevant world (who cares?).

 

     The “materialist” world view holds that the cosmos is devoid of a Creator or any inherent meaning at all.  The only things that are real are what you can see, touch, hear, smell and feel.  What you see is what you get.  No higher purpose for any governing authorities.  Big government?  Merely protecting my assets against interlopers.  Small government?  Merely having the freedom and opportunity to make or lose my wealth.

 

     The “integral” world view holds that everything has both an inner and an outer reality.  God is within everything, just as our spirits are within our bodies and not separate from them.  Big government?  That’s OK, as long as they don’t lose their purpose and become self-serving.  Small government?  That’s OK, too, as long as we don’t lose our purpose and become self-serving.

 

     Now, all of these world views have something in common:  we are not separate from them.  We contribute to both the virtues – and the vices – of them:   You holders of the ancient world view have to answer the question about whether or not the gods are trustworthy and whether or not you are pawns of fate.  You holders of the spiritualist world view have to answer the question as to whether or not you are spirits trapped in an evil world. 

 

     You holders of the materialist world view have to answer the question as to whether there’s any higher purpose behind governance.  And you integralists have to answer the question as to whether or not God is active in every aspect of human existence.

 

     We argue about the size of the government because we’re unwilling to contemplate how God might or might not be involved in it.  True, government can be coercive.  True, government can be a blessed protection.  Which is it?  Or is it both?

 

I feel the need right now to go on.  To say more.  Somebody stop me.