Safety, Security, and State-Worship
What does the Bible say about the role of government? Are there any specific provisions in the Law of God about safety, security, and law-enforcement? What is the proper role of civil government in the law of God? Is it to provide safety and security? How should the laws be enforced in a Christian society?
The answers to these questions would take many more episodes, but we want to look at one particular aspect of them: social safety and security, and the role of civil government.
Joel McDurmon, 1 Samuel: In the Midst of Your Enemies (coming soon to the American Vision Library!)
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Welcome to Episode 29 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes we will be talking about one of the most cherished delusions of modern Americans, and especially of modern American church-goers, namely, that the Biblical function of civil government is to provide safety and security for its citizens. I said delusion, but I could as well say idolatry, for that delusion is not morally neutral (no delusion ever is), it is self-consciously based on a perverted view of the Covenant of God, and thus, on a perverted view of the Law of God. I know, I know, if you are one of those who believe that the government should provide for us safety and security, you are now confused or even inflamed, “Wait a minute! How is it idolatry to say that God created civil governments to provide safety and security for their citizens? Isn’t this what Romans 13 says about the ruler, that he should provide that safety and security? How would we be safe from criminals if the civil government doesn’t provide that safety? Etc., etc.”
A few listeners responded to previous episodes of Axe to the Root – specifically the episodes about police – with the same questions: If we don’t have police, who is going to oppose criminals? Who will protect us from criminals? You see, in the minds of modern Americans – and especially American church-goers – if the state is not there to prevent crime, no one will prevent crime, and therefore crime will skyrocket, and there will be no law-enforcement and therefore no respect to the law. Anarchy will follow. How is it idolatry to say that civil government is charged with fighting crime and providing safety and security?
Now, I have heard such concerns before, on other topics. When we hear them, we need to remember one very important trait of collective psychology: once the government monopolizes certain area of life and action, people get conditioned to think that only the government can provide services in that area of life and action. And when they get conditioned to think that way, their response to challenges against the government is always that: “But without the government, who will provide this or that?” The most common, of course, is the roads. Who will build the roads? I have seen much of it in Eastern Europe in the 1990s. If there is no government economic planning, who will know what goods we should produce and who will organize their production? If there are no government price controls, who would know what the prices should be? Wouldn’t all prices shoot through the roof and then no one will be able to afford anything? Without a government monopoly on railroads, how would we have affordable transportation? How would we have telephones, or electricity, or running water, or anything else, without government monopolies? Without internal passports, wouldn’t we have demographic disbalance? (Travel and residency were controlled under Communism; one couldn’t just move to live in another city, a permit was needed to change residency.) Without a government employment office, how would people be able to find jobs? Etc., etc. That question, “What will we do without the government?” is always the first question people ask when someone proposes that the government should withdraw from certain area. The question is always irrational, because it is obvious that there are much better alternative. And we know from Van Til work on the Christian theory of knowledge that all irrationality is fundamentally the fruit of some idolatry. This irrationality is not an exception; there is idolatry involved in that question, an idolatry that worships the state, and sees the state as a god-provider, in opposition to Jesus Christ. We have no king but Caesar.
Of course, the most obvious answer to this is that there were times, before the governments in the West started taking over areas of public life and monopolizing them, when the government was not there to control these areas. And guess what, all these areas were well regulated, and there was no chaos, and there were no shortages. Prices were fluctuating but affordable. Transportation was available and affordable. Roads were built. Communications were established. People found employment. There were doctors, and they were affordable even without insurance. Schools were abundant and, in most places, even free for the poorest members of the society. The world’s economy developed faster when the governments were still not in charge. The slowdown of economic growth came when the governments started taking over areas of public life and monopolizing them. Education, communications, transportation, welfare, etc., all these areas of life stagnated in both quality and supply when the governments took them over. And where the government monopolized them, things went even worse.
The same applied to law-enforcement. Throughout the history of Christendom, law-enforcement was a function of the local community, of all able-bodied men in the community. A local constable or sheriff was simply either an agent of the court or just a citizen hired for specific tasks. The law was to be enforced by everyone, not by a professional class of government agents. And guess what: the laws were enforced. Crime was low, compared to today, and crimes were promptly investigated and punished. Alexis de Tocqueville testified about America in the 1830s: no professional police, and yet, hardly a crime was left unsolved and unpunished. Cities had citizen watches, not professional standing armies. When they started hiring professional standing armies, crime skyrocketed. Law-enforcement is like everything else: make the government provide it, the result will be shortage of quality and supply. Never trust the state for your safety and security.
Historical evidence is a good help for our understanding of reality, but nothing beats Biblical evidence. What does the Bible say about the role of government? Are there any specific provisions in the Law of God about safety, security, and law-enforcement? What is the proper role of civil government in the law of God? Is it to provide safety and security? How should the laws be enforced in a Christian society? The answers to these questions would take many more episodes, but we want to look at one particular aspect of them: social safety and security, and the role of civil government.
(Just as a side note, I use “safety and security” as a single phrase to denote a state of freedom from risk, danger, or injury. The etymological difference between safety and security is one of nuance, and dictionaries consider the two words directly synonymous. This, in case someone wants to nitpick on my choice of words.)
Before we answer these questions, we need to establish the difference between justice, on one hand, and safety and security and law-enforcement, on the other. Many American Christians are hopelessly confused about these two categories, and they generally believe that justice and safety are the same, and therefore they are the same government policies. But in reality, a civil government can not be involved simultaneously in justice and in providing safety and security. The two are contradictory. But let’s first explain the two categories in detail.
Justice is a category that has to do with crimes that are already committed. From the perspective of justice as a principle of policy and government action, the function of government is, first, to restore things to their original condition before the crime, and second, to punish the criminal for his crime. Thus, justice consists in two principles, the positive principle of restitution and the negative principle of punishment. I talked about it in a previous podcast, and we saw that in some cases restitution and punishment are combined in the same verdict – as in the case of double restitution. In other cases, injustice committed is only met with restitution but not punishment – as in the case of single restitution for negligence. In other cases, where the original state can not be restored – as in the case of murder – there is only punishment, that is, death penalty. In all these cases, however, one element must be present: there has to be some injustice committed – crime against life (murder), or against liberty (kidnapping), or against property (theft), or negligence against life, liberty, or property. Justice as an action and as a policy is not triggered unless there is a crime committed.
Obviously, then, a civil government that is committed to justice will generally be a passive government. When there are no crimes committed in the society, such civil government will be inactive; obviously, if the individuals in the society are just and keep the law, there is no reason for a government to dispense justice. Thus, if the government is passive, the only government institution in the society will be the courts, where the judges sit and people come to them with their cases and complaints and disputes. Government, then, as an institution, won’t exist outside the courtroom, and will certainly have no power over non-criminal individuals. The only people who will legally be under the government’s power will be the convicted criminals. Everyone else, that is, everyone who has not committed injustice against his neighbors, will be free of government interference and control.
Safety and security, on the other hand, are a category that has to do with prevention of crime. That is, to translate it in terms of time, it has to do with crimes that are not committed yet. A policy designed to prevent future crimes rather than just restore the victim and punish the criminal after the crime has been committed would necessarily require a government that is constantly active, and constantly trying to uncover attempts at future crimes, whether they are real or imaginary. It will have to know the future, or be able to predict the future based on certain data. But since a crime is not a physical phenomenon, it is an ethical decision of the heart of man, such a government will have to be able to read the hearts of men in order to be able to predict their ethical decisions.
Obviously, then, a government committed to safety and security will have to be a constantly active government. Whether there are crimes in the society or not, such government will always have to be operational, and will always have to implement in action some positive policies. It will not be limited to the court room; it will erect a multitude of new offices, and send swarms of officers to harass the people and eat out their substance. Such government will have to place under its power not only the criminals, but the non-criminal citizens as well: for remember, its focus is not on crimes already committed but on future crimes, and therefore on future possible criminals, people who are not criminals yet. Such a government which is expected to provide safety and security will have to become executive, not simply judiciary, and will have to control the lives of its citizens to the minutest detail; since it has no access to the inner heart of man, only thorough control over his actions will make it possible for the state to prevent him from committing a crime. Thus it will have to impose on its citizens regulations, license and permit regimes, travel restrictions, ID cards, and total surveillance in general. Justice will not be served anymore, because the focus of government policy won’t be the criminal, but the law-abiding members of the society. In fact, if anything, such a government would favor criminals and will probably hire them, for only an accomplished criminal could have an insight into the hearts of other criminals, and would be able to predict their behavior.
These developments are inevitable once the state is charged with the task of predicting the future, that is, providing safety and security, and law-enforcing, to the society. The state will inevitably become tyrannical, and justice will be aborted in the land.
So, which government is described in the Bible as the Biblical ideal for government? Unfortunately, many Christians – including some theonomists – are quite deceived about the nature of Biblical government. Many don’t even think in terms of the Biblical purpose of civil government. Most Christians – if they even believe that the Bible gives us principles for civil government – believe that the government mandated in the Law of God is exactly like modern governments – devoted to providing safety and security. It’s just needs to be a bit better, you know, being Christian and moral, but as a whole, it’s purpose is that: to provide safety and security. None of them stops to think that if the role of the government is to provide safety and security, this will require the government to be able to predict the future, to read the hearts and minds of its citizens, and to have power over non-criminal individuals. Many may be even professed opponents of big government; but none of them stops to think that big government is based on that one single presupposition: that the government must provide safety and security for its citizens.
In contrast, civil government in the Law of God is freed from the function of providing safety and security. It is only concerned with justice, with already committed crimes. In the Law of God, there are no civil servants charged with the task of preventing crime; there are no government offices to declare government policies, no armies of bureaucrats or cops to enforce those policies. In a Biblical society, the only civil ruler a man will ever meet face to face is a judge or a panel of judges – and that only if he is charged with a crime or when he is summoned as a witness to a crime or a dispute. In the rare case of war, a man joining the military would find himself under commanders, but their powers were limited to wartime and to the battlefield and the battle camp. And that was it. In a society where the government is limited to dispensing justice – not preventing crimes – a decent, law-abiding man can live his whole life without ever having to submit to any government bureaucracy. It is for this reason that R.J. Rushdoony, when discussing the nature of theocracy, the Biblical social order described in the Law of God, described it as “the closest thing to radical libertarianism that can be had.” There are some today who are trying hard to twist the words of Rushdoony to mean something he never meant, and to use the Law of God to defend some form of mild statism where the modern state still has some power over law-abiding men. But the truth is, as Rushdoony said in that article, “The Meaning of Theocracy,” the basic government of man is self-government. And there are more governments as well – school, family, business, etc. – but the state is a very minimal one. In fact, when it comes to safety and security from crime, Rushdoony specifically says that the state is not a solution but part of the problem. Quote:
“It is true that crime needs suppression, but, instead of suppressing crime, the State safeguards its own monopoly of crime.”
He continues by saying where safety and security is not, and where it is. Quote:
“The solution to crime and injustice is not more power to the state (!) but God’s Law and a regenerate man.”
In other places Rushdoony gives examples how law enforcement – and thus safety and security – must be done by the whole community. It is the community as a whole – not some professional government organization – which only can assure that crime is low. Community includes many different levels of social government – families, churches, schools, businesses, voluntary organizations – and none of these are civil government. Their power can’t be coercive, for the heart of man is not changed by coercion; and, as we saw, prevention of crime is an issue of the heart of man, not of policies and scientific predictions. Coercion must come only after a crime is committed, and it must be specifically aimed at restoration and punishment for the crime itself, not at redeeming the man or the society.
Any social order that comes not from the Law of God, however, must be by default collectivist and statist; it must worship the collective man as god, and therefore worship the most powerful institution of collective man as god: the state. Any system that doesn’t acknowledge the individual man as an independent moral agent under God won’t acknowledge self-government as a legitimate government – at best, self-government will be only subservient to the state. Thus, any statism – strong or mild, in any variety – comes from this idolatry of the collective man and of the state. Yes, I said, of any variety, even of the Christian variety – those church goers who object to the radical libertarianism of theocracy and want a state that will enforce some supposedly Christian agenda. Also, any ideology that places safety and security in the hands of the state is also an idolatrous ideology – for it comes, by necessity, from the presupposition that the state is capable of predicting the future, reading the hearts of men, and changing the hearts of men. Pagan governments just love to play providers of safety and security; nothing gives them a better legitimacy for their claims to divinity than the provision of safety and security. I said in an earlier article on Axe to the Root blog, titled “Political Opportunism Doesn’t Fight Tyranny, It Perpetuates It,” quote:
Those who call for the government to provide safety and security – as opposed to the Biblical task of only retributive and restitutional justice – are calling for open judicial idolatry. And since idolatry always brings tyranny, they are calling also for judicial tyranny. From the Jacobin Committee of Public Safety, through the Nazi SD (Security Service) and SiPo (Security Police), Mussolini’s TULPS (Laws for Public Safety), the Communist KGB (Committee for State Security) and Stasi (State Security), to our modern American Homeland Security, Transport Security Administration, and National Security Agency, and to the modern American cops’ “It’s for your safety” when they unlawfully arrest and torture innocent people, “safety” and “security” have been the buzzwords for the government’s terrorizing and spying on its own population in the name of taking care of them. Haven’t we learned anything from history that we want more of the same?
Once the government is given the task to act preemptively to provide safety, there is no logical limit to what it can do to anyone, including its own citizens. If a group of non-criminal foreigners can be controlled and kicked out because they are a “security threat,” what would stop the government from doing the same thing to a group of non-criminal citizens, for instance, gun owners? Such a concept of government would justify the violation of any civil rights we today enjoy, and eventually will destroy all liberty. Haven’t we learned from history? [end of quote]
The most obvious application of this “safety and security” state today in America is gun control. Those who favor the Second Amendment often complain that the gun-control advocates complain about guns used in crimes, but their proposed laws never target criminals, they always target the law-abiding gun owners. And in an amazing feat of schizophrenia, those same people then are all for supporting police and the thin blue line and praying for police, because supposedly the state – and its police – are supposed to provide safety and security. But a government that is charged with providing safety and security will do exactly that: it will target the law-abiding citizens, not the criminals, because safety and security are not about already committed crimes but about future crimes. By default, the state these Second Amendment fans want, is the same state that will target them specifically, for their insistence to have guns. This blindness and the schizophrenia of so many people in modern America is one of the most baffling characteristic of our age. Sound reason and logical thinking seem to have disappeared from among modern American Christians and conservatives in general.
But there are many more applications. The Social . . . er . . . Security administration is the product of the same ideology, that the state should provide safety and security. In fact, all kinds of welfare are product of the same ideology. The Federal Reserve (reserve, as in security) is the product of the same ideology. The hundreds of thousands of laws and regulations are the product of the same ideology. The more Christians insist that the state must provide safety and security, the more the state acts accordingly, and enslaves them more and more. When people want safety from the state, the state becomes a god. And then God the Creator leaves such a people to their false god, enslaved, and still not safe and secure, until they cry out back to Him, and restore justice in the land.
As R.J. Rushdoony said, the solution to crime and injustice, that is, true security, comes not from the state. It comes from God and from covenant men. As long as Christians in this land continue to worship the state and expect safety from it, we are going to be losing the cultural war.
The book I will assign for reading this week is Joel McDurmon’s Commentary on 1 Samuel. Read the story of a nation that could have both freedom and security under God but chose slavery under men, and lost its security as well. In the final account, it is brambles that come to rule over them, and tyranny follows.
Eastern Europe was there. It is shaking off this horrible legacy, slowly and painfully, while America seeks to acquire it. Help me in my mission in Eastern Europe, to accelerate the process of abandoning paganism and restoring God’s liberty and justice for all. Visit BulgarianReformation.com, subscribe to the newsletter, and donate. God bless you all.