The Modern War on Self-Government
The original American rugged individualism didn’t come out of the blue. It was the product of 17 centuries of development of Christian doctrine and worldview, as well as the teachings of the Reformation and its view of the priestly status of the individual man under God. Our politicians and churchmen today hate it; they hate it because they hate the Christian doctrine and the Christian worldview that created that individualism. In order for the modern elites to thwart God’s Dominion Mandate to man, they need to replace it with the state’s power domination over man. But a self-governing man under God is not subject to power domination; and this made Christianity dangerous for the Roman Empire, and for the modern pagan tyrants as well. And we better keep it dangerous.
Book of the Week:
– Christianity and Classical Culture, Charles Norris Cochrane
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With the election campaign going full steam these days, a quote has been dug out of Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village,” a book that was very self-consciously written to oppose the growing popularity of the homeschool movement. What most of us don’t realize is that Hillary Clinton didn’t write this book to influence conservatives or Christians; she is too smart for deluding herself in such a pathetic way. The book was designed to stop the growth of familistic individualism among the leftist voters, where many parents who grew up out of the hippie movement of the 1960s, and therefore naturally suspicious of any government, started imitating Christian homeschoolers. It was this trend that was – and still is – alarming for liberal politicians, for the children who grow up as individuals in a home will always be instinctively anti-statist and anti-establishment, no matter what their political convictions are. Hillary’s book was designed to restore the vision of a collectivist society among these leftist parents – a collectivist society based not on voluntary, independent communes but on the coercive and taxing power of the state.
The quote said this: “I believe the primary role of the state is to teach, train, and raise children. Parents have a secondary role.”
I haven’t read the book so I can’t say whether the quote is real or not. It certainly sounds like something Hillary Clinton would say or write. The love for collectivism, and the hatred for individualism and the nuclear family is a foundational tenet of the political left. After all, how do you carry out progressivist policies where the state regulates all of life if you have a society of rugged individuals who have learned from their early age to depend on themselves entirely, and never learned to adjust their brains to the collective brain of the herd? Many people know about the concentration camps of the Soviet Union; what is less known is that the same government agency – the GULag – also operated children camps, and millions of children were sent there for re-education, training, and brainwashing, to be made into brainless cogs of the government machine. And witnesses say that these camps had inmates as young as 3 or 4 years old; and capital punishment was carried out for some who were 12 years old; that was officially, and unofficially for children much younger. It’s the collective that mattered; the individual was just human material.
However, if you think that collectivism is only characteristic of the leftist side of the political spectrum, you are not paying attention. In the US, the right side, the so-called “conservatives” (whose ideology doesn’t go beyond “conserving” the liberal policies of 20 years ago) are no less collectivist in their mentality than their political buddies, the leftist “liberals.” Oh, yes, they hate the specific “leftist” types of collectivism – welfare, government education (may be; most of them love it), taxes, gun control. But their agenda is not to replace it with individualism, practical or ideological; only with another form of collectivism. The blind support for the military; or the blind support for police – especially against certain groups, because inner city black males are always guilty by default and deserve to be shot or imprisoned, no matter what, and because you always obey a cop, whatever that defunct Bill of Rights may say (but it’s OK to claim it in our favor) – the fear and hatred campaign against immigrants, all these are examples of right-wing collectivism, of deep hatred for the values of that rugged individualism which characterized the founding of the United States. These are fake conservatives, real collectivists and socialists who say that a cop can shoot a person with a gun just because the cop felt threatened. In the individualists days of America, everyone had a gun and carried it openly. When a “conservative” politician declares that if elected, he would carpet bomb whole populations, and “conservatives” applaud, we know we have collectivists. And yes, folks, those of us who have military experience, we value it very much, but keep in mind, the military doesn’t produce individualists, it’s very mindset is collectivist and socialist.
This hatred for individualism and love of collectivism is also obvious in the church. I have heard more than my share of sermons where pastors – even of “conservative,” Bible-believing churches – inveigh against individualism, and declaring it to be one of the reasons for the social and moral decline today. (As if the collectivist Soviet Union prospered, and the individualist early America declined.) Modern pulpits in many places have become soap boxes for socialism and collectivism, of either variety, leftist or rightist. And all of them not only support but also encourage and help the celebrity worship cult: a modern American collectivist religion where a person of influence becomes a moral authority above any scrutiny or criticism, and subjects to his leading other people, through different forms of manipulation.
Now, granted, there is a form of individualism that is evil and should be preached against. But that individualism is theological individualism: the belief that the demands of the Law of God, and therefore the redemption of the Gospel of Christ, apply only to individuals, but cultures, institutions, governments are free of its demands. This is the Satanic version of individualism which frees from the demands of righteousness and justice all institutions of man, shrinking the Gospel to a few propositions for personal morality. Culture, government, institutions, economy, business practices, media, science and technology, art, literature, all these areas where man is involved culturally and collectively must be left morally neutral, and not subject to the rule of the Kingdom of God. “God,” this theological individualism declares, “never called us to change the culture or bring the culture under the rule of Christ; He only commanded us to be personally and individually righteous.” What about injustice in the culture, on a government and corporate level? That we should leave alone.
Now, this theological individualism is evil and should be preached against. But that is not what the vast majority preachers and churchmen mean; and this is not what the politicians mean. What politician would want to hear, after all, that politics should be subject to the Law of God? To the contrary, this very theological individualism is the operational ideology of the modern churches and seminaries; and it is the preferred theology of both left and right: the theology that whatever faith we have, should be kept to ourselves, and the culture should be governed according to what the statist elites in Washington DC says.
The individualism the statist churchmen speak against is the individualism of self-government: the freedom of the individual to be a morally responsible agent under God, and obey or disobey human powers and institutions only based on the Law of God and not on any human considerations, agendas, or, programs – whether they are government’s or church’s. The individualism which, by making the individual free to obey God, makes him free do disobey men; and by this, makes human powers responsible and diminishes their power from magisterial – that is, ruling over men – to ministerial – that is, serving men. It is that same principle that was hinted at in the Declaration of Independence, that governments are only allowed to serve, never to dominate: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . .”
Our modern politics today, whether church or state, is simply a modern version of the older paganism. The paganism of old, that paganism that Ancient Israel had to deal with, and the paganism the early Christianity had to deal with, was collectivist to the core. It had no respect for the individual because it had no definition for the individual, no place for the individual, no use for the individual, no purpose for the individual. The pagan worldview – and therefore its social theory as well – sees the world either as a monolithic unity where no individuality is allowed, or, if there is individuality, it is all melted into a great chain of being from the gods above to the lowest creature below. And in that chain of being, the monarch (king, pharaoh, emperor) is the mediator between gods and men; any individual who wants to reach to the gods must be emptied of his own individuality and subject to a king. Even in republics and democracies, like Greece and Rome, a man had to belong to the community if he was to be man at all. “Man is a social animal,” Aristotle said, “and he needs the society. A man who doesn’t need the society of other men is either a beast or a god.” Real humanity, therefore, is in sacrificing one’s individuality in joining and identifying with the collective in everything.
We cannot understand the history of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, the Muslim Caliphate, the Aztec and the Inca Empires, the Soviet Union, unless we understand this fundamental characteristic of all paganism: it is collectivist and therefore statist to the core. It considers the individual to be nothing, and treats him like it. And if we see a reaction against the original American rugged individualism in our modern politicians and churchmen, it is because the ancient paganism has been revived, both in the political arena and in our pulpits.
Speaking of the most important and novel sociological and legal doctrine Christianity brought into the world, the Canadian historian Charles Norris Cochrane, in his book, Christianity and Classical Culture (1940), says of that great theologian of the early church, St. Augustine, that in the Trinity he discovered a fresh foundation for what we have called the values of personality. The personality, the individuality of man, of course, was not discovered with Augustine. 400 years before Augustine the New Testament clearly established the individual as an independent moral agent, one who is individually responsible to obey God, and therefore individually allowed – and even commanded – to disobey men when men’s agendas and policies disobeyed God. Even Paul, in his high authority of an apostle to the Gentiles, when he praises his readers in Corinth for their imitating him and following firmly the traditions he as an apostle had delivered to them (1 Cor. 11:2), immediately continues in the next verse, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.” The highest authority in the Christian church at the time declared a simple hierarchy which subjects every man directly to Christ and to no earthly authority whatsoever! And it is not just a New Testament thing. The Law of God in the Old Testament established a society of self-government of individuals in which there was no central power and no government policies whatsoever. In fact, if anything, it was against such earthly hierarchy: in 1 Sam 8, God told Samuel, “They want a king because they don’t Me to rule over them.” And the prophetic promises of the New Testament said that “no one will have to teach his brother anymore” (Heb. 8:11) and that every man will sit under his own grapevine and his own fig tree (Micah 4:4; Zech. 3:9).
Before Augustine developed the doctrine of the Trinity to derive from it our modern individualism, his master and mentor, Ambrose, bishop of Milan, told the Roman Emperor Theodosius, “You don’t even have the right to enter a private home without permission. What makes you believe you can enter the house of God.” It was in response to a threat by the Emperor that he would personally come and seize Ambrose’s church. Such talk to an emperor was unknown in the pagan world; but a Christian bishop had to talk this way, because his faith told him he had to disobey earthly powers in order to obey God.
God doesn’t equate power with government. To the contrary, in God’s economy, the fundamental and most important level of government is self-government: the individual works to fulfill his purpose in God’s plan of dominion and redemption, under God. The greater the power, the less government God entrusts to it. The King of the Universe, Jesus Christ, came to serve, not to boss people around, and thus gave the ultimate example of godly government. Government must be self-government first and foremost; because God is glorified not in mighty empires who toss people around and send them to their death or tax them to oblivion, but in the “little people,” everyone of which work on his calling before God. Man can be part of the society but man doesn’t have to be part of it in order to be human; contrary to Aristotle, man can be alone and still remain a human – as long as he is in his place in God’s Dominion Covenant of subduing the earth to the glory of Christ. And that Dominion Covenant will be fulfilled by individual, self-governing men working under God, in covenant with one another and in mutual, voluntary submission to one another.
And this is what the anti-Christian elites of our day are afraid of. In fact, this is what the anti-Christian elites of any era have been afraid of, and have hated with all their hearts and all their minds, and all their policies and regulations and legislation. Self-government plus voluntary mutual submission – even among unbelievers – eventually works for the Kingdom of God; because there is only one God Who can directly and personally lead and guide every single individual through His Holy Spirit, without leaving His place as the King of the Universe. The political elites can’t do it; they can’t work through self-government; they have to work through destroying the individuality of men in order to be able to rule. God can rule perfectly effectively through free, independent, self-governing individuals. And the pagan elites of our day know they can’t beat that. And they are scared of it.
A restoration of our Christian culture will only start with a restoration of the concept of self-government – because it is in the created nature of man to be self-governed and subdue the earth under God. Self-government, of course, as the ethical self-discipline to obey the Law of God as individuals. But not only that. Self-government also as the moral courage to stand against the attempts of collectivists and socialists of both sides of the political spectrum, and thwart their attempts to subdue our society and us to their ungodly agendas. Self-government as the ethical wisdom when and how to disobey and oppose the powerful of the day when they disobey and oppose Christ. The Covenant of God is comprehensive, it includes every single area of life, every individual, and every institution and activity of man; but at the center of that Covenant, there is no central human institution which subjects people to its will. In the center, there are free individuals, self-governing, under Christ, each under his own grapevine and his own fig tree. Self-governing also to the point of knowing exactly when they are supposed to obey human institutions and when they are supposed to disobey them in order to obey God.
The original American rugged individualism didn’t come out of the blue. It was the product of 17 centuries of development of Christian doctrine and worldview, as well as the teachings of the Reformation and its view of the priestly status of the individual man under God. Our politicians and churchmen today hate it; they hate it because they hate the Christian doctrine and the Christian worldview that created that individualism. In order for the modern elites to thwart God’s Dominion Mandate to man, they need to replace it with the state’s power domination over man. But a self-governing man under God is not subject to power domination; and this made Christianity dangerous for the Roman Empire, and for the modern pagan tyrants as well.
And we better keep it dangerous.
The book I will recommend this week is Charles Norris Cochrane’s Christianity and Classical Culture. Prof, Cochrane shows in great detail how the worldview of the West changed between Augustus and Augustine. He goes into great detail about philosophy and culture, at times it looks like he has taken too many rabbit trails, until the reader realizes that what is revealed to his eyes is a comprehensive picture of the mind of the ancient Roman, and how it was changed into the mind of an early Christian. It’s worth your time.
And don’t forget to consider donating to BulgarianReformation.com. There is a mission field out there that still doesn’t have all the books we all have available in English. A mission field that has proven abundantly fertile even with the small quantity of seeds we have been able to plant in the last 20 years. Please help us continue to sow and harvest on the mission field of Bulgaria. BulgarianReformation.com.