Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Value, and Forbes.com.
The Politics of St. Paul?
In Romans 13:1-7 the apostle Paul writes:
"[A ruler] is the minister of God to thee for good" (v. 3);
"Wherefore ye must needs be subject . . ."(v. 5);
". . . pay ye tribute [taxes]" (v. 6).
St. Paul seems to be saying that God ordains human governments and that Christians should honor and obey the government under whose jurisdiction they live. Many Christians conclude from these verses that Christians should accept whatever government and laws their country has. Other Christians, while accepting the need for government and lawful behavior, question whether Romans 13 commands us to submit to human governments unconditionally. They ask: Is rebellion ever justified? Reform movements? Civil disobedience? Tax protests? Change?
Based on scriptural texts, Paul appears to be a quintessential conservative - not in the contemporary American sense of favoring a smaller government, but in the more traditional political sense of not wanting to disrupt the established order. Indeed, contemporary progressives reject Paul's unwillingness to challenge the social status quo. In his epistles, St. Paul tells servants to treat their masters well and vice versa. There are no appeals for "social justice," equality of status, or redistribution of wealth. In addition to the famous passage in Romans, Paul exhorts Christians to pray for all in positions of authority (I Timothy 2:1-4). These are not the writings of a political dissident.
Before categorizing Paul as a political conservative, let us consider another possibility: Perhaps he was apolitical. Like his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Paul's life was devoted to a spiritual mission - the advancement of the heavenly kingdom that is not of this world. His objective was to reform and reconstruct the architecture of the thought, soul, and heart, not the superstructure of civil government. Paul was an evangelist for God and His son, not a political philosopher or activist. He was too busy being a spiritual radical to get involved in a political movement.
Indeed, Paul had to take great care that the fire of the Holy Spirit that burned in men's hearts not be conflated with the flames of political passions. Many Jews were still looking for a militant Messiah to lead them in revolt against the hated Romans. Paul must have known that if the followers of Jesus became a political movement challenging the authority of Caesar, the Roman army would crush, if not annihilate, the nascent Christian movement. Out of love for his Lord and his fellow man, Paul would not lead his flock to certain slaughter. His apparent cautiousness was not due to personal timidity or concern for his own safety. This faithful apostle bravely endured repeated hardships in the service of his Lord:
Five times received I forty stripes save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep . . . In weariness and painfulness . . . in hunger and thirst . . . in cold and nakedness (2 Corinthians 11:24, 25, 27).
Ultimately, this "great lion of God" (as the novelist Taylor Caldwell characterized him) was martyred for his faith.
It is significant that Paul's statements about honoring government occur in his letter to the Roman church. Certainly Rome, as home to Caesar and capital of the Roman Empire, would be particularly diligent in monitoring potential rebels. What if Roman authorities were to intercept Paul's letter? In that case, his statements about honoring government would contradict any charge that Christians were somehow disloyal to the emperor. At the same time, Romans 13 conveys messages that were opaque to the pagans but transparent to Christians.
The chapter begins, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" (v. 1). While Roman authorities might have assumed that Paul was writing about Caesar, Christians knew that "the higher powers" were divine - that God is the sovereign to whom one owes fidelity. And when Paul writes that a ruler "is the minister of God to thee for good" (v. 4), doesn't this imply that he is speaking of rulers who are just and good - those who uphold God's rules protecting the sanctity of life, marriage, property, reputation, etc.? Yes, we should pray for all who are in positions of authority, for benign and just rulers, that they continue to be so, and for corrupt or unjust rulers, that they mend their ways and govern better.
Here is a jarring thought: If Christians are never to rebel against unjust government, then America's Founding Fathers were wrong to rebel against the English crown and parliament to establish a republic where most people's God-given rights were given greater protections than anywhere else on earth.
This leads us back to those controversial, fundamental questions about which Christians of good conscience may strongly disagree: What is the proper scope of government? To what extent should Christians "turn the other cheek" and "suffer it to be so now" by accepting the status quo, and when is challenging and changing laws and government justified? Is it possible that Paul's contributions to the scriptural canon were not essentially conservative, but so profoundly revolutionary on a long-term basis, leavening human thought until, centuries later, Christians' hearts and minds were filled with the unshakable conviction that it was a human right to throw off unjust governments?
Here is one point on which most Christians may agree: Governments often adopt policies that don't seem right, and we disagree on which policies those are. But all of us can take heart from that glorious promise that St. Paul gave us in that same letter to the Romans: ". . . all things work together for good to them that love God . . ." (Rom. 8:28). Amen.
The UN, EPA, and the Latest Climate Change Folly
When writing about the IMF last week, I mentioned that bureaucracies tend to do everything possible to perpetuate themselves. So it is with the United Nations and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The UN long ago found common cause with redistributionist national governments on the subject of climate change/global warming, spouting an alarmist theory of impending disaster unless we Americans slow down on economic growth and the governments of richer countries give more of their taxpayers' money to the governments of poorer countries. Thus, predictably, the UN's Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change has just issued its fifth assessment report in which it continues to sound the alarm about warming caused primarily by increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. It also states that developing countries need between $70 and $100 billion per year to make needed changes - money that the developed countries are expected to supply, even as they shrink their own GDPs.
The EPA has been progressively expanding its reach, successfully positioning itself as a ubiquitous presence in our lives and establishing itself as one of the most powerful agencies of the American government. Its latest gambit involves attempting to regulate emissions of bovine flatulence - a major source of methane, a gas that traps much more heat than CO2. The EPA initiative has far-reaching implications, since the only way to reduce the amount of gas emitted by cattle may be to curtail our consumption of beef by reducing the number of cattle in existence.
There are multiple flaws in the alarmist position. Let's cover just a few:
1) The climate change gurus can't forecast the future. This goes beyond the problem that the alarmists have as a result of their dozens of computer models not conforming to real-world historical data and all contradicting each other like some sort of scientific Tower of Babel. The inescapable problem is that much of the climate is a "coupled, nonlinear, chaotic system," meaning that it may not be possible to predict it with accuracy.
2) Not only can we not "prove" that earth will warm or cool over the coming decades, we don't even know what the net gains and losses of either alternative would be. Maybe (I don't claim to know) warmer would be better on a net basis, maybe cooler would be better (although based on the history of the last 2000 years, I lean toward warmer).
3) Not only can mere mortals not predict the future climate, we cannot control it with present or near-term technology. The UN report warns "that the problem will become increasingly difficult to manage." This belief that humans can somehow "manage" the climate is what Friedrich Hayek called "the fatal conceit" on steroids.
Look, the alarmists themselves already have sabotaged their own theory. A number of them in recent years have started to hedge their bets by suggesting that the current 17-year stretch of non-warming may continue for several decades. They avoid mentioning that manmade CO2 emissions are likely to continue to increase over that period. That pretty much nullifies their thesis that CO2 is the primary driver of climate change. Essentially, they are conceding the skeptics' point that other factors have greater impact on global temperatures than CO2.
Over 20 years ago, the George Marshall Institute published a study showing that all of the small increases in global temperature from 1900 to 1990 could be attributed to increases in the sun's energy output. Over the course of earth's history, changes in earth's orbit around the sun, changes in the tilt of the Earth's axis, and changes in albedo (reflection of light from the planet, due partly to cloud cover) have driven changes in terrestrial warmth. As for the atmosphere's greenhouse effect, by far the major portion of that is attributable to the primary greenhouse gas - water vapor (which even the UN and the EPA aren't foolish enough to propose regulating). As for the minor share of the greenhouse effect due to global warming, since humans account for only about four percent of total global CO2 emissions, it becomes apparent that we humans are, in terms of our impact on climate change, a monkey on an elephant's back - we're not the driver, we're just going along for the ride.
We need to remember how hyper-politicized the IPCC and EPA are. They have their agendas. I was interviewed about climate change for a Voice of America broadcast a few weeks ago, and, since I'm a skeptic, was asked if I had received money from fossil fuel companies. My reply was that I haven't, but how horribly biased it is to ask skeptics if they receive oil money, but not to ask alarmists if they receive government money. Why this presumption that private money is corrupt but government money is pure and noble? What a naive, unrealistic, perhaps deluded assumption that is. Billions of government dollars have been spent advancing the alarmist scenario/agenda. The alarmists bring to mind something H. L. Mencken once wrote:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
Don't let the hobgoblins scare you. *