Tuesday, August 03, 2004

More Thoughts on Tyranny and the Federal Marriage Amendment

Recently, one of our parishioners sent me an email about a conversation we’d had at trapeza about the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, intended to define marriage so as to preclude a state’s legalization of same-sex unions as a “marriage.” With the author’s permission, I have extracted some excerpts, and post these here, together with my reply.
RE imposition of morality as tyranny:
America is ostensibly a republic devolving into a mobocracy; American politics presumably reflect the wishes of the masses which are then imposed nationwide (tenth amendment, R.I.P.). In reality, at least with regard to most domestic issues, the country is an oligarchy.

You're correct -- America has always been ruled by an oligarchy. In the beginning, this was more or less overt: you had to be male, and an owner of a certain minimum amount of land, in order to vote; and you had to be able to vote in order to be elected to office. Over time, the reality of the oligarchy has become less and less obvious; in part, as the right to vote has been extended to a larger and larger circle of people; and, in part, as the ruling class has learned how to manipulate the instruments of power without necessarily having to handle the controls themselves. The truth of the statement "Wealth = Power" has not changed from the earliest days of the American nation.
How is the tyranny of black-robed bureaucrats preferable to the wishes of the masses, particularly considering that many judges are apparently in the thrall of satan? (reference partial birth abortion).

I didn't say that this form of tyranny is acceptable, or preferable. Judicial "activism" is, for the most part, a recent development, although one could credibly argue that it has "venerable" roots, going back to Chief Justice Marshall and his ruling on the Bank of the United States -- the first real occurrence of "judicial activism," in my opinion. My sense of what the "founding fathers" intended for the judicial branch was that of a conservative body, resistant to change, using the standard of law, and especially the Constitution, to determine what was, and was not, permissible. When I taught a class in "American Government," the "bumper sticker" for the three branches was, "The legislative branch enacts the laws, the executive branch enforces the laws, and the judicial branch interprets the laws." We are seeing significant deviation from this on the part of the judicial branch today.

My point regarding tyranny is that our efforts, as Christians, to use the power of the state to enforce a particular morality (ours) is going to backfire; and we will be the ones who will find the power of the state used against us. This does not mean, as you have characterized my position, that we wait until "the sheriff shows up at the door with Adam and Steve." What I said (or, thought I had said) is that a day is coming when the sheriff will show up at the door with Adam and Steve; and we have to be prepared to bear witness in that day for what God has said, and for what God requires of His people – no matter what the state may, or may not, allow or require. Our Lord, confronted by the state, said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." Neither is ours. We are to be obedient to the state, unless the state requires us to violate the way God requires of us; and then we are to remain faithful to God, and, if the state chooses to punish this defiance, so be it. To the extent that we are able to be of influence on the state, by our example, and, when it is possible, by the shaping of policy, glory to God that we can do so. I didn't say that we should not contact our elected officials on the matter of the proposed amendment to the Constitution regarding same-sex marriages; indeed, I discussed the ways that are effective, so as to point out that the on-line signing of a petition is almost totally unlikely to have any effect other than making the signer "feel good" – he has "done something," but only in his own mind. By all means, write to our senators, and your district's representative in Washington, and tell them what you'd like them to do regarding the amendment. You have that right as a citizen of this country; and there is no reason, from the position of the Church,, not to exercise that right. You have the freedom to work to encourage others to do so; and no barriers to this from the Church. All I am trying to say is, don't be surprised if the effort fails; and, if it does, we must soberly consider the reasons for that, and examine ourselves -- for the failure is ours. We are losing our presence in society as "salt and light" -- and the changes in morality are a result of this development. Judicial activism may be accelerating the change; but, in the absence of salt and light, the change is inevitable; only the pace is affected by the actions of these judges. (And a brotherly admonition here: be careful about saying that someone, anyone, is in "the thrall of satan." And pray, fervently, for anyone about whom you think this may be true, asking God to free them and have mercy on their souls.)
The beauty of the amendment process is that it sets a very high threshold for change. If an amendment is successful it will be because 3/4 of state legislatures approve it, a powerful reflection of the will of the people. The alternative - to bow down
to the judges as they impose their edicts - is the essence of subservience to real tyranny. The fact that enough Americans are so morally confused that these judges won't be hunted down makes their redefinition of this basic social institution no less tyrannical. Resistance to tyranny can happen at any step along the road to slavery. You say it should happen when the sheriff shows up at the church doors with Adam and Steve. I want to buy little S. some more time in a sane world.

I understand your desire to protect your precious child. The problem is, the world is insane; and is growing increasingly so. The challenge for you, and for all parents, is, how will you respond to this reality? I cannot recommend looking to the world for the solution to the problem; especially not as the state, as is the case here and now, is moving away from any awareness of the spiritual dimension of its powers and responsibilities, and seeing only temporal power and authority, limited only by its inability to seize and hold more. Probably the last ideal state was found in Israel at the time of the judges (ironically enough). The society was patriarchal in structure, with families being led by their patriarch; and appealing to the judges when unable to resolve internal difficulties, or when a central authority was required because of external circumstances (such as an invasion). The last of the judges, the prophet Samuel, instituted "government" at the request of the people, who asked him to appoint a king for them. He rebuked them, for they had God as their king; and told them, in no uncertain terms, that an earthly king would be a tyrant. Although we have no ostensible king, we have in his place the executive branch, with the president in the place of a king; and the government as a whole has not ceased its tyrannical position. It is true that, on one level, the tyranny is moderated when the central authority is dispersed, and the system of checks and balances operates; but on the other hand, we are only a revolution away from what happened in Russia in 1917, and in the years following. The form, of course, isn't likely to be the same; but the effect will be: and the Church will be the target of the tyrant. Don't forget that the kingdoms of this world are subject to the prince of this world; and he is the enemy of God, and the accuser of the brethren.
To me the most elevated purpose of politics is to help create a world in
which people are not so harried and corrupted by society that they have the chance to contemplate their relationship to their creator. Institutions such as marriage, traditionally understood, represent a reflection of the church, a vehicle to salvation. Retaining it as it has been ordained by God and understood through the ages is a worthy goal. And the nature of our supplication to the robed demigods insures that only a constitutional amendment will resist this insanity.

I agree that retaining marriage as ordained by God is a worthy goal; and that our society will benefit from doing so. The Church will retain this understanding, even if the state does not. Politics will always interfere with the contemplation of God, and our relationship with Him -- that's one reason why monastics withdraw from the world. "Let us who mystically represent the cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn unto the Life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares; that we may receive the King of all, Who cometh invisibly upborne in triumph by the ranks of angels. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia." The challenge for us, called in effect, to be monastics even while still engaged in the world, is to be "in the world, but not of the world" -- to lay aside all earthly cares. The world will never be a place of peace for us; but it isn't meant to be. Judicial activism, when it goes too far, always provokes a response to rein it in. That remains to be seen on this issue. I do not expect to find the necessary number of state legislatures to ultimately approve the marriage amendment, if it is even presented to them. I hope I am wrong.
As for Adam and Steve's union hurting marriage, the institution of gay
marriage and civil unions in European countries has led to more out-of-wedlock births because the threshold of commitment is lowered even more than we have already lowered it with no fault divorce, abortion etc. So yes, by saying, "anyone can do it", we do harm the institution. We cheapen it and make it even more mundane.

The same statistic for out-of-wedlock births is true here, even without same-sex marriages. Our ratio of marriages to divorces is essentially one to one. I must ask, who is "We?" We the people (that is, the state)? Or we, the people of God (i.e., the Church)? We (the Church) cheapen nothing; and, if the people of God will be the people of God when they function as the state, then nothing will be changed. This underlines, once again, my deeper point: we, the American people, have lost the connection between the two forms of our existence; we have separated Church and state in our own thinking and actions; and what is happening now shows the result.

As of now, our dialogue is continuing; and, as my friend raises more issues worthy of note (and this will happen), I will address these in subsequent blogs.