Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What is good government?

What are the responsibilities of government in a balanced model? Remember that we need a balance between the family, the church and the government. Each group is integral to the whole and serves a distinct function while supporting the other groups.

The primary role of representational government is that of protecting the rights of the individual. There is a very basic code of laws which is a great place to start. It is found in Exodus 20: do not murder, do not lie, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not covet. These communicate the most valuable and intimate rights of the individual which, if honored, provide a basic level of respect and value for every person, their family relationships and their property. These are also built into every representational government system because individuals recognize their importance to society as a whole. Other related roles of government would be establishing a system of defense against foreign government policy and forceful invasion, a system of law with processes for trial and punishment (and rehabilitation) for law-breakers, levying taxes for the funding of government processes and public works, contracting the construction of public works as deemed necessary by the people, the protection of community resources, parks, monuments and historical centers, and education for the advancement and intellectual nourishment of the society. Most importantly, government should be self-limiting so that it only serves in its defined and contracted roles to protect the freedoms of the individuals and local communities which it represents.

There are really only 2 forms of government outlined in the Bible, both of which have some serious difficulties. Monarchy is a very common early form of government and pervasive through most of recorded history. If the king is truly concerned for the well-being of individuals under his rule and has adequate control of his realm, this works quite well in a fairly closed system. But as soon as a king loses focus on his responsibility to his subjects, or loses control of certain groups, or has evil (or lazy) counselors, everything is soon lost. The other form in early Hebrew culture was the theocracy. When God is the ruler, everything really does go well. The difficulty here is that God always communicates through people, some of whom have their own ideas of how things should work and misrepresent God or completely neglect their relationship with Him. After 300 years of moral, social and political failure in the period of the Hebrew judges, the people decided they needed a king like everyone else.

So the Bible does not really promote any form of government because the 2 models it gives do not work out very well. One beauty of Christianity is that it works under any form of government and even thrives under a religiously oppressive and intolerant government. The reason is that it is a relationship between the individual and his/her Creator and affirms the incalculable value of each human life, even in the face of torture and death. Christianity is most definitely NOT a form of government; it is not a social agenda; it is not a program for reform. Christianity is a way of life which impacts the heart and mind of each individual independent of the social climate. A Christian is an individual acting on the reality that God reveals Himself as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer through His Word (the Bible), through His Son (Jesus), through His creation (the universe) and through His interaction with humanity (history) and who has accepted the death of Jesus as payment for his sin to reestablish the broken relationship. The pride of thinking "I know best" and the resulting disobedience of God's law is what separated/separates us from God in the first place. The Bible does promise a new form of government when time as we know it is no more. This heavenly government will center on the worship of the One who loves us perfectly because He is the source of all love and goodness.

Democracy and Government

It is an interesting time to look at the role of government because of what is happening in the US under the Obama administration. I don't really want to take political sides, just look at the tendencies of different perspectives and their effect on society as a whole.

There are 2 pervading views in a democratic society. One is that the government acts as representatives of the people, based on the premise that the majority of society is intelligent and knows what is good for them. The second is that the government acts a caretaker of society, generating laws and programs which will be for the benefit of the whole. On the surface, both views seem to be generally beneficial. But remembering that the government is an extension of the family, 'employed' by the individuals in society to fill a specific role, the second view begins to take on a sinister tone. There are at least two very difficult issues with the second view.  1. If the government acts on its own, against the will of the people, even for the benefit of the people, it assumes a power which is no longer democratic; it has become a rule by force. 2. If the people are no longer vigilant and actively involved in the processes of government via their representatives, either that government will take advantage of their role (acting for their own benefit, not the people's) or worse, the people will blindly trust their government to know better than they what is of most benefit to their society. The people effectively 'employ' their government, paying them through taxes, to provide jobs, manage production and regulate their economy, health services and savings/retirement.

This second view is actually a version of socialism. Socialism is a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole. This is an intermediate step between communism and capitalism. A socialist government is 'vested' with the control of production and distribution of goods and services for the benefit of the society. This system minimizes competition and (supposedly) controls costs by telling each person what they can charge for their services or goods. The difficulty is that someone has to manage all that information and communication. Who is doing that, how do they do it with real time data, and how do they get paid? Instead of allowing competition based on supply and demand as well as the quality of products, a regulating agency manages production and distribution, gets paid for doing that job (which either raises the cost of the product or raises taxes) and creates a faulty supply and demand standard. This also creates a society where more and more members are employed by the government in 'regulatory' jobs and less are employed in production and distribution. That means the GNP goes down, the cost of products (or taxes) go up and inflation occurs.

A socialized government model creates an increasing gap between what government thinks is true and what is actually happening, decreasing the likelihood of making decisions which are really beneficial. So giving more power to the government, without sufficient controls and adequate representation of the people they represent, can never be a benefit to their society. The government either makes poor decisions and/or ultimately increases the cost of living in that society.

Of course there are other types of government, but none of them have the advantages of a democratic system and all of them have proven to be inadequate in a modern and educated society to care for the needs of the individual. A democratic society is unique in its provision for every individual to have the same opportunities for development and pursue their creative dreams in a healthy and stable environment.