Saturday, September 05, 2009

Romans 13, Rebellion and Incest:

I'm glad I caught your attention with that title. I've long followed the debate on whether Romans 13 -- a passage in the Bible where St. Paul sounds like he commands unlimited submission to any government -- ever permits rebellion/revolution or is an absolute categorical norm. If absolute, all revolt is forbidden, even to Hitler or Stalin. That's quite an unpalatable outcome. But so what? The fundamentalist (the Bible is the inerrant infallible Word of God) fatalistic mentality is supposed to be immune from such a "reductio ad absurdum." Yes, submitting to Hitler or Stalin seems bad; however the notion that the overwhelming majority of folks spend eternity in Hell because they didn't accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior is worse.

The same kind of reasoning that leads believers to explain away such an absolute interpretation of Romans 13 (because of the undesirable outcome) just as well leads other believers to reject the idea that folks who don't accept Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, 2nd person in the Trinity who made an infinite Atonement (i.e., the overwhelming majority of humanity who ever lived, including arguably the majority of self professed "Christians") spend eternity in Hell. Indeed, the pro-revolt theologians of the American Founding era tended disproportionately to believe in theological universalism (and unitarianism) for that very reason, i.e., "we cannot accept a result so absurd, regardless of what the Bible on its surface seems to teach." Look for a more "reasoned" interpretation. This is America's Founding political theology 101. This is why evangelicals and fundamentalists especially should reject the idea of a "Christian Nation."

I have seen folks try to argue the Bible (Sola Scriptura) permits rebellion; but such citations of verses and chapters of scripture do not convince. There simply is NO POSITIVE RIGHT to rebel (that is try to overthrow, not simply disobey) EVER to be found in the text of the Bible alone, if one properly understands the context of said passages. However, if one looked "outside" the Bible to "nature" via man's reason and "found" a right to revolt and then went back and put various verses and chapters of scripture into "context," while holding the right to rebel as an a-biblical a-priori, one could make a "reasoned" case for a God given right to rebel against tyrants. This is what the pro-revolt preachers of the American Founding did. Sola Scriptura, however, just won't do it.

Some have tried; for instance see Joe Farah's attempt and failure to make a "biblical case" for rebellion. He might as well try to make a biblical case for incest. Essentially what the pro-revolt evangelical theologians do is look to stories in the Bible where characters seem to or supposedly rebel against authority. The problem is, the Bible is full of characters -- characters who loved God and vice-versa -- who do sinful things. Simply noting a biblical character did X (i.e., rebelled against authority, committed polygamy, incest or even MURDER) does not mean the Bible approves of X.

What brings this specific example, incest, to mind is the debate Frank Zappa had with John Lofton. In short, Lofton supported censorship of rock music, in part because it advocated such evil things as "incest." Zappa replied that if we are going to ban discussion of incest why not ban the Bible because look at what Lot did after Sodom and Gomorrah. Lofton replied that such passages were not about "advocacy" of incest. (And I'm not sure the rock lyrics that Lofton wants to censor were about advocacy of incest either.)

So the biblical examples that figures like Joe Farah use to argue for "righteous rebellion" against government, inevitably yield one of two outcomes: 1) they are not talking about rebellion; Moses didn't rebel against Pharaoh -- he and his people just left and God did the rest of the work. Or 2) the context of the Bible DOES NOT suggest God approves the rebellion against authority. I.e., it's Lot committing incest with his daughters. Yes the characters may have done X; but the context doesn't suggest that God approved of the sinful act of resisting authority any more than God approved of the incest Lot had with his daughters.