By Nathan Barton
Bear with me: this is going to start on a religious note, but we’ll soon get to the political and societal side of things.
More and more, as I study the Bible and religious matters, by myself and with others, I ask myself and others a very simple question. “Who is in charge?”
Simple, but important. Both in religion and in society and politics. Whether discussing matters with a “Christian” or a Muslim or a Jew, LDS or Christian Scientist or Jehovah’s Witness, or Jainist or even Zoroastrian, many questions and issues boil down to that. If you believe in God, and you believe the holy books of those groupings of religions (none of which is monolithic), you believe in a Creator, and the question is both critical and simple. The being which makes something is in control of what it (He) makes.
Almost all religions claim that they believe God (or gods) is in charge. But do things actually work that way? Who is actually, practically, in charge? The prophet? The pontiff? The denominational officers? The pastor? The women’s aid society? Who claims to speak for God? What proof do they have? What authority do these people really have?
That answer is also a fairly simple yet important one. They have the authority (power) that people are willing to give them. And enforce on their behalf.
When I study and ponder politics and government and society, the same question is valid and enlightening: “Who is in charge, anyway?”
Who makes the decisions? What governs how those decisions are made? What determines the limits?
And as with most religions, the answer that is given, and accepted, is false.
It is not “we, the people” or “union rank-and-file” or even “duly-elected representatives.” They cite their constitution or charter or “democratic principles” or whatever, with the “official” answer to who is in charge. Or as proof that they are in charge: whether it is the elected “massa” or the elected politicians or appointees according to some formula or procedure.
Actually, power is wielded by those who are allowed to do so by “we, the people” of whatever jurisdiction the power-holders claim. That is, the power the people that they boss or control will submit to. By inaction, if nothing else.
Religious leaders use the fear of everlasting hellfire or public shame to get people to let them have their way. Or (sometimes) the idea that only they have the “secret” of life, prosperity, and the future.
Government and political leaders use more direct methods to get people to let them run their society and their lives. They use force, directly or indirectly. Or threaten to use it. This force might be “the sword” or the club or the gun. Or just the fist.
Sometimes the threat is directly against the person and sometimes against his or her family or community. And tied to force and the threat of force is the fear of public shame and denial of “privileges.” But whether it is imprisonment or denial of privileges such as working in a profession or owning property or travel, ultimately it comes down to force. And to the fear that people have of that force being used against them.
But force (and its threat) only works if people respond to it in a satisfactory manner. If we react the way they expect, we are allowing them to use force to get their way.
But we don’t have to. People, we DO have ways to refuse to allow our “rulers” or “leaders” to tell us what to do. We can reject their force and their threats of force. If we are willing to accept the consequences.
Sadly, we all too often refuse to use those ways.
One, of course, is to “vote with our feet.” Leave that jurisdiction: flee elsewhere. That is, of course, what border jumpers do. That is what people do everyday here in the Fifty States, even if they just move to a place where the things allowed by the bosses are just slightly different.
Another is civil disobedience: ignoring what the powers-that-be tell us is supposed to be done (or not). People do this all the time, on minor things. Like speed limits. Laws against what we drink or otherwise ingest. Building permits. “Cheating” on taxes. Like a fisherman, they “can’t catch everyone.”
Another is vocal refusal followed by action: the famous “Freedom = I won’t.” More confrontational than simple civil disobedience, but sometimes more effective. This method isn’t too common, except maybe by two-year-olds and teens.
And then we have rebellion. Not just refusing to obey. Actively resisting the aggression of the thugs. Not many people do this, but we see it happening in virtually every civil war, every revolution, every revolt. It can be effective, but all too often leads to a far worse situation.
All of these are ways of telling those who claim to be in charge, that they are NOT. That we want to govern ourselves (us, individually, personally).
Because the right answer to “who is in charge” of my life – even for those who accept that God Himself ultimately – is “I am,” for even our obedience to God is ultimately voluntary.