Is there a dichotomy between law and love?
After reading an article I wrote (Palm Sunday and Politics), a friend of mine told me he thought I espoused a sort of dualistic view of Christian life. As if Christ came only to preach a spiritual transformation as something entirely separate from physical life.
Upon a rereading of the article, I can see how one might draw that conclusion. That is not, however, what I meant to communicate. Indeed, I view life as holistic, with all elements – spiritual, emotional, mental, physical – inextricably intertwined. I view the Christian life as wholly transformative, of the spiritual life as well as the others listed above. I do not see a dichotomy between the spiritual and physical life as far as my Christianity is concerned.
That said, there was a dualism expressed in the post. It was not a dichotomy between the spiritual and physical life, but a dichotomy between peace and force – and by force I am referring to the initiation of physical violence, or the threat of it.
The things I believe as a Christian affect every aspect of my life. My goals in life spring from my theistic view of the world and the resulting actions that view brings. Things like caring for those in need, learning humility, showing love and offering freedom to others–these are goals because of my acceptance of the Kingdom Jesus preached.
These beliefs and duties are physical as much as anything else. What they are not is violent.
To attempt to achieve these goals by initiating force against others is antithetical to the ends themselves. Though physical force may be justified in some instances (such as self-defense, though Christ and many others refrained even from this and chose martyrdom), I do not see any way in which the initiation of violence can be seen as a moral way to advance the work of Christ. When Jesus taught kindness to the poor, do you think he meant it by first doing violence to the rich or middle class? When he taught righteousness, do you think he meant making others righteous on threat of fine or imprisonment?
I do not.
If we do not feel justified in using force to advance these goals individually, why should we feel justified doing it as a group, or hiring it out to others?
Everything government does is done by force. If it’s a new law or regulation, it is backed by threat of fine, imprisonment, or (if you are persistent enough in resisting) force to the point of death. If it is a welfare program, it is funded by tax dollars, which are not given voluntarily. Try not paying your taxes long enough and you’ll find that indeed, force is what’s ultimately behind tax collection. If it were not, funds would be collected by a voluntary association, not government. Government has nothing to give but that which it first takes, and it takes by force or the threat of it.
If you’ve accepted the Christian life, it should indeed transform your entire being and all your actions. Far from believing Christ’s example and words regarding righteousness or care for the poor to be merely spiritual commands, I see them as part of the holistic goal of His kingdom, and involving physical actions. However, I do not see these ends as a justification for violent means.
To attempt to use government to achieve Christian goals is to, ultimately, use physical force. This not only corrupts government, it corrupts the goals themselves and diminishes the true depth of the work of the Kingdom. It reduces a life-transforming message delivered by loving believers into a program for political preferences pushed by a religious interest group.
Oh, and it just so happens that the way human nature works, peaceful and voluntary means of helping the poor and promoting moral behavior achieve unimaginably more than any force-backed government initiative ever can. The genius of creation is manifest in economics – free individuals acting to prosper individually achieve more for their fellow man than mandatory efforts. What is moral, it turns out, is also very efficient.
Christians should not only daily examine their hearts to see if their goals and actions are in line with the ultimate Truth; they should also ask themselves if the means they are using to accomplish those goals are righteous. Sometimes a government program would be easier than doing the work of Christ ourselves, or organizing voluntary efforts. Then again, Christ never said it would be easy.