Friday, September 19, 2008

Temple Police

People often wonder why I have such an openly defiant attitude toward authority – civil as well as religious authority. I want to identify three reasons:

1. I grew up in South Africa during the heyday of the apartheid regime. As a child and teenager my father taught me that I had a MORAL OBLIGATION to resist authority. He was right!

2. I follow leaders. True leaders are hard to come by. I know precious few leaders. You can slap a title or a uniform or a badge on any yahoo. That doesn’t make them a leader, and it certainly doesn’t mean I necessarily ought to follow them, obey them, or respect them.

3. I have a theological warrant. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus was not brought down by anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is ALWAYS a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains are seen hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar! I doubt that many of us will end up playing Annas, Caiaphas or Pilate. They may have been the ones who gave Jesus the death sentence, but a large part of him had already died before they ever got to him - the part Judas killed off, then Peter, then all those who fled. Those are the roles with our names on them - not the enemies who confront, but the friends who abandon.

No one knows what Judas said. In John’s gospel he does not say a word, but where he stands says it all. After he led about 200 Roman soldiers and the Temple police to the garden where Jesus is praying, Judas stood with the authorities. Even when Jesus came forward to identify himself, Judas did not budge. He stood on the side with the weapons and the handcuffs.

In 1849 Henry David Thoreau wrote a tract called “Civil Disobedience.” Here’s an excerpt:
“The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders - serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few - as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men - serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.”