This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the great books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.
The evil nature of the state is clearly manifested by the carnage of totalitarian and communist regimes during the twentieth century. Professor Rudolph Rummel has demonstrated in his book Death By Government that, in the twentieth century alone, states around the world were responsible for the killings of an estimated 350 million of their own civilian, non-combatant populations. This figure does not count the more than one billion slain by state-sanctioned abortion worldwide, or the 40 million military personnel slain through state-sponsored aggression, during the same period. The state has been the most lethal institution in human history. And history illustrates the fact that twentieth century states have been the most evil of all time in terms of (1) loss of life and property and (2) the persecution of the church.
Clearly, the state has been more lethal than any infectious disease, plague, or religious inquisition in the history of mankind. In a July 1997 interview with Ideas on Liberty, Rummel stated: “Concentrated political power is the most dangerous thing on earth. During the twentieth century, 14 regimes murdered over a million people” each. “So much for the notion of state benevolence. Powerful states can be like gangs, stealing, raping, torturing, and killing on a whim.”
Many Christians have been murdered by states, including Jesus Christ and nearly all of the Apostles. Yet the relatively peaceful, anomalous American experience has stymied American Christians from appreciating this fact. The truth of the matter is that states have proven to be destructive to property and a great nuisance to the church and gospel preaching. Christian leaders would do well to be better apprised of history (especially as it relates to states and public policy) and basic economics. When it comes to facing unmitigated state power, ignorance is not bliss.
State evil is likewise evident from the poisoned and baneful redistributive policies of modern welfare states, the confiscatory taxation used to accomplish proactive policy, and much moral blight—such as the condoning of manic abortion or the excesses of the Clinton administration in America. Moreover, the imperialistic, unjust, and unconstitutional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan conducted by Bush family presidencies prove that there has been no end to the bloodthirsty quest for power and economic benefit by American rulers.
Even in America, civil liberties and constitutional rights are frequently eroded by all branches of the state, through court cases undermining private property and the right to life, legislation curtailing the Bill of Rights—under the guise of “fighting terrorism” or warring against vices like drug trafficking, and executive orders that encourage police state brutality and barbarism. Thus, the United States of America is fast devolving to the equilibrium point of interventionism and “security” that humans have coddled for centuries. In doing so, citizen-subjects fail to realize the deadly outcome of centralized and unrestricted state power.
Those Christians who errantly view the modern state as God’s colleague, upholding part of His law, must face a double dilemma.1 First, the Bible indicates that the state is generally evil, having a satanic origin, and often serves God by bringing terrestrial judgment upon people. Second, it is very rare (if not impossible) to find historical examples of states that have ever come close to upholding God’s law in the world. Given that the earthly institutions of God designed to expand His kingdom must at least resemble His ways and serve His cause, the state—which is eminently wayward—cannot fall into this category.
Consequently, Christian leaders are leading people astray who promote the modern state, in America or elsewhere, as a companion of the church. On the contrary, they should warn Christians about the evil nature of the state, about the statist schemes of Satan, and tell them to be on their guard against the state—one of the church’s most lethal enemies in history. Lamentably, only a few Christian leaders have been dutiful to proclaim this sort of warning.
Christian leaders must also be about the business of proclaiming God’s way of caring for the poor and needy, for promoting peace, and for defending ourselves against the intrusions of the state. Regrettably, rather than being active agents in transforming their culture, ignorant Christian leaders have been willing to abandon it to the mischief and folly of statists.
1 I refer specifically to the adherents of the revitalized or reshaped divine right of kings perspective. Theonomists would never attribute such confidence to the modern state; even if they hope that one day it will become such an attendant of righteousness. Likewise, those pacifists who hold that the state is a competing kingdom against God’s kingdom would also cast a vote of no confidence in the modern state—for good reason. Regrettably, there are relatively few Christian leaders today who reject the divine right perspective. A discussion of these different perspectives may be found in my article “Christian Views on Rebellion.”
Originally published in The Times Examiner on October 19, 2005.