European history turns the mind to tyranny, especially in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Easy to condemn past tyrants, but hard to root out tyranny in parties, philosophies, or religions we favor. Easy for me to see the odium of political correctness on the Left, intolerance in secularism, and failures of Islam. Seeing my own tendencies to blindness or bossiness is harder.
Do I call every Republican with a different economic plan a RINO?
Do I sneer at low church liturgies like a liturgical snob?
Am I blind to Islam’s gifts to the world in science, mathematics, and architecture?
What is the root of tyranny? The Biblical story found in Genesis helps me see a root. In the story the Devil and our bad choices ruin humanity. Looking for answers to what I have seen in central Europe I read this:
Now the serpent was more cunning than all the wild animals the Lord God made on the earth. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat from every tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees of the garden; 3 but from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You shall not eat from it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You shall not die by death. 5 For God knows in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.”
Endless lessons are embedded here, but the words of the serpent are tyrannical, crafty twisting of truth and beauty turned to rhetoric to destroy humanity.
The serpent twists the words of God. God did not say not to touch the fruit. He asked Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit, because it was desirable to eat.
God was not being cruel, but giving humanity a great gift. The two humans live in a world where all desires are licit and fulfilled. When they were hungry, there was food and they could eat until they desired no more When they were thirsty, there was drink and they quench desire. All erotic desire was appropriate and met.
The only potential problem was moral growth. How could humans know they were free? God used an easy device: He placed something before humans desirable and then said, “No.” Adam and Eve walked with God and knew His love and so reason would have restrained them from disobedience.
They needed only to moderate their desire and they would learn the nature of good and evil by doing good. They would grow.
Satan challenged this by urging them to learn good and evil by doing evil. How to succeed? Satan harnessed the God-image to create rebellion. Satan added useless rules to God’s command and Adam and Eve rightly reacted against this meaninglessness.
Why not “touch?”
One kind of tyrant has followed Satan ever since by oppressing humans with useless additions to God and commands. Religious communities, as the Apostle Paul notes, are apt this variety of tyranny. Early on Hope and I over-regulated our kids lives and had to learn that our “no makeup” rule was not a moral one and that it was subject to discussion when our children were old enough to be rational.
A kid old enough to be punished for bad behavior is old enough to begin discussing what is proper behavior.
Of course, government regulations are the best example. The European Union practices soft tyranny as they decide every detail of economic and social life. This might merely be irritating, and even a bit funny as they tell Greeks not to grow olives, if it did not risk hard tyranny.
Flout there “do not touch” and soft tyrants harden up fast.
The crux of Satan’s temptation turned on the healthy reaction to such over-regulation. Unwise people over react to petty tyranny with revolutionary zeal often worse than the regulations. “If God says don’t touch fruit, we might as well eat it” is not good logic, but it is a natural over-reaction.
We hate rules so we throw out moral laws.
We know we can walk on the grass if we need to do so and decide, therefore, that we must all walk on the grass wearing an ugly path in it. We are not free to laugh, roll our eyes, and choose to obey. We go mad.
And so soft and hard regulators lead to revolutionaries as surely as Christian schools with too many rules breed libertines.
Satan laughs. The overly scrupulous and the prodigal both shatter the communion between humans and the world. The hyper-pious justify themselves by looking at the gross sins of the prodigal. The wastrel feels better when he sees the joyless life of the pharisee.
Our passions are not controlled in either case.
If I must choose, I would pick libertines over tyrants, because libertines often are too disorganized to force me to join them. They pollute the cultural air, but I can often find a place to breath. Tyrants never leave space.
God help me choose the better course: liberate and be liberated.