A Minimalist Government08.09.10
Aired on September 6, 2010
Narration by Emily Bolinas
A MINIMALIST GOVERNMENT
We are about to begin another electoral exercise in a few weeks. Barangay elections will determine who will run the lowest level of government in the country, but the one closest to most citizens. If Christians should engage in politics, then there has to be a way of looking at the state from a biblical standpoint. There are two major views, which roughly correspond to secular political labels. Both are founded upon the understanding of how Christians should relate to the state, as Paul teaches in Romans 13. Today, we will talk about the “minimalist” view of government.
In this paradigm, government’s role is reserved mainly for protecting the rights of people and administering justice. Government is limited in how it intervenes with citizens’ lives.
The history of Israel shows the risks of a big and centralized government. Israel moved from being a tribal confederation to a people who desired a “king like the other nations.” The immediate implication was the rejection of a theistic social order, where Yahweh ruled as sovereign of their nation, with human leaders drawn from the various tribes and raised from time to time to carry out God’s purposes. As God himself told Samuel , “It is not you they have rejected; it is I whom they have rejected as their king.”
Also, Samuel the prophet highlighted some social consequences of their decision. He warned about what kings of that time could do: arbitrarily seize lands and goods, demand exorbitant taxes, make their sons and daughters slaves or basically stand in the way of their trying to live according to God’s original design for society. The risk of a centralized government is concentration of power. This is precisely what happened to Israel. The tribal leaders weakened and the kings became oppressive.
We have seen how governments that are in control of many things are also at risk of endangering the freedom of the Church to live what it believes. That is a lesson we learned from history, and from the experience of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century. We also saw this in the cooptation of the church in Nazi Germany.
It is necessary that governments should not have the last say in how people should live their lives. The Roman Catholic tradition has the concept of subsidiarity at the heart of its social teaching. This principle states that if anything can be done at the lowest possible level, by actors other than the state, the government’s role is limited to helping them do it.
Indeed, this is the way Philippine society has managed under the harsh conditions of colonial and authoritarian regimes. It was the family, the community, and, in recent times, the church, that has helped our people to survive.