How the Modern State is Like the Medieval Church
As part of my governmental (public) education, I was taught that in earlier times the church held great power which it misused in a systematic way to appropriate vast riches.
By accepting indulgences in lieu of good works and in payment for sins committed, believers were allowed to accumulate credits redeemable for heavenly rewards.
Of course, the church kept the monies paid for obtaining spiritual blessings, appropriating the property of sinners & law-breakers to itself.
History class used this as an example of how “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Today, of course, the church is so emasculated that it barely has the moral authority to appropriate enough voluntary tithes from its members to keep itself afloat. It is no longer the hegemon it once was, mostly ignored in the public square, a shadow of its former self even when it comes to the great moral debates of the day.
Instead, it is now the government that is all-powerful and, is using its power in a way that would have made the medieval church blush.
For example, in its last week of rule the Obama administration “rushed to complete a raft of investigations of big business…reaching settlements worth around $20 billion,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Now, just as the church in olden times kept the indulgences to enrich itself, so does the government today. Many of the sundry accords reached with businesses for their misdeeds, crimes and sins include cash settlements paid to the U.S. Treasury.
To wit, deals totaling some $7.2 billion with Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank AG for marketing mortgage loans almost a decade ago include monies paid to the government and punitive payments to current mortgage holders and forced contributions to low-income housing developments.
As with most of these settlements, the dollars flow to enrich the government or to its favored clientele, who return the favor with their votes. And while many feel good about nicking those big, nasty companies, the reality is that consumers pay for every penny the companies pay out.
It is the same old story. Whether it is the church or, state, there is usually no compensation for the victims – only confiscation for the powers that be.
Yet true justice requires restitution for the victim. The Bible is clear and concise regarding the rights of the victimized.
Exodus 21 & 22 are replete with case law mandating restitution: “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration,” “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep” and “If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.”
And in Luke 19 Jesus reaffirms the Old Testament definition of justice when Zacchaeus declares, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus subsequently confirms that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’s house.
Real justice is concerned with making things right for the person who is wronged. Abductive justice is concerned with the enriching of the powerful while appearing to be doing good.
Without restitution, justice is not accomplished and the government only grows stronger while the innocent are degraded, ignored and victimized a second time by the party who is supposed to see that justice is done.
We have made no historical advance. The civil government has merely replaced the ecclesiastical government as the bad actor.
It took a Luther to curtail the church when it was usurping the rights of victims. Who will be our Luther today to rein in the acoria of our modern day behemoth?
Terry Applegate writes from Utah in the winter and Michigan in the summer. He is CEO of Applegate Insulation, serves on the board for Citizens for Traditional Values, Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association and the European Theological Seminary and is married to Val with three children and four grand-children.