NSA and Christianity: The Case for Concern (Part 1)

The capacities and practices, revealed by Edward Snowden have become an abrupt awakening to the state of the current world order; as to the temporal proximity of the End Times. Yet another plank is being laid in place. To quote Snowden, “the architecture of oppression” is emerging.

It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.1

I disagree with dispensationalist theology and eschatology. Nevertheless, based on precedent, I can only believe that Biblical prophecy has a literal and decipherable fulfillment. And thus a global and comprehensive, active and ‘passive’ form of latter day persecution of the saints would require the capacity to scrupulously execute such a will.

When I was in a kibbutz in 1979, a fellow Bavarian ‘volunteer’ spoke about the historical reality of whole isolated towns ostracizing individuals and families by this practice of withholding or impeding the ability for dissidents to earn a livelihood or spend their earnings. The ability to enforce this complete social excommunication comes far easier in a local communitarian social milieu. Dissidents would invariably need to move onto other towns.

In a global ostracization of dissidents, there would be nowhere to escape. But in order to ruthlessly apply such a regime, certain technological capacities would need to be attained, along with a conducive sociopolitical milieu and cultural mindset.

I, as many, could conceive of the theoretical potential in the early 1980s with some familiarity with computerization. (For that reason, I had delayed entering into the IT field.) With the ubiquitous use of the Internet as a necessary requirement for livelihood (and less so for lifestyle); with virtually every human being having a mobile phone/PDA with camera on hand and willingness to use them; with pervasive public and private CCTVs and the apathetic acceptance of the omniscient state by the general population, despite Orwell’s dystopia; with an increasing cashless society, and with it, the end of anonymity in our purchases; the infrastructure is coagulating. The ability for dissidents to escape this modern, omniscient Leviathan declines with every cycle of Moore’s Law.

The ‘treason’ of Edward Snowden is as that of Messenger of the current state of affairs. He reveals not only current technological capacities; but the political will, folly, mendacity and venality of the sociopolitical actors in the world’s sole hyperpower. And the public response, although not unexpected in this age of unbelief, indicates a somnolence, gullibility, trivial-mindedness, moral turpitude and civic cowardice.

Why the Authoritarian Surveillance State Matters to Christianity

(To skip this preamble go here.)

In surveying reactions to these NSA revelations and the onset of the Authoritarian State, I am struck by the relative dearth of Evangelical voice on this issue. I have, perhaps pretentiously and in wasted futility, lambasted some the supposed Evangelical leaders in America over their apathy and timidity. I have and am doing my watchman’s duty with little expectation of results.

There is an evident redirection of focus on religious liberty in Christian quarters. The strategy of the sociopolitical arm of quasi-Christian organizations is to delay the onslaught of liberal secularism in a series of rearguard actions. Secularist forces will continue to push religious values and in particular, Christianity from the public square, in accordance with an undeclared laïcité policy, transported from continental Europe. And having largely accomplished those aims; liberal secularism will then seek to economically, socially, politically and legally depredate those individuals and entities with religious (Christian) values, who retain their convictions and consciences. I am sure that many Christians see the course of recent events in this way. And Europe and Canada have certainly provided a blueprint upon which the American Church seems sure to follow.

I have many problems with this mindset, of which only cursory consideration will be given. The focus is to ‘spiritual’ battle at a sociopolitical level, while the church festers with lack of spiritual vitality, true and deep biblical literacy and wisdom, knowledge, orthodoxy, relevance, resonance, conviction, courage and virtue. I believe in a church that seeks to be cultural relevant. But godly cultural relevance does not mean kowtowing to the larger culture on things of substance. Thus, despite the hitherto nefarious associations of Rap music; in that modes of musical expression are ethically neutral in and of themselves, Christians adopting the Rap musical genre are not kowtowing. Contrariwise, displaying an eloquent thespian’s speech at the Academy Awards by a gay actor about his deep yearning for true love, (who is later revealed to be a frequent flyer of gay bathhouses) in a sermon, without a true and deep Biblical treatment, is kowtowing.2

For, though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.3

I believe that the spiritual battle has always been and continues to be at the ideological (a.k.a. theological, doctrinal) level more than the sociopolitical; and at a practicable ideological level. That means that I seek and ascertain the Truth / truth and live on its premises (definition of faith). One cannot do right unless one knows what the right is.

The visible church is largely losing reasonable understanding of its core orthodox theological convictions as well as its ethical. And as Bonhoeffer wrote in his prison letters, Christendom has long been irrelevant (mostly because it has been wrong) on matters beyond ‘esoteric’ theology and personal ethics. The outside world finds the Christian message that is being promulgated as something incoherent, inconsistent, irrational and alien, not corresponding to their perception of objective realities. The outside would find TRUE Christianity as something counter-intuitive to their existing notions. My problem is that I find that the Christian message that is being currently promulgated as something incoherent, inconsistent, irrational and alien, not corresponding to objective realities. And I perceive myself to my highly and scrupulously consistent with Biblical thought and understanding. In other words, the world is largely reacting to a Gospel and Full Counsel of God that is not a Gospel and Full Counsel of God. Thus, they are doubly impeded and damned from ascertaining the Truth / truth.

Furthermore, I find that current Churchmen cannot, by and large, give an intelligible rational defense of the Gospel and Full Counsel of God. At best, they posit Scriptural assertions in Christianese without being able to relate them to the real dynamics of human existence. At worst, they are unable to rationally (including psychological logic) and empirically demonstrate the reasonableness and truth of Scriptural assertions.

In other words, if the primary purpose of the Bride of Christ (The Church) is to transmit (teach) the Gospel and the Full Counsel of God, it has nothing worthy, for the most part, to transmit to this present generation. The victory is in changing minds (and hearts) of individuals, not their votes or swords. However, there is nothing worthy to be changed to.

I speak about the Gospel itself in this regard. However, I also believe that demonstrating the Full Counsel of God (a.k.a. wisdom) is a handmaiden to the promulgation of the Gospel; including matters of politics. The God of All Life! (“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”4) The problem is that political wisdom is not being proffered. Or the counsel, which is proffered by purported Christians, is not political wisdom. We got to get it right and to get right in order to transmit something worthwhile.

Another problem with many Christians is in their de facto isolating/separating of themselves from their unbelieving neighbours; whether out of their superficial and immature Christianity leading to unbelieving timidity, selfish concern for their own countenance etc. They are clueless as to what the world believes, why the world believes what it believes, including the deep underpinnings, and how to go about showing how the world is wrong and moving them toward the path of the Gospel.

Many a self-isolating Christian has not grasped the meaning of Christ cleaning the feet of the Apostles; although they are declared already clean (except one). If one is going onto the highways and byways, one’s feet (walk) shall be dirtied. But if you shack yourself in a Churchianity gated community, you will not suffer for muddied feet. Perhaps, many are of the attitudinal variety of “I’m alright jack”. One can think of many reasons why the typical Christian, if indeed they are a Christian, is culturally irrelevant.

Being isolated means being unable to counsel relevantly and wisely. It also means that one lacks concern for the angst and suffering of those outside of Churchianity. There was recent survey of materially wealthy Americans, comparing those who lived in gated community against those who dwell amongst the ‘common rabble’. It was found that the isolationists were far less concerned and charitable towards their less endowed neighbours than those who dwell amongst these neighbours. (Whether physical isolation is cause or consequence of social negligence is moot point.) Dwelling within gated Churchianity must have its equivalent effects.

Keeping oneself holed up in Churchianity’s monasteries, we can fool ourselves as to our relative virtue. If one does not face sustained virulent and vehement opposition and insult to which we are supposed to respond wisely and graciously. In not facing that, one might not realize one’s shortcomings in this regard. (This is not an advocacy for undue martyrdom. However, Christian victory involves overcoming opposition and impediment, not retreating from the line of battle.) We flatter ourselves because we are not challenged. We think higher of ourselves than we really ought because of self-imposed retreat into our subcultural enclaves.

How does this all apply to the NSA revelations and the onset of the omniscient surveillance state?

When the Christian Church focuses on religious liberty alone, they (and other religionists) merely constitute just another self-interest group, whose ideological or sociopolitical influence shall not extend much beyond their own little choir. Hereby, religionist concern on matters of speech or conscience is about freely speaking, believing and acting on such belief for religionists. However, the religionist is less concerned about the non-religionist’s right to freely speak, believe and act on their belief. The modern Evangelical (or general religionist) is often as inclined to impose their ideologies and ethos upon their social counterparts and adversaries as their counterparts and adversaries are inclined to impose their ideologies and ethos upon the modern Evangelical (or general religionist). I, as a Christian, demand sociopolitical free will. You, as a non-believer, have less a right.

I give two examples, amongst many of this reality, to which I have been witness. Some Toronto Public schools have permitted a prayer room for Muslim students. I welcome this development as long as it is extended to every faith and ideology (within honestly reasonable logistical restraints). Many Evangelical colleagues find this position untenable. (i.e. Isn’t this our country with a Christian heritage?) However, if I uphold the right for a Muslim student to pray in the public square, I am upholding a principle. If I uphold only the right of Christian student to practice his/her Christianity in the public square, I only represent a self-interest. This attitude hardly inspires those beyond Churchianity’s borders. And thinking selfishly; my own self-interests are not being prudently advanced either. 

The other example involves attempts by either side of the sociocultural divide to define and regulate marriage under sociopolitical jurisdiction with a legal definition. Any such attempts have no Scriptural warrant. Marriage belongs to God and not Caesar. Marriage belongs to God directly and not through any ecclesiastical mediator. Political or legal jurisdiction over marriage is largely an innovation introduced by 16th Century Reformers; marriage having been hitherto, largely a private covenant/contract in Western society with minimal state interference. State definition/regulation has since produced a litany of travesties on the Estate of Marriage. And in the current cultural climate, any such legal definition will have the consequence of violating the conscience of one or the other faction and likely causing in the future, economic and social impediments and depredations to those publicly upholding a politically incorrect opinion.

Therefore, in order to protect the consciences of all, a principled position would hold that there be no legal or political definition of marriage. Insisting upon a legal definition that conforms to Christian or religious ideology is a position of self-interest, as is anything that conforms to a secular or LGBT agenda. Even as I believe marriage is properly a lifelong committed erotic relationship between two opposite-sex humans, I prefer to let the dynamics of ‘natural law’ prove superiority of that conviction empirically; and to persuade another of that natural superiority rather than bring the arm of the state into the matter.

Thus, in conclusion, I suggest and insist that Christians think in terms of the general good of humanity, rather than only that which serves their subcultural clique. Our concern about liberty of expression should be about such liberty in general, even that which we regard as sinful and hostile to Christianity; not only that which pertains to Christianity and Christians. By this, we uphold a principle and not a self-interest. By this, we appeal to human aspirations beyond our little subcultural clique. By this, we perceive the larger picture about concerns and threats to liberty in general, upon which religious liberty is only a subset.

And this points to Christ’s logic about the altar and the gift on the altar.5 If the free promulgation of the Gospel without impediment is a scripturally justifiable concern and advocacy, then wisdom insists that we concern ourselves about promoting sociopolitical liberty in general, upon which religious liberty is one adornment; a gift on the altar of general liberty.

It is evident from Scriptures that although the Christian is to submit to governing authorities6, that that submission has limits. One of those limits is the right and ability to promulgate the Gospel and Full Counsel of God; in other words, free expression and communication.7 Another one would be the right and ability to freely assemble.8 Does any Christian honestly think that Christians ought to hold this right exclusively?

And would it not be sound reasoning that we should advocate and agitate for the least restrictions and impediments to the promulgation of the Gospel and Full Counsel of God? Subtly inferred in Paul’s letter to Timothy about praying for governing authorities (and by inference, submitting oneself to them) is this intimation that it improves the chances for peaceful order in order for Christians to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”9, so that “all people [might] be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”10. This intimates that war and civil conflagration is an impediment to the Great Commission. History (and even psychological logic) confirms this relationship. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and the American Revolution devastated the spiritual landscape as well as the material. And in the former war, the vitality and credibility of the Reformation suffered great depredation and the Western movement towards secularism found its genesis.

Scriptures speaks of speaking boldly about the Gospel in the face of opposition. But it would be a masochistic wet dream and contrary to the inferred purposes of God to seek to dwell in a sociopolitical milieu, which impeded such promulgation of the Gospel. Within every (scripturally and politically) lawful avenue open to us, it is our (handmaiden to the Gospel) obligation to eliminate all sociopolitical impediments to that promulgation. Failure to do so is an abdication of Christian duty and love!

For this reason, I find the dearth of comment and concern about the NSA revelations and the onset of the omniscient surveillance state by the Evangelical leadership to be most troubling. If the omniscient surveillance state can be proved to be or be potentially an impediment to the promulgation of the Gospel and Full Counsel of God; or to the welfare of Christian adherents; or in our commanded love for our neighbour11, to the welfare of that neighbour, whatever ideological or sociopolitical stripe, he/she belongs to; it is our duty to resist the onset of this state of affairs.

©Copyright Johnny Hutchinson


NOTES

1.       Revelation 13:16-17

2.       This occurred at the Orangeville Baptist Church (Compass Community), I was attending around 2009. My small group leader was livid for the multimedia clip of the Dustin Lance Black speech. I actually believe that such displays should be seen but in the context of a deep and nuanced Biblical reply, which was not supplied. 

3.       Corinthians 10:3-5

4.       2 Peter 1:3

5.       Matthew 23:19-22

6.       1 Peter 2:13-15, Romans 13:1-7

7.       Acts 4:17-20, Acts 5:28-33

8.       Hebrews 10:25

9.       1 Timothy 2:2

10.   1 Timothy 2:4

11.   Matthew 22:39

 

 

 

 

 

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