Monday, June 11, 2007

The divine right of kings

There is little better conversation halter than, "God says so!"

That's exactly the sentiment behind the divine right of kings, a system of ruling in which a monarch owes his rule to the will of God, and not necessarily to the will of his subjects. When the divine right of kings was almost universally acknowledged and accepted, denying it was beyond treason, beyond torture and death; it meant eternal damnation.

If you know much about history---including why the United States came to be---then you have some idea about why people eventually fought to the death to end the divine right of kings. (Except in England, where the monarchs are still ordained, albeit largely powerless.)

So if someone today were to say that his rule was a divine right, the audience would laugh and laugh. Right?

Wrong.

The newest trend in justifying the modern "divine right of kings" is the same interpretation of Romans 13:1-2 that ancient and historical monarchs invoked for the divine right of kings:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

This power granted directly from God is mentioned frequently when discussing the presidency of George W. Bush.

If you asked President Bush, he'd say God not only lead him to run for President, but fostered his win, as well. According to George Bush, he's God's President.

After a sermon by Reverend Mark Craig (about God calling Moses to service), Bush's mother Barbara purportedly turned to her son and said, "He was talking to you." Bush took it to heart, later telling evangelist James Robinson, "I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen... I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it."

That doesn't sound bad; a lot of people pray for divine guidance and a lot of people believe the answer they get is from God.

However, unlike a lot of people, Mr. Bush has a higher level of responsibility, far beyond the personal and the spiritual. Because of his position---which includes powers such as creating new national departments, placing people into influential political offices, vetoing laws, and otherwise affecting the lives of the people---he has a great responsibility and answerability to the People, the Citizens and Denizens of the U.S.

He also has the power to start a war.

Although God's name is invoked more than any other as justificaton for war, it doesn't make it a just cause.

According to Nabil Shaath, Foreign Minister of Palestine, George Bush told him and the Palestinian Prime Minister, "'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …" And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"

Bush obviously believes he has a direct line to God, through which he receives crystal clear and detailed messages.

Christian faith should no more be a concern of ability to make good decisions than lack of it should be an indicator of inability to make good decisions. That the President is a born-again Christian is not what concerns me, nor do his frequent references to his beliefs. My issue is not, at all, with his beliefs. I am also not concerned that he merely spews rhetoric to appeal to an electorate. I truly believe he sincerely believes what he says he believes.

Consider this:

According to Professor Bruce Lincoln, who teaches a seminar on the theology of George W. Bush at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the president "does feel that people are called upon by the Divine to undertake certain positions in the world, and undertake certain actions, and to be responsible for certain things. And he makes, I think, quite clear—explicitly in some contexts, and implicitly in a great many others—that he occupies the office by a Divine calling. That God put him there with a sense of purpose."

And this:
What's more, Lincoln adds, his primary orientation also holds that "the U.S. is the new Israel as God's most favored nation, and those responsible for the state of America in the world also enjoy special favor. . . . Foremost among the signs of grace—if I read him correctly—are the cardinal American virtues of courage, on the one hand, and compassion, on the other." For Bush to waver would be to tempt God's disfavor; what's more, we can speculate that the very act of holding to his resolve—what his critics identify as stubbornness and arrogance—becomes, tautologically, a way of both producing, and reassuring himself of, his special place in God's plan. The existential benefits are obvious. "Wherever the U.S. happens to advance something that he can call 'freedom,' he thinks he’s serving God's will, and he proclaims he's serving God's will."

Source both quote: Village Voice

The concept that God is on the side of the US and God put Bush in the White House concerns me. It calls into question the place the will of the people has in government in the US, a nation founded on placing the will of the people first.

And that right there is where my trouble lies: to whom does Bush owe his greatest allegiance? Whose will do his decisions reflect? If the will of the people contradicted what he belived was the will of God, which will would he endorse and effect?

Bush and others seem convinced that his leadership is a divine right. In fact, his supporters are the most effusive perpetuators of this concept. General William "Jerry" Boykin is quoted as saying it was definitely God who put Bush in the White House since a majority vote did not.

General Boykin's statement portrays the divine right mode of thinking better than any other.

Does God truly invoke a divine will of who leads people? Can we truly divine so clearly the will of God?

If you take the faith portion out of it---because that is a long, complex consideration and discussion in which you have a variety of beliefs about the degree to which God is in our lives literally (on a daily basis) versus figuratively (on a daily basis)---you still have a worthy discussion about the concept of divine right.

If a leader truly believes his position is divinely willed, then he must believe his ultimate obligation is to God, not to the people, then is he capable of being a democratic leader (as democracy is defined)?

(The above is an honest, general philosophical question.)

Food for thought:

Go read the Declaration of Independence. Review why these men were impelled to declare their independence...read the list of King George's transgressions. Consider current events.

Note: Boykin quote found after reading, "Heaven Sent: Does God endorse George Bush?" By Steven Waldman.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

16 comments:

Christine said...

I don't have answers. I, in fact, am just full of questions. But, if pressed I would have to say that the divine right of kings (and GWB) is hogwash. It has and is being used as an excuse to carry out the will of a single person and not that of a nation or people. It is one thing to live faithfully and dutifully according to your religious beliefs and another to declare that you are "chosen." In the end, i don't have many good answers, but I will take this all away and continue to ponder.

slouching mom said...

Strange. Last night I was listening to GWB talk at the G8 conference. He said something to the effect of, "This is no longer up for discussion."

And I turned to the hubs and said, "That's our monarch!"

So, so sad.

Gwen said...

I just might have to take a pass on the God who thinks George Bush is a good idea for our country .....

Julie Pippert said...

Christine, oh wow, so well put! "It is one thing to live faithfully and dutifully according to your religious beliefs and another to declare that you are "chosen."

You are so right: what HUBRIS!!!

I'm with you on the hogwash. In no small part because calling something God's work is so frequently a copout and a disavowal of one's own culpability, in my opinion.

***

SM, no kidding. That's his nickname: King George. I'm sure he finds it a compliment.

My issue is that when you review the Dec of In...it reads like the front page of today's newspaper.

***

Gwen, unlike the Chosen One I don't have a direct line to God but somehow I feel He is a little more invested in the will of the people than in the Power of George Bush. Then again, if the Bible is accurate, even God has regrets. ;)

thailandchani said...

Big subject.

First of all, I have a major problem with the "we're favored by God" argument in international politics. GWB is a dangerous idiot and the rest of the world knows it.

Secondly, I know my own view is odd in this. I don't think of one nation as being "better" or "over" another. I think of a big tossed salad with all kinds of cultures, ways of life and priorities. They're all necessary. Anyone should go or live wherever he or she chooses, based on individual preferences. The idea of nation states is in itself repugnant.

But GWB exemplifies the "New World Order" mentality that is so dangerous and so pervasive that the entire world is at risk. No cooperation in that worldview, only domination.

Beyond that, of course, I have no opinion. :)


Peace,

~Chani

Julie Pippert said...

Chani, I think competition for best, as in who is right and who is deserving is a very dangerous mindset. Especially if you claim divine favor.

Is that unusual?

It's so normal for me, that it strikes me odd to consider it otherwise, and yet...

Upon reflection, it is the major mindset.

I watched a couple of snatches of the Tonys last night. One awardee said, basicaly, it is impossible to choose who ought to win because it's comparing apples to oranges to persimmons (or beets, can't recall).

So I'm with you. I find the need to be superior (including "right") to be a rather infantile approach (as much as on a daily basis I am guilty of it to some degree...but at least not on a global scale. Just on a "geez louise, ring out the dang sponge after you use it" scale).

Ally said...

I had a long discussion with my brother-in-law about this issue a while back. We discussed the question of whether God favors any nation in this modern time, taking into consideration the ample examples in the old testament of how God favored some peoples over others in terms of helping them win battles, etc. The examples are ample and very disturbing. We came to the conclusion that God favored certain folks back in OT times when there was only one "chosen people." Christ's role on Earth (in part) was to open up that special relationship with God to all people; there is no more divine favoritism. So when I hear GWB and others act as if God is on our side, and not the side of our "enemies" (as defined exclusively by GWB) I just cringe at this inaccurate and unjust picture that is being painted of God. *My God* doesn't love American babies more than any one else's.

kaliroz said...

I agree with Chani. Whole-heartedly.

And I find GWB's invoking of God VERY scary. Very.

Lawyer Mama said...

OH wow. I envy people their faith often. I don't have it and it seems to be such a great comfort to many.

But using God to invoke his "rights" or his special place in the world is scary. By making Americans the "chosen" ones it almost gives GWB a pass at ignoring so many ills in the world. After all, those people dying in Darfur weren't chosen by God. So until God tells GWB to do something about anything, everyone can take a flying leap. It kind of explains a lot about our foreign policy lately.

I think I'm kind of line with Chani here. We are Americans (or Canadians) through happy accident of birth and nothing else.

thailandchani said...

LM, our citizenship at birth is an accident. The idea of choosing one's citizenship appeals to me a great deal. Example: I knew I never felt "at home" here, yet I feel "at home" in Thailand. Who would have known? I couldn't have found it on the map 10 years earlier! The only reason I am not there today is because of government restrictions. If it had been possible, I would have just stayed but it wasn't allowed.

I wonder how the global population would shift if borders were simply open and everyone freely chose where to live.



~Chani

jen said...

it's shameful, really, to use god's name in any sort of context to further ego, war, etc. and yet it's done all the time.

it's so egotistical...so unbelievably arrogant, to think you've got a direct line. in fact, in some circles they try and hospitalize you for it.

K said...

I do not know how one could possibly have the arrogance to say that they know the mind of God.

I would suggest that if the voice of God tells you that you are superior and makes you separate, then it is another voice entirely that speaks to you.

bubandpie said...

Whatever those verses mean, they have to be completely compatible with the (oft-stated) principle that kings and political leaders are often evil and/or wrong. A cursory reading of the Old Testament is enough to prove that.

Which leaves open the possibility that GWB is more punishment than blessing - and is that any different from saying that we get the leaders we deserve?

Julie Pippert said...

Ooooh B&P an awesome challenging point!

Right or wrong, of course, depends upon where you are standing and who the winner or loser is. This is my problem with this entire theory (or one of them anyway) since I don't believe in absolutes nor in judgment (of right or wrong) inherent in (alleged) divine will.

Quite possibly, if one does believe in divine will, one could say: of course we get the exact leaders God thinks we need (for one reason or another).

The logical failure, the fallacy, is the assumption that God always wills good to the good and deserving, therefore those who receive what we consider divine blessings (such as major power---which, as a blessing, is arguable) are right, good, or deserving.

I reject this belief 100% and its converse as well. (Hence my hatred of The Secret.)

Even if God willed Bush to power, this doesn't mean he believes in the divine good of Bush or deservedness of a blessing for Bush; it actually only at the most indicates that He has a plan for Bush and us with Bush in that position---one we cannot actually divine nor can interpret an implied judgment, not to mention not comprehending the need for Bush in the world in this capacity (for those of us who understand complicated concepts such a major leaps in logic and illogical assumptions ;) ).

Julie Pippert said...

K, yes yes yes thank you! It is an amazing amount of hubris; and yet, people accept it regularly from all sorts of leaders (and not). This goes back to the point I made to B&P that too many believe that a blessing indicates deserving.

And LOL about the other voice. There are some nice doctors who can help with that.

***

Jen, I agree. In fact, I believe it borders on (or bypasses) blasphemy.

You and and K make the same good point.

***

LM, we devalue God by using him, the concept of him and his name selfishly to achieve our own agendas. It's no wonder to me---with such a long history of such abuse---that people are skeptical as to him and his motives. Not to mention the whole "on faith" bit due to not being able to see him, smell him, hear him or assign him a SS#. And yet, you're right, this faith can be a great comfort, and open up amazing mysteries in the world.

***

Roz...why stop with just that point, LOL. ;)

***

Ally oh wow, what an intriguing discussion and idea. That really resonates with me and makes me ponder. Cool.

***

painted maypole said...

This is such an interesting post and discussion. I thought I had something interesting to say, but lost it as I read the comments. Let me just say that when GWB mentions God, I shudder, because our views of God clearly do not meld.