21A023 Oh, Mister Mayhew! by Jim Davies, 6/22/2021  


The essence of a free, zero-government society is that everyone can do as he pleases; and since that does mean everyone, its single implicit prohibition is to prevent someone else doing as (s)he pleases. So if for example a person wants to embrace a religion, he's quite free to do so.

That doesn't say that all beliefs are equally good or sound, or that none are open to critique; merely that if you want to believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster made the universe, nobody is to stop you.

A critique that I have of all religious beliefs is that they are irrational, and so to embrace one means a person is behaving less than rationally, and that's a pity because only rational thinking can lead one to become an anarchist. Seems to me a good idea to be rational consistently.

Is Christianity, for example, irrational? - certainly. From cover to cover the Bible is dogmatic, claiming to be a revelation by a supreme being whose very existence can not be proven; and theologians admit that it cannot. Thomas Aquinas tried and came close, for example with his "first cause" argument; he began with the premise that everything has a cause, and therefore the beginning of the universe had a cause, and that he called the "first cause" - ie, God. Trouble is, by the stated premise God too must have had a cause, and since He didn't, Aquinas' conclusion contradicts his premise. Oops.

There are plenty of other inconsistencies between that religion and a rational, anarchist world-view - including the basis for ethics, explored in this ZGBlog. Another of them is the very clear assertion in Paul's lettter to Christians in Rome, who were being cruelly treated by the Imperial goverment. In Romans 13:1, we see "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." Read for yourself, from the middle of chapter 12 to the middle of chapter 13. Very emphatically, Paul says governments are all put in place by God, and so must be obeyed. There's no reconciling that with the rational anarchist view that on the contrary, every person has the right to own and operate his own life and so that all governments are destructive and parasitic.

I can't explain how an anarchist can also be a Christian; that seems to me a flat contradiction. But if someone reckons he can, good luck to him. And some are.

Now, this very passage also gave pause to America's founders who were Christians. On the one hand Romans 13 says God put the BritGov where it was, yet they wanted to kick out the Brits and govern in their place. How could they square that circle? - enter the Rev Jonathan Mayhew.

He was ordained minister of the Congregational West Church, Boston, but from the get-go there were doubts about his orthodoxy. He apparently downgraded Jesus from an equal member of the Trinity, to an inferior status; that was the Arian heresy, and had he been at the Council of Nicea in 325 he'd have been given the boot. He was, however, vigorous in his support for independence from Britain, until his early death in 1766. For that reason the founders paid attention to his preaching.

That preaching tackled Romans 13 head-on. He argued that since God has appointed rulers as a "terror [not] to good works, but to the evil" the Christian must submit to the rule but only if that purpose is being fulfilled; that is, if the ruler departs from that purpose and himself does evil, nobody owes him obedience. This exception was welcome to the rebellious founders, itching to rule in the Brits' place, but I see not a syllable of it in Romans 12 or 13. Do you? On the contrary, whereas Paul urged his readers to submit (eg 13:5, "ye must needs be subject") Rev Mayhew inserted into Scripture an idea that is simply not there, and tried to make Paul say the very opposite of what he actually wrote; he was performing a spectacular act of exegetical gymnastics. In his sermon to that effect, he is saying that plain folk can exercise a veto over God.

Now, Paul was clearly dead wrong; in those two chapters he committed a major blunder. He makes God responsible for all the massive evil that governments do. Some are more vicious than others, but the Roman one, with its casual disregard for human lives in the Colosseum and other arenas, to the almost continuous wars of conquest that it waged, was one of the worst ever; but all of them in all eras are intrinsically evil for in their nature they steal everyone's right to run his or her own life.

The problem with a blunder of that magnitude is that if the Bible is so wrong on this one, non-trivial point then it can also be wrong on any other. The basis of the Christian religion is undermined.

No doubt Jonathan Mayhew could see that, and neither he nor those plotting to replace the Colonial rulers wanted to bring down the prevailing religion as well as the prevailing government; so he devised his convoluted contradiction of Romans 13 as above.

Perhaps Paul has some excuse for his great error; he was writing in the heat of events to advise his friends in a very ugly situation. Mayhew has no such excuse; he deliberately twisted Scripture to try to make it fit a political purpose. Shame upon him.

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