“Common tyrants, and public oppressors, are not intitled to obedience from their subjects.” The words aren’t mine, nor are they from this century. That, however, makes them no less true. Jonathan Mayhew was an eighteenth-century clergyman arguing that Bible’s admonition to obey government officials did not apply to those who abused power. In reading these words I felt a sense of loss in a very basic way. No, I’m not a fan of turning back the clock—it can’t really be done anyway—but when the word of a single book was not disputed those tempted to follow tyrants could be made to justify it with a Good Book that could also be used to refute it. We no longer have a common frame of reference, but tyrants still exist.
Shouting matches have been substituted for discussions because those who support tyrants can’t see how they are also being oppressed. It’s one of the ironies of history. This internet age has only found a way of magnifying people’s differences on the political scale, even as it has brought us to the common marketplace of culture. Who doesn’t use Amazon? Tyranny, by definition, is the arbitrary use of power. One might think of, oh, declaring a national emergency when none exists just to get what one wants. One might think of surrounding oneself with criminals against the nation just to get what one wants. One might think of business practices meant to ruin others just to get what one wants. There seems to be a common theme here and it’s one on which the Bible has a great deal to say. The only Scripture that gets quoted is that which supports tyranny, eh, Mayhew?
When the debate was about the Good Book we were largely all on the same page. Not all colonials wanted to break with King George III. Some profited from the connection. Others thought Holy Writ prevented revolutions rather than inspiring them. Tyrants have always been with us. You’d think that with all the media we have these days that we’d be able to spot one fairly easily. The camera, however, has a way of giving the lie to the Good Book. Anyone can say they read it. Or claim they obey it. Its own test seems to be “by their fruits you will know them.” The words aren’t mine. They’re from a distant century past. But it seems the fruit is dying on the tree, even as spring begins.