Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Authority

I'm way behind in the Brick Testament updates. I think to catch up I'll just do this in much smaller bites, one installment at a time, rather than wait until I have time to do a big chunk. So, on to On Authority. First up, the LEGO. As usual, these are all impeccable builds. In the first couple of scenes, the Nazi flags are all very striking, and I like that the Hitler scene is built into a corner rather than against a flat wall. With the American revolutionary soldiers, I really like how Brendan did the bayonets by, presumably, pinching the knives between the muskets and their hats. I can imagine that would have been very frustrating to set up and shoot. I'm not so thrilled on George Washington's hair. Those round plates look more like Princess Leia to me, or maybe earmuffs.

On the argument, Brendan is implying here that the clear reading of Scripture is that Christians are compelled support all kinds of dictators and never disagree with them. I understand that that is a possible reading, and that the divine right of kings was balanced on this passage. I do think, though, that Brendan is leaving aside a fuller reading of the Bible and millennia of Christian thought. Things aren't so cut and dried. For instance, Peter writes in an epistle that we should obey our rulers (1 Peter 2:13-17), but argued before the Sanhedrin that when the civic law opposes God's law, we should follow God's law (Acts 5:29). I would submit that the Christian view is that God established certain institutions among us - the family and government - to promote our well-being in this life. Of course those can become horribly dysfunctional, but that doesn't mean that the institutions themselves should be discarded. E.g. the fact that there are abusive parents doesn't negate the fact that I have both an authority and a duty under God in teaching my 2 year old that she has to go to bed on time and eat healthy foods etc. To take Brendan's implication the other way, we would say that just because governments can become tyrannical doesn't mean that there is not a proper place for civic authority in creating an ordered society. Where is the balance? I think Peter struck it in the two passages cited above. I think Paul struck it in the very passage Brendan cites. Romans 13:5 says that the civic authority is to punish the wrongdoer, not to kill off people the tyrant doesn't like. I also think that the American founders struck this in the Declaration of Independence (since Brendan's second image is of George Washington rebelling), in saying that we were created by God with certain rights, that government has a proper role under the Creator in protecting those and promoting civic order, but there comes a time when government does not live up to this charge it should be changed. In the context of Nazis, we should look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's consideration of when it becomes lawful to oppose authorities and his ultimate involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Basically put, my contention here is that Brendan has read a few verses and said 'here is a simplistic literal rendition', the exact thing that I'm guessing that he would criticize in a fundamentalist type of Christian (and where I would agree with him).

Two other thoughts: First, I'm afraid that Brendan has Godwinized himself here. Yes, there are proper places for Nazi analogies, but I don't think this is one of them. Second, while these are great illustrations, they may fall prey to less thoughtful use as they are copied and pasted all over the web. I've certainly seen Brendan's illustrations of slavery spread around in less than mature ways. Or you could see people using these pics to point out how horrible LEGO fans are, like we've seen before with the London Sun article on 'Osama Bin LEGO' and LEGO Nazis. For these reasons, while the Nazi scenes are great as LEGO illustrations and as powerful rhetorical devices, I kind of wish Brendan hadn't gone there.