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God Begs to Be Excused from the Preamble

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 15 November 1999


(An unauthorized excursion into the mind of God, with apologies to the third commandment)

God begs to be excused from the Preamble. Not any god, but the God in which 75% or so of us profess to believe - the Christian God.

He is a little surprised that after five or so thousand years of being worshipped, starting in The Chaldees, so many believers still haven’t got a handle on what he is about. God has been waiting for one of his Ministers, not necessarily an Archbishop, Cardinal or Moderator, but just someone wearing a collar backwards or a couple of crosses, to speak out.

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But they have only done so in a mealy-mouthed way - vaguely mumbling doubts as to whether God should be there because after all so many don’t believe in him, while others have even justified his inclusion on the basis that we all really worship the same thing. This last thought raises the celestial blood pressure. Allah cannot be the "same thing", there is no incarnation - God made flesh and dwelling amongst us – in Islam. And as for the Buddhists well they are technically atheists, while God is not entirely sure what he thinks about a range of other deities, but they are not built quite to his scale. This view also ignores the fact that 16.6% of Australians claim not to worship anything at all.

The thing that really worries God is that the people who fill the pews on a Sunday, and those who look down on them from the pulpits, aren’t paying attention - they really like the idea of writing him in to civil society. Well God knows better. He tried Theocracy first with the Jews, starting with Moses, but it didn’t work. It’s part of the Old Testament, which he has since superseded.

The Anglicans and the Catholics have a history of missing this – the Vatican is a state in its own right, while the C of E is theoretically run by the British Monarch. But what about the Uniting Church, Presbyterians, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Congregationalists and so on? Surely they could see the dangers in institutionalizing God?

One of the problems with Theocracy is that you outsource your authority to a king or leader. And while you can hand the manual down from the top of a mountain, you can’t guarantee against it getting broken or lost, and you certainly can’t guarantee that everyone will understand it perfectly, let alone follow the instructions. Worse than that, people are compelled to believe, which means they say the right formulae, but keep their fingers crossed behind their backs. You can get them into the pews that way, but they’ll never make it to heaven, and in the process you risk corrupting the whole church.

1,000 years of that and other unsatisfactory arrangements after Moses led directly to the incarnation. Thank Himself that the Romans were running things at the time in Palestine and hadn’t thought to institutionalize any religion, or he might not have got as fair a hearing as he did! Such as it was. He thought that he had been pretty clear on his relationship between the church and state. There was Palm Sunday, and 40 days in the wilderness. Yes, pretty specific, he thought. "My Kingdom is not of this World", "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s" and so on. What more do you need to say?

Plenty, apparently, because the Christians jumped at becoming the official state religion of Rome when Constantine offered it in 313 A.D.

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Another thousand or so years, and then that fellow Luther popped up in Wittenberg and started drawing attention to the whole concept of freewill and individual conscience. God likes to think that the emphasis on freewill was one of the drivers of the Renaissance. Yes, he knows that it ushered in an era of less obvious piety, but true religion can only flourish when people are free to say no. And people, being people, say "No" more often than "Yes" to the things that matter, so freewill and piety just don’t go together in a broad sense.

The whole modern idea of civil liberties springs from these notions. Some of it is rooted in natural law. These laws are only "natural" in a theistic universe which has a creator capable of incorporating them into creation. In a world which has lost faith in Prime Movers, natural law is a fraught concept. But humans everywhere that value their own civil liberties can be conditioned to value other's liberties, without any need for an overarching objective order. In their own collective self interest they have no other alternative.

God remembers the good old days of Civil Liberties, when people thought that Freedom of Speech was so important that they were prepared to be burnt at the stake for the right to print and distribute Bibles. The best early proponent of these ideas in the English language was that blind poet Milton. John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty might be the modern standard, but he couldn’t have done it without Milton’s Areopagitica.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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