Society: Conspiracy of Lawlessness

Weihsien camp’s greatest difficulties with law and order had to do not so much with justice as with the strength of its laws. The main problem was the political one of generating governmental power, rather than of ruling with wisdom and justice—though that was by no means easy. It seemed strange that in an enemy internment camp, the peril of anarchy was much more immediate than the threat of tyranny. And yet, as we gradually and anxiously came to realize, our small civilization was endangered because it seemed unable to develop strong laws that could be enforced.

~Langdon Gilkey, Shantung Compound. Pg 141.

[This book is a “fascinating memoir that is both a vivid diary of prison life in an internment camp in China during World War II and a theologian’s mature reflection on the condition of man in times of stress” (Time Magazine). ]

Shantung Compound is an interesting read. It is a scrapbook of what happens to human beings faced with the moral and ethical dilemmas of life in forced community. I’d recommend it. As a point of interest, Weihsien Internment Camp, the subject of this sociological study, was where Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, died of a brain tumor after having served the camp’s youth during the most difficult times of the war. ~~

I am impatient with the fascination of some of my evangelical brethren with conspiracy theories and the threat of big government. The Y2K non-catastrophe emphasized that fear and paranoia in brilliant color. There were tales of Marshall law and a swift government takeover in the wake of the crippling effects of the crisis. Even now, with Y2K safely behind us, the ghost of government surveillance and vanishing freedoms at the hands of duplicitous liberals or scheming conservatives, depending on which side of the political ledger your paranoias lie, are topics of discussion.

So what is the greatest danger crouching at the door of our churches? Is it the FBI, CIA, or NSA? The greatest danger may well be the gangs, the petty thieves and the tweakers desperate to turn the stuff that we value in our sanctuaries or our living rooms into ready cash to pass on to the street dealers and the invisible cartels that back them. It is not the specter of big government that worries me, but the impotence of our local governments.

Here in Multnomah County, we turn hundreds of criminals back out to the streets because we can’t afford to jail them. All but the most vicious go free with a citation never to be enforced. Worse, the criminals know this. No wonder the Bible exhorts us to pray for those in authority over us. Our prayers may be the only influence to keep anarchy at bay. Conspiracy and tyranny may well be a threat, but the most immediate danger may not be those things but the anarchy that make them seem preferable by comparison. Our fears and fascinations should be properly focused. When the righteous increase, the people rejoice. But when the wicked rule, the people groan (Proverbs 29:2).

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