Sunday, September 11, 2016

" 'Judge ye' "

But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye; for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. Acts 4: 19-20.

Sometimes you do come across the most remarkable things on the interwebs. Last night PJMedia posted an article about the state of Massachusetts now forcing " 'LBGT accomodation' " on churches in that state, in other words, the churches like any other institutions with buildings and bathrooms must deny that men are men and women, women, and ensure that the bathrooms are open to all. More, congregants are not to be permitted to criticize the matter. Churches tolerating such "harassment" could be sued under anti-discrimination laws.

Down in the comments section, which yes are full of sad angry trolls, as on every site, bickering at each other, nevertheless I found an extraordinary bit of information. You do find those, too, written by your talented fellow citizens who probably should be in elected office or running newsrooms but who, for many reasons, are not. This one commenter said, regarding Massachusetts demanding obeisance about our apparatchik-run insanity du jour, that "the great Christian response is Acts 4:19."

I looked up the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 4, verse 19, and found the quote above. "Whether it is right in the sight of God to obey you more than God, you decide; but we can only say what we have seen and heard."

Peter and John were answering the authority figures of their day, who demanded they stop talking about Jesus even though an entire crowd in Jerusalem had just seen them heal a paralyzed man, in (the resurrected) Jesus' name, and walk with him into the Temple precincts. But even that background story is less striking, for our purposes for the moment I think, than the utter subtlety and truth of the Apostles' response to authority's eternal demand: which in the end always seems to be, Shut up and obey. Their answer, "whether we should listen to you more than God, you decide. But we must say what we have seen and heard;" is simply an announcement of reality; of truth, because God has not made an absurd world. To look about you and see and hear, and to testify, is to testify to truth, and therefore to God. It's also to testify to the ordinary person's ability to see truth. And therefore to have authority. G. K. Chesterton notices that this is one of the things Christianity's critics dislike about it. Orthodoxy tends to stick with you even if you didn't like his sing-song paradoxes as you drove to work listening to his book on tape a few months ago.

In these two sentences in Acts, the Apostles also put the onus on authority to declare whether or not it deserves Godlike hearkening. "Judge ye." Authority must either shamefacedly say, No we do not, which negates them; or, pompously, Yes we do, which is false. Peter and John thus give us a refreshing dismissal of the webs that authority so often catch us in -- especially our modern liberal world's teaching, nanny state authority, coolly eliding, um, "God" -- when it insists that we sit up before its demands and discuss and explain why we think we should remain in error as in the bad old days, when people had unjust thoughts. No, no discussion. "You," authority, "judge" your rank. Of course it does, shamefaced or not. Don't forget the apostles must have known the risk they were taking. Authority executed every one of them except John just for a start.

So the interesting problem of authority hating truth, and hating the ordinary man's testifying to it, seems to be very old. Our quandary seems to be, what risks we take in refusing debate, but throwing truth in their laps, to do as they like with. 

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