Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ apparent motives or ambitions, or a general lack of faith or hope in the human race or in individuals with desires, hopes, opinions, or personal tastes that a cynic perceives as unrealistic or inappropriate, therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It is a form of jaded negativity, and other times, realistic criticism or skepticism. The term originally derives from the ancient Greek philosophers called the Cynics who rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in accordance with a simple and unmaterialistic way of life. By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean a disposition of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions.Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions, and authorities that are unfulfilled. It can manifest itself as a result of frustration, disillusionment, and distrust perceived as owing to organizations, authorities, and other aspects of society.
I confess to being rather cynical when it comes to politics especially in the sense of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human [political] motives and actions. My cynicism is not equally applied to both political parties but it’s getting there.
Much of my cynicism revolves around the idea of what is a public servant? It seems the concept is simple enough. A public servant is one who serves the public or taken a step further, serves the public good in his or her role as a public servant..
The Bible says something about what that means.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4 ESV)
The passage is rich in meaning and application but the part I wish to comment on is “he [rulers] is God’s servant for your good.” The “your” in your good are Roman Christians in the various Christian churches in the City of Rome.
Where did these Roman Christians stand in the pecking order of the empire? In other words how did the Roman government relate to their good?
The head of state of the empire was the emperor. When Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans the emperor was Nero, the same Nero who would persecute the Christians following the great fire in Rome. Nero’s power was nearly absolute. Theoretically held in check by the Senate Nero would eventually be assassinated by his own Praetorian Guard.
Next in status was the Roman Senate.
The Senate consisted of Rome’s wealthy “old families” and when Paul wrote the letter they probably numbered between 100-200 active senators. Their power and influence was in the decline but they still were important and as noted, very wealthy.
Underneath the Senate class was the Equestrian class. The Equestrians usually had some means and money. They often held public office and could be governors of provinces. Porcius Festus and his predecessor Marcus Felix who factor into the Book of Acts probably came from the Equestrian class.
Below the equestrians were those with Roman citizenship. At the time of Paul’s writing being a citizen carried with it certain privileges. One did not have to be a Roman or Italian to be a citizen. The Roman’s awarded citizenship to allied cities in the provinces as a reward for their loyalty and this was the case with Paul’s home city of Tarsus. Paul was a Roman citizen which is why Paul could appeal to Nero Caesar via Festus. Paul would be in prison while making that appeal.
After citizens were the free non-citizens that lived mostly, but not exclusively in the provinces. The apostles would fall into this category. Citizens and free non-citizens would provide the bulk of the tax base for the empire, a fact attested to in the New Testament. Matthew was a tax collector that worked for the Romans and thus was not popular and the census surrounding Jesus’ birth was for tax purposes.
Below free non-citizens was the slave class and it was quite numerous. Slaves were property and had virtually no rights and so were not taxed for the simple reason that most did not own anything to tax. Onesimus in Paul’s Letter to Philemon was of the slave class.
So when Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans and said the government was God’s servant for their good it meant Christians drawn from all strata of Roman society although the bulk of Christians came from the lower classes. Philippians 1:13 illustrates that members of Caesar’s household or Roman soldiers of the Praetorian Guard had become Christians illustrating that at an early date the gospel was spreading to all classes of Roman society including at least some in the wealthier equestrian class.
The context of the passage (Romans 13:1-4) makes the point that “your good” means the government serves the public good in the suppression of evil doing. Whether or not the government fulfilled its responsibilities fairly is another matter. Paul is simply saying that public safety is one of the reasons God ordains government. If we were to read on in the passage we’d read this:
Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:5-7 ESV)
The flow of verses 5-7 shows that Paul had the expectation that the Romans pay their taxes. He says nothing about “fairness” and certainly knew that there was much unfairness in the Roman tax system. Paul does not condone unfairness nor does he condemn it. He simply realizes that a pagan government is going to be “unfair” but that Christians should realize that God’s intent for all governments is they exist for the public good and in a best case scenario are fair to all the people they govern, not just some. I believe this concept is reflected in our political system by the idea that the rulers govern via the consent of the governed who assume that one class does not stand above another class in regards to the law.
Our system of government is radically different from that of ancient Rome. We (the USA) are a representative republic that is sustained by a simple means of checks and balances. But like ancient Rome the government is to serve the public good meaning all the various classes within our society, not just some.
So in our society the question is not whether we pay taxes or not. We do, if we want to obey the Word.
The question becomes a question of whether or not the government truly is serving the public good with the progressive tax system we have. In other words, what is truly fair to all classes, not just some.
The issue was raised by Dr. Benjamin Carson last week at the National Prayer Breakfast. Carson is a neurosurgeon and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Dr. Carson has been criticized by the usual gang of suspects who felt he disrespected President Obama and because he brought God into his speech. As usual, the progressive left says nothing about the substance of a speech and instead attacks the individual making the remarks.
What did Dr. Carson say that so irritated the collectivist, progressive tax system and it’s supporters?
Carson said the current tax system was not fair to all classes including the so-called 1% who currently pay most federal taxes.
Carson asked a very important question. He asked why anyone should be punished in a tax system? This was a direct challenge to the President although it most certainly was not disrespectful. It has been the President himself who promotes class warfare and demonizes the rich and Carson was simply asking why should any class be punished in a tax system? Good question!
Carson did not stop there. He pointed out a problem and like a good leader proposed a fair solution. He did so by citing the tithe system of ancient Israel but only used the familiar 10% tithe to make his point. In fact, the tithe system for ancient Israel was higher than 10% but that’s beside the point Carson was making. In fact Carson said the number of 10% was not the issue, but the fairness of a tithe/tax was. He asked if we could do better than God’s idea and thus was criticized by those who can’t fathom that maybe Carson is right.
Carson was arguing for a fair tax system built around the principle of a flat tax that applies proportionally to all classes.
For example, if a person earns $60,000 and we use the 10% number their tax is $6,000. If they earn $600,000 their tax is $60,000 and so forth and so on. In this way, all wage earners have proportional “skin in the game” and thus have a stake in what constitutes federal spending. At present the upper income classes bear a disproportionate share of taxes (with consequences to the economy) while other citizens pay virtually nothing toward federal taxes. Thus, the collectivist progressives punish the wealthy and the lower wage earners reward them with their votes thus perpetuating an unfair tax system.
The irony is President Obama and his allies insist this is fair and that the upper income earners are not paying their fair share thus fueling divisiveness. Carson was simply showing that there is a system of fairness that is proportional and for that he is criticized?
It’s because politicians in general, but collectivists like Obama in particular are not really interested in solving a problem for the good of all the people. Both sides are beholding to special interests that favor one sub-group and deny other sub-groups. Carson’s solution is fair to everyone because it’s proportional.
Sadly, in our system side that can appeal to the higher number of sub-groups is usually the side that gets control. And that’s why I’m am so cynical when it comes to politics. Governments that are supposed to exist for the good of all the people do not come up with solutions that are usually win-win for the majority of the people. In our system someone must lose and this kind of divisiveness and class baiting weakens our country.
Do I think the President will consider Dr. Carson’s common sense flat tax advice? Nope, I’m way too cynical for that.
And that’s the way I see it.