Monday, February 11, 2008

Charles Thornton: American Archetype

Charles "Cookie" Thornton was apparently a victim of an arrogant city government, and he took his gun to the Kirkwood, Missouri City Hall and murdered two policemen and three city council members, in a suicidal act that evidences his belief that death would bring liberty from enslavement on the Kirkwood plantation. With somewhat less eloquence, Thornton left a suicide note which said in effect, "An appeal to arms and to the God of sharpshooters is all that is left us! Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

There seems to be universal consensus that no matter how unjustly Thornton was treated by the city government, taking up arms against the city govenrment was unjustified. Yet this same path, pursued 200 years ago, is still applauded.

Suppose Thornton had the patience of Job, and endured disrespect and injustice by the government year after year, until some of his fellow citizens -- either in Kirkwood or neighboring St.Louis suburbs -- were appalled by the city's mistreatment beyond the limits of endurance, and engaged in a program of "regime change" in the Kirkwood city government in defense of the oppressed, killing members of the city council and intimidating the living into leaving the Charles Thorntons of the city alone (if the oppressed were still alive after the "smart bombs" or had not become refugees in neighboring counties).

Again, there would probably be widespread agreement that this was not the proper way to handle grievances against the government. Yet this same strategy, employed on the other side of the globe, is supported by both John McCain and Hillary Clinton against Saddam Hussein's plantation-government.

Americans are deeply schizophrenic on the issue of violence and revolution. Citizens are expected to exhibit restraint, deference and submission to the government when their own rights are violated, but are called "patriotic" when they applaud violence directed at others.

An example of this can be found in Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove, which became an Emmy Award-winning TV miniseries. William Norman Grigg, my favorite blogger, describes a scene in which government troops attempt to confiscate a horse from Charles Thornton-like cowboys. A courageous teenager tells the G-man that the horse is not for sale, but the government was not offering to buy the horse: this was an act of eminent domain -- government seizure of private property by force.

For his act of "treason" and defiance, the G-man begins whipping the teenager. His father sees the abuse, and physically intervenes, and would have killed the G-man had he not been restrained by the other cowboys. I strongly urge you to go to this link and read the full description, and become emotionally involved in this issue. It is not just an academic debate.

What the government was doing was unethical, unjust, unconstitutional, loathesome and disgusting. What the Lonesome Dove protagonist did in response is profoundly American. It was the response of the colonists to the British. It was the response of the abolitionists to the slaveholders. Neoconservatives want us to believe this was the all-American response to the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and it was in many respects the response of Charles Thornton to the Kirkwood City Government.

It is unquestionably and quentessentially American. My question here is: is it Christian?

Will Grigg writes:

In creating this moment – which was a pivotal, character-defining moment for Newt, and nearly as crucial for Woodrow Call -- McMurtry offered a vivid illustration of the omnivorous corruption of government in general, and militarism in particular. He also underscored the primacy of private property and portrayed the courageous defense of one's rights in the face of government aggression, as well as the righteous use of violence in defending one's family and fellows. Gus's intervention vivified the Just War principle of proportionality (yes, Dixon deserved to have the hell beaten out of him, but straight-up killing him would have been disproportionate). And Dixon's threat to murder Dish and his friends for the supposed crime of protecting their property lays bare the true nature of all government everywhere at all times.

"An eye for an eye" is considered "primitive" by critics of the Bible, but Biblical Law has elevated humanity. If Tribe A kills a member of Tribe B, Tribe B is prohibited from following "the Lamech Principle" and killing seven times as many members of Tribe A. The Bible favors just compensation: if I put out your eye, I should pay medical experts to restore your eyesight, or compensate you for the loss of productivity you will suffer (for more see Gary North, Victim's Rights, p. 106 [pdf p. 116], and James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, p. 115ff. [pdf p. 131ff), but I should not be killed or have both my eyes put out.

McMurtry's teenaged character Newt was whipped by the tyrannical agent of the government in an attempt to nationalize private property (steal a horse), and Newt suffered a couple of welts, and a bruise or two. In response, Newt's father Woodrow Call imposed a hundred thousand dollars in medical costs on the low-level government tyrant.

This fails to meet even the "primitive" standard of the Old Testament.

But under the New Covenant, Jesus pushes us to higher standards.

The Romans of Jesus' day had a law that required Jews to carry the supplies of Roman soldiers for up to one mile when their services were requisitioned by agents of the military occupation. The law was deeply resented by Israelites, though the Romans doubtless boasted of their magnanimity in requiring only one mile of service, strictly limiting this conscription by "the rule of law," and holding themselves out as beacons of democracy around the world. It was, clearly, a tyrannical military occupation of Israel by the Romans. If Russia pulled the same trick on Israel today, America's pro-Israel evangelicals would call out for the nuking of millions of people in Moscow. Not only did Jesus not urge Isralites to emulate Charles Thornton against these Roman pigs, He told us to go with the Romans for a second mile.

I have even criticized Rosa Parks for not following Jesus' command.

What would you do with a Roman soldier during the walk on that second mile? Shoot him when he's not looking? That might be the all-American answer. What is the Biblical answer? Exhort him to repent and resign.

This is the blueprint for true Christian Revolution. We must persuade our neighbors to apostatize from statism. Violence is not an option. Persuasion is our only tool. But the power behind this non-violent revolution is regeneration. Our sword is the message of the Bible that slices through flimsy excuses and academic defenses of our statism and unethical conduct.

Charles Thornton was not an anarchist. He was an archist. Despite the fact that he initiated a violent revolution against the Kirkwood city government, he apparently believed in the system, even running for City Council himself.

The only way the human race can eliminate tyranny is to stop believing in the system, and by putting our faith in the Prince of Peace as the only legitimate Archist, renouncing the belief that somehow, if the "right" people use it, violence can solve humanity's problems. Violence is the problem, not the answer; an expression of the root desire to be as gods (Genesis 3:5).

Grigg draws the all-American conclusion, albeit falling short of Patrick Henry's urgent exhortation:

But this is hardly the only example. The arrogant sadism and official lawlessness displayed by Weaver and Dixon are rapidly becoming the norm.

In the mid-1800s as depicted in Lonesome Dove, an Army scout would use his
quirt to punish a civilian who wasn't adequately broken to the saddle of the state; today, the paramilitary goons we call police quickly resort to the Taser in such situations, giving non-violent -- and often non-resisting -- civilians a brief taste of electrocution torture.

The odds are steadily growing shorter that sometime in the life of each of us we'll run into some state functionary as arrogant, violent, and despicable as Dixon. When assaulted by such a specimen -- or, more importantly, when someone we love comes under such an attack -- we would be morally entitled, if not morally required, to go "Woodrow Call" on his a**.

The key question is: Would we be ready -- mentally, emotionally, and physically -- to do so, knowing the possible consequences?

Grigg is more consistent than most. Many Americans use the terminology of America's Founding Fathers, and most Americans can be seen lighting up fireworks on the 4th of July, but they aren't even close to being on the same page as the Founders, who not only opposed government at levels that would be considered "libertarian" today, but were willing to kill and die to fight it.

I'm glad Americans seem not to resort to violence and duels like America's Founding Fathers, but saddened that they silently condone tyranny.

We are not morally entitled to escalate state violence, or even to meet it "eye-for-eye." We are to leave vengeance to God. We must be willing to suffer violence, even as we preach a non-violent gospel and pray for regeneration and repentance in the lives of tyrants. Most Americans are unwilling to even make the most basic identification of today's government as a "tyranny." They should purchase Will Grigg's new book, ready to be alarmed and transformed by Grigg's diagnosis, but rejecting his prescription of violence.

No comments: