April 2021: They Cant Do This To Me
We have a common attitude in our own hearts: "They can't do this to ME." Actually they can do a lot of things to us, but they may not. Before we get to the root cause of this problem, we need to define a few terms, because understanding what words truly means is important to communication.
Can means to be able to, while cannot means not to be able to. Just because I can do something, does not mean I should do something. I can murder someone, but reading the commandment tells me I may not kill someone. May means that what we are doing is not a sin or against the law, which may apply.
Often when we say that someone cannot do something, we actually mean that they may not do something, although they are certainly able. When we misuse words, we miscommunicate and in fact are lying. We usually do not realize that we are lying. What we need to understand are basic principles and then to apply them. When we understand these simple but important distinctions, then we will be able to understand what is going on.
There are certain restrictions, which prevent us from doing something. Most people cannot pick up a hundred pounds, which means they physically are not able to. However, all of us who can drive are able to run a red light. However, we may not run a red light, because a red light means stop and other drivers expect us to stop. The consequences of running a red light could be deadly to others as well as to us. If someone runs a red light, we might say they can't do that, but they certainly are able to, because they just did. However, they may not do that and it is wrong and a sin to run a red light.
In our lives there are many restrictions placed upon all of us about what we may and may not do. For instance we may not drive a car while we are intoxicated, but we may be able to. Such a restriction is called a law. A law is an ordinance of right reason, promulgated by lawful authority for the common good. Keeping drunk drivers off of the roads is certainly a good thing, because they are a danger to themselves and others.
When we say someone may not do something, we mean there is some restriction that says they should not do this. If they go ahead and do what they should not, then we are saying they are exceeding what is permitted them. For instance, if an authority in government issues a law which they may not, then we are saying they are exceeding their authority. However, even in these cases should we go ahead and observe the law?
An idea was born two and a half centuries ago that the people are sovereign and the source of authority. This led to such things as the United States Constitution, which is based upon the principle of limiting authority so that it does not become tyrannical. In theory it sounds good, but does it work in practice? The Constitution has what are called checks and balances where the three branches of government have restrictions built in to prevent them from exceeding their authority and enabling each branch to be held in check by the other two.
The problem is that the Constitution is based on a false principle that people are sovereign and a source of authority. The people are not sovereign and the source of authority. Actually that principle leads to atheism, because without God the only remaining source of authority is the people. If one reads the US Constitution there is no mention of God in it. The only mention of religion is in the First Amendment, which forbids the Federal Government from restriction the free exercise of religion.
"By me kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things, By me princes rule, and the mighty decree justice. " [Proverbs 8:15-16] All authority comes from Almighty God. When we realize the true principle of authority, then we also realize that the only one who can keep authority in check is Almighty God.
Any human attempt to restrict authority is bound to fail, because it relies on the cooperation of people who are often tempted to go beyond their authority if they can. Also people can work together and make the checks and balances literally go away. Saint Paul tells Titus (3:1): "Admonish them to be subject to princes and powers, to obey at a word, to be ready to every good work." [Titus 3:1]
The question arises, what should we do when our authorities exceed their authority? The first point is that it is not the duty of subjects to judge their authority. And this is when the objection comes us: "They can't do this." Actually because they are exceeding their authority, we know they can. It is true, that they may not do it, because they are not permitted to exceed their authority.
Many false principles began to circulate in response to abuse of authority, which have been used by both the left and the right. These principles are based on the concept of rights, which was also born two and a half centuries ago. The Declaration of Independence declared: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." And so the idea of rights has been impressed upon us. If I have a right, everyone else has the corresponding duty not to infringe upon my right. That is with a right comes a corresponding duty. Let us consider that if someone else has a right then I have a duty to respect and not infringe upon that right.
The right to liberty has always been infringed upon in certain cases. When someone is sent to jail, his liberty is certainly restricted. In fact the right to life is infringed upon in the case of capital punishment.
As for the right to pursue happiness, do we truly have that right under the Law of God? First of all this alleged right makes happiness an end rather than a means. True our end is eternal happiness, but this is not what the Declaration of Independence says. There is no qualification on happiness. Happiness is described as pleasure or contentment, which is a by produce of doing the will of God, although there is pleasure attached to certain sins. Certainly we have no right to sin, although this is implied in this statement without qualification. And we do not have a right to eternal happiness, because that implies that God has a duty to give it to us. God has set conditions in order to obtain eternal happiness.
We have seen two false principles have been ingrained in people's thinking; false principles which have led us to reach false conclusions. False thinking naturally leads to false conclusions. What we need to do is to learn how to think like God would have us think. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord." [Isaias (Isaiah) 55:8] How do I convert my thoughts to Lord's thoughts? We do this by spending much time with the Lord. It is only by spending time with someone that we can learn what and how they think.
We have dispelled the first false principle that authority or power comes from the people. The second we need to consider further is that of rights. Scripture, which is God's thinking, focuses on our duties, not our rights. And this is where our focus should be. Even the 1917 Code of Canon Law focuses on duty rather than rights. In fact, the word right appears in only two Canons:
Canon 682: "The laity has the right to receive from the clergy the spiritual goods and especially the necessary means of salvation, according to the rules of ecclesiastical discipline."
Canon 1111: "Both married parties possess from the moment of the marriage contract has been concluded equal rights and duties concerning the actions proper to conjugal life."
Canon 1111 is based upon the Law of God. Canon 682 is restricted.
The question arises, don't some in the Church such as the Pope have certain rights? Actually these rights are considered under the term privilege. And yes, certain authorities in the Church have privileges. The clergy are only required to exercise their privileges, if it is necessary for the good of another or for the common good. Of course, some privileges are inherent in certain offices in the Church, because they are necessary for the proper exercise of the office. Others are personal and may be set aside, unless needed for the good of another or of others.
When we start thinking privileges rather than rights, we are humbled. A privilege is given for some reason, whereas we consider a right just that, a right that is OWED to us for some reason. The focus was shifted from duty to rights almost two and a half centuries ago. We have the Declaration of the Rights of Man with the French Revolution. We have the Bill of Rights. Our focus has been shifted and we need to shift back and remember who truly has rights. God has rights and any privilege we may have ultimately comes from God and is given to us for some reason.
And this brings us back to the proposition: "They can't do this to me." This is actually a statement of pride. We are implying they are forbidden to infringe upon ME. We are making ourselves sovereign as we first proposed two and a half centuries ago. God is sovereign and God has inalienable rights, which places corresponding duties on us.