Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Christian Freedom

While I've been a fan of science fiction and fantasy - speculative fiction, as they say - I've neglected many of the classic authors in the genre, Heinlein being among them. But I picked up this volume with the intriguing title a couple months back in Half-Price Books, and decided it was time to tackle it.

Now understand, the only thing I really knew about Robert Heinlein is his name, and that he wrote some book called Starship Troopers, which from what I heard was made into a pretty mediocre movie. And that he's well respected in the genre. That's the extent of my knowledge, and now the only thing I can add to it is that I read this book of his. So I can't really comment on whether this book is representative of his body of work, or where it might rank in terms of its worth in said body. This is really just my reflection on a book I enjoyed from an author with a solid reputation.

TMIAHM (as I'll now refer to it) is an homage to the American Revolution in many ways: it's the tale of the Lunar colony's fight for independence from the Lunar Authority. The parallels are many and overt: Lunar Authority holds the exclusive rights to demand what the colony produces and the price at which it will be bought, and when unrest begins, they send troops to keep the peace. The citizens treat the troops belligerently, with tensions rising until they boil over into the death of a woman. Woman, being rare in Lunar colony, which began as a penal colony, are held in extremely high regard in Lunar society, and when this woman is killed by the Lunar Authority troops, all-out conflict breaks out. A Boston Massacre, of sorts.

The parallels don't stop there. Professor de la Paz is a sort of Thomas Jefferson/Ben Franklin combination, going to Earth as an ambassador suing for independence, writing a declaration of independence and becoming a sort of unwilling leader whose main goal is to create a government defined more by what it is prevented from doing rather than what it is allowed to do. Manuel O'Kelly Davis is a sort of George Washington figure in that he becomes an unwitting commander of the ragtag defense forces of the lunar colony. And there's Mike, the self-aware computer whom Manny befriends and recruits into helping them win their freedom from the Lunar Authority.

There were about two paragraphs within the book which kicked my thoughts into action, mulling over the idea of government and authority, the legitimacy of the "right to rule" and and what makes certain powers legitimate and others illegitimate. In terms of the Christian's call to submit to their governing authorities, if a revolution occurs, to which authority is a Christian to submit? How do we determine this?

The gist of what was said to trigger this thought was this: "In terms of morality there is no state, only individuals." Ultimately when it comes down to the choices we make, there is no "just following orders" excuse. As the Prof says:
I will accept the rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no
matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I
find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am
morally responsible for everything I do.
"Live as people who are free," the apostle Peter admonishes us as he tells us to "be subject to the ruling authorities." How do we reconcile this? By realizing that government is a means of common grace, a restraint for evil that God instituted so that humanity, in bondage to sin, wouldn't be as bad as it could be without it. But we who have the Spirit of God and the law written upon our hearts should not need the restraints of government in order to do what is right and good. So the command remains, even though to us who are free in Christ the subjection is a mere outward function. The government's authority, while from God, is a flawed and conditional authority - conditional upon its adherence to the law of God. And when our conscience is informed by the Word and the Spirit, we have not only the right but the duty to defy the authority of government.

I think far too often we assume submission equals obedience. I don't think this is the case, not wholly. I think submission means obedience plus a willingness to accept the consequences handed down for disobedience. So when I adhere to the speed limits they set or pay the taxes that they order me to pay, then I am submitting, yes. But if I decline to pay my taxes because I don't want to contribute to immorality that I believe the government is funding, then I also ought to be willing to accept the consequences that they give me for that action. I should not flee or try to hide my disobedience. If I enlisted in the military, then was convicted against the cause I swore to fight for, I ought to refuse to fight, but I also ought to be willing to accept whatever consequences for that decision.

My freedom isn't something I gain, or something that can be taken away. My freedom is unconditional, no matter where I live, no matter if I am in prison or if I am in the wilderness. And freedom carries within it responsibility - for if I am free, I then have no excuses for myself for not doing what I ought to do, or for doing what I ought not to do. And while this is the state of every human being (for there is no excuse for sin), this is especially the condition of Christians, because our will has been set free from bondage to sin.

So why then are we commanded to be subject to authority? It's as simple as setting an example for others. We cannot overlook that government is God's system for restraining evil, that He put it in place and gave it the job of keeping things from getting out of hand. Of course it's flawed, and often it doesn't do its job, and instead does the exact opposite, but that doesn't change the fact that it is a God-instituted authority over us, and while we may disobey when the occasion calls for it, we are still responsible to accept the punishment given to us for our disobedience.

We see this in the example given to us by the early church. In the face of open persecution, they willingly went to their deaths, suffering beatings, mistreatments, and the removal of their property. The apostles went often to prison, defying the commands to stop preaching, yet willing to accept the penalties for their actions. This is what it means to be subject to our authorities: recognizing their legitimacy, yet questioning their execution; obeying and disobeying when appropriate, yet always affirming their right to rule.