I yelled at the TV last night. I’m no lawyer and I know that most TV courtroom shows defy courtroom reality most of the time, but last night was more than I could bear. I won’t name the show because the show makes almost no pretense at reality so I don’t blame them really, it’s just that the particular issue they were exploring hit too close to home. Two jurisdictions with contradictory law and a third option in federal court. Eventually the feds took over. Defendant was guilty as sin when measured against federal law. Defense attorney argued the jury should ignore the law and go with their heart – and prevailed. In other words, the plethora of law in the situation created a situation of utter lawlessness – the jury became twelve little tyrants.
It reminded me of my 1991 visit to the Soviet Union. At one point we met with the people in charge of the municipal water supply for, then, Leningrad. We were comparing regulatory oversight and they admitted that in the Soviet Union, and particularly in their “business,” there were so many rules from so many agencies that no matter what one did, one was in violation of something. As in the court case on the TV show, too much law made for lawlessness.
The regulatory explosion that was the Obama administration has left many Americans feeling the same way.
Such effective lawlessness always creates tyrants because in the end all the tyrant is is someone willing to make a decision about what to do in the face of such legal Catch-22‘s. The simple act of decision-making, when there is no reasonable, logical or legal decision available, is by definition tyrannical. The decision maker sets themselves up as deciding what is the law when they choose what to and not to comply with, thus they become a tyrant just like the TV jury. Some become tyrants of necessity, but some create such a situation precisely to wield tyrannical power as was the case in the Soviet Union, and arguably the Obama administration.
This road to tyranny is well traveled in history.
Jesus certainly came to prominence in just such a mess. The overbearing, overwhelming and seemingly uncountable minuscule interpretations of God’s law that had developed over the centuries gave Jewish officialdom tyrannical power as they were in a position to demand pretty much anything from anyone seeking atonement. Compound that with the burden of Roman rule of the Jewish state and it becomes pretty easy to understand why a whole new way had to be found, and Jesus made that new way. I would argue that the Reformation resulted from similar circumstances. The Roman Catholic Church had become tyrannical in light of an overwhelming burden of rules, practices, requirements, and exceptions that the average adherent was subject to.
What is most interesting to me is that this path to tyranny always results in division. The Soviet Union broke down into many states. Christianity was born out of Judaism. Countless denominations flowed out of the Reformation. Everybody feels this country on the verge of splitting. The regulatory state is much older than the Obama administration, but Obama did accelerate it exponentially and hence we all feel as if we are on the brink. The TV show I started with illustrates this fact vividly.
There is a lot happening on the governmental level to undo the regulatory state, and that is good. But a lot of people have come to enjoy the tyrannical power that came with it. They are not going quietly and the reversal of the regulatory state is not resulting in unity. Is it too late? I do not know.
But I do know we each face a opportunity to set aside our little, personal tyrannies, and that in doing so we will move a step closer to unity. In the confounding and confusing situation we currently find ourselves it is easy to decide we are a law unto ourselves. We must avoid and fight this temptation. I truly hate to contemplate the consequences if we do not.