mituns: (towers)
There is a movie called "The Lives of Others" which is set in East Germany and deals with the surveillance state that East Germany was, and how this surveillance got abused for personal gain. East Germany, of course, is not the only place where people lived with the constant threat of being overheard. Nazi Germany was another, and another was the Soviet Union. Reading the book "Everyday Saints - and other stories" one of the stories deals with a high official in the Orthodox Church, who was allowed make a trip outside of the USSR who wanted to relay information to a priest in the UK. Knowing that there was a very good chance that, even in London, he was being listened to, "In order for them to speak, they actually needed to lie down on the floor, so that the Secret Service agents tailing Metropolitan Nicodemus, and never once leaving him alone, would not be able to record their conversation through the windows."

Now it has been alleged that the NSA (perhaps in conjunction with the GCHQ) is basically spying on everyone in the United States. On one hand, we've been told that anything that the NSA (or any other agency) does is for our own safety & protection. After all, we 'don't want to let the terrorists win'.

Being a student of recent history, though, I have quite a different opinion. When governments feel the need to spy into every aspect of ordinary citizen's lives, it is never done for the security of the citizen, but for the security of the state. In a free country, those two things are synonymous; however, in a state that relies on the suppression of dissenting opinions to survive, the two are vastly different. The information gained from universal spying on one's own citizens is meant - by design - as a weapon to be used against the individual. That we have promises that it would probably never be used in such a way does nothing to allay my fears because the fact still remains that this weapon has been created and can easily be individualized for use against any one of us.

Am I being paranoid here? I don't think so. I already brought up the case of East Germany, but it is hardly the only example. When this type of information is collected, it not only becomes a weapon of the government as a whole, but also of any group or individual who might be able to gain access to it. So you tick off some alderman in your town. If said alderman can access this information or has connections to people who can, it becomes easy for these people to make your life a living hell. Furthermore, when government agencies collude to make themselves a burden to someone (see the case of Catherine Engelbrecht, who found herself a target not just of the IRS, but also the ATF, FBI, and OSHA ). How many of us have the resources to defend ourselves under such an onslaught?

(This isn't even mentioning how this information can become a weapon for other "less friendly" entities - imagine China hacking into a database of information on American citizens!)

Now, Google's CEO has said the following: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." This is a ridiculous position to take. Just because you don't want people to know about something, doesn't mean that one is doing something illegal or even wrong. Look at how many people give donations to charities anonymously. Some of this may be done in self-interest, such as when people don't want others to know how "loaded" they are or something, but to give without wanting outward praise for something is specifically Biblical (Matthew 6:4). Should people not have this right? Furthermore, taking again the example of the alderman, isn't it the right of a free citizen to be able to express opinions contrary to the alderman's without fear of repercussions for holding a different personal or political belief? Yes, it is understandable that people generally don't want their misdeeds to be known, but there is other recourse for dealing with illegal activity without assuming that everyone is a criminal to begin with. (Then again, with the plethora of laws that get passed, in the eyes of government, everyone is a criminal.)

I cannot vouch for the motives of Edward Snowden, and I won't try to. However, whatever his motives, if what he is saying about what government is doing to people is true, we as a people - as THE people - need to stand up and say that this is absolutely unacceptable. The ramifications for continuing on with it are just too great.
mituns: (towers)
One of the more oft-quoted statements of Jesus is "the poor will always be with you". It comes in context of a woman anointing the feet of Jesus with an expensive perfume, and Judas complaining that it would have been better for the perfume to be sold and the proceeds given to the poor.

From this statement, I don't think it's overreaching to extrapolate from this that there will always be need; that no matter what we do, there is always someone who can use a helping hand. As Christians, we should always be ready and willing to help others out. Many people have tried to point out the difference between helping others through personal charity and being forced to through government compulsion, and it is a very valid point, but it really only scratches the surface.

The larger problem is that, particularly because there always be the poor among us, there is always a need for something. There are also different ideas about how to satisfy these needs.

For example, I happened to hear about this place in northern Idaho on the radio once, called Kinderhaven. I guess that up there, the situation was that if somebody was arrested and they had kids that needed to be cared for, the kids either ended up staying with the parent in lockup or they ended up sitting at juvenile hall until other arrangements could be made. Somebody decided that neither of these options were terribly good, and set up a licensed home where children - from birth up to mid-teens - could be brought until they could be taken care of by others. It's a great idea, and certainly fills a need. It is also a charity, and as such, depends on donations to continue this important work. I daresay, though, that it runs more efficiently than a government entity, and does more for the kids, the donors, and the staff than if it were just another government agency.

However, not everyone thinks like this. There is a young woman who runs one of the biggest databases of missing people in the US. She does this completely on her own and does a fantastic job with it. She also has an accompanying blog. One day she was commenting that many families of missing people - especially the families of kids - end up in pretty rough shape after someone goes missing: Among other things, many parents lose jobs (and healthcare) because they spend so much time away searching for their child. In any case, the tenor of the comments started out with, "Oh, it would be so nice if there were someone there to help them," to "The government ought to do something to help these people." A couple of the people there seemed to be taken aback when I said that it sounded like a wonderful charity idea, and I think I also mentioned that they could get started with it themselves.

What was striking was that with the people in the latter example, the idea that the government might take some more money from them was okay, but that it would be too difficult to do something privately. Of course, some of this comes from the idea - which is totally against what the Christian faith teaches - that the individual does not matter, and cannot do anything of consequence on one's own. In this mindset, the only way to effect change is doing so by using the overarching "structure" of government. In this way too, one never has to be the lone voice, the one fool in the wilderness.

However, the problem is, as I stated before, that there always is a need, whether it's a place for kids to go when their parents are in trouble, or if it's support to families of missing people, or creating a place for kids to get out of the house and play on rainy days. The structure of government - any government - is not such that it does very much effectively, and the more needs it tries to satisfy, the more poorly it satisfies all the others. The effect then, is not of the empowerment that comes from giving freely to charity, and people's lives being changed for the better because they recognize that love, but rather that those who pay for the government become slaves to it as its scope becomes greater, and those who receive its "benefit" learn to not only consider it an entitlement, but learn to hate those who support them.

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September 2013

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