Power Corrupts

MarcosI have just finished reading a brilliant volume on the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, The Marcos Dynasty: The Corruption of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. I have always had an interest in Philippine history and was pleased to see that the author, expert in Southeast Asian modern history, Sterling Seagrave, took great pains to present at the very start the context and place in time of the nation: its struggles under colonial rule of Spain then the United States, its national heroes, politics and civil and foreign battles, and its strategic importance in Asia and the Pacific.

What presented an intriguing aside throughout the book was the ongoing interactions between the Filipino Leadership and American Presidents, Generals, Diplomats and Secret Service agents, especially surrounding the Japanese invasion and the aftermath of World War II. Truly, as one critic praises it, this book reads like “a fast-paced thriller” and displays “an underlay of thorough investigative work.”

Very few come out looking good.

In fact, Seagrave challenges the popular history that was largely written by the powerful figures at play in this drama and paints a picture of the corruption of the power structures of both the Philippines and the United States, and the stealth by which the CIA and its agents were involved in a multitude of critical political and business decisions in the region during the course of the 20th century. Men who were thought to be heroes, great military leaders and global freedom advocates turn out to be weak, indecisive, and abusers themselves.

The adage is true: Power corrupts, and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely.

Time and time again, the opportunity presents itself to govern wisely and compassionately, and personal gain is chosen over national interest.

  • Billions of dollars was divested from Government accounts into Swiss accounts in the name of Ferdinand, Imelda or any of the Marcos children or companies.
  • Bribes were paid by companies seeking to do business in the Philippines and this money went not to the nation but into the hands of its leaders.
  • Lucrative and over-priced government contracts were awarded to the President’s family, friends, or those who could afford to pay the necessary ‘taxes’ into the Marcos’s personal accounts. Corporations with family ties were given exclusive rights to mining, oil drilling, sugar cane and pineapple plantations and logging.
  • Family members were given plush positions of authority from ambassadorships to provincial governorships, with all the salaries and perks appropriate to such offices.
  • Extravagance was king. From Imelda’s bulletproof bras and huge shoe collection to private jumbo jets with gold fittings and personally-owned hotels, highways, casinos and clubs, no expense was spared.

But this all started as an honest attempt at being a compassionate and patriotic Filipino and having a desire to not only see the nation gain its independence from its colonial rulers but to also grow to be a world leader and influencer in the region.

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I am reminded how this follows the same pattern that many have chosen—or fallen into, not often intentionally but over time, in many small steps, and often with the best motivations.

In Government, a politician will perhaps start off as a local council member. She will delight in helping her community grow, her constituents succeed, and the residents prosper. All her time will be spent working for the people who elected her. Until she starts moving up the ladder of success to state level. Suddenly, so it seems, she is in Federal Parliament/Congress and has a large staff, huge budget and allowances, and spends little, if any, time in her constituency. Rather, lobbyists wine and dine her. Corporations start courting her vote by depositing large amounts into her election campaign. She takes extravagant first-class trips overseas (or ‘study tours’ as they are called). She starts using the nations funds to pay for private parties, flights and holidays for her family. Corporate bodies court her vote on legislation. She ends up betraying the trust of those she represents and selling out so enlarge her own profits and prospects of employment post-politics—if she makes it that far without a corruption scandal.

A young man decides to attend seminary because he is so passionate about Christian community and wants to invest his life in helping folks just like him to grow spirituality and as a community of faith, making a positive impact in their city. He graduates and secures a Youth Pastor position in a small church (often considered the first step in any ministerial career). He loves his job and the kids more than anything and sinks hours of time and immense portions of his life into nurturing and supporting them through all the ups and downs of teenage life. He marries and has a few children. By now he has accepted a call to a larger church as an Associate Pastor and, what seems like such a short time, becomes Senior Pastor. The Church starts growing in numbers and assets. He hires his friends because ‘why not?’ if they are good for the job. He slowly gets rid of the naysayers in the organisation and, before long, the board is populated with those who agree with his ‘vision’ for the church and who will rubber-stamp anything he puts forward. He starts writing books that become bestsellers. His church expands which results in a new multi-million-dollar high tech campus—or two or three. By now he is much in demand as a speaker at conferences around the world. He is at his own church perhaps half of the Sundays in a year. He buys a bigger house, better cars, spends much of his time on expensive holidays none of his parishioners could afford and, eventually justifies a private jet and commands large ‘love offerings’ wherever he speaks. He looks forward to the time he can retire—if he can keep that indiscretion quiet or that affair on the hush-hush long enough.

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In the end, the Marcos Dynasty ended in shame when, after the blatant murder of Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino (Marcos’s foremost critic) by Marcos’s henchmen, and the final corrupted election (1986) where Ninoy’s wife, Corazon, was overwhelmingly swept into power. Ferdinand, Imelda and their children were forced to flee Malacañang Palace and the Philippines under allegations of immense corruption and scandal. They took with them an estimated $5-$10 billion that rightfully belonged to the Philippine people. Corruption that occurred during the Marcos’s era of dictatorship is still evident in the nation and will continue to have a ripple effect in the region for years to come.

Whether a position of power is ‘earned’ or ‘granted,’ we must be very cautious in using it. It can just as easily turn into abuse and manipulation, a distrust of everyone as a possible usurper of our rightful authority, and a beast that will end up destroying our soul. And the question we must always remember is this: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and  lose his own soul?”

Be Careful in Using the Bible to Prove Your Point

In a recent article proving that God is in favour of people using handguns to defend their property, a Bible teacher wrote the following:

The Lord had more to say about self-defense in Luke 11:21:
“When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.” *
Here the Lord authorized the use of arms in defense of one’s property as well as in defense of one’s self and one’s family. While the Lord was making a spiritual application from this principle, it is important to notice that He does not condemn the principle of defending one’s goods.

He also talks about Jesus’ command for the disciples to buy a sword (which was a military weapon used only on people, so the author writes.) What I see here is more critical than whether or not God approves handgun ownership. Rather, it is the intentional use of Scripture to prove that God endorses gun ownership.

This could be a summary of this article:

  • God approves the ownership and use of handguns by a property owner.
  • Here are a few verses (and parts of verses) to show that this is true.
  • And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about how war is right.
  • If you disagree, that’s OK. We understand. But we felt we must shed some Biblical light on such an important issue.

If you’ve read the excellent book Deer Hunting With Jesus, you’ll understand how intense the whole gun ownership thing is in the United States. And this goes hand-in-hand with Americans’ view of God and the Bible.

Some of this misguided partnership is exemplified at Gunowners.org where they have gone to great lengths to prove that the Bible endorses the ownership of guns:

The wisdom of the framers of the Constitution is consistent with the lessons of the Bible. Instruments of defense should be dispersed throughout the nation, not concentrated in the hands of the central government. In a godly country, righteousness governs each man through the Holy Spirit working within. The government has no cause to want a monopoly of force; the government that desires such a monopoly is a threat to the lives, liberty and property of its citizens.

The assumption that only danger can result from people carrying guns is used to justify the government’s having a monopoly of force. The notion that the people cannot be trusted to keep and bear their own arms informs us that ours, like the time of Solomon, may be one of great riches but is also a time of peril to free people. If Christ is not our King, we shall have a dictator to rule over us, just as Samuel warned.

For those who think that God treated Israel differently from the way He will treat us today, please consider what God told the prophet Malachi: “For I am the Lord, I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6). (Read more if you wish here.)

Given the context so vividly portrayed in the Deer Hunting book, I cannot expect anything different. The history, values, and tradition of the U.S. of A. is so steeped in this way of thinking and many Americans learn that this is the way it should be from the day they enter this world. These dear folks laugh at countries like Australia where gun control laws are somewhat effective and have prevented the large-scale tragedies seen in the U.S. in recent days.

I just wish they wouldn’t quote the Bible to support their gun-toting paranoia and that they wouldn’t think God wanted it this way.

Just because a story is told in the Bible, doesn’t mean God endorses its characters or their ideas.

Just because weapons are used as pictures of ‘spiritual warfare’ does not mean God endorses their ownership in the wider community.

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“We claim that we are treating the Bible with great respect as the final arbiter of all things. What we are really doing is making our interpretation of the Bible the final arbiter of all things. Therefore what we are ultimately arguing is that WE are the final arbiter of all things. Our assertion, in other words, is not really that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, but that we are.” – from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/10/do-you-mean-the-bible-is-inerrant-or-that-you-are-inerrant.html

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The belief in “the inerrant Bible” dares to promise certainty regarding truth about God independently of God. In other words, it dares to say we can know this truth objectively, through modern science and historiography, and we can prove it by these means! In its excess, it puts the true believer in the false position of making God and object of our own control—a truth we can know without knowing Him. – David E. Fitch, in The End of Evaneglicalism? pg. 63

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* Verse 22 continues to say, ‘ But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.’ (NIV) If verse 21, speaking of ‘a strong man’ is so assuredly showing Jesus’ endorsement of the defense of property, is the very next verse an endorsement of taking property by force? Just asking.

Faith vs Fear and a Warning of ‘Civil War’

I was amazed (and somewhat amused) when I read how a Texas (USA) judge has warned that President Obama’s re-election could lead to a new civil war in America.

Tom Head, a county judge in Lubbock, Texas, plunged far out into the periphery of anti-President Barack Obama conspiracy theories on Monday, pushing a particularly outrageous one as justification for a tax increase in the county.

Head told FOX34 that Lubbock’s law enforcement needed extra tax dollars in order to be prepared for a full-scale uprising, which he said could be a byproduct of Obama’s reelection. According to Head, the president is seeking to sign a variety of United Nations treaties that will effectively take precedent over domestic law.

“He’s going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens?” Head asked. “I’m thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we’re not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.” [Read more about this here.]

At a planning gathering for Advent in our church last night, we were talking amongst ourselves about angels and angellic visitations. Mike commented that he found it striking how it seems every time in the Bible when an angel visited, the first words were ‘Do not be afraid.’ This is continued in Jesus’ appearance walking on water and again after his resurrection.

Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for today speaks of our natural fear of God and how Jesus broke down this misconception:

The Bible can be summed up as interplay between fear and faith. In general, people are obsessed and overpowered by fears; they fear what they cannot control. God is one of our primary fears because God is totally beyond us. The good news, the Gospel, according to Luke, is that God has breached that fear and become one of us in Jesus. God says, in effect, “It’s okay. You don’t have to live in fear of me.” God not only takes away all human shame, but even identifies with that shame by changing sides from all cultures, religious and secular, and identifying with the sinner, the rejected, the prostitute, the foreigner, and the leper. (Adapted from The Good News According to Luke: Spiritual Reflections, p. 66)

Those who give in to fear–whether of governmental tyranny or of God’s own self– live a life characterised by worry, anxiety and stress. I’m not surprised that so many who claim to follow Jesus still find themselves bound up by fear. After all, this is a very human condition. God understands this. Thus, when God chooses to reveal the Divine to mortals it is always prefaced by a calming ‘Fear not.’

As the prophet writes:

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.(Isaiah 41:10 NLT)

It is not a question of whether or not God is on our side, but whether or not we have faith in God to give us the strength to overcome our fears and enjoy the peace that comes from knowing he will be with us.