I won’t say “rebels.” These are senseless acts of defiance. And I won’t legitimize them.
– President Snow, The Mockingjay
Our society has a romanticized view of rebellion. Rebels are the heros of many of our favorite stories, both historical and fictional. We have a deeply seated sense of right and wrong that transcends laws and governments, and it is generally understood and accepted that, as individuals, we have not only an entitlement, but even a responsibility to ensure that right is upheld when laws and governments fail to do so.
Knowing when to rebel
As a parent, I am the evil dictator of my family, and I am constantly dealing with small rebellions among my constituents (children). Needless to say, I don’t view these attempts to usurp my authority as heroic endeavors. What’s the difference between my children throwing their broccoli on the floor vs. colonists in Boston dumping tea into the ocean?
Righteous rebellion should be based on the following:
- A clear understanding of the issues in question – Rebellion should be based on understanding, not emotion. See Breaking rules makes you seem powerful.
- Prior failed attempts to resolve the issues diplomatically – Ensure that you have explored all avenues to attempt a diplomatic solution before resorting to rebellious acts.
- A desire to improve life for the general population – Breaking laws for selfish motivations is not rebellion. It’s crime.
- Unassailable moral high ground – Make sure that you are clearly in the right. Authority exists for a good reason, and should only be challenged for an equally good reason.
Rebellion and democracy
… government of the people, by the people, for the people …
– Abraham Lincoln
We can sympathize with rebellion in an autocracy, but how about in a democracy? In a pure, ideal democracy, all public policy is decided by the affected parties. Isn’t rebellion in a democracy a contradiction of terms?
There is no such thing as an ideal democracy, though. In the United States, rebellion is somewhat viewed as a part of the democratic process, as a sort of check on government to ensure that it is accurately reflecting the will of the people. Take, for example, the opt-out movement in Common Core standardized testing.
The opt-out is an attempt by a large portion of the population to express disapproval for state and federal policies. It is generally viewed as a legitimate concern, and as an appropriate response. And the government, at least in New York state, has taken notice, and is currently engaged in formulating a response.
On the flip side, though, there is also a definite sense in the US that rebellion is inappropriate in certain circumstances.
Rubio’s rebellious attitude
So when [God’s rules and government] come into conflict, God’s rules always win.
– Presidential Candidate Sen. Marco Rubio
The US citizenship is highly conflicted on this statement. There are many who see Rubio’s words as foolish and irresponsible. In what way is Rubio’s comment different from valid rebellious sentiments? I expect that your response to this sentence hinges on your interpretation of the phrase “God’s rules”.
For me, and for a large portion of society, “God’s rules” is synonymous with “moral right”. If your interpretation falls along these lines, then Rubio’s declaration makes perfect sense. Naturally, it is correct to rebel against an immoral government. So the question is not whether or not Rubio’s goals are correct, but rather, whether or not his measures are correct.
What is moral right?
Morality is a nebulous thing. Is morality universal, or can it vary with time, geographic location, or even perspective? Is morality decided by the population, or is it independent of popular opinion?
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.
– Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson asserts that unalienable rights exist, and lists some of them. I think that very few would argue that individuals don’t have the right to life, to liberty, or to pursue their own happiness. However, the manifestation of these basic rights is not obvious.
The right to life
The right to life is the clearest, but even that is not a simple issue. Debates abound about the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia, etc.
The right to liberty
Most civilized nations support the concept of individual liberties, but confusion arises when the liberties of one individual encroach on those of another. Hence we have speed limits, zoning ordinances, and public decency laws.
The right to pursue happiness
As with the right to liberty, the right to pursue your own happiness can encroach on others’ rights to pursue their own happiness. In fact, given the large variation in how individuals seek out happiness, I believe that this basic right is unlikely to ever be universally protected.
I have stated that we, as a society, seem to believe in the concept of universal morality. I have also argued that we, the human race, seem to have a very difficult time agreeing on what this universal moral code is. I believe very strongly that God’s word, the Bible, reveals to us this moral code, not in an individual verse or passage, but in study and understanding of the text, as a whole.
Morality is all about interactions, and the Bible is one of the most comprehensive studies of human interaction in existence. Its pages are full of beauty and horror, heroics and atrocities, relationships forged, and relationships broken, affecting hundreds of individuals across the span of thousands of years.
In addition, the Bible contains detailed lists of moral guidelines, along with reasons for the recommended behavior and potential consequences of ignoring the advice. The Bible relates general probabilities, and also specific examples from historical events.
We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.
– George Bernard Shaw
I happen to agree with Rubio’s comment in that:
- The citizens of a country have a responsibility to police the morality of their country’s laws.
- God’s word, the Bible, is the best source for inspiration and research when attempting to discern universal morality.