Public Square & Theology 101

Playgrounds, Religion, and Regulation

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If you ask a non-Christian what comes to mind when he thinks of Christianity, there is a good chance that he will mention rules, things Christians can’t do. It is true that various denominations have imposed rules about dancing, music, card playing, and all sorts of other activities.

These rules, however, frequently become tools of power and tyranny and repression in the hands of sinful humans.

This is not the path to human flourishing as God designed it.

The advantages of limited rules allowing human creativity to flourish can still be seen even in today’s world.

If you visit a local playground you can vividly see what I mean. In this environment, the kids generally aren’t there to gain control over fellow humans; they just want to play and have a good time.

Rules at the Playground

The playground will have a few rules posted that most of the kids will not take the time to read, but instinctively know. And so the whole playground is guided by this shortlist of instinctive rules.

Within that setting, many little organizations emerge. One group may play tag while another may play hide and seek. Each of these games has a secondary set of rules that only govern the participants of the game.

These games come and go based on who’s interested in playing who has to go home. When one game ends, another one starts up. It is a very fluid and spontaneous situation.

These kids may not know each other and are brought together purely by the accident of timing. And yet they can interact very effectively for a very fun time after just a few minutes of conversation.

This sort of spontaneous order would not be possible if there was an extensive, long list of rules.

  • First of all, you could not make a comprehensive list of rules that apply to every game kids want to play. So some games would not be allowed.
  • Second, some games could still be played, but not the way the kids would want to play them. This would fundamentally change the nature of these games, and they would perhaps cease to exist since they would no longer be fun.
  • Third, as a result of the first two conditions, some kids would want to go to the park anymore.

Ultimately, a long list of rules strictly enforced would take the play out of the playground.

Rules in Society

The same is true with the country and a people. God wants his people to flourish and prosper. That is only possible if human creativity is unleashed to its fullest potential.

A long list of man-made rules restricts creativity and the ability to pursue opportunities in a society. It is man, seeking to steal God’s role – whether it be as priest or as king— that lays all the extra rules on top of God’s law and stifles flourishing.

To be sure, God set out rules for us in the Bible. But under Christ’s lordship, we also have the freedom to develop our own institutions and pursue our own interests.

Just like a long list of artificial rules at the playground would ruin the games and the fun, a long list of rules for a nation destroys creativity and opportunities to flourish.

Any set of rules that goes beyond those set out by the Scriptures are man-made and frequently have more to do with empowering and enriching certain people than in protecting and ordering society.

If our children at the playground make this spontaneous human order work, perhaps we can make it work in society as a whole.

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