From approximately eight years ago we have seen Santa Muerte having a big presence with drug cartel members, from the bosses all the way down. Why? Because these people say that Jesus or the Virgin Mary can’t provide what they ask for, which is to be protected from soldiers, police and their enemies.

-BBC, The country where exorcisms are on the rise

I was just thinking about this BBC article about how Mexican drug cartels pray to “Saint Death” as opposed to Jesus and the Virgin because they believe that the latter is not interested in protecting them from government soldiers and troops. Yet I cannot help but wonder the basis for this identification of Jesus’s “side” with the government. Why assume this?

What is the basis for identifying the national government with the “powers and authorities” which has been ordained by God in Romans 13? Why can it not be Mafias or Drug Cartels?

If I proclaimed myself ruler of Singapore and crafted a nifty little constitution and set of documents to codify my rule, that does not make me a “power” over Singapore automatically. To be an actual power requires not only a piece of paper and the claim to authority, it requires the –actual, empirical, effective and positive- exercise of authority over a region as well.

But the thing is, all national governments are empirical contingent and finite entities. They are not omnipotent or ‘sovereign” even over their own territories. Yes, to be a national government in the conventional sense, you will have to be of a certain empirical size and power. Yet, if the national government is sufficiently weak or corrupt or both, they may not have the actual, empirical and effective power over certain, if not, many regions even within their own country.

Therefore, if they don’t actually exercise any effective power over a region, then they are effectively not the “power” over their region, no matter what your atlas or some UN bureaucrat says. Thus, if the Mafia or some Cartel does exercise effective power over a region, why should the populace of that region not treat the Cartel or Mafia as the de facto powers that have been ordained by God to ensure the security and order of that region?

If you invoke the fact that these Cartels or Mafia are not “just” rulers in some substantive sense other than the fact that they don’t have lawyers and pieces of legal documents, such as dealing in “immoral” drug trafficking or whatever, then this question would very easy backfire on the “legitimate governments” as well who engage in immoral and unjust wars, weapons trading (WWII killed many million more lives than drugs has ever done). Their rule and officials are as liable to immorality and corruption as the Drug Cartel and Mafia, etc. The Mafia may not have a codified legal system, but any form of order in this world will have some form of systematic behaviour, and they can consist in honour codes, mutual respect, etc.

Of course, this approach would turn questions of political legitimacy into highly empirical questions, more particularistic, and much more postmodern, etc, not easily shoehorned into universalist and academic solutions dreamed up by the academia who of course are part of the same system and power structures as the “legitimate” governments…

4 thought on “Why Can’t Mafias and Drug Cartels be the Power Ordained by God?”
  1. JH Yoder once recognized the fact that there is no real anarchy,but that power vacuums are quickly filled by someone. If a king is killed, the kingdom crumbling, and a bandit lord and his thugs takes over, he is that authority in that region. This certainly makes thinking about “honoring the king” vis Peter’s letter and Paul’s Romans 13 much more complicated. Submission isn’t merely bending backwards but being a pilgrim in a strange land.


    1. I kinda like George Berkeley’s definition of “submission” in his (sadly neglected) work Passive Obedience which justifies unlimited submission to the powers.

      …I shall take for granted — that there is in every civil community, somewhere or other, placed a supreme power of making laws, and enforcing the observation of them. The fulfilling of those laws, either by a punctual performance of what is enjoined in them, or, if that be inconsistent with reason or conscience, by a patient submission to whatever penalties the supreme power hath annexed to the neglect or transgression of them is termed loyalty, as, on the other hand, the making use of force and open violence, either to withstand the execution of the laws or ward off the penalties appointed by the supreme power, is properly named rebellion.

      Thus, while it is surprising that he does not consider the refusal to obey a power to constitute rebellion, but then again, this is unsurprising in the light of our considerations of power as an empirical thing rather than a “legitimate” authorizing thing. A power is simply an empirical entity which possesses the ability and resources to enforce coercion. To “rebel” against this power is not only to refuse do as it says but also to attempt to tear down, destroy, or reduce the actual empirical resources and ability of this power. But to disobey a power is not necessarily to rebel against it, especially when one does not do anything to diminish its resources or ability by willingly submitting to the penalties or punishment which a supreme power legislates for the disobedience, affirming thereby its power over us.

      1. I suppose that this means submission is merely an empirical/visible action and not based upon a motivation? For the biblical witness, by calling Jesus Lord, ultimately delegitimizes all other crowns and powers as contingent. Thus, while not crusading to “christianize” every government (as if such a thing is even possible), there is a rejection of the constant attempts by the state/society/monarch to absolutize.

        By Berkely’s definition, that’s not rebellion, but there have been christians tried & executed under such premises (i.e. domitian persecution). Thus subordination to whatever power is the more rebellious the more it claims a divine-like standing.

        1. Again, I remain essentially agnostic about internal motivations. Ethics and morality is about the “outside”, empirically determinable actions, what is inside is known only to God and a mystery, even to ourselves.

          But as far as “submission” is concerned, submission as subjection to punishment, no matter how unjust, seems to be how the Scriptures characterises Christ’s own submission to temporal authority,

          Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

          1 Peter 2:18-23

          Thus, accepting the punishment of “unjust” empirical power does constitute the meaning of “submission” or “subjection”, etc.

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