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Lesson from the Apothecary on Big Government

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 @ 11:12 AM
Lesson from the Apothecary on Big Government Stephen McDowell President of the Providence Foundation’s Biblical Worldview University MORE

As a means of educating Americans in principles of liberty and providential history, I periodically give tours of important historic sites. On a recent tour I was conducting with American Family Association I visited the Apothecary store in Colonial Williamsburg during some free time. As I listened to the costumed interpreter, she unknowingly highlighted an important concept of free nations and provided one example of how we are losing our liberties. 

The interpreter was explaining how the colonists treated various sicknesses and afflictions with a large variety of herbs and medicines collected from all over the world. For the best treatment these raw materials would often need to be prepared in a precise way, mixed in appropriate proportions, and stored so as to retain their effectiveness. Many of these concoctions required intricate recipes, often unknown by those obtaining the treatments. 

The interpreter explained the difference in getting a prescription for medicine in early America compared with prescriptions today. At that time any person who wanted to treat a malady, such as a migraine headache or yellow fever, could simply buy all the necessary ingredients and prepare and mix them so as to release their curative powers, if they knew how to do so. However, if they did not know the correct recipe, they could buy a prescription from the apothecary. While it cost more money to buy the prescription than buying the ingredients on their own, it was a one-time expense well worth the money. They had a recipe that would work, and they would then have the recipe for future use. 

The prescription at that time was a recipe for a treatment of a malady. It was purchasing useful knowledge from others for your benefit.  It is much different today. While a prescription may give you access to a useful product, it is really permission to use a medicine. It is government granting people the right to use certain medicines. This is one of many examples of how we have become a permission society. 

Freedom is not having to ask permission regarding our own affairs. Oppression is having to obtain permission to do almost anything, from how to manage our property and run our businesses to getting a prescription. As government has grown and we have replaced God by government as the ultimate authority, we have increasingly become a permission society, where the beneficent government grants citizens the right to act and think in certain ways. We have less and less freedom in determining how we use our property and how we manage our lives. Remember, if government grants permission regarding the management of your life, liberty, and property, then government can take this away at any time.

The list of things we cannot do today without government permission is endless. It includes: remodeling our house, filling in a swampy area on our farm, driving a car, owning a gun, starting a business, opening a store, giving tours of Washington, DC, teaching our children at home, catching fish, building a church, putting up a sign, getting certain amounts of your money in cash, and praying on public property. The permit system is justified by public need and societal well-being, but ends up becoming a tool to enforce “correct” behavior and thought, including requiring people to violate their conscience to maintain their livelihood (for example, dictating who you must make a wedding cake for and what kind of wedding you must photograph). 

If our life, liberty, or property is threatened by the action of others, then government involvement may be acceptable, but most public permits go well beyond this. The permit system is destructive for many reasons. Among other things, it kills innovation and leads to corruption. It is contrary to America’s founding principles of limited government, private property, individual enterprise, free market, and liberty of conscience, all of which are preserved in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. But most importantly, it robs us of the great liberty that God intends us to have, and for which Christ came into the world.

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