By lex, on February 15th, 2004
Been turning things over in my head for a few months, but some of the things I’ve been reading, hearing and seeing lately have taken me to the conclusion that for certain secularized elements of the polity, zealous faith in their political beliefs has filled that spot inside their souls which used to, or ought to, or might have been occupied by the spiritual.
That’s fine, for them. I think it would be a little too barren a place for me to park the reaches of my soul’s desires, but each to their own. But it also helps to explain some of the demonization and policies of personal destruction that the political cycle brings to our door stoops and living rooms.
People are looking at politics as dogma. And they’re looking for heretics to burn, and devils to fight against. And they’re making it a very personal struggle.
The lack of tolerance to another’s point of view, the ascription of evil motives to simple differences of political opinion, are very familiar to those who have spent any time studying the development of the Christian church, for example. One need only look at the vigor with which the gnostics and pelagians in the ancient church were attacked for their heresies, or the anabaptists somewhat more recently.
There’s no mistaking that from the time of the emperor Constantine through the lineage of the Holy Roman Emperors (who were neither Roman, nor, often, holy) the political and the religious spheres occupied the same space, and were often led by the same people.
Which is why one of the most novel ideas of the framers of our Constitution was to separate the church and state, to create an impenetrable wall between them. The fact that this in itself was as much a bow towards pragmatism (several of the different colonies political borders were originally defined by the faiths of their immigrant inhabitants) as to enlightenment does not remove the truth that this was a daring experiment, unparalleled in the old country, and in fact in much of the rest of the world.
Samuel F. Huntingdon, in his seminal (and controversial) book, “The Clash of Civilizations” said that for the East Asian civilization, the state was the church. For the middle east, the church was the state. In orthodox civilizations, the church served the state, and in western Christian culture the state served the church, for a time.
To which philosopher does Huntingdon ascribe the doctrine of church and state separation? One Jesus of Nazareth, who when asked if the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans, asked his questioner who’s image was graven on the coinage. Upon the answer, “Caesar,” Jesus then replied, “render unto Caesar those things which are Caesar’s, and render unto God those things which are God’s.”
What a revolutionary.
Before you sigh and click next, be aware that I am not (only) proselytizing – this is by way of introduction to something I read in my church today which frankly set my teeth on edge. In the written program passed out before the service starts, there is a section for announcements. Usually it is filled with choir meetings, retreat dates and invitations to pot luck suppers. Today this caught my eye:
“DEITRICH BONHOEFFER ON TRUTH AND POLITICS” February 19, UCSD, Thurgood Marshall College, Solis Hall, Room 107, 8 pm, Lecture by Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, Divinity School of Duke University. Dietrich Bohnoeffer is well known for his heroic opposition to the Nazis. This lecture looks at Bonhoeffer’s understanding of lying and why he thinks it is appropriate to hold politics to truthful speech. The relationship between truth and politics is a challenge for those of us living in allegedly democratic regimes. For information, call (excised).” (Emphasis added)
I don’t know much about Dietrich Bohnhoeffer, but if he spoke out early and heroically against Nazism, then he’s fine in my book. I know nothing at all about Dr Stanley Hauerwas, from the Divinity School of Duke University, but if he’s at all on friendly terms with the Chair of Philosophy, then the rest of this announcement makes a little more sense. Read here for a point-by-point refutation of this apologia. Both links courtesy of the Prof . * The thing that really caught my eye, is the whole “allegedly democratic regime” thing. “Those of us” living in them.
I wonder what allegedly democratic regime he’s speaking to? I wonder what platonic form of a perfect democracy he wants to hold it up against? Athenian Greece, perhaps?
No – he’s talking about opening our eyes to the lies being spread by the entrenched political class (I imagine this to be a relatively recent phenomenon in Dr. Hauerwas’ imagination, this suppurating rash of political mendaciousness – it probably didn’t exist before, say, 2001). If only we listen to him, and agree with his opinion, then we’ll understand how to take the modifier “alleged” away from democracy.
It’s simple, agree with him, and you’ll be right, and we’ll all be better off. And I wonder if “those of us living in them” are only those enlightened, educated and perceptive enough to realize we’re living in a some sort of masquerade of democracy, and willing to unplug from the matrix, to take the blue pill? Or does he mean all of us, the rest of us?
Somehow I don’t think so – he wants to preach to the converted, the angry faithful of the politicized extreme.
He wants to show how Bonhoeffer spoke truth to fascist power, and now it’s our turn, right here at home, in this allegedly democratic regime we inhabit.
This has got me fired up for several reasons.
First, I don’t need to see this propagandistic tripe in my church bulletin. I don’t blame the secretary who put it in there, she probably didn’t even read it. I blame the guy who offered this up as an announcement, never for a moment criticizing the underlying premise. Probably never even seeing it there. It fit with his world view.
Second, I’ve been in my country’s service, man and boy, for nearly 26 years now. I stood watch and sailed the seas and flew the heights with death flying on my wing when the two great superpowers locked wills and fought by proxy in a contest between personal freedom and democratic choice versus dehumanizing socialist utopianism. I’ve lost far too many friends along the way, both during the cold war and after, to hear someone try to tell me that I’ve been duped by plutocrats and oligarchs.
I have two faiths: Faith in God, and faith in America. But these two faiths occupy separate spheres in my psyche, and I resent like hell when someone tries to use the pulpit or the church to proselytize for a political view not supported by scripture. That’s not what I go there for.
Next, my faith in this country means that I’m fully aware that we make mistakes – we are not always right, and even when right we are not always elegant about explaining ourselves. We crash into the furniture sometimes. While being fully aware of all these things, I am still convinced that there is no greater power for secular good than what we represent, that we are the last, best hope for mankind against the darkness in men’s souls that is always lurking, always waiting for a chance, always testing for weakness. And I’m OK with questioning authority, and I’m fine with politicians paying the price at the polls for flawed judgment or duplicity.
But don’t you dare try to tell me that there’s some straight line vector from Naziism to American democracy, not when my father and his generation spent so much blood and treasure fighting it. No, I won’t even buy a theoretical parallel.
And don’t you dare try to tell me that politicians here don’t pay the price for their malfeasance because we’re not really a democratic country.
Don’t you dare try to tell me that the only path to real democracy is to reject my political views and hew to yours.
Don’t you dare.
*Editor’s Note: I am sure that Lex never intended for his posts to be reposted up to 13 years later. In fact, I am sure that he never intended to post them again.
I discovered that many of the links he provided were gone. He makes a reference here to a couple of links, and I discovered them to be dead links all these years later. Nevertheless, I left his reference to them in. BB