The Kantian-inspired attempt to make justice integral to the alleged rational and universal requirement to respect all persons as ends in themselves is a noble endeavor. Indeed, such a vision, I suspect, draws its inspiration from the Christian hope of the realization of a kingdom where peace and not war will characterize the relation between peoples and nations. But for Christians such a kingdom remains an eschatological hope that cannot be made present by heightening the status of human rationality. From the Christian perspective, Kant’s account of the universal requirements of reason is a secularized version of Christian hope. Kant sought to make Christian hope into a necessary condition for rational living, but in the process hope is trivialized, for if the kingdom can be based on or come from within humankind, then there is no reason to hope. Kant’s hope is one that no longer knows how to be patient in the face of the dividedness of the world and in desperation seeks peace by making God’s Kingdom a human possibility. Yet peace, Christians believe, cannot be founded on false accounts of our rational powers but depends on our learning to acknowledge God’s lordship over all life. The Christian commitment to peace is based not on the inherent value of life, but on the conviction that war cannot be consistent with the Kingdom we have only begun to experience through the work of Christ and his continuing power in the church.
It must be admitted that to stake one’s life on such a view is indeed dangerous. For there are many who claim their convictions to be true and assume that those who do not hold similar beliefs should be forced to do so. They are even willing to kill in defense of what they hold dear. To abandon the attempt to develop a “universal” ethic, as I have done, therefore appears as an act of despair, as we are left at the mercy of our enemies.
The Christian, however, does not claim that the world is safe but only that it is under God’s lordship. Christian confidence in God’s lordship provides the church with the power to exist amid the diversity of this world, trusting that the truth “will out” without resorting to coercion and violence for self-protection or to secure adherents. Therefore the non-resistant character of Christian community, which is often sadly absent, is a crucial mark of the power of the Christian story to form a people in a manner appropriate to the character of God’s providential rule of the world.
[I]n his book The Seven Deadly Sins Today, Henry Fairlie has given an account of how greed grips our lives – an account that echoes the suggestion in the book of James that there is a connection between greed and war…
Fairlie suggests that we are a people harassed by greed just to the extent our greed leads us to engage in unsatisfying modes of work so that we may buy things that we have been harassed into believing will satisfy us. We complain of the increased tempo of our life, but that is a reflection of the economic system we have created.
This is the same insanity that George Carlin so perfectly skewers:
Apologetics is based on the political assumption that Christians somehow have a stake in transforming our ecclesial claims into intellectual assumptions that will enable us to be faithful to Christ while still participating in the political structures of a world that does not yet know Christ. Transform the gospel rather than ourselves. It is this Constantinian assumption that has transformed Christianity into the intellectual “problem,” which so preoccupies modern theologians.
We believe that Christianity has no stake in the utilitarian defense of belief as belief. The theological assumption… that Christianity is a system of belief must be questioned. It is the content of belief that concerns Scripture, not eradicating unbelief by means of a believable theological system. The Bible finds uninteresting many of our modern preoccupations with whether or not it is still possible for modern people to believe. The Bible’s concern is whether or not we shall be faithful to the gospel, the truth about the way things are now that God is with us through the life, cross, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
H. Richard Neibuhr is (in)famous for his typology of the various ways that the church approaches the culture it is in. They are:
Christ against Culture
Christ of Culture
Christ above Culture
Christ and Culture in Paradox
Christ Transforming Culture
The critiques of Niehbuhr’s typology are legion, and I won’t rehash them here. What I do find interesting, however, is the different typology that Hauerwas and Willimon draw from John Howard Yoder:
Yoder distinguishes between the activist church, the conversionist church, and the confessing church.
The activist church is more concerned with the building of a better society than with the reformation of the church. Through the humanization of social structures, the activist church glorifies God. It calls on its members to see God at work behind the movements for social change so that Christians will join in movements for justice wherever they find them. It hopes to be on the right side of history, believing it has the key for reading the direction of history or underwriting the progressive forces of history. The difficulty, as we noted earlier, is that the activist church appears to lack the theological insight to judge history for itself. Its politics becomes a sort of religiously glorified liberalism.
On the other hand we have the conversionist church. This church argues that no amount of tinkering with the structures of society will counter the effects ofhuman sin. The promises of secular optimism are therefore false because they attempt to bypass the biblical call to admit personal guilt and to experience reconciliation to God and neighbor. The sphere of political action is shifted by the conversionist church from without to within, from society to the individual soul. Because this church works only for inward change, it has no alternative social ethic or social structure of its own to offer the world. Alas, the political claims of Jesus are sacrificed for politics that inevitably seems to degenerate into a religiously glorified conservativism.
The confessing church is not a synthesis of the other two approaches, a helpful middle ground. Rather, it is a radical alternative. Rejecting both the indivudlaism of the conversionists and the secularism of the activists and their common equation of what works with what is faithful, the confessing church finds its main political task to lie, not in the personal transformation of indiviudal hearsts or the modification of society, but rather in the congregation’s determination to worship Christ in all things.
Here’s the opening lines from a new article by Charles Colson:
I have been surprised by the number of Christians who have given up on politics this year. “I don’t like either candidate, so I’m staying home,” some say.
I get fed up with the vain posturing and empty promises, too. But not voting is not an option—it’s both our civic and sacred duty. Voting is required of us as good citizens and as God’s agents for appointing leaders.
Wow, voting is a sacred duty? That some form of government is divinely appointed is scriptural (Rom 13), but the notion that the modern nation-state is actually interested in any vaguely biblical notion of justice instead of self-serving power can only be reached by a willful ignorance of all of the evidence.
I agree with Colson that Christian apathy is to be lamented, but the notion that this is the only reason why we might forgo voting is to betray a distinct lack of biblically-informed imagination. Perhaps we might choose to avoid voting because, as Stanley Hauerwas is fond of saying: “Voting is violent. Where else do you see 51% of people able to force their will on the other 49%?”
Perhaps there are Christians who see in Jesus a profoundly engaged and political rejection of all forms of violence. Just maybe there are Christian reasons to imagine the nation-state to be fundamentally idolatrous and easier to identify (biblically speaking) with Babylon rather than the promised land. It’s because they haven’t given up on an engaged, loving politics that these Christians have given up on the farce that is national electoral voting.
That being said, I’m probably voting for the Green Party in the upcoming Canadian election, because they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning and they’re saying more that needs to be said than any other party. Besides, it helps me to not be tempted to hope in politicians, which I believe to implicit in our confession that Jesus is Lord.