Abandon Ship

It’s fundamental disagreement time. I disagree radically with a line of argument at Cliopatria, and what’s worse, the kind of argument it is makes it very difficult to dispute as directly and bluntly as I would like to – or as I would like to in one sense but would not like to in another. That’s exactly the problem. I may decide to leave Cliopatria as a result – because as it is, I seem to be semi-acquiescing in views that are anathema to me.

My politics are derived from my faith, not the other way around. When I was younger, and a secular liberal, my politics were the only faith I had! Since coming to Christ (and yes, I do call myself “born again” without embarrassment), I have had to rebuild my politics from the ground up. When I consider political questions, I am forced to ask myself what position I believe Christ calls me to. This isn’t easy, for any number of obvious reasons, starting with the fact that the New Testament is not a modern political manual. This is why I can’t merely allow myself to hunt and peck through Scripture, finding passages that support my already-in-place suppositions about justice. (Many liberal and conservative Christians alike do this; it’s an understandable habit, but a bad one). Rather, I have to be open to what the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and my church community are telling me about right, wrong, peace and war and so forth…The Christian left must be faithful to Christ first, not secular dogma. Where our agendas and our understandings coincide, so much the better. But at times, we will stand with our Christian brethren on the right of the political spectrum, not out of sectarian loyalty but out of a sense that, as Carter said, “discerning God’s will and doing it is prior to everything else.” It is no easy thing to claim to have discerned God’s will. No wise Christian tries to do it alone. We do it in the light of (thanks Wesley) Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience; above all we do it prayerfully, humbly, and together.

History is a secular subject. Historians work in archives and libraries, they don’t seek revelations. They examine and analyse evidence, they don’t ask what Jesus would think about it (at least I think they do, most of them, and when they’re doing their job properly). They rely on logic and reason, not prayer and the Holy Spirit. I don’t even know how to have conversations that have to do with mental constructs like God’s will and what Christ calls people to. In fact I’m having a hard time even writing this, here at B&W, where regular readers know perfectly well that I’m an atheist and a secularist, and where most regular readers are similarly inclined. I’m having a hard time saying bluntly how I react to talk of the Holy Spirit.

I can say this much though. I think this: ‘This is why I can’t merely allow myself to hunt and peck through Scripture, finding passages that support my already-in-place suppositions about justice. (Many liberal and conservative Christians alike do this; it’s an understandable habit, but a bad one).’ is a truly terrible and dangerous line of thought. It is not a bad habit to ‘hunt and peck’ through the Bible, leaving out the disgusting bits. It is not a bad habit to have pre-existing suppositions about justice that are better than those of the people who wrote the Bible three thousand years ago.

Either there is an omniscient benevolent being taking care of us and the world, or there isn’t. If there is, it does make sense to rely on what it tells us to do. But if there isn’t, then it doesn’t. If there isn’t, we need to get very very clear that there is no force that will make things come out all right ‘eventually’ – just for one thing, there is no ‘eventually’! We need to get very clear that however appalling it is that humans are the most intelligent compassionate beings we can look to – that is nevertheless how things are. Thinking we get to overrule human judgment because there is some kind loving wise person in the sky running the puppet show is a hideous irresponsible delusion. It’s a recipe for abdication at best and theocratic tyranny at worst.

Hugo cites this article by Stephen Carter. I’ve mentioned Carter here before – I think he’s the source of a lot of the guilty leftish spinelessness about religion – the deep unwillingness to resist it, to point out that it is in fact a comforting fiction and should not be treated as if it were on all fours with other more rational ways of thinking.

And if the narrative is truly about the meaning God assigns to the world, as Christianity’s narrative is, the follower of the religion, if truly faithful, can hardly select a different meaning simply because the state says so. If a religionist believes that God’s love does not allow some human beings to enslave others, no amount of teaching by the merely mortal agency of the state should cause the religionist to change. Quite the contrary: the religionist, if he believes that the state is committing great evil, has little choice but to try to get the state to change.

But what if a religionist believes that God’s love does allow some human beings to enslave others? Eh? Has Carter forgotten that that’s exactly what a great many ‘religionists’ did indeed think not very long ago? What recourse is there then but to disagree with them? To apply one’s ‘already-in-place suppositions about justice’ to the matter and say that they’re wrong? To argue, in fact, in a secular manner? None that I know of.

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