Monday, August 20, 2007

Academic deconstructs God-fearing leaders and the clash of civilizations


Burning bush aside, burning questions cannot be ignored. Who is damned, us or them?

The challenges of political theology in a contemporary globalized world are examined by Professor Mark Lilla in the current New York Times Magazine.
Lilla's "Politics of God" essay goes beyond the familiar rants on Good vs Evil, moonbats vs wingnuts, citizen soldiers vs islamofacists. Through a historical lens, he examines the wisdom of separating Church and State, even though Americans pledge allegience to "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all". He touches on messianism, with its implications for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the "people of the book". Keeping the faith, courting the apocalypse, hoping for miracles, coping with fear and divine providence-- this is not idle chatter.

In contrast with the US, Eretz Israel shrugs off the separation of church and state and defines itself as Jewish. At the same time Israel's Declaration of Independence promises complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it guarantees freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; and safeguards the Holy Places of all religions.
But is this even possible?

Lilla writes:

Messianic theology eventually breeds messianic politics. The idea of redemption is among the most powerful forces shaping human existence in all those societies touched by the biblical tradition. It has inspired people to endure suffering, overcome suffering and inflict suffering on others. It has offered hope and inspiration in times of darkness; it has also added to the darkness by arousing unrealistic expectations and justifying those who spill blood to satisfy them. All the biblical religions cultivate the idea of redemption, and all fear its power to inflame minds and deafen them to the voice of reason.

In the writings of these Weimar figures, we encounter what those orthodox traditions always dreaded: the translation of religious notions of apocalypse and redemption into a justification of political messianism, now under frightening modern conditions...The revival of political theology in the modern West is a humbling story. It reminds us that this way of thinking is not the preserve of any one culture or religion, nor does it belong solely to the past. It is an age-old habit of mind that can be reacquired by anyone who begins looking to the divine nexus of God, man and world to reveal the legitimate political order. This story also reminds us how political theology can be adapted to circumstances and reassert itself, even in the face of seemingly irresistible forces like modernization, secularization and democratization...

We must make a conscious effort to separate basic principles of political legitimacy from divine revelation. Yet more is required still. Since the challenge of political theology is enduring, we need to remain aware of its logic and the threat it poses. This means vigilance, but even more it means self-awareness...


(Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Photo courtesy JMcG)

1 comment:

jesus saves, moses invests said...

A Baptist pastor named Wiley S. Drake led his Buena Park, California, congregation in
prayer. The prayer asked for the deaths of two members of Americans United
for Separation of Church and State. "Let his days be few, and let another take his office. Let his
children be fatherless, and his wife a widow." Christian compasisonate conservatism. Shudder.