03/4/13

Isn’t Politics the Governance of Culture? With the Merely…

This is a follow-up to the last post, considering politics as merely the governance of culture.

Perhaps what is meant by the inclusion of the word merely is that in some way, politics exists in some form of neutral—dare I say Pelagian—manner that is only corrupted by fallen humanity, and by injecting the light of Christ into it, redemption of politics is possible, as is God’s plan with much of his creation (I say much, because I haven’t been able to detect God’s plan of redemption for His creation the devil). And if the redemption of politics is possible, even in a restricted sense, it would be our duty to try.

I think not, because politics is not neutral, and I believe we make this error by conflating concepts of Justice, Mercy, and the like with politics.

Politics appears to be a consequence of the fall. This makes politics certain, but not necessary. The distinction is an important one, as follows. Given God’s foreknowledge, my choice last election to not vote for Jill Stein was certain, since God knew it infallibly. Was it necessary? Well, no. There are possible worlds in which I voted for Jill Stein in the last election, and in those worlds God would know my choice perfectly (I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what I might be like in those worlds). At any rate, in worlds with significantly free (problem word, for sure) creatures, it is certain how they will choose given God’s existence, but not necessary.

So, since the fall was certain, politics was certain but not necessary*. It may have been otherwise. And that is precisely what the biblical evidence suggests to me: there was a time when there was no politics.

There is a hierarchical structure in Heaven. But politics? I think not. It seems to me to be more the Decree of God on the one hand and the perfect obedience of the good angels, sovereignly enabled by God, on the other. There is no voting, no palavering, no debate of the issues. Indeed, any such behavior appears to result in a decisive casting out event, to a place, presumably in Hell where there is a wide variety of vigorous political activity, I’m sure. Politics, after all, is a result of the fall.

As with Heaven, I detect no politics in Paradise Eden. There was a decree, and obedience and disobedience thereto. There was a hierarchical structure, but pre-fall, no competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership. Adam and Eve may have been wildly successful in fruitfulness and multiplicity, populating the entire earth. Even so, politics would have remained unknown and un-needed without the fall.

It’s important here to distinguish between politics and culture, for culture did exist pre-fall. God is a creator, after all, and as the Psalmist says 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. 19:2 Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. We in his image, as elemental redactors, of course, created as well. Adam sang, and worked, and painted, and named animals. Culture has evidently always been part of the human experience, unlike politics. The distinction leads to an obvious inference: culture does not require politics, nor is politics a necessary element of culture. Culture flourishes best without it, as in Eden, and we assume that in paradise restored and redeemed it will flourish unfettered once more.

Hence, no. Politics is not merely the governance of culture.

But the plot thickens…

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  Indeed, he deceived Adam and Eve, and they defied God. As far as humanity is concerned, this is the first instance of a competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership. Politics were born, so to speak. Without delay, the curse came upon the serpent: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The proto-evangel of Gen 3:15 is rightly applied to Christ; however, its types and shadows appear throughout the Old Testament. In fact, its first type appears almost immediately in Genesis in the analogue of Cain and Abel (I note in passing that because of Cain’s sin, God instituted the first recorded public rules and regulations intended to limit sinful behavior, the mark of Cain). Appropriately enough to our subject matter, the first thing Cain is recorded to have done in Nod is to have built a city. As Augustine saw, the city of man was born, and along with it the enmity spoke of in Gen 3:15 was established.

In contrast to the line of Cain, Eve gives birth to Seth: Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Clearly, the godly line of Seth called upon the name of the Lord, as Augustine saw, the city of God. The two lines track separately in Gen 4:17 – 22, the line of Cain, and Gen 5: 1 – 32, the line of Seth From Adam through Noah. Something happens, though, in Gen 6:

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The godly line of Seth defiled itself with the line of Cain. I’ll develop this further in response to the next question: Contrary to abusus non tollit usum (roughly, the abuse of a Thing does not negate rightful use) — does the misuse of politics alone negate rightful use?

*philosophic necessity…I realize they’re pretty necessary to us in other ways, as delineated by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13.

PS-according to the grand masters of grammar, politics is singular. In general usage, however, there appear to be any number of well-spoken and well-written folk who employ it as a plural. I reserve the right, then, to say politics is or politics are as I see fit. More or less, this disclaimer allows me to be lazy…

 

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03/2/13

The Governance of Culture, Excluding the Merely

Isn’t politics merely the governance of culture?

Unsurprisingly, I’m sure, I do not agree with this proposition. I’d also be quite willing to wager that within the intellectual economies where this phrase is briskly traded, its creators would sell off a reduction of the governance of culture to politics. They have a staggeringly more dynamic and complex interactive societal paradigm in place.

Thus, I assume this phrase is hijacked to mean something more pedestrian like isn’t politics the overarching mechanism by which we regulate culture, or something similar. If the governance of culture in all its intellectual glory is intended, someone may feel free to redirect me, although I think the following will remain largely intact.

C.S. Lewis wrote “what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” To this insight, I’d add that politics is the normative means by which men organize and exercise this power. Hence, Merriam-Webster’s definition of politics suits us better than the governance of culture: political affairs or business; especially: competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government).

This definition appears readily apparent to me given the previous argumentation and commentary here; for instance, the virtually unanimous support for the purported small-government party in the commentary indicates that this particular societal slice wishes to blunt or erase the effects of the competing interests of the large-government party*. It does not wish for this competing interest group to have power over it. The rationale behind this is unimportant; all that matters here is that we recognize that politics is clearly a competition for power—otherwise stated, a denial of our competitors’ power. It’s a means by which men organize—by coalition, or not—to gain, hold, and exercise power over others, and to deny others’ power. (which is not equivalent to others power, though that is often the case historically)

Abstractly, historically, scripturally, or experientially, I cannot think of an example that contradicts or even counters this, from the mightiest of nations, to baseball teams, to churches, to middle-school girls, to a hippie commune, to the ladies auxiliary quilting group that meets on every third Tuesday night of the month. That does not entail that none exist, but, inductively, we’re on pretty good evidential ground until someone presents an adequate alternative. Given this, it seems right to suggest that the Church has no business in politics, and darker paths of dominionism ought to be outright condemned.

So much seems fair, and in part two of the answer to this question, I’ll consider a variant of the same question stressing the modifier merely.

* They are both large government parties, in my view. They simply differ in what portions of the Government and its interest should be large and intrusive.

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02/16/13

Questions on politics…

Some time back, I participated in a scheduled debate over at Speculative Faith, with regard to the role (or non-role) of the Church in politics. I’m most pleased that through this most personal and contentious subject, Kerry Nietz and I remain good friends. Moreover, it did not seem to blunt his writing prowess, since his latest book, Mask, is on the Amazon shelves and well worthy of a read.

The debate was scheduled and hosted by Speculative Faith’s own E. Stephen Burnett. Now, ESB, as I call him–because it’s easier and it keeps me from writing Steven Burnet–is one of the clearer thinkers around these days. His work over at Spec Faith deserves your attention. We share a love for all things biblical, and generally we see the world through a similar lens. In fact, both ESB and Kerry are probably my writing betters…

However, when it comes to politics, we do have a difference of opinion. Following the debate, ESB listed several questions, mostly rhetorical, for me. It’s been a while, but I do think I owe an answer to my friend, especially with the caliber of thought he brings to all issues biblical. So, here are the questions below, and in the coming weeks, I’ll address them one by one…

****

So that being said, I do have some questions, mostly rhetorical, mostly for Marc:

•Isn’t politics merely the governance of culture?

•If so, even without explicit Scriptural endorsement of a secular government, shouldn’t Christians look at politics/government in much the same way we react to the rest of culture — art, storytelling, music, movies, and more?

•Contrary to abusus non tollit usum (roughly, the abuse of a Thing does not negate rightful use) — does the misuse of politics alone negate rightful use?

•If so, why apply this only to politics, and not money, sex, Harry Potter, etc.?

•As many have already said, isn’t politics unavoidable in life — regardless of parties, positions, national platforms, and presidential polemics?

•Won’t redeemed “politics” play a role in the New Heavens and New Earth, where Scripture explicitly says kings will  bring their glories into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21)? If so, why shun even attempts to redeem politics here?

•While many Christians have absolutely moralized and treated politics like a false religion, why act as if not-voting, rather than the Gospel, is the solution?

•Won’t more Gospel in politics, rather than less, help redeem government?

•Shouldn’t the Church act like the “Christian nation” that it is, and as such a good “nation” one that only has necessary borders for protection, and not a nation that closes itself off and refuses to work with secular nations — even while supporting its citizenry and maintaining its inner integrity?

•If that proves difficult (and vocational boundaries can be fuzzy!), isn’t it true that a Christian’s individual calling — his role as parent, businessperson, engineer, artist, voter, council member — is distinct from the Church’s role?

•Derivative: does the Christian individual often do things the Church doesn’t do as a collective present “outpost” of the future/present Kingdom/nation?

•If that’s true, why should this necessarily exclude voting?

•Much has been made of the difference between the Roman empire of Paul’s day and today’s representative republic, yet what does this nation’s impersonal “emperor” — that is its highest law, the Constitution — ask of citizens? Does it assume (even if not mandate) an active, voting citizenry?

•Do not even our human leaders — those whom we are expected to follow, if they do not contradict God’s Word — encourage political engagement and voting, as they should? If they do this, why in this area disobey them?

•Is our motive for disengagement from politics based on distaste for abuses, that is a reaction, or proactive love for neighbor based on the Gospel?

•Do we fear coming off as moralizing “take our country back” jingoists more than we fear the consequences of real Christians not being involved in our culture (and its governance)? If so, why base decisions on fear or dislike of The Bad Guys? (Isn’t that what “moral majority” evangelicals have done?)

•Wouldn’t it be better to take a risk in praying for leaders, studying leaders, opposing or supporting leaders, changing views if necessary — while ensuring we do our best to separate our Church “nation” callings from our American-nation callings? Can we not trust in God as we seek to obey Him, to help us keep “it’s better of this nation does this” and “you can’t follow the Law; only Jesus saves” responses distinct for nonbelievers?

•With a few word changes, I will quote from Austin up there: “To paraphrase James: [Biblical cultural engagement and efforts to save lives and promote Godly government] apart from voting is dead.  Show me your opinion apart from your vote, and I’ll show you my opinion by my vote.”

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01/28/13

If Gandalf says it…

Saw The Hobbit with Shema this weekend. Exceptionally well done, thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay:  small acts of kindness and love.  Why Bilbo Baggins?  Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”  – Gandalf the Grey, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The application to our purposes here is worth a moment’s thought, or two…

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11/20/12

They’re starting to see it…

I’ve returned from the ice planet of Hoth that is North Dakota and the Narnia of Canada. We did it up right at the fourth installment of the WestMan Bible Conference. Some great preaching and teaching occurred, as did some fine fellowship. And, since Shema survived her return trip running-out-of-gas ordeal unscathed, thanks to some unknown but good Samaritans, we’re all praises in TX.

With an eye on politics, though, we heard some interesting commentary on the drive both up and back. Dode and I were able to tune in to some AM channel Rush Limbaugh on the way, and it seems the message we preach here at CPX is beginning to lodge in the mind of the political right. Rush commented that in light of the recent election, he’s determined that the problem is not politics, but culture.

I’m not advocating either side of the political spectrum, but what he’s beginning to see is that the cultural slide we’re witnessing cannot be fixed by political activity. He mentioned the long view of the left in influencing culture by education and indoctrination (his word): that the right is losing elections because the left and its institutions have persuaded enough of the electorate to see things the way they do in their non-political activities (this is a very myopic perspective, but at a minimum there’s some truth to it). They’ve changed the culture from within over a period of decades.

He’s right.

But isn’t that some of what we’ve been arguing here at CPX? The church is not influencing culture to the extent it once did. Why is this? There are many reasons, but the one we are interested in here is the church’s reliance on politics, to the neglect of its true mission. At least they’re starting to see it…

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11/13/12

Politics and Religion: Oil and Water

This week, the news media is spurring speculation about the petitions for secession on the White House petition page. One of them, for the state of Texas, has well exceeded its required minimum of 25,000 signatures; last I checked, it was clocking along over 80,000. For the record, I question whether it would be if the media hadn’t started braying about this.

While I have received several pleas for Canada to adopt various friends and acquaintances from south of the 49th, I think it’s worth maintaining perspective on this. For one, it mostly means a White House minion gets tasked with writing a letter (such as this one explaining that the Armed Forces is not a pawn of Rush Limbaugh).

Amid local but vocal concerns that martial law will now be declared to control the petitioners and/or secession process, and things will never go back to being the same, a few offerings from around the web:

Rather than engage in the political process, Christians have a duty to elevate it. Like any other sin, we are called to stand above the partisan dissension and demonstrate a better way. Should we have an opinion? Yes. Should we care about our country? Yes. Should we vote? Yes. But it’s time we talk politics in a way that models the teachings of Jesus rather than mocks them. –7 Things Christians Need to Remember About Politics, Relevant Magazine

The Relevant author points out that few junctures in history really deserve the title “the most important juncture in our history.” is this one of them? Well, 25,000 people can make a disproportionate amount of noise in a nation of 300 million. So, maybe not.

Politics and religion, one could say democracy and religion, are oil and water. Consider this: Pierre Elliott Trudeau is famous for several things he did during his tenure as Prime Minister of Canada. He instigated universal health care. He legalized abortion. He presided over the October Crisis of 1970, in which martial law was declared in order to handle a homegrown terrorist uprising by Quebec separatists.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Also, Trudeau was a devout person of faith. As ChristianWeek newspaper reports,

His commitment to strong individual rights and justice came from his Christian belief in the equality and dignity of all. His intellectual writings often refer, indirectly or directly, to his Catholic intellectual upbringing, and he attended church regularly as prime minister. But Trudeau also believed in a strong separation between personal faith and public life, which is why his beliefs remained largely hidden—as they have for other observant Catholics like John Turner and Paul Martin. He wrestled at times with this separation, most notably for abortion, which he opposed personally even as he oversaw its legalization. –Private Faith in the Public Sector, ChristianWeek

A genuine and principled commitment to democratic rule, such as one duly expects from one’s representatives, will still produce these results as the populace drifts away from a Judeo-Christian cultural anchor, regardless of the religious background of politicians.

When Christians (or petitioners) ask the government to solve problems differently than the majority would have it, they are no longer asking for democracy.

It’s not about legislation, but the persuasions of the heart. If democracy is for the people and by the people, then it is the people who must have morality, conviction and rectitude.

That moral anchor in the culture is most thoroughly nurtured by a vibrant, ongoing witness to the Gospel and the assigned mission of the Body of Christ, as per Scripture. We can only live it for ourselves, not enforce it on others. Our hope is not in who we elect or what political entity we participate in. It’s in being citizens of heaven first, and acting like it.

As an aside, The October Crisis and Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measures Act produced uneasiness in citizens and politicians alike. But it wasn’t the right wing that opposed it vocally in the public forum. It was the far left (Levesque, Douglas). Something to consider before writing people off for how they vote.

Our enemy is death, not life. We’d best get on with the real battle.

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11/8/12

The Plague of War

Speaking of unintended consequences…sometimes, evil must be opposed by strength. But the world was blind to it when it was right in front of them, in the preliminary stages of World War II. And one must ask whether anyone sees it clearly now.

Some time ago, as he learned about 9/11, my then-eight-year-old son informed me that he wanted to go overseas and “fight the terrorists.” We had a simple but deep discussion on the power of arms, and the power of the Gospel, because we personally know people who have served in Afghan in both capacities. Besides, how does one shoot an ideology?

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:12)

The Canadian soldiers, though they deeply believed in their peacekeeping mission, were called home by a government and a democratic populace weary of other people’s small and distant problems.

The missionaries are still there.

And my heart tore in two when my young lion changed his stated life purpose and said, “I want to be a missionary to the terrorists.”

How easy, by comparison, to simply teach them to cast a ballot, and let someone else’s son go to face the bullets, whether armed with weaponry or the Sword of the Spirit.

There is more, much more, to societal participation. I am given a place of great freedom and peace to live in, yet,

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:19b-20)

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philip. 3:20)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

I think North America’s perspective problem is this: “all things in Christ” does not equal “all things in this world.” How self-righteously we argue for the legislation of our comforts and our moral self-righteousness, when the Gospel call says, Go…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

What soldier in active duty entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life? How can he afford such entanglements, when his feet are on a foreign soil littered with landmines?

How can I let my neighbour’s son go, gun in hand–necessary as it may be–without at least speaking to him of eternal security? What makes the Canadian (or American) soldier less a soul in need than the lost Afghani? I must, I must ask that, for my friend in arms, serving in Bosnia, was first responder to the slow death of a battlefield comrade. It was my friend’s duty to give first aid to a head mostly blown off by a gun at close range.

By what legislation or earthly power could the church ever address that need, besides what God has already given her for all time?

Sometimes, evil must be opposed by strength. But the world is blind to it when it’s right in front of them, and sometimes, one must ask whether anyone sees it now. How simple my days are when I refuse to.

Yet I feel so much more alive when I confess that I was blind, but now I see. Eternity is breathing down all our necks.

The last enemy is death.

Now I see.

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11/6/12

Congratulations President Obama

The verse below is a reminder for us, not the President. To him, we say congratulations and offer him our prayers. I, for one, am repulsed at the copious helpings of Christian animosity and rancor cast in his direction. One can cast the lots, but the decision comes from the Lord.

“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. 19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. 20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes.” (Daniel 5: 18-21)

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11/5/12

Red State Jesus or Blue State Jesus?

I like this article for the first lines:

Here’s a presidential election prediction you can bet on.

Right after the winner is announced, somebody somewhere in America will fall on their knees and pray, “Thank you Jesus.”

And somebody somewhere else will moan, “Help us Jesus.”

Says plenty, I think. The remainder of the article is contrived, as is the quiz. But if you happen to take the test, knowing good and well the answers are forced and confined, let me know what colored it painted you…

 

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11/1/12

Election Angst and Eternal Perspective

From my conveniently external location in Canada, I sit as a bystander to the current American political situation. Mostly, I read plenty of perspectives. Here are some links.

Author Mike Duran on What’s Wrong with the Culture War Mentality, and Should Christians Bother Trying to Change the World? In the first link, Mike says,

My dilemma revolves around two ideas. Both of these ideas are Scriptural. But they exist in tension.

  1. The world is destined to get worse.
  2. Christians can — and should — change the course of the world.

It’s another one of those thorny theological paradoxes. But how does it work?

Blogger Laurie Mathers on Samaritans and Scoffers, and how the election environment can make jerks of the best of us. Especially on Facebook.

Aadel Bussinger, military wife, asks Is it God’s Will or My Personal Agenda? Aadel says,

I believe that God has standards, and that we as Christians should uphold and example those standards.

But are we called to be the justices of the world?

I wonder if God’s will for us as Christians is to put all our time and effort into ruling over others and winning battles in politics.

And, your host here at CPX, Marc Schooley, recently held a vibrant debate with fellow author and mutual friend Kerry Nietz on the role of politics in fiction, real life, and religion. It went like this:

  1. Kerry’s opening article
  2. Marc’s opening article
  3. Kerry’s rebuttal
  4. Marc’s rebuttal

It behooves me to point out that while no Appeal to Hitler was invoked (most unusual for a debate featuring both politics and religion), an Appeal to Hobbits was.

Finally, Katherine Coble writes You Have Sold Yourself Into Bondage. She says this:

 No matter how often we tell ourselves that we must have our political way to end abortion or to keep the freedom of religion intact and that it is for those very Christianish reasons we care so much about who is President, the fact remains that if you are in a place where you cannot clearly hear the words of God you have lost your way.

In closing, I’ll just repeat here what I said to Mike Duran on one of his posts:

There was a Babylon. There was a Persia. A Greece. A Rome. A British Empire. An America.

And I have lived in none of them, and the world changed for the advancement of God’s purposes when they rose and when they fell.

That doesn’t change our responsibility to be salt and light in each of our cultures, but I do think Americans take a mantle on themselves that isn’t ultimately theirs. The end of America would be an apocalypse, but not necessarily The Apocalypse.

To be perfectly honest, voting in Canada causes me stress and anger and indignation too–not least because our multi-party system, for all its variety, doesn’t actually offer much of a spectrum of genuine options.

But I keep reminding myself, it doesn’t mean we have to go crazy when the world does.

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