Thursday, May 31, 2007

Parliament Funk

“A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them.”

- P. J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores, xxv.

There's an awful lot of politicking going on right now about issues I care about. I get frustrated with Washington and with myself about how issues are framed and approached. As a member of a religion that has been oppressed, ignored, and manipulated by the government (as well as one that has used the government to oppress and manipulate), church-state relations are always kind of foggy to me.

It strikes me as odd (maybe even hypocritical) that folks who normally tell us to keep our Christianity out of politics (for example, on abortion, LGBTQ issues, what have you) see no problem with using Christianity to criticize the government's stand on immigration (SoJo, I'm talking to you!). I'm pretty sure that a lot of this comes down to how we view the perspecuity of Scripture (at least in the Christian tradition). What does it address, and what doesn't it address? Where are normative statements and where are descriptive statements? How do we discern?

In my seminary training, there was no course offered on hermeneutics - the science of interpretation. We're paying for it now that we have a little bit of biblical knowledge, a whole lot of "praxiological reflection," and no where to hang it all within a system because - other than systems theory - there is no acceptable systematic expression of life because that's a product of European intellectual hegemony. Most of my assumptions are either implicitly derived from the way confessional documents interpret Scripture or are simplistic statements that need to be parsed (such as Scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres, which assumes that the Scriptures have both veritas and claritas). I've been supplementing my training by reading folks like Craig Blomberg, but it would have been nice to have this in the curriculum.

What to do....


Aric Clark said...


Nice to see you blogging about something other than John Shuck.

It's interesting hearing your reflections on Seminary, because here at SFTS we get ALOT of "hermeneutics" and rather little "praxiological reflection", so I would have written almost the opposite lament.

I hear what you're saying about us folks on the left being hypocritical about wanting religion out of politics on issues like abortion, but using our religion on issues like war or universal health care or what have you. Frankly, I agree. Hypocrisy is on all sides.

Personally, when it comes to politics I tend to think a strong separation between church and state is best for BOTH the church and the state, but that does not mean religion doesn't have a place in politics. Where I see the role of the religions is in providing a constant critique from the outside, acting as it were as the conscience of the nation. I don't want to see the Ten commandments codified into law anymore than I'd want the Sharia imposed on me, but I expect pastors and preachers to be weighing in on the political issues of the day with theological reflection. Jesus was nothing if not a political figure.

Chris said...

Thanks for stopping by. I know it's surprising, but I used to write a lot of stuff before I met John. It's just that after seminary (about the time I took up blogging) my time was filled with putting bread on the table for a family of 6, so I have to be selective on blog on the stuff that touches me most deeply. His stuff touches me (and if we were in court, I'd point to the place on the doll where it touches me...bad touch....)

I should probably make a note to my discriminating and nit-picky readers that I really do mean "praxiological" and not "praxeological"; the former is used in terms of theological praxis, the latter in sociological analyses of human motivation. The spelling is different (but this could be one of those neologisms they made at LPTS and have absolutely no standing outside of its unhallowed grounds).

Okay. I agree with you to a large extent in your last paragraph. However, I think your model only works in two particular systems:

1) a pure democracy, where discerning the will of the people becomes the instrument of moral legislation. The problem becomes apparent when you have a majority that believes it is moral to oppress the minority (real oppression like Shari'a - not the emotivistic crap that often gets complained about among progressivists).

2) despotism (empire, non-constitutional monarchy, dictatorship, etc), where there is no legal avenue for governmental input. In that case, all moral voices other than that of the ruler (and - perhaps - their enclave) are "outside" the halls of power.

In our republican form of government, however, things get damn tricky. We elect representatives whom we believe will make wise choices. We *do not* elect representatives to legislate our opinions (this is not a pure democracy, nor was it intended to be). Thus, someone's values are being legislated. What does that mean for a Christian statesman, versus a Muslim statesman, or atheist statesman within the framework of a secular (i.e., non divinely-appointed) government?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many political activists on the Christian Left really see how close they are on methodology to the late Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority style of theology...

I once blogged on this, how the left is really just another political manifestation of theocracy. They just want another >kind< of theology enforced.

Instead, we Reformed types offer the world a church that speaks morally and yet keeps its head out of the sinful world of political vagaries. "Sprituality of the Church' it used to be called.

We need it back..and badly!

Presbyman said...

Nice to see you blogging about something other than John Shuck.

Now THAT's funny! :-D

Aric Clark said...


You're right that it's in the faith of the individual elected representative that the rubber really hits the road in our Republican government. However, I don't hear too many people on the liberal side saying "representative X should keep their faith separate from their job". I DO hear from conservatives, concern about given representatives not being Christian enough, or the right kind of Christian, or even worse Muslim or Mormon.

However, I think we ought to leave that area fuzzy and let individual representatives (and the voters) decide how public their faith should be.

Where I see necessity for formal rules of interaction is at the systematic level and even in our messy republic it is possible to keep Religion and Government separate in this way. Clergy and Laity need to be free to criticize government, and government needs to be free to make decisions that are best for all regardless of faith. IMHO.

Aric Clark said...

PS... I'd prefer a little more of a true democracy. As it is our politicians are poll slaves. May as well remove personal interest and profit from the equation.

Chris said...


They aren't making the claims about Representatives...they're making them about the President. Surely you've had the ring of the word "theocracy" in your ears for the past six years.

The Democrats have finally realized that you can't keep telling people to leave their faith out of public life. That's why you're finally hearing them talk about their faith - in the blandest of terms. Don't worry, though. Their rhetoric will still be about the war they've been fighting (and losing) for 45 years. (the War on Poverty)

Where have you heard conservative pundits talking trash about Romney's faith? There's been a lot of speculation about whether or not he'll be electable outside of Utah and Iowa, but no one I've heard maligning his beliefs (well...the ones he hasn't changed his mind on depending on whether or not he's running against a Democrat).

(BTW, I'm happy to do that: Mormon's aren't Christian. Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Therefore, he is not a Christian.)

But I agree with you that - as Peter writes - government is at its best when it keeps the peace and tolerates religious expression.

I have to disagree, though, about the "more pure" democracy. With instant polls, it would make this country little more than an ochlocracy. Republicanism - where people vote their principles, and not simply what they think the voters want - is what our country needs.

Now, when you say "IMHO" do you mean "In my heretical opinion"?

Aric Clark said...


Heh, In my heretical opinion of course! ;) At least while I'm on your blog, over at my blog you're the heretic!

You're right about what people have been saying about the president and to be honest I wish he would stop his religious talk as well, not because I have a problem with a president being religious, but because I'm tired of him giving Christianity a bad name. I recognize nothing of my religion in his choices and actions as President.

As far as conservatives talking about Romney's faith it hasn't been everywhere, but Michael Savage (who is the conservative radio personality in my area) has been on his case.

I think Republicanism is great if you can find a way to remove self-interest from being in government. Make all political campaigns publicly funded, outlaw any kind of "kickback", aggressively prosecute nepotism etc... and you might have a chance of there being people who genuinely vote their values. The problem is, being the cynic I am, I don't believe that politics have anything to do with values in this country right now. Self-interest rules the day.