Monday, April 26, 2010


So I turned from Stanley Hauerwas to a far more traditional, and quite dead, theologian - W. A. Whitehouse - and am now bewildered on what I think is an important question.

Can Christian theology, in its liberal Protestant variety (never mind the Roman Catholic, much less Orthodox varieties, let alone conservative Protestant mode) give a theological account and defense of the liberal republic as its exists? While I think it can certainly undermine the natural law and contract theories that underpin the American versions (via Locke and Montaigne), my question is really whether, by ridding ourselves of this ahistorical and metaphysically unsatisfying stuff, are we left with anything we, at the beginning of the 21st century, can hang our hats on with integrity? Considering the traditional Protestant Christian defense of the state derives, in part, from ideas rooted in western European feudal monarchies, in both their original Lutheran and Reformed traditions (not to mention the Anglican), I am at a loss to say how relevant they can be to our current situation.

Yet, the idea that the State is part of God's natural order for curbing our sinful nature, controlling our tendency toward destructive, and self-destructive behaviors seems, well, unAmerican to me. It reduces the state to a nanny of the worst sort. At the same time, secular liberal insistence on the primacy of the individual and that individual's pursuit of his or her individual self-interest as the root of social growth is so easily shown to be a god that failed. Do we start with traditional Scriptural passages in light both of their historical use and exegesis? Do we start with doctrinal affirmations concerning human sin and agency? Do we assume from the get-go the conflicted nature of the church and state?

In part, this is driven by a the reality that the nation-state, as it has existed for the past four centuries is increasingly superfluous. Might it not be necessary for the purposes of moving forward to concentrate less on a defense of an already antiquated socio-political form than to imagine something more forward-looking, something that addresses our current reality? Not necessarily "cosmopolitanism" as western European intellectuals have considered it, but certainly something approaching it?

Just some questions in search of honest responses . . .

Virtual Tin Cup

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