Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reasons For Hope

This post at Crooked Timber addresses itself to the related topics of the intellectual barrenness of the right, and the equally muddled discussion on the left. What I find most interesting about this entire topic is the opportunity provided for a truly Christian alternative in the midst of the chaos.

While it is true that the right is currently self-destructing, supporting ideas and policies untethered to anything resembling reality, Quiggin is also correct that the left has not offered any meaningful alternative, preferring to pick of the soft targets of the right in a display of intellectual bravura that belies the lack of serious alternatives, including engagement and the acceptance of certain conservative positions (Burke on the organic nature of society; Popper on historicism; Hayek on central planning) that have proved to be spot on.

In the midst of this intellectual vacuum, it seems at least possible that some in the church might offer the viability of an entirely different vocabulary, one that sets to one side the intellectually and practically exhausted categories of "left-right", "liberal-conservative", and speaks of human life, hope, and the common life in a wholly different way. The Christian humanist tradition, both Catholic and Protestant, certainly have a deep and wide well from which to draw; that they are relatively unknown to most people today would add the benefit of novelty to their introduction. Finally, offering as a serious counter to the barrenness of so much of our current discussions a way of speaking about living a fully human life that is not reducible to economic, sociological, or even political categories would force the discussion away from territory so tramped upon it really has nothing left to offer.

It would also, at a stroke, force the intelligentsia to address a topic it refuses to face squarely and honestly - the survival of uniquely Christian vocabularies on human agency and society long past the time they were supposed to slide in to oblivion. While many on the intellectual left simply assume that any religiously-based vocabulary is incoherent, they cannot give reasons for its ongoing vitality and increasing relevance in the face of the decline of other ways of speaking about living our lives in the world. There is simply no way the left can defend the position that "religion", in particular Christianity, is in fact dead precisely at the moment it might just offer new life to the musty back and forth of our public discourse.

So, in the graveyard of our current public discourse, I have to wonder why so many on the left are looking for something living among the dead. Might it not be possible to claim that the Christian message of real, abundant human life under the sign of the cross of God offers some hope to a world bereft of any defense against the intractable march of the machinery of economic and military death?

Virtual Tin Cup

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