Politics, Taxes, and the Pulpit (Oct. 12, 2011)

Professor Nina Crimm will discuss her book, Politics, Taxes, and the Pulpit: Provocative First Amendment Conflicts (Oxford 2011) (with Laurence Winer), at a conference at the University of Kentucky Law School on October 12. For  information, please click here.

Jesus’s Contemporary Political Views Expounded

In this piece on CNN’s religion blog, Carl Medearis says that Jesus would support a Palestinian state.  He reaches this conclusion because of the self-evident meaning of the beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers [for they shall be called the children of God]” and because of Jesus’s “refusal to embrace a nationalist agenda.”  Medearis further says that because “love, compassion, and peace-making” were important to Jesus, he would obviously support a Palestinian state.

What’s curious to me about all of this isn’t so much the underlying political view.  That’s just a policy preference stated in blunt terms.  I actually am not certain what I think on the merits, but I am reasonably sure that the case for one or another political outcome in this conflict can be and has been made far better than Mr. Medearis makes it.

No, what’s interesting to me is the raw certitude with which Mr. Medearis announces Jesus’s opinions about contemporary geo-political affairs.  The WWJD manner of talking has always seemed to me to be a distinctively American cultural tic — a combination of preening presumption, blindingly simplistic argument, and anachronistic superimposition.  Europe has its problems, to be sure, but WWJD discourse is not one of them.  The WWJD style issues from the vaguely democratic notion that every person is just as able as every other person to know in their hearts what Jesus really meant then and what he would say now on a panoply of subjects ranging from the proper setting of my HVAC system to the economic future of sub-Saharan Africa.  Ironically, it also seems to be a mode of argument which trades on the authority of the figure invoked: it isn’t so much the underlying plausibility of the view expressed as the fact that a figure of nearly-universally recognized moral authority is associated with it which marks the style of discourse.  And it garners sufficient respect as a style of political engagement to make the e-pages of CNN.    — MOD

Classic Revisited: Oakeshott’s “Religion, Politics, and the Moral Life”

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting post about belief and practice as distinct facets of religious experience.  The belief/conduct distinction was at one time an important one in the American law of religious liberty as well.  In Reynolds v. United States, for example, the first case interpreting the Free Exercise Clause, the Court stated that while Congress was free to regulate “action,” it could not regulate “mere opinion” (of course, the regulation of “action” might well be thought in some circumstances to infringe gravely on the free exercise of religion).  Sullivan discusses the views of Michael Oakeshott about religion, noting that the English political theorist located religion within the world of “practice” (an important term of art in Oakeshott’s thought).

Sullivan’s reflection prompts me to recommend a wonderful and perhaps lesser known book of Oakeshott’s, Religion, Politics, and the Moral Life (Timothy Fuller ed., YUP 1993), a collection of essays by Oakeshott, most from early in his life, about the relationship of religion and politics.  Religion is a subject that some writers mistakenly believe that Oakeshott ignored.  One of my favorite of the essays in this volume is the first, “Religion and the World,” in which Oakeshott describes the attitudes of early and late Christianity — the one preparing ecstatically for the imminent second coming, the other coping with the disappointment of delay in the fallen world.  Oakeshott describes two types of self, the worldly and religious man, and their orientations and interactions.  For an absolutely superb discussion of Oakeshott’s views about religion and politics, may I also recommend Elizabeth Campbell Corey’s Michael Oakeshott on Religion, Aesthetics, and Politics (2006).   Yale’s description of the Oakeshott collection follows after the jump.  — MOD Read more