On Loving the City

Marc’s post yesterday about Augustine’s two cities–the earthly and heavenly–reminded me of something I read in Peter Brown’s recent book on wealth in ancient Rome. Brown argues that a decisive shift in the conception of generosity accompanied the transition from pagan to Christian society. Both pagans and Christians could be generous. But the objects of their generosity differed.

In pagan Rome, generosity meant adorning one’s city–nowadays, we would say, “country”–contributing to its stature, power, and beauty. Benefactors gave money for magnificent buildings, games, and banquets. Such generosity was understood as a form of love, the “amor civicus,” or “love for the city and its citizens.” A rich person who gave money to glorify his city, Brown writes, “was acclaimed as an amator patriae–a lover of his or her hometown. It was the most honorable love that a wealthy person could show.” A pagan benefactor would not think of looking beyond his city when making a gift. That would have been a snub to his hometown and fellow citizens. 

Christian giving was a different thing. The ideal recipients of Christian generosity were not one’s fellow citizens, who might be quite well-off, but the poor and marginalized, whether they were citizens of one’s patria or not. The point was still to give money in a way that would glorify the city. But the heavenly city, not the earthly city, was the proper object of glorification. Christian charity, Brown writes, was “a transfer of wealth from this world to the next, summed up in the notion of placing treasure in heaven.”

Obviously these are generalities; there were pagans who gave to the poor and Christians who tried to beautify Rome. But the change in focus was essential, and dramatic. From a Christian perspective, the things of this world, although important and necessary, can never be the main concern. Friends, family, home, country–of course one loves these things. Only a monster would not. But it is foolish to glorify or invest too much in them, particularly country. “For here we have no lasting city,” the author of Hebrews says, “but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Marc began his post with a poem, so I will end with one. In Browning’s “Love Among the Ruins,” a shepherd muses over the ruins of an ancient capital, now a pasture. I’ve always imagined that Browning was talking about the ruins of the Roman Forum, which for centuries, before the archaeologists started to dig, were known as the Campo Vaccino, or cow pasture. The love that Browning describes isn’t Christian love, exactly, but it strikes me as a lot closer to that ideal than the amor civicus:

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
Gold, of course.
O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
Earth’s returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best. 

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law & religion stories from around the web this week:

Pritchard, “Religion in Public”

0804785767This November, Stanford University Press will publish Religion in Public: Locke’s Political Theology by Elizabeth A. Pritchard (Bowdoin College). The publisher’s description follows.

John Locke’s theory of toleration is generally seen as advocating the privatization of religion. This interpretation has become conventional wisdom: secularization is widely understood as entailing the privatization of religion, and the separation of religion from power. This book turns that conventional wisdom on its head and argues that Locke secularizes religion, that is, makes it worldly, public, and political. In the name of diverse citizenship, Locke reconstructs religion as persuasion, speech, and fashion. He insists on a consensus that human rights are sacred insofar as humans are the creatures, and thus, the property of God. Drawing on a range of sources beyond Locke’s own writings, Pritchard portrays the secular not as religion’s separation from power, but rather as its affiliation with subtler, and sometimes insidious, forms of power. As a result, she captures the range of anxieties and conflicts attending religion’s secularization: denunciations of promiscuous bodies freed from patriarchal religious and political formations, correlations between secular religion and colonialist education and conversion efforts, and more recently, condemnations of the coercive and injurious force of unrestricted religious speech.

Horwitz on Overlapping Jurisdictions

Paul Horwitz (University of Alabama School of Law) has posted Rethinking the Law, Not Abandoning it: A Comment on ‘Overlapping Jurisdictions’. The abstract follows.

This short paper responds to a symposium article published by John Witte and Joel Nichols entitled “Who Governs the Family?: Marriage as a New Test Case of Overlapping Jurisdictions,” 4 Faulkner L. Rev. 321 (2013). Much of the response was motivated by a statement in an earlier draft of that paper suggesting that advocates of the use of shari’a in marriage cases “have given up on the state” and “want to become a law unto themselves.” I question that statement, and also take the occasion to discuss the legal status of anti-shari’a laws themselves.

My paper makes two basic points. First, although I am generally skeptical that equality is a sufficiently clean and clear principle to serve as the lodestar for all Religion Clause cases, I do believe there are cases where equality does a good deal of useful work. One such area is the legislative and judicial dispute over laws banning the judicial use of shari’a in interpreting marriage contracts. The Tenth Circuit’s decision in Awad v. Ziriax, in which it concluded that such a law violated the antidiscrimination principle offered in Larson v. Valente, shows that equality can be a powerful tool in such cases. It also sheds light on two points that have not been made much in law and religion scholarship: that Larson’s antidiscrimination principle can serve valuable information-forcing purposes, and that this principle can be profitably understood as a matter of political economy.

Second, I argue that although there are some grounds for Witte’s description of shari’a advocates as having given up on the state, that is a disturbing way to think of the issue, and not a necessary one. We need not think of religious arbitration panels and other mechanisms of religious law as an utter abandonment of “law” or “the state.” Rather, we can understand them as a challenge to what we mean by those terms. Religious arbitration of choice-of-law arrangements, and religious institutional autonomy arguments more generally, invite us to adopt a different view of what constitutes “the law” and, perhaps, a more skeptical view of the scope and dominance of “the state.”