Welcome Back to Perry Dane

Just a reminder to our readers: Perry Dane of Rutgers-Camden (left), who blogged with us a little this summer, will join us again as a guest this fall. For the month of October, he’ll be posting some of his thoughts on law and religion right here at the Forum. We’re delighted to have him back with us and look forward to his contribution. Welcome!

Reflections from the City of God: On Admonishing the Wicked, Just Punishment, and Fear of Loss

My selection this week from The City of God comes from Book I, Chapter 9, just afterHeavenly City Augustine has been discussing the objection from his pagan adversaries that it does not seem right that Christian divine compassion is extended both to the wicked and the good; likewise, why should the wicked and the good suffer the same evils in the earthly city? What kind of God would inflict the same hurts on the good and the wicked alike?

Augustine first says that what matters is not the event of suffering itself, but the person undergoing the suffering: “though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers.” I.8.

Fair enough, one might respond, but if the sufferers are not alike, why should they undergo similar pain? This seems unjust. Augustine argues that it is right that God’s “corrections” be administered in the earthly city to good and bad men alike because these corrections are reminders to good men that “although they be far from the excesses of wicked, immoral, and ungodly men, yet they do not judge themselves so clean removed from all faults as to be too good to suffer in these temporal ills.” I.9.

What are the particular failings of good people that Augustine emphasizes in this chapter–those sins that warrant their suffering in this world, indeed, that warrant their suffering similar pain to the wicked? Here is Augustine’s answer:

For often we wickedly blind ourselves to the occasions of teaching and admonishing them [the wicked], sometimes even of reprimanding and chiding them, either because we shrink from the labor or are afraid to offend them, or because we fear to lose good friendships, lest this should stand in the way of our advancement, or injure us in some worldly matter, which either our covetous disposition desires to obtain, or our weakness shrinks from losing. So that although the conduct of wicked men is distasteful to the good, and therefore they do not fall with them into that damnation which in the next life awaits such persons, yet, because they spare their damnable sins through fear, therefore, even though their own sins be slight and venial, they are justly scourged with the wicked in this world, though in eternity they quite escape punishment. Justly, when God afflicts them in common with the wicked, do they find this life bitter, through love of whose sweetness they declined to be bitter to these sinners.

If anyone forbears to reprove and find fault with those who are doing wrong, because he seeks a more seasonable opportunity, or because he fears they may be made worse by his rebuke, or that other weak persons may be disheartened from endeavoring to lead a good and pious life, and may be driven from the faith–this man’s omission seems to be occasioned not by covetousness, but by a charitable consideration. But what is blameworthy is, that they who themselves revolt from the conduct of the wicked, and live in quite another fashion, yet spare those faults in other men which Read more

Droeber, “The Dynamics of Coexistence in the Middle East: Negotiating Boundaries Between Christians, Muslims, Jews and Samaritans in Palestine”

Next month, I.B. Tauris will publish The Dynamics of Coexistence in the Middle51FqH03UlRL._SY300_ East: Negotiating Boundaries Between Christians, Muslims, Jews and Samaritans in Palestine, by Julia Droeber (An-Najah University, Palestine). The publisher’s description follows.

Palestine is often viewed, from afar, through the frame of insurmountable difference and violent conflict along religious and ethnic lines. Julia Droeber looks beyond this, as she draws out the way in which sameness and difference is constructed and dealt with in the day to day relationships and practices of different religious communities in the West Bank town of Nablus. She follows the reality of coexistence and the constant negotiation of boundaries between Christians, Muslims and one of the last remaining Samaritan communities worldwide, and how these relationships are complicated by an occupler perceived as ‘Jewish.’ This is a sensitive and nuanced study of cultural and religious space in a much-contested region. It illustrates how differences are reconciled, accommodated and emphasized, while existing alongside a common sense of belonging. Droeber’s findings resonate beyond the town of Nablus, and the West Bank, and into the broader fields of Middle East Studies, Anthropology, Comparative Religion and Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies.