Areshidze, “Democratic Religion from Locke to Obama”

In June, the University Press of Kansas will release “Democratic Religion from Locke to Obama: Faith and the Civic Life of Democracy,” by Giorgi Areshidze (Claremont McKenna College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Debating or making speeches, American politicians invariably cite tenets of Christian faith—even as they unfailingly defend the liberal principles of tolerance and religious9780700622672 neutrality that underpin a pluralistic democracy. How these seemingly contradictory impulses can coexist—and whether this undermines the religious tradition that makes a liberal democracy possible—are the pressing questions that Giorgi Areshidze grapples with in this exploration of the civic role of religion in American political life.

The early modern Enlightenment political philosophy of John Locke has been deeply influential—if often misunderstood and sometimes contested—in shaping both the theoretical and practical contours of contemporary debates and anxieties about religion in a liberal society. Areshidze demonstrates that Locke anticipated a great theological transformation of Christianity in light of modern rationalism, one that would make Christianity into a tolerant religion compatible with liberal political principles. Locke’s experiment, as this book shows, has succeeded in important respects, but at a tremendous cost—by demanding a certain theological skepticism about revealed religion that could ultimately undermine the public concern for religious or theological truth altogether.

Democratic Religion from Locke to Obama evaluates these results in light of the role of religion in American political development, particularly as this role has been further defined in the work of political philosopher John Rawls. In the political theologies of Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama, Areshidze shows how, while working under Locke’s influence, all of these thinkers draw upon religion, including traditional revealed Christian ideas, in their efforts to reshape America’s moral consciousness—especially on the question of racial equality—in ways that might have surprised Locke.

Finally, drawing on Alexis de Tocqueville’s encounter with the Lockean experiment in America, this book suggests that the dissonance between how tolerant we want religion to be and what we expect it to accomplish in our civic life is a consequence of the liberal transformation of religion. By reminding us of this religious transformation, Tocqueville’s “political science” may explain some of the deepest spiritual and civic anxieties that continue to beset American democracy.

Barnett, “The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews”

This month, Princeton University Press releases “The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews” by Michael N. Barnett (George Washington University). The publisher’s description follows:

How do American Jews envision their role in the world? Are they tribal—a people whose obligations extend solely to their own? Or are they prophetic—a light unto nations, working to repair the world? The Star and the Stripes is an original, provocative interpretation of the effects of these worldviews on the foreign policy beliefs of American Jews since the nineteenth century. Michael Barnett argues that it all begins with the political identity of American Jews. As Jews, they are committed to their people’s survival. As Americans, they identify with, and believe their survival depends on, the American principles of liberalism, religious freedom, and pluralism. This identity and search for inclusion form a political theology of prophetic Judaism that emphasizes the historic mission of Jews to help create a world of peace and justice.

The political theology of prophetic Judaism accounts for two enduring features of the foreign policy beliefs of American Jews. They exhibit a cosmopolitan sensibility, advocating on behalf of human rights, humanitarianism, and international law and organizations. They also are suspicious of nationalism—including their own. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that American Jews are natural-born Jewish nationalists, Barnett charts a long history of ambivalence; this ambivalence connects their early rejection of Zionism with the current debate regarding their attachment to Israel. And, Barnett contends, this growing ambivalence also explains the rising popularity of humanitarian and social justice movements among American Jews.

Rooted in the understanding of how history shapes a political community’s sense of the world, The Star and the Stripes is a bold reading of the past, present, and possible future foreign policies of American Jews.

DeGirolami on Wolterstorff on St. Paul’s View of Punishment

I’ve posted a  little reflection on Professor Nicholas Wolterstorff’s recent book, The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology, which is part of a symposium to be published in the Journal of Analytic Theology. Here’s the abstract:

This short comment explores Nicholas Wolterstorff’s claims about expressivism and retributivism as justifications for the state’s punishment of criminal offenders in his book, “The Mighty and the Almighty.” It asks two questions about his account of expressivism and retributivism respectively, focusing on his interpretation of the reasons for punishment given by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans.

Pay, “Republican Islam: Power and Authority in Iran”

This month, I.B. Taurus will release “Republican Islam: Power and Authority in Iran” by Vahid Nick Pay (Political Analyst and Consultant). The publisher’s description follows:

When the Islamic Republic of Iran launched its fully-articulated political agenda in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, it merged the concept of political Islam with the previously secular readings of the republican doctrine of state. This book provides an analysis of the constitutional and institutional structure of public power in the most emblematic instance of a theocratic republic to date: the Islamic Republic of Iran, using the methods of political science. Nearly four decades after the 1979 revolution, a thorough evaluation of Iran’s prevalently anti-modernist political discourse and concurrent claims of republican popular sovereignty is here carried out and their theoretical coherence and applied success investigated. Vahid Nick Pay surveys the major republican schools of political philosophy on the one hand, and the principal narratives of the prevailing Shi’a political theology on the other, to provide a pioneering evaluation of the republican credentials of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It will be essential reading for scholars of political science and modern Iranian politics and history.

Kratochvíl & Doležal, “The European Union and the Catholic Church: Political Theology of European Integration”

In April, Palgrave Macmillan will release “The European Union and the Catholic Church: Political Theology of European Integration” by Petr Kratochvíl (Institute of International Relations, Prague, Czech Republic) and Tomáš Doležal (Institute of International Relations, Prague, Czech Republic). The publisher’s description follows:

The European Union and the Catholic Church is the first comprehensive9781137453778 monograph to explore the political relations between the Catholic Church and the European Union. Building on the insights of political theology, it connects the analysis of the political interactions of these two institutions with their broader normative outlooks and the analysis of their ideational orders. This study contains both a concise overview of the historical evolution of the relationship and analysis of the politico-theological strategies the two institutions employ in their interactions, which range from mutual legitimisation to direct normative conflict. This book will be of significant interest to those who wish to familiarise themselves with the Catholic approach to the integration process and to those who are interested in the interactions of the European Union with religious organisations in general, and the Catholic Church in particular.

Ward, “Modern Democracy and the Theological-Political Problem in Spinoza, Rousseau, and Jefferson”

This December, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Modern Democracy and the Theological-Political Problem in Spinoza, Rousseau, and Jefferson” by Lee Ward (University of Regina).  The publisher’s description follows:

Modern Democracy and the Theological-Political ProblemThis study examines the intersection of two philosophical developments that arguably have come to define contemporary life in the liberal democratic west. First, it considers how democracy has transformed historically from being one among several plausible forms of government into the only legitimate and publicly defensible regime. Second, it considers how modern democracy attempts to solve what has been called the ‘theological-political problem,’ that is, the competing claims to rule grounded in conflicting appeals to reason and revelation, by determining that consent of the people would replace divine authorization as the source of political authority. Understanding the emergence of modern democracy requires examining the manner in which democratic political thinkers, most importantly Benedict Spinoza, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson re-conceptualized the traditional understanding of the relation between politics and religion. This book will show that Spinoza, Rousseau and Jefferson were the three who made the democratic west we know today.

A Little Political Theology Courtesy of Benjamin Franklin

From his “Petition of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery,” presented in the House of Representatives on February 12, 1790:

The memorial respectfully showeth,

That from a regard for the happiness of mankind, as association was formed several years since in this State, by a number of her citizens, of various religious denominations, for promoting the abolition of slavery, and for the relief of those unlawfully held in bondage. A just and acute conception of the true principles of liberty, as it spread through the land, produced accessions to their numbers, many friends to their cause, and a Legislative cooperation with their views, which, by the blessing of Divine Providence, have been successfully directed to the relieving from bondage a large number of their fellow-creatures of the African race. They have also the satisfaction to observe, that in consequence of that spirit of philanthropy and genuine liberty which is generally diffusing its beneficial influence, similar institutions are forming at home and abroad.

That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the political creed of Americans fully coincides with the position.

Loconte, “God, Locke, and Liberty: The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the West”

This month, Lexington Books will publish God, Locke, and Liberty: The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the West, by Joseph Loconte (The King’s College).locke The publisher’s description follows:

“I no sooner perceived myself in the world,” wrote English philosopher John Locke, “than I found myself in a storm.” The storm of which Locke spoke was the maelstrom of religious fanaticism and intolerance that was tearing apart the social fabric of European society.  His response was A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), arguably the most important defense of religious freedom in the Western tradition.  In God, Locke, and Liberty: The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the West, historian Joseph Loconte offers a groundbreaking study of Locke’s Letter, challenging the notion that decisive arguments for freedom of conscience appeared only after the onset of the secular Enlightenment.  Loconte argues that Locke’s vision of a tolerant and pluralistic society was based on a radical reinterpretation of the life and teachings of Jesus.  In this, Locke drew great strength from an earlier religious reform movement, namely, the Christian humanist tradition.  Like no thinker before him, Locke forged an alliance between liberal political theory and a gospel of divine mercy.  God, Locke, and Liberty suggests how a better understanding of Locke’s political theology could calm the storms of religious violence that once again threaten international peace and security.

Wolterstorff’s “The Mighty and the Almighty”: The Dual Authorities Thesis

This is the second in a series of posts on Professor Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book,The Mighty and the Almighty The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology. In the first post, I described what might be meant, and what Wolterstorff means, by “political theology,” and Wolterstorff’s project to arrive at a distinctly Christian political theology. Here I want to lay out the core thesis of that political theology.

That thesis can be summed up in the phrase, “dual authorities.” Christians, Wolterstorff writes, are subject to the dual authority of Christ and the civil power. And these dual authorities mediate one another.

These are deep waters and Wolterstorff explains and helps the reader by considering an ancient example–that of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred in 156 A.D.  Polycarp is sought out, arrested, and haled into a stadium filled with people where he is urged by the Roman proconsul to renounce Christ and swear by the genius of Caesar in order to save himself from execution. Polycarp refuses in these words: “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my King, who has saved me?” Later in the exchange, Polycarp tells the proconsul: “[W]e [Christians] have been taught to render honour, as is meet, if it hurts us not, to princes and authorities appointed by God.”

Wolterstorff’s thesis depends on a close reading and interpretation of these statements. Unlike those who resist government’s coercive power as having no authority at all over them, “Polycarp’s resistance was different”:

He did not declare that obeying his own interior conscience had higher priority  for him than obeying the proconsul. He did not declare that loyalty to his group had higher priority for him than whatever loyalty he might feel toward Caesar, the proconsul, and the people in the stadium….[T]he explicit ground of his resistance was heteronomous. He had a sovereign distinct from Caesar, namely, Christ. The proconsul was demanding that he renounce that sovereign. That he would not do, for his sovereign had saved him. (13)

But Polycarp is not implying that the civil power is not his sovereign, or that Christ is his sovereign instead of the civil power. “No,” says Wolterstorff, “he was a citizen of Smyrna; and the proconsul had political jurisdiction over Smyrna. Polycarp was under dual authority. In his person, the authority of Christ and the authority of the emperor intersected. Given the command of Caesar’s proconsul to renounce Christ, these two authorities had now collided.” (14-15)

What makes the conflict even more complex and more difficult is the existence of other conflicting dualities beneath the surface. For one, Polycarp believed that the princes of the civil authority are appointed by God; yet now those self-same civil authorities demanded that he renounce God (that is, Christ). And for another, there was an institutional conflict at work: Polycarp was a bishop of the church, exercising Christ’s authority over the church. His exchange with the proconsul was not merely a personal conflict but represented a collision of institutional authorities. He was one person with dual membership in two authority structures that intersected in him. The key to Wolterstorff’s political theology is in understanding the nature of these dual authorities and the depth of their conflicts–dualities which affect everyone (political authority mediating divine authority and yet also being limited and judged by divine authority) and Christians in particular (being citizens of some state and under its authority, while that state is always under God’s authority; being members of the church and under the authority of Christ, who in turn is divine).

Finally, it is interesting to read Wolterstorff’s comments about the alien quality of all of this to American sensibilities, in which the language of religious liberty has the effect of effacing the problem of dual authority:

Some will find it strange to think of the church in terms of authority. They think of the church as a voluntary organization devoted to sponsoring religious activities. A group of us find ourselves interested in religion, in particular the Christian religion; so we get together and set up an organization for holding worship services and for engaging in a bit of social action. We put in place some organizational structure, call a minister, place ads in the local press, welcome neighbors. We are off and running.

Everything about religion in America conspires to make one think of the church along these lines. Christ as king and the church as an authority structure are nowhere in view. The local government may decide to clamp down on our group for one reason or another–it doesn’t like the architectural plans, doesn’t like the fact that wine is served to minors, doesn’t like the traffic jams. We may resist. But if we do, our resistance will be in the name of religious freedom. We will not declare that Christ is our king and that loyalty to our king requires that we not concede to the government’s demands. No Polycarps among us. (16-17)

My next post will concern an important objection to Wolterstorff’s account–the “two cities” objection whose most well-known exponent is St. Augustine.

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