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hauerwasdemocraticpolicingofchristianity - ,vri U.«r “Wm...

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Unformatted text preview: ,vri U .«r “Wm; DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONT TH EOLOGICAL ENGAGEMENTS WITH THE SECULAR V STANLEY HAUERWAS Duke University Press Durham and London 1994 © 1994 DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper 00 Designed by Cherie Holma Westmoreland Typeset in Garamond 3 with Franklin Gothic display by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data appear on the last printed page of this book. Excerpts from Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler Copyright © 1991 by Anne Tyler Modarressi. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 4- «aux—n... ii CHAPTER4 V THE DEMOCRATIC POLICING OF CHRISTIANITY Democracy and the Death of Protestantlsm Protestantism, at least the mainstream variety, is dying in America.1 I prefer to put the matter more positively, that is—God is killing Prot— estantism in America, and we deserve it. I am not suggesting that the old-line Protestant denominations will suddenly disappear—people will keep coming to church long after it is clear that God is dead—but rather what survives as well as what replaces the mainstream denomi- nation will have only tangential relationship to Christianity. Of course, such churches will describe themselves as Christian, but the extent to which they honor that description will be and is unclear. Indeed, I think Harold Bloom is, on the whole, right to suggest: [the] American Religion, which is so prevalent among us, masks itself as Protestant Christianity yet has ceased to be Christian. It has kept the figure ofJesus, a very solitary and personal American Jesus, who is also the resurrected Jesus rather than the crucified Jesus or the Jesus who ascended again to the Father. I do not think the Christian God has been retained by us, though he is invoked endlessly by our leaders . . . with especial fervor in the context of war. But this invoked force appears to be the American destiny, the God of our national faith. The most Gnostic element in the American Religion is an astonishing reversal of ancient Gnosticism: we worship the Demiurge as God, more often than not under the name of manifest necessity. As for the alien God of the Gnostics, he has vanished, except for his fragments or sparks scattered among our few elitists of the spirit, or for his shadow in the solitary figure of the American Jesus.2 ENGAGEMENTS FThus, for most Americans, salvation cannot come through the commu— nity or congregation; rather, it is a knowledge that leads to freedom from “nature, time, history, community, and other selvesiifi/ Bloom ar ue that nosticism has always been the hid- den reli i f thilhfiml think, in spite o thécounterintuitive aspects of his argument, this suggestion is wonderfully illuminating. It is particularly so just to the extent it helps make sense of the pecu- liar combination of Americanism and ”conservative” forms of American Protestantism. Yet I think his account of the gnostic presuppositions inherent in American religiosity also describes the religious practices, sensibilities, and theological expression of liberal mainstream Protes— tantism. Indeed, it is my contention that the death of mains stream Protestantism has been self— inflicted, as that form of Christianity had to become EEC” in WI suppW. Blggm, of Ebu ceIebrafés this transformanon exactly because it so subtly kills the great enemy of gnost1c1sm—that 15,Christianity.4 7({M pzdy ,{1 fan/1, I For example, Leander Keck in The C burcb Confident exhibits a posi- ( Lat/:17 tion widely held by American Protestants. As its title suggests, his book is meant to be a clarion call for the church to recover a sense of its own significance.S However, he criticizes the title, if not the substance, of the book that Will Willimon and I wrote called Rerident Alien: because such an accent is not appropriate to the mainline churches.6 As Keck puts 1t, “the image of ‘resident aliens’ is at best ambiguous, for while some resident aliens do participate in public life, many others merely cluster together to perpetuate the ways of ‘the old country’ ” (76). In contrast, he calls for the church to play the role of public theologian—that is, “clarifying, affirming, interpreting, and scrutinizing the deepest im- pulses of our society, on the assumption that other kinds of Christians, as well asjews, Muslims, those of other faiths, and those professing no religion, will do the same” (86). To so participate in society, according to Keck, the churches must renounce the theocratic ideal. We cannot nor should we seek a “Chris- tian America.” Instead, our task as Christians is to develop a more secular view of politics. Rather we should come to see that politics is a struggle for power in order to rob politics of all sacralizing temptations. In other words, the great project of Protestant Christianity is to keep politics limited but Still subject to moral judgment. Keck notes that though this account of politics is rooted in specifi- cally Christian convictions, it DEMOCRATIC POLICING 0F CHRISTIANITY m 1‘ {gawjmy— w :17... 4" than rrfia. / is expressible in and consistent with elemental moral values that are widely - w < ‘M”""W <r—-- VJM» . accepted. ardinal Bernadin once said that religiously rooted positions ___.a must somehow be translated into language, arguments and categories which a religiously pluralistic society can agree on as the moral foundation of key policy positions.” If that be granted, then Protestant and Catholic theology should join in the quest for an adequate equivalent of natural law, difficult as this will be. Without something like natural law, the warrants for the moral judgments the churches make about the political process, or any other public matter, will have no influence on the public mind. (87)7 I call attention to Keck’s account of these matters because he rep- resents, as he acknowledges, what most mainstream Protestant theolo— gians believe It is, moreover, a belief that has been well worked out over the last century. Crucial to this set of convictions is the assumption that democratic soc1et1esvar1’d—governments are the most natural expres- sion of Christian convictions. The position prides itself on its modesty, but in fact lurking behind Keck 5 views lies a continuing Constantinian presumption that democratic social processes. are themost appropriate expression of Christian convictions.8 Accordingly, Christians have learned to police their convictions in the name of sustaining such social orders. They cannot appear in public using explicit Christian language since that would offend other actors in our alleged pluralist polity. But if this 15 genuinely a pluralist societ , why should Chris be able to ex re st che victions in public? If we are in an age of identity-politics, why does the Wed to be suppressed.>9 Pluralism turns out to be a code word used by mainstream Christians to the effect that everyone gets to participate in the democratic exchange on his or her own terms," except for Christians themselves. 10 Which is an indication that we have something strange going on in Keck—like justifications of Christian responsibility for the “public. To illuminate at least some of the reasons why Christians take suchan odd position, I want to introduce what I take to be the intellectual background of Keck’s position—namely, the work ,obelaIter Rauschen- busch and that of Reinhold Niebuhr. That Keck can assume his position is so “self—evident” is the result of a long history of Protestant Christians assuming thatChristianity means democracy. By concentrating on Rauschenbusch and Niebuhr, I do not mean to imply that the concordar established between Protestant Christianity M and American democrac was pr1marily the product of intelleCtuals. In 4143062101» ”1135/: ENGAGEMENTS his The Democratization of American Chrixtianity, Nathan Hatch wonder- fully illumines how evangelical Christianity in the process of Christian- izing the nation democratized Christianity. As he notes: The canon of American religious history grows out of traditions that are intellectually respectable and institutionally cohesive. Yet American Prot- estantism has been skewed away from central ecclesiastical institutions and high culture; it has been pushed and pulled into its present shape by a democratic or populist orientation. At the very time that British clergy were confounded by their own gentility in trying to influence working class culture, American exalted religious leaders short on social graces, family connections, and literary education. These religious activists pitched their messages to the unschooled and unsophisticated. Their movements offered the humble a marvelous sense of individual potential and of collective aspi- ration. . . . Religious populism, reflecting the passions of ordinary people and the charisma of democratic movement-builders, remains among the oldest and deepest impulses in American life. ‘2 Hatch notes the irony that these movements in Protestant Chris- tianity toward democratization were usually led by people of profound authoritarian bent. Thus, “the Methodists under Francis Asbury used authoritarian means to build a church that would not be a respecter of persons. This church faced the curious paradox of gaining phenomenal influence among laypersons with whom it would not share ecclesiastical authority” (p. 11).'l;ll1§_1§ue is not insignificant for the case I wish to make against those who would police Christian pract1ces in ”the name of democracy. For, ironically, 1n the process of prov1d1ng Christiansupport of democratic social orders, the church became unable to sustain itself— in short, it became a “"knowledge rather than a church By attending to Rauschenbusch s and Niebuhr 5 understanding of the relation between Christianity and democracy, I hope to throw light on why this outcome was inevitable. Walter Rauschenbusch on Democracy The great social gospeler Walter Rauschenbusch was as enthusiastic about democracy as he was unclear about its nature. Democracy for Rauschenbusch was not an external social system with which Chris- tianity must come to terms, but a system integral to the very meaning of the Gospel. As he put it: DEMOCRATIC POLICING OF CHRISTIANITY The conflict of the religion of Jesus with autocratic conceptions of God is part of the struggle of humanity with autocratic economic and political conditions. Here we see one of the highest redemptive services of Jesus to the human race. When he took God by the hand and called him “our Father,” he democratized the conception of God. He disconnected the idea from the coercive and predatory State, and transferred it to the realm of family life, the chief social embodiment of solidarity and love. He not only saved humanity; he saved God. He gave God his first chance of being loved and of escaping from the worst misunderstandings conceivable. The value of Christ’s idea of the Fatherhood of God is realized only by contrast to the despotic ideas which it opposed and was meant to displace. We have classified theology as Greek and Latin, as Catholic and Protestant. It is time to classify it as despotic and democratic. From a Christian point of view that is a more decisive distinction.15 Like many of the Protestant evangelicals whoEelt no strain be- tween their authoritarian leadership and their democratic aspirations, M. "um- Rauschenbuscfiriirienced none of the tensi ., _ writingrof the Victorian family and his commitment to the democratic ideal.14 Indeed, he thought them to be closely allied since he assumed that democracy requires the flourishing of morally healthy families and that families flourish under democracy. This assumption continues in Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell.15 Given his understanding of Jesus’ contribution to the doctrine of God, it is not surprising that Rauschenbusch thought the church to be a democratic institution. That it is such is why it is disastrous when the church does not live up to its ideal. In Theology for the Social Gospel he argues, “the church, which was founded on democracy and brother- hood, had, in its higher levels, become an organization controlled by the upper classes for parasitic ends, a religious duplicate of the coercive State, and a chief check on the advance of democracy and brotherhood. Its duty was to bring love, unity and freedom to mankind; instead it created division, fermented hatred, and stifled intellectual and social liberty” (pp. 73—74). The democratic character of Christianity Rauschenbusch thought but a continuation of the essential insight of Israel and, in particu- lar, of the Prophets. In Chrijtianity and the Social Crisis he notes that the nomad tribes of Israel settled in Canaan and gradually became an agricultural people. ENGAGEMENTS They set out on their development toward civilization with ancient cus— toms and rooted ideas that long protected primitive democracy and equality. Some tribes and clans claimed an aristocratic superiority of de— scent over others. Within the tribe there were elders and men of power to whom deference was due as a matter of course, but there was no hereditary social boundary line, no graded aristocracy or caste, no distinction be— tween blue blood and red. The idea of a metallz'emre, which plays so great a part in the social life of European nations and in the plots of their romantic literature, is wholly wanting in the Old Testament. 16 Not surprisingly, Rauschenbusch saw a strong similarity between Israel and America. Just as there was an absence of social caste and a fair distribution of the means of production in early Israel, so the same seemed true in the United States. “America too set out with an absence of hereditary aristocracy and with a fair distribution of the land among the farming population. Both the Jewish and the American people were thereby equipped with a kind of ingrained, constitutional taste for democracy that dies hard” (C hrz'rtz'am'ty, p. 15). Rauschenbusch’s social and political theory was in like manner uncompromisingly democratic. The essential difference between saved and unsaved organizations is that one is under the law of Christ, the other under the law of Mammon. “The one is democratic and the other autocratic" (Theology, pp. 112—13). As is well—known, Rauschenbusch’s primary concerns were with the transformation of our economic system. He even could say that the political order had been saved since it is now democratic. The task is now to save the economic realm through the institutionalization of worker cooperatives. “The co-operatives develop men and educate a community in helpful loyalty and comradeship. This is the advent of true democracy in economic life” (Theology, p. 112). Though often accused of naiveté, Rauschenbusch thought he was simply exemplifying the best social science of the day. According to him, the new social sciences have discovered the plasticity of human society as well as the inherent organic character of social relations. For example, through the new biblical sciences and historical method we are being put in the position of the original readers of each book, thus making the Bible more lifelike and social. We used to see the sacred landscape through allegorical interpretation as through a piece of yellow bottle-glass. It was very golden and wonderful, but very much apart from our everyday modern life. The Bible hereafter DEMOCRATIC POLICING 0F CHRISTIANITY will be “the people’s book” in a new sense. For the first time in religious history we have the possibility of so directing religious energy by scien- tific knowledge that a comprehensive and continuous reconstruction of social life in the name of God is within the bounds of human possibility. (Chrirtianity, p. 209) In short, as he says in Theology for the Social Gospel: “Where religion and intellect combine, the foundation is laid for political democracy” (p- 165)- One interesting aspect of Rauschenbusch’s assumption that Chris- tianity means democracy is his continuing presumption that Christianity is theocratic. Thus, in The Righteoumm of the Kingdom he says that the Jewish ideal of life is that of “a righteous community ordered by divine laws, governed by God’s ministers, having intercourse with the Most High, and being blessed by him with the good things of life” ‘7 (p. 80). The advent of Christ has not essentially changed this ideal, except now we see that its embodiment is democratic. Rauschenbusch’s account of the relation or, perhaps better, iden- tification of Christianity and democracy appears naive, idealistic, even dangerous to those more attuned to “pluralism.” He can write about Christianizing the Social Order without embarrassment. That Christian- ization meant for him democratization does little to assuage our sense that he is just not “secular” enough. He did not understand, as Keck understands, that Christians need to translate their explicit theological convictions into a third language. Rauschenbusch simply had not yet come to terms, as we must, with “pluralism.” For that, we must turn to Reinhold Niebuhr. Yet I suspect there remains more Rauschenbusch in most main— stream Protestants than they are willing to acknowledge. Nowhere is that more apparent than in their often unacknowledged agreement with Rauschenbusch’s explicit anti-Semitic and anti—Catholic sentiments. For just to the extent that those traditions represent nondemocratic practices, they are rendered suspect. It is by no means clear that Niebuhr’s more “realistic” justification of democracy is any less free of such judgments. ENGAGEMENTS Relnholtl Nlebuhr on Democracy ........ “aw-M‘- Niebuhr’s defense of democracy is most famously associated with The Children of Light and the Children of Darhnm.18 Though often read as a straightforward justification of democracy, Niebuhr meant his book to discipline what he considered the uncritical celebration of democracy occasioned by World War II. However, as Richard Reinitz observes in Irony and Conscionrnen, one of the ironies of N iebuhr’s defense of irony as the interpretative key to American history is N iebuhr’s general ten— dency to be uncritical of America in his The Irony of American Hirtory.19 The same tendency, I think, is present in N 1ebuhr s “realistic" defense W ._. “’Man 5 calechrnoflMmaas 1nclm/at1mgn't w_i_‘J.L_1~s‘t1ce makes democracy necessary’ (p. xi) is so famil2 iaréhat we almost can miss its figh'fican’ce Not only is it Niebuhr’ s contentmn that democracy needs“ a more realistic vindication, but now ( that vindication cannot come directly frorFChrIstianconvictions about God and Christ, as we saw in Rauschenbusch, but rather must be based ' \ , nfhropQIGgY”N1éb hf“ w‘arsrrsuccessful in this respect that at least some who read him saw no need to assume the qualifier ”theological” was necessary.20 Niebuhr, unlike Rauschenbusch, saw that democracy was the result of the bourgeois revolution and as such was an ideology of particular class interest. As he says at the opening of The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: most of the democratic ideals, as we know them, were weapons of the com- mercial classes who engaged in stubborn, and ultimately victorious, con- flict with the ecclesiastical and aristocratic rulers of the feudal-medieval world. The ideal of equality, unknown in the democratic life of the Greek city states and derived partly from Christian and partly from Stoic sources, gave the bourgeois classes a sense of self-respect in overcoming the aris- tocratic pretension and condescension of the feudal overlords of medieval society. The social and historical optimism of democratic life, for instance, represents the typical illusion of an advancing class which mistook its own progress for the progress of the world. (pp. 1—2) That such is the case sets the problematic of Niebuhr’s book. For if democracy is to survive, it requires a more adequate cultural basis that the optimistic philosophical ju...
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