Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The post-Christian state

Unlike Islam and Judaism, Christianity --like Buddhism--was not designed to be the foundation of a political order. The religions of Moses and Muhammad are based on Gods who specialize in the creation and promotion of legal codes for independent political communities. Buddhism is fundamentally a monastic religion, with householders as useful and necessary but second-tier members.

While Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, there is no evidence that he was at all interested in a religious state. Render unto Caesar, My kingdom is not of this world, etc. And if there is a form of Christianity that most matches the kind of life we see in his three-year career, I suspect it is more like the medieval mendicants than either Constantine's court or the monasteries of Benedict and Basil...or a parish church.  Christianity, although it is founded upon a unique Incarnation of God and man, is not really at home in this world, this planet earth we know.

The Christian state was an accident of history (or a work of Providence), but an overwhelming reality which long outlasted the initial three hundred year epoch of non-establishment. While Christianity did not start out as either a political or a monastic community, it eventually became both. And you can argue that the rise of monasticism in the 4th century Egyptian deserts was a clear response to the increased respectability of new imperial faith that had for its first three centuries been both largely urban and either marginal to or actively persecuted by its surrounding culture.

Since (rabbinic) Judaism and (Sunni) Islam are householder religions, they are somewhat egalitarian. Experts in religious law --the rabbinate and the ulama-- hold positions of leadership and authority, but these are based on knowledge of tradition, not on alternative lifestyle or sacramental powers. In these faiths, all believers are held to the same standard and same way of living, more or less.

Buddhism is a monastic faith; at its heart are communities of celibate monks, withdrawn from ordinary life. If there is a legal code in Buddhism, it consists in monastic rules. Laymen are held to a much less stringent standard. (Gnosticisms often, though not always, likewise provided a two-tiered community: the perfect and the listeners.) IMHO, this is based on the recognition that you cannot live monastic life and a family life at the same time, that if you withdraw from the world, someone else has to run it.

When Christians rather suddenly found themselves not persecuted by the State, but in charge of it...well, it became (and continues to be) a bimillenial and often very complex and messy tension. I say "continues to be". Despite the disappearance of the Christian State, Christians, having had their faith shaped for a thousand and a half years by political power, are in the habit of bringing their religious convictions to bear on the realm of Caesar. Even in the current West, where the liberal state has emancipated itself from the Church while living off a distorted version of its morality (along with messes of pottage from the Enlightenment and Marx), one which has rebounded back onto the Mater Ecclesia.

My FB friend ER asks a very good question: "How can you pretend to love Jesus and yet not (abolish the separation of religion and politics in order to) demand that the Western state, military and economics obey Jesus' Beatitudes?"

One of the oddities of the social justice Christians, all of whom support the secular state, is that they then expect that state to act like the Community of the Beatitudes. Or when it does its secular state thing, acting like Caesar --the killing of Osama being the current issue-- they tsk-tsk and point out their own high moral code prevents them from being pleased at its actions. And as others have pointed out, social justice Christians expect the state to adopt the social benevolence and pacifist aspects of the Gospel, but --with some exceptions-- they find any post-Christian state that tries to enforce the Gospel's sexual code on marriage or divorce oppressive, tyrrannical and dogmatic.

One of the strategies of Christendom, both in the complexities of Church/State and householder/monastic, was the clear separation of realms or distinctions within the Gospel such as the precepts vs the counsels. One of the benefits of the older, and traditional view, that the celibate monastic life was superior to the householder life in the world was that men and women living an ordinary life, either as shopkeepers or soldiers, were also not held to a higher moral standard. That seems to me to have been a fair and humane trade. The current crop of crypto-Constantinians*, who want to have their Bread and eat it, too, simply confuse supernatural holiness with natural survival.
If you want to practice what you imagine to be a pure, evangelical Christ-like life, then keep your nose out of the polis and stick to the skete. Because it is "only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf that these good people sleep in peace in their beds at night". Have at least a little gratitude, o ye saints.

In a world where Caesar has his necessary, even God-given, role (see Romans 13), these high-minded Christianists (!) who want a besieged Western civilization to act like monks or Mennonites are not worthy of respect. At least from me.

*The crazed idea of Protestant Dominianists like Rushdooney is, to me, beyond discussion.


Anonymous said...

In his Temptations, Jesus indeed rejected Satan's oikoumene or kosmos. We must suppose, though, that the attempts by Greek and Latin Christendom to redeem the oikoumene had a serious plan and weren't simply selling out randomly and coming up with random dilutions of the Beatitudes, eunuchdom for the Kingdom, and salvation by faith etc.

Presumably the Beatitudes could be apply'd in some aggressive way to ruin Caesar and Mammon. (Augustine takes up the argument that Christian otherworldliness or 'Platonism for the people' achieved the ruin of Roman power by removing desire for glory in the seculum. Machiavelli re-states the argument. And later, in an unMachiavellian way, Gibbon.)

(Moses' religion may have been political, but was "Judaism" "designed" to be the "foundation" of a "political order"? Maybe indeed the Jews do have a state within the ordinary state, as Luther hints. But Judaism ordinarily seems to be, as you say, a "householder" religion.)

Fustel de Coulanges (and Joseph Smith?) say that if religion could remain purely a Family affair, Moses, Augustine, Machiavelli, Hegel, et al, could not prise open an entry.

Jim Wallis seems to propose an inverse of Fustel's preference: in the future, women will lead in every area of Life (God's Politics, p. 368 #9). The matriarchal family? Maybe men will do the 'values' by which meaning on 'good' [no vision of knowledge of evil] is interpreted into stuff? #8


Anonymous said...

Wallis maybe proposes that the political art do only a theatre bow #8. spect(ating)room?

Is the west a civilization 'at risk'?

Anonymous said...

I should add, though, that this question was posed as imply'd by Mennonite Constantinians: "How can you pretend to love Jesus and yet not (abolish the separation of religion and politics in order to) demand that the Western state, military and economics obey Jesus' Beatitudes?"

Jesus seems to have held that Satan's oikoumene was inevitable -- foolish, but inevitable (maybe even necessary for the life of the Beatitudes). Just as Lao-Tsu perhaps thought horoscope scam artist hierophants were inevitable (and maybe necessary for Tao Te Ching). ...

Jesus says render under Caesar the things that are Caesar's. He doesn't advise soldiers to give up their work. But he seems of the opinion that Mammon and the oikoumene ("material civilization" p. 3 H.R. Niebuhr, Christ and Culture) cannot be what their enthusiasts let on, namely life.

Niebuhr quotes Rabbi Klausner: »"Jesus ignored everything concerned with material civilization: in this sense he does not belong to civilization." Therefore his people rejected him; and "two thousand years of non-Jewish Christianity have proved that the Jewish people did not err."« pp. 3f

Sc Jesus belong'd to *spiritual* civilization, or the spiritualization of material civilization. Non-Jewish Christianity had the hassle of trying to make material civilizations out of Jesus' kerygma, but the diaspora Jews of Christianity who had their temple and 'national life' (ibid., p. 3) destroy'd by the Romans maintain'd the kerygma within Christendom? Pilate designated Jesus the King of the Jews, after all.

Klausner does not say that 2000 years of Judaism vindicate the Jews' initial rejection of Jesus. ... Some contemporary of Lessing remarks that the Jews are the best argument for the ex-istence of God: sc without the Jews God would not understand He is God?

Jesus, says Klausner, "thrust aside" [sc foregrounded for Jews to see?] "all the requirements of the national life" (ibid p. 3), sc reveal'd that a 'national life' is misunderstood as an end in itself: national life must be transcended, revalued?

"In their stead [in the the place of 'human ethical principles'?] he set up nothing but an ethico-religious system bound up with his conception of the Godhead." Sc he interpreted ethical principles as 'nothing' of themselves, and he did so for forming epsilons (ethico-) who would religiously instruct the upward bounding alephs, cohen-ceiving the God head in them?

I suppose Jesus is as much a Family man as Joseph Smith, but a transcendent family (my mother and my brothers *and my sisters* are whoever do the will of my Father Matt 12:49f).

Anonymous said...

But the "ethico-religious system" of Jesus does not close of the possibility of the political art. The alephs bounding up the stairs and instructed by the epsilons are bound (the alephs are together the "strong man" whom Jesus' way binds?) but they don't come up with zilch in their psyches.

The epsilons may knock the contents down or out of the alephs' psyches, but to do so the epsilons must be equip'd to accurately or misleadingly negate the psychical contents of the alephs.

All that garbledy whatever that an aleph picks up in his pre-initiation times in the oikoumene - I suppose a very great someone or other could arrange by political art to give such contents to the alephs that the epsilons must be continually upgraded by the thing or council inside itself. Natura naturata isn't permitted to have no opinions. The state (Japheth), the military (Ham) and the economy (Shem) would have to be empty before the political rule of religion became impossible.

For Man to no longer transcend Man (cf Pascal 131/434) natura naturata would have to not seem "corrupted" but fine as is -- and needing only a meaning added on that isn't substantive or essential, that isn't related to nature.

Or in some versions of nonduality, I suppose "nature" or "being" could be the meaning added on to a meaningless becoming or an objective nothingness or objective whatever.

Leah said...

ah the liberal mind, you defined it so well in the next post, amazing what it tries to do with Religion, in this case Christianity.

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