Saturday, December 5, 2009

First Epistle to Tim

Dear Tim,

There are some who call you...Tim, right? Well, I can see you're a busy man, but I do want to respond to your comments on the post below, "Is It Incompetence or Sabotage?".

As the inspiration so to speak, of the post--in a personal email I directed David's attention to the Muir cartoon and the Politico piece he combined in his post--I must consider that your comments are directed at me as much as at David, since I consider his brief handling of the material very much in keeping with his usual high achievement. Hence the charge of unChristian writing and thinking--are these thought crimes in your estimation?--, and the unmannerly and unChristian error of mixing politics and faith that forms the central thrust of your plaint is pointed at me as well.

So you consider it "ironic" that the Titus 3 quote on being subject to principalities and powers hovers hard by the "very unchristian" criticism pouring forth from this blog. I notice in the same sentence the irony has turned to evil (assuming for the sake of the argument that what we are saying is evil)--someone who speaks evil of the president in the name of Christ or of Christianity is doing evil itself, or have I missed your meaning? You equate criticism with evil speaking, and evil speaking with political insurrection, and consider it antithetical to the teachings of our Lord and Savior, who called Herod--a political leader--a fox, and over turned the tables in the temple. You also implicitly equate the despotism known in antiquity with the self governance of post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment democracy, at least some of the values to which I assume you at least partly subscribe--equality before laws equally applied, the worth of individuals as individuals, natural law as the ground of natural right, the sovereignty of the people over their government servants--oh wait--that last one is the rub isn't it?

In your confusion, you have forgotten--or never knew--that in the Lockean liberal theory of politics, which Francis Fukuyama ably argued to be the basis and the high point of Western political achievement, individuals form governments for their own purposes. Governments exist for the sake of the people, not the other way around, as was the default assumption across the ancient world. The apostle Paul, from which the bulk of the political citations concerning "principalities and powers" flow, was concerned to shepherd the early churches past the suspicious and brutal idolaters of the Roman emperor and his minions. Paul's advice and teaching to the churches of the first century, under Roman dominion, makes sense to a culture based in slavery; indeed, not a few of the early adherents were slaves. What would your advice be to black slaves in say, the 1760's America; should they submit without complaint to their "masters"? In centuries in which the full implications of the intrinsic worth of every individual inherent in Christ's teachings unfolded, the understanding of the relation to the political order necessarily changed from that of those steeped in a society that accepted as matters of fact slavery and despotic rule. Would you bring back slavery, or do you long for an enlightened despotism headed by such as a Barack Hussein Obama? David and I certainly agree that despotism is the trajectory with this bunch in the White House. But respect for authority by citizens looks different in a small L liberal political culture than it does in an ancient despotism.

If you conflate Caesar and Obama in your mind--a philosophical tic you share with the One--you will miss the, for some, obvious differences between free government and despotism, and hence the range of thought, speech, and action open to free citizens of a free society. You seem to suggest that the ambit of political speech, thought, and action available to Christians in the present day should be circumscribed by that of the ancient world, as if the revelation of Christ through the writings of ancient authors also lock us into the political, social, and cultural understandings of the writers themselves. I don't think so, and neither did the writers of our Declaration and Constitution.

And thus, David and I will continue to be critical, ironic, insubordinate, and as large a pain to figures in positions of authority as we have been up to now, and we will not consider it evil-speaking or "insipient trash" (sic.), your Sojourner-inspired jeremiad to the contrary notwithstanding. I will have more to say in a further epistle. Until then Tim, take some wine for your sour stomach.

David adds:

Thank you for your comments, Tim. The comments feature is there for discussion. Thank you also for identifying yourself, and please don't take Harold's bit 'o fun with the Monty Python connection the wrong way. It's healthier to join in the laughter, and carry on from there. (Here's the video for anyone who skipped the link.)

I guess it helps to put a face with a name, even if it is a randomly chosen one. Tim the Sorcerer at least is an impressive Scotsman.

I offer a partial justification for the Christian integrity of the blog and for vocal Christian opposition to the present government's policies in the post that follows above.

Harold I am eager to read these other epistles you have in mind. Let me say, friend, you're like a big jam doughnut with cream on the top. That is, I... I mean that, uh, like a doughnut your arrival gives us pleasure and your departure merely makes us hungry for more. (Oh, where have I heard that?)

Harold: that one of yours Innes?


Chris J. said...

I have been following this blog for some time now, and find myself at odds with Tim's criticism. I think it is the duty of American citizens to question policies of our leaders. In his post, David asked questions, and leaves us to sort out what we want to make of them.
Are all of Obama's policies directly related to Christian teachings, I don't believe so. On the other hand, I am a Christian and that shapes my world view. I could no more sort out which views are Christian influenced from ones that are not than I could separate two glasses of water that have been poured into a single pitcher.
I have been reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who struggled with the questions of submission in Nazi Germany (No, I am not nor have I ever equated Obama with Hitler nor any of his policies with Nazism). He felt it was his duty to stand and speak, while many other clergy went along in the name of submission to authority.

Harold Kildow said...

I too believe we have a duty to stand and speak; we Americans have gotten used to the mostly Christian context of our lives in the culture, but we are now in what they insist is the post-Christian era, and we can see the margins creeping in, constricting our comfort and freedom. Soon we will need to stand and speak to a culture perhaps as hotile as Nazi Germany was.

David C. Innes said...

Ordinarily, the rule in political discussions is that the first one to say Nazi loses. Perhaps, like Chris, you're not saying that Obama is a crypto-Nazi, but you're making the comparison only with the Nazi's hostility toward Christianity.

Consider how Christians, i.e. white Evangelicals, are universally depicted in the media: stupid, hateful, hypocritical, etc.

Consider also how hatecrime laws are being positioned for use against Christians of various kinds. It is anticipation of that that various leader published the recent Manhattan Declaration.

Of course, if we would only stay out of politics, people would love us and our Lord. Sure. A return the the 50 year fundamentalist withdrawal. Did the country become better or worse from the 20s to the 70s? More godly or more ungodly? It was the flaunted and increasingly intrusive and oppressive ungodliness that brought Christians back to the battle lines.

Chris J. said...

In this case, I only spoke of Nazi Germany as a context for Bonhoeffer's discussion of what the limits are of a Christian's duty to authorities. He was on my mind because I was reading about him and his dilemma yesterday. His is an extreme example, but sometimes extreme examples help shed light on a subject.
The possibility exists that Christians may one day be forced to choose between compromise with the government and oppression, but thank God that at the moment it is not the case.

Tim said...

Dear Harold and David (I hope the presumptuousness of a first name basis does not offend but since you are referring to me as Tim, which is my name, rather than Mr.Tim, I allowed myself the license):

I appreciate the time and thought you have both put into your responses to my comments. I had not remembered the Monty Phython scene and enojoyed seeing it again.

I fear that I am not as quick or as studied as the two of you so I do need some time to collect my thoughts. Please forgive the pause in dialogue. I will take up my end of the discussion soon.