Saturday, January 22, 2011

Christian Theocratic Views?

Roberta Green Ahmanson
(Image from The Media Project)

Yesterday, I openly wondered about where Professor Kenneth Elzinga would draw the line between religion and state. I still have no idea about that, but I have long argued that a fundamental precept of Western Civilization is the distinction between two realms, the sacred and the secular, a distinction perhaps ultimately grounded in Mark 12:17:
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. (King James Version)

ἀπόδοτε τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ θεῷ (Textus Receptus)
Since Mark and its synoptic parallels (Matthew 22:21, Luke 20:25) attribute this distinction to Jesus, it has the founder's blessing and thus offers legitimacy to the secular sphere. Of course, my point depends upon these words being void of irony, but even if meant in earnest, the hermeneut still faces the question as to where the line is best drawn between the secular realm of Caesar and the sacred realm of God.

Some Christians, in fact, appear to think that the secular sphere ought to be very restricted. Immediately after posting yesterday's blog entry, which touched on the state-religion distinction, I received a Christianity Today article written by Christine A. Scheller, "Connoisseur for Christ: Roberta Green Ahmanson" (January 19, 2011), which offers a complex portrait of a very wealthy couple, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, who fund a large number of conservative Christian causes. I say "complex" because they also fund the arts, and not a narrowly circumscribed version either. Read the article to learn about that.

What interests me today is the charge that the couple support theocratic views of Christianity. Let me offer a couple of quotes that -- as with yesterday's quotes -- I again lift from their context:
[I]n a scathing 2004 Salon profile of Howard, "Avenging Angel of the Religious Right," Max Blumenthal took pains to show that the Ahmansons' ultimate goals are theocratic, a charge that has been widely disseminated. Roberta at once denies and defends the claim: "I never was, and I don't know if Howard ever was either. I'm afraid to say this, but also, what would be so bad about it?"
That last point is the sort of reply that worries me: "what would be so bad about" theocracy? What would be bad about some politicians claiming to speak for God and rule in his name? That would be bad enough, but the devil is in the details:
Ahmanson is equally unflinching in her defense of [the Christian Reconstructionist, Rousas John] Rushdoony, controversial in part for his belief that the Levitical laws should be applied in modern society. Roberta claims he wasn't "the ogre" he was made out to be and explains his theodicy as a response to his family's flight from the Armenian genocide in Turkey. "His whole life project was to try to figure out what could protect you. In the end, he came down to the only thing that is solid is God's law. Well, you say the word law in the 20th or 21st century, and people break out in a rash."
I wonder if "theodicy" is a misprint for "theocracy," since the latter is precisely what the application of the Levitical laws to society would mean. Anyway, people don't break out in a rash over the word "law" -- the "rule of law" is what most people want. What people are 'allergic' to, however, is a law that mandates stoning for adultery, among other divinely proscribed offenses. Ms. Ahmanson's response doesn't take the issue seriously enough.

Now, I don't know precisely what Ms. Ahmanson's views actually are, and I'm not out to attack her, nor do I know much about Rousas John Rushdoony. Rather, I'm simply trying to orient myself concerning a Christian version of what I consider the Islamist danger.

I suppose that the next step is to look into Christian Reconstructionism.

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At 12:58 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

According to Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus theologico-politicus, THE problem with Christianity is that it was born and developed for centuries outside the political structures, so that they have been keeping on thinking that "society" is something "opposite" to the Gospel.

Not to mention Nietzsche's Antichrist about the psychological and sociological origins of the Church, which is much more than just fierce controversy: in the Catholic Church as far as I have experienced it, at least, Nietzsche's words often - tho' not always - bang on target.

Am not presenting these as standpoints to be shared, just as interesting suggestions about a very interesting, and very thorny, issue.

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Gospel as distinct from society would be preferable to an attempt at organizing society along Old Testament principles . . . in my opinion.

Thanks for the citations.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:25 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

Oh, yes, but theocracy was absolutely not what a guy like Spinoza meant.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I didn't think that theocracy was what he meant. I just thought that keeping religion carefully circumscribed, even marginalized, is preferable to theocracy.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:58 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

"Roberta claims he wasn't "the ogre" he was made out to be and explains his theodicy as a response to his family's flight from the Armenian genocide in Turkey. "His whole life project was to try to figure out what could protect you. In the end, he came down to the only thing that is solid is God's law."

I suppose one might argue back that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are indeed the theocratic mandate they are looking for, and it is these documents that are in fact the most refined expressions of god's guarantee for law in order in a complicated/hostile universe. Indeed, as such their arguments are heretical, if not demonic, and they should be punished severely for their unholy transgression.

At 7:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good point, Carter. Their treason must be punished!

Jeffery Hodges

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