Rousas John Rushdoony: Christian Reconstructionism
Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001), whom I mentioned yesterday, advocated something close to theocracy, which he called Christian Reconstructionism, and drew upon Old Testament laws for his vision of a properly ordered society. In such a society, not only would murder be punishable by stoning to death, but also, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, an application of biblical law would mandate the stoning to death of adulterers. Even more extreme, perhaps, is the death penalty for idolaters, which Rushdoony justifies as follows:
The penalty in every case is death without mercy. To the modern mind, this seems drastic. Why death for idolatry? If idolatry is unimportant to a man, then a penalty for it is outrageous. But modern man thinks nothing of death penalties for crimes against the state, or against the "people," or against "the revolution," because these things are important to him. The death penalty is not required here for private belief: it is for attempts to subvert others and to subvert the social order by enticing others to idolatry. Because for Biblical law the foundation is the one true God, the central offense is therefore treason to that God by idolatry. Every law-order has its concept of treason. No law-order can permit an attack on its foundations without committing suicide. Those states which claim to abolish the death penalty still retain it on the whole for crimes against the state. The foundations of a law-order must be protected. (The Institutes of Biblical Law, Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973, page 38).Given several sermons that I've sat through defining idolatry rather broadly as anything that one places before God, I wonder who would be left standing to throw the last stone. Maybe Zwingli, if the tossers go by alphabetical order. More seriously, I find Rushdoony's reasoning here similar to that of the traditional Muslim argument defending the death penalty for apostasy from Islam. To convert out of Islam is "treason," and as everyone knows, the only reasonable punishment for treason is death.
Wikipedia offers a list of capital crimes recorded in the Old Testament (including blasphemy [Leviticus 24:10-16] and disobeying one's parents [Deuteronomy 21:18-21]), though I don't know that Christian Reconstructionists would advocate execution for all of these. Wikipedia also offers a number of quotes from Rushdoony's writings, including a few expressing his distaste for democracy. Some of these are also from The Institutes of Biblical Law, apparently, though I couldn't locate the precise passages in searching Google Books. However, I did find this quote attributed to Rushdoony in Randall Herbert Balmer's Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002):
Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic . . . . It is committed to a spiritual aristocracy. (page 499)I suppose that a scholarly approach to understanding the man and his thought would entail a study of Rushdoony's complete writings and a fundamental critique based on philosophical principles, but I don't have time for that -- as I suspect readers will understand -- and I've seen enough already to grasp why the man's views are problematic.
But for those who wish to explore further, more on Rushdoony's views can probably be found on the Chalcedon website, which is dedicated to his ideas.