Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rousas John Rushdoony: Christian Reconstructionism

Rousas John Rushdoony
(Image from Theopedia)

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.

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At 6:27 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

defining idolatry rather broadly as anything that one places before God

I would suggest: "Idolatry means a guy worshipping an idol which is not my own".

Right as "a selfish person is a guy who does not care for me".

At 6:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Both are reasonable suggestions . . . so long as they are understood only from my perspective.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:27 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

I agree --- because it fits my mind


At 7:30 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

But... nobody else adding a comment?? This is not supposed to be a useless subject to your many American readers...

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I have only Italian readers.

But seriously, most Americans wouldn't give a hoot about Rushdoony's views. The man is marginal to the broad range of Christianity in the US. He gets a reading from some conservative evangelicals, but even most of those wouldn't follow him in setting up a theocracy.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do read here dhr - it's just that living in Arkansas surrounded on all sides (and in amongst) "loonies and moonies" Mr. Rushdooney would fit right in.

He could probably get elected to The Texas Textbook Commission.


Hmmm, that's odd - given all your recent postings - my letters are -foode.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Brother Rushdoony certainly has the beard to fit it with the hillbillies.

But those local hillmen wouldn't take too kindly to being told how to live . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:15 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Hi, JK!
No "goonies" there, also? alas.

Anyway, I was not specifically referring to Reconstructionism, but to the State / religion issue in general, which, as far as I know, is of topical interest in the US.

As for Italy, the Catholic Church isn't theologically recontructionist, but this does not prevent them from loving politics a lot.

At 3:48 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Jeffery, how about publishing a bestiary of contemporary would-be theocrats? ;-)

I've several times attended services with the Free Church of Scotland. Essentially it's a Bible study meeting--no organ or communion, and a cantor does the singing. The underlying idea behind the "free" church of course is that state money will corrupt the church, and ergo the Free Church of Scotland is disabused of that corrupting influence.

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A bestiary is the proper competence of our friend Dario.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:26 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Just follow my column "PL 575" on the Milton List.


At 4:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But are they to be depictions of theocrats? Or theocats, if you prefer . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:42 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

They will often be the(ri)omorphic.

The most famous sample in art history, anyway, is the typical Protestant engraving:

Ego sum Papa (I am the Pope)

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The Holy and the Taboo are frighteningly similar.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:43 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

The Latin word sacer (f. sacra, n. sacrum) meant both concepts.

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

So does the Polynesian term "tabu," if I recall . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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