What’s the sounder method for thinking through Christian ethics? It starts with the image of the person as revealed in Scripture and the practice of churches over the centuries. It asks what demands such a creature can rightly make of any government, and what duties he owes it.
All through this series I’ve been writing at The Stream over the past year and a half, which soon will form a book, I’ve struggled to articulate the correct way for Christians to form their consciences as citizens in a modern, post-Christian context. As it draws to a close, after surveying thousands of years of history, both Testaments of scripture, the growth of authoritative Church tradition, and the profound political changes wrought on the West by the Christian view of the person, is there a simple message to sum it all up?
The answer is yes. There is a message, and better still, a method for any principled person to use when considering complex moral issues. First the message:
Freedom in the sense we take for granted, based on individual rights, only arose in the West, and only the Christian West. That’s not an accident. The Christian roots of our regime of ordered liberty are no mere primitive “phase” that we can grow out of, or a skin we can shed as we grow. No, the Christian view of the person is the soil where liberty sprouted. It feeds our liberty, and it keeps it alive. Yank the tree out of the soil, and the leaves will stay green for a while, but it’s as good as dead already. That’s the stage where we are today, still staring at the leaves as the tree gasps for its life. It never “outgrows” its need for water and nutrients.
The only sane way to think about politics in the tradition of our Christian ancestors, the ones who created this system of freedom, is to consider first the human person as revealed to us by God in both Testaments, and then think through the implications of that human dignity for life in society.
The Phony Logic of Progressive Christians
Too few people today remember how to do that. Instead they do something else. By describing their faulty mode of reasoning I can reveal the Method promised above, the rational calculus you can use yourself in any new situation, on each political question as it arises, to arrive at your own faithful answers.
Since our argument here has centered on the question of using violence in self-defense, either against individual aggressors or the institutionalized violence of some tyrannical state, let’s unfold the Method in that context. What are the political implications of Jesus’ injunction to “turn the other cheek”?
The manner in which Progressive Christians habitually answer such questions can best be described as follows:
Read the passage of Scripture. Do not check on how previous generations of Christians have interpreted it, much less what past authorities of your own church tradition say. Also do not explore its connections to the Old Testament. No, read it as if it had been published this morning, and you’re the first person to think about it.
In order to be as “radically” and authentically Christian as possible, do not consider interpretations of it that can be reconciled with Old Testament precedents, or the dictates of reason. Those are “compromise” positions, which dilute the stark extremity of Jesus’ demands.
Instead, imagine the most counter-intuitive and impractical possible reading of the text. Experience the self-satisfaction that comes from embracing this interpretation. Go forth and impose it on others, shaming them if necessary if they won’t be as “radically” Christian as you are now.
Rinse and repeat.