Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Augustinian "democrat"?

In the first post I described in basic terms what I meant by Augustinian. And since that seems to lead inexorably towards some form of conservatism, and to which, of a type, I admit I hold to, this post is dedicated to explaining why I've chosen to use the ideologically loaded term "democrat." Obviously, in the modern American context, "democrat" usually means someone who holds to an ideology which presupposes a modernist and materialist viewpoint which automatically negates any religious and/or spiritual content guiding the various views which shape and impact public policy. It is in two directions that my concerns lie. On the left, my concern is that there is a reality of antagonism towards any religious belief, especially of those who espouse any type of orthodoxy, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim (I specify these three major religions because they are each monotheistic, thus exclusive (in their traditional form) in their truth claims). On the right, my concern is that there has been an assumption that to be "on God's side" is to be a conservative in the modern cultural context of America, which has meant, by and large, being a Republican. Yet, if we were to look first and foremost to what the writers of scripture wrote, both in the Hebrew writings (OT) and the New Testament writings, we would see a concern for issues that would both overlap and contradict both of the major political ideologies driving our modern political discourse. Modern liberals love the Hebrew prophets' concern for the poor and outcasts of society and they likewise love the moral imperative of Jesus' commands in his sermon on the mount. But if Jesus says he's the only way, then that's just not a passage we're going to preach on, or if we have to, then we'll need to redefine it so that "his way (of doing things) is the only way" therefore ordaining whatever political palliative we've declared sacrosanct. And by the way, this is true too of modern conservatives! They're just as theologically "liberal" as their cultural antagonists, even if they're much more culturally conservative in their policy pronouncements. Whenever we "use" Jesus for our political ends, we inevitably devalue his atoning work in order to emphasize his exemplary work. That's not to say that Christ as example is unimportant. It is. Eternally so! Yet many moral teachers have provided comparable examples of moral behavior for us to follow. That's why in popular "spirituality" Jesus is one of many avatars of ascended humans, such as Gandhi, Krishna, Mohammad, Moses, and so on, who have "shown the way" to ultimate reality. As an aside, the issue of working together with others from different religious traditions, even though disagreeing deeply on fundamental issues, is worth considering. But that's a separate discussion. The problem with focusing primarily on Jesus as example to the exclusion of his atoning work is that we evacuate any power from his example. If God is righteous, if God requires perfect obedience in order to be in right relationship with him, if God requires a sacrifice to pay for not being in right relationship with him, then God is one who would both require perfect obedience and a perfect sacrifice. Guess what? Jesus fills the bill. He obeys. He pays.
This whole concept is offensive to any modern ideologue. Any of them, whether liberal of conservative, will gladly take the moral teachings (up to a point). But the particularity of Christ will ALWAYS be offensive to anyone seeking to make Christ a means to an end and not the end of our means.
So, what does any of this have to do with being a small "d" democrat? After all, I'm writing this in order to defend the term over and against other competing terms that might go well with Augustinian. We've already seen how conservative might go well. Even liberal might work, depending upon which meaning you attach to the term, historical (better) or modern (worse) American.
When I think of the term democrat, I think of the meaning that adhered to the ancient Greeks; I think of the term as it applied to the earliest Americans, which saw in the term a breaking down of old hierarchical divisions inherited from old allegiances from the old country. The term democrat means that each person is equal before the law. The term democrat means that the old dividing walls of class hostility are removed. The term democrat means that each of us is seen as standing equally just and unjust before the bar of justice. The term democrat means that every human institution is equally infiltrated by human fallenness, whether individual (most favored by modern conservatives) or corporate (whether economic, through the owners of capital or union bosses, or government corruption).
Thus, in this understanding of democrat as well as Augustinian, my hope is to provide a prism which sheds a more accurate light of both our human condition and our commonality which that theological and anthropological reality declare.
I believe that this understanding has political and public policy consequences. That's why this site exists.

1 comment:

ananas said...

Yes, yes, YES!!! - Anne