Archives For Jean Bethke Elshtain

The opening sentence of Jacques Ellul’s, ‘Islam and Judeo-Christianity: A Critique of their commonality’, reads, ‘For nearly a decade, French intellectuals, generally speaking, have been seized with an excessive affection for Islam.’ (p.3)

What follows is a ninety-four page treatise on the reasons for why this excessive affection is not only dangerous, but misguided. Ellul acknowledges the existence of a disproportionate tolerance of Islam. He then compares that to the disdain of how French intellectuals have been interacting with Judeo-Christianity (Biblical Christianity), since the 1960s’.

The reason for this excessive affection is due to Islam’s[1] proximity to Marxism (“scientific” socialism). Roger Scruton, not a novice on both subjects, states: ‘like the Communist Party in its Leninist construction, Islam aims to control the state without being a subject of the state.’[2] Scruton’s own analysis of Islam, and the West, implies that excessive affection for Islam is connected to how close many academics in the West, are to Marxism.

Commonality between Islamism and Marxism includes the downgrade of Jesus Christ. Under both Marxist and Islamist rule, the Church is eradicated and the State is made god[3].

American (first wave) Feminist and Political scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain’s work on Just War theory points in the same direction. Elshtain noted that Quranic Islam ‘condemns all who disagree’.  Quranic Islam is also a ‘militant theocracy that insists there can be no distinction between civil law and the strict, fundamentalist Shari’a law, the ancient Islamic holy law.’[4]

In other worse, even with a distinction between the interpretations of Islamic holy law, Shari’a law (infallible and unchangeable) and Fiqh (fallible and changeable), within Islam, there still is no concept of a separation of Mosque and State. Nor is there any concept of Just War – restrained violence – there is only jihad (War against the unbeliever). Quranic Islam and Marxism both look to violence as the necessary means to an end – total conversion and compliance.

Like Marxism, Islam shows no real affection for Classical Liberalism. Nor do Islamists and Marxists show any genuine acknowledgement that the precious freedoms birthed and nurtured in the West, were born from, and under the Light the Church carries. Even if Christians sometimes have carried that Light awkwardly, or have, from time to time, dropped it entirely.

Although Marxists are happy to borrow from the Bible[5], and the Quran speaks about Jesus and Mary, both the Marxist and Islamist deny the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Marxism and Quranic Islam downgrade Christ’s uniqueness to that of a righteous prophet, or a sage, proletarian rebel.

Marxism and Islam also show complete contempt for Christianity. The reasoning for this usually involves citing the Crusades (without reference to Islamist militant expansionism , or Missionaries and Imperialism, (without reference to Missionaries helping the poor, or preserving the language of many tribal groups).

Differences between Islam and Marxism do exist. Such as, the Islamic practice of female genital mutilation, and the oppression of women[6]. These differences, however don’t appear to dissuade academics from their affection for Islam. What unifies them is stronger than what distinguishes them from each other. Contempt for Jews and Christians, unjust restrictive laws[7], cruel punishment of any opposition, jihad (war against the infidel) and oppression, are the primary means of achieving the goal of each respective utopian ideal.

It’s worth noting that the great and fallible, Winston Churchill, noted similarities between Quranic Islam and Socialism. In a passing comment he made known his view that there are certain parallels to the Quran and Mein Kampf. He called Hitler’s book, the ‘new Koran of faith and war; the granite pillars of Hitler’s policy included, use of the sword, the conversion of Germans into soldiers, anti-Semitism, fanaticism and hysterical passion.’[8]

This partially meets with the observation made by Scottish Theologian, T.F. Torrance:

‘I had been in Palestine, as it was then called, in 1936 when the Grand Mufti came back to Jerusalem from visiting Hitler and spread the terrible poison of anti-Semitism all over the Middle East.’[9]

Swiss, anti-Nazi theologian, Karl Barth’s famous refutation of natural theology, unpacked in tedious detail, within his Gifford Lectures in 1937 and 1938, was in large part a refutation of Nazism. His “nein” to natural theology[10] was built on a keen awareness of man and woman’s rebellion against God, when, like Narcissus, man and woman turn to their own image and build religion on the sand of human imagination, ideas and superstition. For Barth, there is no other revelation of God outside where God has already made Himself known. This meant that the führer could never be Our Father. Hitler was not, and could never be, a second revelation of God. The State could never be God. Deus Dixit: in Jesus Christ, God has already spoken!

This is primarily why Barth saw Quranic Islam as idolatry, stating that ‘the God of Mohammed is an idol like all other idols […]’[11]

It’s with this in mind that we see how Quranic Islam and Marxism are more aligned than we are taught to think. For the Marxist and the Islamist, the command of the state is equal to that of the Supreme Being.   There can be no denying that like Islamists, the Bolsheviks, and later the Soviets, converted by the ‘sword of the revolution for arbitrary use at the regime’s demand’[12].

Simone Weil, herself once an ardent Marxist, criticized Marxism for being

‘a badly constructed religion […]   Marx was an idolater; he idolised the Proletariat and considered himself to be their natural leader’ (p.151); Marx made oppression the central notion of his writings, but never attempted to analyse it.’[13]

Furthermore, György Lukács, the father of modern Marxism stated without reservation that “you cannot just sample Marxism […] you must be converted to it.”[14]

What lies at the heart of this excessive affection from academics for Islam is deconstructionism (or revisionism). Like romanticism, revisionism is essentially built on lies. It builds its own facts out of the very thing it just deconstructed. Facts are distorted and sometimes reversed. Revisionism calls that which is good, evil and that which is evil, good.

Deconstructionism inflicts violence on language through redefinition. It ends up policing speech, undermining reason and civil rights. It reduces all discourse to propaganda[15].  For example, the depraved “logic” of deconstructionism reverses a claim like “the Nazis oppressed the Jews,” showing instead that the Jew cooked in a Nazi oven was really the Nazis’ oppressor…”[16]

Jacques Ellul was no debutante to Marxism or Islam. Not a lot unlike Roger Scruton, Jacques Ellul was part of the early Leftist establishment. His critique of the excessive affection from academics for Islam, is in line with Karl Barth’s rejection of Natural theology.

Such excessive affection is tantamount to believing that the best way to overcome sin is to reject the concept of sin; to ignore it, and treat sin as if it never really existed. According to this view, you can’t be a sinner if sin doesn’t exist.

However, relabelling or denying sin doesn’t make sin disappear. All this does, is allow self-justification for sin. The same goes for the academic establishment’s treatment of Islam. Calling Islam a “religion of peace”, doesn’t make it so.

Quranic Islam and Marxism view violence as a primary means to reach their respective utopian ideals. With its totalitarian: “convert, pay a tax, or die”, Islamism has proven to be much the same as Marxism. This makes them both the ultimate tool for totalitarian oppression.

What seems to explain the excessive affection from academics for Islam is the affection academics have for Marxism. As I’ve said before, those who chose to entertain Marxism, big bureaucracy or crony capitalism, ride the backs of monsters. We have to be ready and willing to ask whether or not Islamism should be added to this list.

Ideology is a good servant, but a cruel task-master. We either submit Christ to Mohammad, or Mohammad to Christ. We either submit Christ to the State or the State and Church to Christ. We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), and three’s a crowd.

If we give academics the benefit of the doubt we could conclude that such affection is simply just foolish romanticism.

It, however, isn’t that simple. The policing of speech, the increasing exclusion of conservatives and Christians from academia; the reckless labeling of opposing views as hate and bigotry; and the diagnosing of those who hold to scientific facts as phobic, all lead us to ask, whether such open affection isn’t just an innocent flirtation, but is in fact appeasement, or worse, a calculated naiveté and sinister wishful thinking, where Marxists use Islamists, and Islamists use Marxists for their own ends.

If the latter is true, it must be addressed. Non-critical thinking and appeasement gives Quranic Islam (and we could add the LGBT religion) the same free ride that it gave to Nazism and still does with Marxism. If we are not free to give gracious criticisms about Islamism and Marxism; if we are paralyzed by political correctness, we are dooming our children to fight a war that can still be avoided by honest intellectual engagement and open dialogue.

As David, W. Gill (retired Professor, President of the IJES, ethicist and theologian) noted,

Nothing is gained by cowardice and avoidance. All is lost by arrogance and accusation. As Paul writes, we must “speak truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) […]’  (p.vii)

Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi[17].


References:

[1] Islamism or Islamist Fundamentalism

[2] Sir Roger Scruton, 2002. The West & The Rest: Globalization & The Terrorist Threat, p.6

[3] See Alan Woods’ 2001 essay, Marxism & Religion, where Wood’s offers a dishonest account of Christian belief, but does talk about the atheism of Marxism. He also, rightly, condemns the oppression of women under in Islam. Sourced from Marxist.com 16th June 2019.

[4] Elshtain, B.J, 2003. Just War Theory: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, (p.3) Also see Elshtain’s discussion on Islamic Supremacism and anti-Semitism.

[5] See Jesus & Marx: From Gospel to Ideology, 1988.

[6] Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2006. Infidel. Free Press

[7] Khan, Muqtedar M.A. 2006. Islamic Democratice Discourse: Theory, Debates, and Philosophical Perspectives, Lexington Books

[8] Churchill, W. 1948. The Gathering Storm Rosetta Books

[9] Torrance, T.G. 1994. P.C.T: The Gospel and scientific thinking (p.28).

[10] Natural theology ejects the need for the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ as the starting point of faith. Barth rejected such dependence because it rejected God’s own decisive action and humanity’s only anchor of hope for salvation. Barth saw this as the main reason for the ease at which even the discerning voter was sucked in by National Socialism.

[11] Barth, K. The Knowledge of God and the Service of God According to the Teaching of the Reformation: Recalling the Scottish Confession of 1560 (Gifford Lectures 1937 & 1938) (p. 21). Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers

[12] Service, R. 1997. A History of Twentieth Century Russia. Harvard University Press, 1998 (2nd Edition) p. 74

[13] Weil, S. 1955. Oppression and Liberty. 2001. Routledge Classics (p.154)

[14] Lukacs, G.  1971. Record of a Life, The Thetford Press Ltd. 1983 (p.62)

[15] Veith, Gene Edward. 1993. Citing Ward Parks,  Modern Fascism: Threat to the Judeo-Christian Worldview . Concordia Publishing House

[16] Ibid, 1993

[17] As we pray, so we believe, so we live.

Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

(Originally published at The Caldron Pool, 17th June 2019)

©Rod Lampard, 2019

The LGBT community’s grievances and the reason for their sensitivity regarding the Israel Folau controversy are understandable.

A non-biblical version of sin has been misused over the years to beat people down, not bring them the to faith and repentance. (See Psychiatrist, Karl Menninger’s ‘Whatever became of Sin?’, 1976)

That historical misuse, however, doesn’t justify the unjust writhing and screaming being thrown towards Folau.

None of this justifies dehumanizing a man and taking away his bread and butter.

None of this justifies any corporation such as Qantas, bullying, via economic sanctions, companies they do business with, such as Rugby Australia.

As far as Qantas goes, their double standard is more than a little bit strange.

Alan Jones is right.

“Isn’t Qantas in partnership with a national airline whose government imposes laws infinitely more damaging to homosexuals than Israel’s utterance of his biblical beliefs?”

As I noted a few days back, Folau quoting from the Bible on his own personal Instagram page, is between him, Instagram and those who follow his social media account. It doesn’t involve the R.A, the L.G.B.T lobby or even Qantas.

This event proves the truth of the Galatians quote Israel posted. The biblical doctrine of sin, as a rejection of grace, a rejection of relationship, a rejection of both God and neighbour, is more relevant than ever. Sin divides, destroys and consumes those who entertain it.

The equality of the Biblical doctrine of sin is that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and yet, because of God’s decision to save humanity, in and through Jesus Christ, redemption from that sin is given and found (Romans 3:23). This is the crux of the Easter message heard around the world on Good Friday, Black Saturday and Resurrection Sunday.

As Jean Bethke Elshtain once said, ‘when we start to regard ourselves in our own light, our light dims’.[1]

Michael Horton echoed the same sentiment in his book, ‘Christless Christianity’,

“Coming to God as consumers saved by following the instructions on the product label rather than as sinners saved by grace is not only the essence of human sin, it does not even deliver on its own promises of liberation. Instead it drives us deeper into ourselves […] Keeping us from ever being disrupted by someone greater than ourselves or by something more wonderful than our own half-hearted achievements’[2]
‘It is the false prophets who “dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious” (Jer.18:11). It is not compassion for the people or zeal for God’s house but their own thirst for popularity that renders the false prophets constitutionally incapable of telling the truth about the crisis. Enclosed in our narrow world of personal spin, we are never introduced to the real world created by God’s Word […] Both sin and redemption are trivialized when we write the script.’[3]

This speaks to the left, the right, the up and the down.

Hence, the call to faith, obedience and prayer; the call to repentance; the call to transformation and the call to embrace God’s costly grace that embraces us in, through and with Jesus Christ.

God does not take pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that the sinner should turn from his and her way and live (Ezekiel 18:23)[4].

We hear the Old Testament prophets reminding us that the world must not fall into ignorance and complacency. The pain and suffering of history is broadcasting warnings into the present; warnings about the ensuing calamity caused by ideological crusades that have enslaved men and women, under the promise of establishing ‘God’s Kingdom without God in it’[5].

Of all the current commentary surrounding Israel Folau, including my own, Alan Jones wins the final word:

“If Israel Folau is not free to state his religious views, let alone Christian views, then we are all in trouble. It would be helpful if people analyzed what he said before condemning him to rugby oblivion.”

References:

[1]  Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’  (pp.11, 66 & 62)

[2] Horton, M. 2008 Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Baker Books Baker Book Publishing (p.246)

[3] Ibid, p.242

[4] Ambrose of Milan, ‘On Repentance’

[5] Johnny Cash & U2, The Wanderer “they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it”.

(Originally posted on The Caldron Pool, 18th April, 2019)

©Rod Lampard, 2019

 

Wiel 18th October 2018In 1944, C.S Lewis wrote:

‘The demand for equality has two sources; First, the noble: the desire for fair play. Second, the mean-spirited: the hatred of superiority. If you seek to appease envy: 1. you will not succeed. Envy is insatiable. 2. you are trying to introduce equality where equality is fatal.
Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into the higher spheres of beauty, virtue and truth. Neither of which are democratic. Ethical, intellectual or aesthetic democracy is death.’
(C.S. Lewis, 1944. Democratic Education) [i]

Lewis’ position can be read as a push back against extreme egalitarianism and the quagmire of sameness. The late American political philosopher, Jean Bethke Elshtain, also brilliantly hummed her own critical tune in relation to this issue.

Writing under the heading, ‘Multiculturalism and Democratic Education’ Elshtain stated:

‘Teacherly malfeasance occurs in instances of unreflective, dogmatic politicisation […] This sort of education fails in its particular and important task of preparing us for a world of ambiguity and variety. It equips us only for resentment or malicious naivete [ii]

Lewis and Elshtain come at this argument from different angles. Both add to an argument for the re-balancing of popular ideologies birthed in the 1960’s, and the new societal norms which come from them.

As Elshtain posits, “I wonder if democracy can survive what it has to, by definition allow? Such as, the desires a mob majority,  which works against the democratic voice of the people. Democratic freedom must have a framework of responsible limitations, for example, a just constitution, in order for democratic freedom to exist.

The area where this applies most is forced compliance with ‘unreflective, dogmatic politicisation’ (Elshtain)(E.g.: forced compliance to the failing and flawed ideology of multiculturalism and new definitions of tolerance).

Instead of preserving the vibrancy of a cohesive multi-ethnic society, under one meta-culture, multiculturalism morphs a once united multi-ethnic society, into a multi-nationalist society. This threatens the national sovereignty and stability of that multi-ethnic society, because it breaks with a shared history, agreed upon ideals, civility and common values. It creates foreign enclaves or beachheads, such as “no go zones“.

This is the direct result of tolerance introducing ‘equality where equality is fatal’ (Lewis). The ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’s’ reign of terror.

Disguised as part of the new educational standard, guided by a good vibes only, ‘unreflective, dogmatic politicisation’.  The new definition of tolerance and compliance poses as the only academic essential. Acceptance and legitimacy are only validated by an absolute alignment with approved ideologies. In turn, a form of emotional blackmail follows. The academy is paralysed because the academic focus is reduced to how best education can be forced to fit within the new educational standard of the ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’.

Democratic education is reduced to compliance. Academic standards are lowered, while teachers are forced to obsess over appeasing the feelings and fickle sentiments of society.
In not being willing to responsibly discuss differences, for fear of offence or ridicule, democracy wanes.

This narrowing forces everyone into the same box: a secular version of “convert, pay a tax or die.” From here academic indifference and complacency replaces the energy of academic rigour. Genuine progress, and the conservation of hard fought for healthy traditions, are held back by the demand for total compliance to the ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’.

Along with a cohesive multi-ethnic society, democratic debate and its ability to preserve the beauty of unity-in-diversity, dies. Political democracy, as C.S Lewis pointed out, is ‘doomed if it tries to expand its demand for equality into beauty, virtue and truth [none of which are determined by democratic vote].’

Society and politics, placed under this good vibes only, ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’, sets people on a trajectory towards tribalism and slavery. People are then forced to stick to their “own kind”: Whites with whites; men with men; women with women; black with black; indigenous Australian with indigenous Australian; Left with Left, Right with Right.

Differences are considered irreconcilable. People are divorced from one an another. Strangers become enemies, and friends become strangers. Thus we come to the  inevitable rejection of differences and the quagmire of sameness.

As Elshtain predicted, this flags a new segregation:

‘As a form of ideological teaching, multicultural absolutism isolates us in our own skins and equates culture with racial or ethnic identity. [In America], the new multiculturalism promotes commensurability: If I am white and you are black, we cannot, in principle, speak to or understand each other. You just won’t “get it […]. Some critics wonder how long it will take to move from separate approaches for African-American children in the name of Afro-centricity, for example, to a quest for separate schools.[iii]’

Extreme egalitarianism is a quagmire of sameness. We arrive at the quagmire of sameness because of envy and (as C.S. Lewis so brilliantly put it) its hatred of superiority.

The quest for equality ends up creating new forms of inequality. Anyone with opposing views or unique abilities is silenced, condemned and shipped off to camps, under the guise of “re-education” or “resettlement.” This is all done “for the good of the collective”.

This is evident in Australian society. Where very early on children are taught to tow the good vibes only, ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’.

Over achievers are called “try-hards.” They’re deemed a threat to the collective and are consequently castigated for it. Rather than celebrate the competency and talent of a person, the majority maliciously turn against them. “Try hard”, an otherwise encouraging term, is used as a shaming control technique. Uniqueness is squashed into the box of sameness, under the name of equality.

For both Lewis and Elshtain, extreme egalitarianism is a ‘phony equality.[v]’ It perpetuates that which it says it opposes. This phony equality levels whatever it subjectively sees as uneven ground. The same could be said about the new definitions of tolerance.

Those who want to walk away from the ‘unreflective, dogmatic politicisation’ won’t find it easy.

They will face the same hostile reaction, French philosopher, Albert Camus faced, when he ‘was virtually excommunicated from the French Left by Sartre, and his comrades, because he expressed a strong disapproval of the passion for unity that saw any opposition as treason.’[iv]

In not being able to celebrate unity in diversity or find and maintain common ground, democracy fails. The cohesive elements of a vibrant multi-ethnic Western society are then consigned to the prison of a good vibes only, ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’. If left unanswered, Western society will descend into the terror of fascist rule, the shared poverty of communism or the destructive anarchist vacuum of pagan tribalisation.
________________________________________

References:

[i] Lewis, C. 1944, Democratic Education In Walmsley, L. (Ed.) 2000 C.S Lewis Essay Collection Harper Collins p.190

[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 Democracy on Trial Basic Books, Perseus Books Group p.83

[iii] Ibid, p.79

[iv] Ibid, p.120

[v] Ibid, p.74

Originally published 5th January, 2016 & on The Caldron Pool, 2nd November, 2018 under the headline: ‘Multiculturalism has failed: Identity politics sets people on a trajectory towards tribalism and slavery.’

Photo credit: rawpixel at unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018

 

Although American Political Scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain didn’t consider herself a theologian, there’s a good chance that anyone willing to exhaust an enquiry into her eligibility for the title, would conclude that she, in fact, was.

Theology forms part of the hidden backbone in the majority of her work.

Elshtain’s broad and consistent conversation partners include St. Augustine, Albert Camus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel, and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). This also includes some small contact with theologians Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Elshtain considered herself a layperson when it came to theological matters.  Adding theologian to her list of accomplishments may have handicapped her from being the proverbial, voice-in-the-leftist-academic-wilderness, that she was.

It’s likely that Elshtain benefited from not having been assigned the title of a theologian. Resulting in her being more able to navigate dishonest rhetorical tactics, like reckless labelling, selective outrage, guilt by association, negative preempting and agenda driven ridicule. All the things associated with predominantly modern leftist institutions.

Elshtain follows the example of Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, and Karl Barth, who are credited, among others, as being careful and critical, when it came to allowing themselves to profiled in political terms; and/or  placed into rigid theological, philosophical or sociological categories. They weren’t looking for disciples or to create a school of thought.

It’s long, but here’s an excellent example of some of her work. In a critique of the assumption that Christianity is a universal ethic of niceness, Elshtain argues for a better understanding of Just War theory, post-September 11, 2001. In her sights are some Western theologians and philosophers, such as Mark Taylor [i] and Noam Chomsky [ii]:

Misunderstandings of Christian teachings are rife. Christianity is not an exalted or mystical form of utilitarianism. Jesus preached no doctrine of universal benevolence. He showed anger and issued condemnations.
These dimensions of Christ’s life and words tend to be overlooked nowadays as Christians concentrate on God’s love rather than God’s justice. That love is sometimes reduced to a diffuse benignity that is then enjoined on believers.
This kind of faith descends into sentimentalism fast. But how do believers translate the message of the Christian Savior into an ethic of worldly engagement if an ethic of universal niceness misses the point? Because Christianity is far and away the dominant faith of Americans, these are exigent matters of concern to all citizens, believer or no[…]
For Christians living in historic time and before the end of time, the pervasiveness of conflict must be faced.
One may aspire to perfection, but living perfectly is not possible. To believe one is without sin is to commit the sin of pride and to become ever more boastful in the conviction that a human being can sustain a perfectionist ethic.
For St. Augustine, for Martin Luther, and for the anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the harsh demands of necessity as well as the command of love require that one may have to commit oneself to the use of force under certain limited conditions, and with certain intentions. [iii]
(Elshtain, Just War Against Terror, 2008, p.100-101)

For Christians, just resistance is in the same category as falsehood. To answer the question, when is it just to “lie”? We have to compartmentalise the subject. Martin Luther held the view that there were four types of lies. The humorous, the helpful, the harmful, and the blasphemous. The first two are are ‘praiseworthy, since they do no harm. The last two are intolerable because they offend both man and God’ (Table Talk #33).

For example: Telling a ‘necessary lie‘ (Martin Luther [iv]) would always be grounded in God’s definition of what is good. If there is a greater good at stake, than there might be justification for the use of a helpful falsehood, such as to stop another human being legitimately harmed.

In 1 Samuel 18 & 19, Michal misled her father, who was King Saul. She did this in order to save her husband, David, from her father’s jealousy of David and his God-approved ascendancy to the throne. Corrie Ten Boom did the same in order to protect the Jews from Nazis. Being grounded in God’s definition of what is good means that there are core restraints; or clear rules of engagement. In other words, boundaries. As with falsehood, we don’t make an absolute of war. War is only ever an absolute last resort.

Just war is one specific example of many, which shows that Christianity is not, and can never be reduced to an ethic of universal niceness.  Just War is not the equivalent of Islamic jihad (as understood as war against the infidel). If the West is to respond to its enemies, and follow its Judeo-Christian heritage, the West must respond in love. This doesn’t mean that the West should surrender to its enemies. It means that the West is  free to engage on behalf of the vulnerable, only by way of restrained defence. Not cowering away from having the courage to say a loving “no” to those determined to see the West as an enemy.

Ridiculed, labelled a warmonger, and considered too old to be relevant, Churchill critically questioned the Nazi movement, long before it became a bloody necessity to reject it. Blind acquiescence and what C.S Lewis called ‘the tyranny of good intentions’, resulted in the catastrophic ambivalence, and indifference of the West throughout the 1930’s.

To do the same is to ignore reality, whitewash conflict and allow tyrants to thrive. This is an unloving abdication of responsibility, in favour of appeasement.

History has never forgotten British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s well intentioned declaration, “Peace For Our Time”. A declaration that was brutally shattered by the sound of falling shells, broken lives, screeching stukas and Nazi blitzkriegs.

Reagan was right, when in 1964, he said:

‘There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender.
Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the spectre our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance. This is the meaning of peace through strength.”
(A Time For Choosing)

Elshtain is right, viewing Christianity as an ethic of universal niceness and attributing it to Jesus Christis an aberration of Christianity. It misses the point.

To veil Christ and Christian action behind the fabric of an ethic of universal niceness, is to repeat the past. This unloving abdication of responsibility, in favour of appeasement, leaves the West embracing a false security. One that is further masqueraded by the ignorance of the past, the dangers of positive optimism, and a flawed understanding of Biblical Christian theology.


References:

[i] Mark Taylor, “The Way of the Cross as Theatric of Counter-Terror,” paper presented at a conference on justice and mercy, University of Chicago (Spring 2002), cited by Elshtain in Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed (p.82)

[ii] Chomsky, N. 9-11 cited by Elshtain, (JWAT, p. 226)

[iii] Elshtain, J. 2008, Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed. (p. 100-101).

[iv] Luther, M. Conversations With Luther: Selections From Table Talk, 1915, The Pilgrim Press

(Originally published, 12th January 2015)

©Rod Lampard, 2018

 

Rembrandt_1633 Christ in the storm on the sea of GalileeAlthough I’ve browsed through ‘City of God’ and ‘On Christian Doctrine’, my main interaction with Augustine’s work centres on his ‘Confessions’.  (A phenomenal read if you ever get the chance to dig into it.)

I like many of the things Augustine says and wrestle with some of his more introspective reflections.

One of those is his statement:

‘The appearance of what we do is often different from the intention with which we do it, and the circumstances at the time may not be clear’[i]

Augustine seems to be saying that what we intend is not always what we do. Circumstances pending, what we do is sometimes only for the sake of what we want others to see and therefore say about us.

Avarice overrides responsible action as pride corrupts intention. Thus leading us onto a path where we turn ‘the loss of confessing self in order to be for others, into an all consuming self, an expressivist exhibition’[ii]

The divide between appearances and intentions, then, forms the basis of his point. This existential division creates an ethical-theological tension perpetuated by the sometimes fog of circumstances.

This is identified by Jean Bethke Elshtain in ‘Augustine and the limits of politics’:

 ‘Augustine lays the miseries of human life at the doorstep of sin, our division (within selves and between self and others), our enthrallment to cupiditas[iii] and our all-too-frequent abandonment of caritas[iv]. We are, in other words, ignorant but it is ignorance of a particular kind, not innocent naiveté but prideful cognitive amputation.[v]

What Elshtain means by ‘prideful cognitive amputation’ is ‘philosophical solipsism’ (extreme subjective idealism)[vi]; thoughtlessness (not to be confused with mindlessness), but understood as ‘the banality of evil.(Hannah Arendt’s controversial assessment of Adolf Eichmann) [vii]

Elshtain, a feminist, presents her analysis of Augustine as an attempt at rescue. Saving Augustine from the ritualistic frown passed on to our forebears by the hubris and suspicion of post 60’s modernity.

For her, Augustine is relevant and worthy of a second look:

‘He confesses what he knows and what he does not know. He does know that the world isn’t boundlessly subjectivist; it does not revolve around the “me, myself and I”[viii]

Augustine himself thunders the point home:

‘I flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner’[ix]

Elshtain brilliantly adds, ‘when we start to regard ourselves in our own light, our light dims’[x]

Reading this in the emerging light of advent we might be called back to Karl Barth’s assertion

‘To thank means to accept with confession,… to acknowledge the gift, the goodness and the kindness of the Giver’[xi]

God makes himself known in Jesus Christ, ‘the sign of all signs[xii]

In Augustine’s sigh we hear that the heart has ears. Before the beauty of Christmas this can only mean an awakening to an awareness of our own need for grace; an acknowledgement that we are carried, firmly, lovingly held above the abyss.

Confronted by such a grace we learn that God is God and we are not. Yet, by Divine decision; a fierce and free decree. In Jesus Christ, we are spoken to, spoken for and therefore not given up on.

In His example we see in part, the point of Christmas. That the ‘principle of charity requires nothing less than to make one’s best effort.’[xiii]

Jesus is Victor!


Source

[i] Augustine, St. Confessions Penguin Classics III/XIX 1961:67

[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.6

[iii] Latin for desire, eagerness, enthusiasm; passion; lust; avarice; greed; ambition; partisanship (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[iv] Latin for charity, grace, dearness, high price; esteem, affection (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[v] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.37

[vi] Ibid, p.59

[vii] Ibid,

[viii] Ibid, p.5

[ix] Augustine, St. 1961 Confessions Penguin Classics V/X p.103

[x] Elshtain, ibid pp.11, 66 &62

[xi] Barth, K. 1940 The Limits of  the Knowledge of God C.D II/I Hendrickson Publishers p.198

[xii] Ibid, p.199

[xiii] Elshtain, ibid p.55

*I’ve borrowed the second part of the title to this blog post from Elshtain, who uses it on page xiii in her introduction.

Image: Rembrandt, 1633 ‘Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee’

Originally published 14th December 2014

Positive advances in communications technology drive the functionality of information. Its delivery is like a viaduct.

Information is carried along at a fast pace. Which means that we find ourselves living in an era of information deluge. Words, thoughts and opinions rain down on us from everywhere.

In this downpour, writers can be too easily tempted to reach for the fastest way to keep people reading their work.However, putting something together that’s worth a reader’s time, takes time.

In this environment, writing can be hard. Gimmicks and stunts; shock and awe, are all potential roads writers can go down.Simply because time poor people need fast facts, fast entertainment and fast news.

Selling drama buys sympathy, or in this day and age, at least a like, share or a twenty-four hour hashtag trend, triggered by a bubbly questionable logic that says, “like, wow! hashtag riots really do make a difference.”

It’s safe to say that we now live in a tabloid age. Words are thrown like darts at constructed targets of opportunity. For instance, people comment in ways they never would if the conversation they were part of was held face to face in a physical public forum. We would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have that one “friend” on social media, who always seems to take their own level of intelligence more seriously than others.

Think of the beauty and vibrancy of the democratic process presently underway in Australia. The same-sex marriage debate is misrepresented as a circus; a waste of money and time. Partly because, no doubt, some of it is.

As a result of this debate, however, we are shown the vibrancy of the Australian democratic process. It mustn’t be overlooked. Even if the beauty of it is pushed to the sidelines. For sure, the system is in need of some reform. But guess what? Review and reforms are part of adult life. They’re also a chief reason for why democracies still exist.

For the most part, the gratitude that should stem from an awareness of what we still have, is subsumed by a deep anxiety about what we’re told the other side wants to take from us.

As a consequence, thankfulness for having such responsible freedoms and a responsibility to uphold those responsible freedoms, becomes pretty much non-existent. Apathy and abdication from the democratic process soon follows.

The danger of this is self-evident: If the people aren’t interested in Governments, Governments will govern outside the interests of the people.

Like writing, good democracy takes time and effort. Participation in a physical public forum requires planning. It involves preparing beforehand what you are going to ask, say or discuss. Unlike the ersatz community of the virtual realm, decorum and respect, in the presence of others trumps the temptation to make off the cuff comments. These comments online are designed to impress and deceive. They perform a duty, not to the community involved in that forum, but to the ego of the person commenting.

Commenting online is easy. But, words in this environment tend to have no real benefit, outside serving the owner’s ego and those who applaud him. Such as his followers or friends who rejoice upon seeing a target hit by a cheap shot.

As a result, words are reduced to noise. This noise is amplified by the commerce of Social Media and the superficial, transactional relationships upheld by it.  Vanity metrics rules the debate, not a fair and democratic exchange. Which is why the mechanic [for the sake of the bottom line] is programmed to sell an idea of community as if it’s the real thing.

‘Sad it is, when men [& women] stupefy their understandings with strong doses of their private [self] Interest, as to become insensible of the Public’s.’ [i]

This is something foreseen in the lamentations of Jean Bethke Elshtain[ii], who, not without her critics, acknowledged in 1995 and later, in 2012, that the trajectory of technology, empowers mobs via technology, to hinder participation in the democratic process.

For Elshtain, the inevitable outcome is the decline of democratic debate. The hindering of authentic participation is the hindering of democracy. Of which there now exists numerous examples, such as the defamation of “no” voters.

As Elshtain noted,

‘we often hear more about the folly of the right, than we do of the left.’[iii]

Cynicism abounds. Responsible commentary is paralysed by the attraction of sensationalism.

Under the dark smile of Machiavellian logic, certain elements, through a facade of compassion seek dominance, if not total rule. Fear of offending others is utilised by the few to control the many.

We can begin to fix this by seeing that our reliance on technology cannot replace the need for careful comment and face to face interaction.

Being physically present and visible in the democratic forum upholds the democratic forum.  It is the rock of genuine relationship. All of which requires communication – the respect for representation, convention, conversation, and planning; elements that not only contribute to the idea of democracy, but are part of the very fabric of real democracy.

Democracy takes time. It means wading through the hard stuff. Asking the difficult questions and then allowing room for those questions to be answered.  If the way forward for democracy is to be taken seriously, it cannot begin with the mob, its unrestrained fury, facade of compassion, its hysteria or unruly anxiety. It begins with deep gratitude and a respect for the democratic process, which includes room for debate, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

As an American friend said to me a few weeks ago:

 “Well, at least we still get to vote on something.”

References:

[i] Penn, W. 1644 – 1718, The Political Writings of William Penn, Liberty Fund, Inc.

[ii] Elshtain, J.B, 1995 Democracy on trial, (Amazon)

[iii] State of Democracy: Maxwell School of Syracuse University Lecture 2012 (Source)

See also, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s, 1978, Harvard Speech {Transcript available here: American Rhetoric}

In a recent blog post Eitan Chitayat presented some high powered dialogue, choosing as his conversation partners those who (unwittingly?) position themselves as reactionary activists. Most of whom are from social media.

Despite the unfortunate, but forgivable title given to the article, the overall point rightly made by Chitayat is clear.

His words make up a necessary “no” to a protest filled with thoughtlessness and blind rage. (Both characteristics of any chaos fuelled lynch mob.)

He writes that:

‘If anyone doesn’t understand any of the above; if anyone doesn’t get it;
if any of my friends are going to post anti-Israel messages in a time where over 500 Palestinians have tragically died in this current conflict yet you remained silent while almost 200,000 Arabs were murdered by Arabs these past few years;
if you’re not writing about Assad using chemical weapons against his people; if you’re not writing about ISIS who crucified 8 christians the other day and who are telling Iraqi Christians ‘convert, pay tax, or die’;
if you only have criticism for the State of Israel that is doing EVERYTHING in its power to avoid civilian losses to Palestinians during a war;
if you’re going to do nothing but sit wherever you’re sitting and just dish out your anti-Israel dirt while rockets are being aimed at my house, family and friends as our boys are fighting to protect us – and you’re going to dish it out simply because we’re living in this land and you haven’t got a clue as to our connection to it;
if you’re going to join the anti-semitic and anti-Israel demonstrations flaring up in the world like we’re seeing in France, Turkey, Berlin, most Arab states and even in the US that have nothing to do with this conflict but are really just expressions of hatred directed at Jews and Israelis (and these expressions will be directed at the host countries soon);
if you’re going to stay quiet and just accept, then go ahead and unfriend me from Facebook now because you’re probably no friend of mine.’[i]

As I suggested in my own blogpost, written the same day Chitayat posted his article:

‘With small amounts of fact and/or information these glass houses become the launching pad for mobile projectiles of shame and exclusion. (We might need to also add ridicule.)
This is an ‘activism’ that measures efficiency by likes, shares and/or followers. Reflecting the fact that ‘thoughtless approval’ can be translated into hard currency by selling the side of story that is the easiest to sell (i.e.: the most believable or assumed to be most likely – potentially anything that continues to feed into the pipeline of hype)’[ii]

With the global community still trying to balance technological freedoms with responsibilities, it might be worth noting the words of Jean Bethke Elstain who, citing Hannah Arendt, highlighted the ‘strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil’.

According to Elshtain, identifying the ‘banality of evil disarms the seductive nature and hype surrounding evil’. What might also be applicable here is the imperative found in the New Testament letter of  1 John 4: ‘do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,…by this we know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error’ (ESV –  additionally, we might want to consider how fitting the practice of ‘Due Diligence’ is in this context).

Here we find ourselves reminded to keep a keen eye on context, details, and careful comment. This way we can defuse antagonism and walk through the confusion, towards healthy contributions that not only seek to speak truth but also listen. Resulting in informed conclusions actually worth sharing and/or liking.

If we aim for this, we aim to move responsibly, in a loving way, towards the place where we can play a part in denying ‘evil any form of representation that it might be seeking.’[iii]

The conclusion then is this: the Christian must not fail to hear and act, on what Dietrich Bonhoeffer , Edith Stein and those like them understood clearly:

(Judeo-) Christian hope does not permit a politically sterile withdrawal.’[iv]

References:

[i] Shalom, motherf****r. | Eitan Chitayat | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shalom-motherfr/#ixzz38RLvkRb8

[ii]Truth & Balance Vs. The Side of The Story That Sells Best

[iii] Bethke, E.B. 1995 Augustine and the limits of Politics University of Notre Dame Press, pp.74, 75, 81

[iv] Markus,R.A. 1981 Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine in Augustine and the limits of Politics, Bethke, E.B. 1995 University of Notre Dame Press

Image:”In Mosul homes are marked with the letter “Nun” (ن), the Arabic equivalent of our “N” and the abbreviation for Nasara, or “Nazarenes”: what they call Christians in a gesture of contempt to make them seem like outsiders in their own land….”(Source: http://www.patheos.com/…/muslims-marking-christian…/)

[Originally published 7th July 2014]