Karl Barth and Roger Scruton make unlikely conversation partners. Barth, was a Reformed Swiss theologian, who held up the distinction between theology and philosophy, and Scruton, is a British philosopher, who talks theology, but knows his limits on the subject.
The meeting between the two takes place in Barth’s On Religion and Scruton’s, The West and All the Rest. Together they provide a telescopic view of modern religio-politics and the socio-political landscape of the West.
One big theme for Scruton is the relationship between the ‘social contract’ and Creed communities[i] (or communities bound by religious law). One clear example of a Creedal Community is a community living under Shari’a law.
Shari’a is held up by the Muslim community as unchangeable divine law. ‘The gate of itijiahd is closed’, meaning that the divine law, the Shari’a, can no longer be adjusted or added to, but merely studied for meaning that it already contains.’ [ii]
Within Islam, salvation comes through the law. Routine obedience to both ritual and law ‘makes and unmakes a Muslim’s relationship with God.’ [iii] Islamic ‘communities are not formed by doctrine, but by obedience, established through ritual and law’. [iv] There is no objective political body such as is created, in the West, by the separation of the Church and State.
‘Like the Communist Party in its Leninist construction, Islam aims to control the state without being a subject of the state […] Islamic jurisprudence does not recognise secular, still less territorial, jurisdiction as a genuine source of law. [v]
Scruton asserts that Western foundations were laid by Judeo-Christian doctrine and Roman law, where ‘law is defined over territory [territorial jurisdiction]’. Jesus’, “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, to God what is God’s” (Mt.22:21). From the two, emerged the so-called “social contract”. This consists of the rights and responsibilities of free citizens, lived out, and governed within the boundaries of classical enlightenment liberalism and its ‘’culture of toleration’’.
Scruton explains that even though in the Western sphere, ‘religion is the concern of family and society, but not of the State’ [vi], the “social contract” has an undeniable foundation in the Judeo-Christian experience, which advocates love for God and love for neighbour, whether that neighbour be a Jew, Christian, Muslim or neither. Neighbour serves neighbour, just as that neighbour would serve himself (Leviticus 19:9-18, Deuteronomy 6 & Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).
This implies personal responsibility, which functions under the covering of this basic agreement. An agreement that works for social and political cohesion; a ‘common loyalty to a single [secular] political culture’ [vii], within in a diverse, vibrant and free society.
Rather than within a coercive society or politik grounded in allegiance to one overarching ruler, party or carefully structured narrative.
In other words, the “social contract” exists within a house where freedom is governed responsibly; it cannot exist in a house of slavery, where freedom is squashed by opposing extremes such as Islamism, Nihilism, subjective relativism, or communist/Marxist doctrine.
Barth’s major theme meets Scruton’s precisely where Barth asserts that religion, when it’s abstracted from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, becomes idolatrous and toxic.* E.g.: Works righteousness; where the focus is not on what God has done, but on what man and woman do, and how they can reach God, without God.
Scruton and Barth, present a tangible argument for the importance of recognising the dangers of severing the “social contract” from the Judeo-Christian experience.To do so, is to lose its unique critique and affirmation.
Responsible freedom and civics (the “social contract”) facilitate true freedom, because it understands that true freedom only exists when just limitations, are applied to protect freedom from the challenges which threaten its existence.
Such as post-enlightenment nihilism (manifested as militant secular humanism), cultural Marxism, Islamism and radical feminism, all of which, through revisionism and deconstruction theory, seek to sever society from tried and true, Judeo-Christian doctrine and experience, without regard for the anchoring of freedom that it provides.
For Barth, men and women act against God’s grace (His unmerited salvation). In man and woman’s quest to reach God, on human terms, his and her ‘erecting of towers of babel’, are faithless acts, built on flawed and faithless human arrangements.
These human arrangements are absent of any involvement or acknowledgement of or faith in the Divine. Barth points out that, as history proves, when one religion fades or is usurped, another inevitably takes its place.
Scruton appears to agree, stating that both Marxism and Feminism, share the ‘ambitions of a monotheistic faith [religion]’
‘It seeks to replace or rearrange the core experience of social membership and therefore has the ambitions of a monotheistic faith, [like Marxism] offering a feminist answer to every moral and social question…a feminist [and Marxist] [account of history], theory of the universe, and even a feminist goddess. It drives the heretics and half-believers from its ranks with a zeal that is the other side of the warmth with which it welcomes the submissive and orthodox.’ [viii]
‘…we should acknowledge that the worst forms of nationalism and socialism arise when their adherents look to them to provide the equivalent of a religious faith. – an absolute submission that will sweep away all doubt, demand total sacrifice and offer redemption in exchange. This is what the latter-day Marxists are demanding.’ [xix]
This goal is also evidenced in the remarks of, György Lukács, one of the founders of “Western Marxism”, in Record of a Life:
“You cannot just sample Marxism […] you must be converted to it.” [x]
Scruton and Barth share a common protest. Connected to Barth’s discussion on religion without revelation, Scruton helps build a strong theological critique of Islamism, Marxism and Feminism. All exist as religions without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
Just as religion without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, is bound for destruction, so is Western political philosophy that jettisons its Judeo-Christian foundations; foundations that hold up a moral and faith basis for Classical Liberal enlightenment principles, such as the largely successful independent working relationship between Church and State.
In Islam there is no equivalent to a separation between Church and State. Like Marxism, the State is the Church (or Mosque). All moral opposition is treated as treason. (Exemplified by ex-Muslim & secular humanist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her book, ‘Infidel’ and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his 1971, Harvard address).
As neighbour betrays neighbour, family member betrays family member, all politically incorrect discussion or dissent [talk not approved by the State] is reported to organisations like the Morality Police (Gasht-e Ershad) or the Soviet Cheka, The Soviet Union’s equivalent to the Gestapo[xi].
Scruton makes it clear that, what is at work behind the scenes, in the West, is not a denial of religion, but a quest to replace it. Barth makes it clear that any religion completely absent or synthetically veiled with lip service to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is one to be resisted.
Like Barth’s admonishment of natural theology during the rise of Hitlerism and the Third Reich. Like his warnings of how faithlessness leads humanity towards inhumanity. Like Barth’s meticulous warnings of any religion which exists without the sublimating [raising to a higher status] of religion through the revelation of Jesus Christ [God’s unmerited salvation – grace], Scruton points a telescope towards a storm that’s been darkening the horizon, but has been dangerously dismissed, by far too many for far too long.
[i] This term is attributed to Oswald Spengler, The Decline of The West.
[ii] Scruton, R. 2002 The West & All The Rest: Globalization & The Terrorist Threat ISI Books
[iii] ibid, p.21
[iv] ibid, p.103
[v] ibid, pp.6 & 66
[vi] ibid, p.63
[vii] ibid, p.63
[viii] ibid, p.72
[xix] Scuton, R. 2014 How to Be a Conservative: The Truth in Socialism, Bloomsbury Publishing (p.64)
[x] Scruton, R. 2015. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, New Thinkers of The Left. Bloomsbury Publishing
[xi] Another example comes from Alain Besancon, who wrote: ‘Muslim states, according to strict adherence to law, cannot authorize the reciprocal tolerance asked of them by Christian states. In calling for this, Christians show their ignorance of Islam.’ (Forward to Jacques Ellul’s, Islam and Judeo-Christianity).
*(Such as: any religion [claim to the way of salvation] that holds a veneer of revelation, but ultimately rejects both covenant and Jesus Christ as the promise and fulfillment of God’s revelation; God’s free choosing and acting in and through the covenant of grace.)
Tell your story and shout from the rooftops, “…look at what the Lord has done” (Psalm 118:17).
‘Perhaps the figure of ‘the martyr’ [μαρτύριον – marturion] that we need to mobilize [recover] is not the one who sacrifices him-or herself but the one whose compulsion is to witness and to provide testimony.’
(Shelly Rambo, 2010. Spirit & Trauma: A Theology of Remaining)
Part of my story:
Christian “selfies” reflect Christ.
‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’
(Matthew 5:13-16, ESV)
Relentless, I hear the sighs.
The “talentless” noticed by nothingness and its endless siren’s cry.
Sinking into the sands of insignificance,
. head lowering;
. a sun and its sinking glow;
. heart being dragged under by the weight of its undertow.
Hear the black dog that snarls and rides with the incoming tide.
See the fight from within.
As the fire of creativity lights up embers,
. and inhaled grace ignites.
For this battle belongs the beat of a drum,
. foot soldiers, metaphors, the Rock of offense;
. the white horse, its rider and the march of the second Adam.
Once more, embroiled in a stand-off with emptiness.
. Once more, engulfed in battle against listlessness.
. Once more, pushing back echoes that drift through the mist of a toxic mess.
This battle is fought in the shadows.
Where fists meet walls in nightmares,
and an exhausted silence follows.
Each bit of shade.
One more potential mask.
Insincerity and plasticity,
. hiding behind ersatz love, fabricated charity and a pristine facade.
Against which there is no retreat; no slide into the dark,
No giving in to the Black dog, its bite or grave digging bark.
Only complete surrender to the white horse’s scarred rider;
The alpha, the omega; the finish and the start.
‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:7. ESV)
Wings stretch and earth darkens.
From West to East, wrists to wood
From the river of bitter vinegar, to where it merges with blood from the north.
South past open flesh,
. before which mockery stood.
To where pierced feet meet;
. on branch intersecting branch;
. where branch kills the vine,
. and the vine is laid to rest.
All within the borders
. of an empire, and an empire’s hornets’ nest.
To where silent spaces are professionally sealed
For fear of blind and impassioned zeal.
Before the scarlet X.
That marks the scarlet spot;
To the place where men and women,
. embalm the unforgettable
. with a burial cloth.
Look to the place forged by Light;
. to the heart of where the darkened,
. once received their sight.
To where the sudden presence of the messenger
disturbed the guards and the still of night.
There you’ll find that death
. and boulder was no match for Light from Uncreated Light.
There the fire-born, who stands inside this broken enclave.
turns to humanity and sets its gaze.
“From God comes His own humiliation.
This; God’s self-limitation, now become your exaltation.
This unforgettable vertical collision,
lifts the now forgiven.
Therefore, rise as you are raised.
For I tell you the truth, He is Risen!”
‘In the person of Jesus Christ, in the death of the Son of God on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. God allowed this humiliation to come upon Himself and this exaltation to be the lot of the other, humanity […] God could not be more glorious as God than in this inconceivable humiliation of Himself to humanity, and the no less inconceivable exaltation of humanity to Himself.’
-(Karl Barth, CD. II:1 pp.662-664)
Homeschooling is an ever evolving journey, not an ever revolving journey.
There are some areas that might fall into the latter description such as, ROTE learning of music theory, chemistry, Latin, Koine Greek and mathematics. For example: formulas, elements, phrases, alphabet, and rapid recall multiplication, addition, subtraction and division.
I wouldn’t be so quick to place Bible memory verses into a revolving journey category simply because they apply to both a revolving and an evolving journey; more so the evolving than revolving, because as we grow and face new life experiences the Bible speaks for itself to us in different ways.
The Bible confronts us. Although God remains the same and His Word remains unchanged, when we are met by this Word, we do not remain as we once were.
Maturity in the faith isn’t being able to rattle off a bunch of scripture verses. Nor is it based on my church attendance record, Instagram followers, vanity metrics, “friends” or high hitting blog stats. Maturity in the faith is recognising how scripture verses rattle us in our sin, out of our sin; out of complacency, apathy, negative stubborn patterns of behaviour and selfishness.
An evolving journey is about character development, whereas a revolving one implies that we’re stuck, immovable. Like Sisyphus forever pushing the boulder.
An evolving journey is still forged by routine. The difference is that in an evolving journey new routines break old ones. This is one of the reasons we observe Lent.
Lent provides an opportunity to reconsider routine; to act against unhealthy habits. It’s a small part of a global commitment from Christians to observe, review and let go of the certain things in our lives that slowly consume us, the more we consume it. Within that comes the humility to recognise that no matter how successful or privileged we may be; we are all still sinners in need of a Saviour.
Participation in Lent doesn’t have to be complicated, overly planned or structured. It just requires commitment. I won’t say simple commitment, for the reason that I know even the smallest of fasts can sometimes be the hardest.
Author, activist, Pastor and urban theologian, Eric Mason wrote:
‘In rabbinic culture, disciples walked behind those whom they followed as teacher. They would literally follow their master around imitating him […] Following Jesus always means abandoning something else that preoccupied our lives prior to grace passing us by and being preoccupied by Him. To follow Jesus is the follow the grace of God. The Christian life is filled with things that will seek to deter us from following Jesus. There must be a point in our lives where we decide we are committing our lives fully to the master.’
It may not seem Holy, and it may seem too simplistic, but this year my wife and I committed to ditch our after dinner snacks. We like to celebrate our only alone time together throughout the week and this is one way we express that.
Our kids made their own decision. They were asked to come up with their own joint fast. After much discussion, they presented us with their agreed upon proposal. The consensus among them was to fast from streaming movies, including YouTube kids, Netflix etc[ii].
This is what being part of the Church; or as Karl Barth would state it, the Commonwealth of Christ, means to us. Being part of the Church is an evolving journey that sometimes, though not always, involves the revolving door of routine. Lent comes in many different colours, applications and ethnicities. What unites all those in their diversity is Jesus Christ, the absence of Pride.
For Lent to be what Lent is, humility must win. It is a time for a more active participation in the life of God; a time where minds, deeds, hearts and attitudes are directed towards focusing more intensely and intentionally, on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Homeschooling isn’t always filled with routine. It involves random group activities or popcorn and movie marathons like watching Ben Hur. Like lent, stopping to look and listen for lessons as they present themselves requires humility.
As I’ve pointed out few times here in the past, pride is not compatible with love, self-denial and grace go hand-in-hand.
It requires stopping, breathing in grace and exhaling the dust accumulated over the past year. We are set free by God to do so, if only we would ‘submit to God, and resist the devil’ (James 4:7) and ‘put on (not put out) the armour of light’ (Romans 13:12). Like Bible memory verses the evolving journey involves new routine that breaks unhealthy routines that have long ago over-stayed their welcome.
We are broken by the Word of God, pulled out of mindless routines, soul sucking environments and away from merciless task masters. Called to remember that by, in and through Him; His faith, His journey, His-story, we are made new and called out to live as one who is adopted by a Father who reached for us, so that we may be free, and therefore permitted, to reach out for Him.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5, ESV)
[i] Mason, E. 2014 Beat God To The Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life, B & H Publishing
[ii] Lent is 40 days and doesn’t include Sundays due to it being a traditional day of celebration.