Reading “Faith and Politics After Christendom” by Jonathan Bartley I’m fascinated by the section where he gives different examples of the action of politically radicalised Christians. It seems common that, as our society ‘descends’ (?) into Post-Christendom and loses many of the laws and cultural norms brought about by Christianity’s involvement in government, Christians decide to take action and do something about it in the political sphere.
Bartley broadly categorises this into positive and negative responses:
- Where Christians are shocked at moral loosening and wish to reintroduce stricter morals by regulation.
- Where Christians see injustice and wish to encourage government to ‘do something about it’.
Now, I can see that these two categories do exist (and bear in mind that Barley points out that many people involved in these things will have a broad mix of motive that may include both categories), but I’m not sure that they are as different as they first appear.
Surely they both break down into these aspects:
People are being wronged (maybe they know they are [obvious injustice] or maybe they don’t know that they are [moral damage]) and some Christians, who are politically motivated, want to impose a solution on society (whether it is prohibitive law or ‘positive’ action by the state).
We must surely note that even the more ‘positive’ of these two categories does include the taking or diminishing of resources from some people (perhaps taxation) and applying those resources to people as the radicalised group sees fit. A bit of spin and the opportunity to tell people how wonderful this piece of justice is (justice that we as Christians are called to practice in our lives) can promote the action in a positive light, but we also must remember that it is reliant on the backbone of the law, reliant on the ability to control people with the ultimate resort to violence.
Now, if you don’t believe my last point then note this example: A man chooses not to pay his taxes. By law the people (the state) dictate that people pay their taxes. Does this man get to keep his freedom? No, he is put in prison. What stops him continuing to exercise his freedom? The fact that if he were to try to do so people would stop him. Ultimately society is able to restrain, and if necessary be violent against that person in order to force that person to either cooperate or to accept punishment.
So, in my mind, both these categories of radicalised action fall into the trap of trying to control others, rather than trying to be an example to others and trying to love others (without at the same time trying to control others). I don’t yet know what Bartley’s tack on this is, but I look forward to reading on!!!