The State of Things

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I appreciate this post: "The State of Things" on the Glory to God for All Things blog by Father Stephen Freeman. His personal reflections quickly turn to the realm of political theology: 

The State is an illusion (a very dangerous illusion). It is an illusion in that it has no particular standing within the Divine scheme. States are secular entities, the inventions of man for his own reasons, and are therefore illusory (in an ontological sense). The Kingdoms of this World will become the Kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ – Scripture tells us (but not until the end of all things). I am more afraid of being ruled by some Christians than I am of the current corporate class.

Having said that the State is an illusion doesn’t mean that I think you or I should try and make it disappear. I simply think the State should be extremely relativized in the thought of Christians pursuing the Kingdom of God...
I especially like this last phrase. I strongly feel the same should be said about political parties and the most popular commentators... or maybe about politics in general. As he points out, some things are not worth killing for, but it is easy even in American to whip people into a frenzy to the extent they will cheer for the death of an uninsured person.

The current world drama is an act upon a stage written by those who believe they are responsible for history’s outcome. Of course, it is presently an absurdist drama. None in the American State Department have any idea what the “Arab Spring” is about. Even those who are making it happen seem to be less than sure. But we are certain enough to kill. That seems to me to be a serious bet that you either know the outcome, or think you can manage it.

One of the great tragic dramas of human world-management followed the Cease-fire that ended the First World War. The winners (led in large part by the British and by American President Woodrow Wilson) re-drew the map of the world. They created countries where none had existed. Some of the countries included dangerous imbalances of ancient enemies (Shiites versus Sunnis, for instance). The decisions were often arbitrary beyond belief. The result has been a century of turmoil and war – much of which is rooted in absurdities born in the space of six months of 1919.

I see a connection between this international hubris and what we currently see in American politics. The first few centuries of Christianity witnessed powerful voices that defied political convention by preaching the simple message that one's faith should be lived out, to give of oneself for the healing of the world. And for the purposes of one's own salvation. No marches or protests required for either the facade of liberty or the pittance of government assistance.

As someone who teaches classes on politics, I try to look at things we take for granted such as these and see if there is a better way to explain them. It is a difficult task in a climate where everyone with a political axe to grind cries "freedom!" and yet devolves into a boorish hypocrisy, whether legislating the death of innocents or cheering the death of the uninsured. As in the early centuries we need to hear again from those who live within the cycle of feasts, those who pray the hours, the ascetics, and the descendants of martyrs. I suppose that is a long way of saying I welcome thoughts on politics from those engaged in spiritual discipline. Give us more as best you can.


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I teach them all the good I can, and recommend them to others from whom I think they will get some moral benefit. And the treasures that the wise men of old have left us in their writings I open and explore with my friends. If we come on any good thing, we extract it, and we set much store on being useful to one another. - Socrates, Memorabilia
What we maintain is that in none of the problems of life can men afford to lose sight of the storehouse bequeathed to them by the ancients. In the complexus of everything which differentiates man from the brute creation, the voice of antiquity must be heard...

-H. Browne, quoted in "Classics and Citizenship" The Classical Quarterly, 1920