Thursday, August 2, 2012

To Assume or Not To Assume

Peter Berger makes an interesting point in his most recent post. He mentions the name Hans Grotius (a father of modern international law) who formulated international law etsi Deus non daretur—“as if God is not assumed”. Aside from being a law-talkin guy, he was a Protestant theologian with Arminian convictions who operated -- like most theologians [I'm looking at you, Death of God movement!] -- etsi Deus sic daretur - “as if God is assumed". Here's that interesting point I mentioned earlier:

An individual may be both a jurist and a theologian, with the capacity to operate in two discrete discourses.

That this is empirically true is obviously undeniable. But is it good? If someone like Yoder's analysis is right, then Berger's assertion is possible only after Constantine, when the Christian's Christian convictions could be left aside for the good of the state. Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms and Jefferson's wall of separation would appear to continue this legacy in varying forms, with it being not only possible but necessary and right for Christians to be in the world as Christians in one sphere (the spiritual/private/sacred) and as practical atheists (or deists) in another (the temporal/public/secular).

Disciples of Yoder like Hauerwas and disciples of Hauerwas like Bell decry this possibility/necessity. Indeed, Hauerwas is a self-professed theocrat. He is a theocrat because, like the people of ancient Israel, he thinks that (in the words of Walter Brueggemann quoted below) "YHWH, the God of Israel, impinges upon every facet of the political". There is no discourse in life where a Christian can "not assume" God. Indeed Hauerwas's whole project has been a learning and a teaching how to speak Christian in every discourse and every discipline - the ethical, the political, the medical, the theological, the ecclesial, the biographical. The implications of this project are enormous, and I find it immensely onerous to imagine what Hauerwas's ideal church and state looks like - an explicitly pagan state and a faithful and persecuted minority church, perhaps? But whatever the implications, I am convinced that Hauerwas -- and Yoder before him -- are right. Does that make me a theocrat? Possibly, but for the moment all I can say is that while Berger's assertion is true, it is not good that it is true.

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