Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Family Forum

I track American politics in part because I think they are the most entertaining form of reality television and in part because, as someone who happens to live on American soil, they have a certain pragmatic relevance for me. Naturally, I have been watching the bevy of Republican debates and can honestly say that the Thanksgiving Family Forum, held in a church by a Christian organization, was by far the most painful to watch. For me, at least, the worst part isn't even difficult to isolate. It wasn't Rick Perry talking about the values "this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers" (you remember, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Rabbi Goldberg). It wasn't even the extremely unsettling attempt by Rick Santorum to convert his infant daughter's struggle with almost certainly terminal Edwards Syndrome into politcal currency. It was this theologically disasterous thought by Michelle Bachmann:

I have a biblical worldview. And I think, going back to the Declaration of Independence, the fact that it’s God who created us—if He created us, He created government.

Let's forget for a moment that she claims a "biblical worldview" and immediately directs us to the Declaration of Independence and not the Bible and focus on what it means for theology to suggest that if God created us then He necessarily created human government. There are certainly theological systems (dreary, Calvinistic systems) which insist that it is appropriate to speak of God as the creator of everything we create because He created us. I wonder if Bachmann would be ready to endorse the implications of that theology (as so many of its more honest adherents are), that this makes God not only the author of civil government but also the author of various other sins like abortion, rape, nuclear war, and any other human malevolance imaginable. That logic paints a very scary picture, which is why so many of the rest of us are willing to accept a moral disconnect between what God has created and what we create as His creations.

The one bright moment in the whole affair is when Ron Paul contrasted the decentralized post-Exodus Israel and the centralized Israel of the kings, with the shift to the latter being (consistent with explicit biblical statements) perhaps the most destructive turn in Israelite history. His point, of course, was that human governments are nasty things that should be limited or avoided altogether when possible. The whole hermeneutical exercise had profound Lipscomb overtones--as Lipscomb would make a similar point in his works with the story of Samuel and Saul about the folly of civil government--though the two men arrive at very different ultimate conclusions. Delightfully, though Paul also endorsed the Augustinian view of just war (citing the saint by name), he admitted that just war theory is in tension with the experience of the early church and Christ's own emphasis on peace. For his own betterment (though perhaps not that of the American political landscape), I cannot help but hope that Paul will take that final ideological step and realize that government is so nasty that, as a Christian, he ought to just wash his hands of the whole endeavor.

Of course, then what would everyone be left with? Newt Gingrich and his profound answer to the worldwide Occupy Movement: "Go get a job, right after you take a bath."

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