Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Democracy, right reason, and nationhood under God

The case we have been looking at in Acts 27 underscores just how important right reason and right motives are in the process of participative democratic self-government, if disaster is to be averted.

For, when agendas and interests are allowed to induce us to actions that are unwise given our environment, that is an invitation to disaster. So, in that regard, Luke's highlighting of the incident at Fair Havens is an excellent case study that we would well do to heed.

But this is not an issue that is in a vacuum, for as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his recent Regensburg address:

Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably [. . .] is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..."

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the [. . . .]. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, [. . . ], with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist.

. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul - [. . .], worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe . . . the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith . . . . [emphasis added]

Thus, let us now turn to the words of the man who pioneered that synthesis [and is thus the true -- but too often deeply resented and unacknowledged -- Father of Western Civilisation as we know it], in his first major encounter with the intellectual elites of Pagan Greece. Namely, the same Paul of Tarsus, at Mars Hill in 50 AD, i.e. about nine years before the shipwreck incident we have been reflecting on:

AC 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown [i.e. he has here scored a knockout in his opening: the proud guardians of the West's intellectual tradition have had to build and maintain, perhaps for centuries, a monument to their ignorance on the most important single point of knowledge] I am going to proclaim to you [thus, the importance of humbly listening to what God credibly has to say, in our reasoning].

AC 17:24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men [so much for racism and xenophobic jingoism], that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. [That is, God controls history through holding the reigns of the elements of geopolitics: people, place and times] 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us [that is, the chaos caused by our sinful folly should awaken us to cry out to God, who is right there willing to answer and help; however lacking in detailed knowledge we are]. 28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.'

AC 17:29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." [That is, God has an offer of adequate proof that we should heed, on pain of self-referentially inconsistent - thus patently absurd -- selective hyperskepticism] [Parenthetical comments added]

Now, obviously, both the Pope and Paul have in mind dialogue across worldviews on the subject of the credibility of God. However, as Paul also points out, this worldviews level multi-sided evangelistic dialogue cannot be isolated from the issue of nationhood under God and the issue of wisdom in respect of community life and government under God, given the adequate proof God has given to us: the man Jesus, his salvific death and resurrection leading to not only 500+ witnesses and the church as an otherwise inexplicably successful movement.

In short, right reason, instructed by the candle of God within us leads to that core morality, prudence and good sense that should govern national life and citizenship, but so often fails to. As the Apostle picks up in his AD 57 letter to Rome:

Rom 2:14 . . . when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them . . . .

RO 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established . . . [The civil authority] is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer . . . . RO 13:6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

RO 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [Emphases added]

But then there is a modernist trend to try to improperly shorten the radius of reason, to exclude God from rational thought. This, the pope takes up very well:

[The typical secularised] modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. [I note, this is not at all the same as absolute truth] The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned . . . . if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective . . . This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

In short, to so constrict the radius of reason ends in foolishness, logical and moral.

No wonder, Paul, too, is so telling in his long-standing diagnosis of Western culture's intellectual currents in light of our proclivities to forget God and exclude him from our intellectual, civil and moral life:

RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened . . . . RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

In short, the worldviews issues we have seen are hardly isolated from the practical challenges of Government, justice and civil liberty in a community worth having. So, whether the lawlessness of those who would snuff out the candle of God within us comes in the form of chaotic license rather than good citizenship, or that of tyranny, injustice and aggression to impose one's vision and views on others by force of arms, turning from him who is Reason Himself is a profoundly irrational and destructive thing to do.

No wonder, then, that in fact, it was the reformation that brought to the fore precisely these issues that played such a key -- but again often resented and unacknowledged -- role in the rise of modern liberty. [Here, it is to be underscored again that the consequences of putting the Bible in the hands of the ordinary man and encouraging him to read it and live by its light was a centuries-long wave-train of liberation struggles that have massively and positively helped shape the modern world. Not least, sadly, that struggle had to be fought against a sub-biblical understanding of the Christian faith that failed to reckon adequately with the whole counsel of God on the matter of liberty and justice in the community, as Rom 13:1 - 10 so aptly captures.]

Consequently, the ongoing, rising agenda that seeks to dechristianise the West, as well that of the Islamists -- NB: not to be confused with all, or even most, Muslims! -- who plainly wish to impose an arbitrary rule in the name of Allah, his prophet, his law and his warriors, are both plainly less-than-truly rational.

Furthermore, it is all to well warranted to conclude that these two fundamentally irrational movements, sadly, are in fact also indeed therefore major twin threats to true -- that is, god-fearing -- wisdom in Government, and to its proper object: liberty and justice for all. So now, let us turn to how we can renew and reform civil society in our time through a fresh reformation towards true liberty and justice for all. This is the challenge that now faces us in the Caribbean and across the whole world END

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