Wednesday, May 03, 2006

LIberal Religion vs. LIberal Politics?

I appreciate the tone of this post on immigration issues, though I think it raises a key question for me.

There is a line between liberal religion and liberal politics. The post from the UU Congregation of Central Nassau makes a lot of references to the meaning of citizenship and the rights of states. To what extent are states and citizenship the domain of religion or theology? I'll admit that for me the rights of individuals and even their groups may seem grounded in theology but I am not really ready to make the leap to states. I think there is a real reason that the Christian tradition teaches us to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's.

I understand how in theory a state may just be an extension of a community of individuals, but in practice I never see states truly functioning this way. When is the religious legitimation of the state or the rights of state actors not idolatry?

I mean this more as a question than as heated rhetoric. My initial answer would be that states are only legitimate from the point of view of theology when they (and to the extent that they are) furthering the blossoming of life in its fullness and helping beings develop (in Channing's terms) their faculties of the soul.

My view is perhaps overly influenced by Foucault's notion that power only really exists in its exercise and therefore the practice of the state is more important than the theory of the state.

Is the belief that liberal states represent agencies of human progress a conflation of liberal politics and liberal religion? I'd very much like to hear someone's argument on grounds that for liberal religion to be embodied it must function in the realm of the possible, with a full understanding of the eschatological reservation, though this is a compromise I am not sure I am ready to make.

3 Comments:

At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Clyde Grubbs said...

This is an important area of theological work. Theology that is only about individuals is (imho) weak.

Liberal theologies in the past projected at theology of progress. Theological social ethics in those liberal theologies were aimed at enhancing human potential and social conditions so that progress (God's intention of better and better) could be realized. The democratic state was a means toward that end.

For liberating theologies in our time, (where we realize the grand narrative of progress is presumptious and even ecologically dangerous) we have James Luther Adams (voluntaray associations as checks against the power of the state) and Walter Wink (the state as an embodiment of spiritual power (which can be good and which can be evil.)

Paul Rasor had not yet developed a liberal political theology but it is a project that we need to work towards. Power is a theologically question, relationship is a theological question. The state is set of relations of power.

 
At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Kim said...

I’m not that intellectual about it. Politics is the science of power. Religion is the attempt to approach meaning and the spiritual, to go deep.
Our political opinions can be informed by the religious viewpoint we have, but if government does things for other than reasons of “the good of society” it is illegitimate. If we try to make government conform to our will because of a religious opinion that has no basis in reality, then we are overstepping the bounds of separation of church and state.

If you try to make me conform to your religious views thru the government, that is wrong. If you have an opinion from your religion that you use to form your viewpoint but can then also make a rational, fact-based argument for, that is ok. You can try to convince me and others that your opinion is the correct way to go about things, but through your arguments, not thru telling me that your religion is superior to mine.

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Amenenhet said...

If we were in a room, I would ask each of you to start over -- try to keep you cofined to a topic. What are you talking about?

There is a line between liberal religion and liberal politics.
And this line is where exactly?

"To what extent are states and citizenship the domain of religion or theology" [where "Politics is the science of power & Religion is the attempt to approach meaning and the spiritual"]?

Is the belief that liberal states represent agencies of human progress a conflation of liberal politics and liberal religion?

When is the religious legitimation of the state or the rights of state actors not idolatry?

Well, ok. You guys are all over the place. :-) Political, ethical and moral.

"If government does things for other than reasons of 'the good of society' it is illegitimate..."

The U.S. govt is based on the principle of institutionalized self interest. Do for others and you will realize your own self interest. So is it for self, or for society? It is for society because it is for self.

What is "it"?

"It" is action.

"Politics is the science of power."

Politics is adapting a means to an end. Adapting implies power (force), to act, or to make an action occur. Politics is not the science of power anymore than mowing a yard is the science of how the mower works. An activity that is the science of another activity is redundant. (We'll each think about that for a minute.)

But I digress. Politics (realized)is power.

So we have a lot of words, and little meaning.

"Theological social ethics in those liberal theologies were aimed at enhancing human potential and social conditions so that progress could be realized."

I agree. That is where it took a wrong turn. A subtlety here: Liberal theologies are about empowering individuals to enhance their own potential and social conditions... Where the error occurs(ed) is in the retention of power by governments.

"The democratic state was a means toward that end."

How about this: the democratic state was the end that liberated the means (of empowering individuals) that unharnessed potential and fostered improved social conditions. Ah, but...it was the retention of this power within the higher ranks -- those who said, "We are the means to the end" -- that superimposed a benchmark that could not be realized.

The dynamic of government is in the people. It is not in the government.

More words. Not a lot of meaning.

"The state is set[s] of relations of power." I agree. I like clyde's ethical paradigm.

"To what extent are states and citizenship the domain of religion or theology"

They aren't. Religion is based on superstition. Government is based on enlightened thinking. If there is a conflation, it is between superstition and reason: rationality and irrationality.

Liberal government empowers individuals to improve themselves and their world, within the context of their own irrationalities.

Conservative government empowers individuals to sustain their improvements and their world, within the context of their own irrationalities.

Liberal is dynamic. Conservative is static. Theology is also dynamic or static. (Maybe "and/or" fits.)

All power is possessed by individuals and conferred upon governments. If there is a line between Lib. politics and theology, it would be present in the actions and irrationalities of individuals.

Well, that might be something said but it is still a difficult topic.

"Theology that is only about individuals is (imho) weak," is the very justification for retaining power (political or theological) in the governments, where it is least effective and deplorably inefficient.

IMHO
Philos

 

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