Johannes de Silentio admits that “Abraham I cannot understand, in a certain sense there is nothing I can learn from him but astonishment.” Can we say the same about John Brown? Smith clearly wants us to learn from him and from what happened at Harpers Ferry, not to mention what happened six weeks later. But it is a curious sort of learning, since Brown’s exceptional status — like Smith’s subtitle — acknowledges the limits of ethics in making sense of the violence enacted by, and on, such a singular figure.
Ted Smith delivers an unprecedented thesis about Brown’s violent assault on slaveholders as the human side of a “divine violence.” From beyond the limits of any earthly system of political justice and social ethics, this is a divine judgment against the validity of an entire system of political ethics. Addressed, for one, to American ethicists today — both those who teach and study in the university and those who voice their ethical judgments on street corners, in churches, and across the Sunday dinner table — Smith’s words, while gently spoken, deliver their own report of divine judgment.
In conjunction with the Marginalia (part of the LA Review of Books), Political Theology Today has organized a symposium on Ted Smith’s extraordinary new book Weird John Brown: Divine Violence and the Limits of Ethics. Over the coming two and a half weeks, we will host responses to the book from E. Brooks Holifield, William Cavanaugh, Peter Ochs, Keri Day, and Andrew Murphy, concluding with a response to the responses by author Ted Smith. Here is the first response, from E. Brooks Holifield of Emory University.
This is the first of a series of five articles on understanding China today. The articles cover politics, economics, culture and religion, since all of these are important for making some sense of what is happening. Each topic is approached from the Marxist tradition, for this is a key that is too often ignored. The
Political Theology Today is proud to announce that one of our Contributing Editors, Roland Boer, is the winner of the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize for 2014. The prize is “awarded for a book which exemplifies the best and most innovative new writing in or about the Marxist tradition.” In this case, it was awarded for In the Vale of Tears (2014), but also in recognition of the whole Criticism of Heaven and Earth series. We have invited him to summarize his extraordinary work in this area for our readers.
So what do the findings I have shared indicate for the future of the Christian right? They demonstrate despite the Republicans recent 2014-midterm results, that millennial Christians are more ambivalent about politics than their parents. According to Pew Research, millennial turnout in 2014 was down 6 points on the 2012 Presidential election, whilst there was 6 point increase amongst baby boomers aged 50-68. Older white Christian males swung the election in the GOP’s favour. Though this temporarily bodes well for GOP-Christian right relations, it is clear that there will be a significant age-gap problem very soon, for partisan ties are very much weaker amongst millennials.
Following Bush’s consecutive victories in 2000 and 2004 the Christian right have been labeled the ‘backbone’ and ‘base’ behind the Republican Party’s electoral successes. Evangelical born-again Christians constitute around 26% of the US electorate according the latest Pew Research poll, of whom three-quarters consistently vote Republican. For forty years the considerable convening power of these faithful conservatives have made them an attractive constituency for Republicans to court. Aligning with their social and cultural concerns, this relationship has generated a distinguishing feature amongst Western politics, the American ‘values voter’.