Essays

Everywhere, it seems, one hears “Wasn’t our country founded as a Christian nation? Shouldn’t we vote only for Christian candidates willing to stand up for our beliefs?” The talk has grown in volume in recent years as earnest Christians endeavor to discern God’s will for church and society. Behind this talk is a movement known as Christian Reconstructionism, whose set of ideas is based on bringing Christian law into the public and political sphere….

Inter-religious understanding and debate, once neglected within the academic study of theology and religion, has acquired a political significance that is unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future, with the result that it will require substantial and sustained scholarly engagement and investment for the long-term.

The focus of the current issue of Political Theology (13.4) is religious pluralism, and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. Overlooked and marginalised for too long in the academic study of theology and religion – where the ‘big beasts’ of the discourse have tended to be scholars pre-occupied with intra-religious concerns, and where expertise in religions in the plural has been frequently regarded as stretching yourself too thinly – such studies are slowly assuming an academic importance commensurate with the geopolitical significance of religion…..

Roland Boer argues that both the Right and the Left contribute to a false dilemma and an alienated politics….In the current, sad situation of politics in the bourgeois state, we seem to be trapped in the tired old opposition of big government versus small government. If one is a political-junky of the USA(I find it a snore), this issue has once again come to fore by the selection of Paul Ryan to be Mitt Romney’s Republican running mate in the elections of 2012. Ryan is a classic proponent of small government, trailing the dust of von Hayek, Friedman and the rest. Toss out government programs (national health scheme, age care etc.) and then savagely cut taxes to put more money in the pockets of the owners of capital so they can spend it to stimulate a failing economy. Elsewhere you encounter the slogan of ‘big society’, beloved of David Cameron’s Tories in the UK, with the assumption that the state should thereby be small. And you find it the standard move of ‘privatising’ state assets, assuming that the ‘private’ sector will run them better. In reality, of course, it is merely selling off state assets to one’s buddies in the business world. Through it all runs the mantra that the state should not be in business of, well, running businesses. It is supposedly inefficient, lax and corrupt…..

I am an American who lives and teaches political theology in the United Kingdom, and for the next few months I will be reflecting on the experiences, pitfalls, and opportunities in teaching political theology. This month I begin with a summary of the book which I recently published as an aide to teaching political theology, and this will be followed in the coming months with reflections on teaching political theology in the US and the UK, teaching political theology to conservative and liberal students, and teaching political theology ecumenically….

John’s gospel is replete with splendid imagery of the saving power of Jesus, so much so that it can be easy to wonder how the disciples could have even considered turning away from Jesus, even at the cross. But here we are, still a far cry from the cross and Jerusalem, long before the last supper and the cock’s crow, and rather than the masses that we’ve grown to expect to see coming out towards Jesus in droves, we are told that many who were following him turn away from Jesus en masse. How could this happen? What motivates those who leave? And what’s more, in the face of such harsh words–of inevitable tribulation ahead–what motivates those who stay? These are the politics of today’s gospel text…

The sermon below is taken from “The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” edited and introduced by Isabel Best. // The overcoming of fear—that is what we are proclaiming here. The Bible, the gospel, Christ, the church, the faith—all are one great battle cry against fear in the lives of human beings. Fear is, somehow or other, the archen­emy itself. It crouches in people’s hearts. It hollows out their insides, until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing, while hell rejoices….

“The individual today is often suffocated between two poles represented by the State and the marketplace” (Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus #49). The 2012 U.S. presidential campaign has, to a degree unseen for several years, brought to the fore the fundamental issues of political life: the relationship of the individual to society, the role of the state and of the economy in society, etc. The selection of Paul Ryan as Republican Mitt Romney’s running mate, an intellectually capable and ideologically driven conservative, ensures that will continue to be the case….

This week’s lection is a well-loved, much-cited chestnut from which a thousand moralistic sermons have germinated. And with good reason. Solomon becomes king and when given the chance to have any wish fulfilled by God, chooses wisdom over the usual favorites, long life, wealth and power.

As even a cursory glance at this weeks lectionary reference will reveal, however, there are a couple of gaps in the text. The first is what happens just before Solomon dies, as he gets last minute instructions from David about scores that the family needs settling. The second is between the time that Solomon ascends to the throne, and the time Solomon and Yahweh have their little heart-to-heart. When you read that part that the lectionary omits, what you find is not Solomon sitting around having his daily quiet time in prayer and study of the scripture, but rather in the ruthless pursuit of control and the exercise of the royal prerogative of vengeance against the enemies of the monarchy…

I confess it – I am an Olympics junky! Glued to the TV last night as Bolt, Blake and Weir gave Jamaica at clean sweep in the 200 metres on the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence…John Reader is right to remind us in his recent post on this Blog that the Roman ethic of ‘bread and circuses’ infused the ancient games – they were a means of social control. Is that what has been going on in London for the last two weeks?

Joshua Brockway, Director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship for the Church of the Brethren, seeks a path beyond the recent conversations on the survival of Liberal Christianity.

In the cover story of the August 6 edition of Time magazine, Joe Klein offers a rather grim account of the U.S. national conversation about guns in the wake of recent mass shootings. He writes about the ways in which the political climate, increasingly and rather bizarrely governed by the gun lobby, has made it impossible to have any serious political dialogue about the regulation of guns and ammunition. The article is provocatively entitled, “How Guns Won.” It is clear to me from reading the piece, however, that Mr. Klein wants to stay far from actually attributing victory to guns themselves. Rather, he wants to maintain the more commonsense view that it is those political actors that value gun-owning, certainly backed by the gun industry but also fiercely devoted to libertarian ideals, that have won decisive victories. However, I think we could take Mr. Klein’s title quite literally and say that guns themselves have essentially won what Bruno Latour might call a “trial of strength” in which they had been engaged with their critics….

The crucial thread in Perry’s narrative has been that of the “turn to loyalty”: where Rawlsian liberalism can dismiss the problem of religious loyalty and imagine that religious and political loyalties ought by their very nature never to conflict, Locke recognized clearly that such conflicts do happen, and such loyalties must be carefully attended to if they are to be harmonized. Accordingly, he provides not merely a solution of political theory, but a solution of political theology that attempts to establish, from within Christianity, the proper nature of Christian loyalty. Unfortunately, most interlocutors today simply no longer recognize the tension but persist in a naïve conviction that civil loyalty and religious loyalty ought to pose no threat to one another in modern America…