First, I want to take social practices and norms as foundational. They do not come from anywhere else, not from people or institutions or God. It is practices and norms all the way down, as it were. Second, I want to present practices and norms as always in conflict. Norms are derived from practices, but they always misrepresent practices; practices are pulled towards norms.
The image I have is of a balloon which now has too many people aboard and that, in order to stay airborne needs to throw some of its passengers overboard. I say this as what I believe is now happening is that too many people have been able to benefit from global capitalist growth over the last 20 years and that in a period of austerity and economic downturn access to the “goods” of global capitalism is going to be limited and rationed.
I have been only sporadically involved in politics throughout my ministry, generally considering political engagement by clergy to be a decidedly mixed bag. My high calling as a preacher didn’t seem to mesh well with the grubby compromise demanded by democratic politics.Then the church sent me to be bishop in Alabama.
What is the state of our democracy? Is democracy good for the world? How does religion support or hinder democratic practice? Throughout her career, Jean Bethke Elshtain has challenged both liberal and conservative approaches to politics, emphasizing the crucial role that the mediating institutions of civil society play in a successful democracy. She has identified the forces that oppose democracy: identity politics, utopianism, and an elitism that denies ordinary people the prerogatives of citizenship. Yet she has consistently maintained a realism tinged with hope, pointing to Jane Addams as an exemplar of lived democratic practice.
Christianity in China: a story of early engagements, Nestorians in the seventh century, Roman Catholics in the sixteenth, Reformed Protestants with American haircuts and accents in the twentieth. Add to that the differences between the official and ‘underground’ churches (that is, not recognised by the state but known to everyone) and the picture is complete … Or is it?
The main problem is, we the people have given and continue to give it to them. Notice in the text that it is not Aaron who first announces that the calf is the god that delivered Israel from Egypt. It is the people themselves who identify this false connection, just as we ourselves are complicit in this perverse deification of injustice.
Locating a middle requires, first, the critique of ideology, which determines the options that appear before us. But the critique of ideology requires an attentiveness to tradition, and to social practices and norms. The “Continental” side talks a lot about ideology critique, but rarely does more than gesture towards those social realities.
This is the first of what may become a series of reports from China, where I am visiting professor at the Centre for the Study of Marxism Abroad at Fudan University. My initial topic concerns Roman Catholic responses to the Chinese government, which is a communist one.