Last Wednesday, Ryan Mahoney introduced the readers of this blog to a new series we are running, entitled Contextual Theology. In short, this series is driven by our desire to see Evangelicals re-root themselves in the Great Tradition of the Church. While many within Western Protestantism have been taught that “tradition” is a dirty word most commonly associated with Catholics, the Reformers of the 1500s would never have seen the Great Tradition in this light. Indeed, it takes little more than a cursory examination of even a few of the writings of Calvin, Luther and Zwingli to see that these men were deeply invested in tying their theology to the teachings of the universal church that preceded them. So today, as we continue to walk in the footsteps of the Magisterial Reformers, our series continues by taking a look at the modern, pro-life movement through the lens of an ancient text called The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Read the rest of this entry »
Tag Archives: politics
We have been discussing the need for evangelicals to develop an evangelical, political philosophy in this series of posts. Previously, we discussed the problem of present evangelical engagement with the political culture and the need for a coherent vision for such engagement, using Ron Sider’s book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics as a jumping off point. The last post briefly surveyed the history of Christian engagement with culture, and I argued that evangelicals needed to root themselves in the tradition of this engagement as a guide for future direction. But, there is a problem; even if evangelicals could decide which elements of the tradition are worth retaining and who gets to decide such matters (both of which are very large problems that will need to be addressed later), we still need to articulate our position to the broader culture. What authority generates our political convictions: scripture, reason, experience or some combination thereof? How can we meaningfully engage such a pluralistic society? How can we articulate “our” political message to Hindus, Buddhists, Jewish people, Muslims, Agnostics, Atheists, and other people holding to different worldviews? Read the rest of this entry »
As a teacher charged with the task of helping students learn how to construct and deconstruct arguments, I often begin the year by asking my students to articulate their own personal worldview. Why is there something rather than nothing? How do you know what you know? What is the meaning of history? How do you explain the moral nature of humanity? What has gone wrong with the world? Can it be set right? Will it be set right? What will “right” ultimately look like?
As foundational as these questions may first appear to be, you might be surprised to know how rare it is for a student to be able to answer these questions in any kind of a meaningful way. Regardless of how bright the student may be, they are often incapable of providing even the most rudimentary of responses, as they simply have not been taught how to consider their own thought-life. And yet, as you can see from the questions themselves, worldviews are a summation of everything we believe to be true about the nature of the world around us. And as such, worldviews are very much a part of our daily existence, even if we don’t spend a great deal of time consciously considering their merits. Read the rest of this entry »
Given the recent discussion of politics on this blog, by all of its authors, and the upcoming Presidential election, I thought it would be fruitful to have a discussion about the how and why of evangelical political activism. I chose a book written by Ron Sider as a jumping off point for this discussion. His book is titled, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World? I hope to post articles regarding this topic once a week, moving through Sider’s book. In his first chapter, Sider sketches a brief history of evangelical activism and the need for evangelicals to develop a theology for political engagement. Read the rest of this entry »
So as I continue to struggle to find the path of authentic Christianity in today’s culture, my mind often bounces from point to point within postmodernity. Why are Evangelicals largely in favor of “big military” and even military preemption, but ardently against abortion? Why are evangelicals largely against wealth redistribution? If the evangelical church lives in the grace of the new covenant, why are they largely in favor of carte blanche support of Israel? What percentage of mega church budgets are allocated towards missions relative to facility maintenance and upkeep? Why is there an Evangelical outcry against homosexuality, but hardly anything said on the divorce rates within their own community or children born out of wedlock? How has the Republican political party actually served the Evangelical community relative to the advancement of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection and ascension? Where is the compassion of Christ within Evangelical politics? Read the rest of this entry »
As the Presidential primaries continue to roll along, with another 11 states set to hold contests this upcoming Tuesday, a new poll jointly sponsored by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal seems to suggest that the heavily contested primary season is damaging people’s perception of both the Republican Party and the candidates themselves. At present, when asked to describe the Republican primaries and candidates in a single word or phrase, nearly 70% of the poll’s respondents – including 60% of independents and more than 50% of Republicans – have offered a less than glowing evaluation of the candidates and their behaviors.
While this is not particularly unusual in a hotly contested primary season, what is potentially of concern for evangelical Christians, is our public identification with the Republican Party. According to a recent article on The Pew Forum, white evangelical Protestants seem to be trending towards a greater affiliation with the Republican Party. In 2008, 65% of this group identified (or leaned) Republican, while 28% identified (or leaned) Democratic. But three years into President Obama’s administration, this 37-point gap has swelled to 46 points as 70% of white evangelicals now lean Republican and only 24% lean Democratic.
While some may read this data in a positive light, I can’t help but wonder what this caustic season of Presidential primaries is doing to be people’s perception of the evangelical church and of Christ himself. When the public figures we either tacitly or openly support conduct themselves in such a caustic manner, people make assumptions about the values we hold to be true. And my question is: why are we, as evangelicals, not holding candidates to higher standards by openly challenging them on the manner in which they are conducting themselves in this race? While this conclusion may not be all that flattering to the evangelical community to which I belong, it would seem to me that we appear to be entering into a dangerous new era in Christian history, in which we seem to be willing to set aside character issues so long as our pastors and our candidates publicly advocate what we believe to be the right theology, methodology and/or policy.
It is a commonly held belief that American voters want to know about the religious leanings of their presidential candidates. Do they believe in a god; and if so, which one? Why do they believe? And how will this belief inform their policies? Will they defend the separation of church and state? Or will they use federal monies to fund “faith-based” initiatives? These are the sorts of things we want to know … aren’t they?
Last month, USA Today reported on a new study just released by Lifeway Research. According to their survey of 2000 voters, only 16% of Americans would find themselves more likely to vote for a candidate if he or she were to consistently express religious beliefs in public forums. Now take a look at some of the other findings:
As you can see, Republicans (32%) are eight times more likely to be positively influenced by a candidate’s religious views than are Democratic voters (4%). Conversely, more than half of all Democrats (55%) would actively move away from supporting a religiously vocal candidate, as opposed to the 7% of Republicans who would do the same.
So what do you think? Does a candidate who expresses his or her religious beliefs have the potential to draw you towards them or does it tend to push you away?
In a recent survey conducted by the Gallop Poll, Americans were asked to identify themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 – with a score of 1 being very liberal and a score of 5 being very conservative. On average, the respondents rated themselves as a 3.3, which is just to the “right” on the moderate middle ground. In the same survey, these respondents evaluated Obama as a 2.3 and Romney as a 3.5, which suggests that most Americans view Romney as being a far better ideological “fit” for themselves.
But this means nothing.
Four years ago, in December of 2007, Gallup surveyed Americans using the same scale and the same questions. At that time, Americans evaluated themselves as a 3.2, while giving scores of 2.5 to Obama and 3.4 to McCain. But as we all know, President Obama beat McCain in the election by 7% of the general vote and by 192 votes in the electoral college.
What this means is that Americans do not choose their President on the basis of a perceived “fit” between their own ideological views and their perceptions of the candidate’s views. And this, of course, begs the question: on what grounds do Americans decide to vote?
Further complicating the matter is the rise of the “Independents,” “Apathetics,” and the “Openly Disgusted.” In a recent article by USA Today, Richard Wolf revealed that more than 2.5 million voters have left the Democratic and Republican parties since the 2008 election. While this is somewhat startling to political analysts, more startling are Wolf’s findings in the eight “swing states” that register voters by political party. In these eight states, Democratic registration is down by 800,000 voters, while Republican registration is down by 350,000 voters.
So where are they going? According to that article, only 325,000 voters have taken the time to re-register themselves as political “Independents.” What this means is that almost one million people in these eight states alone have elected to withdraw from the political process altogether.
This leaves us with a host of pressing questions. If ideological “fit” does not correlate with voting patterns, on what grounds do Americans decide to vote? Moreover, if more and more people are willfully removing themselves from the process, what will happen to the nation’s ability to effectively govern the masses? How does the issue of “power” or lack thereof, fit into these trends? And have we ultimately, as a nation, become ungovernable?
SPOILER ALERT: I’ve been told I need to add a spoiler alert to these sorts of posts. I’ve never really understood this practice, as I’ve always assumed that if I am reading something, I am going to learn something about the subject at hand. Nevertheless, if you thought you were going to read this post and learn nothing about The Hunger Games, you have now been warned that this is not likely to be the case. Tread carefully.
In this, my fourth and final post on The Hunger Games trilogy, I want to visit the concluding chapters of Mockingjay, the last book in Suzanne Collin’s best-selling trilogy. For it is here that the author does her finest work; and it is here that the fog of war lifts to reveal the true worldview that has always lurked around the murky edges of the novels’ central story. If you haven’t read any of my previous posts on the subject, I would recommend:
Now, assuming you have read the previous posts in this series, you know that The Hunger Games are a series of highly politicized novels in which the morally bankrupt people of the tyrannical government live out lives of hedonist luxury, lives that are built upon the unrelenting labor of the surrounding population. In the final novel, Mockingjay, the masses have risen in open rebellion and the forces of the Capital are under constant siege. Not surprisingly, a new government-in-exile has been formed; and this new government is at the forefront of the rebellion that is rapidly gaining momentum.
But then, late in the novel, when it seems that the rebels are about to win, everything goes horribly wrong. Primrose, the younger sister of the heroine, and by far, the most innocent of anyone in this trilogy, is killed while performing an act of mercy. What’s worse, it doesn’t appear that the Capital is behind the act. Instead, the government-in-exile has committed this atrocity in the hopes of falsely accusing the Capital and providing one last rallying cry for the rebel soldiers.
So here, at the climax of a 1000-page story, the rebels are on the verge of victory, but the newly formed government is no more just than the government that is being overthrown. And when faced with the opportunity to legally execute the overthrown President of the Capital, Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the novel, opts instead to launch her arrow into the heart of the new President, thus choosing for assassination in the belief that no government will ever be just. In the days the follow, Katniss is tried and eventually exiled back to the fire bombed ruins of District 12. En route, she has this conversation with the new head of communications
The truth is, no one quite knows what to do with me now that the war’s over, although if another one should spring up, Plutarch’s sure they could find a role for me. Then Plutarch has a good laugh. It never seems to bother him when no one else appreciates his jokes.
“Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?” I ask.
“Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,” he says. “But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”
If The Hunger Games is to be praised for anything, it is commended for its remarkably consistent worldview. For whether they are in positions of power or in positions of subjugation, people are viewed as desperately flawed and prone to violence at the slightest provocation. Interestingly enough, the author, Suzanne Collins, even extends this flaw to her main character, Katniss. When she is given the opportunity to stand up against the violence that has been perpetrated upon the children of the greater population, Katniss opts to vote for naked vengeance that will be extracted by putting the children of the Capital through the same horrors that have plagued her and her friends. What is particularly interesting is the fact that Collins does not make any attempt to mask this desire for vengeance. There are no coy references to justice or “doing the right thing.” This is all about getting back at the one’s that have hurt you; and your satisfaction is worth the price that others have to pay.
Is there room for mercy is this world? Is there any room for redemption? No. There is not. The only lasting value that stands in the world of The Hunger Games is the ability to survive amidst a never-ending cycle of violence and retribution.
And so, at the conclusion of this series, I amend my original recommendation. If these books were to be read solely for the purpose of entertainment, I would advise against it, for there is nothing but loss, anger, and empty grabs for power. The worldview is so dark that I fear a non-critical mind might absorb some of the “lessons” of fatalistic nihilism. If, on the other hand, these novels are read with a critical eye, I believe they can be of immense value in terms of discussing the ethics of an increasingly hostile world that is caught in the very cycle portrayed throughout these books.
What do you think reader? Can you find value in books that offer nothing but a critique of society? Or must a good writer seek to provide a solution as well?