Civil and religious liberty are so commonly associated in people’s mouths, and are so rare in fact, that their definition is evidently as little understood as the principle of their connection. The point at which they unite, the common root from which they derive their sustenance, is the right of self-government. The modern theory, which has swept away every authority except that of the State, and has made the sovereign power irresistible by multiplying those who share it, is the enemy of that common freedom in which religious freedom is included. It condemns, as a State within the State, every inner group and community, class or corporation, administering its own affairs; and, by proclaiming the abolition of privileges, it emancipates the subjects of every such authority in order to transfer them exclusively to its own. It recognises liberty only in the individual, because it is only in the individual that liberty can be separated from authority, and the right of conditional obedience deprived of the security of a limited command. Under its sway, therefore, every man may profess his own religion more or less freely; but his religion is not free to administer its own laws. In other words, religious profession is free, but Church government is controlled. And where ecclesiastical authority is restricted, religious liberty is virtually denied.
Given the powerful influence of liberalism in the western world, we increasingly face a version of religious freedom that isolates the person of faith from her faith community, ostensibly making her sovereign over her own spirituality, but effectively empowering the state at the expense of both individual and the community of which she is part. Acton clearly recognized the perils of a religious liberty interpreted through individualist lenses more than a century and a half ago. The peril is with us still.
the nuclear family is a weakened and much diminished version of the traditional family, one that is lacking most of the resources needed effectively to pursue the purposes of the traditional family. When this conception of the family became normative in America and elsewhere after the Second World War, it gave birth to a world of detached suburban homes connected to distant places of employment and schools by trains, automobiles, and buses. In other words, the physical design of large portions of the country reflected a newly rationalised conception of what a family is.
Political Visions and Illusions is now out in a Spanish-language edition published by Teología para Vivir in Lima, Peru: Visiones e Ilusiones Políticas. The release of this edition makes it available to huge numbers of people who speak Spanish as their mother tongue, including the land of my birth, which is the fifth largest hispanophone country in the world. I pray that God will use it to advance his kingdom according to his own good purposes. ¡Que Dios bendiga a los países de habla hispana!
Over the past several days I have participated in three events relevant to the Christian community in Brazil. The first occurred last saturday, 30 April, and was hosted by two young friends, Leonardo Balena Queiroz and Samuel Aguiar, who had just led a multi-session study of my book, Visões e Ilusões Políticas, with their church congregation, Primeira Igreja Batista do Pará, Belém, Pará, in the tropical Amazon region. At the end of the series, I was beamed in to their gathering to answer questions and to make a pitch for a new book I plan to write on citizenship.
The following day, sunday, 1 May, I addressed a gathering of members of the Segunda Igreja Presbiteriana Renovada de Maringá, in the southern state of Paraná, at the opposite and more temperate end of Brazil. As most of the audience had not read my book, I briefly discussed the idolatrous religious character of ideology and why we have reason for hope in the midst of the ideologies' distorted understandings of God's world. This was followed by questions from listeners.
Finally, on tuesday, 3 May, I was interviewed online by my good friend, José Bruno Pereira dos Santos, known to one and all as Zé Bruno. I met him five years ago at the Ideolatria conference in Goiânia at which I spoke, and I was delighted to renew our friendship in this way last evening. Also interviewing me were Ruan Bessa (my translator), Gustavo Arnoni, and Lucas Pavanato. You can see the entire two hours of our conversation below:
Did I mention that I really love the people of Brazil? Que Deus abençoe o povo brasileiro!
At a news conference in Poland after the visit, Mr Austin told reporters the US wants to see "Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine". . . . BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale observed that Mr Austin's comments calling for a weakened Russia were unusually strong for a US defence secretary. It is one thing to help Ukraine resist Russian aggression, it is quite another to speak of weakening Russia's capabilities, he said.
During a dangerous time such as the present, government officials must weigh their words carefully to avoid unnecessarily aggravating existing tensions. I would suggest that Austin's remarks do not conform to this principle. Given that Vladimir Putin has expressed concern at Russia being surrounded by NATO and would prefer to see a cordon sanitaire between his country and the west, one might question Austin's wisdom in expressing what may or may not represent a change in US policy. I would furthermore suggest that US policy should support a strengthening and not a weakening of Russia.
Over the past two or more decades, Americans in particular have become increasingly polarized between a new highly-educated urban managerial class and a working class that has lost much of the political and economic clout it once wielded in the post-war era. From 1945 to around 1973, the economies of most western countries revolved around a tripartite power-sharing arrangement among business, labour, and government. The rule of an educated elite was kept in check by the power of labour unions and other nonpolitical associations which channeled the aspirations of ordinary workers. These were the "little platoons" celebrated by Edmund Burke, and together they constituted what has come to be called civil society.
However, during the dislocations of the 1970s, including the unprecedented coincidence of inflation and recession, this power-sharing arrangement broke down, with leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan ushering in a neoliberal era of domestic deregulation, open borders, and labour arbitrage. Globalization was the net result, with a rising managerial class dominating policy-making at the expense of especially the unskilled workers who once manned the factories of America's northeast and Great Lakes industrial belt. The central problem with globalization, however, is that it is undemocratic. Because globalization cannot police itself, it tends to empower a transnational class with shallow roots in any particular country. This is what Michael Lind, in The New Class War, calls the managerial elite. In the United States, the Democratic Party represents this elite class of educated urbanites.
The world responds to Russia, which appears in the 11 April 2022 print issue. An excerpt:
I have been amazed at the international response to what virtually everyone agrees is an unprovoked and unjust attack. Putin’s public pretexts for sending Russian troops into a neighbouring country are scarcely credible, and there is widespread recognition of this. With Russia now locked out of the international banking system and economic sanctions depressing the value of the rouble, Putin risks the welfare of his own country to satisfy his imperial ambitions. That he has nuclear weapons at his disposal brings an additional element of danger to his isolation. Nevertheless, few want to see Putin go unpunished for raining missiles on defenceless Ukrainian civilians, many of whom speak Russian as their first language.
Today the world's Orthodox Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Here is a wonderful video of a flash mob singing the traditional paschal hymn in Arabic and Greek. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Once more the Rev. Tim Keller has seen fit to endorse my Political Visions and Illusions in a video just posted two days ago. I am amazed that someone suffering from pancreatic cancer continues to retain such energy and purpose. Thanks be to God!
Few rulers have achieved such notable successes in so short a time. They have certainly secured his reputation and legacy in the history books, where he will take his place in the company of a small collection of similarly notorious rulers.
Two people I have come to admire conversed with each other recently, and the interview now appears in The New York Times: How a cancer diagnosis makes Jesus’ death and resurrection mean so much more. Tish Harrison Warren regularly writes for the Times and is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. Author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, Warren manifests considerable Christian wisdom in her writings, which are definitely worth reading. Here she interviews Timothy Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, who recently authored a new book, Hope in Times of Fear: the Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. Keller has been suffering from stage 4 pancreatic cancer for the past two years. An excerpt from Keller in this interview:
The Liberal-New Democrat Pact, with this description: "It’s a rare move, but one that has precedents in Canadian politics and other Western democracies." An excerpt:
In reality, there is nothing undemocratic about the new agreement. Moreover, one might argue that the Trudeau government is more democratic than it has been up to now. After all, the federal Liberals garnered just under one-third of the popular vote last year, yet they formed a single-party government over the objections of more than two-thirds of voters. The Conservatives actually outpolled the Liberals, gaining 35.2 percent of the vote. Yet our current single-member-plurality electoral system – often labelled first-past-the-post (FPTP) – gave the Liberals a plurality of seats in the Commons. By bringing the NDP onside, the Liberals have actually increased the popular support for their government, which would in principle now be supported by 50.4 percent of Canadians. If so, this can scarcely be called undemocratic.
God calls us to do justice in all settings and circumstances. In so far as we are faithful to our spouses, treat our colleagues with respect, raise our children with love and attention, we do justice to them. But there is a specific type of justice applicable to the political community and its associated institutions of government. It is sometimes called public justice, because it relates to the public space within which individuals and communities live their lives and fulfil their respective callings. In the United States an organization called the Center for Public Justice has attempted to flesh out its implications for a mature differentiated society for more than four decades. Public justice plays a role in my own writings and in those of many others, especially those in the neo-Calvinist tradition associated with Abraham Kuyper and his heirs. Jonathan Chaplin, Associate Fellow of Theos and member of the Divinity Faculty at Cambridge University, offers readers a new book that admirably brings substance to what might otherwise seem an abstract principle.
In my book, Political Visions and Illusions, I treat nationalism as an ideology that makes too much of nation, according it the reverence rightly belonging to God alone. When I was still teaching, I openly admitted to my students that I had a certain blind spot with respect to nationalism. I could easily see the moments of truth in liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and democratism, but I found it more difficult to do so with respect to nationalism. I understand in principle that solidarity among people sharing similar characteristics is a genuine good. In our society, which claims to value diversity and encourages a navel-gazing focus on individual identity, we need a countervailing emphasis on the things that bring us together. This applies to nations as well as to the other communities of which we are part. But national solidarity can also breed unhealthy conformism and a tendency to vilify those deemed outside the nation. Moreover, it tends to suppress those other communities by demanding an ultimate allegiance we owe only to God.
On Sunday scholars and clergy at the orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University and the Volos Academy for Theological Studies published a scathing “Declaration on the ‘Russian World’ Teaching.” This ideology is, they write, “a false teaching which is attracting many in the Orthodox Church and has even been taken up by the Far Right and Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists.”
The “Russian World” ideology has been cited by both Vladimir Putin and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill over the past two decades. It asserts, the theologians write, that “there is a transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world.”
|Arms of the Russian Federation|
For many Americans, their 18th-century founding era is surrounded by a reverential glow similar to the halos around the heads of the holy men and women in Byzantine iconography. Americans revere their Founding Fathers, the constitutional document they produced in 1787, and the political system it established. Here in Canada we are perhaps less in awe of our own Fathers of Confederation, one of whom, Sir John A. Macdonald, had an alcohol problem and pursued a less than fully just policy towards our aboriginal peoples. Nevertheless, both countries have inherited a tradition of respect for the rule of law from the mother country, and this is why they have been so successful in maintaining their respective political institutions for so long. Indeed, such a tradition ought not to be taken for granted, because it is absent in many places around the world.
Interviewer: What do you think motivated a more recent phenomenon of strong polarized discussions, especially in the environment of digital social networks, about partisan and political aspects?
Koyzis: I think the polarization arises in part because we make different prudential judgments about which political group or party comes closest to seeking public justice. But I think there's more. Even when we claim to belong to Christ, we inevitably become captivated by the stories these ideologies tell us. Our hearts are divided when they should be united in loyalty to the kingdom of God. The only effective way to break through this polarization is to look into our own hearts and determine whether our loyalty to God's kingdom is genuinely sincere or whether we place our faith in something in His creation.
Instead of strongly condemning Russian President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian Patriarch Kirill has given his full-throated support to the Kremlin. This support stems from an ideology supported by both Putin and Kirill known as "Russian World", which links faith with Russia’s nationalist aims. This support has resulted in a splintering within the Orthodox world, and is in clear contrast to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s condemnation of Putin and the invasion of Ukraine. In the meantime, leading Orthodox theologians around the world issued a joint statement denouncing the “Russian world” ideology and the invasion of Ukraine. George Demacopoulos, the co-director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, joins our host Thanos Davelis to discuss the “Russian World” ideology pushed by the Kremlin and Patriarch Kirill, and look at how the war in Ukraine is impacting the Orthodox world.
Demacopoulos is co-director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, New York City.
Gerrymandering injustice, with an accompanying question: "How can states like Alabama pursue fairer representation?" An excerpt:
The states [of the United States] are responsible for redrawing the new districts within their own borders. Each district is supposed to have roughly equal population so that no group of people is over- or underrepresented. Sad to say, corruption and conflict-of-interest are at the very heart of the process. Because they are dominated by one of the two parties, a Republican state house, for example, will draw the boundaries to ensure that Republicans dominate the state’s congressional delegation, thereby badly skewing election results. Democrats quite happily do the same in the states they dominate.
This is known as gerrymandering, after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who signed a bill in 1812 creating a bizarrely-shaped district wrapping around Boston which, on the map, resembled a salamander. More recently, the Illinois General Assembly created a district encompassing two distant neighbourhoods in Chicago connected only by a thin line running down Interstate 294.
Here is a screen shot of our group:
|Miguel A Lopes/EPA|
Russia is no “Christian powerhouse.” That narrative is little more than an easily falsifiable propaganda campaign by its kleptocratic governing class. Russia struggles not only to preserve its ancient faith tradition—in spite of significant government expenditures to the Orthodox Church—but also to protect and preserve its families in the face of substance abuse, domestic violence, and unmitigated cronyism.
In your book Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies, you talk about political ideologies and show weaknesses in these systems, especially in comparison with the biblical worldview. What do you highlight, for those who have not read your book, as the main shortcomings of ideologies that are very much defended today, even by Christians?
Well, the principal shortcoming is that the ideologies make too much of a good thing. That fits with a general human tendency to esteem the creature more than the Creator. Liberalism properly values the rights and freedoms of the individual, but it makes the individual will the origin of all other social phenomena, including the basic institutions needed for a society to remain healthy and to flourish. It tries to make of every community a mere voluntary association, thereby erasing the distinctions among these communities. Various forms of collectivism from socialism to nationalism to democratism properly value community, but in so doing they tend to neglect the legitimate interests of individuals and of other communities. For example, socialism pretends that only one form of community can monopolize ownership, and this usually turns out to be the state. But a society dominated by a single community will be an artificially constrained society, where everyone follows orders rather than initiating a variety of activities.
Yesterday, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, a group of Orthodox clergy and laity published A Declaration on the “Russian World” (Русский мир) Teaching, which is obviously modelled on Barmen. This is a powerful statement which all Christians of every tradition should read and ponder. An excerpt:
The covid blues: The pros and cons of a Zoom world. An excerpt:
I am hesitant to make predictions in uncertain times, but I can foresee some permanent shifts in the way we live. For example, I expect that the Zoom meeting will become a permanent fixture in the work landscape. Had the pandemic come at the turn of the millennium, we would have had more difficulty coping, as the internet was still in its infancy. But with so many means of online communication now available to us, shifting to at-home work – for many of us at least – has been far less difficult than it would have been then.
This book will be released at the end of the month. Here is the foreword that I wrote for it:
I first discovered the writings of Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd in the mid 1970s when I was an undergraduate student. I quickly discovered that he was not easy to read, as his ideas seemed buried in a turgid prose style. Nevertheless, the hard work I put into understanding his philosophy more than paid off with respect to the use to which I discovered I could put it. My chosen academic field was political science, and I found that his nonreductionist approach to public life simply made sense. It better accounted for the realities of political life than, for example, so-called realists or behaviourists who could make sense of only a particular facet of reality. A decade later I would go on to write a dissertation on Dooyeweerd at the University of Notre Dame, a process that thoroughly grounded me in his magnum opus, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Because his Philosophy of the Law-Idea so well accounts for the fulness of God’s world, it became a primary influence on my own writings, including Political Visions and Illusions (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).
|St. George's Cathedral, Lviv|
From an outsider's vantage point, the Greek Catholic Church looks like a hybrid of two traditions. It is one of 23 eastern-rite or Byzantine-rite churches in communion with Rome. These churches appear eastern in most respects, celebrating the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or something similar, and reciting the Creed without the contested filioque clause. Its priests wear distinctive Byzantine garb. Like their Orthodox brethren--or perhaps rivals--the clergy are married and have families. Their buildings conform more to eastern architectural patterns than to western gothic or romanesque patterns. Nevertheless, these churches pray for the Pope and recognize him to be the head of the universal church. They are largely self-governing, unlike the churches of the Roman rite, which are directly under the Pope. Each represents a distinctive ecclesiastical and liturgical tradition.
Unlike Roman Catholicism, which constitutes a single global organization under a spiritual CEO known as the Pope, Orthodox Christianity has always had something of a fractious character. In the old world, the Orthodox are organized into self-governing autocephalous churches covering limited territories, often but not always corresponding to the boundaries of a particular state. All of these churches are united in a single faith, reading a Bible somewhat larger than those of Protestants and Catholics (although Russians and Greeks differ here), and recognizing the Patriarch of Constantinople as Ecumenical Patriarch, the first among equals of the church's hierarchs. Each church is in communion with the others, accepting as normative the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the first millennium.
As a result of the missionary activities of the apostles and their successors, the church grew phenomenally in the first centuries, expanding to the borders of the Roman Empire and beyond. Five patriarchs were set over the church, as shown in this map: