16 March 2022

Adventist interview

I was recently interviewed by Filipe Lemos on the subject of political ideologies, and it has now been posted here: Como lidar com ideologias políticas diante da cosmovisão bíblica (How to deal with political ideology from a biblical worldview). The website belongs to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Here is an English translation:

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.

In effect, the followers of the ideologies make a god out of something created, failing sufficiently to worship the true God and to express gratitude for the created goods he has given us. But, more than this, the ideologies tell a story of redemption—of how we human beings will set about saving ourselves from some perceived evil, whether it be foreign rule, class inequality, government, or oppression by an external authority of some sort. Rarely do the followers of the ideologies look into their own hearts to see whether they themselves might bear responsibility for the world's ills. This is a key reason why ideologies lead to conflict.

At the same time, how do you see the importance of the Christian acting as a responsible citizen, also, in his community, which certainly involves issues related to public policy?

Attention to our responsibilities as citizens is of utmost importance for Christians. We cannot put these aside as though they are somehow intrinsically secular concerns taking us away from worship, prayer, church attendance, and so forth. In fact, a biblical understanding of the life in Christ entails that we belong to him in everything we are and do, and this includes the many authoritative offices we occupy in the course of our lives. We are at once fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, teachers, students, employers, employees, colleagues, pastors, elders, parishioners, and citizens. Our calling before God is to be faithful in our exercise of each of these offices, recognizing that we are not our own but belong to God in Jesus Christ.

What do you think motivated a more recent phenomenon of strong polarized discussions, especially in the environment of digital social networks, on partisan and political aspects?

I think the polarization arises in part because we make different prudential judgements as to which political grouping or party comes closest to seeking public justice. But I think there's more. Even as we claim to belong to Christ, inevitably we allow ourselves to be captivated by the stories these ideologies tell us. Our hearts are divided when they ought to 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 single-minded or whether we place our ultimate faith in something in his creation.

Finally, what do you suggest should be the attitude of Christians in the face of the political reality that surrounds them? What would be a biblically acceptable way?

We need to exercise our citizenship responsibly out of love for God and for our neighbours. We ought not to approach political life with an attitude of “what can I get out of it for myself and my family?” We ought rather to recognize and support the legitimate role government plays in our society, pray for our rulers, as the Bible instructs us, and be ready to participate in public affairs when called upon to do so, including calling our rulers to account when they miscarry justice.

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