Church and State: Scattered Thoughts

The type of thinking and the problems which concern us form habits of mind. Political theory and thinking forms one sort of habit of mind. Prayer, theology, and living the Christian life forms another. When engaged in one or the other, there is, I think, a tendency to set aside the habits of mind and solutions which we have in the one from the other. This leads to inconsistencies and oversights which I think are possibly problematic. That isn’t to say, that the original conclusions are not right, but just that it is not entirely obvious that the conclusion normally arrived at necessarily follows. What follows below the fold, is an attempt to mimic Kim Fabricus 10 propositions on XYZ essays, in this case, it will by Mark Olson’s 9 provocative theses on Church and State. It remains to be seen if I can run the number of theses to 10.

  1. Metropolitan John Zizioulas instructs us that ontological freedom is a gift of Baptism. That is, he noted that Dostoevsky considered that true ontological freedom might be found through suicide in the secular world and that the expression of the Trinity is an example of ontological freedom. That is in that the three hypostasis co-existent in God are also perfectly and ontologically free. Through baptism and God’s grace Christians share this ontological freedom. We are eternal. We cannot “commit suicide” or be truly slain by the Other or the state. But, in praxis do we act like we possess this freedom? The martyrs of the first centuries did. We have, it seems, forgotten their example in our daily life.
  2. The other lesson, often forgot by American egalitarianism is that subsidiary hierarchy does not disqualify equality. Just as the monarch of the Father does not disallow equality with the Son and Spirit, heirarchy in family or in civic life does not mean that equality is impossible.
  3. One of the primary arguments against same-sex marriage (SSM) is that does not respect the right notion of family. Via natural law or Scripture we decide that SSM is wrong because it is against how man & woman and child should be arranged. However, these proponents forget that St. Paul found family not to be the highest expression of how man or woman might live their life, chaste asceticism was. St. Paul and the early church found the chaste life of the monastic, anchoritic or coenobitic, to be the highest expression. Oddly enough of course, this is an argument that if used by SSM proponents, must be done delicately because the argument that SSM should be allowed because chastity is a higher than family is a narrow path to tread. But, just a is this is a narrow path and delicate argument doesn’t also means that Christians should forget it either.
  4. The political and popular push for SSM is a symptom not a cause. The modern zeitgeist is sex besotted and obsessed with it. Christians are called to repent, be chaste, and not bend with every breeze.
  5. Atheists often attack the notion of God based on some particular concerns of theodicy, e.g., how might God cause a person to be born “only” to suffer. Yet this presupposes a notion that pain and suffering is bad. However that’s only true if the pleasure is conversely Good. That notion is not Christian aesthetics, it is a hedonistic appraisal of the Good.
  6. Earlier notions of the Common Good are used to springboard theories of government. But, it seems to me, few have seriously considered what the Common Good means for the Christian life and how to reconcile that with the modern appraisal that republican democracy is a “bad form of government that has the only virtue of being better than all the rest.” As an exercise of the reader, instead of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (which so often devolves to a modern corrupted understanding of Liberty and Happiness alas), your assignment is to figure out what sort of government might instead be founded on the Beatitudes.
  7. Jesus instructed that we might “render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar’s”. But in a representative republic, one of the things (the primary thing?) we must render is our participation.
  8. Charity and Love are perhaps one of the greatest virtues lacking we can bring to the Public Square. We also shouldn’t have to tell the other that we’re doing that. It should be clear to the uninstructed observer.
  9. Charity in the Public Square can as a start consist merely of not assuming perfidy on the part of our political rivals. Unless a man is an outright crook it is always good to remember that no man thinks himself a villain. His justification for his actions might be, “clearly wrong”, but remember that his justification is for what he perceives as good. Remember to be charitable in your assessment of the other first. Then remember that you also must love him. It should at least be hard to call him a reprobate, a blathering idiot, or a skunk.

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  1. Via natural law or Scripture we decide that SSM is wrong because it is against how man & woman and child should be arranged.

    You make it sound like if SSM is not legalized, there will be no families with SS parents. In reality, there currently exist tons of those families, whose lives are made more difficult by the fact that gay marriage is illegal.

    The choice is not between gay families and straight families, as opponents of SSM like to imply, but between gay families without legal protections and recognition, and those with.

  2. Mark says:

    I guess the “we” is perhaps an error. I haven’t figured out what I think on SSM.

    I’m just pointing out that arguing that SSM is contrary to “family” .. well so is Christian thought, in that family and marriage is seen as inferior to chastity and remaining single.

  3. I haven’t figured out what I think on SSM.


    well so is Christian thought, in that family and marriage is seen as inferior to chastity and remaining single.

    That was one of the weirdest things about Christianity to me, growing up Jewish. All the rabbis have like ten kids and sex with one’s wife is considered a wonderful thing — even a commandment. (“Be fruitful and multiply.”)

  4. […] Olson’s scattered thoughts on the church and state posted at […]