All posts by Chris Scruggs

Chris Scruggs is a Presbyterian Pastor and Attorney. Chris is the author of three books on Christian life, wisdom, and discipleship and is working on a fourth. He authors the blog Path of Life.

Intellectual, Social, and Beloved Communities

C. S. Pierce, Josiah Royce, and Alfred North Whitehead are three American philosophers who understood the implications of then-current science for the future of philosophy. Each developed a distinctive philosophical position that transcended simple mechanical materialism. Each accounted for the impact of evolutionary theory, and later for Whitehead, relativistic and early quantum physics. Interestingly, each were sympathetic to Christianity and religion in general. Last week, I focused on Royce’s notion of the importance of individuals in the formation of community. This week, the focus is on his understanding of the central importance of communities, and especially on his notion of “Beloved Community,” which has continuing relevance.’

Communities of Interpretation

Royce, more than any other American philosopher, emphasize the role of community for human society, human individuals, and human knowledge. Following C. S. Pierce, Royce held a theory of knowledge that emphasized the social nature and source of truth. The necessity of a sign, an interpreter, and an interpretation of experience drove Pierce (who was the source of this line of thinking) and Royce to an essentially social theory of how truth emerges from human investigation and is verified by human community. Both understood that, while science was a paradigmatic community in search for truth, are were other such communities searching for truth in their own domains. [1] In fact, any kind of human knowledge is developed within a community of inquiry.

The notion of community appears in nearly every aspect of Royce’s thought. In science, and religion, and all other forms of reasoning, Royce emphasizes the need for a community of interpretation within which rational thinking and progress in human understanding occurs. For community to exist, there must be what Royce terms “loyalty,” a common commitment to the enterprise at hand, a love for the subject matter and for the community, and a disciplined search for a proper interpretation. As seen below, healthy community cannot be forced, but is the choice of free individuals to give of themselves to a community that embraces goals larger than a single human life.

From Individuals to Community

Peirce saw that individualistic self-centeredness, selfish tendencies, and the human propensity to error had to be tempered and checked by community bonds. Peirce was especially critical of social Darwinism and what he called, the “Gospel of Greed” that Social Darwinism engendered. [2] Instead, Peirce believed that the universe, though involving chance and regularities, also involved a social, “agapistic” (love) component. This is a part of Pierce’s thought that we might need to reinternalize in an age of media and other billionaires. 

Human individuals are inevitably self-centered. Each of us tends to see the world through the physical, perceptual and interpretive center of our own self. As outlined last week, this unique “self” is the product of all of our life experiences, lessons and learning. This historically constructed, evolving self is inevitably trapped in a kind of isolation. No one else shares exactly the same perception or interpretation of reality we possess. More importantly, we do not have the same kind of access to the hopes, dreams, and knowledge of others that we have of our own hopes, dreams and knowledge. Our communication with others, even others to whom we are close, is distorted by the inevitable differences between what we intend to communicate and what another person believes we have communicated.

How do human beings overcome this natural solitude and the danger of misunderstanding and misinterpretation? The answer for Royce lies in the constant need for interpretation, correction, and reinterpretation, all of which are social enterprises. This is not just true in intellectual life, but every area of life. Human beings need the sympathetic correction of others in order to perceive the world clearly. Sympathetic correction and reinterpretation require communities of interpretation where any kind of complex subject matter is involved. Royce puts it in this way:

“In this world of interpretation, of whose most general structure we have now obtained a glimpse at how, selves and communities may exist, past and future can be defined, and the realms of the spirit may find a place which neither barren conception nor the chaotic flow of interpenetrating perceptions could ever render significant.” [3]

Both Royce and Pierce (as well as others) often use science as the paradigm of a truth-seeking community. At any given point in time, there are always things scientists believe they understand, other matters which they do not yet understand, and matters about which there are disputes within the scientific community. Eventually, someone discovers new facts or develops a new theory and publishes the results to the scientific community at large. Other scientists will do the same. Still others examine and either verify or critique the new experimental results or theory. Out of this process of research, interpretation, theorizing and publication eventually a consensus emerges concerning the best interpretation. This process, in the case of science has been going on for centuries, with many changes and improvements in our understanding of the world. This is how, over time scientific understanding grows and develops.

Communities of Interpretation and Political Practice

Where a political community is concerned, there is a similar process. For example, after the Revolutionary War, the original states were bound together by the Articles of Confederation. There were deficiencies in the system of government this agreement instituted. There was no ability of the central government to tax, and so it was constantly near bankruptcy. There was no guarantee of freedom of commerce between the states, and some states used their own state powers to prevent competition. There was no central military command structure, and so the nation was weak. Eventually, the Constitution Convention was held. In the beginning, there were vast differences of opinion about what should be done. Through a series of compromises and accommodations, the original Constitution was drafted and submitted to the states, followed by the original Bill of Rights. This process is often criticized, in my view mistakenly. What is often missed are the first words of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States.” The thirteen original states already viewed themselves as one “People,” and therefore were willing to compromise, even give up important points.  Some states e joined the union, even though they disagreed with aspects of the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention, the various state conventions that ratified the constitution, and the process followed reveals various communities of people, all gathered with a common purpose searching for a common and better solution than the current state of affairs permits. Since its original adoption, the Constitution has had to be revised on several occasions to meet the demands of the times.

Royce especially, understood that American life took for granted a certain amount of attention, struggle, search for power, differences of opinion, and jockeying for position. Left to themselves, this aspect of American life could lead to the dissolution of our national community. In fact, during the Civil War, it did. The only solution to the problem of warring factions is found in the idea of a community made out of many individuals who join together in the common search for a just, fair, and orderly society. Without the willingness to debate, discuss, dialogue, and compromise, eventually there has to be a solution imposed by force. The Civil War was an event of this exact kind.

The impulse we see at work in the violence in our politics and some of our cities today reflects a lack of trust in the American community and in its fundamental values and structures. We’ve lost our sense of being in a national community in which we do not always get exactly what we want, but are willing to join with others in the search for a solution that is as reasonable and fair as possible to all.

Royce understood that’s such a community can only be formed and maintained through a committed form of mutual respect and love he called “loyalty.” Loyalty exists when an individual voluntarily participates in a community and seeks the common good of the community with and above his or her personal preferences in an act of self-giving to the community. Loyalty involves personal sacrifice for the common good and a willingness to explore the best solution to the problem of human progress.

Community and Beloved Community

Royce sees that communities are not all alike, though they have certain features in common. For example, a community is not a melding or absorption of individuals. In any true community individuals retain their uniqueness, individuality, and perspective. A community is bound together by loyalty and love, not by absolute identity or merging of individuals. Communities look backward (and, therefore, have traditions) and all living communities look forward (and therefore are somewhat oriented towards the future. To take a simple example, a fraternity or sorority has both a tradition into which members are initiated and a fraternity or sorority is always taking in new pledges as it looks to sustain itself into the future. Royce calls these two aspects of communities, “Communities of Tradition” and “Communities of Hope. 

The search for truthful, just, and life enhancing community finds its ultimate symbol in the notion of a “Beloved Community.” There is no question but which Royce sees in the church, and perhaps in John’s vision of the Heavenly City” the root and ground of the Beloved Community and a kind of eschatological realization of the hopes and dreams of all lesser communities. In the case of Christianity, the community looks back through the Scriptures to the beginning of the world. Its tradition goes all the way back to the beginning. And, as a community of hope, it looks forward to the end of history and the renewal of all things. Thus, members of the Beloved Community look infinitely backwards and forwards in time, in both tradition and hope, to a future that encompasses all of humanity and human history. This is why Royce sometimes calls the “Beloved Community” the “Universal Community”—all people are invited to pledge their loyalty to and find meaning and purpose in the Beloved Community.

The hope of the Beloved Community is the hope of a place of perfect individuality and perfect community joined in a kind of perfect self-giving love—a love that, for Christians, mirrors the love that constitutes and characterizes the divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each maintaining perfect individuality and joined in perfect community. This universal hope of the reconciliation of the human race, heaven, and earth is an eschatological not historical hope. As I return to the Beloved Community in my next blog, I will talk about the dangers and impossibility of the undisciplined attempt to bring in the Universal Community that Royce envisioned by the means of violence.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved


[1] This line of thinking was also followed by Michael Polanyi in his works, most importantly in his Gifford Lectures. See, Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

[2] “Evolutionary Love,” first published in the Monist introduces his theory of agapism, the cosmic principle of love. This love is a cherishing love, because it recognizes that which is lovely in another being and sympathetically supports its existence. Peirce contrasts his “agapism” with evolutionary theories based on a selfish form of love, which had resulted in social Darwinism and “the Gospel of Greed.” Agapism includes helping one’s neighbors, and is a consistent with with a Christian social ethics. See, “Evolutionary Love” at 

https://scrcexhibits.omeka.net/exhibits/show/charles-s-peirce-open-court/-evolutionary-love- (Downloaded August 3, 2020).

[3] Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity, Volume 2, Barnes and Noble Digital Library https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-2-barnes-noble-digital/id1280399789  (Downloaded July 20, 2020).

Foundation for Healthy Community: The Social Individual

In a previous blog, I briefly outlined the way in which, from conception through adulthood, human beings are the creation of community. Human beings are intimately connected to the life of other people from the moment of conception. This connectedness is physical, emotional, and mental. There is, however, another side to the story that is the subject of this blog: No Christian political philosophy or theology can ignore the individual and his or her intrinsic value.

The Social Individual

Already at the moment of conception, an individual both exists and begins to emerge in his or her uniqueness. Although intimately connected to the body of the mother, the child is a genetically distinct person with components from both mother the father. The child in utero is a unique individual carrying a genetic makeup unlike any other person, and through the mother an emerging part of the human community. This uniqueness continues to develop in the womb. The mother’s emotional state, the food the mother eats, the music the mother listens to, and other factors will continually work to create the growing human person.

After birth, the child continues to develop his or her uniqueness. Eventually, every child begins to say, “Yes” and “No,” choosing some life-experiences and rejecting others. Although profoundly impacted by his or her family of origin, the child differentiates his or herself within the family and community. This process of self-differentiation and growth continues for the rest of the person’s life.

Slowly but surely, the sense of individuality develops. Once a creature of his or her parents, the child develops his or her own unique life-history. Every drop of experience, every moment of learning, every decision, makes the child the unique individual he or she is and will become. As the child goes through adolescence and young adulthood, it further develops its own unique personality, now as an individual who does and is expected to make his or her own life-decisions. As an adult, decisions regarding career, spouse, life-style, religion, etc. continue to form the unique person, unlike any other and creates a “life trajectory” as the person moves into the future.

There is a social element in all this: each human person reacts with and against the family, neighborhood, city, state, culture, religious history (or lack thereof) society, and the like, in the formation of the human person he or she is called to be. As philosopher Josiah Royce put it, “This self is known to each one of us through its social contrasts with other selves, and with the will of the community.” [1] Yet, the person is a unique individual, who is, as the psalmist says, “Fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)

Communities and Selves

Understanding the “individual self” is important to the notion of community. The word “community” indicates a “communion of individuals.” Every community is a community of more than one individual. Complex communities, like the United States of America, are communities of many, many individuals. This notion of individuals as both emerging from communities and creating communities has great importance in understanding what is profoundly problematic about our current divisive, “winner take all” American politics. We are trying to create a polity of individuals in abstraction from communities. On the other hand, socialist and collectivist nations have the reverse problem: they are trying to submerge individuals for the sake of community in abstraction of the individual. One of the most disturbing trends in American politics is a division that reflects both a hyper-individualism and a collectivist communalism that is contrary to the nature of the human person, which is both individual and communal

The Danger of American Excessive Individualism

It has been recognized for some time that “American Individualism” carries with it dangers to the common good. Where there is little or no communal loyalty, there will inevitably be chaos or a strong regulatory state. Excessive individualism empowers the central state, which becomes the only means of social control. The recent upsets in some American cities is illustrative. America today shows the signs of a defective sense of both community and the place of the individual within the community. The best response is to build both healthy individuals who have the skills and experience to maintain freedom and a sense of communal bonding.

There is also the danger of the destruction of the many small, private communities that make up and provide the foundation for both sound individualism and our democratic republic. A nation without strong families, neighborhoods, cities, and states, without strong churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, without strong neighborhood associations and political parties that are all part of and committed to the maintenance and growth of the common community, as well as respectful of the rights of the members of those communities, simply cannot be a strong polity—it is based upon an unsound foundation of socially deformed individuals and an inadequate and truncated communal nexus.

Loyalty and Love; Individuals and Communities

Near the turn of the last century, the philosopher Josiah Royce wrote a number of works in which he discussed the relationship between individuals and communities. [2] Without individuals there can be no community. Without healthy individuals there cannot be healthy community. Therefore, healthy community require healthy individuals who freely chose to be a part of the community and who serve the community out of love of and loyalty to its ideals and purposes. Coercion, physical or legal, can create a collective, but not a community.

It may well be that our current problems as a society result from a government that has become too reliant upon force, albeit legal force, and which has neglected to nurture the voluntary bonds of love of country and of its history and ideals upon which a free society depends. Leaders, Christian and non-Christian, might ponder the need to restore the social and historical bonds of our heritage and people. The vicious behavior seen recently and the tearing down of statues of national heroes and the like, is destructive of freedom, democracy and the very ideals for which demonstrators seemingly wish to stand.

“Mobs” vs. “Beloved Community”

This leads to a final aspect of Royce’s thought with which I want to end this blog: Royce points out that a “mob” is not a “community”. [3] A mob is a destructive anti-community. There can be and are demonic forms of community of which people and leaders should be aware and wary. These sorts of communities, which we see evident in America today.. This includes demagoguery, incitement to violence and destruction, shallow advertising, and simplistic and emotional political rhetoric conducive to mob behavior, are not conducive e to healthy community, as we have recently seen.

On the other hand, there is an ideal form of community, what Royce calls the “Beloved Community.” In his works on Christianity, he developed the notion of the church as a kind of eschatological community, a community of perfect loyalty and love among members. This Beloved Community is a kind of “lure” drawing existing imperfect communities towards greater wholeness. Thus, Royce says,

“The beloved community embodies, for its lover, values which no human individual, viewed as a detached being, could even remotely approach. And in a corresponding way, the love which inspires the loyal soul has been transformed; and is not such as could be given to a detached human individual.” [4]

The Beloved Community, unlike a mob, is created by reason and love, sustained by reason and love, and motivated to extend reason and love. It can only be created imperfectly in this world, but it stands as the ideal community for which the human soul longs. It is made up of, and only of, those who have freely chosen its history, tradition, values, and common life.

Interestingly, if people know anything about Royce, it is this term “Beloved Community”. Martin Luther King Jr. came across the work of Royce in his doctoral studies and adopted the term for his moral and ethical vision. His vision of a Beloved Community continues to impact American politics to this day. Some Catholic charities and other groups use this term in their literature. What is important for us to remember is that a Beloved Community, or any approach to the Beloved Community, cannot be formed or sustained by violence. Only the loyalty and love of free individuals can form any kind of Beloved Community,

Next week (or whenever I finish it), more on Community and the Beloved Community.

God bless you all,

Chris

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1]  Josiah Royce The Problem of Christianity, Volume 1 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library) https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-1-barnes-noble-digital/id1280398775 (Downloaded July 20, 2020).

[2] See Josiah Royce and such works as The Philosophy of Loyalty (Sophia Omni Publisher, 2017) and The Problem of Christianity (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2001). The notion of community and its relationship to individuals is central to Royce’s thought.

[3] See, John E. Smith, The Spirit of American Philosophy: Pierce, James, Royce, Dewey, and Whitehead (Oxford, ENG: Oxford University Press, 1963), 95.

[4] Josiah Royce. “The Problem of Christianity, Volume 2 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library).” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-2-barnes-noble-digital/id1280399789 (downloaded July 27, 2020).

 

Politics and the Order of the World

The paradigm for visualizing the world and human society Newton created, thought of the universe as made up of matter, and of society as being made up of isolated individuals, both of which were bound together by forces. Reason was mental power servicing the goal of modifying the world. In the realm of industry this meant technology. In the political realm this meant the power of mind put to the service of gaining political and economic power. In the hands of Nietzsche this became a recipe for disaster, because all that mattered was raw power and the desire to dominate (Will to Power).

Basing Politics on an Outdated Model of the World.

Philosopher’s use a big word “ontology” to describe the ultimate nature of reality. [1] The modern world viewed reality as ultimately materialistic. The “Real” were material things joined together by different kinds of forces.  In this way of thinking, the universe, including the human race, is visualized as a big, complicated machine made up of matter and energy.

In recent years, this materialistic model of the world has been superseded by a model of the world that assumes deep interconnectedness, relationality, freedom, and inner sensitivity. It is an “organic model” that sees the universe not as a machine but as an organism or a process. In my view, and in the view of others, the older way of thinking has led modern politicians, policy-makers, and intellectuals into many errors. Henry Sapp puts it as follows:

[We] are faced today with the spectacle of our society being built increasingly upon a conception of reality erected upon a mechanical conception of nature now known to be fundamentally false. … As a consequence of this widely disseminated misinformation, “well informed” officials, administrators, legislators, judges, educators, and medical professionals who guide the development of our society are encouraged to shape our lives in ways predicated on known-to-be-false premises about “nature and nature’s laws.” [2]

A Relational World

If the world is not solely, or fundamentally, made up of forces and matter, the way is open for a new and different kind of ontology, one that is not materialistic. From a physical perspective, quantum physics indicates that the ultimate reality (the “ultimate being” from a scientific point of view), is that particles not material bodies, but disturbances in a universal field. There are even physicists who believe that the ultimate reality in information. In the famous words of John Wheeler, “The ‘it’ is a’ bit’.” [3] In whatever way ultimate reality is to be visualized, science no longer supports a purely materialistic approach to solving problems, because reality is not fundamentally material at all.

Einstein’s Relativity Theory describes a universe that is deeply relational, in which time and space, ultimate attributes of reality in Newtonian physics, are known to be related to one another, and in fact cannot be separated. There is one “Space/Time Continuum.” At a quantum level of reality, there is a deep interconnectedness that is revealed and symbolized by so-called, “spooky action at a distance,” or what physicists call, “entanglement.” Reality is deeply connected at a subatomic level. Even at the level of everyday reality, there is a deep interconnectedness that is evident in so-called open systems and their tendency toward self-organizing activity—the so-called “butterfly effect.” [4]

Finally, it is the insight of quantum physics that it is ultimately not possible to disengage the observer from the event being examined as was the model of investigation dominant in the modern world. This insight, first discovered at the subatomic level of physical reality, has implications in other areas. The American philosopher Charles S. Pearce foresaw this insight in his relational theory of signs, in which he spoke of the relationship between reality (an object under observation), an interpreter (observer), and the sign used to understand the reality observed. [5]

A World Imbedded with Love

Pierce, who was the founder of Pragmatism, had a fundamentally organic, or process, view of reality. Of particular interest is his view that the reality is characterized by freedom (or chance), law (or regular order), and love (or a harmonizing principle). [6] In other words, the world is constantly evolving in a kind of interplay between chance, order, and love. What Pierce calls “Evolutionary Love” is essentially a cosmic principle of cherishing love, what I have elsewhere called, “Deep Love,” that operates throughout the created universe. [7]This love is a cherishing form of love, because it recognizes that which is lovely in another being and sympathetically supports its existence. [8]

It is by no mistake that Pierce begins his discussion of Agapistic love quoting from John, where the author says:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (I John 4:7-12). [9]

At a deep level, at the level of the ultimate nature of the universe, Peirce posits a harmonizing force that can only be described as love, a disinterested relational love at seeks the best for that which is loved. If the universe is in fact characterized by a kind of Deep Love or Deep Relationality, then it is at least possible that our economics and politics do not have to be, and should not be built on force alone: for that goes against the fundamental nature of the universe itself. [10] This insight of Pierce is consistent with Christian faith and with a Christian political theology. [11]

If we believe that the world is finally relational, and that a kind of “deep love”—a deep relationality that is the physical and spiritual ground of all created loves—is the final reality of the universe, then one might believe that our overly-competitive, power-based, winner-take-all politics needs to be supplanted by a different approach, for the approach we have taken goes against the grain of the universe itself and the ultimate nature of human being and human society. The new approach I suggest is what we might call, “a politics that takes account of love.”

A Subtle, Multifaceted Politics

As mentioned before, the founder of modern pragmatism viewed reality as characterized by freedom (or chance), law (or regular order), and love (or a harmonizing principle). Love, or a harmonizing principal, it’s not the only feature of the universe at work at any moment in time. From a political perspective, for example, chance or freedom plays a role. The recent COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of a chance happening in history that both shapes and constricts political realities. Given the emergence of COVID-19, policymakers could not ignore this chance occurrence. Other priorities had to be put on the back burner as policymakers focused on the crisis at hand. A good bit of the time political realities are shaped by the factor of chance. Some of these chairs factors are also the results of the activity of free human beings. Once again, COVID-19 is a good example. The decisions made by policymakers early on in another nation, freely chosen by them as a response to the problem, shaped the crisis and constrained but American policymakers could do.

Secondly, although policymakers have some freedom, and although chance his operative in history, a good bit of the time historical forces are at work. In the case of Coved 9, by the time the United States learned of the danger, the disease existed, had escaped from the place where it originated, and was spreading across the globe. US policy makers had to act within the boundaries of the situation as they found it. In addition, policy makers had to operate within the Constitution of the United States, the two-party system which we have, the medical and political system that already existed. These are historical constraints.

Finally, policy makers had the freedom to choose those results which had the best chance of saving lives and doing minimal damage to the economy. Within the boundaries of our legal system and the administrative and other resources available, the administration and others provided temporary hospitals, medical supplies, testing, and other responses. In so doing, they were motivated by the desire to save lives, limit suffering, and encourage the best possible outcome for the nation.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The word, “ontology” describes the branch of philosophy that analyzes the nature of being.

[2] Henry F. Sapp, “Whitehead, James, and the Ontology of Quantum Theory” 5(1) Mind and Matter (2007) downloaded at https://www-physics.lbl.gov/~stapp/WJQO.pdf (June 16, 2020), 85. In this quote, Sapp is not speaking of the exact phenomena that I am concerned with here—the tendency to view all reality as a machine—but his quote is equally applicable to what I am saying in this essay. Sapp is concerned with the assumption of materialistic theory that our experience of human freedom and the efficacy of human thought is an illusion.

[3] See, Paul Davies, Niels Henrik Gregerse, Information and the Nature of Reality – From Physics to Metaphysics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011). The term was coined by renowned physicist, John Wheeler.

[4] This is not the place for a discussion of these phenomena. For those who would like a deeper discussion, see John Polkinghorne, ed, “The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010).

[5] See, C.S. Pierce, “Questions Concerning Certain Faculties” in The Essential Charles S. Peirce Edward C. Moore, ed (New York, NY: Harper & Row), 1972.

[6] Pierce has technical words that describe his three principles.  In his view, there are three modes of: evolution by fortuitous variation, evolution by mechanical necessity, and evolution by creative love. He refers to them as tychastic evolution, or tychasmanancastic evolution, or anancasm, and agapastic evolution, or agapasm. The doctrines which represent these as severally of principal importance we may term tychasticismanancasticism, and agapasticism. The mere propositions that absolute chance, mechanical necessity, and the law of love are severally operative in the cosmos may receive the names of tychismanancism, and agapism.

[7] G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love rev. ed. (Cordova, TN: BookSurge, 2016).

[8] See, “Evolutionary Love, at  https://scrcexhibits.omeka.net/exhibits/show/charles-s-peirce-open-court/-evolutionary-love- (Downloaded June 29, 2020). The role of “Evolutionary Love” in Pierce is similar to the role of love as an eternal object in the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead.

[9] I have quoted a bit more than Pierce quotes in his essay. The reason for this is that Pierce discusses an element of political philosophy relevant to my interests here in his essay, what Pierce calls “the Gospel of Greed” that is inevitably tied up in a purely evolutionary and mechanical view of creation.

[10] I think that this is exactly the point that Pierce was attempting to make. The universe is characterized by (1) chance, and therefore by fortuitous evolution; (2) by laws of nature and regular order, and therefore by forces that have great control over the future; but however (3) a deep, cherishing agapistic love also has a role to play in the evolution of the world. This kind of approach can also be applied to our political, economic and social systems.

[11] See, Centered Living/Centered Living: The Way of Light and Love for Christ-followers, previously cited.

17. The Way of Service to the World

One cold winter night, I left my office in Bay Village, Ohio to eat pizza with some volunteers. As I walked into Auburn Hall, expecting to see just a few people, I saw over 200 volunteers in yellow T-shirts eating together, having fellowship, and getting last-minute instructions for a ministry called “Respite.” Several times a year, Bay Presbyterian Church keeps special needs children so that their parents can have a break from caregiving. It takes about 200 volunteers to take care of about eighty children for a few hours. The night is designed to include fun activities, movies, music, and a variety of experiences for the guests. There is a worship time led by young people at the end of the evening. This ministry has been a part of building the reputation of the church as a loving place for children and families.

In my former church in Memphis, there is a retired member who is a wonderful Christian disciple. He is at an age when many people are “slowing down.” This particular person, his family, and his small groups within the church are not slowing down much at all. Instead, he is active in an inner-city ministry led by a congregation in another denomination. Every week, at least once and sometimes more often, he is at the food pantry, the clothes closet, the Sunday feeding, or another ministry to the poor of Memphis. Much of the time, a few other members are with him. Very few, if any, of the persons they serve could make the almost twenty-mile journey to attend our church. Their ministry is an act of love and service to the poor and outcast. Their Christian action is a witness to Christ to every person who experiences or knows of the ministries.

We have already had the opportunity to share that post-modern people are cynical. They are cynical about religion in general and Christianity in particular. In such a situation, people are watching to see if we actually live like Jesus, not just talk about him.  This means it is just as important to share the Gospel by deed as to share by word in our culture.

Jesus and Love for the Lost

Jesus did not just preach good news. Jesus was constantly serving others. He healed the physically sick. He cast out demons. He confronted hypocrites. He helped people overcome sin and its effects. He confronted injustice. In Jesus, faith and works were fully-combined in one human life. Near the end of his gospel, Matthew records the following words of Jesus:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matthew 25:31-43).

This parable indicates that a life of discipleship under grace is not a life without responsibilities to serve others. We are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10). God cares what we do after our conversion. In this passage Jesus is speaking to his disciples, as well unbelievers. He is not giving a teaching for those outside the people of God but for those already inside the people of God. [1] He is warning that God expects something from us—to share the self-giving love of God with others, just as Jesus shared that love for us on the Cross. Service to the “least of these” is a critical part of the life of a disciple.

The Call to Care

In the last part of Matthew preceding Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and death, Jesus tells three important stories: the Parable of the Ten Virgins, in which he encourages believers to continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Parable of the Ten Talents, in which he encourages believers to put the gifts, talents and abilities they possess to good use, and the  Parable of the Last Judgment in which he encourages believers to remember that, when he returns, the human race will be held accountable for their actions in this world, and especially their actions towards the least, the lost and the outcast.

In the parable, the time between Jesus’ ascension and return is over. God graciously provides time for the human race to care for his creation and grow in likeness to God. Now, that time is complete. It is time for accountability. Jesus is revealed as the Exalted One, before whom every knee rightfully bows and every tongue confesses (Philippians 2:10-11).  All the people groups in the world appear for a final judgment (25:2). It is time for a review of the actual beliefs and behavior of the human race. And so, Jesus separates the peoples of the world who are massed before him as the shepherd separates sheep and the goats (25:32).

When we think of the final judgment, we think of a court of law. During the trial, evidence is presented by both sides. No one is sure exactly what happened, so there is a lot of testimony to establish the facts. The judge must work hard to decide. He or she must sift through the facts, weigh the evidence, determine who is telling the truth, and the like. At least, that is the way I thought of this parable until I learned about sheep and goats.

In the Holy Land at the time of Jesus, sheep were generally white and goats were black. It was easy to tell them apart. Any listener of Jesus would have known that fact. The image is not one of a difficult decision by a judge hearing testimony and weighing evidence. The decision image is of a judge who already knows the facts deciding. You see, God knows our hearts. He knows what we have done and not done during our time on earth. He does not need to ask a lot of questions or review a lot of evidence. He knows.

Jesus begins by telling the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:34-36). The sheep are those who have done the things that Jesus did while here on earth by loving service to others.

The scene resembles less a judgment in a trial than a reading of a will in a probate court! God is saying to those who behave as his children, “Come right now and collect your inheritance as Children of God.” The sheep, of course, being humble, hardly know what to say, because they can’t even remember what they’ve done and are not sure that they deserve such an inheritance.

Then, Jesus turns to the goats and says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Matt. 25:41-43). These people, right away begin to make excuses: They also answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you” (v. 41).

Jesus answers these excuses with the words, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (v. 45). Once again, God does not need a lot of testimony because God knows. Jesus is saying, “Either you believe and live out the Gospel of Love or you don’t. Either you believe I am God, and try to live as I lived or you don’t. Either you see the world through my eyes or you don’t.”

The World is a Place of Great Need

You see, the world is full of obvious need. There are tens of millions of people, starving, without food, water, without schools, jobs, shelter, adequate income, and hope. There are many people in prison. Those who travel to very poor mission fields see the need in obvious ways in poor nations. But, the need is not just at the end of the earth. There is a lot of need close at hand, right before our eyes. All we must do is read the newspapers, watch TV, look at the Internet, or drive around our city. Everywhere we go, if we open our eyes, we see need. Human need is all around us.

I could pick any city in our nation or around the world, but because we lived in Memphis for a long time, Memphis is a good example. Memphis is one of the poorest cities in America. There are at least 178,000 Memphians who live in poverty. A good many more live pretty close to the poverty line. Fifty percent of workers qualify as “low wage workers”. That is to say, they have family incomes that put them just over the poverty line. These people often have jobs where they do not receive medical insurance and other benefits. Any setback results in poverty.

Despite all the efforts of governments and private charities, over the last few years, Memphis has been getting poorer at a rate of about one percent a year. Poverty in Memphis is not just located in the inner city. Increasingly, it is found in the suburbs. [2] Memphis also has one of the highest crime rates in the United States, and has many citizens in jail or prison. There is a lot of substandard housing. In other words, need is right before the eyes of everyone in Memphis. If you live in a major metropolitan area your city is probably not much different.

Wherever We Go, We See

The problem of human need is everywhere. Wherever we go, we are bound to see it. We can’t say to God, “I’m sorry, I never saw the problem.” Jesus won’t let us off that easy. We just can’t be like the people in the parable who say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (v. 41). The parable said to those in Jesus’ day, and says to us today, “Don’t believe for one moment that God does not know what we’ve seen and not seen, where we’ve been and not been, what television news we’ve watched and not watched, etc.” God knows everything and is aware of the depths of our hearts. He knows when we are avoiding doing what we know is right. He is not going to let us get away with a lame excuse: “I just never saw it.”

Will we see the World Through the Eyes of Jesus?

The question we face is not “Can we see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus?” but “Will we see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus?” What exactly God calls us to be and to do is largely determined by where he takes us in life. Wherever he takes us, there are needs. Some of those needs involve problems we could, if we would, work on. One of the most important things we can do as Christians is simply be aware of needs around us and respond. In the Parable, Jesus assumes that people see needs and alerts us to the fact that, as God, he is present in suffering love for those in need.

Small Discipling Groups and Mission

One of the most important churches of the 20th century was a small congregation in Washington DC, known as the “Church of the Savior.” The Church of the Savior never had a large membership. It was made up of a series of small missional congregations, which themselves function as churches. Each group had a mission focus. Over the years, the small groups have instrumental in creating, developing, and sustaining many, many important ministries. Its example was so powerful, that there are similar churches and groups all over the nation. Mainline and other churches have studied the Church of the Savior in designing their ministries and missions.

The Church of the Savior was the brainchild of Gordon and Mary Cosby. Gordon Cosby, the founder and pastor of the congregation until his death, was an Army chaplain during the Second World War. By the time he returned home, he had seen how shallow the religious faith of many people could be. He experienced how easy it was for people to behave in non-Christian ways during wartime, and began experiments in discipling the soldiers he served during the war. He also came to believe that the church had failed, not just men whom he served during the war, but also those who remained back home. He dreamt of forming a different kind of church. The church he dreamed of founding became a reality in the Church of the Savior. [3]

Soon after its formation, the Church of the Savior determined to conduct its ongoing ministry through small mission groups. These were originally small groups focused on Bible study and learning about Christian faith and practice. Then, Cosby and the members of Church of the Savior changed their form and intention. The groups at Church of the Savior were groups specifically designed to conduct missions in and around the Washington, D.C. area. These groups formed the core ministry of Church of the Savior for most of the last part of the 20th century. Finally, the Church of the Savior itself became a community of churches.  When Gordon Cosby died, he was lauded by Christians and on-Christians alike for his work. [4]

Building an Action-Oriented Discipleship Strategy.

The founders of American pragmatism famously suggested that, when developing an idea or theory, its truth was to be judged on the basis of its likely practical impacts. Whatever the academic truth of such a theory might be, biblically speaking, there is a great truth in the notion that truth and action are inseparably intertwined. Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life. It was not what he taught that was the truth; he embodied the truth. This means that Christ-followers cannot be content with mere head knowledge, nor is it enough for a disciple-maker to instruct a new disciple by teaching abstract principles of Christian discipleship. In the exact words of the Great Commission, we are not just teaching concepts, we are teaching new believers to obey (Matthew 28:20). Obedience is not a concept; it is an action.

Whenever one learns a skill, one learns some information. However, one cannot learn a skill without watching someone else and modeling one’s actions after theirs. This means that disciple-making programs have to be characterized by “learning while doing” and “doing while learning”. The question is, “How do we learn while doing?”  Here are just a few suggestions:

  • From the beginning of the formation of a discipling relationship, it is important to remember that discipling relationships, whether personal or in a small discipleship group, do not exist primarily for the benefit and comfort of the group or its members. The purpose is to reach the world with the love and wisdom of God. Many small groups forget this fact.
  • In meeting the needs of people, the gospel itself, God’s love for the world and desire to draw people out of selfish, self-centeredness and into a relationship of loving community with God and others remains central. As a friend reminds me often, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing is faith reaching out in love.
  • Take advantage of opportunities that naturally develop to share God’s love. In other words, since the need for God’s love is all around us, our most effective way of sharing God’s love in tangible ways can be that which is closest to us. This requires keeping eyes open where they might be closed.
  • Although God does equip the willing and often uses us in surprising ways, a good bit of the time, God uses the talents and the gifts we already possess. When confronted with an opportunity to serve others, a good question to ask is, “Am I or my group equipped to meet this need?”
  • The value of planning cannot be overemphasized. Occasionally, under the impact of an obvious need, people and groups impulsively reach out without planning and end up doing something that is counter-productive. The best way to avoid failure is to plan.
  • Finally, the leader of the group must personally be involved for the project to actually promote growth of discipleship. People, like children, do what they see leaders doing, not what leaders tell them they should be doing. Leaders do not have to lead mission projects, in fact it may be counter-productive if they do. However, they do need to be involved.

An Example.

As I was writing he above list, an example from the past came to my mind. Our church had an extensive foreign mission’s program. Unfortunately, only relatively few people could be involved. Over time, members of the congregation felt that we should be doing more local mission. In the beginning, a few people looked at supporting a public school in a distant neighborhood. We began well, but over time the distance and danger of the neighborhood became an impediment to success. We simply did not have the resources to meet the need.

Our church was in an area of great economic disparity. There were affluent areas and areas of poverty. One day, some of our members were passing a nearby elementary school. It was in a very nice neighborhood, and the school was brand new. In the beginning, the group felt it would not be a good idea for us to adopt the school because they didn’t need us. Then, we discovered that the vast majority of the children that attend the school came from a poor area included in the district and were receiving various forms of assistance from the school. Many of the students came from an apartment project near our physical worship center to which we had attempted an outreach, but had been rebuffed by the owner. Therefore, we adopted the school to reach children we had already attempted to reach.

I was a part of a group of folks that had the initial idea for the project. Many of the leaders had been in a discipleship class with me. Therefore, as busy as I was, I volunteered on periodic basis, including some of the situations in which it was difficult to get enough help. Often, I spent the morning of my day off with one or more members of the group, and not infrequently with an elder or other leader of the congregation. These were great opportunities to build on an already existing discipling relationship. [5]

The project was a success. Many more of our members participated. Several small groups under took various projects to help the school in areas as diverse as reading to children, repairing and building facilities for certain programs, participating in science fairs, helping with annual testing, and other activities. We had been concerned that there would be resistance to a Christian organization helping a public school. In fact, there was absolutely no resistance. They were glad to have us. In the process, a few people that ordinarily would not have attended our church began to attend.

This mission opportunity reveals the importance of keeping your eyes open, see the need around you, and being sure you have the right spiritual gifts to meet the need. We did not have the right spiritual gifts to meet the first need, but we did the second. We were far more successful because we chose a need we could meet with the resources we had. In our first project, we had bitten off more than we could chew. In our second project, we met a need we had the ability to meet.

Conclusion

In discipleship, there is an intimate connection between learning and doing. Discipleship is a lifestyle not a course we take in order to graduate. The wise disciple-maker never forgets that fact. In the late 1970s I became a Christian. For most of the 1970s nine and 1980s, I was a lay person in Houston Texas. One thing I did was preach at a homeless shelter in the city. In 1991, I went off to seminary. In seminary, I had a small ministry to seminary students. When I left seminary, I went to a poor town in West Tennessee. On the first day I was introduced to an extremely poor, violent, and drug infested neighborhood. Eventually, we helped begin a community center in that neighborhood with other churches.

Then, I went to Memphis. Eventually, our church became involved in an international mission project called “Living Waters for the World.” The project began in an interesting way. A small group of which I was a member was praying that God would open up the door for us to do a foreign mission in the agricultural area.

One day, a man from another city that I knew slightly called. This was not a person I knew well, and we had been on different sides of disagreements in the past. He asked if our church would help with a mission project called, “Living Waters for the World.”  Be honest, I didn’t really want to get involved. I was unnecessarily afraid becoming involved would harm the project at one of my closest friends wanted to begin. However, I didn’t feel like I should say “No,” and so we invited him to come to our Session and give a presentation. To my great surprise, the Session was enthusiastic, and many people became involved almost over-night.

Our church became deeply involved in the ministry. One of our members, without being asked, gave substantial funds to underwrite many of the expenses. My friend eventually went on and led mission projects in Africa, Mexico, Honduras, and the Philippines. He, his wife, and many other members became national leaders in the ministry and helped train people to install small water treatment facilities. It was a Holy Spirit adventure from beginning to end.

One evening just before dusk, sitting on the top of a small mountain in the middle of Ghana in West Africa, I stood looking at an installation our congregation had just completed. I was thinking about Jesus’ last word, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Suddenly, as I stood looking at that project in the center of a West African nation, I thought to myself, “Son of Gun, you made it.” Chills went through my spine, chills I remember to this very day. God had taken me from Houston to the ends of the earth.

The life of a disciple is to be a life of action. Nothing in this world can be more wonderful and joyful than those moments when we join in God’s mission to the least and the lost with other disciples of the Risen Lord. He may take us a few blocks away or to the ends of the earth.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This parable is a part of Matthew’s gospel that contains what is often called his eschatological discourses. The section contains a series of stories and parables designed to encourage faithfulness among his disciples, including the lesson of the fig tree (24:32-35) and the description of faithful and unfaithful servants (vv. 36-51),

[2] Eyewitness News, January 20, 2008. www.myeyewitnessnews.com/news/local/Memphis-Povery-Level-Rises (March 17, 2010); Poverty Rate Up in Shelby County www.commercialappeal.com/news/2008/aug/27 (March 17, 2010).

[3] The story of the formation of Church of the Savior is told by Elizabeth O’Connor in her Book, Call to Commitment (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1963). My trip to see the Church of the Savior, meet Gordon Cosby, and tour the school of servant leadership that Church of the Savior created as well as many of their ongoing ministries was a highlight of my pastoral life.

[4] This essay is not the place to tell the entire story of the Church of the Savior, which in any case would take a historian with a great deal more talent and time than I possess. For those who wish to know more and study the church and its ministries more deeply, a good place to begin is Call to Commitment, previously cited. However, Call to Commitment is only one of many books and monographs published about Church of the Savior. There are also a wealth of articles and other information about the church, some of which is available on its website.

[5] It is important to note that I did not attend every event or every weekly program. That would have been too much for my schedule. But I did attend when asked and available to show support and build relationships.

A Politics of Love

Last week, I concluded this blog concerning the violence of our society, which is endemic to the notion of “politics and business as war” that dominates so much of the actual leadership of institutions in our society, with a call to a “politics of love.” This week, I hope to expand more deeply concerning what I meant by a “politics of love.”

The Big Nature of Love

Because English has only one word for love, it is often hard for people to rid themselves of the romantic connotations of the term. There is a Greek word, “Eros,” used to describe romantic love. Eros is a love driven by the desire of the lover. C. S. Lewis, in his book “The Four Loves” refers to “Eros” as a need love—the erotic desire is to fulfil a lack in the lover and a desire for the beauty of what is loved. [1] I call eros an “evoked love,” because it involves something in the object of our love that draws us to the person or thing we love. We can desire a person, a painting, a kind of knowledge, better health, and a number of goods that fill a need in us.

There are, however, other forms of love—and these forms of love are just as important for a sound political life. For example, if on a purely biological basis, eros is foundational to family life (for without the natural desire males and females possess to reproduce there would be no families), out of family life there emerges another love— “philios” or “philia,” literally “brother or sister love.” [2] Philios broader than just that love between brothers and sisters, for it includes the love among family members. It is also used to describe relationships that do not involve genetic connection. Men and women both describe close friendships using these words. Church members often use this word to describe the relationship of mutual belonging within the family of God. Soldiers use this term as describing the relationship among them, immortalized in our time by the book and series, “Band of Brothers.” [3] Therefore, we might call this word, “Common Relationship Love.” Interestingly, the Greeks felt that this love was a higher and more important love than eros, which can too frequently be characterized by a passion beyond reason, as every lover has experienced.

Another of the four loves is “Storge.”  This love is a natural form of affection experienced between family members. When I teach on this love I describe storge as that kind of love that couples have for one another after many years of marriage, when years of familiarity and commitment have bred acceptance, commitment and a deep affection. This love is also commonly seen between parents and their children, and children for their parents, especially as the relationship grows and matures in adulthood. Interestingly, storge was also used to describe a sense of patriotism toward a country or allegiance to the same team. If I love the group I work for or the country I live in, storge can be used to describe that love.

Finally, there is agape. C.S. Lewis refers to agape as “gift love.” Agape is highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of “universal loving kindness” in Buddhism. [4] In Latin, agape it is translated “charitis,” from which we get our word, “charity.”  The term “gift love” used by C.S. Lewis points to the difference between eros and agape: Eros is a love evoked by something in the beloved that the lover needs., agape is a love as an act of the lover. This is not a love evoked by desire but bestowed upon its recipient.

The word ‘agape” was used before Christians began to use it for the love of God. Agape describes a limitless, vulnerable, self-giving love. Agape is the word used in the Bible when it says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The love of God patiently bears with us, even as we presume upon the mercy of God. The love of God endures our sin, our shortcomings, and our brokenness, as the Spirit works patiently and in love to redeem and restore.

In Christ, Christians believe God serves the greatest need of human beings and creation by emptying himself of overt power in order to create the world as an independent entity and redeem what he has created in an act of sheer self-giving passion. God gives himself without limit, without restriction, without any holding back for the sake of his creation. [5] This kind of love is necessary to undergird freedom, because this love does not seek overt control, but nurtures the object of love without the exercise of overt power.

As the Apostles, New Testament writers, and early Christians meditated on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, they came to understand Jesus as God in human form—embodied agape in human form. There is a technical word for God’s willingness to serve creation at its deepest point of need. The word is kenosis, which means “to empty.” It comes from the words of Paul:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8, NIV).

In the older translations, the phrase “made himself nothing” (ekenosen) is translated “emptied himself.” This is the classic testimony to God’s self-giving nature. Agape is a love that empties itself for the beloved as a pure, selfless, unearned, and underserved gift.

Love and Political Reality

It would be easy to simplistically conclude society needs to be founded on selfless agape love, but that is not what is meant by saying that we need to have a politics of love. It is also not realistic. All the loves are to be found in a healthy society, and the absence of any of the loves indicate a flaw or weakness in a culture.

What can be missed is that all the different kinds of love are directed toward the formation and maintenance of a community or relationship. All the loves are personal, and bind persons with each other, an object, or an institution. The marriage of lovers, the family that begets children, the community that is drawn together for mutual defense, the business that draws people together as a community for economic reasons, the government that draws people together for their own common interest, all these must be both founded and nurtured and sustained by all of the loves. All the loves erase barriers and create community.

There is one other love in Greek that is important to what I am saying, “pragma,” or what we might call “pragmatic love.” In the Greek it is translated, “longstanding love.” This is a love that compromises to help the relationship work over time, shows patience in failure, defeat and disappointment, and tolerates the differences among people for the common good of a family or community. Pragma recognizes that society requires its members to be patient and to be loyal, even when there are times of stress. [6] Pragma is pragmatic in the sense that it accepts the other and nurtures the other in order to maintain a relationship of worth to the lover.

For a community to exist over time, there must be pragma—and it is pragma that is so obviously lacking in our public debates today. The riots in our cities over the imperfections of our society, the nit-picking of political parties over feigned differences, the constant criticism of imperfections in our leaders, the intolerance showed on our college campuses and other places for differing views, these and other problems reflect a lack of pragma: of tolerance, faith in the ultimate victory of the best opinion in a public debate and other “love virtues” of a free society. These virtues need to be recovered, renewed, and reestablished at the center of our public life.

Conclusion

The kind of love required in politics is a love that desires, seeks, and is committed to the lover’s (citizen’s) fullest development by acting in such a way as to result in the best development of the community of which the lover (citizen) is a part and those who are part of that community. It is a love that recognizes the social nature of human beings and seeks the fullest community possible under the circumstances, even at the cost of secondary goods for the lover (citizen). Finally, as one sees in times of war, it is a love that is willing to suffer to secure the best interests of the lover (citizen), the community, and its members.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (San Francisco, Harper Collins, 1960).

[2] This is not the place to discuss emergent phenomenon, but the notion embedded in this statement is important to understand. Modern science is reductive—it attempts to reduce everything to matter and force. In the case of community life, it is tempted to reduce all human lives to forms or eros. This is an error. The other loves emerge as self-existent realities with properties that cannot be reduced to a lower form. Agape cannot be “reduced” to a form of eros. In fact, from a Christin perspective one might be tempted to say that eros emerges as one of the created forms of agape, the love of God.

[3] Stephen L. Ambrose, Band of Brothers (New York, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1992-2001). There is also a PBS series taken from the book.

[4] Roman Krznaric, “The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life)” in Solutions Journalism ( December 28, 2013), downloaded June 19, 2020, at www.yesmagazine.org/health-happiness/2013/12/28/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life/,

[5] See, W. H. Vanstone, Love’s Endeavor, Love’s Expense: The Response of Being to the Love of God (London, UK: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1977). See also, John Polkinghorne, ed, The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 2001) for a deep analysis of how creation reflects the One who is love and became love incarnate to redeem and restore his handiwork.

[6] See, Krznaric, previously cited, who outlines this love in his article.

Are We Witnessing the End of a “Nietzschean” Age?

If you are like me, you watch the nightly news with a sense of horror and foreboding. The riots on the streets, the antics of nihilist anarchists, the tactics of the Marxist left seeking the ever illusive “end of history” and institution of a proletarian dictatorship, the complicity of left-wing politicians, and worst of all, the egging-on by the liberal media, without the slightest reflection on where this is all heading. For those who want to know the end-game of all this, my suggestion is that the end game will not be not pretty—or what its proponents desire.

When I was a young lawyer, I worked for a time with one of those brilliant people who work by day in a practical job, but whose sheer mental ability drives them to a deeper thought pattern. I was a young and inexperienced Christian reading my Bible. He was a mature lawyer reading a history of the French Revolution. The Enlightenment, with its hostility to religion, began in France among a group of philosophers, the most famous of which was Voltaire. They envisioned a perfect, humanistic state. They created a dictatorship in which thousands died in an orgy of madness. The result was not a perfect state, but a perfectly demonic state. What finally emerged was not a paradise of reason, but Napoleon.

If American intellectuals, left-wing politicians, and the plutocrats that control much of our wealth are wise, they will take a break from radical politics, political calculations, and cultural accommodation and study the French Revolution. Those that egged on the French mob were ultimately destroyed by the mob. This same kind of senseless evil was characteristic of the 20th century, from Lenin, to Hitler, to Mao, and beyond. Venezuela is the latest example.

There is a kind of naïve utopianism that discounts human brokenness and our capacity for evil, that believes that a different sort of ruler (me or my group) would mean change for the better, and that impatient for change. In the case of modern revolutions, people seek a secular Messiah who will usher in a golden age of peace and plenty, but most often get Stalin. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matthew 18:7, KJV).

Will to Power

As I have mentioned in this blog before, it is characteristic of modern political science to be consumed by politics as the acquisition and use of power, as John Milbank notes in his book, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. [1] Contemporary politics and political thinking are dominated by two underlying political ideologies in which this endeavor manifests itself: first in what might be called “materialistic, laisse faire capitalist liberalism,” and second in “Marxist dialectical materialism.” In the end, both extremes see politics and economics as subject to universal rules of reason that act in the material world without reference any transcendental moral or religious ideal. Both ideologies are fundamentally materialistic and tend to discount moral and spiritual values as important to political or economic life

The philosopher Nietzsche instituted a program of seeing all moral claims, and all truth claims as simple bids for power, a program that finds its current home in deconstructive social theory. Nietzsche effectively “deconstructed” the foundations of Enlightenment liberalism, reducing all truth claims, all moral claims, and all aesthetic claims to bids for power. Nietzsche’s hostility towards Christianity as a “slave religion,” reflecting the attempt the weak to gain power over the strong, the “Ubermench” (“overman” or “superman,” who has the vitality to impose his or her will on others) is well known. In practice, the results of Nietzschean thought has inevitably been some kind of Nazism. [2] This Nietzschean notion of the will to power embeds in contemporary politics an innate tenancy towards violence. [3] The truth and reality of this observation is seen in Antifa and in the events in major U.S. cities over the past several weeks.

Will to Healthy Relationality

Over and against the Nietzschean notion of the “will to power” as ultimate, Christians posit that the universe is ultimately relational carrying in its very being the vestiges of the self-giving love of its Trinitarian source. In holding this view, Christian social thinking is consistent with the insights of modern science. If the modern world view is founded on Newtonian physics and its reduction of reality to matter and force, a positive post-modern world view is based on the relativistic and quantum view of reality as ultimately relational and not material.

Beginning with the insides of Einstein and extending into the insides of quantum theory and chaos theory, a picture has developed of the universe as deeply relational. The ultimate reality is not material at all. The fundamental units of our universe appear to be potentialities that exist in fields. These fields, and indeed the universe itself, are deeply related at a fundamental level. Even at a “macro level” (the level of our ordinary life) open systems are so delicate that slight changes in many systems can result in unpredictable and impressive effects (the so-called “butterfly effect.”

Our universe does not seem to be the kind of universe that Nietzsche believed existed. Instead, the universe seems to be a delicate web of relations that must be maintained with a kind of wise and careful honor. One example of this way of thinking is contemporary environmentalism, which flows from an understanding of the way in which the elements of our environment are related and impacted by foolish or uncaring interventions.

A Preference for Peace

Back to Antifa and the nihilistic radicals that are damaging our social fabric. It’s a picture of reality that I am painting is accurate, then human preference should be for peaceful, wise, and careful changes in our political structure over time. Obviously, as in the case of slavery, there are social evils so large and so deeply in bedded into a society that major changes may have to be made. However, most of the time a society is better served by small, incremental changes that maintain social peace. A kind of politics that depends upon ultimately irrational appeals to human prejudice, human fear, and violence in an impatient search for a perfect world is unlikely to produce the kind of social peace and progress that our society, and every wise society, desires.

A Christian view of society views conflict as a symptom of our human brokenness, not a fundamental element in any human society. Love it turns out, that love seen on the Cross, is the most fundamental reality of all—and a reality that can and should be embedded in our social interactions.

We cannot know how the events of the most recent weeks will end. We can hope that our society will step away from the brink and begin the slow process of developing a political process that assumes that love is more powerful than violence and wise decision-making more valuable than shrewdness,  power-seeking, or political victory. If we do, then our society has a bright future. If not, then we shall see….

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason 2nd ed. (Oxford, UK.: Blackwell, 2006). This is a very difficult, postmodern analysis of contemporary social theory, which I am almost loath to cite because I find it so difficult to read and understand. Nevertheless, it is enlightening.

[2] Milbank would not agree with all my conclusions, nor I with his. In my view, contemporary Communist China is a national socialist state masquerading as a communist state. Modern Russia under Putin is clearly a kind of national socialist state, in which very wealthy oligarchs and the state control every element of human life. Milbank believes as do I that Nietzschean nihilism always leads to some form of Nazism. Unfortunately, we see elements of this kind of government in American and Western European society.

[3] Id, at xiii, and chapter 10, “Ontological Violence or the Postmodern Problematic” pp. 278-326

Moral Inversion and America Today

Last week, I sketched out some main points of Michael Polanyi’s Science, Faith, and Society. [1] One aspect of his thought I neglected was his notion of “moral inversion.” This past week, Americans have seen the impact of the way in which the materialistic, power-orientation of our society causes a moral inversion in many people in which terrible acts of violence seem justified to a rootless moral conscience. As last week progressed, we saw nationwide riots, causing unbelievable damage based upon moral outrage concerning the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In the mind of the rioters, and those who have supplied the funds and encouragement for the riots, they are justified as a response to perceived American racism.

In his writing, Polanyi outlines a process he terms “moral inversion,” which he believes is a common characteristic of totalitarian régimes on the right and the left. Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Communist China all were powered by an extreme moral energy unconnected with any form of traditional morality. Moral inversion, Polanyi believes, is the demonic power behind dehumanizing and violently social movements and the oppressive governments they create. For all the destruction they create, the leaders of these movements they understood themselves utopian visions of the common good. [2] Moral inversion is not limited to totalitarian regimes.

Moral Inversion

What is moral inversion? Polanyi believes that the strong demand for moral perfection characteristic of Christianity, when combined with the materialist reductionism of modern thought that ends in an objective moral nihilism, results in reason and morality that works in a destructive way. [3] In his book, Logic of Liberty, Polanyi describes the phenomenon (speaking of Russian Marxists and German Nazi’s) as follows:

“In such men, the traditional forms for holding moral ideals had been shattered and their moral passions diverted into the only channels which a strictly mechanistic conception of man and society left open to them. We may call this the process of moral inversion. The morally inverted person has not merely performed a philosophic substitution of moral aims by material purposes, but is acting with the whole force of his homeless moral passions within a purely materialistic framework of purposes.” [4]

Human beings are by nature  motivated by moral passions. When by education or training they are denied an intellectual ground for their moral passions, these passions, like a river that has run out of its banks, flow in an uncontrolled flood into whatever channel lies conveniently at hand. In modern, materialistic societies, that channel has been revolutionary action designed to create a new society along strictly materialistic notions. Communism or some form of national socialism has been the preferred channel. The disasters of the 21st Century have been powered by a moral energy resulting from this rechanneling of moral passions in a destructive way.

Moral Inversion and Hypocrisy

There is no critique of Christianity more common than the complaint that Christians are hypocrites—that is to say the Christians do not live up to the high moral ideals of Christ which they profess to admire. This is, of course, true. One only needs to read the Beatitudes to see that Christ upholds a moral standard to which we may aspire, but will not ever obtain. The perfectionistic impulse of Christian faith is responsible for a great deal of the moral progress of Western Civilization. Nevertheless, among those afflicted with a loss of faith, or no faith in moral ideals at all, this inability of Christians to achieve their ideals, can become a breeding ground for moral inversion powered by a feeling that traditional morality is hypocritical. This is made more dangerous by the postmodern charge that all moral claims are merely bids for power.

With the Enlightenment, and its exaltation of critical reason, Christian faith and morals were placed under the dissolving power of reductionistic, critical thinking. The materialism of the modern world, with its reduction of all reality to material particles and forces acting upon that reality eventually led to the critique of Nietzsche, that God  (spirit) was an illusion, that Christianity was a slave religion, and that the Will to Power was the final characteristic of all sound moral reasoning. This leads directly to the terrible irrational immorality of contemporary politics where winning is everything and any action however immoral is justified if it is in furtherance of a moral ideal held by a particular group.

Morality as Preference

The reductionist character of modern thought is seen in the tendency of the left (public morals) and the right (private morals) to reduce and constrict moral thinking to personal preferences. It is a short step from this position to a decision for a single moral good to the detriment of other, seemingly less important moral goods. [5] On the evening news this week, we have seen played out the view that eliminating racism is the supreme moral good, and other moral duties, such as protecting the rights of the accused to a fair trial, the duty of the prosecutors to investigate carefully before bringing charges, the rights of businesspersons to their property and businesses, the rights of the public to safe streets, etc. can and should be abandoned in the search for one single moral good. [6]

A Society Characterized by Moral Inversion is Unstable

It should be obvious that the views of Antifa, the violent looters, and the media egging them on are incompatible with the freedoms they purport to be advancing. A society built on terror will simply be a terror to everyone, good, bad, rich, poor, powerful, and powerless.  I was able to travel in Russia just after the fall of Communism. Communism was physically, morally, and spiritually impoverishing to everyone. What we see playing out on the streets of our cities in America is exactly the phenomena that lead to millions of deaths under Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pot Pol, all of whom played upon the moral sentiments of their people and created unmitigated horror and suffering for all.

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit my parents grave in the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Springfield Missouri. Just across from their urn is a bronze copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. One single line caught my eye:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. [7]

As I stood at my father’s grave and pondered his leaving home for World War II, and the sacrifices he and my grandfather made in the defense of our freedom, the words “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain” rang through my mind. If we do not defend freedom and a free society in our time—not parts of it, but all of it—then our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and all those that preceded them, who sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy will have been in vain—and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people will perish from the earth.

The moral outrage of the left, and the constant charge of “Nazism” against those who resist them betrays the deranged nature of their thinking. As I reminded a friend this week: from the beginning of the Trump Inauguration, the violence, the burning of cars in Washington, the deceitful bringing of charges that were privately known to be untrue against the President and his administration, the fiasco of the impeachment, the dishonesty of the Justice Department and other agencies, the conniving of the last administration instead of organizing a peaceful and honest transfer of power,  the refusal of college campuses to allow Christian and Conservative thinkers to speak, even the trivial fact that my neighbor can safely wear her Biden button in public, but other friends are in physical danger if they wear a “Make America Great Hat,” are telling. These, are not the acts of people who love our country and are seeking to maintain its institutions. They are the actions of a twisted and inverted morality, lacking in a moral ground and acting with an unhinged passion. They are the actions of New Brown Shirts and their morally bankrupt leadership.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Science Faith and Society: A Searching Examination of the Meaning and Nature of Scientific Inquiry (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1946).

[2] D. M. Yeager, Confronting the Minotaur: Moral Inversion and Polanyi’s Moral Philosophy http://www.polanyisociety.org/TAD%20WEB%20ARCHIVE/TAD29-1/TAD29-1-pg22-48-pdf.pdf (downloaded June 1, 2020). This is article is a critical examination of the Polanyi’s ideas.

[3] This is not the place for me to outline the long line of moral reductionism that ends in a Marxist denial of any morality unconnected to material process. Nor is it the place to discuss the movement of the Enlightenmnet towards nihilism, first fully exposed by Nietzsche and his concept of the Will to Power. Suffice it to observe that modern Western Society, lacking a transcendent faith in the reality of moral values has entered a period of moral nihilism, that can impact even those who deny that they accept it. The power orientation of our culture is a part of its plausibility structure. See,  Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991)

[4] Michael Polanyi, The Logic of Liberty (Indianapolis Indiana, Liberty Fund, 1998), 131.

[5] The Christian author, C. S. Lewis speaks of this tendency for contemporary people, to discount the vast interlocking web of morality, which he sometimes calls the Tao, to exalt one moral principle to the detriment of the moral law as a whole. On the right, this has led to a preference for public morality, and on the right a preference for private morality. See, David Rozema, Lewis’s Rejection of Nihilism: The Tao and the Problem of Moral Knowledge” in  Pursuit of Truth | A Journal of Christian Scholarship http://www.cslewis.org/journal/lewiss-rejection-of-nihilism-the-tao-and-the-problem-of-moral-knowledge/ (September 28, 2007, downloaded June 4, 2020).

[6] I do not by this want to be seen as not believing that moral protest against racism is wrong. It is not. I also do not minimize the activities of political opportunists and terror groups that may have contributed to the problems we are currently experiencing. These groups use the moral inversion of others for purely selfish purposes.

[7] Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address” November 19, 1863.

 

Faith in the Unseen Reality of Truth: The Work of Michael Polanyi.

 

I mentioned last week that Lesslie Newbigin was important to my development as a Christian thinker, and it was Newbigin who introduced me to one of the most important figures in 20th Century philosophy of science, Michael Polanyi. Polanyi was born in 1891 Eventually, he received doctoral degrees in medicine and science. He worked as a research chemist, making important discoveries as a practicing scientist. He later turned his attention to philosophical pursuits. With the Hitler’s rise to power, Polanyi emigrated to Britain and became Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Manchester (1933-1948). Because of his interest in and contribution to the literature of the social sciences and philosophy, Polanyi was made Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester (1948-58). He also lectured as visiting professor or senior fellow at the universities of Chicago, Aberdeen, Virginia, Stanford and Merton College, Oxford. [1]

The overt politicization of science in Nazi Germany, and also in Communist Russia, made a deep impact on Polanyi. He observed first-hand the distortions of science that totalitarian regimes create. In his little book, Science Faith, and Society: A Searching Examination of the meaning and nature of Scientific Inquiry, [2] Polanyi outlines the problem of a politicized science and his proposal for the freedom of science from political manipulation. In so doing, he sets out the fundamentals of his ideal of a free society. Given the loss of belief in the truth in Western societies, which Polanyi experienced in Germany and Eastern Europe, his work is of contemporary relevance.

The Marxist Agenda

In the Soviet Union, all science was conducted in an atmosphere of what we would call, “Political Correctness.” It was an article of faith that Marxist dialectical materialism embodied the ultimate scientific explanation for, and guidance, to society. There was no such thing as “pure science,” for all scientific endeavor, indeed all endeavors, had to serve the state as the embodiment of the will of the people and of the revolution. Eventually most scientific endeavors were brought under the control of Communist ideology. In the process, the Soviet Union devastated their scientific community, and especially in the areas of biology and what we would call the “human sciences.” [3]

It is hard to overestimate the impact of Marx upon modern Western society, even among intellectuals who would disclaim that they are “Marxist.” Marxist ideology, based upon the world being governed by impersonal material forces, lies deep in the modern intellectual psyche. The notion that history is governed by such forces of inevitability comes out in political discussion when politicians right and left use the phrase, “the right side of history” to defend their views and motivate their followers. (I like to comment that, if we destroy ourselves in a nuclear holocaust, it will turn out the roaches and sharks were the ones on the right side of history.)

The notion that history has an inevitable, materially-determined conclusion is a remnant of Marx, even among those who have never read him. Such a view is destructive of both human reason and freedom. For Christians human beings are morally responsible for the societies they create, the decisions they make, and the future they bring about by their actions. One reason for these essays is to restore a human as opposed to materialistic vision of human society and political action.

What it Means to Say Something Real has been Discovered

In response to totalitarian and materialistic visions of human progress, Polanyi set as his goal the defense of human freedom, political, scientific, and religious. In so doing, he carefully walks a path between the objective pole of human knowledge and the inevitable subjective or personal elements in human knowing. He begins by examining what it means to “know the truth.” For Polanyi, human beings believe something to be true when we believe that an order we have discovered will manifest itself in future observations. The first thing to be noted about this definition is that it does not restrict itself to materialistic phenomena. Polanyi believes that we expect many unseen things to reveal themselves. Truth, Justice, Beauty, God, and all the values which make human life worth living, exhibit an immaterial reality that is expected to reveal itself in the future by those who have dedicated themselves to the search for truth.

The scientist in the laboratory, the painter in his studio, the moral philosopher at his computer screen, the physicist in his laboratory, the judge writing his decision, the priest praying at his alter, all these serve an invisible reality they believe will reveal itself to the seeker, Each one believes that new truth and new discovery will be revealed, and that discovery will lead to further discoveries and a further expansion of our experience and knowledge of Truth, Beauty, Justice and God. In this way, scientific knowledge is no different than, or superior to, other forms of knowledge. This ideal of a community dedicated to the search for truth can be applied to political communities as well. [4] These immaterial realities have the power to guide people, communities, nations and societies into a brighter future, and will continue to manifest themselves as emergent realities to those who diligently seek them. [5]

Seekers after Truth Beauty Goodness and Justice as Members of a Community.

Here we get to a second feature of knowledge: all knowing is dependent upon a prior communal act of faith. Scientists, lawyers, artists, philosophers, pastors, and the like are a part of communities of people who believe in scientific truth, justice, beauty, God, wisdom, and other values. In each case, members of their community undergo preparation by which they become a part of a community of those who believe in its values, are skilled in its techniques and disciplines, and who act as role models for newer members. Whether we are speaking of Isaac Newton (Science), Oliver Wendell Holmes (Law), Picasso (Art), Pope John Paul II (Religion), Michael Polanyi (Philosophy), or others in various fields, there is always a community seeking the kind of knowledge the community exists to further. In each case, there is a process by which a person who wishes to become part of the community gains the skills needed to make contributions to it.

Well-formed communities of inquiry are self-policing. They do not require any external governance. [6] For example, in science, theology, law, and other areas of inquiry there are respected journals. Not everyone is able to write for them. There is a process of gaining credibility. In addition, in controversial areas, it is quite likely that those journals will print articles exposing readers to more than one view. For example, in quantum physics there are several possible interpretations that have very well-known backers. While most scientists support something like the Copenhagen Interpretation, there are those who think that the Bohm (Hidden Variable) Interpretation is the better explanation. Both receive space in well-respected journals and are the subject of articles, seminars, discussions and the like.

In all cases, traditions can take steps down what turns out to be blind alleys. In law, some decisions breed more and better decisions in an area, while others breed inconsistencies, unforeseen injustices, and incoherencies. When a precedent is overturned it is because judges become convinced that there must be a better or different rule that would promote justice to parties and society as a whole. Frequently, this occurs after a long period of discussion in journals, seminars, educational events, political writings, etc. In other areas, research projects may change as certain avenues of research turn out to be less fruitful than others.

Personal Responsibility for the True, Beautiful, Good, or Just.

Having spoken of the communal nature of the search for Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Justice, there is also a personal aspect. Every discovery, every new work of art, every new moral intuition is the product of a human person. Over and over again in science, men and women have struggled in an area to remove some inconsistency or problem in a theory, only to await the insight of a single mind. Such was the case with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the discoveries of modern quantum physics. In each case, after a long period of struggle with conflicting data that could not be easily reconciled with the current theory, a new discovery was made through an act of personal insight. [7] When this insight was reached, the scientist, in this case Albert Einstein, published his results to the rest of the community, expecting both criticism and support.

When a scientist publishes his results, he is making a public declaration to his or her community of inquiry of what he or she has come to believe is true about the world. In a similar way, when a lawyer finishes a brief, when a painter finishes a painting, when a writer finishes a novel, when pastor finishes a sermon, he or she publishes to the world their work—for which they will be held personally accountable. If progress has been made, if some aspect of truth, justice, beauty, goodness or God has been revealed, he or she receives praise. If a mistake has been made, it will be pointed out. It is in the publishing of a work in any area that a person submits his or her work to the critical judgement of the community as a whole and takes personal responsibility for it.

The Body Politic as a Self-Policing Community

As mentioned earlier, Polanyi was concerned about the way in which Western intellectuals had become seduced by various totalitarian ideologies, left and right, and the descent into nihilism, so evident in our politics and so prevalent among intellectuals. His goal was to provide an intellectual foundation not just for scientific freedom, but for political freedom as well. [8] Polanyi believes a free society requires that a community practice free speech (discussion and dialogue) with a common faith that (i) there is such a thing as truth; (ii) the members of the community love the truth and are committed to search for it; (iii) the members have internalized a personal obligation to pursue the truth; and (iv) that the members of the community have the ability needed to undertake the search. [9]

In the search for the truth, the members of the community must practice two virtues: Fairness and Tolerance. Fairness is the ability to listen to the opinions of the members of the community with an open mind, attempting to be objective in judging the merits of the argument. Tolerance is the ability to hear sympathetically other, and even hostile, views and to grant those views the respect they deserve. No free society can endure without dedication to the pursuit of truth, justice and the other ideals of the human heart—a pursuit that engages the best qualities of its citizens, who have been prepared by their upbringing and education to have the character needed to be free citizens of a free society.

Why Religion is a Part of the Search for Justice

I must conclude this post, which is already too long. However, I cannot do so without making a point concerning why religious people and religious views are important to public debate and why these views should be tolerated heard in the public arena. There is more to the search for God and for religious truth than the search for justice.  However, the search for God inevitably involves the search for justice. The transcendent search for the One who is the ultimate source of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Justice cannot but impact the search for justice by a society.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other people of religious conviction are on a search for the ultimate ground of justice and other values in a society. Like all searchers, they may be wrong. There are times, such as the defenses of slavery, when some religious people have gone in a wrong direction. Nevertheless, there are times, and the elimination of slavery is one of them, when religious people were among the first and more ardent spokespersons for the end of a social evil. To silence them, is to silence our society’s movement towards a more just, true, beautiful, good, and humane social order.

Near the end of Science, Faith, and Society, Polanyi makes the following observation, which is terrifying in its application to early 21st Century America:

[If] the citizens are dedicated to certain transcendent obligations and particularly to such general ideals as truth, justice, charity, and these are in embodied in the tradition of the community to which allegiance is maintained, a great many issues between citizens, and all to some extent, can be left—and are necessarily left—for the individual consciences to decide. The moment, however, a community ceases to be dedicated, through its members to transcendent ideals, it can continue to exist undisrupted only by submission to a single center of unlimited power. Nor can citizens who have radically abandoned belief in spiritual realities—on the obligations to which their consciences would have been entitled and in duty bound to take a stand—raise any objection to being totally directed by the state. In fact, their love of truth and justice turn then automatically, as I have shown, to a love of state power. [10]

It is my belief that we see signs of this very phenomenon in our contemporary politics.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] There are many good articles on the internet about Polanyi and his life. See for example, Michael Polanyi and Tacit Knowledge at https://infed.org/mobi/michael-polanyi-and-tacit-knowledge/ (downloaded May 27, 2020). For those wanting the best introduction to his thinking, see, Drucilla Scott, Everyman Revisited: The Common Sense of Michael Polanyi (Sussex, ENG: The Book Guild Limited, 1985). His major work is Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

[2] Science Faith and Society: A Searching Examination of the Meaning and Nature of Scientific Inquiry (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1946)

[3] It is impossible to overestimate the moral and intellectual damage Marxism does to a society. I traveled to Russia in 1995 and saw personally the moral, political and economic devastation that 70 years of socialism wreaked on Russian society. One reason for the current regime is the moral and political consequences of this period and the lack of the moral, spiritual, intellectual, and political foundations for democracy.

[4] Science Faith and Society, 17.

[5] Thus, Polanyi subscribes to the Aristotelian notion that the real is that which has power. Goodness, truth, beauty, and other immaterial values have an unseen reality, in that they fruitfully guide action and continue to reveal themselves to those who seek them.

[6] Science, Faith and Society, at 47ff. The subject of self-governance is very broad. A host of policing measures exist in any discipline. The competition for academic posts is normally intense; and, in every institution, faculty look for the best possible candidate for openings. Academic societies are prevalent, and entrance at the highest level is not automatic. Journals have boards to advise them on which articles should be published. Of course, all of these safeguards are subject to failure and even corruption, which is why some disciplines can go into long periods of decline.

[7] Of course, the fact that many minds have examined a problem before singular acts of insight indicates the importance of the community to the success of even the most singular genius.

[8] In a later post, I intend to review his work, The Logic of Liberty (Indianapolis Indiana, Liberty Fund, 1998). In this book, Polanyi outlined his views on a free social order.

[9] Science, Faith and Society, 71.

[10] Science Faith and Society, 78-79.

Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth

There are books that make a difference in a person’s life. For me, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth was one of those books. [1] I was a first-year seminary student, trying to put together my Christian faith and the teachings of a moderately liberal seminary, when I came upon Truth to Tell, bought copies for several of my classmates, and began a love affair with the writings of Lesslie Newbigin.

Lesslie Newbigin is best known among scholars and religious professionals as the founder and a leading writer of what is sometimes called the “Gospel and Culture” and/or “Missional Church” movements. Newbigin was a missionary in India for some years, a Bishop in the Anglican church of South India, before working with the World Council of Churches, of which he was the Associate General Secretary before retiring. His experience in India gave him a unique understanding of the cultural climate in the West and the way in which culture impacts Christian faith. After returning to England, he penned some of the most influential theological works of the late 20th Century. [2]

An Analysis of Where We Are

In Truth to Tell, Newbigin outlines in a readable way his analysis of Western Culture. It is Newbigin’s view that the West since Newton and Descartes has lived under a false ideal of objectivity, in which it is possible for the observer to be separated from that which is observed. In Newton the ideal of a mathematically describable, and therefore technologically controllable, universe was given a scientific foundation that resulted in the Modern World. The ideal was a kind of objective truth that would be true for everyone and recognized as such by everyone. It was an impossible dream.[3]

With the work of philosopher Rene Descartes, the West began a movement into a kind of moral and religious subjectivism from which we have not yet escaped. Descartes attempted to find a ground for human faith, reason, and morals in the subjectivity of the human person. (“I think, therefore I am.”) Religiously (and unintentionally) the attempt by Descartes to found human knowledge on logical certainties, ultimately resulted in morals and religion being exiled to the subjective choice of individuals.  Religion and morals were a private truth, not public upon which people could agree. By the end of the 19th Century, the West was left with the critique of Nietzsche and the primacy of the will to power. The result has been the moral and religious collapse of the West, and the emergence of a series of left and right-wing dictatorships of increasing mendacity.

We see the reality and the impact of the loss of meaning every day in our moral arguments and in politics: the search for dominance by interest groups unbridled by faith, morals, or any other constraint. We experience the endless debate about moral questions, with each side talking past the other—and paying little or no attention to the other. What is needed is a new starting point for thought and action.

It is at this point that Newbigin’s analysis meets the need for a different kind of public philosophy to inspire and guide our leaders. The Post-modern West appears to be in the same condition that prevailed in the Greco-Roman World at the time of Augustine. By the beginning of the Fifth Century, Roman society was immersed in decadence morally, philosophical skepticism, moral nihilism, and corrupt decline in the realm of government. The philosophical brilliance of Greece, and the legal, engineering, military. and practical brilliance of Rome, had reached a dead end.

We forget that, before Augustine, Rome and Greco Roman culture was in a period of religious, moral, and political decay not much different than what we see around us today. Augustine wrote his masterpiece, City of God as a response to the Roman pagan charge that the decline of Rome was the fault of the new religion of Christianity. The solution Augustine crafted, a division of the earthly city based on power and the City of God based on love, with the earthly city spiritually and morally subject to the heavenly city, provided a basis for Western Civilization until the modern times.

Until recently, even after the emergence of modern science and technology the moral and spiritual foundations of our culture were Christian. The two great wars of the 20th Century, begun by the “Christian” powers of Europe, the development of the modern secular state, and the secularization of education, and the emergence of a post-Christian society combined to bring this long era to an end. The end, however, was not what anyone considered possible even a century ago: the abrupt decline Western civilization. By the 21st Century, the West had come to reject even the notion of truth, goodness, truth and beauty as human ideals. As Newbigin notes in Truth to Tell, there is nothing more characteristic of our society than the view that all truth claims are relative. He specifically quotes a Chinese Christian theologian for a trenchant description of Western Society: “Technological optimism and literary despair.” [4]

A Proposal For Where We Might Go

In Truth to Tell, Lesslie Newbigin distinguishes between “Agnostic Pluralism” and “Committed Pluralism”. [5] Agnostic Pluralism is the kind of pluralism characteristic of our society, in which truth is unknowable and there are no real criteria for judging between different views. Committed Pluralism, on the other hand, sees human beings as capable of real knowledge of God, subject to human limitations and revision based upon new information. In the emerging postmodern reality Christians face today, what is needed are people committed to reaching out to others in the spirit of acceptance and dialogue, who boldly proclaim what it is they believe and why in humble, truth-seeking conversation with others.

This is the place at which Newbigin adopts the post-critical philosophy of Michael Polanyi, which will be the subject of the next of these blogs. [6] Polanyi recognized the false ideal of objectivity, so common in popular culture as a misunderstanding of human reason, including scientific reasoning. For Polanyi, all reasoning is personal, the action of a responsible human actor, and there is always at work a history and tradition of thought. For example, a scientist does not work in a vacuum, but as part of the group of scientists who are trained in the tradition of the particular branch of science involved. These scientists are motivated by the conviction that they are in contact with a reality beyond themselves—and to which their thinking is subject.

The same is true for any inquiry. Those who seek God or the Good are part of a tradition of persons from different faiths and traditions which have sought the True and the Good in their areas of inquiry. They have taken personal responsibility for their beliefs and been guided by them. Over centuries of inquiry and thought, progress has been made. Finally, those who have sought God, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful  have come into contact with a kind of  reality, spiritual and moral realities which reveal themselves to those who seek to know.

One name for the position that Newbigin outlines is “critical realism.” When a person says that something is “real,” he or she is confessing that it exists independently of their own subjective perceptions. To say that something such as “God,” “Truth,” “Justice,’” “Goodness,” or “Beauty” exists independently of my perception of it and will impact my life whether or not I perceive it properly, is to say that these noetic, immaterial things are “real”. As something that exists outside of my subjective preference, it will impact my life whether I subjectively recognize it or not. [7]

The intellectual move that Newbigin and Polanyi make is an important one, for it is a big step in repairing the breach between the material and noetic worlds, between the seen and the unseen, between faith, morals, and scientific knowledge, between will and reason, and between subjective though and action that has increasingly destructive impact on our political life the in West.

Conclusion: Christians as Bearers of a Public Truth

Newbigin closes his book with a chapter concerning the obligation of Christians to proclaim their truth in a kind of humble submission to the critique of others and for society to listen for the truth being proclaimed without the prejudice that is so common in the secular West. To do this, the Church itself will have to model the kind of reasonableness that it urges upon society as a whole.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), hereinafter, “Truth to Tell.”

[2] Some of his works are The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978); Foolishness to the Greeks: Gospel and Western Culture, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986); The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: MI: Eerdmans, 1989); Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1995).

[3] Truth to Tell, 3.

[4] Truth to Tell, 18.

[5] Id, at 56. This literary despair is really a despair in every area of thought and life not scientific and technological.

[6] Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962); The Tacit Dimension (Glouchester, MA: Peter Smith, 1983); and Science Faith and Society: A Searching Examination of the Meaning and Nature of Scientific Inquiry (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1946)

[7] See for example, Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch Meaning (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 126. In Polanyi’s thought, real things exist independently of any particular observer. We believe such things will manifest themselves in the future in the same and similar situations.

 

“Famperlogalism”

Two of my favorite philosophers, C. S. Pierce and A.N. Whitehead have a great deal in common, more than using initials in their names. Both developed philosophies that are relational and organic. Both had the sometimes-irritating habit of inventing hard to pronounce and difficult to understand terms. Pierce termed his philosophy “pragmaticism” after other philosophers began to use his term “pragmatism” in ways he did not approve. [1] Whitehead invented a whole host of terms in this works as he outlined an organic, process view of the world. [2] With apologies to both of these great men, I have coined my own term, which is the subject of this essay.

An Exhaustion Induced Idea

The other day, as I was returning from a game of golf in the hot Texas sun, under the influence of dehydration, as well as heat, physical, and other exhaustion, I invented a term: “Famperlogalism.” The term grew backwards, as I pondered the reaction of many to what is called, “globalism,” and which largely amounts to the less-than-critical protection of big international corporations on the right and support of large international bureaucracies on the left.

My ponderings began with the “Logalism.” So much “globalist” thinking begins with the global (hence “globalism”) and deduces from that the proper local policy. This seems backward to me. Proper “bottom up thinking” begins by thinking locally and proceeds to determine what is desirable globally. I invented the term “logalism” to incorporate this idea of thinking locally first.

Then I thought, “What do we mean by the “local” part of logalism?”  This resulted in the “famperson” portion of the term. Recently, I read an article about globalism and the probable loss of jobs for huge numbers of people in the future. My response was and is that our society often misunderstands the purpose of economic activity and therefore misunderstands what constitutes a rational economic policy. The foundational purpose of economic activity is to provide valuable work for people and families so that they can support themselves and have meaningful lives. An economy, however efficient, that leaves millions without meaningful work or income, and which traps millions in poverty while a small percentage of people become incredibly rich is not a good economy, whether it is “capitalist” (the United States), socialist (Western Europe) or “communist” (China and Russia). [3]

The rest of this essay makes little sense for those who cannot accept this principle: “An economy exists to provide meaningful work for people that will allow them to support their families and live meaningful lives, not to make a few people incredibly rich.” No matter how much money can be made by companies from exporting jobs in the name of “globalism,” such behavior, and any theory underlying such behavior, are inadequate and unacceptable. The well-being of families and persons should form the core value in developing our notion of an economy and how it should operate.

“Famperlogalism” and “Oikos”

This insight is implicit in the term “Economics,” which derives from a Greek word meaning “Household.” “Oikos,” from which we get the term “Economics,” is the Greek word for household. In the ancient world, a household was more than just a house with two people and perhaps a child. It included what we would call the “nuclear family,” as well as grandparents and great grandparents, servants and employees—all those that made up the family economic unit that was the household. [4] The head of the household was not responsible just for his own personal interests, but for the good of the entire household and its members.

This has vast implications for our economy. Executives are not responsible primarily for their own economic advancement or even for the advancement of their company in the narrow sense. They are responsible for the entire family of relationships of which their business is a part. This is to say that those who own or control assets are responsible for the well-being of all the families and persons and social entities that are related to and impacted by their business. In modern business language, we call these people and entities “Stakeholders.”

This idea of economics as a life and meaning creating activity of a society of people, is why, before the late modern world, economics was classified among the moral sciences. Adam Smith, who was first a moral philosopher, recognized, as we often do not, that there is an inherent moral aspect to economics. [5] A proper economics has a moral component and is interested in persons, families, and local communities, in their support and in their health.

There is nothing more important to rethinking modern American economics than the notion that the primary goal of political and economic entities is strengthening and supporting families and persons. Why in this order? Because persons emerge from families. Healthy people cannot emerge from families that are not healthy. When families are healthy, they have meaningful work to do and time to spend raising children, supporting elderly parents, and taking care of their own friendships, family, and employees.

“Famperlogalism” implies a kind of economics that is inherently relational, organic, and communitarian. It’s relational in that it sees families, persons, small businesses, larger businesses, towns, cities, states, neighborhoods, national governments and international governments, our entire economic system from bottom to top, as related. It is organic because it sees the development of society as a process from smaller units to larger units held together by relationships of mutual dependency among communities of various sizes and types. It is communitarian because it focuses on the health of communities of all levels, types and kinds.

A Brief Outline of “Famperlogalism”

With this long introduction, I’d like to set out a brief outline of what a different kind of economic and political organization might be like and upon what ideas it might be founded:

  1. The world is inherently relational. From the smallest units of energy and matter to the universe as a whole, everything is related. That is to say, the universe is a community.
  2. The world is inherently an organic process. From the creation of the smallest elementary particles, to the organic unfolding of universe as a whole, a relational process is unfolding.
  3. We human beings are a part of this process, connected with the entire universe and to each other in powerful and important ways. In other words, “no person is an island”.
  4. Each level of reality builds on every other level of reality and is related to it. From the mysteries of quantum physics to the mysteries of sociology and politics, different levels of reality emerge and have both an independent and dependent reality that must be considered for understanding and action. There is no independent level of reality and no human person capable of seeing or understanding the entire complex relationality of any human or complex natural system. This is why tolerance and freedom are important: We all need the correction of each other.
  5. These levels of reality include not only physical levels of reality, but also “noetic levels” of reality: spiritual, moral, aesthetic, social, cultural, religious, mathematical, theoretical, and other immaterial levels of reality. Physical levels of reality cannot be healthy or complete except in the context of both the seen and unseen aspects of reality. This is the ground of a healthy environmentalism. There can be no healthy human life unless the entire ecology of the person, material and noetic, is healthy, which is why it is so difficult to nurture healthy people.
  6. The world of immense complexity we inhabit developed from fundamental particles. The world emerged and emerges not from the top down but from the bottom up. Therefore, the health of any emergent phenomena, including social phenomenon, is dependent upon maintaining health and vitality from the bottom up. This is true of political institutions and cultural institutions.
  7. Persons emerge from families. From the standpoint of healthy human society, the fundamental unit is the family. Each human person is profoundly impacted by the family and local society in which they are born and raised. The health of families, neighborhoods, and local economies and cultures is vitally and fundamentally important, and should be treated as such by political and cultural decision-makers. In order to have healthy persons, there must be healthy families. The initial formation of the human person, physical, intellectual, social, and moral, all occur early in human life when the family unit is the most important aspect of the person’s development. When this fundamental unit of reality, the family, is not healthy it is difficult for healthy persons to be formed. A wise society is constructed with health family life in mind and expends its resources to support, encourage, and make healthy families and persons, for these are the fundamental units of any society.
  8. Just as material elements emerge from the immaterial fundamental “particles” of physics, persons emerge from families and have their own independent reality. [6] Healthy societies are constructed so that individual human beings can fulfill their potential and live healthy lives. Among other things, this means that human societies are responsible to organize themselves in such a way that people have meaningful labor and other meaningful human relationships.
  9. Each part of a functional society: families, neighborhoods, businesses, local governments, towns, cities, nations, international businesses, for-profit companies, not-for-profit companies, religious institutions, social groups, and all other cultural units, are both independent and related, dependent entities. Just as people and families are independent but dependent upon one another so are all human institutions.
  10. The result is this: We can’t have healthy people unless we have healthy families. We can’t have healthy neighborhoods unless we have healthy people. We can’t have healthy communities unless we have healthy neighborhoods. We can’t have healthy cities unless we have healthy smaller communities. We can’t have healthy states (regional political units) unless we have healthy cities and towns. We can’t have healthy nations unless we have healthy states. We can’t have a healthy world, and global economy and polity, unless we have healthy nation-states. The health of all are impacted by the health of every particular level. These levels are related and interdependent. [7]
  11. It is important that local communities be supported and people be able to make a living and support their families within their local communities in which they live, support their families, find meaning and purpose in life, and from which the next generation emerges. This is especially true of smaller agricultural communities upon which the economy of any nation rests.
  12. Larger economic and political groupings are dependent upon a sense of healthy community among their members, whether human or social. Large cities and other political groupings depend upon the health of smaller, more local, institutions. A society that destroys the sense of community among its citizens by excessive individualism will decay and become unhealthy. Without a sense of mutual community, large political, social, and economic entities become dysfunctional. This has happened in the United States and all over the Western world. No political society can hold together without communal roots based on shared history, culture, language, economies, etc.
  13. The separation of “local” from “national” or “global” is a false separation. There can be no healthy national or global economy that does not involve healthy local economies. There can be no healthy national or global political organization that is not dependent upon local healthy political organizations. By the same token, there cannot be healthy local communities if larger social entities are not healthy.
  14. A certain level of perceived inefficiency from a purely economic perspective may be necessary to maintain the moral and communal health of a social organism. Put more clearly, if we think that the destruction of a lower level of reality is necessary for the health of a higher level, we don’t understand the system in its entire complexity.
  15. A wise society sees the local as small and beautiful. It nurtures small local businesses. It constrains the power of larger entities to harm local, more fragile parts of the social system. It recognizes the various capacities of persons, physical, emotional, and mental, and provides meaningful work for all of them. In a wise society the small is not the only beautiful, but it is to cherished and protected. [8]
  16. If it can be done or managed locally, it should be. Each higher level of society should carefully not control anything not required on behalf of the health of the whole. This is true of families, neighborhoods, cities and towns, states, larger social units, nation states and global political entities.
  17. Larger social political, and economic entities need to see themselves as servants of smaller, local entities, not as their masters. In a global, highly interdependent economy such as ours, there will be large, transnational companies and supply lines. The question is, “Do they serve local interests and the health of smaller, local units?”
  18. Freedom is important because it is by protecting freedom that local, smaller units are allowed independent function. This is true politically and economically. The Communist and Socialist dream of wise central planning of society was built upon an illusion of the capacity of larger units to wisely manage smaller political and economic units. It assumed a human capacity that does not and cannot exist. It is by maintaining the maximum freedom in relationship that the best and wisest decisions are made.

Conclusion

I’m sure as time goes by I’ll be able to think of even more aspects of “Famperlogalism.” In my mind, all this demonstrates the dangers and benefits of an occasional game of golf on a hot Texas day. You never know what will happen or what you will think of when you’re late to dinner, tired, dehydrated, and exhausted. [9]

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, Edward C. Moore, ed.,” Pragmatism and Pragmaticism” in Charles S. Peirce: The Essential Writings (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1972), pp 261-299.

[2] See, A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York, Free Press, 1969). I have a book that is nothing but terms Whitehead uses and their definitions. It is almost impossible to read him without such help. Nevertheless, it is worth it.

[3] One unfortunate feature of present day “crony capitalism,” Western “social democracy,” and Soviet and Chinese “Communism,” is that they all bear little resemblance to what they pretend to be and, in fact, look like the “National Socialism” of Germany in the 1930’s. Government, the media, business, and industry have come together with the favored few, robber barons, political elite, and the children of the elite controlling the economy of entire nations.

[4] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Abridged Version, Geoffrey Bromily, trans (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 674-5.

[5] Smith believed that human persons by nature think and act in terms of their perceived “self-interest;” however, their notion and pursuit of self-interest is defined, guided, restrained and confined, by their “moral sense” concerning how we should act in our deeds toward others and ourselves. See Richard M. Ebling, “Economic Ideas: Adam Smith on Moral Sentiments, Division of Labor and the Invisible Hand” The Future of Freedom Foundation (December 12, 2016), downloaded from https://www.fff.org/explore-freedom/article/economic-ideas-adam-smith-moral-sentiments-division-labor-invisible-hand/ May 5, 2020. The modern idea of a morally neutral competition is incompatible with such an idea.

[6] One of the most difficult ideas to comprehend, at last for me, is that the fundamental particles which quantum physics describes are not particles, like a small stone. They are activities in an underlying wave structure of the universe. In this sense, the material emerges from the immaterial, potentiality of the quantum world.

[7] This particular paragraph is reminiscent of the Tao Te Ching. See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/ Centered Living: The Way of Light and Love Rev. Ed. (Cordova, TN: Book Surge. Shiloh Publishing, 2016), especially Chapter 54, pages 108-109.

[8] See, E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1973). See also, Centered Living, Centered Leading previously cited, at Chapter 80, pages 160-161.

[9] For those who have read the last couple of posts, you know that I am also deeply indebted to Wendell Berry, who began my thinking in this area as I read some of his essays. See, Wendall Berry, Sex Freedom and Community (New York, NY & San Francisco, CA: Pantheon Books, 1992).

2. Christianity and the Survival of Creation

This week, just for one more week, I am reflecting one last time on Wendell Berry’s book of essays, Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. [1] Among some secular opponents of Christianity, it has become commonplace to blame the environmental crisis partially on Christian faith. There is a kind of half-truth embedded in the charge, which Berry acknowledges. The Judeo-Christian world view, with its emphasis on the independent, contingent reality of nature, has long been credited with the emergence of modern science and its child, modern technology. However, it would be more accurate to lay the blame not on Christianity, but on the mechanistic world-view that prevailed from the time of Isaac Newton until the early 20th Century.

One reason I am studying political theology just now comes from a conviction that we are at the dawn of a new era, ushered in by the revolution in modern physics at the beginning of the 20th Century with the insights of relativity and quantum theory. An older, mechanistic world-view has been supplanted by the relational and organic process insights of modern science. Unfortunately, every day one sees the impact of decisions by an academic, business, and political elite still held captive by an outdated worldview. [2]

There is a second response that Berry makes to the charge of secularists, which might be levied against many contemporary Christians: We have often formed our views without reading and studying the Bible in detail to understand what it really says. When one does study the Bible in detail, one finds an enormous wealth of passages that deal with the wonder of creation, the beauty of creation, the responsibility of the human race for creation, and the need to treat all of creation, human, animal, and inanimate with the love of a faithful steward of the blessings of our planet. [3] Berry’s basic argument is that (i) God created the world good (Genesis 1); (ii) the reason we human beings are unreliable stewards of God’s good creation is that we are sinners, alienated from the God, creation, and others; and (iii) it is part of God’ redemptive purpose in history to restore human beings and our relationship with God, other humans and all creation (Berry, 96-97).

Berry understands that God is not a distant landlord, a kind of mechanistic watchmaker who made the world and is now just watching things unfold. He is immanent in his creation, holding it together and sustaining the earth as he works for the restoration of all things (95). As Paul mentioned to the Athenians in the first Century, “…in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The God of the Old and New Testament is not a distant designer, but an intimate lover of his creation, who continues to hold all things together (Colossians 1:17). As stewards of his creation, we should have the same intimate, self-giving love for the earth that God has.

Berry sees a problem in the way many Christians view themselves and the world as a key to understanding a lack of interest in environmental concerns: a tendency to see the human person as made up of two radically things (i) matter and (ii) spirit. Christians often read the creation story to teach that God formed the man out of the dust (matter) and then breathed spirit (Spirit) into the man (Genesis 2:7; Berry at 106ff). This is a profoundly wrong idea. We were created as a unity not as a duality. “The dust, formed as a man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul” (Berry 106).  We are both dust and spirit, matter and mind, soul and “stuff”. The dualistic vision of human personhood ignores that God created and is in the dust and in the spirit and both are precious to God (107).

There is an obvious and important deduction to made from all this: God created and is is in the dust, the mechanism, the order of our universe, and it too is holy. Therefore, humans must be good stewards of this “dust” as well as of the “spirit”. Humans are not just thinking matter. We are persons created in the image of God participating in the creation of which we are a part, and given a special task to care for it. This means that what we do, how we manage the resources God has given us, how we treat the environment while using it to sustain our lives and civilizations, are divine tasks. Thus, Berry concludes:

“If … we believe that we are living souls, God’s dust and God’s spirit, acting our parts among other creatures all made of the same dust and breath as ourselves; and if we understand that we are free within the obvious limits of mortal human life, to do evil or good to ourselves and to the other creature—then all our acts have a supreme significance” (Berry, at 110).

In our work, we are all craftsmen and women, artists of God ‘s creation, placed upon the earth to manage and make things of goodness and beauty from the physical world we inhabit, whether we are a painter or an automaker,  a computer designer or software analyst, a farmer or businessperson, education or public employee. Our economies are a part of the management of the household of God, and if we see economics and business in any other light, we are deceived. [4]

I am sure that I have not done justice to Berry’s thinking. In particular, I have not noted the connection between his ideas about creation and the need for human beings to steward small, local portions of the creation. For those who wish to know more and better, read “Christianity and the Environmental Crisis” in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. This book and all of its essays are well worth the time to read, especially if one is interested in agriculture, civilization and environmental concerns.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Wendall Berry, Sex , Economy, Freedom and Community (New York, NY & San Francisco, CA: Pantheon Books, 1992). Sex Freedom and Community is hereinafter referred to as “Berry” and citations will be in text by page number to this book. The essay, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation” is found on pages 93-116.

[2] Many years ago, I traveled in Russia and witnessed first-hand the terrible environmental damage done in the name of dialectical materialism. Berry thinks that Eastern Religion and. Buddhism might be more congenial to environmentalism, but again, one sees no evidence of this when looking at the pollution in India, China, Japan, the Philippines and elsewhere in the east. For Berry’s comment on this, see Berry at 93-9).

[3] Berry goes over many of the relevant texts and I am suggesting others. In addition to Genesis 1, one must study Job 38-41, the creation Psalms (especially 1, 8 and 19), the Proverbs that reflect the order and wonder of creation (Proverbs 8-9), the many creation passages in the prophets that reflect on creation (see for example Isaiah 40, 42) the parables of Jesus on stewardship, and the passages of the remainder of the New Testament that are relevant to stewardship of the gifts of God. When one does this, one is struck by the need for Christians and others to be good stewards of the creation God has given to us.

[4] Berry constructs one of his best arguments from his correct understanding of the derivation of the word economics, which comes from a Greek word meaning “household”.  Economics is a part of our management of the household God has given to the human race. When it is reduced to profit and loss, unconnected to human stewardship and to the good of the human race, economics becomes less that it was intended to be (See Berry, at 99-100).

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

I suppose that it is necessary to sell books to put the word “sex” in the title somewhere. In the case of Wendall Berry’s Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, the title is not just a marketing ploy, for the title essay contains one of the most interesting and enlightening discussions of the place sex plays in a healthy society. [1] Not to disappoint readers, but my interest in Sex, Freedom, and Economy is not in the first word, except for as it impacts the larger argument of the book as a whole. Berry believes that contemporary America is characterized by the deliberate destruction of local communities under the impact of misguided politico-economic forces, and in so doing he makes a wonderful argument for the importance of community.

Underneath the environmental issues we face and the destruction of families and small communities lies the same deep cause: the modern era’s disinterest in the local, the particular, the humble, and the small. Western elites have little familiarity with or interest in agriculture and small local communities. In the creation of the all-powerful nation state and the large private corporation, the modern world has become, in a word, inhuman.

Wendall Berry, for those who do not know the name, is one of the most prominent members of what used to be called, “The New Agrarians” –- a group of writers whose work is critical of both the left and the right of American politics and of both modern capitalism and socialism. I first became interested in Berry after reading his book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, in which Berry unleashed a critique of modern “corporate” agriculture. [2] (In the sense that Berry uses the term, “corporate” includes what we might call “Centralized Management,” whether by a central government or corporate operator or by socializing national policies.

Locality and Community.

Berry’s call is to return to a closer relationship with the earth, small, local communities, wholesome family life, and the particularities of a local culture. For those who love the slogan, “Think Globally and Act Locally,” Berry has some very important advice: You cannot “Think Globally” and “Act Locally” in a rational way. The very attempt to “Think Globally” cuts a thinker off from the reality of a particular place and its climate, geography, fertility, culture and the like. So, Berry concludes, “Global thinkers have been and will be dangerous people” (19).

“A healthy community,” Berry says, “is a form that includes all the local things that are connected to by the larger, ultimately mysterious form of the Creation. In speaking of community, then, we are speaking of a complex connection not only among human beings or between humans and their homeland, but also between the human economy and nature, between forest or prairie and field or orchard, and between troublesome creatures and pleasant one. All neighbors are included” (15). It is in local communities that life becomes worth living.

A community is a society in which friendship, friendly intercourse, having things in common, a particular locality and its geographic peculiarities, form a people who belong to a place and a culture. (48). Obviously, for there to be community there must be personal connection and common interest. While Berry is interested in small, primarily agriculture-based communities, this definition is true of small communities to be found in larger cities and states. “Community” is about communion with a group of other people, and without communion among people, community is not possible. [3] And, without community, meaningful life is not possible.

The destruction of community in the industrial world, East and West, Capitalist and Communist, is a terrible thing. Berry explores over and over again the way in which modern industrial society, capitalist, socialist, and communist, has wreaked havoc on local communities and human scaled economies. The result of this is a society and cities unconnected to their biological and agricultural setting, dependent up huge international supply lines, tied to a fossil fuel based economy, and unsustainable into the distant future. Sustainable, human cities are and will be in balance with its environment and living off of its “net ecological income.” [4] The only way that political and economic groups will do this is if individuals and communities begin to “draw in” their supply lines, purchasing locally produced goods produced by smaller local farms and businesses. We need, Berry thinks, to live more simply and more connected to a local place.

Sex, the Family and Community

This gets us to sex. (Well, in a way.)  One reason why Barry is convinced that we must recover our connections to a local community, including its land, is that the modern world has become inhuman in the way that it has individualized and commodified everything. This “everything” includes sex, family life, and the fundamental building blocks of society. If sex is only about the individual, then the modern Sexual Revolution might possibly be justified. However, until the modern world throughout all human history no one thought that sex was “private”. Sex was part of a complex of relationships. Sex was and is a powerful force—an inducement for marriage, family, children, which also generally involved small family businesses and farms. Sex was not merely a private act between two people, but the private foundation for the community and therefore, extremely public in its importance. Sex is not a solely personal, individual act, it is an act involving an entire community of parents, grandparents, children, friends, neighbors, and members of the community at large.

The modern industrial economy and its child, the service economy, with its commodification of everything and its hostility to the small, local, rural, components of society, has triumphed in the last century—and with that triumph came the alienation, and death of community we have witnessed. “The triumph of the industrial economy is the fall of community. But the fall of community reveals how precious and how necessary community is. For when community fails, so must fall all the things that only community life can engender and protect: the care of the old, the care and education of children, family life, neighborly work, the handing down of memory, the care of the earth, respect for nature, and the lives of wild creatures. All of these things have been damaged by the rule of industrialism, but of all the damaged things probably the most precious and most damaged is sexual love. For sexual love is the heart of community life” (133). [5]

I have often spoken about how my life as a minister was impacted by my first pastorate in a small, rural, poor, agricultural community. In my congregation there were many farming families. In addition, there were many small business owners and employees, and state agricultural employees, as well as employees of larger businesses who served the local farmers. I am thankful for those years. I have many, many stories to tell of those days.

We lived in a small town with all of the weaknesses and limits of a small town, but it was a community. People were much closer than is possible in large cities. I could tell many stories, but will only tell one. In my congregation there was a poorer family with a grown child who had the mind of a child. One day the county sheriff’s office called me and asked if he could drop off this young man at the church to stay until his parents came home. He had wandered off and been found walking on a local highway. The sheriff knew his parents had gone to Memphis for a doctor’s appointment. (How I do not know.)

Everyone knew the young man, the family, and that the family attended our church. The care that sheriff showed that day could not be found in Memphis, just a few miles away. It could only occur in a local community in which people knew, cared for, and were in fellowship with each other.

What I think Berry longs for, and wants us to long for, is that kind of community in which true humanity can grow. I doubt it can or would involve a return to an agrarian way of life, though if it did, it would be a small price to pay. I think that it means working on building a society from the bottom up, as an integrated series of communities that give meaning and purpose to life.

Community and Polity.

This brings me to a distinction that we too often fail to make. There is a difference between belonging to a community and being a part of a political entity. As mentioned before, the idea behind community is a group bound together in a place by culture, family ties, interests, faith, etc. It derives from two Latin words meaning to be bound together with another. Polities are derived from the Greek word, “polis,” which refers to a political entity. The Latin, refers to the external legally imposed government of a place or group. It comes from public center of Greek cities. Political entities are bound together by force of law, police and police and military power. Both communities and polities are important and necessary for human life. [6]

Large political entities, like the United States of America, by their very nature, cannot be communities except in a derivative and metaphorical way. They are not fundamental to human flourishing the way local families, church, social groupings, work groupings, and the like, are. In fact, the health of larger political entities is deeply dependent upon the health of smaller communities of which they are composed. This is something that I am afraid we have forgotten in the late Modern world. The biggest and most important task before contemporary Americans is not which political party should be elected or the details of legislation or administrative decision. It is the rebuilding of community.

COPYRIGHT 2020, G. Christoper Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Wendall Berry, Sex, Economy,  Freedom and Community (New York, NY & San Francisco, CA: Pantheon Books, 1992). Sex Freedom and Community is hereinafter referred to as “Berry” and citations will be in text by page number to this book.

[2] Wendall Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (Berkley CA: Counterpoint., 1977).

[3] In my view, Berry’s argument is important in a deep and powerful way. However, his definition of community may be too concrete to fully explore why a more communitarian polity is important. I for example belong to several communities, churches, professional associations, etc. They are not necessarily connected to a particular place, which is one requirement for which Berry argues. Berry’s point is important and should not be lost, but theologically thinking, concrete communities reflect the Divine Community Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bound together in limitless self-giving love. See, John Zizioulas, Being as Communion Studies in Personhood and the Church (Yonkers, NY: SVS Press, 1985).

[4] This is a fairly difficult concept to understand. For Berry, our society does not count the ecological and human cost of its economic organization, and so is constantly “borrowing” from rural areas and future generations. His general policy prescription is to help cities become viable by gradually insisting that cities and society live on the net economic income after all the relevant costs, human and environmental have been factored in.

[5] I had to cut off the quote, but he goes on to say, “For sexual love is the heart of community life. It is the force that in our bodily life connects us most firmly to the Creation, to the fertility of the world, to farming and to the care of animals. It brings us into the dance that holds the community together and joins it to its place.” Berry at 133.

[6] The word “community” is derived from from the Latin, “communitas,” fellowship, which, in turn, is derived from communis, or “common”. The word “polity” comes from a Latin word, that means a particular form or system of government, such as civil polity; ecclesiastical polity. It refers to a state or other organized community or body or to a government or administrative regulation, and in this sense refers to a state or organized political body. See, www.dictionary.com/ searching for “Community” or “Polity” (downloaded, April 21, 2020).

 

 

Emotionally Healthy Discipleship

Last week, I indicated that I was going to take a break from the posts I have been doing on Christianity and Public Life to share reflections on a book by Peter Scazzero called, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” [1] One of our children was in a small group that studied the book. When we were visiting, she saw me looking at the book and allowed me to read it. Then, she allowed me to take it home and really study the book. I have to say that the book made a big impression.

Like everyone, I did not come from a perfect family. My parents, like all parents, had their brokenness. One of my parents grew up with a parent that can only be described as “dysfunctional.” As a spouse, parent, and pastor, I have had to deal with some of the brokenness of my family of origin. As a pastor, over and over again I have seen that the major point of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is absolutely true: People cannot be the disciples that they want and desire to be, that God wants them to be, if they are emotionally immature, broken and trapped in dysfunctional behavior patterns as the result of experiences of childhood and youth. Worse, we all pass on to our own children, who are also wounded, some part of the baggage from our past that we have not taken the time to identify, study, lift up to God, and find healing for in this world. This should give all of us an incentive to read and study Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

Peter Sazzero is the pastor of a larger congregation in New York City. He grew up in an Italian family with a lot of the unwritten rules and less than optimal behavior patterns present. You will have to read the book to discover the story. Both his parents had their brokenness. Early on in his ministry, at a time when he was the pastor of a multi-site campus, there was a split that, among other matters, exposed to some of his brokenness. His leadership style, impacted by his past, was hard on his family and others. In the end, it took a marital crisis to bring him to a point where he acted for positive change. Fortunately for his marriage, family, church, and us, he not only took it seriously, he wrote Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

The action he took, and the advice he gives us, falls into two basic parts: first of all, he studied and analyzed his family history and the family system in which he grew up. Second, he began to study the resources of Christian history about the nature of Christian maturity, and especially about what we sometimes call, “Dark Nights of the Soul” and the great heritage of the Church in spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation.

As part of coming to terms with his family background, Scazzero created a “genogram” of his family’s past, going back three generations. (A “genogram” is a graphic representation of a family tree that displays information concerning relationships among family members. It goes beyond a traditional family tree, allowing the user to analyze hereditary patterns and psychological factors that impact family relationships.) [2] The author suggests that we go back about three generations, which generations seem to have the most impact on the people we become.

The biblical basis for this is the famous quote, “I the Lord will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5; cf. Numbers 14:18). [3] For most people, three generations is enough to get an idea of family dynamics. Practically speaking, most of us will have difficulty going  further unless someone wrote down a lot of information that most people never write down.

In my own case, the impact of a family tragedy and the consequences of a dysfunctional grandparent had a significant impact upon my character, life, marriage, children, and churches. This historical fact does not eliminate my own personal responsibility, nor does it indicate that my parents or grandparents were particularly terrible people. They were just human beings, like all human beings. In fact, as I’ve grown older, I have seen that my parents and grandparents did a pretty good job—but they were not perfect by any means.

Armed with some self-understanding and understanding of the family system from which we came, we Christians are in a position to make positive change, not just for ourselves but for those closest to us. Sometimes, this change may involve counseling. It did with the author. Sometimes it may involve spiritual direction. It did with me. Sometimes, it may involve getting together with a group of other Christians and talking out where we are in life and in our walk with Christ.

Christian response doesn’t stop with therapy, spiritual direction, groups or self-awareness. It also involves spiritual growth as a follower of Christ. Scazzero recommends that all Christians study and adopt historic spiritual disciplines of the Church, particularly the ideas of having a Rule of Life by which we live and the regular practice of the Sabbath to prevent that most Americans of all sins, “careeristus” and overwork. (It will not surprise any of my former congregants that overwork and excessive dedication to career are issues with me.) By reading the Church Fathers and Mothers, engaging in regular spiritual practices, observing the Sabbath, and facing ourselves, we can become the disciples that Christ wants us to be.

From the perspective of growing as a disciple, times when we feel far from God are signs that we have work to do. When God brings a “Dark Night of the Soul” upon us, in greater or less or degree, it is an act of love. God knows that we won’t change until we are motivated—and times of suffering and sensing we are far from God are times when most serious Christians are willing to change. God also knows, as Jesus knew, sometimes he needs to recede from our consciousness for a time so that we can grow in significant ways. [4]

I read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality the first time before this COVID-19 seclusion began. One of the blessings of this time of seclusion is that it enabled me to re-read the book and work through it in a dedicated way. I think it’s been profitable. I recommend a book to all my friends, and perhaps even more importantly, I want to suggest that you get together as a group and do it as a study. Not only will you be better off, but your family and church will be as well.

God bless!

Copyright 2020, G> Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It impossible to be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature Updated Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017).

[2]See,www.google.com/search?q=genogram&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS769US770&oq=Genogram&aqs=chrome.0.0l8.6623j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 (Downloaded April 14, 2020). There’s an abundant amount of information about genograms on the Internet and several fine books one can get. As will be mentioned below, Scazzero has created a course that churches an individuals can purchase for small groups. It also includes information about genograms.

[3] Neither Scazzero nor I would want this to be taken in a fundamentalist or overly literalist way. God is also a God of love who rescues, saves, forgives, and undoes the sins of the past, ours and our parents. However, the fact is our parents and other forbearers and their character impact our character. If our parents and grandparents have done things that are immoral, illogical, or foolish, the impact doesn’t stop with them; we are impacted as well. If one reads the book, one will see Scazzero’s delicate handling of this matter.

[4] The great spiritual giants who have used the term “Dark Night of the Soul” are aware that God is never absent and has in fact promised to be with us (Matthew 28:16-20). They also perceived that sometimes God is present in his absence for our own good and growth. This is a great mystery, but true. God loves us enough not to let our spiritual maturity depend upon our feelings our knowledge of his presence, so that our faith might be deepened and grow, and so that our faith will not depend upon  our feelings but upon God.

11. Why a Wise Public Theology Matters

The Danger we Face

When I began this series of posts on The Naked Public Square, one of my favorite people told me my work was unnecessary. “No one really wants to exclude Christians from the public square!” was his or her opinion. Unfortunately, this observation is incorrect. For some time, the secular far-left has been trying drive Christian principles and Christians from the Public Square. For example, in one recent incident, left-wing Senators tried to block a person from a judicial appointment due to their Catholic faith and membership in the Knights of Columbus. [1] The person was a distinguished lawyer, well-qualified for the appointment, and ultimately confirmed.[2]

One tactic that has been used is to brand any conservative group that disagrees with the left’s social agenda a “hate group” and then attempt to block nominees on that basis. Conservative think tanks, for example, have been so labeled. [3] Another tactic is to malign Christians as not believing in science if they do not believe in evolution. Most recently, the faith of the Vice President was attacked as disqualifying him from leading the President’s Covid 19 response team. [4] One left-wing politician observed that he must be disqualified because he does not believe in science. [5]

Those who study history and philosophy know that, historically, antagonism to the Christian religion was characteristic of the first 300 years of Church History. After Constantine, Christian faith was protected, and during the Middle Ages Europe was both Christian and Catholic. Beginning with the Reformation, Europe began to experience a questioning of faith, which in France particularly became a full-blown opposition in the hands of some  Enlightenment thinkers. In postmodern Europe, the impact of two World Wars and Marxist thought created a large class of people hostile to Christianity. In America, we were spared this public, vitriolic antagonism until recently, but now  experience it in a major way.

In the face of hostility and bias, a defense of the right of Christians to engage in public life and to declare the relevance of their faith on issues of public concern is important. The growing attempt to remove Christian faith and Christian people from government is dangerous for all Americans, as it undermines our Constitution and freedom of speech and religion.

The Need for Religious Wisdom

On the other hand, in the past few days, the national and local news has included stories about churches which have violated the requests of national, state, and local governments to refrain from hosting public meetings. This forces serious Christians to think carefully about what it means to have the right to engage in public life and what exactly the first Amendment is intended to protect. The First Amendment provides that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.” [6]

There are two things set out in this provision: (1) Congress cannot establish a religion to be the official religion of the United States and (2) Congress cannot make a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion by adherents of a faith. While this may seem simple enough on the face of things, the fact is that religion and law interact on a number of levels that impact one another. In thinking about the request that churches remain closed for large worship gatherings due to the Covid 19 situation, one needs to begin the analysis by noting that nothing in these proclamations were directed towards establishing a religion or denying people the right to express their religious beliefs. The bans, so far as we know were designed to address a health crisis created by a highly contagious virus. Many of the national, state and local officials who made the request are serious and practicing Christians. The President and the Vice President, for example, were clearly not motivated by any animosity against religion, but by a concern for public health.

Religious leaders need to be careful not to claim too much for the First Amendment, just as more secular-minded individuals need to be careful not to claim too little for religious freedom. Some years ago, in Cleveland v. United States, 329 U.S. 14 (1946), the Supreme Court upheld application of the Mann Act of 1910 to a fundamentalist group of polygamous believers, including Cleveland,, who had transported their multiple wives across state lines for the purpose of cohabitation. While not precisely on point, the decision indicates that Congress may legislate in a way that protects the public from a perceived social evil, even if it impacts a particular religious group. It is important that in that case, the law at issue was not directed against Mormons at all. It was directed against those who transmitted women across state lines for immoral purposes.

This case illustrates the  principle that that there are circumstances where government may act in ways that impact religious groups. As one author put it, “Although the text is absolute, the clause should not be interpreted to mean absolute right to a course of conduct just because it is permitted by one’s religion. The courts place some limits on the exercise of religion. The Supreme Court has held that religious freedom must give way to reasonable restrictions that have been adopted to protect the health, safety and convenience of the entire community. [7]

Faced with a global pandemic, a virus posing serious health hazards to not just the citizens of the United States but of the entire world, state and local governments have asked Christians to cease public weekly worship. This does not prohibit families from worshipping as family unites or Bible studies from meeting in small groups that do not violate applicable local proclamations. I am able to post this blog, have internet Bible Studies with our small group. and watch our congregation’s worship services without any  interference at all. There is no indication that the vast majority of public officials were motivated by antagonism to religion. They were simply trying to protect the public against a highly contagious disease.

In times like these, many religious people will fear that these temporary restrictions might be the beginning of a “slippery slope” and that governmental hostility to religion might result in this exercise of power leading to more restrictive measures. Of course, this might possibly happen, which is why all groups in America need to rededicate themselves to our historic principles of religious liberty and respect for the views of people and their right to declare those views in the public forum. Law can only take a society so far. In the end, it is the commitment of the members of a society to its fundamental values that is most important and most effective as a guarantee of fundamental rights. As time goes by, this important rededication will be the subject of future posts.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See,  Michael Gryboski, “‘Anti-Catholic bigotry’? Judicial nominee grilled by Senate Democrats over Knights of Columbus ties Christian Post (December  27, 2018, Downloaded, APRIL 5, 2020.https://www.christianpost.com/news/anti-catholic-bigotry-judicial-nominee-grilled-by-senate-democrats-over-knights-of-columbus-ties.html). Jerrat Stepman “These 2 Democrats Are Finally Standing Up to Anti-Christian Bigotry in Their Party” The Daily Signal (January 10, 2019, downloaded at https://www.dailysignal.com/2019/01/10/these-2-democrats-are-finally-standing-up-to-anti-christian-bigotry-in-their-party/ on April 5, 2020).

[2] In preparing for this article, I wanted to quote from a recent article in a national newspaper. When I googled my search, I was astounded at the number of articles the paper had written complaining about the evangelical support of the President and doing its best to diminish it. I was also amazed by the fact that other searches, some fairly specific, gave search results critical of the President and evangelicals who support him. I actually had no idea there was so much of this kind of literature on the internet.

[3] For example, not only have the Knights of Columbus been so labeled, but the American Center for Law and Justice, which opposes legalized abortion, and other groups have also been unfairly  labeled as “hate groups” on the basis of public support for traditional marriage and family life.

[4] Moshe Hill, “Corona Conniption: Left Attacks Pence’s Faith after Task Force Appointment” CNS News Report (March 5, 2020, downloaded on April 5, 2020 from https://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/moshe-hill/corona-conniption-left-attacks-pences-faith-after-task-force-appointment)

[5] Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted “Mike Pence literally does not believe in science. It is utterly irresponsible to put him in charge of US coronavirus response as the world sits on the cusp of a pandemic.”

[6] Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment 1.

[7] See, “Freedom of Religion,” Lincoln University (Downloaded April 5, 2020, at http://www.lincoln.edu/criminaljustice/hr/Religion.htm)

10. Interlocking Spheres of Public Life

A good bit of analysis in The Naked Public Square [1] flows out of Neuhaus’ understanding of the work of Swiss historian Jacob Burkhardt, who saw the state, religion, and “culture” as the three great spheres or powers of a civilization. Perhaps out of a reaction against medieval Catholicism, he saw religion and the state as spheres of authority but culture as a sphere of freedom. For Burkhardt, social intercourse, technologies, arts, literature and the sciences were places of freedom. There was a natural tendency for the state and religion to impinge upon this area of freedom and upon each other.

Right at the beginning, it is important to take a look at this analysis. A culture is a bigger and more complex thing than Burkhardt believes. The “area of freedom” is much different in, say a society like Stalinist Russia or modern China where the state dominates everything, including religion, and various parts of the presumably free culture, such as the media are state run than in the modern democratic West. The culture of the East is profoundly different where the toots of religion are Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, or Shinto than in the West where Christianity is dominant. The cultures and politics of the Middle East, where Islam are different than that if the West or the East.

Furthermore, putting together the arts, literature and science with technologies is a suspect division, and in modern society it ignores the enormous power and power seeking of technologically driven media outlets. The “Fifth Estate” has become its own sphere that profoundly impacts and seeks to control the spheres of religion and the state.

Nevertheless, there is a fundamentally profound insight in the view that society ought to both have many differing spheres of influence and the relative autonomy of those spheres ought to be protected.  The state the media, arts, science, commerce and other spheres of cultural life are separate, yet interlocking spheres of life which require for their highest operation a degree of freedom. This is particularly true of religion, science, and the arts. The monstrous corruption of science and arts under Stalin are a reminder of this fact. [2]

A Christian understanding of culture and politics begins with the notion that religion is an important sphere of life for many, many people. Freedom of worship and practice one’s religious faith is central to a free society, as is freedom of the press, of science, of the arts, etc. If the danger in the Middle Ages was that religion might overshadow and control the state, commerce, the press, the arts, and other organs of culture, the danger in the modern world has been that the State would do so.

The key to the proper functioning of a free society is recognize that these and all spheres of culture should have a kind of “relational independence,” by which each sphere respects the relative freedom of the other spheres, but at the same time exists in a kind of relationship with the other spheres that protects not just their independence, but the relational freedom of all the spheres. There can be no absolute freedom or absolute power in any of the spheres, for absolute freedom of any one would mean that it had absolute power and therefore could dominate and distort the others. The working out of this relational independence is the day to day business of all the spheres in their relationship to the other.

In this “dance of interdependence,” the state is the most to be feared, for it is the modern state that has at its disposal heretofore unknown means of legal, bureaucratic and physical compulsion. [3] It is the state, whether controlled by the right (Nazism) or the left (Stalinism or modern Chinese statism), that poses the greatest danger to freedom. It is also important that the state and other combinations of independent spheres not combine to distort freedom, as can be the case with the media and the state.

Neuhaus believes, and I think rightly so, that in this “dance of interdependence” religious groups have a unique role. Theirs is the role of relativizing the other spheres against a transcendent ideal. It is religion that brings the other spheres under the judgement of the True, the Good and the Beautiful, directing each sphere to a perfection greater than its own. It is religion that draws each sphere beyond its purely instrumental goals to a greater goal of, in the Christian tradition, the Kingdom of God, where there is complete peace and where Truth, Beauty, and Love rule. This goal is not achievable inside of human history, but it is the goal towards which Christianity in particularly draws the other spheres of culture.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] [1] Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1984), referred to herein as, “The Naked Public Square.” This blog is a discussion of Chapter 9, entitled, “Private Morality; Public Virtue” found on pages 129 to 143 and Chapter 10, entitled “The Purloined Authority of the State” found on pages 144-155.

[2] See, Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1983), Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962) and especially Science, Faith and Society (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1946). Polanyi’s work is a response to the corruption of science under Russian Communism and is a reminder to free societies today of the dangers of absolute governmental control over all the organs of society.

[3] The phrase “dance of interdependence” is mine not Neuhaus’. In a later blog, I will further outline the reasons for and importance of this dance.