Sunday, October 03, 2004

Orthodox Christianity can go both ways on Church & State. What about Islam?

Here is a thoughtful email I received reacting to an earlier post of mine:

I would agree with your assessment that Christian Reconstructionists and Libertarians make for strange bedfellows. What is most saddening, however, is that such persons label themselves as "Libertarian Christians", and others accept this labeling at face value.The Christian Reconstructionists are guided by a strict Calvinist (i.e. determinist) theology and a fundamentalist view on the authority of Scripture. Their ultimate goal is theocracy, and I believe that they are simply statists in religious garb.There are Christians, however, that subscribe to an Arminian (i.e incompatabilist) theology, or some variation thereof. Such Christians believe that because God granted humans with free will, God can only work with humans through persuasion, not coersion. Scripture, therefore, cannot be a set of hard and fast rules that must be obeyed, or else. It is "authoritative", but not "authoritarian".I consider myself to be one from this second group of Christians (I am a United Methodist). I also believe that I can truly call myself a Libertarian Christian for the reasons described above. Of course, this is a very sketchy outline of my position, but perhaps this will provide some food for thought. Let me know what you think.

This email reminds me of the political/theological problem that so plagued the West before it separated Church & State. Yes, it’s possible for orthodox/fundamentalist Christians to literally interpret the Bible as seeing virtually no distinction between Church & State and calling for the creation ideal “Christian Commonwealths.” Two prominent historical examples—Calvin in Geneva and the Puritans in Massachusetts…both were as fundamentalist as could be and both knew the Bible as well as anyone else. Calvin had one of his non-Trinitarian critics put to death for challenging his views on the Trinity. And the Puritans (and other Protestant denominations in the colonies as well) forced public officials to swear an oath of allegiance to “Trinitarian Christianity.”

Yet there is more than one way to skin a cat and to literally interpret the Bible. Roger Williams was also as much of a fundamentalist as the aforementioned two and did interpret the Bible as calling for a separation between Church & State. But interesting, Williams’s “understanding” of the Bible was novel for the time and novel for orthodox Christianity as well (even though he did rely on the scriptures). Perhaps Williams was inspired to “reconsider” the conventional understanding of Church & State in the West because of the seemingly intractable problem of religious persecution. But his understanding at that time was not only novel, but also highly dissident. The Puritans in Mass. banished Williams to Rhode Island (where he founded that state) for daring to challenge the notion of the “Christian Commonwealth.”

Now Islam clearly needs a Roger Williams and a John Locke, and a Jefferson and a Voltaire to separate Church & State there. The big question is: "Is orthodox Islam compatible with secular politics?" Answer: I don't know. Jesus was not a king and when they wanted to make him a king he replied that his kingdom is not of this Earth. Muhammad was not only head of the Church, but also head of state. He did not set a good example for secular politics. But I suppose it is the role of the natural rights statesmen to get the Mullahs to believe that Islam "properly understood" calls for liberal democracy, as was done with Christianity a few hundred years ago.

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