Friday, October 06, 2006

Heersink on the Christianity and Founding Principles:

D. Stephen Heersink leaves a comment on the topic of historical Christianity, the Bible, and Founding principles which deserves a careful read:

I don't claim to be an expert, but I am thoroughly familiar with the Bible, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence (and very familiar with Christian History and Theology), and I find no implicit or explicit correlation to anything in the Bible and Christian Theology/History with anything in the Founding Documents. Not a single thing. Even the single reference to a deity is by "Creator," not Yahweh, Adonai, or any other Hebrew or Christian term. I don't believe the word "Creator" is to be found in the Bible either. It's first published use was the Council of Nicea in 325. There appears to be an equivocation between "Creator" and "Maker" in different contexts, but I seriously doubt the Founders were engaged so narrowly on the distinction. Not even "Author of our Being," a popular conceptual phrase in the Bible and the early Church is not synonymous with "Creator."

Even though Athenian democracy preceded the New Testament by four centuries, the notion never appears in a biblical text. Rather, the opposite. The early Christians, from which the Bible emerged, had a very hierarchical sense of their faith, which Clement, one of the earliest Christian writers (and third successor to Peter) describes is a certain procession: "As the Father sent the Son, so the Son sent the Apostles, so the Apostles sent the Bishops, and so the Bishops send the Presbyters, who are served by the Deacons, in which the faithful believer is "overseen." The Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15 and elsewhere, clearly mirrors this procession, with James, the Apostle of Jerusalem presiding with his fellow Apostles. But the Apostles were not elected, indeed they cast lots (dice) in the trial by ordeal to choose Matthias to replace Judas. Subsequent bishops were not elected either, but commissioned by their predecessors, in an effort to create a historical succession of the "procession" through the "laying on of hands" transmitting Apostolic Authority through the generations. This KEY aspect of the early Church was entirely negated by the Reformation, even though it predates the Bible. In fact, its existence begat the Bible.

The notion of separate powers in balance (as in the Constitution) would have been ludicrous to the "procession" claim. Even when rulers (monarchs) wanted authority to govern, they needed the Authority of the Bishop to do so, and thus begetting the Divine Right of Kings. All authority comes from God, according to the early believers (and confirmed by scripture), so only God's Stewards of Oversight could confer Divine Authority to Rule Temporal Power.

Any sense of "rights" as we understand them today was not on anyone's radar in biblical times. Indeed, they are the invention of the Enlightenment in opposition to Authority as Christians customarily understood it. Granted, the Puritans and Protestants no longer submitted to episcopal authority, despite the biblical command to do so, but their antinomian impulses were often contrary to received traditions. But those radically individualistic impulses and a pluralistic liberal democracy achieved a sense of "inevitability" and compatibility by a new understanding of the believer as Diviner.

IF there is ANY connection, and admittedly it is tenuous, it is with the Puritan/Protestant insistence on a "direct" relationship with God (mediated through his private interpretation of the Bible) and therefore left to the "individual" to work out his salvation in fear and trembling, rather than being mediated by the "Church." This is a radical disjunction and departure from historical Christianity. The "new" sensibility is that each believer gets to divine religious truth as she sees fit, and I'll agree this independent, even anarchic, self reliant ethos played an important role in their embracing democracy, because religious truth is no longer "revealed" but "discovered," no longer "imposed," but "chosen." This independent spirit among Protestants and Englightenment thinkers was surely compatible compared to historical antecedents, but it is only this elan, not any particular religious belief or biblical sense, that linked the two disparate factors together. The ONLY connection to the Founders and the religious in the emerging nation is their joint antinomian impulses, where self-determining freedom, self-determining religious belief, and self-determining governance converged.

Those who claim the Founding Documents are "biblical" or are compatible with "Christianity must cite some example, some "correspondence," some "evidence" for their pipe dream fantasies. Clearly, the American experiment was totally at ODDS with historical Christianity (a point still relevant to Catholics as late as the 19th C), but the Self-As-Authority in Protestant religion and secular politics made a convenient bedfellow of politics and religion. In a very odd twist, if not perversity, the new breed of Christianist is not so "independent," and not so "tolerant" of others' beliefs, and in fact subscribes to principles antithetical to the 18th C. elan. Whatever the religious persuasion of each Founder, "rights" were not negotiable. Indeed, they preserved the "independent" thinking person from any religious hegemon. Yet, as we've seen recently, religious hegemony and domination, compromising rights and personal freedom, are features of the New World Order. Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, et al. would be appalled. Angrily appalled. But even the Puritan ethic would never have embraced today's Christianist relativism toward torture. On matters of sex, Puritans were definitely inhibited, but on matter of individual liberty and divine propriety, they would never have compromised their independence for false security.

1 comment:

The Gay Species said...

It is impossible to overstate the significance and importance of procession in the early church, and which continues as THE ontological principle of ecclesiology. Jesus tells his Apostles in Matt 28: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." The holy order of bishops were successors to the Twelve Apostles, and it is to them, not some writings, that "all authority is given." Christianists, again, are not careful biblical readers.

Peter's second successor Clement is the first to articulate in writing this principle as it applies to the nascent church, but he is hardly alone in doing so. Cyprian, Ireneaus, Tertullian, Ignatius and others all raise it as the central principle that holds the church together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, just as the Apostles succeeded Jesus, so the bishops succeeded the Apostles "in a sacrament of unity, this bond of peace inseparable and indivisible, [just as Jesus raiment is whole] betokens the unity [of bishops] which comes 'from the part that is above,'" in the same way that they Apostles proceed from Jesus, and Jesus proceeds from the Father.

Tertullian emphasizes "an unbroken succession from the beginning so that the first bishop had as its precursor and the source of his authority one of the Apostles . This apostolic succession is the "glue" that links the church in every stage of history and in any given time and place. While the bishop is the sole authority of his portion of the Church, nonetheless the episcopacy is one and indivisible (which manifests itself most vividly in ecumenical councils). Thus, the College of Apostles (or episcopal collegiality) has always been seen as the temporal Authority of Christ himself. The bishop of Rome, as successor to Peter, was primus inter pares or "first among equals." The 19th C. changed that dynamic quite significantly, only to be reclaimed at Vatican II in the last C.

My waxing theological and historical is not to proselytize, but to demonstrate that the structure, order, and hierarchy of the Christian Church, centered around its local bishop, and governed in toto by the entire college, is the context of historic Christianity, and still the force in Roman, Eastern, and Anglican communions. A bishop unable to trace his ordinal lineage back to the Twelve has no authority, although self-appointed bishops occasionally crept onto the scene, only to be anathematized.

Obviously, this sensibility is entirely lacking in modern Protestantism and Evangelicalism, for the obvious reason no authentic bishop would consecrate one of them to preach and teach the "flock, of which the bishops are shepherds" (Acts 20:28). But this sensibility is the authentic one, and obviously at odds with the antinomian tendencies of modern biblicalists, who instantiate themselves as the authority. (Hubris aside, it also smacks of idolatry.)

The Self-as-Authority in Protestantism, however, does correlate to the Self-Governed in a democracy, and thus the abberational forms of Christianity that colonized the States would find democracy compatible with their own religious self-authority. In this sense, and only this sense, Christianity was influential at the time of the nation's founding. But it stands in direct opposition, indeed enmity, with revelation and history, where all authority proceeds hierarchically. Thus the organization of the Christian Church is antithetical to democratic sensibility (as most Catholics are only too well aware), and certainly not a model of which the Founders gave any consideration.

Now, it is true that the autonomous and autocratic bishop is the sole authority of his diocese, but when deciding major issues facing the whole church, they act in council collegially and very democratically. But I doubt Americans would tolerate such limited use of democracy (only 29 ecumenical councils have convened in 2000 years), and otherwise the bishop is soveriegn over his local church. That an autocracy of this total authority would find political favor today or in the 18th C. is simply implausible.

But the issue is moot, because biblical fundamentalists do not accept the biblical and historical structure, and have made each individual an "authority" to interpret the Bible as s/he likes. But careful study of the Bible in no way suggests, hints, much less implicitly presages the pluralistic liberal democracy that the Founders crafted centuries later. Democracy, separation of powers, human and civil rights, self-rule, human autonomy, nor any other liberal ideal is even foreshadowed in any scripture, Hebrew or Christian. Indeed, these liberal ideals stand in enmity with the biblical and historical Church in nearly every respect. Americans would never succumb to an autocratic and hierarchical authority of the early church.

And nothing in the Bible presages "inalienable rights!" Historically, to asset such rights would have been regarded as sinful hubris, of not knowing one's proper place in the order of things, and would have been anathema if not excommunicated. Even our modern-day notions of "freedom" and "liberty" would have suggested anarchy, license, and rebeliousness, not an aspiration to pursue one's interests as each sees fit. Paul, James, and Peter warn against existential freedom as an opportunity to sin, not as an opportunity to be unshackled.

Some of us laugh at Paul's admonitions to husbands and wives as being peculiarly patriarchical, but that is precisely what he intends. Each person is to "live his destiny ordained of God," not willy-nilly do whatever he likes. The only restriction in excercising authority over others (e.g. husbands over wives, parents over children) is not to lord it over them, in other words, not rule with a heavy hand. But he has no quarrel at all with the notion of being ruled. Reason, faith, and hope are to "rule" over libertinism, licentiousness, and emotional loss of control. Discipline, if one has not noticed, still plays a very important role in the New Testament, as does obedience. Calvin was keen on using these passages to keep his unruly Geneva from disintegrating, and failed. Submission to authority, submission to God, submission to the husband, submission to the presbyter, no man submitting to a woman, and on and on, Paul may extol "freedom," but his sense and our sense could not be more disparate.

"Render to Ceasar what is Ceasar's and unto God what is God" is hardly a political revolution to a pluralistic liberal democracy! "One cannot serve two masters, God and Mammon." Unfortunately "mammon" is often interpreted to mean "money," but it really means all things temporal and/or human. These commands from Jesus hardly square with the American experiment. Many biblical fundamentalists may abhor sin, but wealth, prosperity, and flourishing are esteemed, even interpreted falsely as a favor from God. I do suggest they read the story of the Rich Young Man and tell us how economic prosperity comports with Christian belief. While they are at it, perhaps they can offer an exegesis of why believers sold all their belongings, delivered the proceeds to the Apostles, who then gave "to each as any had need?" (Acts 4:32 ff). That statement is right out of the Bible and no less out of the mouth of Marx. Communism is the biblical model for a Christian social life, with bishops as the rulers, not a capitalist democracy they seem too willing to embrace without reservation.

In just these few cursory details it should be exceedingly obvious that America is not now, nor ever has been, a Christian nation, and if secularists have their way, will never become one. And it should also expose the lie that Christianity or the Bible were influential in the founding of this nation. If either influence had exerted itself, as these frauds suggest, a very different America would have taken shape. They'd live communistically under the authority of the local bishop and according to the Church's teachings, selling their property to give to the poor. So anyone who suggests that America is a Christian nation has either a perverted sense of Christianity or a preverted sense of America. I cannot personally imagine a more hostile combination, and I hope their religious vision, twisted as it is, never amounts to more than false rhetoric that it obviously is. It's not the first, only, or last time these people come up with off-the-wall interpretations.