Monday, September 01, 2008

Christianity and Self Sacrifice:

Jim Babka's recent comment to one of my posts brought to mind just how much Christians -- even those who purport to believe the Bible infallible -- differ on the proper interpretation of specific doctrines. Sometimes the differences don't really matter; sometimes they do. I asserted Christianity teaches self-sacrifice. Babka replied: "Christianity is not about self-sacrifice, but living for a higher cause. The distinction is important." I await his explanation. When you google the terms “Christianity” and “self-sacrifice” you see there is a strong current in biblical Christianity that teaches this is what Christianity is about.

Dr. Gregg Frazer's thesis teaches Christianity is about self sacrifice. Indeed, he sees tension between that and the idea of “enlightened self interest” or “self preservation” as put forth by Locke et al.

I’ve come across a number orthodox Christians who don’t like John MacArthur’s interpretation (which is Dr. Frazer's) of biblical Christianity precisely because it’s so similar to how Rousseau and Nietzsche characterized Christianity (before Marx) as a temporal opiate and hence something where tyrannical rulers can make Christians into good slaves. Yet, I find this interpretation of Christianity to be authentically biblical and well within the tradition of orthodox hermeneutics. After all, Nietzsche and Rousseau weren’t shabby thinkers. And neither is MacArthur.

It's also notable that Gregg Frazer’s PhD thesis is from Claremont Graduate University which school is imbibed in Straussian thought. And the East Coast Straussians (who get the bulk of Frazer’s Straussian citations, though Harry V. Jaffa and the West Coasters get a couple too) tend to follow Rousseau and Nietzsche on authentic Christianity. Indeed they think Rousseau and Nietzsche to be of the most insightful and profound thinkers, albeit ones who teach dangerous truths. They want liberal democracies to follow Locke.

I blogged about something similar in my post entitled "Can One Be A Good Christian and A Good American?" where I quote West Coast Straussian (the ones who don't like Rousseau and Nietzsche) Thomas West quoting Rousseau:

The citizens march readily to combat; . . . they do their duty, but without passion for victory. They know how to die rather than to win. . . . Christianity preaches nothing but servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favorable to tyranny that tyranny always profits from it. True Christians are made to be slaves” (Masters trans. 129-30).

West then notes how East Coast Straussian Walter Berns follows Rousseau's understanding of Christianity:

Rousseau’s nasty remarks are supported, surprisingly, by respectable conservative scholars such as Walter Berns, who maintains, “The very idea of natural rights is incompatible with Christian doctrine.” According to Berns, if you don’t put your neighbor’s good ahead of your own, you are a bad Christian. But the natural rights doctrine of the founding says that you may put your own preservation first if it conflicts with another’s.

If Berns and other scholars like him are correct, you cannot be a good Christian and a good American. George Washington’s 1789 letter to the Quakers tactfully but firmly criticizes their refusal to serve in the armed forces. Good citizenship, Washington implies, requires that you be willing to kill the enemies of your country.

Now Drs. Frazer & MacArthur obviously don’t agree with the Christian bashing of R & N, however, they do note that the Bible DOES NOT teach political liberty and is entirely compatible with chattel slavery. If you are a chattel slave, what does it matter if you’ve got your salvation? You are still in a better position than the richest unregenerate slave master who owns more slaves and wealth than anyone.

This isn’t an interpretation of Christianity that I personally like. And I know many evangelical libertarians like Jim Babka don’t like it either. But, again, I do see a strong case to be made that THIS IS authentic biblical Christianity.

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