When Social Justice is not Gospelly but Theocratickey

Andrew Sullivan via Rod Dreher reveals the categories of liberal society and by implication shows that the Christian advocates of social justice are opposed to sorts of norms and privileges that attend the American system of law and government.

When public life means the ransacking of people’s private lives even when they were in high school, we are circling a deeply illiberal drain. A civilized society observes a distinction between public and private, and this distinction is integral to individual freedom. Such a distinction was anathema in old-school monarchies when the king could arbitrarily arrest, jail, or execute you at will, for private behavior or thoughts. These lines are also blurred in authoritarian regimes, where the power of the government knows few limits in monitoring a person’s home or private affairs or correspondence or tax returns or texts. These boundaries definitionally can’t exist in theocracies, where the state is interested as much in punishing and exposing sin, as in preventing crime. The Iranian and Saudi governments — like the early modern monarchies — seek not only to control your body, but also to look into your soul. They know that everyone has a dark side, and this dark side can be exposed in order to destroy people. All you need is an accusation.

The Founders were obsessed with this. They realized how precious privacy is, how it protects you not just from the government but from your neighbors and your peers. They carved out a private space that was sacrosanct and a public space which insisted on a strict presumption of innocence, until a speedy and fair trial. Whether you were a good husband or son or wife or daughter, whether you had a temper, or could be cruel, or had various sexual fantasies, whether you were a believer, or a sinner: this kind of thing was rendered off-limits in the public world. The family, the home, and the bedroom were, yes, safe places. If everything were fair game in public life, the logic ran, none of us would survive.

And it is the distinguishing mark of specifically totalitarian societies that this safety is eradicated altogether by design. There, the private is always emphatically public, everything is political, and ideology trumps love, family, friendship or any refuge from the glare of the party and its public. Spies are everywhere, monitoring the slightest of offenses. Friends betray you, as do lovers. Family members denounce their own mothers and fathers and siblings and sons and daughters. The cause, which is usually a permanently revolutionary one, always matters more than any individual’s possible innocence. You are, in fact, always guilty before being proven innocent. You always have to prove a negative. And no offense at any point in your life is ever forgotten or off the table.

Perhaps gay people are particularly sensitive to this danger, because our private lives have long been the target of moral absolutists, and we have learned to be vigilant about moral or sex panics. For much of history, a mere accusation could destroy a gay person’s life or career, and this power to expose private behavior for political purposes is immense.

Compare that to Timothy Cho’s use of Machen’s private correspondence:

While this is a private letter between Machen and his mother, the events and actions mentioned in the letter are anything but private. Machen’s stance on segregation is perfectly clear, and this adds an entirely new layer to the narrative about him. He was not simply a stalwart of Reformed and conservative theology, but also a vocal and public defender of segregation and thought negatively of the civil rights of an entire group of fellow image-bearers. His actions had broad institutional and systemic impacts in the seminary and beyond.

When you read Cho and Sullivan side by side, you do understand that Christian social justice advocates are not remotely liberal, not to mention that going out of your way to make someone look bad is not exactly charitable. But when you have a cause just like when you have the Spirit (think Gilbert Tennent), laws and etiquette be damned.

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Whiplash

On the one hand, some Roman Catholics have had it with political liberalism and are calling for a return to integralism or the state’s subjection to the church. That would resonate well with Pius X (but not with the Second Vatican Council):

That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him. Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order. It limits the action of the State to the pursuit of public prosperity during this life only, which is but the proximate object of political societies; and it occupies itself in no fashion (on the plea that this is foreign to it) with their ultimate object which is man’s eternal happiness after this short life shall have run its course. But as the present order of things is temporary and subordinated to the conquest of man’s supreme and absolute welfare, it follows that the civil power must not only place no obstacle in the way of this conquest, but must aid us in effecting it. The same thesis also upsets the order providentially established by God in the world, which demands a harmonious agreement between the two societies. Both of them, the civil and the religious society, although each exercises in its own sphere its authority over them. It follows necessarily that there are many things belonging to them in common in which both societies must have relations with one another. Remove the agreement between Church and State, and the result will be that from these common matters will spring the seeds of disputes which will become acute on both sides; it will become more difficult to see where the truth lies, and great confusion is certain to arise. Finally, this thesis inflicts great injury on society itself, for it cannot either prosper or last long when due place is not left for religion, which is the supreme rule and the sovereign mistress in all questions touching the rights and the duties of men. Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never ceased, as circumstances required, to refute and condemn the doctrine of the separation of Church and State.

But then, in some of the very same outlets where political liberalism has been taking it in the shorts, we see calls for the laity to stand up and be counted when the bishops appear to be so complicit and helpless in the current revelations of sex scandals and cover-ups. The problem here is that the older view of church and state also involved an idea about clergy-laity relations that was not exactly modern. Cue Piux X again:

…the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of per sons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.

Oops.

Theonomists All

If you thought Calvinists and Muslims had a problem accepting political liberalism, wait til you see this (from a review of American Law from a Catholic Perspective: Through A Clearer Lens):

Over and over again, we see the deep chasm between the Catholic understanding of the human person and the anthropology implied by American liberalism. The difference is stark. The former conceives of each human being as a person—a relational being, in relationship to God and others and dependent on God and others. The latter sees each human being as an individual who can make and fashion his own being and existence autonomously and apart from God and others. God is a valid choice, but he is just that, a choice. The Catholic lawyer cannot help but feel a dissonance between his deepest beliefs and the law he is called to practice each day. American Law from a Catholic Perspective helps to remind readers where their allegiances must lie. The attentive reader can begin to see the ways in which he must work to change American law at its very roots to help it conform to the truth proclaimed by the Church. (Briefly Noted)

Doesn’t “at its very roots” mean radical?

And here I thought 2k was rad.

The Politics of the Holy Spirit

Michael Sean Winters first argues that the Second Vatican Council was revolutionary:

Douthat also insists that there was nothing revolutionary about Vatican II. I do not want to get hung up on semantics. If he wishes to make a Burkean point, that there is a difference between reform and innovation, and revolutionaries innovate, I am mostly in agreement, but while the Council did not itself innovate per se, it reformed a lot. Through much of the nineteenth and the first-half of the twentieth century, Rome carried on an extensive correspondence with the American hierarchy on the subject of interreligious events. The officials in Rome did not like the idea of a Catholic priest saying a prayer at a civic event alongside ministers of other religions. What caused Rome to change its mind? In the postwar era, they recognized that the needed America as a bulwark against communism and that non-Catholics would be needed too. Now, interreligious events characterize all local churches and all papal trips. If that is not a revolution, I am not sure what is and, I dare say, it might even qualify as an innovation, a necessary one to be sure and novel only because previously no country, like the U.S. had experienced the admixture of religious groups to the extent that we did.

And among confessional Protestants like Missouri Synod Lutherans and Presbyterians, participating in interreligious services can still get a pastor in trouble. Separated brothers or more like distant cousins seven times removed.

But Winters thinks the Holy Spirit was responsible for the revolution:

Most egregiously, not once does one grasp in his analysis of Vatican II that the Holy Spirit was active in the deliberations of the Council, and that this is not only testified to by those who participated in it, but by our Catholic beliefs about the Spirit’s presence in the Church. If the Spirit was not active at Vatican II, why should we think it was active at Trent or Nicaea? One can deride, as Douthat does, those who invoked “the spirit of the Council” to justify positions that were actually in conflict with the texts of the Council, but there really was a “spirit of the Council” and Pope Francis is not wrong to invoke it. Yes, the “spirit of the Council” was invoked to justify silly things but not by Pope Francis or Cardinal Kasper.

So will Winters allow that the Holy Spirit was also behind the U.S. Constitutional Convention or England’s Really Exceptional Glorious Revolution? Lots of churches adjusted to liberalism. American Presbyterians did in 1789. It took the Vatican longer. But why invoke the third person of the Trinity for something so ordinary?

The dangers of exceptionalism are everywhere.