In particular, [the proclamation of the gospel] included from the start a strong political critique. Not the tired old left-wing harangue in Christian dress, of course, but a more subtle, more Jewish, more devastating critique: Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar isn’t.
– NT Wright, Decoding Da Vinci (see previous post)
Of course, as I should have added yesterday, the principle that “Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar isn’t” also puts paid to the tired old right-wing harangue in Christian dress.
And, at the moment, that principle seems to be about as far as I can go in claiming to have any sort of coherent “political philosophy”. As I put it recently, my political beliefs have gone over the past 20 years from “Conservative to Marxist to ‘Left of Blair’ Labour to Christian Socialist to whatever I am now (uninspired lump of sod, mainly)” – though an uninspired lump of sod that reads the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator, you’ll note, and that voted Conservative at the last election (albeit as what CS Lewis might call “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”).
Anyway, for most of my adult life I have been firmly on the left, politically. My main disappointment with Tony Blair between 1994 and around 2002 or so was that he was far too right wing. I kept thinking I ought to join the Labour Party just so I could then resign in a fit of pique over the latest betrayal of socialist principle.
For a few years I was a member of the Christian Socialist Movement (whose site currently appears to have been hijacked by some t0t411y 133t h4xx0rs!!! lol!!!! UR t3h kewl! 11!!), and if asked what my basic political guiding principle was I would have answered (please don’t laugh at the pomposity of this!):
Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
Now isn’t the time to go into the details of why I moved away from that Christian Socialist position. Part of it was rethinking what the Old Testament prophets such as Amos, as well as New Testament writers like St James, were doing: namely, calling on the rich to change their behaviour, rather than calling on the state to change it for them. Plus, the seventh, ninth and tenth commandments don’t cease to apply just because we decide to break them collectively through the apparatus of the state rather than as individuals.
But, even if we reject the idea that the Bible mandates the state to enforce its teachings on economic justice, there is still the danger that we go to the other extreme and forget about those teachings altogether. (A similar dynamic can be seen in relation to sexual ethics, of course.) Unfettered capitalism seems as alien to the spirit of the Bible’s teachings on this issue as statist socialism.
(Perhaps our motto should be “socialist ends by capitalist means!” – except that that sounds like something dreamed up by the Chinese Communist Party…)
This then raises the question of whether capitalism can really survive in a healthy way where a Christian moral framework has ceased to govern people’s behaviour, and where “mediating institutions” between the individual and the state – such as families, churches, local communities – have been gravely weakened, so that increased state intervention and control to impose proper behaviour becomes (or, at least, can be presented as having become) the only alternative to anarchy and disorder.
Perhaps the problem is not unfettered capitalism as such, in the sense of capitalism unhampered by state-imposed restrictions, but shameless capitalism, capitalism unhampered by more general moral restraints and counterbalancing social structures.
Anyway, I find myself slightly adrift at the moment. But that New Testament, gospel principle described by Wright seems a good place to start in rebuilding a political worldview: Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar isn’t.
This isn’t about saying we should be looking to build up some sort of Kuyperian system of Christianised politics. Quite the contrary: it excludes the very possibility of a unique and exclusive “Christian” politics. Caesars of the left and of the right, and all points in between, are relativised by the Lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus.
Hopefully I will be able to find the time to explore some more of these thoughts in posts over the coming days, including some more from NT Wright on this subject (now there’s a surprise!) but also some others too. Who knows, I might even be able to approach some degree of coherence by the end of the exercise. But in the meantime, this post will hopefully give you some idea of where this particular uninspired lump of sod is coming from.