Monday, April 9, 2012

Concluding Thoughts

At the risk of making it look like I should just hand the keys to this place over to Andrew Sullivan, I'm going to conclude my Easter-time exploration of religion and politics by linking to him one more time:

One part of my case against Christianism, against Christians wielding political power to control the lives of others, is that the core of Christianity is power through powerlessness. This is a paradox, of course. But it is [the] paradox of Easter, where a death becomes life, where giving up oneself entirely to power in the world is the only way to transcend it.

H. Richard Niebuhr puts it better than I ever could:
"[T]he thought of deity and the thought of power are inseparable. Deity must be strong if it is to be deity.
We meet the God of Jesus Christ with the expectations of such power. If his power be less than that of the world and he be at the mercy of the world, of nature, fate, and death, how shall we recognize him as God? Yet we do not meet this strangely we must revise in the light of Jesus Christ all our ideas of what is really strong in this powerful world. The power of God is made manifest in the weakness of Jesus, in the meek and dying life which through death is raised to power. We see the power of God over the strong of earth made evident not in the fact that he slays them, but in his making the spirit of the slain Jesus unconquerable.

This gets at the heart of what I meant when I wrote "But once you rise to a certain point in our government [or any position of power really], I think it becomes impossible to stay true to the Gospels." Christ exercised his power through powerlessness. His sacrificial act was an emptying out of himself for others, not the conscious and deliberate appropriation of power for his own ends.

Taking on power is the opposite of sacrificial service. It is why I view overly religious politicians with such skepticism. They are engaged in a process that directly conflicts with what I see as the central tenant of Christianity.

Furthermore, this concept of power through powerlessness highlights why I disagree with the oft-repeated mantra that Christians should be "in the world but not of the world." I see this phrase too often used to justify an avoidance of society at large (especially in the world of Christian pop culture). Sacrificial service is not a call to build parallel social institutions with more "Christian values" than "mainstream society." It is an exhortation to enter the world with radical compassion, knowing full well how much this approach contradicts with the way society is structured.

As Sullivan wrote, the central paradox of Easter and Christianity itself is that following Christ leads to absolute powerlessness by worldly standards, but absolute grace by Christian standards.

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