Our Jim has the lead essay in the new journal AMERICAN POLITICAL THOUGHT. That journal is not as good as PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE, but it is worth reading.
Jim’s essay is actually quite innovative and brilliantly thought-provoking. Question raised by Jim: Does American have not only a secular but a religious mission?
1. One piece of evidence: The Cold War–won by America–was not only a political but a religious struggle. The American understanding of the struggle was against Godless communism. What distinguishes our political theory is that it limits government in a way that makes room for freedom of the church. Question for Jim: Is the ground of that freedom secular or religious? To what extent does Lockean view of personal identity and personal freedom depend on Christian premises? Does it depend on all human beings being free from any totalitarian civil theology for a transcendent morality and personal destiny shared by us all? Jim asserts that the American victory in that war “can reasonably be judged to have helped saved biblical faith in the world.” But surely that’s too strong for anyone who believes that biblical faith doesn’t have a political origin. In reading Solzhenitsyn and noticing the integration of Eastern Europe in every respect into pretty godless Europe, we can say that the victory of the contemporary West was definitely but still somewhat ambivalently good for biblical faith.
2. Jim, in fact, goes on to explain that the future of biblical faith might still depend on American belief and political power, given the decline to near disappearance of faith in Europe. That seems more than tad ethnocentric, given the strength of such faith in Africa and even China today. I’m all for American power as a chastened force for good in the world. But the future of Christianity can’t be understood to depend on it. Still, there’s a lot to be said for the connection between the persistence of observant religious belief in America and our relatively manageable birth dearth and relatively strong conceptions of family and personal responsibility. We can thank God, probably, for those points of distinction, and we can connect them to the distinctively modest goals of our Founders’ political theory. But our Founders certainly varied on how much they connected the perpetuation of our political institutions with faithful belief in a personal God. All this points more to America’s dependence on the biblical God than the that’s God dependence on American power.
3. In the interesting Christian but semi-mainstreamed movie BLUE LIKE JAZZ, we hear a young evangelical woman quoting Mother Teresa about the spiritual impoverishment of Western–including American–materialism being worse and harder to bear than the material impoverishment of Mother Teresa’s Calcutta. She is the countercultural figure at godless and so seemingly insipid but actually deeply wounded Reed College. What is it about America that allows the biblical virtue of charity to flourish on its own terms and produce such self-criticism?