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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Asking Conservative Reformed folks

I have recently been listening to Limbaugh and Charlotte's local host Jeff Katz. Clearly that is a problem, but it has made me wonder how this dramatic theological-anthropology shift has occurred in our political system.

As a Presbyterian Minister my base anthropological perspective is rooted in the reformed tradition (shocking and unusual, I know). To try to capture it in a nutshell--the reformed tradition believes that the autonomous individual is fully broken and in need of God's grace (I can do nothing apart from God); John Calvin's basic principle of the depravity of humanity. However, through the gathering of a community of faith the broken and selfish individual is restored and capable of pursuing a "common" good.

This can be recognized in our polity, much like the US government, we have an elected body who are chosen by community of faith's to "represent" and discern the common good for the entire denomination. There is no single individual who has a higher authority to make a decree. Unlike our government, though, representation does not mean mirroring the majority opinion of one's constituency, because majority opinion can also be broken and flawed.

This base anthropological and ecclessial theology means that the individual is incapable of choosing "good" alone and in need of a community and ultimately God to discern, rebuke and correct the individual.

Clearly the founding father's did not all adhere to this base understanding of humanity (Deism would say that good/God resides in each individual). But the constitutional system established holds Deism/Enlightenment principles in tension with very strong Reformed principles. The checks and balances of our system are a result of this fear of the individual. Any one person with too much power would corrupt the entire community, because an autonomous individual by his/her nature is selfish.

So, from listening to Limbaugh and others, I infer that for conservatives the autonomous individual is the highest form of authority and ideally should be able to govern his/her self. In other words, that being free from governmental and institutional restraints would allow people to pursue a common good, because that would be a natural human response.

Since all of my training is sociological and theological, and not economic nor constitutional, how does this shift occur? Can this tension be held together to create the bipartisan idealism people seem to want?
Or more importantly, how do conservatives connect that ideology with the Reformers principles?

2 comments:

Lindsay said...

A very thoughtful post, Wes. But, I have to wonder how we let ourselves stop talking about things like this at home in favor of things like who's taking Ellie to school?

Don said...

ha! (to Lindsay's comment)

Wes - I'd content that Conservatism (neo-conservatism, really) in the US has absolutely no connection with the Reformed tradition or a concept of the broken person. In my opinion, Neo-Conservatism is nothing more than hyper-capitalism, and living in Charlotte, you're intimately aware that capitalism unchecked is a bad thing. Everyone being selfish and looking after their own good... how does that ever positively impact society? And yet that's the lie of capitalism. Not to say that somehow Socialism or Marxism do not offer equally damning lies, but 21st Century Christians, particularly "conservative" Christians have bought into an economic lie that seems to fly in the face of everything Christ taught. And yet somehow this is the "side" that Christians are supposed to identify with for "moral" reasons...

yikes.

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