Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Resort to Paul: Romans 13 and Post-Facto Reasoning

This post is a response to Leithart's blog post: here

This will be probably one of my last responses to a Leithart blogpost, because I've realized that he is basically lazy with numerous presuppositions he holds to. I'm always amazed at how he will read and analyze subtle nuances in Scriptural chiasms, but utterly fail in noticing the bizarre dichotomies he sets up. It becomes frustrating because, as he smugly notes, "Absolutists are willing to enjoy the benefits of what they call 'violence' but are too pure to dirty their own hands." That is to say, those who reject Christian service in the military, the police, or even the modern state apparatus. But, of course, this completely misses the point. Sophisticated peace advocates, particularly Mennonites, are not so dense to do this. They ask genealogical questions about these institutions and look for alternatives.

As Leithart begs the question, does he not know there are alternatives to the modern military, the police, or even the nation-state? Why does he stupidly compare the Justinian Code to the American prison-industrial complex? The whole post seems mean-spirited and foolish. He acknowledges the Church has superior, spiritual, weapons befitting a society of the Age-to-Come, but then seems to completely abolish them by appeals to the "weak" who need defending. What about Origen's defense of Christian non-violence by arguing that Christian prayers do a better job defending the empire than swords? Not only does he beg the question of whether these institutions are needed to "defend the weak", or if they even accomplish it, he ignores completely a counter that then maybe all Chrisitans ought to be at prayer then, and less concerned with using inferior, temporal weapons. It all sounds like bad faith to me.

And there's the completely lazy sense that since the holy apostle Paul recognized the civil authority as bearing the "sword" and a "servant" of the Lord, it's ok for Christians to participate. But the prophet Isaiah reports the same language applied to the Nations besieging the Land, threatening Jerusalem. Is Leithart, therefore, saying it would be just for Jews to sign up with the Assyrians and pillage Israel? But wait, wasn't it God's will to chastise Israel? Romans 9-10 is a stumbling block for many.

At the end of the day, these arguments are dirty and full of post-facto reasoning. It is only because Christians exist in these institutions, or that these institutions exist and exert power, are these arguments even being made. And for someone whose goal is to gain power for the Church in civil affairs, it makes sense Leithart will make these arguments.

Again, I'm not a pacifist in any strict or doctrinaire sense, nor do I think Scripture advocates any such position. But it's clear, in these instances, to see how the lure of power warps the mind. If Leithart can't see how many counts of question begging he commits in such a stupid and simplistic article, it only confirms that, indeed, self-justification is at the heart of many of our delusions.

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