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5 Things that Christianity brings to our understanding of politics

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Here is a piece I wrote for Law and Liberty on 5 Insights that Christianity Brings to Politics

The relationship between Christianity and politics is a complex one. The Church has played a mixed role in the history of political liberty to be sure. At times it has suppressed political, religious and economic liberty. Yet despite that, and unserious caricatures of history from secularists like Steven Pinker, Christianity has been one of the most important forces for liberty and the idea of a limited state. Though Christianity is not a political program it nevertheless gives us a certain way of thinking about the state and the role of politics.

It is important to note that a Christian vision of government is not simply a secular vision of government with religion sprinkled on top. Secularism is not neutral. A Christian vision of government is grounded in key theological and philosophical ideas about the nature of God and reality, the importance of justice, the value of freedom, the role of the family, and a rich understanding of the human person as created in the image of God, made for flourishing, and called to an eternal destiny.

The question is, how do these things play out in our understanding of politics?

I introduce five key insights that Christianity adds to our understanding of politics.

  1. The state is not divine
  2. The state is not the final arbiter of justice 
  3. The importance of the common Good 
  4. A community of communities 
  5. Anti-utopianism 

On the rejection of the sacred and divine nature of the state I write:

There is always a temptation to divinize the state, to create a new Tower of Babel. This is a recurring motif, from the ancient kingdoms of Egypt, Assyria and Rome, in modern times with the French Revolution and its ideological descendants, the 20th century totalitarians, and contemporary technocratic state.

Christians have not been immune to the temptation to lift the state beyond its proper place. The temptation for Christians is not to divinize the state, but to politicize religion and look to the state to implement doctrine and other tenets of their faith as policy—or even go so far as to compel belief. But this is a departure from the original vision of Christianity and its intrinsically voluntary character. This does not imply secularism or that there is no place for the church to guide and influence the moral character of the state. But the attempt to compel belief turns Christianity into a political ideology which undermines the very nature of Christianity and ultimately leads to unbelief. As Joseph Ratzinger has noted, there have been periods where the church and state blended “into one another in a way that falsified the faith’s claim to truth and turned it into a compulsion so that it became a caricature of what was really intended.” Nevertheless, despite these failures the distinction between the claims of God and Caesar, remain. The nature of Christianity cannot accept a totalitarian state that tries to pull every aspect of life under itself.

You can read the whole thing here at Law and Liberty 

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Michael Matheson Miller Michael Matheson Miller is a Senior Research Fellow at the Acton Institute

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