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Christianity and Political Theory

Jun 25, 2003
Michael Hogan

Where does one begin to tackle the subject of Christianity and its relationship to politics? How can any writer get his/her arms around a topic so broad? No one writer can!
All that said; allow me to begin the dialogue. Hopefully, it will not be a dialogue of the deaf. There are those, both Christian and others, who ascribe all sorts of political ideas to Jesus Christ. I will not do so, because I am ill equipped to do so. After all, I am not within a country mile of being a bible scholar – although some of my colleagues at are bible scholars.
Rather than study Jesus, allow me to interpret how the Heavenly Father has been used in political theory. All of us who studied world history remember something called the Devine Right of Kings. It was either stated or implied by European monarchs they were the result of a system of patriarchal primogeniture planned and/or approved by God, Himself. This system of supreme patriarchy made it difficult to complain, when God made it so.
You might say God was used as the fall guy in Western culture and political theory for almost two millennium. What was (is?) that about? Patriarchy is more extensive than a single patriarch called a King. You see, Kings need assistants to implement plans and collect taxes. Such noble henchmen were known by a variety of titles: Earls, Barons, Counts, Princes, Dukes, etc. How were such overachievers selected and how did they move up the line during the middle ages?
Kings would typically select the most successful, among his constituency, to become royalty. Go getters were needed – men who could raise cash for the King’s misadventures. Therefore, the finest families of Europe are descended form horse thieves and cattle thieves. This was all there was to steal back then. There were no banks, gas stations, or stockholders to rob.
Pardon me. I meandered. That is, I digressed beyond my chosen topic. Allow me to return this rant to its main mission; a look at the link between Christianity and politics. At this point the reader knows I am deficient in two areas of study: religion and history. Let’s move on to a third category of knowledge I don’t know much about: Political science.
Being a know nothing myself, I slowly turn to a man whose knowledge was so great his name will live beyond infinity to become a tale of eternity. John Locke is part of the bedrock foundation of Western Culture and political theory. Here we are dealing with heavy duty, industrial strength, no-nonsense theories. Please use John Locke’s theories with extreme care. The power of the man’s mind may overwhelm your average JT (i.e. jive turkey).
In his book, the “First Treatise of Civil Government”, Locke attacks absolute monarchy. Meanwhile 200 years later Sigmund Freud was deriving constitutional structure from a primal or prehistoric mythical family from the paternal powers of our father Adam. Freud attributes unlimited power to the primal father.
Therefore, although John Locke began to question the authority of Patriarchy, Sigmund Freud observes the power of Patriarchy to be great centuries after John Locke – as it remains today almost a century after Sigmund Freud. Therefore, the question remains, does Christianity offer models other than the power of patriarchy?
Locke questions the idea of primal fatherhood as a “strange kind of domineering phantom, called “the fatherhood”. Rather than a hierarchy with a primal father at the top, Locke peers into the past and sees all men in the primal state of nature free and equal. To espouse liberty is to vindicate the children against paternal despotism on the broad psychosocial level.
Locke rejects patriarchal primogeniture, which transfers the full power of father Adam to one of his sons and makes one brother the father of his brethren. How can a man get power over his brethren, asks Locke? “Brother”, he says, “is the name of friendship and equality, and not of jurisdiction and authority.”
To summarize and conclude, allow me to introduce an eclectic intellectual named Norman O. Brown to see how he interprets Lock’s writings about Patriarchy, Power and Christianity. What follows is taken from page 5 of Mr. Brown’s book; Loves Body, 1966, University of California Press:
But the equality of brotherhood is a leveling in the presence of a father; it is a way of dividing what belongs to a father – “the father’s equal love.” Locke’s equality in the state of nature belongs to men as sons of God. Liberty means sonship. To make all men free and equal in the state of nature, Locke allows no man the status of father, and makes all men sons of the Heavenly Father. The phantom of fatherhood is banished from the earth, and elevated to the skies. “The state of Nature has a law to govern it, and reason, which is that law, teachers all mankind who will but consult it, that being equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker, all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property.” Procreative power itself is transferred from the earthly to the heavenly father. The parents are only guardians of the children they had begotten, “not as their own workmanship, but the workmanship of their own Maker, the Almighty,” God is the “author and giver of life.” Parents are only the guardians of their children; fathers are not even fathers of their children. Filmer’s sons were subject to castration; Locke castrates the earthly fathers. Thus the defense of sonship turns into the discovery of another father, the “real” father; and the real question in politics is Jesus’ question, Who is my father?
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