Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Grant Havers takes on Charles Taylor: A Heretical Contradiction.

Logic, unfortunately, is not his strong point. In an essay on multiculturalism and the “politics of recognition,” Taylor credits Christianity with advancing the separation of church and state in the modern West. Correctly in my view, Taylor spies an historic relation between this faith and the liberalism of the Enlightenment. Both traditions at their best teach a healthy suspicion of attempts to centralize power into the hands of frail and sinful human beings who are all too easily tempted to abuse their authority when it comes to regulating matters of the heart. He also teaches (again, correctly in my view) that Christianity is unique among faiths in insisting on this separation; in theological terms, the realm of Caesar must not become idolatrously confused with that of Christ. Yet this admirable defense of western Christianity’s historic particularity does not deter Taylor from calling on all peoples of the West to universalize tolerance, that is, to promote “recognition” of all peoples, Christian or not: “we [must] all recognize the equal value of different cultures; we [must] not only let them survive, but acknowledge their worth,” he intones. In practice, that means the enshrinement of group rights for anybody who doesn’t belong to the majority Christian culture. (These rights range from affirmative action to separate criminal justice systems all the way to self-government.)

It is beyond my mental powers to reconcile these two beliefs of Taylor. If Christianity alone is unique in teaching the separation of church and state, then is it wise to recognize the equal value of cultures that do not? Should tolerance extend to the intolerant?
The end of the political community is not the same as man's ultimate end, and thus the secular authority is not to be identified with the authority of Christ or of His representatives. But is one subordinate to the other? And is it permissible for this to be the status quo in Christian polities? What is meant by the "separation of Church and State" in an authentic Christian polity (where the authority of the Church is recognized, even if it is not "established") is unlike the current liberal dogma.

Is Mr. Havers's characterization of Lincoln correct, though?

This guilt-ridden theology would have astonished tough-minded Christian realists like St. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Lincoln, none of whom identified “charity for all” with either surrender or suicide.

That is a bit much, to lump Lincoln in with St. Augustine. As for Luther and Calvin, well, perhaps it is somewhat appropriate, if we consider their politics (Calvin believed in separation of Church and State?), but how much of a Christian was Lincoln, really?

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