Christianity and the Ideological World

This latest post written by Jacob Woolbright for the course Bible Study That Matters Spring 2015. Please take the time to read this post, Christianity and the Ideological World. Jacob came out of nowhere, and though a “new kid on the block” at King, he has demonstrated astonishing talent in his course work. He has a an excellent analytical mind, and he nuances like a ninja.

Jacob Woolbright, King University
Jacob Woolbright, King University

I’m Jacob Woolbright, at least I think I am. I live in Middle Tennessee, and have for all 29 years of my life. I’m pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in History and Religious Studies. I have worked in public finance for Putnam County Government for six years. I enjoy the outdoors, philosophy, and playing music. I plan to pursue a Masters of Arts in Religious Studies in the near future.

A few years ago I was introduced to Jacques Ellul. No, I never met him; I was surfing YouTube for videos on the different currents of libertarianism and there was a video on the ideas of technology and how it has affected the everyday lives of people as a collective whole. It was in French (Ellul was French) so I had to follow the English subtitles carefully, but what I read made sense.

This post is not about technology–sorry for the tease. This is about something else; something that runs deep into anti-authoritarian thought, yet is mixed with the philosophy of Christianity.

Jacques Ellul was a Christian anarchist, as well as being a sociologist, and an anti-capitalist. Ellul’s views of economics were closer to that of Bakunin’s (Google him, if you do not know the name) collectivist anarchism, but his religious views were most definitely at odds with that of Bakunin’s. I guess you could say Ellul was his own person, yet he was a man that gave his life to Christ.

Many think that Christianity and anarchism cannot mix, so some consider Ellul a crazy man, but I must say, he made great points in favor of anarchism. Which “anarchy”, or in the Greek, αναρχία, the transliteration being anarchía, literally means “without rulers”. An meaning “without,” and arkhos meaning “ruler.”

If we, the Christian, compartmentalize and distinguish the difference between the metaphysical and the worldly, then it is not a contradiction to be a Christian anarchist.

If you are following closely, and if you are familiar with Romans 13, then you might be disagreeing with me at this point.

Paul says this in Romans 13:1-5: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. (NRSV)

I, personally, hold to the view of Stanley Hauerwas, that we cannot read Romans 13 until objectively, carefully reading Romans 12. In Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (NRSV) We must read Romans in an rational, organized order, instead of just falling on Romans 13 to make the point to be obedient to anyone in charge. If we “discern what is the will of God” then we will get true leadership, leadership that Paul wants us to have in Romans 13. This post, though, is about what is also found in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world,” a world which is full of ideologies; therefore, it is logical for the Christian to be anti-ideology also.

One argument to the above is that “anti-ideology” is, in fact, an ideology. It’s like the nihilist not having a worldview; well, actually not having a worldview could be considered a worldview. I do not find this to be the case when it is based on Christian thought. Ellul points out in Jesus and Marx: From Gospel to Ideology that “”Ideology” has become a hackneyed topic for discussion, because it can mean just about anything.

In day-to-day usage, people us ideology to mean “any opinion different from mine”–always with an unfavorable connotation.” [1] So, Ellul is making the point that ideologies lack objectivity and require a somewhat postmodernist mindset in order to just be an opinion that is simply there for opposition’s sake. We can see the idea of political ideology within the philosophy of American Christianity on a daily basis. We have the Christian Right, the Christian Left, progressive Christians, conservative Christians t0 name just a few. All of these oppose each other to a certain degree and disparage the idea of an ecumenical church. Much of this, though, is the syncretism of human made ideologies– not the objective Word of God.

There is danger in the mixing of the metaphysical, spiritual realm where the Christian sees God, and ideologies. The Christian cannot mix the ideas of the world and the foundations given by Christ.

Ellul makes his point even more clear in Anarchy and Christianity, “As I have noted already, the church was monarchist under the kings, imperialist under Napoleon, and republican under the Republic, and now the church (the Protestant Church at least) is becoming socialist in France. This runs contrary to the orientation of Paul, namely, that we are not to be conformed to the ideas of the present world. In the ideological and political world, it is a buffer.” [2] What does Ellul mean by the word “buffer?” (Jacob, I think you need to say more here–if the church follows the spirit of the age then what does one do with Paul’s very strong statements in 13? You need to come back to this and explain better.)

Many Christians have staunch nationalistic sentiments. This, of course, is the mixing of an ideology and Christianity; thus, resulting in what Ellul argued against. In Ellul’s time in France, state-socialism was gaining more and more popularity. The Christians in France at this time were mixing the ideas of Marx with Christianity. In the United States we can see this today as well, maybe not Marxism, but other nationalistic ideas.

Ellul’s fear of mixing ideologies and Christianity is not an archaic one. Nationalism is alive and well in the United States and elsewhere. This is the threat Ellul warned against; this is the threat he warned us about, yet it is happening; the mixing of manmade ideologies, which will always fail, with the teachings of Christ. The “buffer” that was mentioned earlier has become so commonplace that many think that it cannot be changed. The idea that we can actually have more of an Early Church mentality, before the Constantinian shift (as Ellul would call it), seems too farfetched to the Christians of today.

Now, this is actually starting to come across as an ode to Jacques Ellul. I guess we could even start our own ideology called “Ellulism” and put it among the ranks of all the other “ism”‘s, but what Ellul brought forth is revolutionary in a time when Christianity needs a more radical approach. I was raised Southern Baptist (although I have since left the SBC) and I can tell you right now that there is a dullness within the church, and I know enough to know that it is not only within the SBC, but within many denominations.

Could this radical anti-ideology mindset help Christianity?

Yes, I think so, but we have to always remember that we are human and we are always going to drift back, or backslide, as I often hear it called. I see this comparable to living a Christian lifestyle. The Christian knows that he or she is not perfect but each one reserves perfection for Christ, but the Christian still tries to be Christ-like. If we fail at this then why try? It is our regeneration in accepting Christ that makes us keep putting forth the effort. When the regenerated Christian sins then that Christian has the heavy burden of sin on his or her heart; thus, they seek forgiveness. The same could be offered to the Christian’s rejection of worldly ideologies. Yes, we will fall back into their alluring ways, but if our main focus stays on Christ then we will come out of this trance.

I write this as someone who has flirted with many different ideologies. This may come across as hypocritical, since I myself have been within the realms of ideologies, but I never felt at home with any of them. Growing up I supported social conservativism, but it felt hollow and superficial, especially when it was blended into the hell, fire, and brimstone sermons I grew up hearing. The logical antithesis (using Hegelian lingo) was liberalism.

So, I tried that out and was miserable as well. Libertarianism (the American variety)? Tried it, didn’t much care for it. All of these and others did nothing for me. So, I rejected them. Rejecting them gave me more philosophical room for theology. This ended up mending a broken relationship with Christ. Thus, I speak as someone who has been there and done that, and I’m asking you, my reader, to at least consider this idea. There is true freedom when one breaks the chains of worldly ideologies. I set out on a journey to find something of this world to believe in and found nothing, and I am happy with that.

So, what now? It’s up to you. I’ve taken my journey, and have made peace with the happiness of nothingness; of no worldly ideology to rule my life. I ask you to at least contemplate it, and one day hopefully you will choose. As Mr. Ellul wrote in The Ethics of Freedom, “Choice is the most tangible expression of freedom.” [3] I find freedom in no ideology.

 

 

 

 

References:

[1] Ellul, Jacques. Jesus and Marx: From Gospel to Ideology. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2012.

[2] Ellul, Jacques, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Anarchy and Christianity. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011.

[3] Ellul, Jacques. The Ethics of Freedom. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.

Dead Sea Scrolls Lecture: Part 3: Dr. Travis Williams

This is part 3 of the Dead Sea Scroll lecture series by Dr. Travis Williams, Tusculum College. The King University Philosophy and Religion department hosted this series and the video linked below. Please join us as we continue through our journey of understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dead Sea Scrolls Lectures: Part 3

Dr. Travis Williams
Dr. Travis Williams

Christian Identity Extremists: Righteous, Radical, or just Wrong?

This latest post written by Kyle Huffman for the course Religion and Politics in a Global Context Fall 2014. Please take the time to read this post on Christian Extremism in America. Kyle is an excellent critical thinker, a great student, and a fine human being.

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Kyle Huffman, King University

Kyle is 22 years old and a senior at King University.
Kyle Is from Charleston, WV.
He is majoring in Youth Ministry with minors in Bible and Religion and Leadership.
Kyle participates as a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program at King.
His interests are music, hunting, fishing, and football.

What comes to mind when one hears the word “terrorism”? Is it strictly under the umbrella of Islam? Do the violent images only come from the region of the Middle East? Of course not. But many Americans have the wrong notion that Muslims have the corner on violent extremism and terrorism.

But this viewpoint is naive.

Is it possible to conceive the idea that there are terrorists and militant extremists in other religions, even Christianity? In fact, there are several different types of  extremists and fundamentalists within Christianity and within the borders of the United States. It becomes important, as a student of religion to dive into this topic and try to gain a better understanding of good ole homegrown, American Christian terrorism.

Before we begin to study this phenomenon, we must look at the difference between religious extremists and moderates in any religion. Extremism, opposed to being moderate, is exists outside of mainstream public opinion. Extremism can appear in religion, politics, and economics, and it can appear anywhere around the globe. We are looking at more religious and political extremism, and one example of this would be terrorism.

Extremists generally seek radical change and often use militant tactics to achieve their goals. This is what can give birth to terrorists and their violent actions. Simply put, terrorism is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Not all extremism, though, exists in the form of terrorism.

Economist Ronald Wintrobe offers several points that he believes some extremists have in common, and this will help us define an extremist:

1. Extremists are against any compromise with other side.

2. Extremists are entirely sure of their position.

3. They advocate and sometimes use violence to achieve their ends.

4. Usually they are nationalistic.

5. They are intolerant or dissent of any other group.

6. And they demonize the other side.

In other words, in nearly all circumstances, extremists are not prepared to change, no matter the reasoning or circumstances.

Moderates, on the other hand, are much more balanced and accepting of differing views and opinions.

Moderates generally do not participate in violence as a means to reach their political or religious goals. They tend to make an effort to see both sides of an issue, usually due to the lack of an agenda. With that being said, they normally do not challenge the mainstream ideas of society with much intensity. Moderates can be found in the middle of most political issues and offer a medium or “norm” for society. In terms of religion, moderates are known for questioning and rational reasoning–even centuries-old doctrines and ideas.

As we look into learning more about Christian extremism, we have to ask: what are the fundamental beliefs and actions of these groups?  Christian extremists primarily operate out of the Christian Scriptures, the Bible, and in particular, the Old Testament. They tend to take single passages or verses to prop up their actions. Many believe that what they do reflects directly what God commands. They think that a great deal of world’s problems are a result of God punishing the world for violating their belief system.   Almost every Christian fundamentalist group’s credo can be summed up in this: they believe they are right, others are not, and those who are wrong need to change, and if they don’t change, the “sinners” must be eliminated.

A good example of this is the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. According to their own website, godhatesfags.com, this group operates from their literalist interpretation of Leviticus 20:23: “Do not live according to the customs of the people I am driving out before you. It is because they do these shameful things that I detest them.” The adherents of Westboro Baptists utilize this Scripture and other verses like it as a means of justification to be hateful towards homosexuals.

The Westboro Baptists are not a violent group, but they operate out of hatred, ignorance, and shame. This group is known for picketing military funerals, an action that has been brought to the Supreme Court and other levels of the judicial system several different times all in the name of freedom of expression. These groups continue to protest and stir up controversy in the homosexual community and American Islamic community by holding signs that say “God hates fags” and by publicly burning the Quran. In 1995, the Westboro Baptist Church building was bombed by an IED clearly demonstrating some disapproval from the public of this group’s actions.

Another strong force within Christian extremism is known as the Christian Identity. The main creed of this Christian extremist group is the push for a racially interpreted Scripture and society. In other words, these individuals are white supremacists and they back up their hatred of others with their interpretation of Scripture. Many of these people believe that British whites are the direct descendents of the nation of Israel.   This movement, which rose in popularity in the 1980’s, have had ties to acts of violence such as a number of murders in the early 1990’s.

Like extremists from around the world, they are willing to use violence in the name of God to accomplish their goals.

But are Christian identity groups in America showing violence, one might ask? Most of these groups are not actively and consistently performing violent acts although many are prepared to do so. Many are very militant, having capabilities, weapons, and bases ready for mobilization and action. However, there have been several smaller instances of violence including several acts of assault, one account of murder, and a few accounts of terrorist threats by a Pennsylvania based white supremacy group known as the Keystone State Skinheads.   This group is constantly looked on by the government because of their former acts of violence and their militaristic facilities that seemed primed for action.

In the past, there have been instances of violence in the United States, primarily by members of Ku Klux Klan white supremacy group. The logo of this group was to “reestablish protestant Christian values in America by any means possible.” Especially after the Civil War, this group became very violent with lynchings, murders, beatings, arson, and much, much more. The long and hateful history of the KKK is infused with violence and murder.

The public opinion of this group might not be exactly what you think. Obviously, these groups tend to have a negative public opinion due to the nature of their activities and history. Even though much of the United States would consider itself to be Christian (83%- ABC News July 2014), most would likely disagree with a large percentage of what these groups are doing.

However, most Americans are uninformed about the various militant extremist groups that currently exist in the United States. Of the more outspoken or public groups, the Westboro Baptists have developed quite an infamous public opinion. While this group has a generally nonviolent creed, they continue to encourage and endorse hatred.

The first step in dealing with Christian Identity groups is to become educated that they exist and are prevalent in the United States.

Is Islam the only religion that harbors terrorists and militant extremists? Not at all. Every religion has its fundamentalists–even Christianity. And it is incumbent upon us to know this fact and know what separates the militants from the moderates. Lives depend on this difference in interpretation.