Friday, June 01, 2012

A surprising critique of dominionism?

[Posted at Bene Diction Bloga On Sept 14, 2011] It's quite often progressives who find fault with the theory of "dominionism". And that bothers me a bit, that conservatives seem not to see "the man behind that curtain". You would suspect that as a conservative, I would have problems arguing against people who ostensibly should be my allies. But their belief has not sat well with me. It seems unchristlike to me in some ways. And I'm surprised, in a good way, to find a respected conservative who may, based on something he wrote, have had grave problems with the dominionists of today. And if you have progressive views, it might be heartening to see someone on the right who may have had their own, conservative reasons to make common cause. Food for thought, anyways. I'll explain. I remember the late, Canadian-born, Richard John Neuhaus from his years as the religion editor at National Review magazine. Many would remember the former Lutheran who became an infleuntial Catholic as editor of First Things magazine. [I'm greatly indebted to the blogger at Slacktivist who first noticed this . But I do want to make my own point to the effect of "If both right and left can dislike dominionism, can it be good for anyone?"] In May 1990, Neuhaus wrote an interesting op-ed or feature for First Things, critiquing "Chrsitian Reconstructionists" such as Rousas K. Rushdoony." They, many would argue, were perhaps the earliest "dominionists". "Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation" perhaps may not apply wholly to today's evolving dominionsm twenty some odd years later. That said, I would argue that Neuhaus's logic undermines a lot of the underlying rhetorical supports that are the foundations that prop up "reconstructionism" then and "dominionism" now. I don't want to reinvent the wheel, as Neuhaus was a better rhetorician that I am, but here are some things that stand out to me in this piece. He sees the influence of this group as "disproportionate to its size, and familiarity with its personalities, positions, and purposes is important to understanding the ways in which some Fundamentalists and Evangelicals are making the connections between religion and public life" which I would suggest continues to be true. He notes that those he critiques are "often at each other's throats." Church history, he adds, points to sad examples of attempts at theocracy being too much "cracy" and not enough "theo" as I would put it. What would eventually evolve into dominionist thinking Neuhaus argues, exhalts Christ's "special" followers and sells the redemptive work of Christ short. Emphasis mine: "
The millennium is now, we are living not in the end times but in the middle times, and the calling of Christians is to rule as kings on earth. Theonomists typically say it may take hundreds or thousands of years for the rule of the righteous to be firmly established. It may not be entirely evident to the outsider why, in this view of things, Christians now or at that distant time should be praying for the return of Christ. The thing to do now is not to pray for his return but to get the world in order for it, and once the world is in order, his return may seem somewhat less necessary. Again, most theonomists want to be orthodox Christians and therefore do not deny the doctrine of the second coming, but the urgency of the hope would seem to be drastically attenuated.... .... Although apparently not associated with the theonomist movement, there is a group that propounds what is called the doctrine of the Manifest Sons of God, and critics House and Ice suggest that they catch the theonomist impulse very nicely. Their understanding of Romans 8 is that we are all destined to become sons of God in a manner distinctly different from what the Church has historically understood St. Paul to be saying. Earl Paulk, a spokesman for this view, explains: “Jesus Christ has now done all He can do, and He waits at the right hand of His Father, until you and I as sons of God, become manifest and make the world His footstool. He is waiting for us to say, ‘Jesus, we have made the kingdoms of this world the Kingdom of our God, and we are ruling and reigning in Your world. Even so, come Lord Jesus.'“ One detects a suggestion that in some sense Jesus did not succeed in doing what he came to do. There is no doubt in theonomist teaching that Adam failed, Noah failed, and Israel failed to establish the rule of God's law. Theonomists who wish to be orthodox would shrink from saying that Jesus failed, but one might infer as much from some of their statements."
Neuhaus saw back then that the movement was not a friend of democracy. I'd add not now, either:
"A reconstructed world ruled by future Rushdoonyites will not, needless to say, be democratic. Rushdoony is straightforward in condemning democracy as a "heresy." He writes that he is in agreement with John Dewey on the proposition that "supernatural Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies." Nor is it sufficient to say that Rushdoony's animus toward democracy is simply toward the absolute democracy or raw majoritarianism of the vox populi, vox dei variety. His opposition to democracy and any form of legally protected pluralism is enprincipled, as it should be in the argument of a reflective theocrat. The free exercise of religion, for example, must be only for the free exercise of true religion. As Rushdoony says, "The right have rights," thus echoing the Roman Catholic dictum of an earlier day that "error has no rights." Theonomist George Grant writes in a publication of Dominion Press: "It is dominion that we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest." Nor does David Chilton want to leave the purpose of the enterprise in doubt: "The Christian goal for this world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God's law." To those who might be offended by such ambitions of conquest, the new crusaders have a ready answer, declaring, in effect: Extremism in the defense of dominion is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of a reconstructed world is no virtue. (To be sure, there are "moderate" theonomists who downplay the language of conquest and emphasize gradual transformation through Christian influence, but their hostility to a theological legitimization of rights in a democratic and pluralistic society is no less rigorous.)
Dominionists might read this post and say: "Well, if you don't need to win, then why advance your point of view?" Well, I think that the most cogent part of Neuhaus' anaylsis, is realizing the importance of exactly what motivates what you do. Can we ask that domionists take heed of what Neuhaus writes here?
"It is not true that the only choice is between enthusiasm and quietism, dominion and passivity, conquest and escapism. Christian engagement in worldly tasks, including the task of politics, is sustained not by the expectation of apocalypse or by the mandate to power but by love of God and neighbor. By love Christians are sustained for the duration, and nobody knows how long the duration may be. "And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith," (Galatians 6) Unlike in many other times and places, Christians in America do have opportunity to do good also through participation in politics. Often doing good takes the form of preventing the evil that may be done if politics is left to others, and we may well discover that preventing evil is a full-time job. What then is the motive for political engagement if it is not to precipitate or establish the kingdom? It is obedience to the command to care for his creation, it is love for the neighbor...."
Christians on each "side" can try to operate in love. Dominionists so often fall prey to, well, not operating in love. I fear that sometimes they make a virtue of that, which would be very wrong. And that is one reason why I differ with them. And I thank Neuhaus for putting that into words for me.