Thursday, January 29, 2009

What religion on the public square looks like

An interesting piece by Dominic Foo:


Here are some photos taken from The Times at the funeral of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksi II. Most interesting are commentaries on the photos of the Russian political leaders, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin paying their last respects with the sign of the cross, which speaks of the state's acknowledgment of the church's role in the nation.
However, most contemporary Christians caught up with the social action craze who argue vehemently for the increased role of the Church in the public sphere dare not push it to its logical conclusion: That for religion to have a role in the public sphere entails that political leaders acknowledge the normativity of the Church and the values of religion.
The fact is that for religion to have a role at all on the public square first requires that the public square acknowledge their subjection to religion. Without this precondition, the church's advocacy of social issue on the public square becomes, in the words of Shakespeare's Macbeth, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
The church's attempt to base their social advocacy on the premise that it is a calling of governments to account to "justice" rings hallow in an age of value pluralism, for truly the thought behind every politician's head to such calls is, in the words of Alasdair Macintyre, "Whose Justice? Whose Rationality?"
In desperation to save their cause, social advocates sometimes invoke the idea of a common, universal "human nature" which entails that everyone has certain rights and requires certain just dealings, a "human nature" which everyone, atheist or theist, would agree we have. But apart from the biologist's investigations into human physiology, the concept of a universal "human nature" shared by everyone has also died with the enlightenment's death, as Macintyre has brilliantly demonstrated in "After Virtue". For as Sarte argues, once you have killed God, especially in the public square, you destroy human nature as well, for existence precedes essence, we will now decide what it means to be human.
The idea that history operates in a linear evolutionary fashion has been contradicted in recent times. Once, Francis Fukuyama could confidently argue in "The End of History and the Last Man" written in 1992 that history will eventually vindicate liberal democracy and capitalism and the end of ideological wars. But reading his book today would only inspire cynical sneers and sniggers and some have even start talking about the end of the end of history. As the Greeks has always suspected, history moves in circles and with the apparent death of capitalism with the financial crisis, the rise of successful authoritarian undemocratic regimes like China and Russia (especially my own country :P), the fall of democratic USA and the failure of decolonization in Myanmar and India and Pakistan, the rise of Islamic consciousness, we could not help but wonder what just happened.
That history does not tends towards universality has been clearly demonstrated in our day and believers in the evolutionary path ideology would be sorely disappointed because history is no one's friend.
Perhaps its time to acknowledge that the universe is concrete, not abstract, reality is particular; not universal, values are local, not international. It is time to do away with fictional social contracts, artificial constructs of universal human nature and return to the concrete communal identity.
And Russia is taking the lead into emerging out of the mire of universalism into particularlism. State endorsement and personal subjection of Russian political leaders to the Russian Orthodox Church is the first step towards a true Church in the public square. It maybe mostly nominal and for appearances, but these appearances are important, for it is the establishment of a concrete identity of the Russian nation, rooted in its Christian past, and its Biblical narratives. Only when there exists a concrete communal identity, can then the Church with good foundations start calling the state to account based firmly on a concrete real communal identity.
Otherwise, the alternative is that of calling for a construction of civil rights and values based on the spectral foundations of "universal human rights", and the whole superstructure will not hold, because it is based on just an abstract illusion.

2 comments:

InSpir3d said...

"It maybe mostly nominal and for appearances, but these appearances are important, for it is the establishment of a concrete identity of the Russian nation, rooted in its Christian past, and its Biblical narratives. Only when there exists a concrete communal identity, can then the Church with good foundations start calling the state to account based firmly on a concrete real communal identity."

I think you are sorely misguided if you think the identity of the Russian nation has any genuine basis in Biblical narratives. Political leaders have long seen the utility of religion as an extension and enhancement of political power, as long as the religion can be held under the power of the state - Just as Constantine recognised the unifying power of Christianity in his Roman empire, and just as Monarchs tried repeatedly to draw divin authority as Holy Roman Emperors, Putin is no exception.

If and when the church ever becomes influential enough to call the Russian state to account, prepare for its arms and limbs to be lopped off, and for the church to be politically incapacitated - just like the murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov and Umar Israilov

Rubati said...

Murders?

Nice to know your conception of justice does not require due process and law procedures for gathering evidence and charging people with crimes properly but simply proceeds by trial by media.

And of course, your judgment about the Russian Orthodox Church is based on well informed analysis and knowledge about the how it actually works rather than crude generalisations and vulgar simplifications of conspiracy theories and Marxist ideology. Of course, your judgment has also taken into account the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church did not support the state in its invasion of Georgia.

Always a pleasure to discuss history and politics with one with facts rather than theories.