Friday, December 14, 2012

Local society's 'post-Christian' political expectation

Something came to mind when reading about news on Michael Palmer earlier this week. It's about our society's expectation of rulers' moral standing in term of marital fidelity.

In many civilizations in the past all the way to the present, we find societies seldom demand their rulers to have upright moral standing in upholding their own marital fidelity. Be it Caesars or Chinese Emperors or Henry VIII or some contemporary rulers (that I shall not name) of certain countries in Asia, their marital affair is seldom a factor to be considered when evaluating their political expediency. These rulers can have many wives or concubines, in the case of Nero some men too. As long as the rulers are governing well, there should not be objection to however their marital life is.

So I wonder how does the present consciousness to include marital fidelity as part of the evaluation of rulers (or politicians) come from?

Here I think it's relevant to hear Oliver O' Donovan: "The more the problem of our own modernity engages us, the more we need to see modernity against its background." (The Desire of the Nations, p.195)

From this, my very rough guess is that this consciousness is a sort of 'post-Christian' political expectation. By post-Christian, I mean it is not something recognizably Christian yet it is a plausibility enabled by Christendom in the past. The society's expectation for politicians to be morally accountable in their marriage is something that is inherited from the western Christendom. It is therefore not too surprising that this sort of consciousness is manifested much earlier in Europe and America (think of all the sexual scandals surfaced in the past decades), which are societies that have negotiated their sociopolitical consciousness with Christian scripture and history. They are the children or grandchildren of Christendom.

The local postcolonial society has inherited much of the sociopolitical structure in its own founding. This point was made by Wang Gungwu: "The new Asian states after 1945 did not, of course, haev to copy any of them. But they did seem to have taken them as guides, if not as exact models." (Nation-Building: Five Southeast Asian Histories, p.251-252) This, coupled with the exposure to the various scandals of western politicians through the media for the past 3 decades, has built the (to use Charles Taylor's phrase) "social imaginary" of what to be expected from rulers in the locals' political consciousness.

This is my guess why locals are demanding accountability of the rulers even in their marital affair on top of their public offices. This resembles the expectation of rulership of the church in 1 Tim 3:5, "If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?"

I may be stretching far, yet if my rough guess is not too wrong, then the local society's political expectation from politicians is no less a secularized form of ecclesial governance, like a shadow of the real.

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