On Charity and Marriage

A blog post titled “Marriage Isn’t For You” has recently provoked much comment, due in part to statements like the following: “No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, ‘What’s in it for me?’, while Love asks, ‘What can I give?'” Some people have responded (see one example here) by arguing that the notion of love never being about the person showing it is based in a potentially unhealthy altruism/hedonism dichotomy.

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A Response to Ralph Hancock’s LDS Critique of New Liberalism

At the recent conference sponsored by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), Ralph Hancock mounted a critique against what he calls “New Liberalism”—a term that he employs to distinguish contemporary progressive politics from the classical liberalism of John Stuart Mill and the American Founding Fathers. Hancock locates this distinction in a shift from a broadly shared morality, implicitly understood as providing a necessary foundation for the political order, to a location of morality in individual choice, enforced by the political order. This shift, Hancock rightly suggests, has significant implications for the political order, not least in laws related to marriage. Continue reading

Of Freedom and American Foreign Policy

It is a commonplace in certain conservative circles to greet with derision the insinuation that American foreign policy contributes to the radicalization it seeks to combat. That is, met with the (factual) observation that one of Bin Laden’s motivations for perpetrating the 9/11 attacks was the presence of American troops on Saudi soil, the response comes that this view amounts to blaming America for the attacks. America stands for freedom, the argument goes, and can hardly be faulted if others don’t like its values or actions.

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Why I Participate in the Gun Debate

In view of my participation in several Facebook threads on the subject, it seems useful to summarize why I am participating in the gun debate, and what I hope to accomplish by doing so.

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By Common Consent: Reflections on Mormon Political Theology

In a recent Sunday School discussion, D&C 20:63—”The elders are to receive their licenses from other elders, by vote of the church to which they belong, or from the conferences”—was referenced as an example of church government by common consent. [1] The notion of voting, however, seems more democratic than LDS church government typically is. In this case the general membership is not voting to select elders, but to grant them licenses, authenticating them to function elsewhere. My question is: why go through the formality? Why can’t the person in authority to ordain elders simply issue the license and have done? In addressing this question, I suggest that Richard Baxter’s work of political theology, A Holy Commonwealth (1659), offers a helpful analogue to LDS practice.

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Liveblogging a Book Project, part 1 of many

As usual, my ideas of things to write about here have greatly exceeded my time and ability to write. Amidst many demands, I’ve been pushing forward on a book project, tentatively titled Political Theologies in Britain, 1640-1660. I’ve now been working at this for six months or so, reading quite a bit and drafting a chapter that made me realize I had to organize the thing differently than I’d been imagining. I’d worked out a new way of putting it together (all of which might change again as I keep writing), but one question remained: how to deal with the vast 20th- and 21st-century literature on political theology?

See, I’ve been reading a recent collection of essays, Political Theology and Early Modernity, ed. Graham Hammill and Julia Reinhard Lupton (U of Chicago P, 2012), and the majority of the essays engage much more directly with Carl Schmitt et al. than with any early modern writer. I don’t have a problem with that—the essays have been rich and illuminating—but I feel like the primary sources I’ve been reading offer more than enough material to drive a book all on their own, while Schmitt and company are such complex and interesting figures that one can hardly engage them only tangentially and do their ideas any sort of justice. My pressing question has been how to keep my focus on the early modern while being thoughtfully informed about more contemporary debates.

Today, while beginning to read one of the essays in the collection, my writing brain sprung into gear. Here is the result, about which I invite genuine criticism. Having just sent off proofs for one peer-reviewed article (and, my email informs me just now, being likely to receive proofs for another soon), I can attest that reader responses have strengthened my essays considerably.

You may say: “I don’t know beans about political theology, Carl Schmitt, or 17th century England. Surely you don’t mean me?” Actually, I especially mean you. Academic publishing is in terrible shape. People labor for years to write books that may sell a few hundred individual copies (as opposed to library purchases, which are also dwindling). I want to know how I can make this book about an apparently arcane subject as interesting and engaging to as wide an audience as possible.

A final note: I will not be posting the entire text as I develop it here. Not only would that probably scotch my chances of publishing it, but the blog format isn’t really suited to it. I anticipate that my posts will have more to do with the writing process than with the results. Above all, the point of this blog is to spark conversations on topics that I think deserve wider discussion than they’re currently getting. The question I’m especially interested in is how to do that more effectively.

With that, here is my draft “Preface.” I know that prefaces are usually written last, but I felt that a preface was the appropriate sort of place for thinking through what was on my mind. I don’t expect that the final preface will be much longer than this. My model here is Terryl Givens’s When Souls Had Wings (OUP, 2009), where the introduction does a nice job of briefly setting up the project and its stakes while leaving the bulk of argumentation to the chapters themselves. Let me know in the comments whether this gambit works for you.

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Towards a Pluralistic Political Theology

by Jason A. Kerr

The final paragraph of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion wonderfully captures the tension between religion and politics. After spending page after page of his chapter on civil government urging subjects to obey their rulers, no matter how apparently wicked these may be, Calvin serves up this delicious caveat:

But in that obedience which we have shown to be due the authority of rulers, we are always to make this exception, indeed, to observe it as primary, that such obedience is never to lead us away from obedience to him, to whose will the desires of all kings ought to be subject, to whose decrees all their commands ought to yield, to whose majesty their scepters ought to be submitted. And how absurd would it be that in satisfying men you should incur the displeasure of him for whose sake you obey men themselves! [1]

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