- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Benedict Option: Danger to Democracy?

When conservative critics of the Benedict Option say that the Left and its apparatus in the State will not leave us alone to pursue it, this is what they’re talking about [1]. The author is Nathan Pippenger, a poli sci PhD student at Berkeley. Excerpt:

What, then, would be the result of a quietist, separatist movement that could erect only ineffectual barriers against the forces of the majority culture? Probably not the comforting preservation of traditional ways of life, but an exacerbation of the alienation which motivated the separatism in the first place. And here is where all of us—or, at least, those of us not completely resigned to permanent fracture and division among Americans—have reason for concern. The success or failure of democracy depends, in large part, on the recognition of citizens that they all share a part in it. If one group of citizens feels completely, comprehensively walled off from the broader public, the reassurance that laws come from “We the People” will be cold comfort. And this problem will persist unless the group can truly make its life in isolation from the majority; unless it can educate, worship, and govern in its own corner of the world. Anything short of this is unlikely to satisfy the separatists, since the world they want to preserve will continue to face intrusions from a wider society they can’t really escape. We want to be able to justify the legitimacy of democratic government by affirming that it really does emanate, however imperfectly, from the will of the people. When a subset of the people intentionally wall themselves off, the legitimacy of the rest of us ruling over them is called into question, and their reasons for obeying us are weakened. A “Benedict option”-style retreat, then, might look like the obscure politics of an isolated minority. But in reality, it concerns all of us.

Let me repeat that: “When a subset of the people intentionally wall themselves off, the legitimacy of the rest of us ruling over them is called into question, and their reasons for obeying us are weakened.”

In other words, if we withdraw in dissent, no matter how peaceably, we cannot be left alone because we might come to question the legitimacy of the political order, and lose sight of why we ought to obey the majority.

I find this extraordinary. With the Benedict Option, I have not called on conservative Christians to become neo-Amish (though if some feel led to that, be my guest). I have called on us to confront the fact that ours is a post-Christian culture, one fast moving toward an anti-Christian culture, and that should force us to rethink our place in the public square. And it should compel us to focus much more intently on building and strengthening local forms of community, so that we can hold on to our faith and pass it on to our kids, come what may from the wider, hostile culture.

It is primarily about religion, not politics. It does, though, have political implications, because it is premised on an ebbing of faith in liberal democracy. Note that I did not say loss of faith, but ebbing; I’m in no way advocating the end of liberal democracy (what would replace it?), but I am frankly expressing my inability to believe that it can produce a good (= virtuous) society anymore. It is, as political theorist Patrick Deneen writes, unsustainable. [2]

And so first-wave liberals are today represented by “conservatives” who stress the need for the scientific and economic mastery of nature but stop short of extending this project fully to human nature. They support nearly any utilitarian use of the world for economic ends but oppose most forms of biotechnological “enhancement.” Second-wave liberals increasingly approve nearly any technical means of liberating man from the biological imperatives of our own bodies. Today’s political debates occur largely and almost exclusively between liberals, first-wave and second-wave, neither of whom confront the fundamentally alternative understanding of human nature and the human relationship to nature that the preliberal tradition defended.

Liberalism is thus not merely a narrowly political project of constitutional government and juridical defense of rights, as it is too often portrayed. Rather, it seeks the transformation of the entirety of human life and the world. Its two revolutions—its anthropological individualism and the voluntarist conception of choice, and its insistence on the human separation from and opposition to nature—created its distinctive and new understanding of liberty as the most extensive possible expansion of the human sphere of autonomous activity in the service of the fulfillment of the self. Liberalism rejects the ancient and preliberal conception of liberty as the learned capacity of human beings to govern their base and hedonistic desires. This kind of liberty is a condition of self-governance of both city and soul, drawing closely together the individual cultivation and practice of virtue and the shared activities of self-legislation. Societies that understand liberty this way pursue the comprehensive formation and education of individuals and citizens in the art and virtue of self-rule.

 

Liberalism instead understands liberty as the condition in which one can act freely within the sphere that is unconstrained by positive law. Liberalism effectively remakes the world in the image of its vision of the state of nature, shaping a world in which the theory of natural human individualism becomes ever more a reality, secured through the architecture of law, politics, economics, and society. Under liberalism, human beings increasingly live in a condition of autonomy such as that first imagined by theorists of the state of nature, except that the anarchy that threatens to develop from that purportedly natural condition is controlled and suppressed through the imposition of laws and the corresponding growth of the state. With man liberated from constitutive communities (leaving only loose connections) and nature harnessed and controlled, the constructed sphere of autonomous liberty expands seemingly without limit.

Ironically, the more complete the securing of a sphere of autonomy, the more encompassing and comprehensive the state must become. Liberty, so defined, requires in the first instance liberation from all forms of associations and relationships—from the family, church, and schools to the village and neighborhood and the community broadly defined—that exerted strong control over behavior largely through informal and habituated expectations and norms.

My political hopes have become far more modest. I simply want the State to leave me and my institutions the hell alone. More Deneen:

Liberalism’s founders tended to take for granted the persistence of social norms, even as they sought to liberate individuals from those constitutive associations and the accompanying education in self-limitation that sustained these norms. In its earliest moments, the health and continuity of good families, schools, and communities was assumed, though their bases were philosophically undermined. The philosophical undermining led to the undermining of these goods in reality, as the norm-shaping authoritative institutions become tenuous with liberalism’s advance. In its advanced stage, the passive depletion has become active destruction: Remnants of associations historically charged with the cultivation of norms are increasingly seen as obstacles to autonomous liberty, and the apparatus of the state is directed toward the task of liberating individuals from any such bonds.

The well-known words of John Adams come to mind:

[W[e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Having lost our faith as a meaningful guide to public life, and with the legal regime and business customs pushing orthodox Christians increasingly to the margins of American life, why is it a surprise that these Christians may, as MacIntyre put it, “[turn] aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and [cease] to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium”? It doesn’t imply that we won’t vote — we have to vote, if only to protect our own liberties — but it does imply that the political and cultural marginalization that the secular Left has been seeking for religious conservatives for so long has been achieved. I don’t know where Nathan Pippenger’s politics are, but if he is a secular liberal, why does it not please him that my people are starting to feel so alienated from politics that we are putting our passions elsewhere?

Why is he shocked that orthodox Christians would come to see the government as hostile to us, our beliefs, our practices, and our historic liberties? Why does he require that religious conservatives affirm belief that the post-Christian liberal order is just and good? Because if not, we won’t be as eager to do what the government tells us to do? Sure sounds like it.

I’m reminded of the time in my teenage years when my dad and I argued bitterly about something, can’t remember what, and I started to walk to my room. “You sit back down there and don’t you move!” he barked. “We are going to sit together as a family and watch TV!” It was important to him to maintain the façade of one big happy family, and my withdrawing to my bedroom threatened his ideal.

Advertisement
89 Comments (Open | Close)

89 Comments To "Benedict Option: Danger to Democracy?"

#1 Comment By Thursday On October 28, 2015 @ 6:34 pm

You don’t get to abrogate those responsibilities just because Christianity doesn’t dominate in the way it did in the past.

Says who? This is the problem that every government has: you’ve got to get people to buy in. They don’t have to do it.

#2 Comment By grumpy realist On October 28, 2015 @ 8:02 pm

Aaron–the problem with a collection of city-states (civitas sibi princeps) is that it’s really, really hard for them to work together to protect themselves from a bigger, meaner, baddie.

Witness: Renaissance Northern Italy and what happened to it when France decided to take over.

Also you could sort of say that we in the US tried this with the Articles of Confederation and discovered that nope, you need more federalism to get the thing to really hang together.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 28, 2015 @ 8:29 pm

“And yet you have repeatedly said that one of your greatest fears is that religious institutions are at risk of losing their tax exemptions public subsidies. This doesn’t strike me as a desire to be left alone as much as a desire to belly up to the public trough without any accountability to said public.”

That’s the idea that everything belongs to the state and what it decides not to let anyone keep is a state subsidy.

Though the concept of “non-profit” has been seriously abused in these United States, there really is a difference between stock brokers and Christian charity. But wouldn’t you know it, it’s the stock brokers and bankers who receive actual unaccountable bailouts of real money from government, while you rail that donations to help the poor, of earned income that have already been taxed, ought to be taxed. Not to mention the corporate welfare tax laws that wealthy donorists buy, or the trillions that government gives to warmongers at their request.

The great jurist Marshall had it right: “The power to tax, is the power to destroy.”

#4 Comment By Andrew W On October 28, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

“You might want to look at, oh say, Byzantium, as an example of what I am talking about. It’s the origin of your own purported tradition, after all.”

Oh boy, now you did it….

#5 Comment By Andrew W On October 28, 2015 @ 10:11 pm

“So you say. So you say. And yet you have repeatedly said that one of your greatest fears is that religious institutions are at risk of losing their tax exemptions public subsidies. This doesn’t strike me as a desire to be left alone as much as a desire to belly up to the public trough without any accountability to said public.”

Asking for Churches, which are legally non-profits, to be treated the same way PETA is is not unreasonable.

#6 Comment By Joan On October 28, 2015 @ 10:18 pm

I read a book once called “Pagans and Christians” about the transition to Christianity within the Roman Empire. One point that stuck with me was the assertion that the sort of people who were attracted to Christianity around 250 A.D. or so were attracted to it specifically because it was intolerant, because of the whole refusal-to-worship-other-gods thing. These were people who had grown up in some backwater where everyone still worshipped the same set of traditional dieties, who then emerged into the larger empire and found themselves really uncomfortable with the religious diversity, the contradictory mythologies and so forth. They missed being in an environment where everyone was on the same page, so to speak. When I read “all of us—or, at least, those of us not completely resigned to permanent fracture and division among Americans—have reason for concern,” that’s the kind of person I thought of. Myself, I’m fine with permanent fracture and division among Americans, and I think most Americans are, too. The lusting after unity has never been all that big a thread in the national tapestry.

#7 Comment By KD On October 28, 2015 @ 10:38 pm

The real reason Christianity spread in Antiquity is because they did not murder their female infants, and so when pagan boys were fixin’ to get married, it was convert or die without heirs.

#8 Comment By Jones On October 28, 2015 @ 11:46 pm

Hmm. The adolescent context of your concluding metaphor tends to reinforce the unfortunate metaphor of the BenOp amounting to “taking your ball home.”

There is a ramification for democratic politics, isn’t there? At the same time as I’m sympathetic to your claim about the legitimacy of withdrawal, I don’t think you can deny it would have an effect on politics — precisely the effect Pippenger describes, of changing the grounds of legitimacy of the state. That observation is insightful. It should bother the authorities as much as it already bothers Christians. In short, the legitimacy deficit of the state in the eyes of (BenOp) Christians has already been realized. After all, they don’t get to decide that. Pippenger observes that this necessarily transforms the relationship at both ends.

If Christians really disengage from mainstream politics, then we can no longer sustain the pretense of being bound together as a substantive ethical community. That image only seems plausible to liberals right now.

Isn’t it a good thing to bring this underlying reality to light?

#9 Comment By Zorro On October 28, 2015 @ 11:57 pm

Fran Macadam at 8:29 PM ++++

I am now officially tired of equating tax deductions and exemption from taxation on the one hand with tax subsidies, which, as Fran points out, can only be done by assuming that all money belongs to the state and if the state graciously allows you to keep some of the money you earned or were given it’s like a gift to you from the state.

This is a seriously pernicious assumption which should be forthrightly contradicted, in season and out of season, every time it raises its ugly head.

#10 Comment By JonF On October 29, 2015 @ 6:04 am

Re: Christianity affects everything in our lives.

Yes, of course. As I admitted from the start our inner transformation spills over into the external world, and into the world of politics, economics etc. It’s a secondary effect, but certainly a real one. And a tyrant may feel threatened by it, including tyrants who purport to be religious leaders like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. But there’s no special threat there to “liberalism” that doesn’t exist for any other secular order, including would-be theocracies. But none of that is what Christianity is “about”. We do not follow Christ to change this world; we follow Christ to find the Kingdom of Heaven.

#11 Comment By JonF On October 29, 2015 @ 6:07 am

Re: You might want to look at, oh say, Byzantium, as an example of what I am talking about.

What are you talking about? Whatever its virtues or its sins, Byzantium was not the Kingdom of Heaven, nor one white more godly than 21st century America. And no it is not the “source” of my tradition (I do not subscribe the nationalist heresy, though it is a common error in Orthodoxy): Christ is.

#12 Comment By Jay On October 29, 2015 @ 7:32 am

Asking for Churches, which are legally non-profits, to be treated the same way PETA is is not unreasonable.

It’s not necessarily unreasonable. On the other hand, asking for a handout from your fellow citizens (which is what a tax exemption essentially is) is not asking to be left alone either.

#13 Comment By Jay On October 29, 2015 @ 7:39 am

Says who? This is the problem that every government has: you’ve got to get people to buy in. They don’t have to do it.

There’s this concept of the social contract. Read your Rousseau.

Basically, you and I and Rod have already reaped enormous advantages from just being an American. We’re prosperous and healthy and pretty much (Kim Davis type wailing to the contrary) able to live according to our conscience. In return, you are only asked to exercise some basic obligations of citizenship. To claim otherwise is to express a pretty horrendous “f— you, Jack, I’ve got mine” sort of churlishness.

#14 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On October 29, 2015 @ 9:01 am

KD said:

The real reason Christianity spread in Antiquity is because they did not murder their female infants, and so when pagan boys were fixin’ to get married, it was convert or die without heirs.

While this is true of some societies, it apparently was not true in ancient Rome.

[3]

#15 Comment By TB On October 29, 2015 @ 9:57 am

Ph D student: “When a subset of the people intentionally wall themselves off, the legitimacy of the rest of us ruling over them is called into question, and their reasons for obeying us are weakened.” ”’

RD: “In other words, if we withdraw in dissent, no matter how peaceably, we cannot be left alone because we might come to question the legitimacy of the political order, and lose sight of why we ought to obey the majority. I find this extraordinary.”
_________________________

How is Jim Jeffs’ defense of his FLDS collective different from the argument that RD’s makes for his following?

#16 Comment By Jay On October 29, 2015 @ 10:40 am

I am now officially tired of equating tax deductions and exemption from taxation on the one hand with tax subsidies, which, as Fran points out, can only be done by assuming that all money belongs to the state and if the state graciously allows you to keep some of the money you earned or were given it’s like a gift to you from the state.

Oh, nonsense. Non. Sense. This is just libertarianism for pre-schoolers.

We’ve decided as a democratic society to levy some taxes. And if we decide that some groups are exempt from the taxes that everyone else has to pay, that’s a form of subsidy, the same as if we collected the money and then refunded it. (Which, in many cases, we actually do). If some groups are exempt from taxes, then either everyone else has to pay more.

There’s nothing wrong with such subsidies. Indeed, one can make a reasonable argument that subsidizing churches and other charitable organizations is a very good thing. But let’s call it what it is.

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 29, 2015 @ 12:15 pm

How is Jim Jeffs’ defense of his FLDS collective different from the argument that RD’s makes for his following?

There are specific felonies that Jeff’s practices and fosters, which are felonies because of the nature of the specific acts, not because certain unpopular religions are known for them, or certain popular religions anathematize them.

Benedict Option, as currently presented, does not ipso facto promote felonies. If any given practice of the Benedict Option did so, then those responsible should be prosecuted.

I note, on the other hand, that federal and state authorities are rather indulgent of some of the more isolated FLDS communities out west, as long as they don’t bother anyone else.

Churches are not tax-exempt as a subsidy. Churches are tax-exempt to promote the separation of church and state. Study the constitutions of the first 20-30 states to join the union after the original 13. Of course this came with other traditions or legal arrangements, including limits on the value of property a church could own (thrown out in the case nick-named Falwell v. Jefferson) and prohibitions on clergy holding elective office (thrown out by the Supreme Court in an appeal from a Tennessee law).

#18 Comment By Metronomicon On October 29, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

@Jay

“If some groups are exempt from taxes, then either everyone else has to pay more.”

So when the cooking club in the block is not taxed, it is because “we as a democratic society” have somehow ‘subsidized’ it, apparently.

It might be more polite to call it trolling what is explainable by common stupidity.
But let’s call it what it is.

#19 Comment By Metronomicon On October 29, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

The “negative liberty” of liberalism, when made into state ideology, essentially demands all of its subjects to reduce their perception of themselves and each other into atomized, featureless abstract entities expressing nondescript preferences, otherwise they violate the entitlements of others.
It is nothing more than totalitarian nihilism.

Widening the scope of entitlements, as “progressiveness” must do to keep its job, makes it necessary to widen the presence and invasiveness of authority in order to defend them from violation.

In the grim darkness of the future, there are only microaggression trials from the safe space police.

#20 Comment By Thursday On October 29, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

There’s this concept of the social contract

. . . which even most secular thinkers regard as a steaming ball of c**p.

Furthermore, your presumption that I ought to be grateful for material goods when my society is destroying the things I value most, spiritual goods, is presumptuous.

No, I don’t have to feel gratitude.

#21 Comment By Thursday On October 29, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

It’s a secondary effect, but certainly a real one.

No, no, and no. There is no separation or distance between the spiritual and any part of our life in the world. That’s very basic Christianity. Talk of secondary spill overs is nonsense.

Again, some are frightened by the full implications of Christianity, but what they are is what they are.

Byzantium was not the Kingdom of Heaven

It was a society that attempted to order itself towards Christ, as a society and in a comprehensive way. And it wasn’t like your Islamic caricature at all.

For shame, sir.

#22 Comment By JonF On October 29, 2015 @ 1:44 pm

Re: We’ve decided as a democratic society to levy some taxes. And if we decide that some groups are exempt from the taxes that everyone else has to pay, that’s a form of subsidy

Corporate entities are taxed on profit, not revenue. There are good and necessary reasons for that. Ms Scarlett’s House of Strippers is taxed under that principle just as the Baptist church up the road is. And since churches are avowedly non-profits, they pay no tax. That’s why they are tax-exempt, not because the government wants to promote religion.

#23 Comment By a commenter On October 29, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

The effort to tax Churches is nothing more than an open-faced attempt to choke religion to death by making it prohibitively painful for people to donate enough money to their Churches to keep them open.

#24 Comment By William Tighe On October 29, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

To Jay in particular, and to many of the comments here in general, I reply:

Christianity in general, and “ecclesial Christianity” (e.g., Catholicism and Orthodoxy) is indeed a “danger” to (modern secular libertarian/libertine) democracy, in much the same way that it was recognized as, and proved to be in deed, a “danger” to the multicultural Imperium Romanum, rejecting as it does both its ideological foundations and its claim to the primary allegiance of its citizens. As Dom Gregory Dix once wrote, “Gibbon was right. The foundation of the empire was loosened by the waters of baptism, for the empire’s real foundation was the pagan dream of human power.” *The Shape of the Liturgy* p.395; pp. 393-96 are well worth reading in this context. One might wish to replace “pagan” with “neopagan” or “libertine” for a contemporary application.

#25 Comment By Captain P On October 29, 2015 @ 3:21 pm

Jay, first of all, your comments seem to be conflating charitable organizations with individuals, when you say “some groups are exempt from taxes that everyone else has to pay.” The proper comparison for tax treatment of tax-exempt organizations is not individuals, but other organizations. It makes perfect sense that we don’t treat gifts of money to the Red Cross in the way that we treat purchases from Wal-Mart.

Second, while from one particular perspective (i.e. the Federal Treasury’s) you can view tax exemptions and subsidies as interchangeable, there is a very significant functional difference between tax exemption and government subsidies. Tax exemption allows INDIVIDUALS to pay less taxes if they decide to give some money to Organization X. However, Organization X only gets money if private people decide to give it.

On the other hand, government subsidies are awarded based on the discretion of hired bureaucrats. (In most situations- occasionally Congress might pass legislation directly selecting individual recipients).

In one case, the government simply makes a benefit available for people who give money to an organization; in the other case, government taxes individuals and decides who will get the money. Ask the head of an organization if they view the two situations the same – I’m pretty sure you’ll get a negative.

#26 Comment By Captain P On October 29, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

Thursday ,

1. “Procedural liberalism” has more specificity than “prudence,” so no, they’re not interchangeable.

2. You said “Procedural liberalism still purports to be somehow neutral. In that sense, it actually is a stalking horse for substantive liberalism.”

I get your point here, and I agree that it’s false to say, as some theorists have said, that procedural liberalism is completely philosophically neutral. I would be skeptical of those people, and recognize that they might be pushing substantive liberalism behind their facade of neutrality. However, the claim of complete “neutrality” is not essential to procedural liberalism.

Indeed, my argument was not that procedural liberalism itself is completely neutral, but rather that it arose HISTORICALLY from a basically Christian moral anthropology. As such, Christians should endorse it. Furthermore, procedural liberalism has been (and still is, to a lesser degree) attractive even to people who aren’t Christians, and so offers a plausible position for alliances.

tl;dr – procedural liberalism is something Christians should embrace because it’s a basically Christian political theory AND for its tactical benefits in contemporary Western society.

#27 Comment By Thursday On October 29, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

“Procedural liberalism” has more specificity than “prudence,” so no, they’re not interchangeable.

Read what I said.

#28 Comment By Thursday On October 29, 2015 @ 6:11 pm

it arose HISTORICALLY from a basically Christian moral anthropology

No.

#29 Comment By TB On October 29, 2015 @ 6:14 pm

Me: How is Jim Jeffs’ defense of his FLDS collective different from the argument that RD’s makes for his following?

Siarlys Jenkins: There are specific felonies that Jeff’s practices and fosters, which are felonies because of the nature of the specific acts, not because certain unpopular religions are known for them, or certain popular religions anathematize them.
________________

Categorical Fallacy.
The nature of those acts were once normative behavior.

#30 Comment By panda On October 29, 2015 @ 8:22 pm

“No, I don’t have to feel gratitude.”

But you do have to pay taxes, and drive on the right side of the road.

#31 Comment By panda On October 29, 2015 @ 8:24 pm

“The effort to tax Churches is nothing more than an open-faced attempt to choke religion to death by making it prohibitively painful for people to donate enough money to their Churches to keep them open.

Good thing that this effort is going on mostly inside your head then.

#32 Comment By Jake V On October 30, 2015 @ 10:36 am

Rod Dreher wrote: “With the Benedict Option, I have not called on conservative Christians to become neo-Amish…. I have called on us to confront the fact that ours is a post-Christian culture, one fast moving toward an anti-Christian culture, and that should force us to rethink our place in the public square. And it should compel us to focus much more intently on building and strengthening local forms of community, so that we can hold on to our faith and pass it on to our kids, come what may from the wider, hostile culture.”

Christians must live in the world but must not be of the world. We must be of Christ.

To me the “Benedict Option” is all about organizing one’s life so that the cloud of earthly witnesses that surround us are believing Christians. For some it may be necessary to live apart from the larger society. For most, however, it will mean organizing one’s life around Christian family and friends, and the local church that solidly worships Christ and keeps His precepts.

Some of us have quietly practiced the “Benedict Option” for many years. Our lives, and the lives of many of our closest friends, center around family and church – people we pray with at Sunday Liturgy, and do works of charity with, go to football games with. Further, we just find uninteresting much of the larger society (be it silly or offensive movies and television or whatever). We just choose not participate in things which are offensive to the faith – things that are not enduring.

Like everyone else we do work and interact daily with people who are not believing Christians. The “Benedict Option” does not demand that we have nothing to do with them. It only demands that put following Christ first, and not let the larger secular society lead us away from Christ.

#33 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 30, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

Categorical Fallacy.
The nature of those acts were once normative behavior.

No fallacy at all TB. You seem addicted to cute phrases and unable to discern their substance.

First, the fact that acts were once normative behavior does not categorically show that there is or is not a secular basis for legal action against Jeffs.

Second, the fact that some acts were once normative behavior doesn’t make it religious dictatorship that they now are not.

The droit du seigneur was once normative behavior, although the extent and frequency of the practice has perhaps been greatly exaggerated. According to Robert Graves it had its origins in certain pagan rites that mythologized sexuality, and also involved a good deal of patriarchy, tribal identity, and a sense of the family being literally ruled (subordinate males as well as females) by the <paterfamilias. None of which establishes that Jeffs has a constitutional right to marry off 14 year old girls to 50 year old cronies, nor that forbidding him to do so is an imposition of Roman law upon a free people.

For medieval Christian aristocrats to invoke their droit do seigneur was of course not obeisance to pagan ritual at all, but a straight up act of political and military superiority.

It was once normative that a father could literally kill a disobedient son, and it was no business of anyone else in the community. Today this is both aggravated child abuse and first degree murder. And the categorical significance of this to the constitutional authority of the government imprison Jeffs is???

Byzantium was not the Kingdom of Heaven

It was a society that attempted to order itself towards Christ, as a society and in a comprehensive way.

Order itself toward Christ?!?!? When? Where? How?

And since churches are avowedly non-profits, they pay no tax.

Excellent point. If a church owns a business subsidiary, it does pay “unrelated business income.” But donations in the offering plate are not REVENUE in the taxable sense.

Some years ago, the City of Berkeley imposed a license tax on non-profits, similar to a business license, because the city was so full of non-profits and had a shortage of businesses generating revenue. Some eager beaver in the revenue office had the bright idea of ending letters to churches demanding their compliance. The city council backed off out of sheer political prudence, which was too bad because I was having fun constructing constitutional arguments.

To require a church to obtain a license in order to operate is, ipso facto, and Establishment of Religion, and therefore constitutionally barred.

To collect a percentage of voluntary offerings freely given to support the religious mission of a church would be an infringement on Free Exercise.

Thus, the government is barred by both clauses from doing anything of the kind. Naturally the liberals at Hastings law school were pontificating gravely that if the city imposed a tax on non-profits generally, it would be unconstitutional NOT to collect it from churches. But that just goes to show how ignorant law school professors are of the meaning of the First Amendment.

Now one could make a valid argument that the donations a parishioner makes to their church should not be deductible from the parishioner’s taxable income — a different argument entirely. As I’ve said before, I favor abolishing tax-exempt donations, and getting the IRS out of the business of vetting what sort of organizations are worthy of this fundraising advantage. Let people pay their taxes on their individual income, and then donate as they wish, without asking the IRS for an imprimatur of approval, and without seeking any benefit from the general public for their generosity.

#34 Comment By JonF On October 30, 2015 @ 1:18 pm

Re: There is no separation or distance between the spiritual and any part of our life in the world. That’s very basic Christianity.

Well, we disagree then. This world is not Eternity. It is not the New Jerusalem. Confusing it that way results in a very damaged (and sometimes disastrously harmful) view of soteriology and ecclesiology. Salvation is about Forever, not about the here-and-now. Christ himself regularly referenced the very sharp distinction between This World and the Kingdom of Heaven. Medieval theologians divided the world into Earth, Eternity, and Beyond Eternity (I forget the actual Greek terms– some of this comes across though in Dante, albeit in the frame of a medieval cosmology which we know is false). Now, as I said, seeking holiness and the Kingdom of Heaven will have good spillover effects in the here and now. But it’s entirely secondary and not the point of it at all. When you maintain otherwise you are walking the same path as the Prosperity Gospel folk do, and you run the risk of instrumentalizing religion, ignoring its true Good, and only caring that it is good for us.

Re: It was a society that attempted to order itself towards Christ,

And fell badly short, just as we do. Read the loves of the Byzantine rulers (ignoring their propaganda). They were not a bunch of ascetic saints, by and large. Some of them were quite wicked.

Re: Again, some are frightened by the full implications of Christianity, but what they are is what they are.

The fullest implication is that the things of this world are of no lasting value– not as goods, not as griefs. I rather agree with you that that is a hard lesson to absorb and live with– I live here too, after all– but there it is. One of the last things Christ says (speaking to Peter who is still fretting over his own status and future role) in the Gospel is “What of it? Follow me!”

#35 Comment By JonF On October 30, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

Erratum: in the above it should be “LIVES of the Byzantine rulers” Though some of them had some interesting loves too.

#36 Comment By grendel On October 30, 2015 @ 3:27 pm

Corporate entities are taxed on profit, not revenue. There are good and necessary reasons for that. Ms Scarlett’s House of Strippers is taxed under that principle just as the Baptist church up the road is. And since churches are avowedly non-profits, they pay no tax. That’s why they are tax-exempt, not because the government wants to promote religion.

Uh, not exactly. We also tax property. Especially real property. Churches also don’t pay property taxes on property taxes they own. Property taxes typically pay for things like police, fire, sidewalks, streetlights, etc. Those things cost money. Everyone else pays for them. Non-profits don’t. That means everyone else has to pay a bit more. There may be very good social policy reasons for these, but non-profits — including churches — are the beneficiaries of very real public subsidies.
Or I suppose we could just decide not to provide fire and police protection to churches …

#37 Comment By M_Young On October 30, 2015 @ 10:58 pm

“And Christians, like all citizens, continue to have the same basic responsibilities to the country that made them, by dint of their very birth here, safer and more prosperous and with more religious freedom than most of the world.”

You got the causality backward there, buddy. Christians — or rather NW European Christians, made the polity that allows them, and everyone else in it, to be more prosperous etc than they otherwise would be.

“Those responsibilities include willingly paying taxes, accepting the results of elections even when they don’t go the way you like, obeying the laws in the same fashion as everyone else,”

Yet when an election goes against the Left or one of its pet groups, they go snivelling to the nearest court. She Proposition 8.

“registering for the draft and serving as called upon. ”

As of now, only half the population is subject to the draft (officially). Why that should be in our ‘equality’ obsessed era is beyond me.

#38 Comment By Turmarion On October 31, 2015 @ 10:47 am

JonF: Christ himself regularly referenced the very sharp distinction between This World and the Kingdom of Heaven. Medieval theologians divided the world into Earth, Eternity, and Beyond Eternity (I forget the actual Greek terms– some of this comes across though in Dante, albeit in the frame of a medieval cosmology which we know is false).

I think the Scholastic terms are “ [4]” and “eternity”. “Aeviternity” is the mode of existence of angels and of the saints in the World to Come. It is sort of midway between time as we know it and the eternity, which is proper to God alone. The time we experience is linear and extends into the future. Eternity properly so-called is totally beyond time altogether. Aeviternity is not totally transcendent, but it’s beyond ordinary clock time, and it’s never ending.

Another set of terms is “chronos” and “kairos”. “Chronos” is clock time–time as we ordinarily think of it. “Kairos” means in Greek something like “appropriate” or “opportune” time–the fitting instant for something to happen, without regard to clock time. In short, chronos is quantitative time and kairos is qualitative time.

#39 Comment By Thursday On October 31, 2015 @ 2:40 pm

Christ himself regularly referenced the very sharp distinction between This World and the Kingdom of Heaven.

No he did not. The kingdom of heaven starts here, now.

The fullest implication is that the things of this world are of no lasting value– not as goods, not as griefs.

No, this is the exact opposite of Christianity, which affirms this world through the incarnation.

As I said, you confuse Christianity with New Agery and gnosticism.

———–

A good dip in the work of N.T. Wright is a good antidote for this kind of nonsense, if anyone is interested.