Hunter follows his chapter on the Christian Right with a chapter on the Christian Left. As with the previous chapter, this one is mostly overview of the players and positions, and it is a helpful overview.
While there is a temptation to dash off to engage with some silly thing or other that Jim Wallis said, I will for the most part refrain. The point is to engage with Hunter, and not with those he is reporting on here. But allow me just one little indulgence? The Sojourners/Call to Renewal document is cited, which says, “The Hebrew prophets consistently say that the measure of a nation’s righteousness and integrity is how it treats the most vulnerable” (p. 138). Exactly. And even if we leave the unborn out of it (which the Hebrew prophets would not allow us to do), this is precisely why leftism is such a pathetic counterfeit of the Hebrew prophetic tradition. Economic illiteracy is a principal cause of poverty, and watching it parade around as though it were capable of creating wealth by simply wishing for it is a bit thick. Watching Jim Wallis advise the president on economics is like hearing that Typhoid Mary got herself appointed as the head of the Center for Disease Control.
Okay, I feel better. Now just a few comments on Hunter’s review of the Christian Left. In both instancesmy comments have to do with something that the Christian Right and Left share, and which Hunter apparently believes he does not share. (But, being a human being, he actually does.)
“Like politically conservative Christians, politically progressive Christians also are defined by and operate within a reading of myth and history” (p. 132).
“It is only natural, then, that history is recounted in ways that reinforce the mythic ideals of the group” (p. 134).
But on my reading of what makes up a worldview in the first place (dogma, narrative, symbol, and liturgy), this observation that both parties have a mythic understanding of their own history is as unremarkable as pointing out that they all have ten toes. Everyone has a worldview, and every worldview has a mythic understanding of its own history, story, origins, and so forth. In this sense, “mythic” is not synonymous with “false.” It can be false, and most of them are, but all of them have this component. It is part of being human. No people are without it, and if we managed to postulate such a group, they would have to call themselves the “lost people.”
In short, myths can be debunked, and doing so is fair game. But what is not helpful is to act like the mere possession of such a narrative history of your movement or people constitutes that debunking. This is because even the debunkers do what they do in the grip of their myth — they are the fearless, Enlightenment myth-hunters!
Hunter’s second objection is to the idea of a civil religion, an idea he rightly points out as shared by both Left and Right.
“The political goals are different but the realpolitik is, in essence, identical to the long-standing instrumentalization of the Christian conservative constituency by the Republican Party — control over the power of the State” (p. 149).
According to Hunter, Jim Wallis turns “progressive religion into a civil religion of the left.”
“It may be a more compassionate civil religion than what one finds in the American mainstream, but it is just a different expression of the same phenomenon, not something different from it. Both Right and Left, then, aspire to a righteous empire” (p. 147).
This is quite true, and leads me to ask the question — and perhaps you could see this coming — “and what’s wrong with civil religion?” What’s wrong with aspiring to righteous empire, the alternative being unrighteous empire?
The quiet subtext is that Constantine screwed up. But I am well-protected from this quiet subtext in that I am currently reading a manuscript of Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine, due out in a few months from IVP. All I have to say about it at this juncture is boy, howdy.