Sunday, January 27, 2013

Two Quotes About Faith and the Public Sphere

Following up on yesterday's blog post with a lengthy quote from Niall Ferguson's Civilization: The West and the Rest, here are two other passages that struck me in recent reading.

In Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, Bruce Chilton finds that Jesus' teaching subverted the understanding that formal religious rituals alone were necessary for purification and forgiveness, just as his views on God's sovereignty challenged the hegemony of Rome and the Herodian party in Galilee. Chilton then goes on to say:

But a Marxist reading of Jesus, as if he were engaged in a systematic redistribution of wealth, is tiresome and misguided: nothing Jesus did directly undermined any significant Roman or Judaic institution, and his teaching on possessions certainly does not amount to any sort of economic theory. There were and are political and economic consequences in applying his teaching, but that does not make it a political or economic philosophy in its context or motivation. The Kingdom was based on a community's acceptance of the poor, the hungry, the bereaved, and the shunned.
(Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, New York: Doubleday, 2000, 137)

Any minister or priest today can easily recognize characters and relate to the ecclesiastical politics portrayed in Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers, published in 1857. Here the new Bishop of Barchester, Dr. Grantly, and his chaplain The Rev. Obadiah Slope are traveling to the diocese for the first time, and Trollope makes some observations about their views on the church and the political world:

Both men are eager, much too eager, to support and increase the power of their order. Both are anxious that the world should be priest-governed, though they have probably never confessed so much, even to themselves. Both begrudge any other kind of dominion held by man over man. Dr. Grantly, if he admits the Queen's supremacy in things spiritual, only admits it as being due to the quasi-priesthood conveyed in the consecrating qualities of her coronation, and he regards things temporal as being by their nature subject to those which are spiritual. Mr. Slope's ideas of sacerdotal rule are of quite a different class. He cares nothing, one way or the other, for the Queen's supremacy; these to his ears are empty words, meaning nothing. Forms he regards but little, and such titular expressions as supremacy, consecration, ordination, and the like convey of themselves no significance to him. Let him be supreme who can. The temporal king, judge, or gaoler can work but on the body. The spiritual master, if he have the necessary gifts and can duly use them, has a wider field of empire. He works upon the soul. If he can make himself be believed, he can be all powerful over those who listen. If he be careful to meddle with none who are too strong in intellect, or too weak in flesh, he may indeed be supreme. And such was the ambition of Mr. Slope.

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