Wednesday, November 24, 2010

saints, patriots, heretics and traitors (part two)

At the same time, religion is supposed to represent matters of "ultimate concern" (to borrow Tillich's phrase) and in principle should properly trump other worldly concerns (including law, family and country). Some positive and principled examples which come to mind would be the various peace churches, the Catholic Worker movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and Shane Claiborne (who wrote an interesting book I've mentioned before called Jesus for President). I normally don't think of them as extrememly political but one could also mentioned the Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse to serve in the military, pledge alleigance to flags or sing national anthems.

In the Bible, one of the more well-known proof texts which is typically used to advocate for some kind of compromise between religion and the state is Matthew 22:15-21

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Even though the text is usually quoted to support the idea of compromise, I can't help but wonder if the usual reading is a fundamental misunderstanding. According to the Bible, whose image are we made in? Who is ultimately the Master and Owner of our lives? And in the end, what does Caesar have that God didn't give him in the first place?

In an analagous fashion, Islam tends to eye nationalism with suspicion as a form of idolatry. (Anyone remember Mahmud Abdul-Rauf?) But how can one make a distinction between negative ways of placing creed before country (e.g. Cantor) and positive ones (Martin Luther King)? To be honest, I'm still trying to articulate that for myself.

to be continued....

Planet Grenada:
saints, patriots, heretics and traitors (part one)

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