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The Hagiography of the Barmen Declaration

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Here is George Harinck demolishing the hagiography around the Barmen Declaration, during a lecture at Fuller Seminary.

My notes of his lecture:

it was a theological statement , not a political tract. It was not a protest against National Socialism as such, but against German Protestant Christians who violated the classic Lutheran division of responsibilities between church and state (using Hitler, a nominal Catholic, to advance their ecclessiastical careers).

High-ranking Protestant churchmen (who were also leading Nazi party-members) who attended its Synodical drafting all endorsed it, because they did not see it as a threat to politics. Neither did Hitler, who didn’t want to meddle in church affairs as he did not really understand the Protestant church dynamics.

The backdrop to this is a German Protestant Church that resented the secularization embodied in the Weimar Republic and the ascendant Catholics who led its short-lived reign.

The Nazi ideology appealed to this longing for relevance in the German Protestant Church.

The Declaration was really Karl Barth’s singular ecclessiastical achievement, yet it was more than anything else, an attack on his old enemy — natural theology.

In other words, it was a jeremiad against the new intertwinement between church and culture that National Socialism creeping into the German Protestant church had represented.

Thus, the Barmen Declaration was an attempt to redefine the relationship between the German Protestant church and National Socialism, and not an all-out critique of Nazi ideology as such.

Moreover, it had nothing to say about Hitler’s anti-semitism, and while its six theses quoted from Scripture, none were from the Old Testament, that very Jewish Bible. It was only years later, with the benefit of hindsight, that Barth would frame it as a choice between Christianity and Nazism.

Against this, the Dutch neoCalvinists like Klaas Schilder criticized Barth’s earlier position, arguing that National Socialism was a societal and political evil that must be denounced and resisted. Membership in the Nazi party is demonic participation in a demonic organization. 

Also, Harinck missed Herman Dooyeweerd writing early on against the racism of the Nazi party in his essay, De grondwet van de nieuwe Duitsche evangelische kerk en de positie der Gereformeerden in de “Landskerken” in: Anti-Revolutionaire Staatkunde, maandelijks orgaan, jrg. 09 (1933), p. 433-446

“De kerk heeft reeds haar onaantastbare grenzen tegenover de staat uitgewist, zij heeft reeds een principiële inbreuk op haar wezenskarakter aanvaard, door zich, zij ’t al onder protest van een belangrijke minderheid, te binden aan de rassengrondslag van de nieuw Duitse staatsorde.
Zij heeft de bekende Ariërparagraaf uit de Duitse ambtenarenwet ook op de geestelijke ambtsdragers van toepassing verklaard en zich ook ten aanzien van de kerkelijke huwelijksbevestiging op het rassenstandpunt gesteld. De (nat.-soc.) Duitsche christenen dreven dit besluit door. […]
Maar de Christelijke kerk kan niet gedogen, dat zij aan een “rassen-theorie” wordt gebonden. Zij kan niet, zonder geestelijk zelfmoord te plegen, afwijken van de leer van het Evangelie, dat in Christus geen onderscheid kan zijn tussen Griek of Jood. […]
Welnu, dan volge de kerk ook niet de “rassenpolitiek” van de nieuwe staatsorde.”

(“The church has already erased its untouchable borders from the state, it has already accepted a fundamental violation of its essence by committing itself, albeit in protest of an important minority, to the racial basis of the new German state order. She has also declared the well-known Aryan paragraph from the German civil service law applicable to the spiritual office holders and has also taken the racial standpoint with regard to the ecclesiastical marriage affirmation. The (nat.-soc.) German Christians made this decision. […]
But the Christian church cannot tolerate being bound to a “racial theory.” Without committing spiritual suicide, it cannot deviate from the teaching of the Gospel, which in Christ cannot distinguish between Greek and Jew. […]
Well, then the church does not follow the “racial policy” of the new state order. “)

[My thanks to Jan der Nederlanden for pointing out these resources].

There’s much to learn from this in relation to current events.

Written by Romel

June 17, 2020 at 6:35 am

On the Uses (and Abuses) of Religion in the Public Square by Public Officials –

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I am not quite a Rawlsian when it comes to the use of religion in the public square. I tend to be a mixture of the Hauerwasian and the Habermasian in these things. 

So it piqued my interest when, three days after the NTC “killed” analog ABS-CBN, I read House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano ‘s statement crucifying Sol Gen Calida for his alleged “constitutional meddling” in a matter that belongs to the legislature’s “sphere sovereignty”, to use that very Protestant concept. 

I know Sol Gen Calida knows his Bible very well — not too long ago I read his published testimony about how the Lord Jesus Christ transformed his heart from his younger womanizing ways into a dedicated husband. 

I wonder what his reaction will be when he reads the long note from his fellow avid Bible reader, Speaker Cayetano, which starts with prophetic warning from the ancient Jewish prophet Jeremiah: “But you, LORD, know all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”(Jeremiah 18:23, NIV)

Any plain reading of the biblical text deployed here would give the impression that, per Speaker Cayetano, Sol Gen Calida :

1. Has been plotting to “kill” the Speaker (at the very least, figuratively);
2. It is sinful of Sol Gen Calida to do so;
3. Sol Gen Calida, a self-confessed born again Christian like Speaker Cayetano, is a sinner who does not deserve forgiveness;
4. God will overthrow Sol Gen Calida for his sins against Speaker Cayetano;
5. And God will do so in the time of God’s anger.

These are powerful statements, perhaps, as powerful as the one attributed to Pilate by the gospel writers –

‘When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”‘ (Matthew 27:24, NIV)

PS – apologies to my Reformed Protestant friends; like Speaker Cayetano, I use the NIV out of evangelical habits, though for deeper study, I tend to use my old red Oxford Revised Standard Bible (that standard liberal text!).

Written by Romel

May 8, 2020 at 4:02 am

When Filipino evangelical christians invoke Romans 13 like a magical incantation….

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For the German Calvinist jurist Johannes Althusius (1557-1638), the biblical call to obey divinely-ordained rulers presupposes, to begin with, that they are legitimate representatives of God. 

However, when they offend God and defy true religion, they cease to be God’s servants and become tyrannous. As tyrants, they lose their political offices and return to private life; they then become subject to the natural rights of self-defense. 

Althusius was the first thinker – Protestant or Catholic – to offer a systematic account of political and communal life (probably outside of Thomas Aquinas). 

This he made in his famous work Politica Methodice Digesta, Atque Exemplis Sacris et Profanis Illustrata (1610), which is often invoked as the political theoretical basis of federated states today as well as of the Protestant political principle of” sphere sovereignty.

Althusius, according to the American legal scholar John Witte in his 2007 book Reformation of Rights, is distinguished for his idea that tyranny is essentially a “constitutional violation.” 

By this, he means “a violation of the political covenant by which the polity itself was constituted, a violation of the constitutional duties of the rulers and the fundamental rights of the people as set out in this political covenant, and even more fundamentally a violation of the natural law and natural rights that undergird and empower all constitutions and covenants.” 

Witte explains further:

‘For Althusius, a tyrant was a magistrate who acted “illegally and unnaturally” (contra legem et naturam) in breach of the contractual and covenantal duties that he or she swore to God and to the people. Any “egregious,” “chronic,” “persistent,” “pervasive,” “willful,” “intentional,” and “widespread” breach of a ruler’s constitutional duties, abuse of his constitutional powers, neglect of his constitutional offices, usurpation of another’s constitutional office, or violation of the people’s constitutional rights and liberties was, for Althusius, a prima facie case of tyranny. ‘

Here, the jurist of Emden was merely following the logic of John Calvin’s commentary on Romans 13. Here, Calvin writes for instance that:



Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the wellbeing of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects, they are therefore debtors also to them. And private men are reminded, that it is through the divine goodness that they are defended by the sword of princes against injuries done by the wicked (emphasis supplied).

Althusius, says Witte, also considered as prima facie tyrannical violations of due process the following, especially if done systematically

“false arrests, accusations, indictments, and sentences of innocent parties, false imprisonment or protracted pre-trial incarceration, torture, starvation, or enslavement of prisoners, use of anonymous indictments and untested evidence, denial of rights to defend oneself, to have counsel, to examine hostile witness, to introduce exculpatory evidence, or even to have one’s day in court following prescribed procedures, imposition of extraor- dinary tribunals or ex post facto laws, use of biased, bribed, or incompetent judges, imposition of unjust, inequitable, or widely variant punishments, failure to grant appeals of motions, judgments, or sentences, excessive fines, cruel punishments, and more.”

For Althusius, these systematic abuses require a systematic constitutional response.

Now dear Filipino Protestant evangelical christians, please apply that to our current political quandary.

Jonathan Chaplin and H. Dooyeweerd’s Theory of the State

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Those familiar with the political philosopher  Dr. Jonathan Chaplin’s writings on the theme of the State will note that the key concerns found in his first two major works as a scholar dealing with an important component of the corpus of the late Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd’s body of thought are for the most part echoed in his most recent book – specifically in the chapters that dealt with the various issues implicated in Dooyeweerd’s theory of the state. In fact, these, all taken together, consist of at least a third of the book’s main body of 317 pages.

Indeed, the two main questions raised by Chaplin on Dooyeweerd’s theory of the state are either restated or further clarified in Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society – without doubt, in the words of a noted American scholar of law and religion, “the go-to book on Dooyeweerd for many years to come.”

It is in this book where he foists what is yet his most radical  if not compelling  challenge to the Dooyeweerdian State – his thesis that while the State decidedly has a leading function,  it has no founding function.

I responded  to his critique of Dooyeweerd yesterday during a panel at the opening of the  2nd Kuyper Seminar at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, to which he graciously listened. In part, I said in my paper on The State in International Law: Reformational Insights:

Chaplin argues that if coercion is written into the structural principle, how can it be consistent with its supposed basis in a good creation? Dooyeweerd, he notes, holds that such coercive power has been incorporated into the world order on account of sin; the state thus is an institution of “common” or “preserving grace” established with a soteriological aim of preserving temporal society in its differentiated condition.

Chaplin suggests that there is an incoherence between Dooyeweerd’s notion that pre-fall, the state’s sword function has been incorporated into creational norms from the very beginning and the latter’s contention that the state was instituted post-fall, on account of sin.

Chaplin thinks coercion cannot be consistently built into structural principles since structural principles are conceived as grounded in the original order of creation that was yet unmarred by sin.

This inconsistency could only arise from Dooyeweerd’s misreading of the state’s positive form (the territorial monopoly of coercive power) into its invariant or in his own words, “enduring” structural principle.

So Chaplin asks,  given that the state needs power of many kinds in order to advance public justice, is historical power so evidently more important than the state’s other functions such as the maintenance of territory and the collection of taxes?

He understands that for Dooyeweerd coercive power is indispensable to giving the state its unique identity, to distinguishing it from other institutions in society. But this, according to him, seems a questionable approach, as that it can still be argued that while the state does have a leading function, it does not necessarily imply that this function is “uniquely related to the possession of historical power.”

Still, for Chaplin it is not quite the case that we need to have an historical function to give the state its unique identity. It’s enough that we know it’s purpose is to ensure public justice. After all, while it can be said that the founding function is related to the leading function, but it is also related to other functions of the state; while it is true that coercive power seems to have been a feature of all known states, so has economic or other forms of power. Thus, Chaplin says that Dooyeweerd’s argument that coercive power is unique and so foundational does not compel and the attempt to single out one function as having a privileged link to the leading function seems artificial.  

Thus, he concludes that the state has no founding function.

Following this reformulation, there is a need therefore to transfer the coercive element into the variable side of human positivation. The better account, Chaplin says, is that the state’s coercive power is an historical development developed or positivized in response to sin, but is not part of its typical structure or its inner structural principle.

In this way then, he says, we can look at the state and the UN, or all bodies organized as public legal communities, as having the same typical structure, but with variegated positive forms.

From there it now becomes easy for Chaplin to suggest that based on Dooyeweerd’s notion of the “internal opening process” of societal structures,  the UN can perhaps be identified as an “international ‘state’ at the very early stage;” it is analogous to emerging nation-states prior to their development as an authority over a defined territory enforced by coercion, or an “ ‘immature’ international state” that needs further positivation so as to help realize the “pressing normative historical mission facing humankind in the sphere of public justice.”

This is an advantageous approach, he says, because it is more sensitive to the dynamics of the evolution of structures whose task is to establish public justice and avoids the danger of regarding the nation-state as sacrosanct, historically finalized structure

 The normative peculiarity of the state

…..the apparent contradiction between a good creation and the state’s monopoly of the sword written into its structural principle is Chaplin’s strongest argument for revising Dooyeweerd’s original conception.

Why should the state’s founding function based on a monopoly of coercion be inconsistent with an originally good creation? My argument is that it is good because God has put in place every possible support for human flourishing, whether in their obedience or disobedience. This is a necessary implication of the gift of free will to humanity – the capacity to choose between good and evil.

It also resonates with the idea, at least of human ways of living, of having been endowed with the capacity for good or for evil – the classic Kuyperian sense of the anti-thesis, where each human community or inter-relationship may either be directed towards God or towards some aspect of creation that it has turned into an idol.

Such a capacity cannot but clearly imply a divine anticipation of negative and positive consequences.  In Scripture, when God gave the first humans a choice between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God also laid down what the consequences were of opting for one or the other (Gen. 2:8; 3:1-4) .

This also implies that God, at the very least, knew what the consequences were of human choosing between life and death. Certainly, God’s sovereignty is severely limited by a view that He only conceived of the state after humanity sinned, as an ex post facto imposition.  It can well be argued that God’s sovereignty has seen it best to institute creational ordinances that would address any possible negative consequences of human choosing.

Hence the state is not a divine afterthought; to say that it was instituted as a response to the fall is only to stress the historical nature of its establishment. This is the better way of understanding or re-reading Dooyeweerd’s suggestion that the state has been incorporated into the world-order after the fall.

A new, post-fall, structural principle did not appear and slide without friction into the original order, as Chaplin suggests. Rather, as a principle set in place to response to a contingency, it was activated when the condition for which it was devised arose.  

His proposal seemingly paints divine sovereignty into a rather awkward picture where having been caught unprepared, God finds himself instituting after the fact of human sin the state with a monopoly of sword power to curtail human capacity for abuse. In this way, Chaplin can argue that Dooyeweerd seems to have suggested a situation where new creational ordinance slide seamlessly into the created order after the fact of the fall, despite his own contention that no new such ordinances can arise in history. 

A sensible alternative to Chaplin’s view is that from before human history, from before creation itself, God had already set in place ordinances that would govern the unfolding of the state in whatever context there maybe, giving allowance for the consequences of human freedom.

The founding function of the state in the form that it has now is consistent with a good creation in the sense that even at the point of creation, a good Creator, knowing all the possible consequences of the gift of free will to humanity, has in his sovereign will, set in place creational ordinances adequate to address such consequences.

In a world without sin – a Christian account of the state can perhaps say that all that the state needs is public trust to sustain itself, as Chaplin himself has suggested in another context.

This is just another way of saying that public trust may well be  the structural principle God has designed for a state unveiled in a pre-fall context. The other side of the coin is that the same divine providence has, at the point of creation, established an ordinance – a structural principle – that would apply in the event of human disobedience. Hence we have two sides of the same coin of creation that, in the beginning, was in fact “very good.”

The simultaneous realization of norms as a task of the state

To recall, Chaplin finds to be questionable Dooyeweerd’s view connecting the leading function specifically to the possession of historical power as the state’s founding function. Indeed he wonders why – given that the state needs power of many kinds in order to advance public justice – historical power is so evidently more important than the state’s other functions such as the maintenance of territory and the collection of taxes.

The question, I believe, can be properly answered by a careful analysis of the Dooyeweerd’s theory of modal aspects, in which in the process of disclosure, anticipatory and retrocipatory aspects interact, where the lower aspects serve as substratum to the higher aspects, and where the higher aspects reach back to deepen the workings of the lower aspects.

In the counter-examples given by Chaplin, from the point of view of disclosure, the maintenance of the territory and the collection of taxes are not even possible without the priority of the state being able to establish itself with the exclusive display of sovereign powers within its territory.

The fundamental and definitive nature of the founding function of the state will require the historical opening up of the substratum supporting it  (retrocipatory aspects) as well as the disclosure of the complex of its superstructure — the anticipatory aspects — that contribute to the disclosure and deepening of the meaning of the state’s task as an institution.

Bob Goudzwaard has underscored this as the task of the state to ensure the “simultaneous realization of norms.” Yet it must be stressed that the simultaneous realization of norms is not possible without the undergirding of the state’s historical power.

The reverse of a positive simultaneous realization of norms is a situation where a state experiences a simultaneous breakdown in key functions as seen in several contemporary examples of the so-called “failed states.”; all too often, this does not happen all at once but is a gradual process that eventually leads to a severe stress to the state in many fronts; It takes a complex of factors –and not just the loss of public trust – for the state to fall apart.

The state’s founding function is at the heart of the state-formation project; it is what grants the state its “normative peculiarity” –to borrow a phrase from political philosopher Matthias Risse – or what distinguishes states from other institutions in society.

Risse argues that this normative peculiarity is characterized by an “immediacy” in the state’s coercive function not otherwise displayed by other institutions in the international legal order.  There are two dimensions in which such immediacy is expressed: in law enforcement and in politics, according to Rise.  The first pertains to the fact that “living in a state means living in an environment where enforcement agencies pervasively have such access, and where it is up to internal political processes to regulate what specific shape such access takes and what constraints it is subject to.”

The second deals with the fact that “ it is the state that provides the environment in which individuals’ basic rights are, or fail to be, realized.”

While international organizations may be interested as well in both questions – in the proper enforcement of rules and in the protection and the promotion of the basic rights of citizens and other entities within a state’s territory– at the most basic level, it is the state that provides both the environment and the structures that make these twin concerns possible:

Legal and political immediacy, then, characterize what is peculiar about the state’s coerciveness. Citizenship is membership in an association for which these two features are distinctive, and those two aspects of the immediacy of the relationship between the states and its citizens provide reasons for associative duties restricted to people who share a citizenship.

Questions of ontology aside, the immediacy of the state’s legal and political structures to citizens within its territory  also undercuts  the practicability of Chaplin’s  argument – a necessary implication of his assertion that the state has no founding function – that we may treat the UN as an  immature “international ‘state’ at the very early stage” that needs further positivization so as to help realize the “pressing normative historical mission facing humankind in the sphere of public justice.”

Quite the contrary, the state is a necessary, though not necessarily sufficient, normatively peculiar institution performing such an historical mission.  Stated another way, the task of public justice still rests primarily on the shoulders of the state.

Indeed, as Skillen has noted a long time ago, human rights “are tied in with the very meaning of justice and injustice in states and thus cannot be protected or enhanced in abstraction from actual state and interstate structures.”  In other words, if the very character of the sovereign state is part of the problem, every effort to advance human rights without changing the function and identity of states will lead to failure.

——————————————-

Later over dinner at De Latie, we had a most pleasant conversation, discussing in detail our respective interpretations of the problem of the state.  He said my position echoes in some ways Dr. Jim Skillen‘s response to his theory; having listened to my talk on the connection or the lack of it between the state’s coercive powers and creation, he said he could see it’s plausibility and is in fact convinced by it, adding that it may constitute a “third interpretation” because according to him, Dooyeweerd actually said that the state is a post-fall institution established by God through a special ordinance. On the other hand, my view holds that the state’s sword power was a potentiality in the creation ordinance established by God to respond to human contingency.

He also said he might have used the rather infelicitous phrase “immature state” to describe the UN but maintained his critique of Dooyeweerd’s formulation of the state as if it were a final and fixed structural principle. He still doesn’t see why its historical founding function should be a defining element of the state.  I said that Dooyeweerd’s “transcendental empirical” method actually will show that what international law calls “effectiveness” is a well-established historical fact as far as the formation of states is concerned.

We also talked about Dooyeweerd’s reading of Aquinas and according to him, through Robert Sweetman’s work, he became convinced that Dooyeweerd has gotten Aquinas wrong in some ways.  According to him, it appears that Dooyeweerd, while he read Aquinas, was influenced a great deal by commentaries from the 19th century that carried the dualist line identified with  the Spanish Suarez school. Today, he said, there has been a recovery of Aquinas as a more integral thinker, and cited the works of Jean Porter as an important  influence in the rethinking of Thomism as a movement of thought. “Jim Skilen, however, does not agree with me,” he said with a wink, motioning to the direction of Dr. Skillen, who was seated at the next table with an American  friend of mine, Courtney Kane, who is doing her master’s on Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, also at the Vrije Universiteit.

His attitude, according to him, is to work with Thomists on common grounds. “The opposition to the Christian tradition is very strong,” he said. “I’d rather that I get as much help as I can from people who, while I may disagree with them on other points, share the same  moral convictions as I have.” He noted that in the context of where he is right now– the UK– most evangelicals hardly care about intellectual dialogue with other Christian traditions while among Catholics, the intellectuals read Catholic social teaching from standard social democratic lens. “I often have to tell them that they need to look faithfully and closely at the deep resources found in their own tradition.”

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The Comedy of Corruption

Filipinos are among the happiest people in the world. They know how to get a good laugh out of the worst situations. They simply grin and bear it. Just consider how they get back at corrupt public officials — through countless jokes passed around by SMS. The Erap jokes come to mind. But can they match the Italians in the game of making humor an effective anti-corruption measure?

In connection with the raging brouhaha over the “ZTE-FG” Broadband Scandal, methinks Filipinos can learn a thing or two from an Italian comedian — on how to take humor farther and use it to fight corruption, literally. Beppe Grillo is a national celebrity in his home country for doing just that, not only using political satire as a tool to shame corrupt public officials but also as a tool of some sort to prosecute them. New Yorker correspondent Tom Mueller writes how Grillo became a comedian of corruption, and how his brand of humor has led to the public undoing — and prosecution — of many a corrupt Italian politician and corporation. Click here . (Warning to the faint of heart : this excellent essay is punctuated by adult language).

Written by Romel

February 8, 2008 at 10:03 am

Posted in humor, Politics

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