In this episode of Marksism, Mark Tooley and Marc LiVecche discuss Dan Strand’s Christian Realist perspective on the George Floyd verdict, a critical review of Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, and Ian Speir’s review of Andrew Walker’s Liberty for All.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow editor Marc LiVecche. We’re missing the third Mark(c), Mark Melton, this week, but Marc LiVecche and myself hopefully are more than enough as we review three articles from Providence this week. One is a response to the George Floyd conviction in Minneapolis, a piece by Daniel Strand. The second is an article review of Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise. And the third is a review of Andrew Walker’s new book on religious freedom. But we’ll start with Dan Strand and the George Floyd ruling, which Dan Strand makes the case, as a Christian realist, that the conviction of the police officer who killed George Floyd can be affirmed as an act of justice, and yet there is still a sense of less than satisfaction, as there is in any sort of temporal justice, in that not all has been repaired. And we must expect that not all can be repaired in this fallen universe. So, we can only expect, or expect at best, an approximate justice, which leaves many people feeling understandably dissatisfied and wanting so much more. But that desire for so much more is kind of itself the source of corrosion in our social fabric. So, Marc LiVecche, as a fellow Christian realist, what was your response to the ruling and to Dan Strand’s thoughts?
LiVecche: Yeah, I think, like Dan Strand, there’s a satisfaction that justice was done; we can now start talking about things in a more affirmative and not conditional sense. He’s not the alleged murderer, it wasn’t an alleged injustice, it was a declared injustice. So, there’s a grim satisfaction in something like that, regardless of where one sits maybe on the exact charges and the exact verdicts. There was something terribly wrong in what happened, and now to have that declared is a part of justice. From an Aristotelian sense, justice as a virtue is giving to each their due, right. And that’s been affirmed in Cicero, it’s been affirmed in Thomas Aquinas, and so, I think that lays the groundwork for how a Christian realist ought to perceive justice. It’s simply giving to each their due. And part of that is always going to be discrimination. That’s why in the Just War tradition, sort of as an aside, we have discrimination and proportionality as two of the elements of the jus in bello criteria, because they are things that emerged out of the work of justice. If you’re giving each their due, you have to be proportionate in how you approach an injustice. You can’t do too much; you can’t do too little. You also have to be discriminate, which means making judgments about guilt and innocence, good and evil. So, that’s the satisfying bit about justice. And then, as you’ve touched on, the unsatisfying part is imperfection in this world. We know that justice does not fall from heaven whole cloth and ready-made and fully baked. God utilizes fractured human beings to be his justice makers, and we are always going to be imperfect at that, both because there’s only so much that can be done this side of the eschaton, and because we have, ourselves, mixed motives. Again, part of the unsatisfying part of the verdict is that there is no healing presently that can be seen on either side. You still have partisan divisions and all the rest. So, justice is imperfect, but it’s a necessary precursor to peace. Peace is not something that can be had on its own. Peace has to be the fruit of other virtues, such as justice. So, now the grounds have been laid in part for at least some sort of reconciliation to take told, and that’s the aspiration that I know have.
Tooley: Well, on a related topic in terms of race and America, a review by Timothy Cutler of a very popular book in many evangelical circles, called The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. Tisby himself is in the Presbyterian Church of America, so in conservative evangelicalism, but of late is now working with Ibram Kendi at the Antiracism Center in Boston. So, I have been concerned about the influence of Tisby’s book, especially in a number of prominent evangelical churches in Washington, DC, in that it offers an almost entirely negative examination of America. That its history is intrinsically and completely racist with almost no redemptive qualities, and it’s not offering a lot of hope in its conclusions. And in that sense, it lacks, I think, a very deep Christian eschatology. But the reviewer makes the point that it reminded him of the books he read as a young Christian home schooler which offered a very simplistic overview of American history from a conservative perspective in terms of American exceptionality and being an almost sinless nation. Tisby is the inverse of that same America, as indeed exceptional but exceptionally sinful. And the reviewer finds no explicitly Christian public theology in the book, simply one dark chapter after another of perpetual injustice, and an expectation of, if not perfection, then of some imagined ideal suggesting that well, the Founding Fathers could simply have abolished slavery at the start and that could have avoided so much injustice, if so that were a realistic option at the time. A member of the Presbyterian Church of America should have a deep appreciation for human sinfulness and depravity, but that seems to be missing from Tisby’s book. He sees America as depraved, but human nature perhaps not so much. Or am I exaggerating do you think, Marc LiVecche?
LiVecche: No, that seems about right. It stresses the truism, we’ll often say he who doesn’t learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. That’s fine; that’s true. But the opposite is true as well. He who learns from the mistakes of history is not quite likely to make equal, but opposite, mistakes. That seems to be at least a part of Tisby’s book. I haven’t read his book, as a confession. I suppose I’m probably doing that for my own spiritual health. The two bits that I take away from the review, which I found striking, one is just helpful because it articulates a tacit suspicion that I’ve had. And he notes that by Tisby’s reducing everything to simple constructs, he makes any sort of rational reasoning, any rational discussion, essentially impossible because he’s taken it out of the realm of rational discourse and he puts it into the realm of sort of pure imaginative narrative. So, one of the other things that I found striking is, whereas the books that he grew up with as a child, our reviewer, and sort of the deintellectualization of the Christian right, is arguably what we’re beginning to see, or are seeing now, on the Christian left. That there is a move away from the intellectual life, and instead into a life of sound bites and images and narrative and emotivism. And if that becomes sort of the grounding of the Christian left’s ability to have a conversation, then no conversation can be had. Because just sort of by nature, there’s no argument being forwarded, just assertions and hyperbolic images. And so, that I think is not good news, because it seems to me that difference is sorted out through honest dialogue. And if honest dialogue is impossible, then all we’re going to be left with is the emotion. And that certainly seems to me to go some distance in being an explanatory key for what we’re seeing on the streets, and in the pulpits, and the journals, and everywhere else. There seems to be fairly few arguments, and a whole lot of images that produce heat, but no real light.
Tooley: Finally, taking a look at the review of Andrew Walker’s Liberty for All. Andrew of course is a sometimes contributor to Providence, now teaching at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, and his book is reviewed for us by Ian Speir, a Colorado attorney and specialist in religious freedom. And Baptists historically, of course, are distinguished for their longtime advocacy for religious freedom, often from a separatist perspective, and drawing very clear lines between state and civil life, especially religious life. But Andrew seems to offer a somewhat unique perspective of proposing that the epoch between Christ’s walk on earth and the end of times is that in the mercy and grace of providence, there is the concession offered for religious liberty to occur, in which all have the choice to choose for the Gospel or for other options. A little bit at odds with, as Ian Speir points out, more traditional Christian theology, in which it is assumed that each human person, as an image bearer of God, has a conscience and a choice in terms of where they end up religiously. Sort of a more permanent understanding of religious liberty, whereas for Andrew Walker it’s more around temporary and concessional. What were your thoughts, Marc LiVecche?
LiVecche: It’s interesting, again, I haven’t read this book either, Walker’s book, but I think Ian Speir sold me a copy. I’m very interested to see it. As Ian lays it out, his critique of Andrew on this point seems I think solid. It seems to me that human freedom is an aspect of imago Dei. God created human beings to love him. Love is free or it’s not love; it can’t be coerced. Love carries risk, right. The risk is that we refuse that love. And it seems to me that that risk carries forward. I don’t believe that hell is simply a place that God casts people to punish them; they tread water in the lake of fire forever as sort of the penalty of our sins. I think hell is a place where God is known and he’s not worshiped, because people choose not to worship him. George MacDonald’s line in C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce where he says, “Ultimately, there are two kinds of people, those who say to God, ‘Your will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘You will be done.’” I think that holds. So, human freedom, including religious freedom, I think is just a part of what it means to be a human being, so I don’t see that ending when the clouds part and Christ returns. At the same time, I suspect Andrew might not be saying otherwise, he might simply be saying look, in the end times there will be no need for religious freedom because folks will have sorted themselves out. I’m an ethicist; I will be jobless in heaven. I suspect there will be no need for my job. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll do something grand. So, if he means something like that, which I suspect he kind of must because I don’t think he’s going to deny the existence of hell or human freedom or the costs and risks of love, etc., but it’s an interesting point. So, I’d like to know more.
Tooley: Yes, like you, I didn’t think that the two perspectives are necessarily at odds. The believer in imago Dei, as you say, at the end of time there’s no longer a need for religious freedom. That all has been sorted out.
LiVecche: The other piece of all this that I think presents kind of a golden thread through all three pieces that we’ve read is this idea of an inaugurated eschatology and the ramifications that that ought to have on how we behave in this world. So, even if we don’t take it from God’s perspective but simply from a human perspective, when we argue for religious freedom, we need to be careful to argue for religious freedom and not simply Christian freedom, though that might be our preference, right. If for no other reasons, are practical ramifications. My wife and I pushed against some of the curriculum in the Chicago public school system that was being foisted upon our children, and the best allies we found were Muslims and Mormons, because we share at least a common set of assumptions, maybe imperfect, or definitely imperfectly, but we share a common set of assumptions. And so, it made us willing and eager allies. We shouldn’t lose that, that’s one thing. But also, this idea of an inaugurated eschatology pushes back against us and patients that you touched on, when it comes to matters of justice, because we know that there is an eschatology and we know how things will work out. We’ve read the end of the story, or it’s been read for us, and we know justice wins. And so we sit impatiently on that. But it seems to me that Christians above all should be profoundly patient people. We know that history takes time, we know that God is giving it time, and we need to do likewise. That’s not an excuse to sit back and not push justice along as fast as it can be pushed along, but it does remind us that if we push too hard, we end up breaking all sorts of things. You don’t want cancer surgery rushed, you want it done at an expeditious pace, as quickly as possible, but you want it done precisely and carefully. You don’t want the surgery to be worse than the disease. So, I think part of the price, or the need, in living in the now and not yet is a deep reservoir of impatient patients, right.
Tooley: So, this distinction that Ian Speir draws, the end result is essentially the same, but it does have applications in terms of how we portray our faith and live it out in temporal terms.
LiVecche: Nicely said.
Tooley: Marc LiVecche, what are you working on for next week?
LiVecche: Dan Strand and I just finished, I don’t know what part, but we finished another episode of True North, talking about right intention and how war and peace are not discontinuous entities that have no commensurability, they’re completely compatible. So, that’s coming out sometime early next week. I would like to write a piece on commander’s intent. I’ve been reading a lot of Jim Mattis lately, and he has a doctrinal position that within the military, one of a commander’s chief aims is to provide a sense of his intent, and then to unleash the creativity of his subordinates to carry out that intent. There is tremendous freedom so long as the side constraint of that intention remains, and I think that has an awful lot to say about how rules work in the moral life. And I want to see if I can raise some hackles and tackle that a little bit.
Tooley: Looking forward to it and to another episode of Marksism. Marc LiVecche, until next week, bye-bye.