Rough Transcript

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow editor and fellow Mark(c), Marc LiVecche. We’re going to discuss three pieces from Providence this week. Firstly, an interview with Joshua Mauldin at the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton, regarding his new book on Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and modern politics. Secondly, we will discuss Paul Marshall’s piece on the Ayatollah Sistani and Islamic rule, or Islamic rule in Iraq. And finally, Marc LiVecche will share about his own piece on integrity. So, first of all, starting with the Josh Mauldin piece, he essentially believes that both Barth and Bonhoeffer were believers in liberal democracy of some sort from a right of center perspective, and that they both were Christian realists of some sort. Although, Karl Barth himself would not have shared say Reinhold Niebuhr’s enthusiasm or passion for the American project. And he readily admits to weaknesses or oversights by both of them. For example, Karl Barth, although prescient and correct in his critique of the Third Reich, was not nearly so prescient and correct in his analysis or perceptions about the Soviet Union or what was at stake during the Cold War. So, Marc LiVecche, I’m sure you have some familiarity with Barth and Bonhoeffer on these questions. What were your thoughts?

LiVecche: It was a great interview. Happy to see it. I’m excited to read the book. It’s interesting to juxtapose. Bonhoeffer is often juxtaposed with interesting people. I think the juxtaposing with Barth is fascinating. As the question of them being champions of liberal democracy on the surface, I’m no Barthian scholar by any means, but on the surface, it seems to make some sense. What I mean by that is I think famous, or infamous depending on where you sit, for his notion, I think he called them virtual Christians, the recognition that there’s moral even Christian wisdom that can be found outside the church. Different people can participate in that in various ways. One doesn’t have to at least knowingly be a self-declared Christian in order to have say. So that grounds dignity broadly. That grounds, it takes a liberal perspective and gives a mechanism for pluralistic people to be able to function together. There’s probably a kind of basis for a liberal society. So, that seems to work for me. As to the question of Christian realism, of course, I think Bonhoeffer was a Christian realist in the vein of Reinhold Niebuhr in terms that they both shared a certain I suppose Lutheran anxiety about the use of force. Lutheranism generally I think lacks some of the nuance that I think other variants of Christian realism have, being able to distinguish between political action that results in what a Lutheran might wring their hands and say is dirty hands, and a different kind of Christian realist would say well, not everything that results in an evil is necessarily moral evil. Killing as an evil in that it deprives one of the good of life. That’s clear. But to engage in a legitimate kill doesn’t necessarily stain one’s hands, because not all evils are moral evils. And we can do certain things that we would rather not have to do in an ideal world without being morally guilty. And I think Bonhoeffer, it depends, if you ask Jean Elshtain, she would have said Bonhoeffer wasn’t wringing his hands nearly as much as people say. But there was a certain hand wringing when it came to whether or not one should engage in lethal action against Hitler. I think in a good Christian realist fashion, he eventually embarked upon that course, but he didn’t need to be so anxious about it.

Tooley: Now Josh Mauldin does say that he was familiar with the work of Patrick Deneen and the other advocates of illiberalism of late, and he thinks that Barth and Bonhoeffer would both disagree with their conclusions that liberal democracy is the fruit of social decadence. And, in fact, they would appreciate that liberal democracy is an accomplishment for in some sense upholding the appreciation for human dignity and human equality and for settling or postponing certain human conflicts that would have been more prevalent in the past.

LiVecche: Yeah, that’s right. I think that’s sound. I’m not yet convinced that the decadence that we see is a feature of liberalism, rather than simply an unfortunate bug. So, yeah, I would applaud that interpretation of Bonhoeffer and Barth for sure.

Tooley: Paul Marshall wrote a piece responding to media coverage of the Pope’s historic visit to Iraq and his visit there with the Ayatollah Sistani, the Shiite leader in Iraq, and comments that many media portrayed Sistani as advocating essentially a Western view of the so-called separation of church and state, when in fact it’s a very different perspective. Sistani, as a Muslim cleric, does support a society infused with Islamic values, but does not expect the administrative apparatus of the state to be directly controlled by clerics as it is in theocratic Iran. So, that seems to be an important distinction.

LiVecche: Yeah, I think that would be in the category of important distinction. Absolutely. What I love about Paul Marshall is he’s a great example of why, this might be an overstatement and I don’t mean to say one ought to leave everything to the experts by no means, but he’s a great example of why experts and expertise matters. So, he manages to thread a line, he doesn’t throw the whole visit under the bus and just dismiss it. I think he loves it. I think he thinks a lot of good things will come up; I think he sees it as is a historic meeting. Both just factually, it’s never happened before, but historic in the sense that good might come from this. But he’s also sober-minded and cautionary. And yet Sistani does not necessarily mean the same things when he says the same words that a westerner might say, or a Western Christian might say in particular. And so, it’s a valid cautionary story about the categories that we use about separation of church and state and what it means to Sistani is valid, and I think needs to be taken on board. America has bumbled the way through the Middle East forever, certainly for the last 20 years. And we should take to heart the idea that we need to proceed slowly, celebrate what needs to be celebrated, but always be sure that we understand what one another means when we say certain things. So, I think as a cautionary tale, it’s incredibly important, and I leave to the regional experts to sort of point the way forward as to how to make the most of this trip and what goods ought to come from this.

Tooley: To me, there are two large lessons from the Pope’s trip to Iraq. One is that visits with Christians in territory that recently had been conquered by the Islamic State and which had virtually eradicated the Christian populations of those areas, so to think just a few years later that a Catholic mass should be celebrated there by the Pope himself is remarkable and I think instructive that all victories for evil are temporary, not permanent. And if I may quote Martin Luther King, the arc of justice, or the arc of the universe does bend towards justice in terms of divine sovereignty. But also, the lesson I think is that the Pope repeatedly spoke of human fraternity or social fraternity that Christians, whether in the minority or in the majority, have a certain solidarity with all fellow citizens in any given in society. So, especially important for Americans to consider. Those who are Christian separatists or those who think that Christians only interact with other Christians know we’re all fellow bearers of the divine image and have commonalities that draw us together for the sake of the common good.

LiVecche: That’s right. I think that’s exactly right. I am hopeful, and I long to see what a healthy pluralism might look like in Iraq. It’s not going to be American liberalism, one suspects very strongly, but it will be it’ll be good to see how Christians and Muslims within the region can live together. I think pluralism is crucial, probably everywhere, but particularly in the Middle East. So, I long to see what happens.

Tooley: And finally, Marc, tell us about your piece on integrity.

LiVecche: Yeah, I wrote a piece on integrity, stemming from some of the stuff we’ve been doing at the Naval Academy on character formation and midshipmen. And I touch on the notion that there’s a definition of integrity that says it’s the consistency between what one believes and how one acts. And that’s a valid description. And that when one’s beliefs and actions don’t correspond, there’s usually a kind of disequilibrating dilemma that somebody goes through called cognitive dissonance. And there’s solutions to this. You can either take what’s often called the high road, in which you reform your actions to couple with your beliefs, or you can take what’s called the low road, and you can adjust your beliefs to match your actions. And that’s satisfying as far as it goes, but I tried to take it a little bit further and suggest that actually true integrity isn’t simply that, the marriage of belief and action, because you could have a Nazi who’s consistent in his beliefs, or he’s consistent in applying his actions to his beliefs, but his beliefs are anathema to any human good. So, integrity has to be something more. It has to be at least the right actions coupled to the right beliefs. And that matters. And I use the comparison and good nautical fervor of a ship’s hull. That a ship’s hull has integrity when it’s able to do the things for which it was created to do. And that without a sort of structural integrity, then the ship is not seaworthy and it’s no good to anybody. So, integrity is right belief and actions that correspond to that, and then I look at what some of the ramifications of that might be. And there’s more to be said, but that’s a starter.

Tooley: And what were the particular challenges to your understanding of integrity in today’s American Christianity?

LiVecche: I started to laugh before I heard the very end of the question. In terms of America’s what?

Tooley: Today’s American Christianity. What are the particular challenges to your view of integrity?

LiVecche: Yeah. The nature of objective truth, I mean, it’s awkward to say maybe what I’m saying, because if one’s beliefs come from the moral narratives that have shaped their lives, the cultures to which they belong both nationally but also locally. And if I then come along and suggest that it’s not enough to simply have beliefs, you have to have the right beliefs, then that gets kind of judgy. And I don’t know if everybody’s really comfortable with being judgy, right. And that’s I think what can be awkward. I would assume that all Christians believe in objective truth, but, and maybe this points to a crisis of integrity, we believe in objective truth, but in our actions we’re not always willing to behave as if we believe in objective truth. We allow people to believe sort of whatever they want to believe, or to act however they want to act. To be called whatever they choose to be called. And so, we don’t always do that, because we think judging is sort of the “j word” and it’s just no good and it’s not a loving thing for Christians to do. We should be open to people’s interpretations about whatever it is they want to interpret. So, I think that would be the crisis in many circles within American Christianity, but not those circles that run through Providence.

Tooley: No. Providence will continue with some ministry of integrity and intellectual purity with its usual vigor.

LiVecche: Winsome judging.

Tooley: Winsome judging as always. Marc LiVecche, thank you for another episode of Marksism. Hopefully we will be joined next week by the third Mark(c). Mark Melton is having concluded his move to his new domestic situation in the suburbs. Until then, bye-bye.