In this week’s episode, the editors cover Mark Tooley’s article about Afghanistan, Jeffrey Cimmino’s article about religious liberty and national security, and Marc LiVecche’s series about Holy Week.

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 editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. We’re reviewing three pieces, actually more than that, from Providence this week, starting out with a brief piece I wrote about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Lamenting the tragedy and pathos, which are sadly inevitable. Recalling a somewhat similar situation with South Vietnam. In both cases, South Vietnam and Afghanistan, 20 years of U.S. involvement, thousands of lives lost, there simply was a limit to U.S. patience, for better or for worse. And certainly, an issue of competence by the regimes in those countries, and yet we must admit to the sad reality that U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan and the inevitable increase and influence for the Taliban is bad news for most Afghans, certainly bad news for human rights, certainly bad news for democracy, certainly bad news for women, especially in Afghanistan who may have to live under a regime where the Taliban has significant influence. So, I think that’s the Christian realist perspective that we cannot have ourselves, our own power, reconstruct the Afghan society along the lines that we prefer, but we have done what we could do, and hopefully we’ll continue to do a little bit in terms of ameliorating the suffering and oppression in Afghanistan. But there are boundaries. What say you, fellow Christian realist Marc LiVecche?

LiVecche: Yeah, I think your analysis is unfortunately right. I’m sure retrospectively there are things that we could have done better. So, I wouldn’t say that we did all we could do. That’s probably not literally true, because there’s always things you could have done better. And there were probably some obvious things we could have done better. But the situation being what it is, yeah, you can only do so much. That is a sad reality of Christian realism. I hope the place is in a better position. You hope that you’ve given them the opportunity that you can give them to take matters into their own hands and have the kind of society that they want. But you can’t force the issue.

Tooley: Mark Melton, any thoughts on Afghanistan?

Melton: I mean, like you said, it’s going to be a lot of tragedies going on there when the drawdown happens, but at the same time, just because you move troops doesn’t mean that we still can’t have an influence there. And so, it’d be interesting to see long term what the U.S. and NATO and other powers will, what influence they might have, and if we have to go back in or if we have to do airstrikes or something. It seems still very much up in the air long term what’s going to happen.

Tooley: On a not unrelated topic, Jeffrey Cimmino, if I’m pronouncing that correctly, of the Atlantic Council wrote a piece on the importance of integrating religious liberty advocacy and concerns into U.S. foreign policy. Certainly, that relates to the ongoing accelerating U.S. strategic competition with China. And he argues this would amplify U.S. soft power to spotlight China’s ongoing egregious violations of religious freedom for Muslims, for Christians, and for many others. They seemed like obvious points and certainly themes that have been with Providence from the very beginning, but there are others who would minimize the importance of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy, calling it marginal if not consequential. Marc LiVecche, what say you?

LiVecche: I thought the quote from Daniel Philpott that Cimmino utilizes was spot on. Religious liberty is a bulwark for any kind of free society, right. So, if it’s a liberal democracy, religious freedom is essential. The ability for incredibly diverse places to be able to live with diversity in a pluralistic society, religious freedom and the liberty to express the faith you want, again seems essential to that. The totalitarian mindset, on the one side, and the lack of diversity, the insistence on uniform thinking, should be enough to suggest to you that religious freedom is essential for a free society.

Tooley: Mark Melton, religious freedom and U.S. foreign policy?

Melton: Right, so kind of just to piggyback off of what LiVecche was saying, the authoritarians that aren’t going to respect religious liberty aren’t going to respect other liberties. And so, there’s going to be a lot of knock-on effects, or there’s a lot of signs that if they’re not going to respect religious minorities, they’re not going to respect freedom of speech. They’re not going to respect other human rights. And so, then they’re not going to respect their neighbors likely. So, there’s a lot of signs there if a country isn’t going to respect religious liberty. And so, it’s definitely something that we should promote and something that we need to keep an eye on when countries start oppressing religious minorities.

LiVecche: One thing to add to that I think is, just to put out with this administration in particular, they’ve said from the beginning that domestic policy influences and characterizes, or helps fill out the character, of foreign policy. So, I would like them to take the same initiatives here at home, and to make sure that those with religious views that are sometimes contrary to the prevailing culture are allowed their ability to express those views. So, yes, religious liberty abroad. Yes, religious liberty here at home.

Tooley: A strict realist would argue that human rights concerns and religious freedom should not be consequential to U.S. foreign policy, which would more strictly pursue only U.S. hard interests, but I think even a pragmatic realist, and certainly a Christian realist, would understand that religious freedom is not just moral but does enhance U.S. soft power and is intrinsic to America’s own self-identity, and so is inextricably tied to our U.S. foreign policy.

LiVecche: Absolutely.

Tooley: Marc LiVecche, moving on, you’ve written a series of reflections about Holy Week. Today is Good Friday. Soon it will be Easter. What are your thoughts?

LiVecche: I’m curious what your thoughts are. I think it’s okay for a Protestant to write effusively about Holy Week, right, at least in this company. My main impetus, these are ideas that have been kicking around in the back of my head for quite some time. And I’ve been interested in delving more deeply into them. So, to some degree, I’m experimenting in the pages of Providence. Holy Week is the theme. Holy Week is absolutely the focus both for my own sort of personal desire to reflect more deeply on the themes of Holy Week, but also to look at Holy Week as a Christian realist. Which could get a little bit macabre, because I start talking about things like war and violence and things like this, but my underlying interest is that Holy Week ultimately is about the integration of justice and peace and how those things go together. And to touch a bit on how uncomfortable I think contemporary Christianity is with themes of justice, the sometimes necessity of violence, coercion, judgment, all of which are terms that I think cannot be divorced from Holy Week. It’s not just about Easter Sunday, and that seems important to explore.

Tooley: This theme of justice as it applies to atonement and Good Friday are unfashionable in some quarters now. Could you expound on that a little bit, Marc?

LiVecche: Yeah. That’s increasingly clear to me. I was listening to an in-depth video interview with Brian Zahnd, and he is clearly not happy with substitutionary penal atonement. He finds it reprehensible, abhorrent, and you widely sort of in his group of friends, his company, Hauerwas, these guys, and the idea of punishment, of judgment requiring retribution, is anathema. I think Jesus came as an example, and the death on the cross, it’s just what the world does to people who try to love each other. And there wasn’t wrath in the divine that needed to be appeased. Holiness doesn’t require the addressing and remediating sin. And so, those are things that I think are essential. I’m a little bit on my heels with that. Growing up, however, here, religious, I was cognizant that that was a part of the heart of what Holy Week was. A part of the heart of Good Friday. That if you want to see the wrath of God, you don’t look just in the Old Testament, you look in the New Testament too. You see themes of wrath and love barreling along throughout Hebraic history. It’s in the Old Testament. It’s in the New Testament. And they intersect in the cross. The cross was as much about wrath as it is about love. And those things have always seemed sort of spiritually second nature to me. And that they are increasingly not so I think has ramifications on the work we do. I’ve realized now, more than I have ever realized before, that when I am in an argument with a pacifist about war, he and I are actually not talking about war at all. We’re talking about the underlying assumptions that would compel a guy like me to think that some wars are necessary and just, and the underlying theological assumptions that would tell a guy like him that war can never be just. That killing can never be sanctioned. So, I think it’s foundational stuff that manifests in disagreements about foreign policy, conflict, coercion, punishment, the penal system, everything.

Tooley: Mark Melton, what’s on your Presbyterian mind this Holy Week?

Melton: Sorry, I was on mute because there’s still construction in my neighborhood and it was very loud a few seconds ago. But on kind of the Presbyterian front, Tim Keller wrote a book a while ago about Jonah called Prodigal Prophet. And in there, there’s a chapter where he talks about justice and how, as Christians, we want a just God. We don’t want a God that’s going to leave crimes unpunished. And for Christians who accept Christ, that’s going to be all of our crimes. All of our sins are put on to Christ. And that heat, that punishment, is put onto him. But the punishment is still there. And so, that’s an important thing to remember during Holy Week is that punishments, our sins and crimes are punished. It’s just a matter of whether or not the punishment is put on to Jesus or how God is going to handle that here and now. And of course, as we all know at Providence, that the state is a tool that God can use to punish the wicked. And I’m sure there’s many other verses and phrases that LiVecche could probably pull up that get the point across.

Tooley: On that note of punishment, wickedness, redemption and grace, thank you, gentlemen. Blessed Good Friday and Happy Easter to both of you, and to all listeners of Marksism. Until next week, bye-bye.