In this episode, the editors discuss Eric Patterson and Abigail Lindner’s about G.K. Chesterton and Flag Day, Gerald McDermott’s article about Jewish-Christian relations, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s editorial as the Marshall Plan emerged.
Mark Tooley: Hello Mark Tooley editor of Providence a journal of Christianity and American foreign policy with my fellow Marks and fellow editors Mark Melton and Marc LiVecche our final bittersweet episode with three Marks as it is the last working day for managing editor Mark Melton. We will take a look at three pieces in Providence this week, one from our contributor Eric Patterson on G.K. Chesterton and Flag Day, another by Jerry McDermott on the state of Christian scientists, and thirdly, but not least, a piece from Ryan Niebuhr 75 years ago on Christian realism and post-war Europe. But first let’s start with Jerry McDermott’s piece on the state of Christian Zionism he’s responding to a piece in the Tablet in which a Jewish writer laments the state of Christianity and its attitudes towards Israel, citing the Episcopal Church and other mainline churches, who have been on it anti-Israel trajectory for the last 40 years or more. during the Jerry rightly points out that Jews and Christians and other friends of Israel should not be overly concerned, if at all, about these activisms from fast-shrinking, very liberal, previously prominent now no longer so, mainline Protestant denominations. The action for American religion is largely among evangelicals, Catholics, post denominations, and Jerry rightly points out that evangelicals by and large remain pro-Israel and that there is, as the traditional. dispensation lizard recedes arising, a new thoughtful Christian Zionism that is ecumenical and not tied to any of the fashions of the 20th century. McDermott. Urges Jewish and Christian friends to be encouraged about the state of American and Christian attitudes towards Israel. Of course, Jerry himself has been a leader in crafting a new form of Christian Zionism which roots Christian support for Israel and the apostles in centuries of church teaching. Any thoughts from you other Marks?
Marc LiVecche: I always like Jerry’s stuff on Israel I always think its salient and wise. I’m as optimistic, I think, as he is–I think it’s right to point to the encouraging and continued trajectory. At the same time I’m a bit of a curmudgeon and you know as the as light continues to hopefully go out on the knee jerk indiscriminate “anti-Israelism,” I’m all for keeping our foot on the neck of it. You know I’m more than happy to continue to help it along on its demise and I don’t think we should ignore it for the sake of optimism or purely encouragement That said, I think he’s right to point out that the remedy to a lot of this is continued information. I think more inquiry, less pronouncements was one of Jerry’s signs of encouragement, that evangelical Christians and other Christians have been simply looking more deeply into the historic context, the theological background of Israel and coming up with far more informed wisdom on ancient Israel and contemporary Israel, and then the whole context to the Middle East. All of that, I think it’s salutary.
I believe enough in the truth that, if the truth is outed, that the truth will be at least persuasive to those who are open to persuasion. So I think that is certainly the route to go. And he’s right to point to places like Philos Project, which helped found Providence in its early days and gave us at least one of the spokes in the wheels, which is this insistence on pushing against the knee jerk indiscriminate “anti-Israelism” that I pointed out, your own work on new Zionism etc. I think there’s a lot of encouraging things, I think he’s also right that, just like we might distain the indiscriminate knee jerk “anti-Israelism,” it’s equally right to distain the knee jerk, indiscriminate “pro-Israelism,” which is why I like that Philos Project and Providence and the work that Jerry has been doing has always been willing to call balls and strikes in contemporary Israel, even as we look to ancient Israel and wisdom of the Hebrew traditions and scriptures to demonstrate the ongoing importance and relevance of Israel as a nation and as a land. From my earliest days with Providence I’ve been encouraged by the work that I see.
Mark Tooley: Eric Patterson’s piece Flag Day, which was this past week, not so much celebrated it is it used to be, but still significant. Patterson reflects and Flag Fay for the prism of G.K. Chesterton and Chesterton’s affirmation that Christians are placed by God in particular political communities and rightly care about those communities, love and cherish those communities, and even celebrate those communities. Through the prism of Christianity, we appreciate the importance and the value of sacrifice and that we are all called to sacrifice for the wider community, which of course is a remedy to our often self-preoccupation and hyper individualism. It was helpful and rich reminding us that that we can be Christians and patriots rightly understood. Your thoughts Marks?
Mark Melton: I think this is a good piece that kind of continues the thread, a series of articles looking at works by G.K. Chesterton. Last year Eric Patterson wrote about C.S. Lewis a bit on the same type of you know subject. I would recommend not just look at this one, but look at the other ones, including the ones that we did in February about sports and loving your country and rooting for sports. I haven’t read a lot of Chesterton and so I think I should go back and read–there’s so much you read it’s almost intimidating to start. It’s interesting I haven’t seen a lot of people celebrate Flag Day. Occasionally, I might see people mention it, but other than these I don’t see a lot of people commemorating Flag Day. What about y’all, do you see other people doing it?
Mark Tooley: It’s never been a huge holiday, I have noticed flags on display or throughout the decades of my life more so on Flag Day than and on others, but it hasn’t been a central focus in our culture. The chief patriotic holidays are made of course July 4, Memorial Day, and Veterans day.
Marc LiVecche: I probably have to say the same, I think anybody who follows the calendar of when to hang a flag is going to hang a flag over the weekend, but beyond that I’m not really sure. I like the article for its for the reminder on the importance of land, as you’ve already touched, on “nation” as Patterson describes it. You know used to say that, before somebody can you know belong anywhere, they have to belong somewhere and to belong to a tribe–a people that are brought together by shared love, or at least ostensibly loves, is an important thing. It gives you a sense of identity and then with that identity, you can go out into the wider world and have something useful to contribute. You can’t simply belong everywhere, the world’s too big for that. And so I think it’s salutary to remember that as Chesterton puts it, that quote that clouds of dirt actually matter. Which brings us back in some ways to the piece on Israel, you know the land is always mattered and it’s always been important to have a home and it’s always been important to identify therefore your special obligations that you have to your near neighbors and their interests and, therefore, the set of corresponding responsibilities that result from that. That seemed a key backbone and a key insight of continuing reclamation of Christian realism.
Mark Tooley: And then, finally, this piece by Reinhold Niebuhr and the Marshall Plan after World War II. There’s a wonderful conclusion which, if you’ll indulge me I’ll read a few sentencse from because it is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago, in which Niebuhr writes: We cannot afford the hysteria which those. are tempted to understand the perils of our day, any more than we can afford the complacency, of those who are blind to our perils. Hysterical talk about the inevitability of a third World War and the necessity of caring for it is just as irresponsible as a policy of yielding to tyranny in order to avoid war. We are fated to live for a long while in a world in which no stable peace can be guaranteed, but it does not follow that as war is either inevitable or desirable. We can do our duty in this kind of world only if we are a sober as we are firm. It’s worth observing that the whole and modern culture, with its promise of quick and show results for the right action, has not prepared us for this kind of moral experience. This nation must drop on the resources of the Christian faith that we are to do our duty each day without too many fearful apprehensions and too many unjustified hopes about tomorrow. Sufficient unto the day are the evils there of.” A timeless message, but especially pertinent for today. Marc LiVecche?
Marc LiVecche: Niebuhr not infrequently captures it. Absolutely key insights to Christian realism. I think what you just read could be stuck on the masthead.
Mark Tooley: Mark Melton your final comments to your seven-year career with Providence a journal of Christianity and American foreign policy.
Mark Melton: No pressure. I would start with by mentioning this article that you just cited. The historical context there you have the one side of Christians who were writing, say the Episcopalians in the Witness, being under the idea that, if we were to be resisting much at all, it would inevitably lead to war. Niebuhr’s responding to that on the one side, on the other side, there are two different groups. One is apparently talking about actually going to war (I’m not sure how large that group was or how influential they were because America at this time was very war-weary, just the year before you had a mass mutiny of troops who were protesting wanting to go home because the war is over, and so I think this is like the only time you have a mass mutiny where they were actually successful and that’s protests across Europe and other parts of the world). Then you also have other hysterical or people they were criticizing the Catholics who wanted to be very firm with Russia firmer, than they wanted. On that point I think the Catholics are actually right as I’ve written previously, but that’s where you kind of experiment and find out what’s the right policy, how firm do you need to be with Russia. Niebuhr is interacting with both sides of this argument, you’re trying to thread that needle. Anytime you read Christianity and Crisis over these years you see a gradual evolution of ideas here.
The other one I would bring up is enlightened interest. I mentioned in the intro here in the editorial note to begin that article normally Christian realists don’t like talking about self-interest, and yet, you see Reinhold Niebuhr here mentioning that. Last week I wrote an article that kind of gives five different impressions I have, and one of the last ones was I think they needed to be more sympathetic to self-interests and make arguments based on enlightened interests. After I published that I then prepared this article and realized well here’s Niebuhr actually mentioning it. I don’t think he does that very often, or I haven’t seen very many in this timeframe. I think that’s welcomed, but I think he should have been making that argument in 1946 when they were talking about giving the British a loan. Their argument was we need to be generous, its the right and good thing. They should have been arguing it’s in our interest to help Britain which wasn’t a popular idea in 1946. It became a popular idea in 47 and 48 with the Marshall Plan. I’m not sure if y’all know of any other moments where Niebuhrtalks about enlightened interest, so I think that’s an interesting bit with this editorial here.
On final notes, last week I talked about my article where I go through five different impressions I have, so I would kind of highlight that for some overarching ideas about Christian realism. There I tried to give a Meltonian view of Christian realism, if I would call it that. On final note, I would just say thank you for the years of allowing me to write and to grow in this position and I look forward to seeing what y’all do with the journal hereafter.
Mark Tooley: Hopefully Mark Melted who will remain an ongoing contributor to Providence from your new vantage point at the Hudson Institute.
Mark Melton: Right, and maybe you can have me as a contributing editor.
Mark Tooley: Oh, my goodness, yet to be negotiated, stay tuned. Thank you for your years of faithful and effective service Mark Melton, and thank you Marc LiVecche for this conversation. we will soldier onward, Marc LiVecche and I, as at least two heads of the previously three headed hydra for our next episode of Marksism. Until then, bye bye.