Tooley: …to post that online along with a transcript. So, if you have to check out early don’t worry, the material will still be there. Daniel Strand, we will start with you. You wrote an excellent piece explaining the essentials of Christian Realism, all three of you did. Marc LiVecche had eleven principles, Eric Patterson had only eight, Daniel you didn’t number your principles. None of you opposed each other, you just supplemented each other with the respective aspects of various wisdoms. But Dan, let us begin with you and the, each of our speakers would speak up to ten minutes, no more than that, so we’ll have time for questions and comments afterwards.
Strand: Thanks, Mark. Hello everybody, I’ll keep my comments brief. And yeah, Mark referenced my piece. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote as it was a little while back. I do, I kind of remember the gist of it and I think the sort of, we were laughing a little bit about the principles when it comes to talking about what Christian realism is, and I think that is not a bug, that’s a feature of what Christian realism is. And I think a good way to think about it is in comparison to other Christian traditions of political thought, namely something like the Catholic social teaching tradition or something like reformed social thought coming out of the reformation, and which has kind of first principles, works from a fairly clear set of basic axioms, and tends to work in a more deductive manner from those principles, then applying them. I think Christian realism in some ways is hard to get your hands on because it really is a sort of, it’s a sort of intuition. It’s a, what I put in my piece, a vision. I think it’s a way of seeing. And maybe that sounds like fluffy and mystical and not very intellectual, but I think that’s actually its strength—is that it is a, and this is where I think in my piece I said it’s realistic in the best sense, which is it really is concerned with bringing Christian wisdom and ethics and political thought into as close a contact as possible with the rough and tumble world of politics. And politics is rough. And I think what Christian realism offers beautifully, and if sometimes not as succinct and concise as other Christian traditions do, is it offers a way to bring those convictions and the tradition into the nitty-gritty of international relations. Oftentimes you’ll see today there’s, you know, if you compare to something like the neo-Anabaptists, which have a sort of very purist mindset, they don’t have anything to say really when it comes to international politics because it’s just immoral; it’s something Christians shouldn’t do—it’s purely in critique mode. And Christian realism says this is the world that we’ve been given, it’s fallen, and Christians can still speak into it. They can. And that’s why responsibility is so important, is because Christians have a responsibility for making as close a just world as possible. And so, I think that’s really, my favorite Christian realist, or at least one of them which I read frequently, is Paul Ramsey. And Ramsey had this fantastic saying—he referred to the knobbly height of reality—the knobbly height of reality, the way that reality itself eludes our grasp. And his way for doing ethics is often in that mode. He’s trying to get his hands on reality and philosophy, you know, kind of abstract philosophical or theological concepts can be helpful, but a lot of times they don’t do the work that you need them to do. And so, Christian realism is trying to wrestle with that. The knobbly hide with all the specificities, the contours of, you know, of politics wherever they are.
Tooley: Excuse me everyone, if you’re not one of our speakers keep yourselves on mute, please.
Strand: Yeah, and now let’s throw two other things out there. So, I think that’s the big point. It’s Christian, or the Christian realism, is politically realistic in the same ways that you’ll find other realists today, which is it takes reality as it is and it starts from that as a way to do politics, rather than ideals. That’s the simple way to sort of frame the two. So, the two, so, Christian realism doesn’t start with a sort of idealistic agenda. It says “this is the messy world, this is the nature of nations, which is power… it’s a world of, an arctic world of nations pushing against nations,” what Ramsey famously called a “porcupine world” where all the nations are prickly. And that’s just the world that we live in. We have to accept that, and then we have to figure out a way to make do with that. Two other things I allude to a little bit in my piece which I don’t think that, I think is interesting to think about, but I’ll just—the first is a recent book that I’ve read by Eric Nelson called The Theology of Liberalism, and Nelson has his great opening couple chapters where he talks about anti-Pelagian politics in contrast to what he calls “Pelagium politics.” And of course, Augustine is famous—Augustine of Hippo, what many refer to as the father of Christian realism—is famous for his debates against the anti-Pelagians, or the plagiance rather, he took up the anti-Pelagian position. His criticisms of Pelagianism, which Pelagianism was basically that humans have it within their ability to perfect themselves, to do the works necessary for salvation and for righteousness, to live a righteous life without God’s grace. And Augustine says no, God’s grace is absolutely essential. And I think when you look at the world today, you see a strong Pelagian bent. The sort of utopian politics that we see all over the place in the United States today, where politics is a sort of almost salvific religion where people, whether it be the sort of identitarians or the woke people or with social justice or whoever they are, they see politics as a way of perfecting. They see it as almost in salvific terms. You see people gathering around chanting mantras, acting in ways that are, that are religious, and that’s the danger that Christian realism hopes to fight against is this utopian, the strong utopian, tendency. And this idea of anti-Pelagianism—humans are not perfectible except by God’s grace—and so when we get a bunch of humans together in a society, let alone as individuals, you are going to have a lot of very imperfect people doing a lot of imperfect things. And the temptation is to make politics this idol to sort of solve our problems in the world, and Christian realism stands athwart this tendency and says no that politics can be a good, it can be a good thing in the sense that it provides peace, it’s security, it can provide the context necessary for human flourishing, but we, but Christian realism very, very, very importantly says this is a fallen world. We’re not going to get, we’re not every, every age needs to wrestle with this. We’re not reaching, you know, we’re maybe progressing a little bit with every advancement there’s a downside, right. So, the Christian realist is always going to see this strong, this sinful tendency of human beings and our inability to perfect ourselves. So, I’ll stop with that and pass it on to the other respondents here.
Tooley: Thank you, Dan. Next up—Marc LiVecche. I one evening a few weeks ago, watching television during a commercial break, I emailed Marc LiVecche. I said “Please send me ten principles of Christian realism.” I think it was within 35 minutes I had received words. So, Marc LiVecche, if you could repeat that magic for us.
LiVecche: I probably can’t but I will do my best. Good to see everybody, good to see some old faces that I haven’t seen for a while. I look forward to the discussion. I’m going to take us all the way back to Germania in the time of the Old Roman Empire and the movie Gladiator, which I hope everybody has seen. If you’ve not seen, I won’t say sign off and go see it but wait until we’re done then go see it. This year marks the 20th anniversary. Twenty years ago, Gladiator hit the movie theaters. And so, we have to do a True North episode on this stand, and Eric ought to join us, and Keith probably has something to say about it, too. But in the movie Gladiator, you’ll recall in the very beginning the General Maximus is in Germania and he has just secured a brilliant and overwhelming victory against the German tribes. And there’s this wonderful scene that I could have watched for all two hours of the movie in which Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, has a long conversation with the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris, and Richard Harris begins to doubt that, despite the overwhelming victory, they have accomplished anything of significance. And General Maximus, who’s lost, you know, upwards of half his men, refuses to believe that they’ve accomplished nothing significant. He refuses to believe that his men died for nothing, and what he says is he says they “died for Rome.” And then the emperor questions him, “And what is Rome?” And General Maximus says, “I have seen much of the rest of the world, it is, you know, cruel and ugly and dark, and Rome is the light.” It’s a stirring scene, it’s a wonderful scene, but of course it’s wrong, right. Daniel has already alluded to the idea that Rome can’t possibly be the light. The best it could do is reflect some of the light. Bits of it might have been the best option available at the time, but Rome wasn’t the light. General Maximus, I think, can be forgiven for not knowing this, because Augustine wouldn’t write The City of God for another few hundred years. Now had General Maximus read The City of God, he would have come to the opening chapters of book nineteen where Augustine begins to take apart the classical idea of what a good life is. And in those opening chapters, he goes through all 288 of Roman scholar Marcus Vero’s theories of the good life, and he rejects every single one of them—all of them. And the Augustine biographer Peter Brown says that that was the end of classical thought. And what Augustine was after is he rejects the idea that the political community can never be sufficient for human perfection. Dan has already touched on this—no political community can satisfy the longings of the human heart that Augustine elucidates so well in his confessions. So, in comes the age of Christian realism and as Dan has said. Christian realism threads the needle between two extremes. And in fact, it doesn’t thread the needle. It’s the original supposition, right, the extremes of realism on the one side and the extremes of maybe a Kantian utopianism on the other side. Those are the perversions of the original thesis, right. So, Christian realism describes reality in such a way that it avoids these two extremes, realism on the one side or power politics, of which Eric Patterson can say much more than I. And it avoids the other extreme of utopian idealism, which Dan has already touched on. So, I’m going to skip most of that. But in relationship to realism maybe there’s something that I can say. You know, if realism projects an idea of an amoral political system, an international system of nations, Christian realism pushes slightly against that and suggests that, well in place of an international system we can have something like an international community or an international society, and the difference here might be that it’s not only going to be interests that energize nations, but ideas can energize nations as well. And these ideas can be shared and they can form something of an international society. We’ve called it in the pages of Providence the “liberal global order,” and this liberal global order doesn’t have to be characterized exclusively by nations that are only concerned about their own interests. America, I think, has demonstrated repeatedly in our history that we don’t need to play a zero-sum game between serving our own interests or serving a kind of global common good. We can do both at the same time. In the midst of the War on Terror, George W. Bush donates billions of dollars to aids research in Africa, an act that, you know, no less an authority than Bono called “the greatest intervention in international medicine in human history,” right. So, we can do both at once. And Christian realism insists that we have to do both at once. My eleven principles that Tooley talked about came out of originally, I think, five principles that we’ve discussed in the opening days of Providence. And Christian realism, I think, is predicated on five sort of important ideas, and if you’ve heard me say anything in the past, you’ve probably heard me talk about these five things. But the first thing is a simple one—it’s creation. So, it starts way back at the beginning and in the Garden of Eden, human beings are commanded to exercise dominion over all of creation. This isn’t domination, this isn’t lording authority over others, this is dominion. It’s providential care for the conditions of the world. So, it’s concern for our neighbor but it also, if we’re concerned about our neighbor, it necessitates concern for our neighbor’s neighborhood. It recognizes also the fall—this is point two. Dan has touched on this. It doesn’t pretend that nations can deal with perfected or perfectible human beings, not this side of the eschaton. So, it takes into reality the human fall. And so, it recognizes that it has to account for this. Dan described Paul Ramsey talking about the “knobbly hide of reality.” Another Christian realist, one of the heads of the tribe at this point in history, is Nigel Biggar. He talks about the Christian realist being someone who’s willing to grasp the nettles, right, the thorns that account for reality, that described much of reality. I think a third point would be that there is, despite the fall, the opportunity for restoration. This is always going to be imperfect, but restoration can occur. And I think one of the premier vehicles within Christian realism that helps promote restoration is the tradition of Just War Kazoo history, which says that there are occasions that human beings have to exercise power, and even lethal power, to punish evil, to correct an injustice, or to protect the innocent. And then it gives terms under which the exercise of that power ought to be conveyed. I think a fourth point that we talk a lot about is political responsibility. Dan has touched on this. Pacifism is not, I think, ultimately a Christian option. You won’t find it within the Hebraic tradition, and I think responsibility means taking seriously our original mandate to exercise dominion, or responsibility, for those who are around us. American power can be exercised in all kinds of ways. It could be, you know, obviously exercised poorly and with a desire only to promote our own interests, or as we’ve said earlier, it could be done in a way that operates not even despite our interests, but that promotes our interests in ways that are good for everybody recognizing that if there is a stable global order that promotes sort of the outer rim of our own security it makes our power sufferable to those who are beneath it, and that’s a good. And then the last point I would touch on, Dan has already touched on, is that there’s a sobriety of thought. The Christian realist aspiration is not to bring about the eschaton today. The 20th century has taught us the horrors that result when people think they can perfect human history. So, we don’t, we don’t strive for perfection. Maybe we aim toward it, but we’re quite satisfied with close approximations of justice in close approximations of order and close approximations, therefore, of peace. You know, we do what we can. We do no harm. We have help where we’re able. Those are the sort of modest aspirations of the Christian realist. The Christian realist recognizes the place of power in the world. We don’t consider power a negative, we don’t even consider power a neutral thing. Power is present in the godhead, so power is a good, which like all goods, human beings have figured out masterful ways of perverting. So, we can ruin power. We can diminish it. The power is a good and we ought to, we ought to cultivate it to the degree that we are able so long as we don’t jeopardize other goods. So, I don’t think it’s accidental that America finds itself with the most powerful military in the world. I think it is something that we have aspired toward, and I think it’s right for Christians to advocate that aspiration, again, so long as we’re still able to promote and provide for other goods. Keith Pavlischek and I have talked, I think just last week, about the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. This could be a coda for a kind of Christian realism that recognizes that before you can have any kind of society that functions well, you have to have a power behind that society that promotes justice, order, and peace—those things simply have to go together. I think I am going to, I’ll say one more thing, this, Dan and I both touched on this, but I think it’s important when we talk about Christian realism being a middle position between the realist and the utopian. I think the Christian realist has as a duty almost, no it has a duty, let’s just say it has a duty to play to the extremes. So, on the one side we should be realistically sober about the conditions of the world that we come close to being called cynical. We don’t, we don’t cross over, we don’t become cynical, but we come close to being. On the other side, we play so far to the opposite margin that we come close to being described as an idealist of really, believing that we can make a significant difference in the world. I think Michael Hayden and his masterful book talked about playing to the margins so that we have chalk dust on our cleats. It seems like that’s the Christian realist perspective. We play with all the field that we have available, which means we bring the best of the Greco-Roman classical world to bear on how we behave in the world. But pache maximus, you know, we bring the best of the Hebraic tradition to bear as well. And I think I’m going to leave it there and allow us to turn it over to Eric.
Tooley: Yes Eric, please share with us your eight central principles for Christian realism.
Patterson: Well thanks, Mark, and it’s so good to be with friends like Mark, Dan, and others on the line. I’m sincerely grateful for all of you who are spending this time with us to talk about this key issue of Christian realism. What I’d like to do is start by telling you how I became interested in Christian realism in the first place. I was a young Christian doing my master’s degree at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, and I kept finding in the textbooks on international relations theory a one-line sentence that would say something like “rejecting the hopeless cynicism of Christian realists like Reinhold Niebuhr.” And I kept coming across this one line, something to that nature, about pessimism and cynicism; although, at times they would, the footnote would, talk about this brilliant polemicist ethicist and writer Reinhold Niebuhr, and since the people that I was reading were secular humanists for the most part who had written international relations textbooks, I was very excited because I knew that if they were against him that there must be something there. And that started a 25-year saga now of studying Christian realism and trying to advance the cause of Christian realism. It all started right there. Let me say, to pick up on something that Marc LiVecche just ended on, that Christian realists are not cynics. Niebuhr called himself “attained cynic” and later called himself a realistic optimist. Jean Elshtain said very, very, very similar things. And so, that position that Christians are somehow, because we believe in sin and we believe in fallenness, that we’re necessarily cynical is just an outright lie. So, in the article that Mark mentioned, I do talk about eight principles. These were gleaned in part from a book that I edited about the Christian realists of the first generation like Niebuhr and Bennett called The Christian Realists and then, with help from guys like Keith Pavlischek, we published another book Christian realism today, it’s called Christianity and Power Politics Today, and let me briefly go through these eight principles, and then talk a little bit about how Christian realism has changed in the past sixty years, and then highlight two principles that are helpful for us today. So, Christian realism is a strand of thinking about international relations or how the world works when it comes to foreign policy and national security for the most part, and it recognizes, as academic realism does, that we live in a world with no centralized government and where states must take care of themselves. We live in a world where every government has to watch out for the security of itself and its citizens. Second, this is informed by an Augustinian approach to anthropology. What I mean by that is we recognize both all of the great potential in humanity as image bearers of God, but the terrible fallenness, as Dan Strand was mentioning, of humanity that happened in Eden. And that is replicated in our lives as humanity puts itself first before God. We need both of those principles—it’s that stewardship and dominion principle that Marc LiVecche talked about, as well as human fallenness. If you want to understand how politics works, you have to be rooted in reality, and that is reality. Governments therefore have to take their duty seriously to promote order and justice, and Christian realists recognize before you can even get to justice, how do you establish order? Now, I think that Anabaptists and many Americans who are a little soft on security issues, they have the luxury of having lived a very good life in the United States on the backs of the past, but if you go to places like Africa or Central Asia where there is disorder, anarchy, and violence, then you start to realize just how precious order is and how hard it is. Hence, when you think about those quotes that Maximus made that Marc LiVecche mentioned earlier, Rome was a good. It was an approximate good, to use Niebuhr’s language, it was just an approximation. Marc was right, it was a reflection in a sense of the highest good, but it was a lot better than the alternatives of disorder, chaos, and anarchy as was found in those barbarian forests. Fourth, realists talk a lot about power and we talk about power as responsibility. The world is characterized by a level of power politics, but that doesn’t mean power in itself is evil. This is the spider-man maxim “with power comes responsibility,” and Christian realists have a lot of frustration with the quasi-pacifists of many Christians who throw their hands up and say, “Well nothing is to be done because the world is so imperfect.” Fifth, I think a unique contribution of Niebuhr in particular was an emphasis on not just individual sinfulness, but how collectives, how groups, tend to magnify a group chauvinism. This is the problem of mob violence. This is the problem that happens with hyper forms of nationalism that rarify or even deify some sort of cult of the group rather than putting both the individual and the group before the cross. What makes Christian realism most helpful is that it recognizes that we need to study individuals, we need to study groups, and we need to study governments and international affairs to understand how politics and security work in the real world. And as Marc said, Christian realists are not hyper-conservative, they’re not idealists, we play to the margin because that’s the reality of the human condition. But Christian realists emphasize, when it comes to practical politics, limits and restraint. And that’s a stewardship principle—there it’s important to steward one’s resources. It’s also important to be looking in the mirror at motivations and intentions and to recognize that often something that looks like it’s tied up with a bow of good intentions often masks some of our own self-interestedness, and it’s best to just be honest about that. In fact, we want our governments to have a high level of self-interest to care for the citizens that they’re responsible to be caring for. Remember what the New Testament says in Philippians, “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I’ve heard a lot of sermons on the second half, but very few on the first half about the responsibility of self-care, and that goes for leaders caring for their own citizens and taking care of them. Now, let me just say that here’s a helpful phrase for how Christian realists typically operate. We typically operate in terms of middle axioms. Middle axioms, on one hand you have big vague idealistic slogans—world peace—and at the other extreme we have the technical expertise of experts, very narrowly applied to a very specific technical problem. But in the middle is really where Christian realism tends to focus on principled policy direction that goes beyond platitudes, but that doesn’t get so specific in every single case to be in the realm of technical experts. We need those technical experts. And that phrase is not mine, it comes from the former head of Union Seminary when Niebuhr and Bennett were there, Henry P. Van Dusen. Well, let me just say one thing about how Christian realism has developed over the past sixty years, and this might be an interesting conversation at some point. I’m, Rob Joustra from Redeemer College and I are working on that edited volume about Christian realism that’ll come out next year, and we’re looking in part at how Christian realism has changed, and one of the things that has changed. But let me mention two—the first is that people who identify as Christian realists have become more theologically conservative over the past. See, Niebuhr and his closest friends, particularly in the United States, were actually pretty theologically liberal, and so they often talked in terms of Biblical motifs or symbols. So, they talked about original sin, but they usually use the symbolic language, and it’s not clear that many of them believed, it’s actually pretty clear that they didn’t believe in the Orthodox, not neo-Orthodox, but the Orthodox doctrines of the New Testament. Many cases that’s not the case. Today people who I self-identify as Christian realists or Just War scholars typically take in, and who are oriented from a Biblical perspective, typically are theologically conservative. This, the second thing I would say, is that there’s been a move and this has been in large part influenced by classic Just War thinking to move from a language of tragedy and irony, which was so much a part of the way that Niebuhr and others talked, to a more virtuous look. Particularly, how statesmen, warriors, civil servants, and public officials behave. Niebuhr and his friends talked a lot about dirty hands and lesser evil arguments, and there’s something important there, but as Keith Pavlischek and others have pointed out, Nigel Biggar, myself, it’s just not the case that the policeman defending the weak always has blood on his hands. When he stops a terrorist, when a soldier stops a criminal syndicate abroad, when we stop evil, that does not put blood necessarily on the hands of the virtuous warrior who’s doing that. The same is true for the magistrate. The same is true for the statesman. It is not necessarily a lesser evil to be involved in the virtuous activity of pursuing politics in the common good. I’d say in closing that if we were to look today at what are the most helpful elements of Christian realism for the student, for instance who’s looking at the newspaper in the morning, I think the first one would be to ask the question about power. What’s being said in this article about power? What’s the power dynamic, is there a check on power, is there separation on power? What’s the balancing that’s going on here? And second—motivation—what is the intent of people who are making the arguments on one side or the other of this conflict? What’s motivating them? What’s motivating me, what motivates this country when we approach the world that we live in? I think I’m out of time, and I’ll leave it at that. I look forward to the question and answers.
Tooley: Excellent, thank you so much Eric Patterson. Before we go to general questions and faithful to our name as happy hour, we will conclude at 6:30 on the hour, but before we go to general questions, any comments or questions among the three speakers, Dan, Marc, Eric?
Patterson: I just want to know how fast Strand is driving.
Strand: I’m idling at the moment.
Patterson: Yeah nothing from me, thanks.
Strand: Yeah, I’m good.
Strand: Let’s go to conversation.
Tooley: Alright, among our happy hour participants, any questions or comments? And obviously, please unmute yourselves if you do have something to say to us. Keith Pavlischek, I’m sure you have something to say.
Patterson: I think Henry was getting into this.
Nau: Yeah, trying to sort of, but that’s alright, I’ll wait.
LiVecche: I meant to give a shout out to conservative internationalism. So…
Nau: You did, you did a little bit. One question, this is a bit out of my, you know, wheelhouse that is, I’m not a student of philosophy, conservative or otherwise.
Tooley: Henry, could you please introduce yourself for those of you…
Nau: I’m Henry Nau at George Washington University. I’m going to raise my questions to someone, a little bit outside of the people who are preoccupied with, you know, with political philosophy, and one of the things that’s always bothered me though I’ve read obviously selectively in much, some of this literature and always loved Niebuhr, but one of the things that I wonder about is that in our discussion of Niebuhr we seem to put all of the emphasis on sinful man and less on the restored or the redeemed man, which I think Marc was hinting at. And there’s a powerful element of idealism, not realism but idealism, in the redeemed man—that’s the whole story of the crucifixion in Christ and salvation, and it’s almost an otherworldly kind of thing. And yet, it’s very much a part of Christianity, but we don’t when we talk about Christian realism or realism per se, we don’t seem to put much emphasis on it. I guess that’s just a puzzlement I have, which you might respond to.
LiVecche: Yeah, I think that’s great. Eric talked a little bit about the genesis of his own interest in this field. I’ll touch a little bit on mine. Some of you, maybe all of you, I hope not all of you, know the story. I became a Christian through a study of the Holocaust, which is, I’ve been told, is sometimes the opposite direction that a lot of people go. But it was an encounter with overwhelming evil that led me to Christianity, because I mean frankly, there was something that I wanted to have that would give me the grounds to shake my fist at Auschwitz and say literally, and I don’t mean this as a blasphemy, literally, “God damn this thing.” And without Christianity, I had no grounds for that kind of hatred of evil. But as I began to explore the nature of that hatred, some people far wiser than me began to suggest to me exactly what you’re suggesting, that there resides in people sort of a three-tiered overlapping response to evil, and it goes something like this—there’s the recognition that what not ought to exist does. We call that evil. The second tier is that we hate what evil has done. It’s what we perceive as the way things ought to be. We can call that original goodness and that on the top of all of this we desire for remedy, and that’s been called the naive impression of evil, and naive here isn’t a pejorative—it’s the recognition that there exists within us something that doesn’t need to be taught. We know that good exists, that good ought to be preferred. We know that there’s something called evil—it ought not to exist but it does. And we long for somebody to fix this, right. And I think Christian realism does exactly what you point toward, it gives us grounds to use the best that is in human nature to begin to promote the goods of justice, order, and peace. I think Christian realism does that it, says, “You do have to take into account the whole of man. We’re not simply, you know, ruined cathedrals. We’re divine ruins as well, right. We’re both those things.” I think Dan and Eric can probably say something more, and I know John Mattox can say something more about this as well.
Strand: Yeah, I’d be happy to say just a word about Henry’s point, and I think it’s a good one. I think, at least if I’m thinking about this in terms of from a historical example, Augustine arguing with Pelagians, what is at least if you’re, you know, Orthodox Augustinian Christian of some sort where the preeminence of grace in the redeemed life that you refer to Henry—that I mean what Augustine is going to say is that cannot be captured and channeled through political outlets, through the church. And so, there’s that strong distinction between the two. There is redemption. Absolutely, I mean, that’s the affirmation that Marc is talking about. People are born again, the spirit is, indwells the human being and brings about change from sin to righteousness. It’s not full, it’s not complete in this life, and we’re always sort of wrestling with that sinful nature, but there really is redemption. And I think what Augustine in the realist tradition generally points to is to say, “Yes there is redemption—it’s just it cannot be, it’s not going to be, part of the political project.” Politics is not partaking in the redemption. Best example, you know, that we see something which was political ramifications might be something like the civil rights movement, where you do see this appeal to love brotherhood in a Protestant or at least Christian-influenced America. And you do see the way that almost a sort of supernatural love takes this, takes a sort of social manifestation. But then there’s policies that come about from the civil rights movement-you have the passage of the voting rights act, the civil rights act, you know, all these really important pieces of legislation—those legislations through the political, you know, through the political arm aren’t the ones bringing about that redemption. It’s providing a context for people to exercise their vote and so forth. So, I guess I would make that distinction between what we achieve through, what politics can do and then what Christians affirm of that regeneration of that new man that’s born again. It’s not going to. It’s going to say that we ought not look to that, look for that sort of regeneration or expect it in, through our, through our politics.
Tooley: John Mark Mattox, do you have anything to add to this conversation?
Mattox: As you may note, I just this moment sent a chat message out. I’m so very sorry, but I have some elder care responsibilities. They’re unavoidably pulling me away right now. My father is in his 90th year and unfortunately, I’m not always able to time everything exactly as I’d like to, but I’m so appreciative of the invitation to visit today and I’ve so enjoyed Dan and Marc and Eric’s comments. Thank you very, very much—this was wonderfully refreshing and I’ll hope to be able to contribute a comment the next time we meet. Thank you so much.
LiVecche: John, you have just illustrated inadvertently the basic principles of Christian realism, so thank you for that.
Mattox: Well, thank you. Thank you as well, and I’ll look forward to joining with everyone again.
Tooley: Very good, great to have you with us. Comments or questions from anyone else?
McDonald: I’d like to ask one.
Tooley: Yes, Faith McDonald.
Faith McDonnell: Okay, hi everybody. It’s good to see your faces. Marc LiVecche, I’ve heard you talk about how the existence of evil and needing to have some kind of eternal punishment of it brought you to Christianity. I think the problem today is that there’s not a real recognition of evil. We seem to be in a season where a lot of society is calling good evil and evil good. You know, riots are almost like sacraments now. So, how does Christian realism, how does the perspective of Christian realism, counter that deception?
LiVecche: That’s a great, great question. I mean, I think what, I think one thing that we can do I think that would be somewhat unique maybe is to recognize you called it I think you said almost “sacramental.” I think there’s something real to that, right. Joshua Mitchell wrote an excellent article for us, he describes it look, you know, Chesterton said it first, you know, “it’s not that the atheist, if you don’t believe in Christ, it’s not that you’ll worship nothing, it’s that you might worship anything,” right. And I think the protests demonstrate this. People have a religious impulse. This goes again to Henry Nau’s, you know, indica suggestion that there’s something good in humanity. There is a divine spark we cannot avoid that, I think if you don’t have it through either organized faith or I think more specifically within the Hebraic tradition, and more specifically still within Christ, you’re going to find it elsewhere. And you see within, you know, the hoodlums on the street, you see the religious impulse, right. Something’s gone wrong. Who’s going to fix it? When will they do that? How, how does this end, right? Human beings cannot avoid the religious impulse, and so we can start, we can start with a, from a place of compassion and recognize that even within the hoodlums, there are things that we recognize in ourselves. And so, we can start there. But then yeah, I think as an ethicist you have to start with as accurate a description of the facts on the ground as you can. So, you have to call spade spades. You have to call balls and strikes as you see them, recognizing that you might get them wrong. But we do the best that we can. And so, we begin with an accurate description of reality and then we begin to ask how the norms that we say we embrace would guide us to address that reality. Paul Ramsey, you know, Dan Strand’s favorite Christian realist, you know, provocatively asserts that Christianity is a religion without rules. And he doesn’t mean that quite literally, but he doesn’t mean that quite unliterally. But our rules are quite broad. They’re things like love, but how does love play out in this particular circumstances that has never existed before? And so, the Christian realist, you know, does the difficult work of trying to assess case by case how the mandates within Christianity apply. And then you move forward from there. But I think I’ll turn to my other panelists to address that further.
McDonnell: Thank you.
Tooley: I believe Keith Pavlischek has a question and/or comment.
Keith Pavlischek: Yeah, hi. Hey, this was terrific guys. I really appreciate it. I mean, very, very illuminating and succinct in the way you spoke to this. One of the comments that Eric made that kind of caught my attention was, and this is down in the weeds as sort of a food fight among Christian realists, but very serious that you mentioned the development over the past half century, the shift in Christian realism from a more liberal theological or even social gospel or liberal theological view to the more conservative. And when you said that, it caused a flashback to the 80s, back when I was in graduate school. And I remember how vicious and nasty, to put it bluntly, the fight was between those who—many of whom had studied at Union Seminary under Niebuhr perhaps in the 50s and were on the sort of, on the whole sort of conservative-liberal splits in the churches, they were on the liberal side—and then all of a sudden there were these more conservative theological people that were claiming Niebuhr’s mantle. And so, I mean it, I think that I mean we, you began to see echoes in the 60s when Ramsey was calling out, you know, these students of Niebuhr that didn’t seem in his mind to be very realist. And then that really blew up later. And I know that, you know, you probably saw it when somebody like Jean Austin began pointing to Niebuhr and Michael Novak. And so, it would be really interesting to, I don’t know if you’re doing this in your book, but to explore those fights, because I remember myself sort of sitting there at the time not real familiar with Niebuhr. So, only when I started to read them seriously, looking at people across the political spectrum that were all claiming his mantle, and I was saying, “well hey, this one of you guys is wrong or wrong about this, and you can’t be right.” And my, I guess at the time, my rather cynical conclusion is it probably tells you all you need to know about Niebuhr, because if he’s, you know, if he’s so plastic that the guys on the left it seem almost utopian are claiming him and they’re liberal, and then the conservatives and neoconservatives are claiming them, it seems like maybe there’s an issue here. I think there’s more to it now, but I’d really be interested in you guys exploring that more in a talk or in print or in a happy hour in my back deck over iron city beer.
Patterson: Well, maybe I’ll just take a very, say something very briefly about this book that Rob Jouster and I are working on called Christian Realism for Terrifying Times is actually designed to be a reader for undergraduate-graduate students. It’s articles, essays, book chapters from Christian realists starting the, and what’s most important is it’s divided up into three eras—and this is getting to Keith’s point. The first era we call the Classical Era, which is up to the Vietnam War. The second era of Christian realism is from the Vietnam War, or midway through the Vietnam War, up through 1989. And then the third is the world that we’ve been in since the fall of communism. And each of those eras you see certain themes come back out. The questions about power, responsibility, how to deal with things like an anti-Christian ideology, whether it is fascism or communism. And they all, there’s also specific kind of operational questions—use and bellow types of questions—things such as the morality of WMDs, weapons of mass destruction pop up in every generation. It’s picked up by Niebuhr. It’s handed to Ramsey, and then Ramsey hands it on to people like Keith Pavlischek and others—George Weigel, Jean Beth Gelstein, Ernie Lefever in the 1970s and 80s who founded EPPC. There’s this, there actually is a continuity of the types of questions that keep coming up, and so often they’re about power, responsibility, fighting off wishful pacifisms, and the like. So, you know, there is a question in the notes about religious freedom and how might the US respond. I’m just going to read it and then throw it to Marc and Dan if they want to take a whack at this, but by the way, human rights is part of this reader we’re talking about. “Turkey and Saudi Arabia are bad actors, although Turkey is a formal NATO ally and we often partner with Saudi Arabia. How does Christian realism apply to allies and partners with bad records, and I would just say bad records most generally, but specifically on Christian persecution.”
LiVecche: I wish we had somebody heading a religious freedom institute on our page.
Strand: I know, I wish there was an expert here on international religious freedom.
Patterson: Yeah there is, it’s Nadine.
Strand: Oh, wait a second.
Patterson: Maybe I will say, maybe I’ll say one thing and then I’ll hand it to Nadine. And I’ll say something from the historical realism perspective, and that is that the Adam Watson, who is considered kind of an early British Christian realist, he’s a part of the English school. A former diplomat and professor, he made an argument about why we have religious freedom in the West, and the argument that he made was actually kind of a Niebuhr Christian realism argument and it was this—we didn’t get Christian religious freedom really in the West because it was such a noble idea, we got it because people were tired of fighting. And his argument, and others have made a similar argument, and he’s picking up on a theme from Herbert Butterfield, is that most of the times that we have any advances in human rights it’s not because it’s a beautiful noble idea, it’s because there’s been some sort of terrible thing like the Holocaust or the 30 Year’s War in the backdrop. And so, those tragedies push us forward to do the right thing. And that’s actually a pretty important type of Christian realist perspective, and that is to recognize our best values, our best hopes for humanity—it’s very hard to get those into law and to see them in practice. So, what are the types of realistic policy opportunities that allow us to push in those domains? And these early Christian realists said, “Listen, though we got the genocide convention, sadly was the Holocaust, let’s not have that happen again. Let’s resolve ourselves to work so we don’t end up like that.” But it’s often, often it’s Christians and others seizing the moment when the world is at its darkest to try to push forward towards a better set of laws, a better set of policies. Nadine-
Nadine Maenza: Yeah, and I think that, you know, it’s interesting to realize. I’m talking about power—you know, we’re the most powerful country in the world. For us to be afraid to anger Turkey, for instance, by bringing up some of the situations that they’ve entered in recently, you know, whether it’s in northeast Syria or Armenia, you know, it doesn’t serve us well. It doesn’t serve religious minorities well. It doesn’t serve the global community, world well. So, you know, to me we have these opportunities to speak into these issues and prioritize them, and these other countries are listening to us. Saudi Arabia cares what we think. All these countries care what we think. And we have the opportunity to prioritize that this matters to us and to make the case for how it benefits them. And I think that we need to be doing that more.
Tooley: We have time for perhaps one more question. Comment or question?
LiVecche: Okay, can I ask a question? We shouldn’t end with my question, but Eric, I think an obvious question would be why, and I’m sure there’s a good explanation for this so I’m interested in it, why didn’t you also say post-9/11 being a unique era to explore?
Patterson: Well, so we decided that many of the issues that were nascent from 1991 forward were just continued after 9/11. So, genocide in the Balkans, genocide in Rwanda, whether or not to intervene—the first great intervention being of course 1991 in Iraq. Lots of issues of the 1990s about liberal internationalism—a more robust UN, the neo-economic order, and terrorism—all of those things start. Whether it’s at Khobar Towers or the bombing of the USS Cole or the 1993 often forgotten attempted bombing of the US World Trade Center in New York City. So, many of these things started then, and it’s amazing because what say Elshtain, George Weigel, and James Turner Johnson wrote in 1991 and 1992 about the intervention and to save Kuwait, they make almost the exact same arguments 15 years later. So, lots of those trends are very, very similar I’d say. That, and the questions about weapons of mass destruction, they continue all through that era. I would say that what happens after 9/11 is there are a set of questions in the United States that we have not dealt with before such as torture and some other use and bellow types of things—that’s some of, that’s new ground. And we deal, highlight people like Johnson and Weigel who talk about it, and Strand and LiVecche, you’re all in the book.
Tooley: And Eric, before we close could you repeat the formal name of your upcoming book?
Patterson: Yeah, so that book will be published by Wipf and Stock next year. It’s called Christian Realism for Terrifying Times and for some people they’ll love it because it is 30 to 40 readings, short readings, straight from Christian realists Ramsey, Niebuhr, and others. So, if you like the original readings, that’s what it’ll be. Other people are less interested in that, they’d like more of a historical book, but this book puts them into three eras and it’ll be available probably summer of 2021.
LiVecche: So, anybody teaching a course on Christian realism, this would be a brilliant textbook.
Patterson: That’s right, that’s what it’s for.
Tooley: Eric Patterson, we anxiously look forward to that book. We thank you Marc LiVecche and Daniel Strand for a, as expected, fascinating conversation on Christian realism. If you joined us late, this conversation will be posted on the Providence website and Providence Facebook page, so look forward to it. And we will declare this first ever Providence virtual happy hour a great success to be repeated next month on a topic soon to be announced. Thank you everybody, bye-bye.
Strand: Thanks, Mark.
LiVecche: Thanks everybody for coming, good to see everybody. Hope to see you inside sometime soon.