"Law without (what I call) religion degenerates into a mechanical legalism. Religion without (what I call) law loses its social effectiveness... it is a dialectical synthesis, a synthesis of opposites." - Harold J. Berman, The Interaction of Law and Religion

Friday, January 18, 2013

Wolterstorff's The Mighty and the Almighty and Christian Political Theology

Cambridge UP
Nicholas Wolterstorff has done students of religion and politics a great service in summing up his approach to politics and theology in his concise and approachable set of lectures The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology. The text here has been refined over nearly fifteen years; delivering them as the Stone Lectures (a lectureship he shares with the distinguished political theologian Abraham Kuyper) in 1998 at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wolterstorff has since carved the text into a precise statement of his political thought.

Wolterstorff has had a late-career renaissance as a political philosopher of the first order, beginning with his foundational articulation of a Christian theory of human rights (Justice: Rights and Wrongs), followed by his extended theological reflection on justice and Christian ethics (Justice in Love) and his collection of essays on democracy and political theology (Understanding Liberal Democracy). What we see now is a systematically coherent approach to political theology, an approach that he condenses and defends in these lectures on political authority. Though political theology has been an important issue in Wolterstorff’s oeuvre since his Until Justice and Peace Embrace (1981 Kuyper Lectures at the Free University of Amsterdam)

Taking cues from Jeffery Stout's revered Democracy and Tradition, Wolterstorff embraces the unique theological resources of Christianity while translating its contribution   into the argot of political theory—positional authority and performance authority, rights and states. According to Wolterstorff, St. Paul has coherent, basic frame of political authority and divine obligations. This dual obligation of Christians to State and God informed early Christian practice in the Roman Empire, and can inform Christian practice today as citizens of democratic republics. As Jeffery Stout has gracefully exhorted, members of all religious groups in America must be willing to articulate their moral and political commitments in terms others understand in order to promote democratic dialogue. "Not only does respect for my fellow citizens require that I invite them to tell me how they think about these issues and that I attentively listen to what they say; by their speaking and by my listening I get a sense of what they care most deeply about, and thereby some sense of what a politics that is fair to all would be." (Wolterstorff, 8.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Legal practice versus religious faith: Experts weigh in

also posted at Spirited Thinking

When word got around Emory Law School this week that faculty members representing the three Abrahamic faiths were going to share their views on negotiating the tensions between legal practice and religious faith, every classroom seat was taken, along with some parts of the floor.

Professors Frank Alexander, founding director of the school's Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR), and CSLR senior fellows Michael Broyde and Abdullahi An-Na'im spoke with students, local professionals and staff about how their respective religious beliefs were the impetus and guide for their work in law.

From his perspective as a Protestant, Alexander said he sees legal practice as a means of service and a response to the grace of God. “Faith makes my practice possible in a confessional sense,” he said.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Christianity and the Laws of War: John Fabian Witt on Lincoln's Code

Earlier this month, John Fabian Witt came to campus to discuss Lincoln’s important role in the development of the laws of war. This lecture was based on Witt’s lauded history of American laws of war, Lincoln’s Code. Law and religion aficionados can appreciate Witt’s work for his treatment of the role of religious belief in Lincoln’s revision of the laws of war.

Lincoln’s military strategy during the Civil War included a little-known set of military orders, the “General Orders Number 100,” a set of rules for soldiers and officers guiding the conduct and principles of Union warfare. This set of rules both shifted the law of war tradition in Europe and provoked the Confederacy.

As Witt points out, prior to the Civil War, the United States and European countries observed a set of rules governing “civilized” warfare. These rules were developed during the Enlightenment as a response to the rules of the medieval Just War tradition. Enlightened critics claimed the Just War tradition encouraged escalating cycles of retribution and revenge because the righteousness of the ends of war justified unhinged aggression for the sake of the cause. This self-righteous aggression was contained by the Enlightenment rules proscribing private property damage, harsh treatment of prisoners, and other conduct. These rules proceeded on the assumption, according to Witt, that ends-based reasoning and evaluation of moral righteousness was inapt, that both warring nations had equally just goals.