Sunday, January 16, 2011

The city of God and the city of man

Naomi Schaefer Riley reviews one of the best recent books about Christians and politics, City of Man, by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner:
.... City of Man—its title taken from Augustine’s formulation of how man should act here on earth—is a kind of response to both internal and external voices criticizing religious conservatives.  ....

As Gerson and Wehner write, “Unlike Moses or Muhammad, Jesus of Nazareth did not set out a political blueprint or ideal of any kind. He specifically rejected the political utopianism of some of His followers. He lived within a Roman Empire whose existence he hardly mentioned.” And yet that does not mean that religion must live apart from politics. “As all human activity—from the mundane to the profound, from personal lives to professional careers—falls under God’s domain, so authentic Christian faith should be relevant to the whole of life; it ought not to be segregated from world affairs,” they write. ....

Gerson and Wehner want Christians to remember that there is a morally significant role for government in the Christian worldview and it does not involve the creation of a theocracy, as some critics suggest. The authors emphasize, for instance, the importance of maintaining order in creating a moral society. And so that is how, in the middle of a book about religion and American politics, one finds discussion of a famous philosopher supporting the “broken windows” theory of policing. “Public disorder,” Gerson and Wehner write, “is evidence of a permissive moral environment. It is a signal that no one cares. As Plato framed the same point, it suggests ‘corruption in the very souls’ of those charged with keeping order.” ....

The book’s authors are political strategists who are also men of faith. Their advice—that this is not the time for Christians in America to retreat from public life—is heartfelt and sincere. Before Christians run off to join the religious left or the Tea Party movement, they would do well to consider the arguments in City of Man. Whatever they decide, they can’t but benefit from Gerson’s and Wehner’s advice: “One trap for Christians is to begin to believe that they and their cause are indispensable and that God can’t accomplish His purposes without them....The struggle many of us face is to keep from believing that God depends on us instead of the other way around.”
Commentary: City of Man, by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner