Monday, June 24, 2024

Let Truth and Falsehood grapple

The Dispatch has added another newsletter. "Dispatch Faith" will be emailed on Sundays.
Dispatch Faith will not be a newsletter version of those “Coexist” bumper stickers you sometimes see on the road. We don’t intend to flatten out the real and substantive differences between religions. This newsletter also won’t cater to only one branch of one faith or seek to drive away those who profess no religious faith.

No, we want Dispatch Faith to help readers of all sorts better understand both religion in general and the nuances of particular faith traditions. Often, these essays will touch on religion’s influence on politics, policy, and culture writ large.
The first of these newsletters contains an essay by Karen Swallow Prior: "Christian Nationalism Is a Failure of Imagination." From a part of that essay that draws from the work of John Milton:
In 1644, John Milton, most famous for the Christian epic poem, Paradise Lost, published a treatise directed at his own political and religious faction, the Puritan-led Parliament, appealing to it not to resort to the licensing restrictions of the printing press that had been the approach of his faction’s enemy, the monarchy. Areopagitica (whose title is linked to the same Areopagus, or Mars Hill, made famous by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17) makes some of the most compelling arguments in modern literature for religious liberty. The work became a cornerstone for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Milton’s arguments are thoroughly rooted, not only in robust Christian doctrine, but in firsthand knowledge of just how corruptible a marriage between religion and government is.

Virtue, Milton argues, differs from innocence, which does no wrong because wrong is not an option. Virtue must be chosen in order to be virtue:
He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised & unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.
Liberty, not the coercion of the law, is the friend of truth, Milton writes. Licensing and prohibiting are its enemies:
And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter. Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.
Living and writing during the height of the English civil wars, wars fought between factions whose religious and political identities were indistinguishable, Milton fought for the right to be wrong (and free to be wrong), even on matters of utmost political, spiritual, and eternal importance:
Truth is compared in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition. A man may be a heretic in the truth; and if he believe things only because his Pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds, becomes his heresy.
A flourishing Christian faith, along with a flourishing nation, depends on minds free and well-formed enough to recognize truth amid falsehood. The primary question Christian nationalism claims to ask—namely, what does it look like for people of faith (Christian or otherwise) to advocate in the public square for the public policies they believe will do the most public good?—cannot be answered with tropes, types, and cliches. Such are the makings of a flattened imagination that can deal only with ideas, not the real world. .... (more)

1 comment:

  1. I am glad to see the Dispatch move this direction. Religion writing in the current media ecosphere has not flourished, and much of what is out there is so desperately and transparency partisan that it doesn't fairly pass as anything other than propaganda--either for one or another version of a given faith, or as an invitation for people of faith to sacrifice one or another part of their faith for reasons of political expediency. Evangelical Christian writing in this space has been perhaps the most dire. I'm a fan of Swallow Prior's work also.


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