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Tuesday, April 15, 2003
There's a fairly snarky but good article on Reason online about Syria, which is worth reading.
It also links to a discussion of the phrase "immanentizing the eschaton," which comes from Eric Voegelin’s 1952 book, The New Science of Politics. Basically, it's the idea that political leaders shouldn't assume that paradise (or utopia or perfection) is acheivable, because then they will try and acheive it, and use any means necessary to do so, which is bad because paradise isn't really going to happen on earth anytime soon. I will quote the article here because it's basically me, but smarter, and describes a cornerstone of my political faith, I think:
For Voegelin, as least in his role as political scientist, the great dividing line is between certainty and uncertainty. The good thing is uncertainty. Why? Because people who are certain about humanity’s ends often seek to divinize society, to reunite heaven and earth, by establishing within this world the true and final purposes of man. For Voegelin, this form of certainty is the great threat to humanity. For the man who is certain in this way “will not leave the transfiguration of the world to the grace of God beyond history but will do the work of God himself, right here and now, in history.” Cromwell was certain in this way. Lenin and Hitler were, if anything, even more certain. Indeed, leaders and social movements possessed of this type of certainty shaped much of the 20th century, including almost all of its bloodiest and ugliest parts.
Voegelin argues that belief in God makes us, or at least should make us, less certain. If, as Paul puts it, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” then faith is much closer to hope than it is to certainty. It does, or at least should, temper our all-too-human tendency toward pride and lessen the chances that we will transform any of the ideas limited to this world (History, Progress, Patriotism, there are many others) into final answers. At a minimum, belief in God suggests a difference between salvation and self-salvation.
Yes, many terrible things have been done and justified in the name of religion. But I think - okay, I also hope - that Voegelin is right to suggest that, in the modern world, sincere faith reduces rather than increases the risk of excessive existential certitude. Dr. R. Maurice Boyd, the pastor of the City Church, New York, says that Jesus’ ministry can be summed up in two questions. When speaking about the kingdom of God to the powerful and the self-righteous, he always asked: Are you so sure you’re in? And to the weak and the castigated, he always asked: Are you so sure you’re out? Don’t be so certain. To me, that is perfect.