Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is God a Political Centrist?

In a recent post, Patrick Brennan wrote: “I like to think of MOJ as a community where we are working to be that ‘perhaps not numerous center’ that will count -- big enough and painstaking enough not to rest in the past nor to be scattered and captivated by anything less than the truth, which is neither left nor right.” The claim that truth is somewhere in the center has an Aristotelian rhetorical appeal. And it trades on the conceit that people on the left and right are ideologues. But people of the religious right believe that they are following God’s will; so too with people on the religious left. The claim that God’s truth is in the center might be correct, but it is by no means obvious.


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Absolute truth is neither Left nor Right, but perspectival and relative truths* in politics and econsomics, as elsewhere, which is all we are fitted by nature or God to possess as human beings, can be discovered in various sections of Mirabeau's "geography of the assembly," and there's nothing that precludes the more important and urgent truths being found, as I and others believe, predominantly on the Left, at least in our time and place. Furthermore, the extent to which I identify myself as a Marxist does not rule out the fact that I can learn "truths" of a kind from, say, Edmund Burke or Confucius. For me, at any rate, "the Right" over the last several hundred years is virtually synonymous with what Albert Hirschman famously described as (in the title of his book) The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy (1991). The "truths" of contemporary conservatism are analyzed with clarity and wit in Ted Honderich's Conservatism: Burke, Nozick, Bush, Blair? (2005 ed.).

*On what I mean by perspectival and relative truths, please see, first, here: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2009/09/jaina-propaedeutic-for-metaphysical.html

and then, here: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2009/09/facts-values-truth-objectivity_22.html

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Feb 11, 2010 9:26:40 PM

I think St. Paul shows us a way to move beyond left, right or center and to identify, not with a political movement or school of philosophy, but with Christ and those he loves (1 Cor. 1:19):

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Posted by: BMW | Feb 11, 2010 9:54:51 PM

Is God a political centrist?

I believe the answer is clearly "no". God and God's love are radical and at the end of a spectrum: almost loopy or looney per some formulations when compared to modern political ideologies. Sometimes, it seems to me, God's call and God's love align well with what we view as the political right; sometimes aligning well with what we view as the political left. Rarely, if ever, it seems to me, with what we view as the center. Counter-cultural, yet enduring, while being radical ... these are God.

Posted by: DFoley | Feb 11, 2010 10:29:14 PM

I'm not sure that framing this discussion in political terms (left, right, centrist) is useful.

As Catholics, I think we need to be willing to stand where the truth puts us. That's probably going to make us lean right on marriage and life issues, lean left on social justice issues (poverty relief, criminal justice issues), etc. But aiming for right, left, or centrist positions should not be our concern because anytime we aim for a political position we end up betraying the subtlety and flexibility of our theological beliefs. Those political labels are descriptors that others, lacking more sophisticated descriptors (and possessing a more simplistic worldview), may use to explain our positions, but they should never be labels that we who possess that more sophisticated worldview, strive to exemplify ourselves.


Posted by: Gregory K. Popcak | Feb 12, 2010 9:46:33 AM

Traditional Catholics take political positions that are on the left and some on the right. But there are Catholics who are on the left and Catholics who are on the right. They do not take those positions because they want to be on the left or the right, but because their understanding of God's will is different from traditional Catholics.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Feb 12, 2010 10:43:37 AM

Love cannot be abstract to mean something. When God incarnated on earth, he said unequivocally that we should love our fellow humans just as if they were God Himself. That is the only meaningful way we can love God. It is also the only way we can enjoy a secure and caring society. Surely then, it is plain that Christians should be socialists or even communists. Why otherwise did the apostles hold everything in common? Christians have spent two millennia trying to obfuscate what is obvious.

Posted by: Dr Michael Magee | Feb 17, 2010 3:10:28 PM