Friday, April 29, 2011

At the Calvin College Symposium on Religion and Politics

I am writing to all my readers from Grand Rapids MI (my first overnight stay in the "State up North") where I am attending a symposium on religion and politics hosted by Calvin College's Paul B. Henry Institute. So to get some random thoughts in before Shabbos:

I got a ride up to the conference with another Ohio State student. I can't think of many other times where I talked to someone for nearly five hours straight, the entire car trip. He played Carl Reiner to my libertarian historian Mel Brooks. This was the perfect sort of conversation for me. I got to talk about the things that interest me such as the historical method and libertarianism and challenged by an intelligent person who disagrees with me and asks good questions leading to a conversation that I had not previously worked through every move for both sides in my head. Not that I mind questioning other people. The only problem is that I tend to turn more inquisitorial than most people would like. Not that it is personal; on the contrary, I do not care about people's lives, but only their views of life and whether they are coherent and consistent. Though failure to do so is something I take personally.

I gave a presentation this morning of a draft of my dissertation chapter on Joachim of Fiore and Isaac Abarbanel. Where else but a Protestant institution should a Jew go to talk about Catholics (as well as Jews)? I was the odd man out in my discussion panel in that I was not talking about Thomas Hobbes. (Who could resist at an institution named Calvin?) In general this has been a very political science conference so it was probably the perfect place to announce to political science people that the study of political history is a political act in that it makes politics relevant and so historians like me are needed to make their academic lives meaningful. Then again perhaps my work will convince some of these political science people to not despair that even though  the apocalypse might come, ushering in the end of earthly politics, their studies might still yet not have been in vein. 

At one of the sessions there were two presentations that were open Christian apologetics. The first argued against non theistic understandings of the moral imperative to obey authority figures. The second was a defense of Jonathan Edwards' understanding of Original Sin. Edwards argued that if every being was born independently and untainted by Original Sin then every person would be the equivalent of the prelapsarian Adam. Adam as an innocent being in total communion with God was incapable of having any knowledge of sin and evil. Because of this he could not identify evil and resist it. This leads to a cosmology of consistent decay where every person falls from grace when confronted with sin just like Adam. In the Edwardian cosmology everyone is corrupt from the beginning, but we can then take a more upwards view of things as people at least try to improve themselves. 

This was my first conference hosted by a religious institution so maybe it should have been expected. As a historian, though, I take for granted the fact that my job is to describe "who," "what," "when," "where" and "why," but not "should." I write about messianism, but there is nothing in what I do that can suggest one way or another whether a messiah might be coming or when. My Carl Reiner friend pointed out that coming from a political science perspective there may not be such a simple bifurcation. That is an interested point; does political science force one out of the neutrality of mere description  and into actual advocacy.    

Have a good Shabbos everyone.   

1 comment:

no one said...

against non theistic understandings of the moral imperative to obey authority--
he should have added theistic