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Christian community in the shadow of Hegel, Nietzsche, and Fukuyama

By Peter Sellick - posted Monday, 10 February 2003


Francis Fukuyama's book The End of History and the Last Man draws heavily on the above authors to tell us that liberal democracy is the end point of political development. He attributes the movement towards liberal democracy to the equalitarian aspects of Christianity which proclaim that all are equal in the Kingdom of God. However, following Hegel, he argues that Christianity is the last great slave religion because the freedom that adherents are called to is cancelled when they bow their necks to an imaginary Lord who is none other than their own projection. Furthermore, he argues, along with Nietzsche, that the idea that all men are equal is a prejudice perpetrated by Christianity and an expression of the assertion of the weak against the strong. This has produced a fanaticism that strives to make all equal as witnessed by the programs of political correctness. Christians are thus the un-free compared to those liberated by the movements of secular liberalism.

When one looks at contemporary Christianity we must admit that he has a point. The strong emphasis on humility, of "giving oneself to Christ" of the power that is perfected in weakness and of Jesus giving himself up to death would suggest that this is a religion for the weak who use their weakness by way of guilt and conscience to take the high moral ground over the strong. Witness the almost knee-jerk response of the church whenever the possibility of war occurs. Inspect any number of Christian congregations and look for the intellectuals, scientists, captains of industry and leaders of the community. By and large they will not be there. It is often the case that the people who are in church are the sentimental, the superstitious, the gullible and the uncritical. This has led to Christian congregations being described as the ghetto of the immature.

Witness also the social justice movement in the church that fanatically pursues the equality of all men, women and children and the natural progression of such an idea in all age worship, the transformation of worship into Sunday school. In the absence of a more virile agenda, committees spend time and money making sure that no minority is excluded or offended. This leads to the mangling of ancient liturgies and texts so as not to offend the feminists, access ramps when there are no wheelchair worshippers and preaching that is careful of stirring the least passion or taking a firm stand.

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From our observation of contemporary Christianity we may draw the conclusion that Christianity is a slave religion that tells its adherents that they are free while reducing them to intellectual dependence. The question arises as to whether contemporary Christianity is a true picture of the original or whether it has been hijacked and distorted by the spirit of the times.

What does the Christian tradition say about equality? The key saying of Paul that: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28) does not say that we are all equal but that Christ has broken down all of the social, cultural and sexual barriers. Indeed, his metaphor of the church as a body that is composed of different parts (1Cor.12) emphasises not that we are all the same but that we are all different. It is in this difference that we properly constitute the church. It is the breakdown of the barriers between individuals in society that sets the stage for liberal democracy. Being one in Christ Jesus supercedes the authority of the master and destroys the stratification of society into classes or casts. Such stratification is antagonistic to liberal democracy and of economic activity. It is only after this move has been made that meritocracy, that basic component of efficiency, may be established.

In the gospels Jesus is seen eating and drinking with the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the traitors and the morally unclean, much to the disgust of the good and the religious. In doing so did he tell us that the person who cheats his fellow citizens is equal to the law-abiding and hard-working or did he mean to expose religious self-righteousness? Similarly, when Matthew frames parables of the kingdom in terms of the priority of the microi (little ones) does he invert social hierarchy making the slaves into masters and the masters into slaves or does he subvert the social hierarchy that keeps the sick and the poor in their places? The saying that, in the kingdom, "the first shall be last and the last first" obviously does not intend to bring about a kind of dictatorship by the downtrodden. We have learned full well that such a reversal of social position brings more evil than it replaces. Rather, the saying subverts the dehumanizing tendency of cultures mired in privilege.

Christianity subverts dehumanising culture, whether that be religious, civil or familiar culture, and as such has been the engine that drives freedom movements. Hegel's criticism is that it engenders another kind of slavery when the adherent "clings to Christ".

The accusation that Christianity is a slave religion begs the question as to the origin of Christian freedom. If we are freed from the bonds imposed by culture in the form of the family and the state or the group only to come under tutelage to an all-powerful deity, then Christian freedom evaporates. If this were so, and it is for so many practicing Christians, then the pronouncement of Hegel is correct.

However, there exist strong traditions in Judaism and Christianity that release us from that kind of bondage. These traditions are centred on the prohibition against any images of God whatsoever. We find this in the prologue of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:4,5) in Moses's conversation with God before the burning bush in which the name of God is given as "I am" (Exod 3:14). Not only can there not be images of this God but there can also be no proper name for Him. This is given visual expression in the design of the mercy seat that occupies the top of the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:22). This seat is bracketed by the cherubim but consists of an empty space.

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The imagery is duplicated in John's gospel in the tomb, in which two angels bracket the space where Jesus had been laid (John 20:11,12). The God of Christians and Jews is represented by an empty space. A similar removal of God from the sensible world occurs in front of Elijah's cave in which God exists only in sheer silence (1Kings:19:11,12) This means that when Israel was called out of slavery in Egypt they did not simply exchange one master for another. The agony of the desert was due to the habits of slavery they brought with them and the apparent absence of their God. In the New Testament, the exodus is a journey out of slavery to sin and death or to the principalities and powers of the universe. As for Israel, the transition was fraught with problems because radical freedom is an uncomfortable thing. The theme of many of the NT epistles is similar to the mumbling tradition in Exodus, it was all too easy for adherents to fall back into slavery as does the church on the back foot in our time. The strong traditions of iconoclasm in both the Old and New Testaments ensure that the freedom of the Christian is not just a mask for religious slavery.

There is a crucial distinction between revelation and ideology. I use the term "revelation" to indicate those insights gained from historical event rather than as a direct communication from a supernatural God. Revelation thus consists in Israel and the Church reflecting on the events of the past as any political historian may do. That is, this kind of truth about what it is like to be human must be incarnated. It is only in the fleshly history of Israel and of Jesus that ideology is avoided. It is only when we are thus equipped that we can address the present and the future. Prophecy is the forward-looking movement of revelation. All this is to say that revelation is different from ideology because it has an historical grounding. This is instructive when we come to discuss the evolution of liberal democracy. Freedom in the Christian community is grounded in the experience of Israel and the Church in history. However, with the decline of the church and the absence of potent theology in our educational institutions, this is turned into ideology, something that has been severed from its ontological origins and now exists as an attractive attitude. This is nowhere more apparent than in the spread of the idea of human rights that has become foundational for liberal democracies.

John Locke, in his essay Second Treatise of Civil Government [1690] derived the idea of rights, not from the traditions of Israel and of the church but from natural theology. Natural theology relies on a theology of creation that has God create the physical world. Being God's creation, the physical world demonstrates his handiwork and his laws. Thus we arrive at the idea of natural law. Human rights are thence derived from this law as self evident and needing no other warrant. Human beings are created free and possess inalienable rights by the fact of their creation. This idea has become so widespread that it is impossible to discuss issues of justice without it.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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