CHAT With The Author: Robert Tracy McKenzie; We The Fallen People
Previous "Chat" interviews;
Phil Miglioratti @ Reimagine.Network
- PHIL>>> It has been said history is written by the victors. What is the danger for Christ-followers holding tightly to an unexamined patriotism?
ROBERT>>> One signal danger is that we cease to be salt and light in the culture, that we become so determined to speak in defense of the nation that we no longer also speak prophetically to the nation when that is called for. When it comes to our memory of American history, we are too often tempted to believe that anything that acknowledges our shortcomings is somehow “unpatriotic.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian thinker G. K. Chesterton made this point well over a century ago. Chesterton noted that true patriotism is less an expression of pride than a commitment to love a particular human community, and authentic love “is not blind,” as he put it. “That is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound, the less it is blind.” We must never accept the false dichotomy that pits patriotism against an honest acknowledgment of America’s failures and flaws. Because love binds rather than blinds, we are free to criticize our country without somehow betraying it.
I’ll go further. I think that Christians must do so. Because we are created in the image of God and disfigured by moral corruption—because we simultaneously reflect both the image of God and original sin—all human communities exhibit these twin realities in varying proportions. We’re right to celebrate what is honorable in our past, but we err when that’s all we acknowledge. A sanitized national history purged of moral failures isn’t just inaccurate. It teaches “bad religion,” contradicting what orthodox Christianity has always taught about human nature and the human condition.
- PHIL>>> Ed Stetzer believes you "help us think Christianly as American citizens about the future of our democracy." What does it mean to "think Christianly?"
ROBERT>> I should say up front that I first came across the concept of “thinking Christianly” in a wonderful old book—little remembered or read today—titled The Christian Mind. Its author, Harry Blamires, was mentored by C.S. Lewis while at Oxford. To think Christianly involves bringing foundational truths of Christian theology to bear on every facet of life, applying them systematically and persistently in order to scrutinize not only the external behavior of ourselves and others but, even more importantly, our ways of thinking and being, those countless implicit and often unconscious assumptions that guide us through life. To make this more concrete, in We the Fallen People I argue that the way we discuss political issues in the public square almost always carries subliminal messages about human nature that are either confirming or contradicting scriptural precepts. The sad truth is that we can often find ourselves advocating policy outcomes that seem concordant with Biblical principles, yet doing so with rhetorical arguments that are surreptitiously at war with foundational Christian truths.
- PHIL>>> Our nation seems to be polarized by and fixated upon partisan issues. How is thinking about democracy different from thinking/talking politically?
ROBERT>> Most of the time when we think and talk about politics, we are thinking about specific policy issues and how to bring about the specific outcome that seems to us most immediately desirable. This is different from thinking about democracy as a system of self-government that translates popular values into public policy, and vastly different from scrutinizing democracy as a set of cultural values that both shape and reflect our hearts. It’s the latter that I’m most interested in. Thinking Christianly about democracy has little to do with figuring out how to win the next election or clean house in Washington or put the right candidate or party into power. Rather, it’s recognizing that deeply embedded in our political arguments are assumptions about the human condition that are either reinforcing or undermining the heart of the gospel message.
- PHIL>>> The title of your book inserts "fallen" into the famous opening to our Constitution...
- What does it mean to be a "fallen" people?
- ROBERT>> In referring to Americans as a “fallen people,” I am not singling out the people of the United States, but rather reminding us that Americans, like human beings generally, bear the marks of what theologians refer to as “the fall.” Since the disobedience of our first parents, each of us enters the world as rebels against our rightful ruler. To say that we are “fallen” is to say that each of us is marked by “original sin,” that we have inherited a natural selfishness manifested in the desire to rule ourselves and please ourselves. Coming to think of ourselves as fallen is less about calling out specific sins that plague the world around us than about a willingness to acknowledge the sin nature that dwells inside each of us. We are naturally selfish and self-centered.
- Why have you made "fallenness" central to your thesis?
- ROBERT>> After teaching on the rise of American democracy for more than three decades, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the greatest shifts in U.S. history has been a revolutionary alteration in popular understandings of human nature, and I’m convinced that this has had an enormous bearing on the evolution of American democracy, and more specifically, on our currently dysfunctional and polarized politics. On the whole, our Founding Fathers believed that human beings are capable of acts of sublime self-sacrifice, but they took for granted that we are generally driven by self-interest, even at the expense of others, which means that power—whether exercised by a king, by a dictator, by an elected legislature, or by a popular majority—is always a threat to liberty. Within a half-century of American independence, however, the country was rapidly abandoning this understanding of human nature in exchange for a far more flattering democratic “gospel” that preaches that we are individually good and collectively wise. I call this “the Great Reversal,” and I devote much of We the Fallen People to assessing this reigning dogma in the light of Biblical truth.
- To centralize the fallen state of humanity into Christian's worldview seems like a paradigm shift with radical implications...
- ROBERT>> It absolutely is. Boiled down, there are really only two basic reasons to believe in democracy. The first is because you have faith in human nature. The second is because you don’t. C. S. Lewis explained it this way: On the one hand, you may think that humans are naturally so good and wise that they “deserve a share in the government” and the government “needs their advice.” On the other hand, you may deem men and women so naturally selfish that no one of them, no small group of them, can be trusted with unchecked power over their neighbors. The first view is “the false, romantic doctrine of democracy,” Lewis maintained. The “true ground of democracy” is the second. I whole-heartedly agree. In light of the “Great Reversal,” the troubling truth is that Americans long ago embraced democracy for the wrong reason. The way forward lies not in finding an alternative to democracy—nothing better is available in a fallen world—but in rediscovering the only “true ground” on which democracy can flourish. Make no mistake, this would be a paradigm shift of prodigious dimensions.
- PHIL>>> Robert, compose a prayer you would challenge every believer to pray; for themself, for their nation; for the Church.
ROBERT>> Father in heaven, thank You for the mercy and unmerited favor You have showered on our land. Teach us to think Christianly about our democracy, and help us to embrace it for the right reason and to ground it on a true foundation. Remind us that the line separating good and evil does not separate us from our political opponents, but runs instead through every human heart, including our own. Grant us the humility that comes with knowing that we and all who agree with us politically are fallen beings in need of Your mercy. Bestow on us the charity that comes with recognizing that all who disagree with us politically are precious beings who bear Your image. Spare us from making idols of any political leader, party, or movement, and make us zealous, above all, for the testimony of Your church to a watching world. Amen.
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