George Strickland comments on editorial by Dr. Bouteneff

I’m highlighting Mr. Strickland’s comments because ideas within it deserve consideration.

Dr. Bouteneff’s article has stirred a great deal of debate in these pages. My response is drawn from Bouteneff’s statement: “Neither is there any one system of governance, be it monarchy, democracy, plutocracy, or theocracy, which the Church would sanction as such to be the Christian way of estasblishing and maintaining a state…Christians are not ipso facto socialists, capitalists, or monarchists. And such as we Americans are accustomed to the logic of democracy, democracy is neither the way in which the Church is govers itself, nor is it the only or obvious Christian kind of state…Christians…have to decide in each particular case what best meets the criteria of Christian life.”

There are many ideas packed in this statement, and I am limited in time in commenting on them. I start with a question. Through her long experience in history, has the Church had a period (until the time of America’s great experiment in democracy) in which the state has not directly attempted to control ecclesiastical affairs? Emperors, Czars, and dictators have all had their hands inside the doors of the Church, attempting to muzzle the voice of the Gospel. As an Orthodox Christian, I cannot imagine wanting to live in a state governed by the whims, greed and power-madness of absolute rulers. Christians for Czarists? No thank you.

Bouteneff is dimissive of the importance of democracy for the Church,simply categorizing it among the various types of state. We only happen to be Orthodox Christians living in a democratic style of government. It appears to me Bouteneff is values- neutral when it comes to democratic institutions. They just happen to be. What account do they have for the Church?

American style democracy is based on the principle of the “limited state.” Governmental coercion is strictly limited by the expressed guarantees of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There are built-in checks and balances, the safeguards that work well on occasions and fail in others. To be sure, American democracy is a messy business; it is highly competitive in both the markeplaces of economics and ideas. For some people, this is disquieting and assaultive of the ideal. All in all, what would replace it?

This leads me to to the question of the proper relationship between Church and state. Bouteneff is off-center here. The state should not confess a faith. It does that, however, when, in hostility to the faith confessed by its people, it confesses the ersatz religion of militant secularism. The great antidemocratic danger comes from the secularist creeds imposed by governments that recognize no higher (transcendent) sovereignty.

That was the reality of Nazism and communism. That danger is also present in our democracy when “the separation of church and state” is taken to mean the separation of religion from public life. The public square, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If it is not filled with the lively expression of the most deeply held convictions of the people, including their convictions grounded in religion, it will be filled by the quasi–religious beliefs of secularism. Christians should be encouraged to lively, sometimes heated, debate and decision-making in the public square.

One may well ask whether Bouteneff’s perspective is capable of informing democratic deliberation and decision by reference to an Orthodox grounded moral discernment.

Democratic deliberation and decision–making is necessarily conflictual. Short of the End Time, even among people of the best will (and it will never be that everybody will be of the best will), there will be different and frequently conflicting understandings of moral truth and the common good—and, increasingly, there is disagreement over what might be meant by words such as “truth” and “good.” The public square must always be open to all—at least in theory that is supported by determined effort.

Democratic discourse can be sustained by an awareness that God calls us to care for the earthly polis, and by the knowledge that opponents have access to truth and a capacity for reason even when they seem determined to prove that they don’t. And again, it helps to know that the most important things to be communicated and agreed upon are not in the realm of politics.

The Church must acknowledge the limits of her competence in political and economic life. In relation to politics she strives to maintain a principled, firm, and nonpartisan stance. Admittedly, that is not easy. In specific circumstances of partisan conflict, even the most carefully crafted statement of principle will be viewed by some as partisan. Therefore, a good rule of thumb when it comes to statements that intend to invoke the Church’s moral authority is this: When it is not necessary to speak, it is necessary not to speak. At stake is the danger of turning the gospel into an ideology or party platform. Politics is not the vocation of the Church. The Church is to help equip the faithful for the exercise of their vocations in the public square. The vocation of the Church is to help sustain many different vocations.

American democracy may not be the ideal, but is there an adequate replacement? Approximation to the ideal is the best we can hope for this side of the Kingdom of God.


110 thoughts on “George Strickland comments on editorial by Dr. Bouteneff”

  1. I finally saw Fahrenheit 9/11 last night.

    To those who keep talking about Michael Moore, you really need to watch it before you judge. I really didn’t find it inflammatory, just inquisitive.
    Some moments are very poignant and transcend politics: a proud mother talking about her military family, a soldier confessing to a feeling of a “soul death” when having to kill someone. Most of the questions raised are viable, I feel.

    As a populace, the Saudis are a far greater threat than the average Iraqi could ever have been. They have a horrible human rights record and are really not that far from the Taliban in their treatment of women. In addition, the country was already a haven for terrorist cells before 9/11. Has the Saudi government been all that helpful in stopping these? Not to my knowledge. However, because their money accounts for almost 7% of our economy, we decided to maintain ties with them. Understandable? Yes. Honest? No.

    As far as Kerry and Bush, I’d bet the farm that both have lied and have “spun” to suit their needs. I honestly trust neither … I guess the question I’ll have to ask myself next month is who I distrust more … Kind of sad.

  2. RE: Note No. 89. If America really is engaged in an “epochal struggle” then it’s clear the George W. Bush is the wrong man to lead it. To prevail in the epochal struggle the American President must have the credibility and trustworthiness to rally the nations of the world behind him. George W. Bush lacks that credibility.

    As novelist John Le Carre wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Monday,

    “Probably no American president in history has been so universally hated abroad as Bush: for his bullying unilateralism, his dismissal of international treaties, his reckless indifference to the aspirations of other nations and cultures, his contempt for institutions of world government, and above all for misusing the cause of anti-terrorism in order to unleash an illegal war ? and now anarchy ? upon a country that like too many others around the world was suffering under a hideous dictatorship but had no hand in the events of 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction and no record of terrorism except as an ally of the United States in a dirty war against Iran.,1,7735884.story

  3. I loved LeCarre’s plots but the glorification of existential angst was a bit hard to take at times. Too much anguish rooted in moral relativism, not really necessary but certainly trendy. It’s National Book Award type stuff. He was, and apparently remains, way left of center.

    Read something better. Go to Borders or B&N and read the editorial in National Review about the election by Paul Johnson, one of the best living historians in the English language. The piece isn’t online unfortunately. Then read his masterpiece “Modern Times.”

  4. Note 97

    John Le Carre is a contributor to the hard left publication, the Guardian; that fact shows us where he starts any analysis. He belongs to the crowd who misses the Soviet Union and still thinks people should give Communism just one more chance.

    Secondly, George Bush enforced U.N. resolutions. I believe we have discussed the issue of burden of proof before. Saddam had the burden of proof, not the U.N.

    Thirdly, no analysis of international relations can possibly be accurate without taking into account that there is every reason to believe that France, Germany and Kofi Annan were on the take. If the average state prosecutor were to review the evidence we now have against Kofi (“the corrupt as Tammany Hall”) Annan, they would almost certainly indict him. I could get a conviction based on what has been publicly published.

    Dean, do you really think that the United Nations is anything but corrupt. Please, they can track money going directly to Kofi Annan’s son. It always seems that you will believe the very, very worst of America, but that you refuse to even consider the idea that European nations just might not be as virtuous as saints.

  5. Missourian: I would like to address your comments on the United Nations in Note No. 99.

    1) It does appear that the UN Food for Oil program was corrupted by kickbacks and other improprieties that allowed Saddam Hussein to evade sanctions to a limited degree. Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volker is leading an investigation into what went wrong. Volker is one the most hugely respected figures in the world financial community and an a man of enormous integrity. We shouldn’t jump to any conclusions before his report is released. Source: Panel: 248 Companies “Received Iraqi Oil”,

    2) The Dueffler report also indicated that many American companies had corrupt dealings with the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, but blacked their names out. So to cast blame solely on the Europeans would be incorrect. (Source: “Privacy Act, Order Shielded U.S. Names on List”

    3) If reports of improprieties and corruption are found to be true, the correct course of action would be to change the manner in which sanctions are applied in the future to avoid a recurrence. In other words “mend it, don’t end it.”

    It sounds like you, on the other hand, are advocating a “let’s throw the baby out with the bathwater” solution. The world needs a body with representatives from all nations responsible for promoting international stability and defusing regional conflicts before they explode into violence. If you withdraw American support this only operates weaken the United Nations and make criticisms of of that organization a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure. Therefore the correct course of action is to increase American involvement in the United Nations to help bring about the changes that are needed.

    4) The problems cited in the Dueffler report regarding the Food for Oil program should be, and are being, investigated. However they shouldn’t be used as a smokescreen to totally draw our attention to away from Dueffler’s key finding: Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when we invaded in March 2003 and had stopped manufacturing them in 1991. The major pretext for going to war was false. If we had allowed the UN inspection team to complete it’s work before invading, thousands of American and Iraqi lives could have been saved and enormous cost to our nation in blood and treasure could have been spared.

  6. Note 100

    Two part response

    I) Corruption of historic proportions may well justify unprecedented actions.

    The critical point about the corruption is that it is SYSTEMIC. There is every reason to believe that it goes right to the top. To put it bluntly Kofi Annan, despite his Oxbridge accent and impeccably tailored suits, is a crook on the take.

    Given this monumental and SYSTEMIC corruption running from the top to the bottom of the organization and including its LEADING MEMBER STATES it is not irrational to conclude that the votes of the leading member states were, in themselves, corrupt, as those votes were purchased. Given this we have corruption on a literally historic scale. Failure to react to this is to ignore a metastisizing cancer. The United Nations is quite literally a farce. We have done the equivalent of taking felons from a jail putting them in tailored suits and giving them a seat at the table and a vote with honest citizens. We can engage China, if necessary, through bi-lateral or regional agreement, we don’t need the United Nations to conduct diplomacy. The same with every other collection of despotic crooks.

    II) The United Nations is inherently corrupt even without Food for Oil because it gives a dignified stature to corrupt, despotic countries that grind their people into the ground.

    It was a fundamental mistake from the very beginning to create an organization which gives weight and dignity to votes from thugs such as Mugabee of Zimbabwe, the Syrians, the Saudis and on and on. We simply do not share their value system.

    Doesn’t the Scripture say… “Do not be unequally yoked.” Well, we have unequally yoked ourselves with thugs, dictators, and Marxist tyrants. We should have continued with bilateral diplomatic agreements or regional diplomatic agreements, when and if they advanced the interests of our country. By attempting to create a world wide body, we have given respectibility to thugs. We gave these people power and now we suffer for that decision. It is an insufferable affront that countries like Sudan and Syria as member of the U. N. Human Rights effort.

    As a Christian, who I understands supports the sanctity of life and opposes abortion, you should be outraged that the United Nations has become a safe haven for pro-abortion agitators who do not respect the moral principles of the populations of the countries they do work in.

    We have created a monster and the United Nations, is it. Since the United States pays for at least 30% of the United Nations budget, we should have considerable influence. Failure of will is the beginning of disaster. Principles, which are not acted upon, are meaningless. Didn’t you criticize the United States for dealing with Saddam which you considered immoral support for a brutal dictator. Why should we give important diplomatic and moral support to the legions of dictators in the United Nations.

  7. Is George W. Bush the right man to lead the “epochal struggle: against terrorism? According to many career national security officials his obsession with Iraq has set back the struggle against Al Qaeda and made the United States less safe.

    In a must-read Washington Post article “Afghanistan, Iraq: Two Wars Collide” ,
    the authors write:

    “But at least a dozen current and former officials who have held key positions in conducting the war now say they see diminishing returns in Bush’s decapitation strategy. Current and former leaders of that effort, three of whom departed in frustration from the top White House terrorism post, said the manhunt is important but cannot defeat the threat of jihadist terrorism. Classified government tallies, moreover, suggest that Bush and Vice President Cheney have inflated the manhunt’s success in their reelection bid.

    Bush’s focus on the instruments of force, the officials said, has been slow to adapt to a swiftly changing enemy. Al Qaeda, they said, no longer exerts centralized control over a network of operational cells. It has rather become the inspirational hub of a global movement, fomenting terrorism that it neither funds nor directs. Internal government assessments describe this change with a disquieting metaphor: They say jihadist terrorism is “metastasizing.”

    The war has sometimes taken unexpected turns, one of which brought the Bush administration into hesitant contact with Iran. For a time the two governments made tentative common cause, and Iran delivered hundreds of low-level al Qaeda figures to U.S. allies. Participants in Washington and overseas said Bush’s deadlocked advisers ? unable to transmit instructions ? closed that channel before testing Iran’s willingness to take more substantial steps. Some of al Qaeda’s most wanted leaders now live in Iran under ambiguous conditions of house arrest.

    Twenty months after the invasion of Iraq, the question of whether Americans are safer from terrorism because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power hinges on subjective judgment about might-have-beens. What is not in dispute, among scores of career national security officials and political appointees interviewed periodically since 2002, is that Bush’s choice had opportunity costs – first in postwar Afghanistan, then elsewhere. Iraq, they said, became a voracious consumer of time, money, personnel and diplomatic capital – as well as the scarce tools of covert force on which Bush prefers to rely – that until then were engaged against al Qaeda and its sources of direct support.”

    Also see:

  8. Some things transcend politics and one of those is the fate of Margaret Hassan. Please pray for this woman right now. Margaret Hassan is an English woman who married an Iraqi man and stayed in Iraq through many difficult years to be the Iraqi coordinator of the humanitarian aid agency CARE. Earlier this week she was abducted by Al Qaeda terrorists and her very life is being used as a bargaining weapon to coerce the British government.

    Of all the disturbing images from this disturbing war none has been more shocking for me than the sight and sound of this good woman, appearing in a grainy video completely traumatized and terrorized, her trembling voice communicating a fear that sent a chill through my bones, begging for her life.

  9. Note 103

    May we say a prayer for the brave and selfless Iraqi and American soldiers willing to risk and lose their lives in the hunt to capture the thugs who have kidnapped Margaret Hassan. May the Lord make them strong, brave and determined in the face of evil.

    May those soliders who have left their own families to risk their lives for the sake of all families receive the honor they deserve.

  10. Our servicemen and women in Iraq are the finest of Americans, making sacrifices enduring hardship, and facing grave risks in order to serve thier country. They should certainly be foremost in our prayers and thoughts.

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