Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Social Justice and Political Ideology

If the criticisms of progressive Christians are true, the evangelical church, preoccupied with the salvation of individuals, doesn't give a crap about the social implications of the gospel. Now, I've been frank in my criticism of American evangelicalism, but to me this rings false, both from years growing up in the evangelical church and from the well-documented fact that religiosity and political conservatism make one likelier to give to charities and to volunteer. These are probably the best measures available of how much people "care" about social justice. Despite the pernicious influence of this idiot, who is not even a Christian, it seems that evangelicals are doing as well as anyone in addressing the social aspects of the gospel, which is not to say that we cannot all do much, much better.

I doubt that most of the people leveling the charge of evangelical apathy have looked extensively at these stats, but I don't think that this knowledge would change their view. This is because what really riles the progressives is that evangelicals do not share their political vision of justice, and they regard this vision as self-evidently correct. If political philosophy is easy to reason through, then reasonably intelligent people who do not reach the correct political conclusions are not merely wrong, but evil or dishonest. Therefore, in the progressives' view, evangelicals, who tend to be politically conservative, do not hold a defensible, rival conception of social justice; they don't care about it. Politically conservative Christians are equally guilty of this sort of reasoning; I've heard people question whether politically liberal Christians were fit for service in the church. Political philosophy, however, is a very difficult subject, and many well-intentioned, intelligent persons will part company along their journey through it. Our political preferences arise from a complex interplay of factors: upbringing, cleverness, social environment, personal morality and emotional makeup. If I see my political ideas and my neighbor's ideas as arising in this way, I can be his friend and think him a decent fellow even if I oppose his political ideas.

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