Coercive Love: Progressivism in Christian Culture (Part 1)
Part 1 – The Nature of the Problem
It would appear that the fine proprietor of this blog has challenged me to take up digital pen and paper, in an effort to rebut an article by my good friend Michael Hansen which showed up here last week regarding the vaccination debate.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I believe Hansen to be an erudite man with whom I have the privilege to worship with on a weekly basis. We typically feed upon the same rich diet of pagan and Christian authors alike, are staunch Christian Libertarians and enjoy a good dark beer or malty scotch; hence the reason why I was a little taken back by the thesis in his article on the vaccination debate (technically, national debates as a whole).
Hansen’s premise is that:
“If you ever find yourself encouraging the use of centralized power to make decisions for a community you are not apart of (or even a community you are a part of) STOP. This is not the way the world works.“
Incorrect, this is precisely the way the world works. All of us—Christian or not—seek an axiomatic, transcendent hierarchy that we can interact with. One that no matter where we are in the chain, we can look to as THE defining source of what is good and what is evil for the sake of the One and the Many. As such, there will always be a centralized “power”—be it God or autonomous man.
As I began to work through my rebuttal however, I became succinctly aware of a larger problem in Christendom. One that Hansen may be alluding to in his conclusion:
“I want to make the case that this perspective is actually an outworking of a Trinitarian worldview. The uniqueness of the Trinitarian worldview is that it emulates what no other worldview can emulate. The Trinity is both One and Many. Our current societal forms either promote the many at the cost of the one (public policy) or the one at the one at the cost of the many (individual rights).”
Hansen rightly states that a Trinitarian worldview is both the One and the Many, but the thesis of his article leaves too much room for fascism—especially Christian fascism in the name of “loving your neighbor.” This fascism, if not invoked by policy, would certainly be invoked by cultural coercion.
I provide this example within Hansen’s utopian society.
Perhaps I allow my neighbor John Doe to convince me that vaccinating my kids against measles is what’s best for the “community”—but what if I don’t agree? What if I instead balk and say that I’ll keep my children at home—if—they become infected with measles? My “loving” neighbor—in search of Christian love for the many—would then immediately move the goal posts and speak to the “potential” of spreading disease.
No longer can John accept the will of the one, he’ll force me to succumb to the will of the many, through coercion if not by public policy. John doesn’t understand the nature of the problem; one that we’ll get to in a moment.
My scenario is just as much attacking a straw man as Hansen’s scenario is utopian you say? I submit this example for your consideration as a result of Hansen’s article being posted to FaçadeBook:
See how John Doe moved the goal posts? No longer is this an issue about “lovingly infecting my neighbors with measles”, it is now the potential to being exposed because John Doe and his wife “could” have been exposed to [disease] through “willful negligence”. John now sees this potential of exposing “the Many” to disease as a right to trump the liberty of one.
As John Doe tramples my liberties, he now asserts that because I simply disagree with him, I am now legally culpable and show willful neglect if I do not take action in stopping a potential exposure to measles.
I went on to explain how John Doe should stop driving because of the potential that he “could be exposed” to an accident. The fact is no one lives his or her life this way. We accept a certain amount of risk for liberties. Only the totalitarian would want to limit the individual liberties of the one for the sake of the many on mere potential alone.
There are many other issues with John Doe’s philosophy but for sake of time, I’ll stop the digression.
The Nature of the Problem
Hansen’s premise and conclusion however, do draw down to a single question. A question that philosophers have debated for centuries, namely; what is the relationship between the One and the Many?
I mentioned that is a larger issue within Christendom, why? This is an issue first and foremost with John Doe above, but more importantly with the Christian “elites” who do not understand the nature of this relationship, much less the relationship of the One and the Many within a covenant structure. Because of this misunderstanding, we see local public policy from these cultural Christian elites in the form of forbidding alcohol sales on Sundays, we see state public policy in the form of “sin” taxes or we see the national public policies in the form of the Falange in 1930s Spain.
RJ Rushdoony attempted to tackle the very nature of this problem in 1971 with his work aptly titled, the One and the Many:
“Much of the present concern about the trends of these times is literally wasted on useless effort because those who guide the activities cannot resolve, with the philosophical tools at hand to them, the problem of authority. This is at the heart of the problem of the proper function of government, the power to tax, to conscript, to execute for crimes and to wage warfare. The question of authority is again basic to education, to religion and to family. Where does authority rest, in democracy or in an elite, in the church or in some secular institution, in God or in reason? The implications of the problem are religious, as will be shown, but the fat that it is not discussed permits an ignorant equalization of various religions and diverse theologies…. Failure to recognize the fact that all routes to God are not equally valid or relevant to the maintenance of historic Western culture, especially in the United States, has extensively clouded the possibility of an intelligible answer. The plea that this is a pluralistic culture is merely recognition of the problem—not an answer.”
“The one and many is perhaps the basic question of philosophy. Is unity or plurality, the one or the many, the basic fact of life, the ultimate truth about being? If unity is the reality, and the basic nature of reality, then oneness and unity must gain priority over individualism, particulars or the many. If the many, or plurality, best describes ultimate reality, then the unit cannot gain priority over the many; then state, church or society are subordinate to the will of the citizen, the believer and of man in particular. If the one is ultimate, then individuals are sacrificed to the group. If the many be ultimate, then unity is sacrificed to the will of many and anarchy prevails.”
The nature of the answer to the problem of the one and the many, sits atop authority and within the ontological Trinity. A concept alluded to by Hansen in his conclusion.
Should time permit and the proprietor of this blog agree to do so, my attempt at a rebuttal will have me focused on the answer to this problem of the one and the many; and how as Christians, we should respond to our neighbors in love without paving the streets in individual liberties to which totalitarianism or fascism move in.
 Rousas John Rushdoony, “The One and the Many,” (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1971); p. 1
 Ibid. p. 2, footnote 2.