Thursday, March 4, 2010

Politics and Theology in 1st Century Israel


Cartoon from here
According to Josephus, the Sadducees believed in free will. Just as I am inclined to think that Josephus’ description of the Pharisaic blend of free will and fate is a depoliticized code for their balance between waiting for Israel’s god to act and being ready to act on his behalf if necessary, so I am inclined to think that the Sadducean belief in free will has little to do with abstract philosophy and a great deal to do with the politics of power: Israel’s god will help those who help themselves. This is a comfortable doctrine for those in power, who maintain themselves there by taking whatever measures seem necessary, just as its mirror image, belief that divine action can only be awaited, not hastened, is a consoling doctrine for those out of power, who see no hope of regaining it by their own efforts.

NT Wright NTPG p211

Which is funny because I would have thought it was the other way round, that conservatives (i.e. those who rather like the staus quo) would be more inclined to assert that the way things are is a matter of unavoidable fate, whereas those who desire to challenge it, radicals, are more likely to emphasise the importance of taking action according to free will rather than the current social norms.  Of course both free will and fate are almost impossible to hold to in absolute terms for any one.  But I think Wright is totally right (no pun intended) that theology and politics tend to actually be the same thing just presented in more or less pious language depending upon the perceived audience.  Which is why you cannot take religion out of politics, and vice versa, all political discourse is inherently theology, and vice versa.

1 comment:

  1. I think that NT Wright is correct. Conservatives want to give the impression that things are a matter of unavoidable fate, while at the same time taking every action to ensure that nothing will upset the(ir) apple cart. Those social norms have to be "robustly maintained" - they won't just happen by themselves.

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