The Orderings of Creation

There are two fundamental issues, then, in the consideration of creation in a political theology. First, with which political orderings are Christian communi ties confronted, and how are these to be related to the being, action, and purposes of the Creator God? Second, in that creation is always a normative concept, how is the goodness of creation to be understood? I develop each of these points in turn.

To understand a doctrine of creation in relation to a political order is, first, to grasp that order as a political unity in relation to God. We are dealing here with "Human existence in its totality, because it [the doctrine of creation] always sees man [sic] as standing in a relationship to God" (Prenter 1967: 250). Second, such an order is to be understood as applicable universally (Hardy 1996: 190). It is in the doctrine of creation that order is first grasped theologically as related to God and as universal. A political order is thereby legitimated in a double sense by an appeal to creation: as validated by God, and as universal. "The God-ordained order of things" should thereby be understood as having this double reference. Fascist appeals for support from Christianity invoke the doctrine of creation in this way but with a restrictive amendment. For example, for the regime of National Socialism (Germany, 1933-45) under Hitler, not only was a racist ordering referred to God in which "the other" (the Jew, the communist, the Gypsy, the homosexual, the mentally disabled) is excluded; additionally, and just as problematically, the division of the unity of the human race into separate and identifiable peoples was affirmed as part of God's ordering as universal. The unity of the human race is conceived in terms of its divisions and such cutting is proposed (wrongly) as God's blessing in creation. To oppose such fascism theologically thereby requires a relating of political orderings in their totality to God which understands worldly divisions between peoples always in terms of that primary and antecedent theological division between creatures and the Creator. This, as the unhappy recent history of Christianity in Europe indicates (consider here also apartheid South Africa), is not easily done.

We now may be at a sufficient distance from the Second World War to offer a cogent theological appraisal. Now consider a different example: globalization. How should globalization be thought of in the perspective of a doctrine of creation, as related to the Creator God? A benign reading might argue that trade is a part of the basic - universal - conversation of humanity and that its extension is likely to benefit all participants, if not equally (Sen 1999; see also chapter 33 on "Globalization" by Peter Sedgwick in this volume). A more cautious reading would argue that the economic and ecological aspects of such intensification of trade require careful attention, together with an account of whether people participate in such global processes unequally (or not). I do not plan to argue the matter out here. What, however, is clearly indicated is that a theological account of the present global order is required that is attentive to universal and normative aspects: as universalizing, does globalization advance or impede the goodness of God in and by the world? Is this new world order fundamentally disordered in relation to the purposes of God?

There are, of course, different sorts of order and different modes of orientation. For the purposes of political theology, we may distinguish the following: the ecological, the economic, the socioethical, the legal and political, and the cultural. There is a "natural" givenness to the ecological order that marks it as different from the others. However, the contrast should not be drawn too sharply: as Karl Marx noted, human beings make history but not in circumstances of their own choosing. The economic, the socioethical, and the cultural should be understood as social structures in and through which human life is made possible and renewed. It is the legal and political that are perhaps most easily altered. Their alteration, however, results in the least significant changes to a specific society.

We find ourselves already in the second issue of the doctrine of creation, as set out above: the goodness of creation. In theological usage, order is always oriented on God's goodness. Which political orders may be understood as in conformity with the goodness of God's creation?1

To answer this question, we must first note that human beings secure their basic needs, reproduce their society, and establish satisfying relationships through a social praxis involving all the orders listed above. Such human activity is always carried through according to a norm. As ordered, human life is oriented on goodness and thereby requires a norm for the (partial, anticipatory) realization of that goodness. In sum, human society is always - at least to some extent - purposive. (A certain sort of political liberalism would - wrongly - deny this.) And a norm for goodness is required to guide such purposiveness. The issue for a political theology is how the notion of God's goodness embedded in the doctrine of creation functions as a political norm. How is this norm established, and by which theological criteria? Does the norm operate in liberatory or oppressive ways? Does the norm invoke a static order, or a dynamic one?

Westhelle is right, therefore: political theology should be suspicious of the doctrine in that by appeal to creation justifications of unjust political orderings are smuggled into theology. Such orderings are then ascribed to the goodness of God. Moreover, the transcription of God's life in the life of the creature, Jesus of Nazareth, may also be understood as affirming unjust orderings rather than -as is properly the case - opposing them.

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