Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is Neocalvinism A Form Of Civil Societarianism?

Acton Institute's Jordan Ballor describes himself as a civil-societarian: "Too communitarian for the libertarians, too libertarian for the communitarians.". Among Christians and Christian democrats in the Netherlands this same school of civil-societarianism  is popular. However, to someone who fell into the neocalvinism potion at a young age, it comes across as a technocratic wetdream that essentially cuts the heart out of neocalvinism. How can I explain this?

To get an idea of how we should understand civil societarianism "Small is Beautiful" is a good start in which Jordan Ballor writes:
"As social conservatives remind us, institutions like the family and church play critical roles in forming a virtuous citizenry. As Elias Boudinot, a delegate to the Continental Congress and one of the founders of the American Bible Society, once observed, "Good government generally begins in the family, and if the moral character of a people degenerates, their political character must soon follow."
A quote that reminds me of sunday 39 of the Heidelberger Catechism in which the fifth commandment "honor thy father and thy mother" is understood in its broadest implications:
"That I show all honour, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience;  and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities,  since it pleases God to govern us by their hand."
In other words, when civil-societarians focus on the family or on the Church to distinguish themselves from "secularist libertarians particularly the atomic individualists" this moves the questions related to Christian political engagement to a micro level, but still doesn't offer a clear understanding of the role of a Christian citizen in regard to authority and a clear understanding of authority and liberty.

To compare neocalvinism and civil-societarianism, let's take a look at the sermon by Dr. Klaas Schilder on sunday 39 "Het gezag, dat God onder de mensen stelt" which could be translated as "The authority that God provides among men". This sermon ends with the phrase: "And that Saviour who bought me with His blood, Who made me his subject with His own service, thus illustrates how freedom and authority go together." Not exactedly an endorsement of a slave mentality.

The essence of neocalvinism and the political movement that comes with it called "Antirevolutionary" positioned itself, through Abraham Kuyper's antithese, as an alternative to both conservatism and socialism for precisely the ability to challenge authority through it's sharp definition of freedom and authority. As Kuyper writes in hist stone lectures:
"in the sphere of the State I do not yield or bow down to anyone, who is man, as I am."
Read Kuyper's speech "Maranatha" to get an idea of how the ARP won elections and forged it's alliance against conservatives and socialists. At the beginning of the 20th century these  William Penn's of Dutch politics challenged authority while offering a strong alternative to socialist revolution. During the thirties of the 20th century former governor of the Dutch Indies Alexander Willem Frederik Idenburg demonstrated in a speech for ARP members some good insight into political incorrect ARP methods comparing the elections in 1933 with old testament battles against the ennemies of the Lord.

In stark contrast to Abraham Kuyper, Klaas Schilder (who ,with a play on words, once compared the significance of neocalvism in politics to children shouting "Hosanna, Son of David") and other early leaders of the peculiar antirevolutionary political movement civil societarians paint a rosy picture of families and churches while failing to answer the central question in politics, which is how to deal with authority at all levels.

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