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David French: Difference between existential certainty on all or the vast majority of things and versus existential humility, that there are some things that we don't know. There is some, and, and need to approach the world into approach the great questions of life not just theologically, but the complexities of politics and culture with an attitude of humility and openness.
There are elements of sort of this, the far left, the illiberal left, the cancel culture left, whatever you want to call it, where you're beginning to see the closing off of people to dissent, the closing off of people to disagreement, which I had seen. And I had, I had seen growing up in a fundamentalist Christian community.
I saw it with my own eyes and I thought "oh, I recognize this religion." And then on the right, I was noting how there's this almost syncretistic molding together in some quarters of Trumpism and faith and in some of the unbelievable over the top devotion to Donald Trump as sort of a man who can not fail, he can only be failed. And you see that a lot in sort of the far, the devoted quarters of the MAGA right. And I was noting that this is a negative development because it's two competing tribes of existential certainty who are closing themselves off to debate and disagreement contesting in American culture and American politics.
Evan Rosa: This is For The Life of The World, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity.
I'm Evan Rosa, with the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. This week, we've got Miroslav Volf in conversation with David French. It seems like for years now, we've been thinking and hearing America has never been more divided, never more polarized, nevermore tribalized, never more fractured. Now, that's a bleak view of life right now and probably too rosy a view of the past.
But neither is it a bad read. That's what we're hitting on the show today. As a conservative political commentator and lawyer who was publicly against Trump in 2016 and after, and publicly for decency, civility and pluralism in American life. David French has a new book coming out in September called Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat And How To Restore Our Nation.
David currently writes for The Dispatch. In this conversation, which I moderate, David and Miroslav discuss the politically and culturally polarized America, the resurgence of cultural struggle, if not outright culture war, seeing fundamentalist political religion on both the right and the left, forgiveness versus cancellation and how our view of human persons affects that public conversation, the bearing of personal morality and an individual level on how we seek social justice, and finally how political theology can make a difference now, the rest of this year, and it's been a year, and the future of American life. This was a really interesting conversation to be a part of. I'm grateful. And thank you for listening.
David, Miroslav, glad to have you guys here. David, thank you so much for joining us. We're really glad to have you on the show here.
David French: Well, thanks so much for having me. I'm honored to be here.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, it's great to have you, David.
Evan Rosa: I mean, I thought I'd start today by each of you have public faith as a matter of deep significance, it's important to both of you. And I thought could just start by just getting us some personal takes, public faith today in America, given the pandemic and the question of reopening the economy and now schools.
And now there's empty baseball stadiums with teams playing. Unless you're like establishment left or a Trump supporter, it seems like the norm is now like disillusionment and it's probably some low grade anxiety. And I'm just wondering, like with the need to find a flourishing life in a United States, we need that possibility. I wonder if each of you could sort of give like your current mindset on this.
David French: You know, I, I look out there and I just see a lot of despair and confusion. And I, you know, I'm reminded of, a survey recently done by the, the group More In Common, which has really taken this close look to a close look at American polarization.
And it discovered this, this group of people it calls "the exhausted majority," and this is before the pandemic and before the George George, George Floyd murder, and it was, it was betraying a weariness in approach to American life. Just a, almost like a sense of resignation that things are, especially in this political sphere, are bad and they don't know how to make it better.
And then I think the pandemic has only enhanced that feeling. And so it's maybe not necessarily an exhausted majority in the United States, as much as there's just a despairing majority in the United States right now. And what is so hard, I think, and this is exactly the point where faith should be breaking through.
This is exactly the point where the church, for example, should be sort of raising its banner as you know, a beacon of compassion and hope. And what's so incredibly unfortunate is that these issues of faith are now, now, so wrapped up in our culture war and the political campaign that it's hard even for faith to break through and provide hope right now.
And in many ways faith provides pain. And, and so I, you know, as somebody who, who speaks about these issues a lot, it's you feel, you sometimes feel like you're kind of fighting a two front war on the one hand looking at Americans saying there is a light in this darkness. And then on the other hand, turning back to the faith community and saying stop being so, so fearful and angry.
As you know, you confront this modern time.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, those two last words that you said fear fearful and angry. That's what came to my mind as, I'm observing the scene and maybe you're looking at a kind of middle majority. I may be looking at, two ends of the spectrum and there's quite a bit of anger there, and hopelessness also that you that you mentioned, and my, my, my question was always, how does I look at the faith itself as a, as this incredible precious resources, as a jewel, and somehow, frustrated that, that faith, that is so life-giving has been hijacked, that it can't speak in its own voice.
That it's always refracted in ways that the domesticated that pull it in into the kind of a preset, almost like a herd mentality. And this instrumentalization of faith is what troubles me, and wha t I'm praying and thinking, how does one break out of that?
Evan Rosa: Yeah, David, you've got a new book coming out, Divided We Fall, and you're, you're summoning us as we understand it's coming out in September, but you're summoning the courage to reconcile political differences and address what each side sees as a sort of threat or even violent, sometimes opposition from the other, the other tribe. And Miroslav recently pointed out that the term you just used, the term culture war seems to now apply again.
And I know he's got some things to say about that, but for you, why this book? Why now? Is it tied to a certain event scheduled for early November?
David French: No, you know I actually started writing the book, oh gosh, about a year and a half ago. And I'd been thinking about this for a long time and, and sort of put preliminary thoughts on paper, even as early as 2017 and in the basic thesis is that there is no significant cultural, political, religious, or social social force that is pulling us together more than it's pushing us apart. That we're in the grips of a lot of tidal forces and politics is only one of them. It's not the only one that is, that is pushing us apart. We have this "big sort," for example, that's been, you know, there's a book by that name, that was printed, gosh, 15 years ago now.
And all of the trends that were outlined there have only really exacerbated that say, we now are less likely to live around people that we disagree with then we have been in generations that, a huge percentage of us live in these so-called landslide counties, where one candidate or another wins by more than 20 points. So we're less likely to be around people of differing minds. We, the, the secularization of the United States has not been a phenomenon that's been happening uniformly across all geographic regions.
And in fact, there's, in some ways, America is becoming both more secular and more religious in the sense that the most religious elements of American society are remaining, very, quite strong and in sometimes even growing and also again, geographically concentrated. I mean, I can go on and on through the various, you know, the subdivision of our media, even down to the subdivision of, of the entertainment that we watch, so that Americans are really beginning to live quite separate lives.
And it isn't a separate life, separate lives that are marked necessarily by all that much affection, for the diversity of this country, it's much more marked by a lot of hostility and fear, against political opponents. And, and I'm just, you know, we can never take for granted the continued existence of a continent sized multi-ethnic multi-faith geographically diverse, uh, nation that we can't just take for granted that we can continue to rip at the social fabric, and that it will all stay together. And that's, so what I'm trying to do in the book is sort of issue a clarion call warning that says, look, we all are aware of polarization. And what we're trying to do as, as political partisans often is end polarization by the absolute defeat of our opponents.
And, and instead, why can't we deal with polarization by embracing pluralism. And, and I think I feel like that's the only way through, I do not think that we have a country where one side or the other can crush and grind the other one into dust and the very effort to try to do so is only going to fracture us more.
Miroslav Volf: That's interesting. What you say, David, about crushing the other person, other group to the, to the ground. As I was thinking, looking at, United States, I was wondering whether, culture war applies in the new sense. You know, I think when, when James Hunter wrote the book. It would seem to me that what he had in mind was less something like culture, war, although that's what, he's, the title of his book, but more something like a, like "struggle."
And of course the culture war or culture struggle goes back to Germany in the last, century before last, which was kind of the struggle between the government of the kingdom of Russia and the Catholic church. But the term that was used was kulturkampf which is a cultural struggle and it was not used kulturkrieg. And I think there's an important distinction to be made between, the, these, these two.
In war we have enemies. In struggle we have contestants. In war, one enemy wants to eliminate the other. In struggle, each contestant wants to overcome their opponents and the struggle might continue and we might continue to be opponents, but nonetheless there's interest in the existence of the opponents is not, not an issue. So even Nietzsche, when he used, his, kind of terminology of, of argon and contestation, he was thinking of it, not in terms of elimination, but in terms of, in terms of really strong contest of strength, in some ways.
And so did I hear you rightly that you think that, today we are more in a culture war than we are in a culture struggle?
David French: Well, that's, that's a fantastic distinction. And, and I'll tell you why I'm raising the warning, some of the warning bells about culture war, I'll give you just an a, a great example from the, the, debate that took over much of the right last summer in 2019, when there was this essay written in First Things called "Against David Frenchism." One of the key indictments against me, and one of the key points of agreement, by many of the people who were opposed to my ideas and, and my cultural and political philosophy, as you know, was that I failed to see politics as war and enmity. And that was, a, a key. And that has been really ever since 2015, 2016, a key point of break, it's a key break point between me and much of the rest of the American right.
Is that I do not see the sort of, to use the phrase from one of the influential essays written on the run-up to the 2016 election, I do not see that we are in a Flight 93 scenario where essentially the fate of the Republic itself hinges upon any given election, that Hillary Clinton would not end America.
And you know, when you, when you're talking to predominantly blue audiences, for example, and, and you say, hey, I took the position that Hillary Clinton, the Hillary Clinton's election wouldn't end America people look at you like who, who would think that? But that was an absolute burning sense of conviction among millions of Americans, that the United States would end, if Hillary Clinton was to win. I just had a debate with Eric Metaxas and he said, Joe Biden would end America. And so that's when I that's, when I'm saying I'm using the word culture war, although certainly, thankfully, we're not an actual, a shooting conflict, but it is something more than the normal range of give and take, I win some, I lose some of political debate. There's a sense of existential crisis amongst millions of Americans.
Miroslav Volf: So existential threat, even for continued existence of, of the way of life. Yeah. Yeah.
David French: Yes.
Evan Rosa: I think that, that, it's, it's that kind of existential threat that often pushes, groups, but like back into fundamentalism.
David French: Yeah.
Evan Rosa: And recently, David, you argued in one of your pieces for The Dispatch. You can understand a lot more about what's going on in U.S. politics. If you have some experience, personal experience with fundamentalism. So. Okay. For both of you here, how is fundamentalism, tied to the cultural struggle today and what kind of fundamental- isms, because there's not just one, do you observe operating on the left and the right and in both theological and political contexts?
David French: Yeah. That's, that's a great question. So I, you know, just to briefly sort of define my terms, I, wasn't trying to write some sort of scholarly inquiry into the various branches of fundamentalism versus evangelicalism on the Christian, in the, in the, you know, in the Christian world, what I was trying to do was: I think there is a difference between, religion broadly understood and fundamentalist, religion, and, and the, the short version of it that, cause I've been in, I've lived in different kinds of religious, I've been a part of different churches.
I grew up in a very fundamentalist church and I do not belong to fundamentalist church now. And one thing that I indicated is a difference is there is a difference between existential certainty on all or the vast majority of things and versus existential humility, that there are some things that we don't know.
There is some, a need to approach the world and to approach the great questions of life. Not just theologically, but the complexities of politics and culture with an attitude of humility and openness. And what I saw and what I was talking about in my piece is there are elements of sort of this, the far left, the illiberal left, the cancel culture left, whatever you want to call it, where you're beginning to see the closing off of people to dissent, the closing off of people to disagreement.
Which I had seen. And I had, I had seen growing up in a fundamentalist Christian community. I saw it with my own eyes and I thought, oh, I recognize this. And this isn't just religion because a lot of people critique the, you know, people on the left and the right who are ostensibly secular, but seemed very devoted to politics.
They say, well, you politics is your religion, but no, I mean, it was something even beyond that, it was like a fun, as a fundamentalist religion. And then on the right, I was noting how there's this almost syncretistic molding together, in some quarters, of Trumpism and faith. And I pointed to things, for example, like the choir of First Baptist Dallas singing a hymn that they wrote called "Make America Great Again."
And, and some of the unbelievable over the top devotion to Donald Trump is sort of a man who can not fail, he can only be failed. And you see that a lot in sort of the far, the devoted quarters of the MAGA right. And I was noting that this is a negative development because it's two competing tribes of existential certainty who are closing themselves off to debate and disagreement contesting in American culture and American politics and fits in with some of what we just talked about, about this sense of culture war, as opposed to struggle.
Miroslav Volf: You know, one of the features of uh, fundamentalism is a certain kind of lack of porousness to anything that might come from the outside. I have experienced that during the war in former Yugoslavia. Obviously every time you grant anything good is on the other side, you are already betraying the cause of your own group.
And so it kind of ended up, exacerbating the difference and closing things more down. The same impression I had also in my, Muslim Christian, dialogues. And especially after I wrote the book, the Muslims and Christians worship the same God I called Allah. And I would sometimes speak and in the audience, I'd have this various folks and you can almost identify the unporous ones, right. There's a kind of certain demeanor that they, that they exemplified and there's absolutely nothing you can do, to kind of get to them. In some ways, it's almost like they have this fortress that's built. And if you take only one of the, one of the stones in that fortress, the whole thing they're afraid is going to collapse.
And this kind of fragility of robustness of commitment, but fragility was to me, really, really very, very troubling. And some of it can, you can see also in America today.
David French: And that's a great point. I've when I speak to audiences almost by a person's countenance, as they're sitting there, you can, you can sort of, you can understand and see their openness.
That's a fascinating point. I've seen that my myself as well.
Miroslav Volf: You can script the question they're going to ask you.
Evan Rosa: I mean, this, this sort of brings up the importance of like moral and intellectual virtues and thinking through the lens of character traits and, and character and David, well, both of you are deeply concerned about, essentially like what, what is a lack of like personal commitment, personal holiness, character, and, and especially with respect to Christian engagement, in public. There's previous generations where, where that sort of morality and personal, personal code and personal commitment to that was seen as more important.
David French: Yeah. I, you know, last, last Sunday I wrote, a piece that a lot of people responded to, talking about what, the extent to which some of these conspiracy theories are being spread through the Christian community, these coronavirus conspiracy theories. And I just listed some that I've seen in my own social media feed from my own Christian friends, like the Plandemic video, claiming this plant pandemic was planned.
It's kind of a self explanatory title. You know, rampant rumors of government officials, artificially inflating, everything from death tolls to, positive test results, that there's, you know, microchips in the alleged Gates vaccine that, all of these lockdowns weren't really based on a virus, but the trying to destroy the Trump economy.
And, and what struck me was that I remember I grew up in a church. I, gosh, I, I, there's not a time. I remember when I wasn't in church, I was born into a Christian family. We went to church multiple times a week and, and people would be surprised to know growing up in an American evangelical and first fundamentalist and evangelical church that you didn't get training in sort of--how, how does a Christian interact as a political being in the way that we, we had Sunday school lessons and seminars and workbooks and speeches and guest speakers and retreats about everything from: a Christian husband, what is a Christian husband like? What is a Christian wife like? How has it, what does it mean to be a Christian parent?
What does it mean to be a Christian in the workplace? What does it mean to be a Christian on the athletic field? I heard more about being a good Christian athlete than what it meant to be a Christian in the body politic and, and the instruction was basically about issues.
A Christian in the, in the, a Christian in the body politic is concerned with these issues. I didn't hear about how we are to, the character that we bring into that, that space, that incredibly important cultural space. And so, I was just thinking about, you know, I, I, read the Westminster Larger Catechisms Explanation of the Ninth Commandment and how it requires, and it talks about an explanation that the ninth commandment is much more than just a admonition of do not lie. It also asks for a charitable esteem of our neighbors. We're supposed to love and desire and rejoice in their good names sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces. Defending their innocence. Already receiving of a good report, an unwillingness to admit of an evil report.
Can, is that, does anything like that sound like American political discourse? And does it anything like that sound like American political discourse, but from Christians? And so it just made me realize we have this huge gap in our instruction as a Christian community, about the way in which we interact in as political beings in a, you know, in a political culture.
Miroslav Volf: I think about it. And I think the table around which I grew up with my father refusing to say anything negative about anybody who wasn't around the table. And if we later, when we grew up, if we kind of felt free to just. you know, talk about, people, what's the good conversation around the table, unless you can criticize somebody right?
He would, he would just gently remove himself from the, from the table without saying anything because we were already, already grown up and this this kind of internal integrity and care for the code name of another, of another person, as you have mentioned from Westminster Catechism, I mean, it seems to me that that's w w w when I read what you were writing about, that issue other issues as well, it seems to me like that gives a different twist to the question the personal is political.
That our internal personal virtues, turn out to have significant political implications. And I dunno what, so, so, so in some ways I, I see, that we as Christians in general, not just in political sense, there's a kind of a weakness there, even before. That we feel ourselves more as members of a crowd. Oh our own crowd or to use Nietzschean term, as members of a herd, and act as herd animals, or rather than standing, kind of as independent human beings before with w w w with resources of faith, and then deciding how we're going to, how we are going to act in, almost like a spiritual spirituality and faith has become a resource, resource in a struggle, rather than something ultimate that actually has to be respected, as a mode of being in the world, rather than simply as a question of how do I use it in order to achieve certain ends that have been set outside the faith itself.
David French: And, you know, one thing to, to, to build on that is that I couldn't, I couldn't agree more. And I would also say that what is interesting about the faith gap and the theology gap around politics that I've seen, that's completely distinct from any other area. Like if you went to a Christian person, who's grown up in the church and his business is struggling and he, he might have to close his business and lose his house and take his kids out of school.
I mean, catastrophic economic loss has real ramification in human lives. And you said to him, you know, if you just bring in a partner and this partner will rescue your business through consumer fraud, he would say, no, no, no. That's, I'm not going to do that. I trust God will take care of me. Or if a person is in real pain in their marriage and you say, well, you know, one way to introduce some joy in your life is, you know, an adulterous, you know, adultery and that indulging that chemistry you feel with, you know, your colleague or whatever, they would say no, absolutely not. And yet what you often see in the political political realm, it's this incredibly results oriented thinking, you know, you're supposed to bless those who persecute you, love your enemies and, you know, be kind, be decent. And then someone will say, well, wait, we tried that and it didn't work.
And, but that's not the calculus that's applied to other areas of life, almost reflexively. That's not the calculus applied. And so these commands, which by the way, were articulated in a time when the political authorities would do a lot worse to you than drag you on Twitter? Are not optional, they're not conditional, and yet we treat them often in the world of politics as if they are: well, we tried decency, his name was Mitt Romney, that didn't work.
And, but that's not the way, that's not the theology that's applicable to human being interacting a Christian person, interacting in any sphere of life, including politics.
Miroslav Volf: How much do you think it's connected to a kind of uh, Christian nationalism where, Christian faith and nation are so closely intertwined and they depend on one another. And so that, you've got, it's almost like a like care for the Christian faith itself with something that's ultimate that's at stake here. And therefore I treat it differently than my marriage. Almost it's it's there's something Holy, almost.
David French: That's a great question. I think not, not in, in, not in everyone, certainly, but there is, a width of almost nationalistic idolatry in a way.
And it's a, and it's not just a dedication to the United States of America as an, as a as an existing, continuing to exist entity, it's a dedication to a particular vision of the country, a particular type of patriotism, sort of this "real America."
There's a, there's a sense of what is real America and it's distinct from the vision of America that you know, people on the left side of the spectrum will have, and, and there is this extraordinary sense of devotion that doesn't strike me as in proportionate bounds, in proportionate, scriptural bounds. And I think one of the areas where you saw that emerge a little bit was the unbelievably strong reaction to football players kneeling rather than standing for the flag.
That hit a lot of people in a very, very visceral place. even people who had sit there and decry cancel culture left and right, and make, you know, and mock Silicon Valley for it's it's snowflake sensibility or the campus for it's snow, snowflake sensibility were roaring their approval when Donald Trump said "fire them."
And because it touched something very deep. I feel like inappropriately deep. And I do think that that's a part of the background here.
Miroslav Volf: Hmm, that's interesting. I I'm, I'm thinking of Stanley Hauerwas that you know, the God as nation, seems, in critical settings to be much more powerful and demand much greater loyalties that any invisible God creator of the universe can't. Which is obviously deeply problematic.
David French: Yes. Hmm.
Evan Rosa: I wonder if there's, another connection to draw out from, from a related topic here, when you see the fundamentalism that arises from either sort of nationalist fundamentalism or a, tribal fundamentalism, either on the left or the right, that it, it, it's got a marked distinction from the fundamentalism that a lot of us grew up with.
That was mostly with reference to Christian fundamentalism. And that's at least a, a modicum of forgiveness that while Christian fundamentalism has any, as you brought up earlier, David it's resulted in a variety of pain and suffering for, for many people, and yet it still had a category for forgiveness.
And when you see the fundamentalisms portrayed in political public life, it looks like that's noticeably less available.
David French: You know, Peter Beinart at the Atlantic wrote a fascinating article or essay several years ago where he was talking about, well, for a long time, the left had longed for a post-Christian right under the presumption that, the problem with the American right, was the religious right. And that if, if you shed, the American, if the American rights shed that intolerant Christianity, it would become a more tolerant entity, would become maybe more culturally, more, more culturally, moderate, more open-minded.
And, and what Beinart said is, and Ross Douthat has also made this point, which I think is right, is, yeah, in part, there are elements of the post-Christian right that have emerged and it's not what you wanted it to be. And part of the reason is that shedding of that, very, you know, we all know that commands like, you know, love your enemies, bless those who persecute you or, commands to forgive are often seem to be more observed in the breach, but if you take a worldview and you shed it and you take away from it, even the aspiration of forgiveness or the sort of the aspiration of kindness, what you're left with is something more profoundly ugly. And, and on the extreme ends, we've seen this with the rise of the alt-right, which has, is, is often a, it's neither explicitly godless or more pagan oriented movement that centers its meaning and purpose around its whiteness.
And it is a vicious, vicious, ugly, horrible evil presence in the American community. And then Peter Beinart went on and he said, you know, look, I'm even seeing that as, and, and I'm not, to be clear, I'm not comparing the, alt-right to the people I'm talking about now. He says on the left, I'm even seeing that those elements that have sort of shed the traditional sort of Christianity of like the John L. Lewis Civil Rights Movement, are more harsh that there is something that is being lost as parts of the social activist and social justice left shed some of the religious roots of the social justice left; that there is something that is harsher and more intolerant than that is emerging. And, and I, I do think that's that's right.
I do think that that's one of the things that we're seeing, is that post-Christian or post-religious activism, both on the left and the right has a harder, harsher edge in part, because it, it doesn't have the aspiration of forgiveness so much, uh, Michelle, I believe it's Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times had an interesting formulation.
She said, there's a fundamental difference between a movement that's looking for heretics and a movement that's looking for converts. And what you will see is on the political extremes movements that are spending a lot of time looking for heretics and less time looking for converts.
Miroslav Volf: Oh, that's very fascinating.
So in a sense we are we're we're between, we either tolerate or we condemn and there is nothing, nothing in between. And it seems to me that, act of forgiveness is right there lodged between the two. Forgiveness entails a certain kind of condemnation.
But at the same time, it doesn't let the transgression wrongdoing and consequences on of wrongdoing rest on the person, provided of course there is, there is a repentance in that that accompanies that, and that seems to be, to, to be lost. And that was occurring, you know, you mentioned a loss of Christian, Christian faith, and I think, and, and what consequences it might have on harshness of our culture.
And, and I think forgiveness may be just one such a, such a case, because, in order to forgive, you kind of need to distinguish between the person and the deed that they have, that person has committed. You need to be able to kind of peel off from the person the deed, the wrongdoing that sticks to that person, unless you're willing to peel that off, you can't quite forgive.
You cannot accept the person because you constantly see that deeds stuck, stuck onto them, and we have this idea that a human person is such that, kind of a sum of their deeds and their failings and maybe way they internalize them. But if that's who the person is, if person is not somebody larger than that, then of course you can't forgive.
You can't undo your undoing the person, if you want to do anything like uh, like forgiveness. So this idea that a person is larger than the sum of, their, their deeds, that the person, kind of exists, as, as an entity from which you can separate the wrongdoing, that seems to have been lost, for us and an extreme situation, obviously that results in a very vicious types of behaviors.
But sometimes I see, even in ordinary situations, we find ourselves in a difficulty as to have reasons to forgive a person, because we can make that distinction.
David French: You know, one of the things we're seeing that's connected to this is that, especially if you're in the political, you know, if you're in the political discourse in this country, a confession of error is seen not as a sign of humility or perhaps even a, a, not just a sign of humility, but a sign of personal growth, something to be welcomed and applauded. Often a confession of error is seen as a sign of weakness to be pounced upon and exploited, that if you are say on team red, and you said, you know what, there's something I long thought as part of team red that I now know is not right.
I don't think that's right. And here's why, and I'm sorry, I got it wrong. And I'm going to try to do better. You're immediately seen as a weak figure who is trying to kowtow to people on the other side and worthy of being treated with contempt, by people on your you know, on your team.
And it is, I, it's hard to imagine a, a culture, and again, a lot of this is amongst the people who are sort of hyper online and hyper engaged in American political culture. It's harder to think of a culture more calculated to discourage humility and discourage expressions of forgiveness than the one that we are creating right now.
Evan Rosa: A lot of our conversation has been about political or even economic theology.
And, and one of the visions of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Miroslav's recent work is theology that makes a difference. And David, you even recently pointed this out that, that all too many Christians quote, "do not possess any form of political theology, beyond a commitment to a certain set of issues."
You know, you say also we do not spend nearly enough time learning how to live as political beings. So how do you see political theology making a difference this coming year?
David French: Hm, I, can I be really pessimistic in response to that?
Evan Rosa: Yes, you can.
David French: Okay. I think the absence of political theology is going to make a profound difference in this coming year.
I think you're going to see an escalating round of fear. An escalating, escalating fear and anger. I, I don't see a way through that for right now. And I think that escalating fear and anger is going to be in partly due to this lack of political theology, a lack of, really a lack of, of understanding the extent to which, you know, God is sovereign over nations.
And, and instead of instead, there's a sense that if we through the sweat of our brow right now fail to accomplish what we want to accomplish politically, everything we love will be lost. And, and which is a, I believe abdicates, it, it, it neglects and ignores the true extent of God's sovereignty over the world, and the true extent of God's care and love for his people and for not just his people, but for people, those created in his image.
And, and I feel like we're losing sight of that. And it is raising the temperature of American religious discourse and raising the amount of fear, which quite frankly, then compounds a lot of the culture's rejection of faith, because are, are you going to look at this incredibly fearful group of human beings, this incredibly angry and fearful group of human beings and say, "Oh, they've got this figured out. You know what? This is the community I want to join."
And, and what you then have is this vicious cycle. It's the fear and anger, alienates the church from the culture. And then as the church is alienated from cult- the culture, there's more fear and anger and it, you just get into this incredible vicious cycle.
And so it's going to be absolutely vital for there to be voices to say fear not, do not be angry, fear not. We can see, you know, I keep going back to that we have to get to a point where we re-embrace Micah 6:8. And Micah 6:8 is what does the Lord require of you, a man, what is good? It's to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly.
And seeking justice, that's the part it's all easy now. That's what you do on Twitter with hashtags, right? And with your political anger. But you also love mercy. You are also merciful to your political opponents. You are kind to them, you love your enemies. You bless those who persecute you, and then you walk humbly. You real, realize, I don't know all the the answers.
I don't know everything. And until we reconnect with that sort of like three prong mission statement, I feel like our fear and anger is going to isolate us more. And then cause more in fear and anger and more isolation.
Evan Rosa: Miroslav? Closing thoughts?
Miroslav Volf: Well, I mean, I think our conversation has circled, quite, consistently, around the question of what kind of life is the life that God has in mind for us, what kind of life is it that we can live in today's world as followers of Jesus Christ. And as those to whom the first order of our allegiance is to that God of Jesus Christ, is to Jesus Christ and everything else a ligns around it. Only then will we care for justice, true justice, mercy, and walk humbly, before our God, I think.
And I think that's, that's one of the great challenges of our time. It's not immediately political. But it is, has the ramification for, for politics. And that is, to take seriously in all of our activities what apostle Paul, talks about: life that is truly life.
Once that is in place I think we can then talk about also a Christian political vision, you know, and our, my colleague and I have published four years ago, a little book on public faith in action, where we talk about character and commitments and then, 23 issues or stuff like that. It's all about, how does one discern what to do in terms of, in terms of politics and obviously the very little interest, unless one thinks that, Christian faith ought to define all the aspects of one's lives.
Rather than you act, simply out of, particular interest for your own, for your own group. And that's in a sense, what I'm hearing you in this last comments saying, saying as well, kind of primacy of these concerns for justice, for mercy, for humility before God.
Evan Rosa: David French. Thank you so much for joining us today.
David French: Thanks so much for having me. I really love this conversation.
Miroslav Volf: David. Thank you. This is a, it's very, very good. We should, we should continue it.
David French: Oh, I would love that. I would really enjoy that. Thank you.
Evan Rosa: Thank you both.
For The Life Of The World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured theologian Miroslav Volf with political commentator David French. I'm Evan Rosa and I edited and produced this show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu.
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