Political Theology is a fascinating field that continues to become increasingly relevant in our interconnected post-9/11 world. One of my courses this semester is ‘Culture & Systems Change’ and part of the class is looking at the intersection of religion and politics.

In 1922, Carl Schmidt said that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”[1]  The remnants of so many of our former religious and royal forms were adopted and transformed in this novel expression of belonging and duty. Not only is the word sovereign borrowed directly from religious vocabulary, but as Paul Kahn explains: “The politics of the modern nation-state indeed rejected the church but simultaneously offered a new site of sacred experience.” [2]

  • Think about the way the American constitution is spoken of as a sacred text that was penned by inspired patriarchs and cannot be questioned. [3]
  • Notice the controversy over the singing of the national anthem (a worship song to the nation) at sporting events.
  • Look at the uproar over burning a flag and realize how sacred that piece of fabric is thought to be because of what it symbolizes.

It can be troubling to be made aware of these connections for the first time. Is it odd that God and Nation are both referred to as ‘sovereign’, to interpret the constitution like the inspired scriptures, to revere the founding fathers  like the patriarchs, to preserve the flag as if the fabric itself was sacred and not just symbolic, or to demand participation in the national anthem before one can play a game?

If you are interested in this topic, I wanted to point you to 3 really interesting resources:

The first is a podcast interview with Paul Kahn from a CBC Ideas series called ‘The Myth of the Secular’. It is a 7 part series and Kahn is part 5.

The second is a great into book called Political Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed by Elizabeth Phillips.

The third is a new article Evangelicals and the End of Civic Religion by Alexandria Barbera in the Other Journal. She explains that:

“In terms of the more recent manifestations of evangelical politics, Lynerd defines republican theology as a political-theological doctrine that “asserts the mutual dependence of individual liberty, moral virtue, and Christian faith to support a civil religion that values all three.” However, a civil religion uses faith to sanctify politics, whereas political theology makes use of theology-based ethics to advance political causes. His use of the phrases political-theological doctrine and civil religion is key here, because it disrupts the prevailing evangelical narrative that political engagement is about duty to one’s faith and not about politics.

Although it may not be clear whether political evangelicalism is a civil religion, which is thus intrinsically political, or a theological system in which politics play a large role, Lynerd’s work foregrounds the explicit political character of right-wing evangelicalism. He reminds us that the alliance between evangelicalism and the American right is “not accidental,” taking on its current shape only in the twentieth century.”

Take at look/listen to those and let me know your thoughts!

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[1] Paul W. Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Reprint (Columbia University Press, 2012), location 37.

[2] Ibid., 360.

[3] CBC Ideas part 5

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