God’s Political Will
by Bob Schwartz
In the history of Christian theology, philosophy has sometimes been seen as a natural complement to theological reflection, whereas at other times practitioners of the two disciplines have regarded each other as mortal enemies….
Philosophy takes as its data the deliverances of our natural mental faculties: what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. These data can be accepted on the basis of the reliability of our natural faculties with respect to the natural world. Theology, on the other hand takes as its starting point the divine revelations contained in the Bible. These data can be accepted on the basis of divine authority, in a way analogous to the way in which we accept, for example, the claims made by a physics professor about the basic facts of physics.
On this way of seeing the two disciplines, if at least one of the premises of an argument is derived from revelation, the argument falls in the domain of theology; otherwise it falls into philosophy’s domain.
Current American politics includes little study and application of philosophy. Some of our founders were steeped in philosophy, being educated sons of the Enlightenment. But even then, the struggling rebel nation was marked by pragmatism: there may be no atheists in foxholes, but there aren’t many philosophers either. Today, even when ideologues throw around the names of Mill or Burke, that is a rarity. Most of our politicians don’t know, can’t practice and don’t care about philosophy.
Theology is another story. Our government and the campaign trail seem to be overflowing with those who consider themselves theologians, whether they call themselves that or not. But even though the ground of theology is distinct from philosophy, the rigor and discipline required is exactly the same. The simplistic adoption of an isolated theological premise is no more sturdy than an isolated philosophical one. A solid theological conclusion must be supported from start to finish. If you can’t answer all (or at least most) of the consequent questions, you can’t be trusted to answer any.
And so when Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock announced that when a woman becomes pregnant through rape, the pregnancy is “God’s will,” the question isn’t whether that is true. The question is: assuming it is true, what else is God’s will?
Mr. Mourdock, and every other politician who claims to know God’s will, owes us a comprehensive list of those things that are and are not God’s will. In the case of Mr. Mourdock, if he is schooled in the fine points of Christian theology, that should be a straightforward matter.
For example: Are the outcomes of elections God’s will? If Mr. Mourdock’s opponent wins, will that be God’s will? If President Obama beats Mitt Romney, will that be God’s will?
There are a raft of sub-questions for the theologian. If God wills an election winner, how does it happen? Are some potential voters kept away from the polls by stormy weather or traffic jams? And how exactly does God decide who the winner should be? Is there a scorecard based on the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins? Does a high score on “bearing false witness” or “greed,” for example, make it difficult to get an endorsement?
In the event Mr. Mourdock does not win, it may be God’s will after all. Just a few miles from his home in Darmstadt, Indiana is an excellent school, Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. Trinity offers a number of degree programs and dozens of courses on theology. If his keen interest in theology continues, that could be just the way to spend his time.