27 September 2007

When Wright's Wrong.

I've often thought that N.T. Wright should stick to what he knows - New Testament history, and when he does he is brilliant. Joseph Loconte critiques Wright's political thinking:

The historical analogy to European fascism has its limits, and no one really knows how much of the Islamic world endorses, or sympathizes with, the objectives of Osama bin Laden. Yet the ferocity, ruthlessness, and staggering vision of his cult of nihilism--the establishment of a global Islamic dictatorship--is plain enough. Why, then, do numerous Christian leaders and institutions seem ambivalent or chronically naïve about this threat? The problem is not confined to liberal theological voices such as the National Council of Churches or Chicago Theological Seminary, or to cranky pacifists such as Stanley Hauerwas or Jim Wallis. The unwillingness to confront the rise of Islamic extremism extends to theologically conservative thinkers and educators: those who are influencing a generation of believers on issues of church and state, war and peace.

The latest and perhaps most troubling example is that of a British church historian much admired by American evangelicals, the Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright. The Christian church owes a great debt to Bishop Wright's scholarly work on the resurrection of Jesus and the life of Paul. Indeed, it's hard to name a living academic who has done more to defend the historical integrity of the New Testament. "I'm a classical historian," he once told the BBC. "And I have used all the tools at my disposal to discover more and more about who Jesus was." Wright has employed those tools--careful analysis, a willingness to weigh evidence, intellectual curiosity--to advance the claims of the gospel over a long career.

Since being named Britain's fourth-ranking bishop, from Durham, Wright's views on various religious and social issues have received widespread attention. A few years ago he also joined Britain's House of Lords, a political position, and recently has applied his mind to the war on terrorism. A careful look, however, at his political thinking--in writings, sermons, interviews, and public statements--suggests that Wright has abandoned the critical tools that served him so well in the academy.

Just consider Wright's most recent commentary for Newsweek's "On Faith" blog, anticipating the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Remarkably, Wright sees little difference between the ideals of Western democracies and those of Islamic terrorists. "What I wish we could say to terrorists and others: Look, we take our religion seriously too, and it leads us to different conclusions from you. We might be wrong; so might you; but in the name of whichever god you invoke, would it not be a better thing for us all to talk together about the issues at the heart of our respective faiths than to try to achieve dominance by violence?" Adding to the ambiguity, he closes with this line: "Unfortunately, they could quite well come back at us and say, 'You mean, like you westerners have been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last five years?'"

We expect to hear this sophism of moral equivalence from spokesmen at Al Jazeera television or the Arab League--not from orthodox Christian ministers. Yet it somehow has emerged as a central argument in Wright's critique of the war on radical Islam.

Here's the whole thing.


Blogger Tregonsee said...

Wright on!

There is a long history of brilliant clerics, scholars, and scientists who outside their area of expertise are unable to function and reason at even an average level. Usually it is merely amusing, the stuff of cocktail party jokes. However, when that prestige is used inappropriately, though sincerely, truly great harm can result.


27 September, 2007 08:57  
Blogger Thunder Jones said...

Wright belives in patient witness and reconciliation more than he believes that killing enough people solves a problem. He doesn't believe that violence can lead to redemption. Jesus, likewise, rejects the zealot option in his ministry as well. Christians don't kill, even when faced with death. Wright teaches this fundamental aspect of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles and Locante (who I to merely be a baptizer of conservative geopolitics) can't accept it because it doesn't fit his primary categories which are more GOP that GOD.

The linkage of Islamists to fascism is laughable. Fascism is:

a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

Fascism is not the goal of groups like al Qaeda. One could argue that Shias may be attempting to create this, but al Qaeda is a Sunni organization. A Caliphate that restores the ancient Islamic empire is a goal of Sunnis, but that is a far cry from modern fascism.

All of this is just a further example of the fundamental misunderstanding that the West has towards Islam. We're too lazy to understand it and lump it into a single category so we don't have to think too hard about it.

Wright is a Christian before a Westerner. He's cross before flag and I respect it.

28 September, 2007 09:40  
Blogger PSA+ said...

Hey, Thunder. Just quickly, the essay (the first line of the portion excerpted) notes that the utility of the analogy with European fascism is "limited". But that seems to be the word sticking, and of course dictionary definitions are descriptive and can never be prescriptive. Folks use the term these days as a catch all for the overbearing idealogue. And I hope its a better term than just "Islam." Anyway, a rose by an other name . . .

The problem isn't that Wright articulates a reflective passivist position a la Hauerwas, Yoder, you, et al. It's that he doesn't. Instead he offers up an insipid analysis of some bizarro American "empire" which is wholly of his own imagination and bears no resemblance at all to the actual history of America's foreign entanglements or to what is actually happening currently in Iraq or Afghanistan. One may very well object to the current war on passivist, just war, or prudential grounds, but Wright's indictments of the United States as blood-thirsty regime with imperial ambitions is just offensive.

01 October, 2007 07:32  
Blogger Thunder Jones said...

The work he does in his "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series goes into a lot more depth than this essay in regards to the question of violence. You could really compare his stances on violence with Richard Hays' work if you're more familiar with Hays.

+Wright is clearly opposed to American imperialism, but a lot of that comes out of his refusal to allow nationalism as an acceptable Christian position.

01 October, 2007 10:58  

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