To Change the World, Essay II, Chapter 6

In this short chapter, “Illusion, Irony, and Tragedy,” Hunter argues that the Christian Left and Right’s strategies are based on the illusion that political engagement is the best way to solve problems, when the problems actually have no political solution.  No political solution exists, he argues, for the decreasing cultural power of Christian morality or the decline of consensus in society.  In fact, the political arena is a very bad place to address these concerns:

But because the state is a clumsy instrument and finally rooted in coercion, it will always fail to adequately or directly address the human elements in these problems; the elements that make them poignant in the first place.  As a rule, when the state does become involved in such matters, its actions can often create more problems through unintended consequences, not fewer. (171)

The ironies of the stress on political involvement, Hunter writes, is that “for politics to be about more than power, it depends on a realm that is independent of the political sphere” (172).  This is an interesting and important point.  I would interpret it to mean that when the political culture is allowed to judge itself, expediency and maneuvering can become the standard for what should be done.  This environment, Hunter argues, leads to the reduction of both values and Christianity itself to solely political ideas.  Furthermore, he writes, the emphasis on voting can be so great that voting can become a substitute for actually doing something that would address a problem in a non-political way.

The tragedy is the way that Christians are transformed by the political culture of resentment and negation of enemies in order to win battles against their political enemies.  As he explained in the last chapter, the neo-Anabaptists participate in this culture as well.  Few of the leaders of the three movements that he profiles, he says, celebrate current Christian academic or artistic achievements; instead, all participate in the culture of denunciation.

This seemed like a fairly good look at things.  One good counterpoint was made by Doug Wilson (no surprise), who argued that one very important problem that can be solved by politics is the ever-increasing reach of the state.  In fact, there is only a political solution to that problem.  That’s an interesting point, especially in light of Hunter’s assertion that the increasing power of the state is part of the reason for the movement toward the politicization of all of culture.


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