Engaging The Earthly City


Deploying the theology of St. Augustine, Greg Garrett sketches an approach to Christian political engagement that focuses on "love, holiness, and humility." He especially believes we need to cultivate the last of these, recognizing the limits of what we can and do know:

Didn't almost all the speakers at both conventions act as though the truth is already discovered and possessed? Yet Augustine predated Descartes' proof of his existence ("I think, therefore I am") by reasoning outward from our inability to know the whole truth: "If I err, I exist" (City of God 11:26). This most renowned of theologians even characterized all human talk about God as "learned ignorance" (Letter 130).

Unlike most of us, Augustine saw the prevalence of error and ignorance as an opportunity for dialogue, not as an opportunity to demonize. It was possible, he said, that he might be wrong or might have only a portion of the truth, and therefore it was wrong for him to completely reject someone who believed differently. Even his enemies might teach him something.

So this final touchstone for theological decision-making asks us, is it at all possible that, as imperfect human beings, we don't hold the entire truth? And if none of us is willing to concede that possibility, can any meaningful change, compromise, or learning take place? Can candidates go to office having sworn not to raise taxes, let's say, or pledging that they will not compromise with those across the aisle?

(Image: "The Course of Empire" by Matthew Cusick)