Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Non-theologians can ignore this bit

My view of English bishop NT Wright is that he's somewhat of a distraction.* So if you haven't heard of him, and don't really want to, just scroll right on past this post. Others disagree, and hold NT Wright in high esteem for just about everything. So it's interesting to see a self-confessed fan of his writing, and especially his last book Surprised by Hope get really worked up when the bishop turns the same tricksy rhetorical moves on some of this man's favoured views that the bishop usually turns on reformed evangelicals.

Remember, the man who is writing this, Doug Wilson, is an unabashed fan of both bishop and book, as you can discover for yourself if you read this quote in context on his blog. But doesn't Wilson get annoyed when Wright turns his verbal sleight of hand on one of the writer's political concerns (the page refs are to Wright's book, and for clarity I've italicized Wright's quotes):

The obligation that Wright has to deal with the substantive objections to his proposals cannot be done with a simple wave of the hand:

"I know, and such people often know in their bones, that wealth isn't a zero-sum game, but reading the collected works of F.A. Hayek in a comfortable chair in North America simply doesn't address the moral questions of the twenty-first century" (pp. 218-219).

What does the comfortable chair have to do with it? Suppose I read Hayek while standing uncomfortably on one foot, and asked Wright to address Hayek's arguments then? All I know from this statement is that Wright considers Hayek insufficient. That could easily be a reasonable position, depending. But why? Do we reject Hayek? Do we put his thought on a biblical foundation? Do we keep some parts and reject other parts? Why? By all means, let us discuss it. But if I were to write a book that maintained that fire fighting is best conducted when you don't hose down the blaze with gasoline, and someone else were to read that book in the comfort of a North American chair, the comfort of that chair and the urgency created by the blaze are not an argument for proceeding with the gasoline.

"Many conservative churches there still live by the belief that what's good for America is good for God -- with the result, for instance, that if their country needs to produce more acid rain in order to keep up car production, then God must be happy with it and anyone who talks about pollution or is disappointed that the president didn't sign the Kyoto protocol is somehow anti-Christian or is simply producing a 'baptized neosocialism,' as one reviewer accused me of" (p. 219).

Acid rain is yesterday's newspaper, so we don't hear much about it anymore. The accusation was made against American polluters, and it was quite the thing back in the day until it turned out that a bunch of the acid in the lakes was actually caused by leaves. Not only was it caused by leaves, it was caused by organic leaves. Even green organic leaves, which is hard to conceive of. These acidic and fraying leaves on the ground leeching acid into the water caused me, many years ago, to propose a sweeping environmental push to solve the pressing problem -- the North American Frayed Tree Agreement.

Stewardship of the environment (and of the economy) means that we as Christians have to learn not to panic every time the hennypennys of the liberal world get themselves whipped up into another froth over nothing. Creational stewardship does not mean joining the crusade against global warming six months after all the secularists have finally dropped it as the bogus science it was all along. And if Kyoto was actually about the environment, then why did the treaty allow the Third World countries, which are the worst when it comes to this kind of pollution, to continue their polluting practices merrily and unimpeded? Does Jesus actually want the president to sign an agreement that stipulates that our air be kept clean, thus ensuring that all the really dirty stuff will be pumped into Third World lungs? Seriously? Jesus demands this? I am a lousy Christian if I don't insist on making all the brown people live in the stinky part of the world, while we white Americanos get to live in the clean part? This is a really sweet deal for us reformer types. Staying away from Nazism is actually kind of comfy. Maybe we can talk them into hosting our landfills too -- tell 'em Jesus wants it that way.

Wilson's criticism is entertaining in parts, overblown in others, but I think he has a point both on Wright's use of rhetoric, and on his complete failure to deal well with a complex economic question.

*Interestingly, a friend who should know told me that in the German theological world Wright has made little impact. "The liberals disagree with him, and the evangelicals don't know about him".

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