Friday, September 5, 2014

A Ride in the Reconstruction Zone, Part 2

From the August 2011 E-Block.
I was wrong. My readings in R. J. Rushdoony will NOT be completed with 3 articles here. It may take as many as five. 

Why? The book I am now reading, Roots of Reconstruction, is a much larger behemoth than I expected at glance, having 1123 pages, of which I read half for the this issue. It's also that Rushdoony can be a demanding (not to say uninteresting) read; I can read material by someone like Joyce Meyer one way and not miss much, but if I tried it with Rushdoony, I might miss something crucial. 

Which is not to say, radical. I am still looking for any of these allegedly horrible things Rushdoony said or wrote; I was reminded while reading of one atheist who alleged that Christian Reconstructionists wanted to reinstitute OT law, including stoning penalties. I have not seen that, though I have seen some puzzling notions about OT law that I hope will be clarified in further reading (more on this below). In the meantime, it's still been like reading George Will or Rush Limbaugh with a Christian flavor. 

I have found much to agree with and material I could have written myself: treatises on self-absorption and selfishness, making God too familiar, education, abortion, economics, elitism, and being not merely a "spectator" in church. That's the bulk of what I have read from Rushdoony: non-controversial, sound, and warranting no comment. Otherwise, there are three negatives so far which I can outline in Rushdoony. 

First, there are times when I wish he would be more strict with documentation. Certain claims he makes are presented anecdotally. He is not always remiss in citing sources, but he could have done much better. 

Second, Rushdoony has so far been maddeningly devoid of what might be called plans for action. We are told we must make God the ruler in every part of life, and put all things under God's dominion, but we are very seldom told how this ought to be done in the particulars. For example, Rushdoony clearly wants to bring God into the realm of politics. But how does he propose this is to be done? Are we simply to elect Christians to office? Are we to revamp the Republic wholesale? He also favors Christian schools, but aside from disapproving of voucher programs, I have so far found little in the way of specific suggestions or directions concerning how Christian education is to be conducted. Perhaps that can be found in other volumes of his, but if so, referernces to those from him would be appreciated. 

Third, there is an oddity in Rushdoony's treatment of OT law. He clearly regards it as to some extent still applicable, but it is never made clear to what extent he thinks this is so, save in case instances. He argues that the laws of tithing and Sabbath observance still adhere, with which I disagree, but for which he makes no substantive case. (Though for the latter, he does argue that observing it affirms our trust in God -- a very pious idea which we see from Chick-Fil-A as well, but hardly any sort of logical argument, as we can affirm trust in God just as readily without it.) He also indicates that various laws having to do with war should still be observed (eg, soldiers could be no younger than 20, as stated in several passages in Numbers), and while one could of course argue the virtues of observing these laws independently, the fact that Rushdoony doesn't justify them as transcending their ANE context does not inspire much confidence.

In one place, he argues that a certain early churchman who later became a heretic, Montanus, should not have become a leader in the church in the first place, because he had been castrated as a priest of Attis, and Lev. 21:17-23 forbids castrated persons in the priesthood. I have my doubts that this law would still be applicable under the new covenant; it was most likely connected to ritual purity, and as Paul so elegantly noted to Peter, we can't still observe that without implying that Christ's sacrifice was not efficacious.
In another place, he refers to as "heretical" the idea that God had one plan of salvation for Jews, and another for Gentiles. But my view is that there is but one plan (loyalty, faith), yet expressed in two covenants.

On the other hand, in discussing one of my favorite OT laws to illustrate atheistic idiocy, Deut. 22:8 (roofs must have parapets), Rushdoony ably explains the purpose of this law in OT social context, and thereby implies that he doesn't think we need to follow it to the letter (though I am sure he would agree with me that it implies as well that we have things like railings on balconies). Later he also correctly understands OT law as "case law". So he certainly does not demand an application of the law with blind legalistic fervor. The question I'd like to see answered is just where he does stand on the spectrum. I can only hope a clear answer will be found in further readings.
Such are my three major reservations. Other than all this, there was a curious irony. Rushdoony praised Franky Schaeffer as one in "excellent continuity with his father's work" and denigrated as hypocrites those who didn't think Franky was up to his fathers' standard. One wonders what Rushdoony would make of Franky now being essentially an apostate.

We'll finish off Roots of Reconstruction next time.

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