Saturday, November 12, 2011

Generous Ecumenicism

I think most folks got the point of my last post which asked whether there was any political theological relevance to the term the "Great Spirit"? I think the answer is clearly yes, and it depends on how broad or narrow the claim. The broad claim -- and those are always harder to argue and easier for critics to find a potential loophole -- is this indicates the political theology of the American Founding is "heterodox," "not Christianity," "syncretism," "unitarian-universalism," "theistic rationalism," or what have you. I'm not here to argue that today. The narrower, more modest claim -- and those are easier to argue and harder to strike down -- is the political theology of the American Founding was generously ecumenical. You can still be an orthodox Christian -- like George W. Bush -- and generously ecumenical. Generous ecumenicism means you don't claim Mormons are not Christians or that Muslims don't worship the same God as Jews and Christians. Even if those two claims are ultimately true, it's not what the political theology of the American Founding is all about.


Jason Pappas said...

I’ve been absorbed in other topics of study--economics. I’d like to return to the more interesting study of our founding period but we’ll have to take a hiatus. I have one nagging question on the ecumenical spirit.

Christians are firm monotheists and historically identifying that one God (a triune God) was the particular God of the Jewish religion. The ecumenical spirit at the founding is a radical departure from history and if it can still be called Christianity (which is fine with me) must call into question some of the founding principles of the religion.

During the Roman Empire, Christian and Jews were noted for their refusal to embrace an ecumenical spirit. Religions often paired-up their Gods so that one religion’s Zeus was another’s Jove. Christians refused to do this and were willing to die as martyrs for their principle. An ecumenical broadening would denigrate the great sacrifice of early martyrs, indeed, all of church history before the 18th century.

Let me note that it wasn’t a polytheistic concern. Greek and Roman philosophers often spoke of God in the singular. It some ways theres was monotheistic in flavor with Zeus/Jove being God and the lessor gods becoming civic gods: Athena for Athens, Heracles for Sparta, etc. Christians will replace civic gods with patron saints: St Marks for Venice, St George for England, etc. A ecumenical identification of a common “great spirit” would be possible. Such a compromise was anathema to the early Christians.

While I welcome the ecumenical Washingtonian spirit, it is quite a revolutionary change.

Jason Pappas said...

Ah that typo ... theirs was monotheistic ... my apologies.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jason: Those are great points.

J.M. Shaw said...

While many today think ecumenicism is a bad idea or inherently anti-Christian, clearly our founders embraced it. Most notably, James Madison in Federalist #51: "In a free government, the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights; it consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests and in the other in the multiplicity of sects."