"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Mysteries of Politics

I was startled some time ago in reading Conrad Black's biography, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion Of Freedom to learn that FDR did not begin his re-election campaign in 1940 until after Labour Day. What a nice relief that would be from all the non-stop campaigning to which we are subject today, starting nearly two years out from a presidential election. This wearisome process makes me think that the great English writer Evelyn Waugh was right when he ignored and dismissed politics for his whole life, but perhaps never so archly or succinctly as when he wrote a short essay for The Spectator during the 1950s saying that he had never voted in a Parliamentary election and never would: "I do not aspire to advise my Sovereign in her choice of ministers."

The relationship between politics--especially democratic politics--and theology is one of the understudied areas today in contemporary Eastern Christian studies. It is a very happy development, then, to have a book forthcoming this October from Fordham University's Aristotle Papanikolaou, The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012), 232pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Theosis, or the principle of divine-human communion, sparks the theological imagination of Orthodox Christians and has been historically important to questions of political theology. In The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy, Aristotle Papanikolaou argues that a political theology grounded in the principle of divine-human communion must be one that unequivocally endorses a political community that is democratic in a way that structures itself around the modern liberal principles of freedom of religion, the protection of human rights, and church-state separation.
Papanikolaou hopes to forge a non-radical Orthodox political theology that extends beyond a reflexive opposition to the West and a nostalgic return to a Byzantine-like unified political-religious culture. His exploration is prompted by two trends: the fall of communism in traditionally Orthodox countries has revealed an unpreparedness on the part of Orthodox Christianity to address the question of political theology in a way that is consistent with its core axiom of theosis; and recent Christian political theology, some of it evoking the notion of “deification,” has been critical of liberal democracy, implying a mutual incompatibility between a Christian worldview and that of modern liberal democracy. The first comprehensive treatment from an Orthodox theological perspective of the issue of the compatibility between Orthodoxy and liberal democracy, Papanikolaou’s is an affirmation that Orthodox support for liberal forms of democracy is justified within the framework of Orthodox understandings of God and the human person. His overtly theological approach shows that the basic principles of liberal democracy are not tied exclusively to the language and categories of Enlightenment philosophy and, so, are not inherently secular.
Papanikolaou is the author of other well-received works, including his 2006 book Being With God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion as well as editor, with his Fordham colleague George Demarcopolous, of the welcome and important collection, Orthodox Readings of Augustine, which has helped to clear up some of the nonsense that is talked by Orthodox apologists who pretend to know all about Augustine's vast corpus without ever having read much if any of him. 

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