Thursday 29 October 2015

And now for a bit of Reinhold Niebuhr

At the risk of pleasing nobody, I've written a piece for the ABC discussing Christian reactions to a recent speech by Australia's former prime minister Tony Abbott. It's called Love your neighbour: why Tony Abbott is (partly) right and his critics are (partly) wrong. Here's an excerpt:

But nothing is gained when Christian commentators respond to Abbott’s one-sided cynicism with an equally one-sided sentimentality. It’s not enough merely to assert that we must love our neighbours, or to insist that our policies should embody the compassion of Christ’s teaching. Such assertions only confirm the impression that religion has no relevance to the sphere of practical politics.

If Christian commentators want to contribute to political life (and not simply to condemn it), then they will need to say something about how one form of neighbour-love is to be balanced against others. They will need to account for the trade-offs involved in any attempt to create compassionate policies. They will need to explain how imperfect approximations to love can still be worthwhile in spite of their unavoidable costs and failings.

We can avoid cynicism by recognising that neighbour-love is always relevant to politics, even though it cannot directly be translated into policy. For Christians, matters of law and practical politics are always measured against the transcendent standard of Christ's commandment to love.

We can avoid sentimentality by recognising that love is never perfectly achievable in this life. Love is a standard of judgment, a perfect criterion against which every law and policy is measured. The best policies are those that approximate more closely to this transcendent standard. There will always be room for reform and improvement. There will never be occasion for self-righteous posturing, as if we had ever perfectly fulfilled our obligation to love in any given situation.

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