Law in Contemporary Society

The Evolution of Dualism: From Jesus' First Delineation to Modern American Evangelical Conceptions

-- By JackSherrick - 21 Feb 2021

New Testament Origins of Dualism

Jesus of Nazareth has been called many names: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Immanuel, Son of God. I would like to introduce an additional title into the corpus of names held by Jesus: Coiner of Enigmatic Phrases. Jesus lives up to this newly minted title inLuke 20, Mark 12, and Matthew 22 which showcase Jesus the orator at his most clever and inscrutable. Jesus was approached by several ill intentioned questioners who sought to catch Jesus in a rhetorical trap. They nonchalantly asked whether or not it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. If Jesus had responded in the negative, he could have faced a premature execution by the Romans. If he had responded in the affirmative, he could have angered the Jews laboring under the yoke of Roman occupation who viewed Jesus as a liberator. Instead, Jesus gave a pregnant pause and asked for a denarius. After surveying the coin Jesus asked whose image was inscribed on the currency. "Caesar's," the would-be deceivers answered. Jesus then responded with "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." This clever response has become an oft-quoted maxim that encapsulates the relationship many believe Christians should have with the secular elements of society.

Subsequent Attempts to Establish the Contours of Dualism

The Early Church

Ever since Jesus ambiguously laid down the partition between the lay and divine, Christian thinkers have been speculating as to what is owed to Caesar as opposed to God. The apostle Paul, a Roman citizen, urged early Christians to accept Roman rule, pay their taxes, and obey the emperor short of worshipping him. Peter implores Christians to "fear God, honor the emperor." Justin Martyr writes to Emperor Antonius in Chapter VIII of his First Apology, "Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you... But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed." These thinkers saw civil obedience as not only permissible, but a duty they were obliged to perform as Christians as long as obedience did not violate a divine statute. Martyr suggests in his Apology that part of the rationale behind Christians' compliance with secular law is that it is God's role to mete out retribution to heretical rulers, not Christians.

The Merging of Church and State

Initially, according to Gibbon, the Christian church evolved within the Roman empire. As the church gained more prominence, the sphere of influence commanded by God and that commanded by the emperor began to merge. Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD and the Edict of Thessalonica a few decades later recognized Christianity as the state religion of Rome. The amalgamation become more complete with the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire. What was due to Caesar became nearly indistinguishable from what was due to God because the emperor was now seen as having a divine mandate.

Protestant Dualism

The Protestant Reformation led to the emergence of a news forms of dualism. Luther advocated for obedience to secular rule even when it did not align with the values of the burgeoning Protestant faith. When German Peasants waged war against the aristocracy, Luther penned a scathing letter condemning the peasant's plight and beseeching them to acquiesce to aristocratic rule. Luther agreed with many of the peasant's demands but nevertheless instructed the peasants to "suffer to the end, and leave the case to Him (God)." In contrast to Luther's clear delineation between the spiritual and earthly, Haskins writes that Massachusetts Puritans assumed a more active role in secular society. Puritan leader Richard Baxter wrote, "it is action that God is most served and honoured by." The Puritan view of dualism fueled the group's embrace of capitalist values and catalyzed a subsequent evolution in their dualist views. Max Weber argues that Puritans, and later American Protestants feel obliged to zealously engage in a secular calling to individually prove that they are members of the elect. These Protestant capitalists were moved to render their labor to a secular authority but were no longer as civically engaged as the Puritans before them.

Modern American Views amongst White Evangelicals and the Black Protestant Churches

White Evangelicals

Today, American evangelicals have developed their own views on dualism. Emerson and Smith studied American evangelicals and found that evangelicals feel little obligation to politically contribute to institutional secular reform. Evangelicals break from past dualistic precedent in that they find secular governments irreparably corrupt and their adherence to civil laws does not stem out of a spiritual compulsion to obey. Rather, evangelicals believe that evangelizing is their primary, if not sole responsibility to the secular world. This belief stems from what Emerson and Smith call the miracle motif. This is the belief that the state of society is not dependent upon secular laws or institutions, but upon the character of the individuals that compose society and secular issues can be improved by adding more adherents to the Christian faith.

Implications of this View

White evangelicals have neither the zeal for political engagement as that of the early Massachusetts Puritans nor the honor for earthly authority as that of early and Pre-Reformation Christians. This portends doom for the continued strong political influence of evangelicals. I predict that another Christian group will displace white evangelicals as the most influential group in American politics if current evangelical dualist attitudes persist. The change is already occurring. In Georgia, predominantly black Protestant churches mobilized to elect Joe Biden, Reverend Warnock, and Jon Ossoff. According to Emerson and Smith and as evidenced by efforts such as Souls to the Polls, Protestant Black churches have a more Puritan view of dualism in that they believe Christians ought to have a more active role in civic government. The next iteration of American Christian dualism is developing and I predict that the group that blurs the line between Caesar and God and renders the most to Caesar will grow their political influence in the coming decades.

Notes for this draft can be found at JackSherrickFirstEssayNotes

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r22 - 01 Jun 2021 - 13:48:21 - JackSherrick
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