“we ought not to want to live ahead of the appointed time”
Near the beginning of the fifth century, the great ecclesiastical writer St Augustine addresses a Christian politician weary with his civic duties and the terrible tumult of his times (plus ça change!). We sadly do not have the surviving letter from Boniface to Augustine and so we have to infer Boniface’s attitudes and thoughts from Augustine’s prose. When we do, what we notice is a figure anxious about reconciling his allegiance to God with serving in the government of the time. Among other things, Boniface is particularly keen to know whether he should lead military campaigns as a Christian. Augustine cautions Boniface against abandoning the position he finds himself in and from running away from the gifts God had bestowed on him to fulfil his tasks for the common good.
While we might not follow Augustine in all of his conclusions (we may well raise an eyebrow at Augustine’s justification of Christian involvement in battle, for instance), his words have peculiar relevance and resonance for the Season we now find ourselves in— the Season of Advent. I want to draw our attention, in particular, to Augustine’s short and suggestive supplication: “we ought not to want to live ahead of the appointed time”.
James KA Smith’s address to Christians in Parliament from 2018 is a must listen for the week between Christ the King Sunday (a relative newcomer to the Liturgical Calendar) and Advent. Check it out below:
“As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognised them”—Genesis 42:7
“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people”—Exodus 2:11
My aim in this series on Christianity and tribalism is twofold:
to rehabilitate the concept of the tribe as a site of meaning and belonging which each of us inhabits
2. I move against tribalism—the inclinations, practices and habits we adopt through which we seek salvation in something bigger than ourselves and erect walls of hostility that barricade us from those different from ourselves.
This first post unfolds the first of these two goals—the rehabilitation of the tribe in our collective imaginations.
We Cannot and Should Not Get Rid of Tribes
My main point is that we cannot get rid of tribes and, even if we could, we shouldn’t. Let me explain each of these points.
I wanted to begin to record some of my thoughts on the fly in the hope of offering some encouragement and reflection at this unsettling time. Idon’t know how long it will last for or how consistent I will be but here goes…
Morning prayer an encouragement this am: Ps 31:27—be strong, take courage in your heart, all of you whose hope is in the Lord. Immediately I was taken back to the version of Church of Scotland minister/musician Ian White which my parents used to blast out of the tape player of the family’s Ford Mondeo. As kids, my brother and I used to chuckle at how repetitive the lyrics were. Funny how they are now lodged deep in my memory.
A friend told me today that this is the defining moment of our generation. Years from now people will ask us what it was like to have lived during the Coronavirus. Hopefully part of our answer will be that we lived well and formed good habits…much like my parents did in playing Ian White to my brother and I those many years ago. Be strong, take courage in your heart.
Here’s a select sample of books I’m reading at the moment.
James KA Smith, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts (Brazos, 2019)
Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Little, Brown, 2019)
Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity (Bloomsbury, 2019)
Graham Tomlin, Looking Beyond Brexit: Bringing the Country Back Together (SPCK, 2019)
Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously about the Planet (Atlantic, 2012)
Roger Scruton, Conservatism: An Introduction to the Great Tradition (All Points, 2018)
No. 6 (Scruton’s Conservatism) appears because Conservatism is the first Western political philosophy I will be reviewing in my Western Political Philosophy 101 series.
On that note, I’m currently looking for recommendations for the other political philosophies I will be reviewing (Socialism, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Post-Liberalism). If you have any recommendations, please leave them below in a comment. Thank you.
Welcome to the Saeculum, a new blog that offers a refreshingly realistic take on Christianity and politics. I intend this post as a kind of orientation to the blog and an explanation of why I have decided to start it.