How are we to live as Christians in the political arena? It’s a question that feels tired at times, but it remains as pressing as ever. Fred van Geest’s Introduction to Political Science: A Christian Perspective is remarkable for its even, fair look at a number of political questions from a broadly Christian viewpoint.
There is no possible way to approach a book like this without bias. Van Geest acknowledges this and notes that Christians ought not to be excluded from using their faith to help determine their answers to political questions; after all, no one can be an unbiased commentator on political questions. The book is organized around four parts: Foundational Values and Ideas for Government; Institutions; Policy; and Foreign Policy and International Relations.
Included among the foundational values and ideas are questions about what a government is to begin with, what it means to be a “Christian” government, and whether such a thing ought to even exist. What makes van Geest’s analysis interesting is that he largely manages to navigate that space between liberal and conservative, showing how ideas and ideals from both groups can be held in unity and even lead to policy change that may be mutually agreed upon. Though it is impossible to truly navigate entirely in that tiny “in between” space, van Geest’s book helps readers to at least understand both sides more than they might have before.
One aspect that makes van Geest’s analysis particularly interesting is his breaking out of the unfortunate tendency to simply analyze U.S. politics from a Christian perspective. Instead, he frequently looks at international perspectives and uses examples of countries outside of North America. Many charts are included showing things like voting turnout (and setting that alongside how different systems of voting may encourage or discourage said turnout), opinions on gun control in the U.S., corporate tax rates in different countries (and why some aspects of taxing corporations may be beneficial or not), and many, many more.
Where van Geest brings in a specifically Christian perspective to politics, it becomes even more interesting. He compares Jimmy Carter’s and George W. Bush’s statements on politics and faith, shows the real challenges of poverty and health care in various countries (including the U.S.), argues that income inequality can lead to very real wrongs, questions some aspects of Just War thought, and challenges readers to look at human rights in a global perspective. Though I didn’t always agree with van Geest, I found him bringing so much information to bear in some of these chapters that I was able to sit back and reflect and even change my view on some things.
The book is an introduction, so it doesn’t delve too deeply into any one topic, but it does give readers all kinds of information for further reading and exploration. Moreover, van Geest does a remarkable job of presenting so many different topics in such a short space. Having read the book, I found I felt more informed, even as someone who was a social studies major in college.
Introduction to Political Science: A Christian Perspective is most notable for the fact that van Geest manages to navigate the difficult terrain of the political minefield without becoming overly polemical. I found it highly enjoyable and challenging in the best ways. I recommend it highly.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)
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Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Secularism in International Politics
The quote this week is from Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, The Politics of Secularism in International Relations, a book which makes me reminisce upon The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavinaugh. The book is about how secularism comes into play with international relations, and how secularism is often turned into the wielding of power of the secularist over the religious other. Here’s a juicy quote explaining one of the products of secularism:
“[T]he objective of laicism is to create a neutral public space in which religious belief, practices, and institutions have lost their political significance… The mixing of religion and politics is regarded as irrational and dangerous. For modernization to take hold, religion must be separated from politics… Laicism adopts and expresses a pretense of neutrality… This makes it difficult for those who have been shaped by and draw upon this tradition [laicism] to see the limitations of their own conceptions of religion and politics.” -Elizabeth Hurd, “The Politics of Secularism in International Relations,” 5.
What do you think of the concept of laicism based upon this quote? Have you heard of it before? What are your thoughts on the possibility of the presumption of secularism in politics?
Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William T. Cavanaugh– I review the book which has led me to discuss the ways the category of religion is used to stigmatize the other and also forced me to rethink a number of issues. I highly recommend this book.