Theological Anthropology Comes First

You don’t get a healthy politics if you answer the question “What is a human?” incorrectly.

Assumed audience: ‘Little-o’ orthodox Christians interested in politics, ethics, etc.—or others curious about what a healthier (because more robustly!) Christian approach to these questions might be.

Epistemic status: solidifying.

From my notes, almost a year ago, as I was working my way through Eric Gregory’s Politics & the Order of Love:

Theological anthropology is antecedent to politics, because you cannot say how politics ought to work unless you have a clear notion of what humans beings are meant to be and called to do, and also because politics happens in the space of fallen human culture. To speak of politics as the art of the possible” is to acknowledge the inherent limits of politics in a world made of humans who are both limited by design and broken by sin. This means it must also be conditioned by eschatology, which indicates both the end toward which we aim and the limits of how far we can expect to get until the end.

In rereading that this evening, it struck me that I would say the same of a bunch of other things, too: technology and tech ethics in particular, and indeed ethics in general, and culture, and so on. It’s impossible to get a truly healthy anything if you get this answer wrong.

I have been thinking about this again recently because of a conversation I had with a good friend at work about the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. We ended up talking about political systems in general, given the failed American attempts to build Western democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq. What I ended up saying to her was much the same as what I had written in my notes a year earlier above — and her response reminded me that this view is fairly distinctively Christian, even if (alas) much Christian politics in America has not borne it out (in one way or another):

The fundamentals of human nature to which any healthy political system much respond are that we are created good, and that we are deeply broken such that we tend to great evil. That goes for every kind of political system: a church polity must acknowledge it no less than a national government, and the way we regulate both self-regulate and make laws about technologies the same.