. 5
( 12)


plementary virtues for engagement. Dogmatic faith is necessary for
one™s self-understanding, as one must believe something ¬rmly; yet it
is tempered by the confession of one™s all too limited understanding,
a confession made only in the hope that one can deepen that
understanding. One should be both con¬dent in the truth of one™s
claims, and humble regarding one™s understanding of those same
claims, even as one is making them. One engages others convinced
that one™s message is genuinely important for them, and yet recog-
nizing that through the engagement with them one will learn from
them, further deepening one™s own understanding. Honesty about
both oneself and the message one has grasped requires both faith and
hope, dogmatism and confessionalism, con¬dence and humility.
Such engagement is our basic mode of existence, even within
ourselves, between the believer and the unbeliever within all of us “
or between the unbeliever that is still too much us, and Christ in our
soul.42 This conviction warrants us in engaging others in both dog-
matic con¬dence (about our own beliefs, and about the relevance of
those beliefs to others) and confessed humility (about the frailty of
our own understanding, and the possible assistance of others). But
this dialogue is ¬nally judgment: if, as Michael Barnes puts it, ˜˜God
is both host and guest™™ therein, we experience that dialogue as a
judgment, eschatologically deferred (2002: 192). Augustine™s most

42. Or perhaps not; the other way to see this is as the overcoming of all dialectical
reason, as Milbank has argued (1990b: 389, 404“5), though I think the dispute
here is a false one. Milbank may too tightly associate the idea of ˜˜dialectic™™
with Hegelianism.
Life together

basic conviction (and not his alone) is that this dialectic within the
believer is fundamental to the human ontological situation as
fallen children of God “ both participants in, and dissenters from,
the truth which testi¬es to itself in our inmost hearts, people who
will one day stand before God naked, unadorned, awaiting judg-
ment. Perhaps that judgment is what we hear now, in the silences
after we have spoken. In this way Augustine™s account manages not
only to accommodate the broadly outgoing energies captured tra-
ditionally in evangelism, it also explains how those energies should
be inhabited during the world, before the eschatological accom-
plishment of their purposes, and how those energies are them-
selves modes of our proleptic participation in the last judgment,
the ¬nal naming of reality for what it is, was, and always will be.43
Furthermore, our recognition that that eschatological accom-
plishment awaits us in the future means that, in this life, our
engagements are characterized by the same eschatological longing
that colors all aspects of Christian life. Thus this tradition™s insti-
gating motivation, and its expectation for what can be realized in
the present and its hope for what will be accomplished in the
future “ in brief, the whole temporally extended understanding
which it brings to its engagements “ is decisively enframed eschat-
ologically. In this eschatological waiting, the Augustinian tradition
brings together its con¬dence and its humility under the form of
caritas, the love of God. Because all the virtues are forms of caritas for
Augustine, and especially as the love of neighbor is itself rooted in
caritas (because only therein can one recognize the dignity of the
neighbor as ¬‚owing from God™s love for all creation), one ¬nds that
one™s motives are wholly explicable only by recourse to that dis-
tinctly Christian term. It is only by the light of the love of the
Triune God that the soul can come to engage otherness, and such
engagement is the cognitive and conative appropriation of that
divine caritas as it is always already moving in the soul™s life.
All this works to warrant, indeed necessitate, a humbly confessed
particularism. We should confess the dogma we hold, and our
material af¬rmations should reinforce our formal procedures. We
work from within Christian convictions, and both our motives and
our basic premises are distinctly Christian; but the very con¬dence

43. See R. Williams 1999: 330.
136 A Theology of Public Life

with which we hold our beliefs, and our understanding of the
epistemological implications of those beliefs, should make us
always eager to engage other positions in dialogue. We are con-
¬dent of the tradition™s basic story: humanity is in self-dividing
revolt from God, and God has become incarnate in Christ, and
continues to act in the world in the Holy Spirit, in order to restore us
to our proper end. Furthermore, our faith in this story entails that
we see ourselves as at best understanding its meaning only in a
mirror darkly; and this vision gives us a fundamentally Christian
motive for engagement “ caritas “ a practice that synthesizes con-
fession and dogmatism into a unitary yet triune action charged with
faith, hope, and love.

How dialogue would proceed, and where it would lead
How would such dialogue proceed? It can happen in a number
of different ways. One way would be for the tradition to recognize
and attempt to engage an alternative tradition which puts a differ-
ent ˜˜spin™™ upon many of the same fundamental propositions it
af¬rms. In such a situation, the tradition can learn something of the
power of its own position; and it can teach some of the more
obscure, but nonetheless entailed, implications of those proposi-
tions. Much modern apologetics is the attempt to do this, and it
continues as part of the broader projects of thinkers such as Charles
Taylor. Another way would be for the tradition to meet a funda-
mentally different position, one whose basic beliefs differ primor-
dially from its own. In such situations, it would see a tradition so
different from itself that it could learn something of the distinct
meaning of its own position; and, from the strange face of its
interlocutor, it might discover resources hitherto unknown within
its own tradition, resources which it might do well explicitly to
appropriate, if it could. These two positions seem to exhaust the
possibilities, although there may be others.44
Such dialogical argument is not predictable a priori. For one to
judge in which of these two categories a particular conversation

44. For a different but compatible approach, see Ian Markham™s discussions of
˜˜assimilation, resistance, and overhearing™™ as three strategies for theological
engagement (2003: 48“61).
Life together

belongs is a judgment properly, if always at best provisionally, made
only by engaging in the conversation itself, and seeing where it
leads. It may be that Buddhist“Christian dialogue, for example, will
reveal a basic set of af¬rmations shared by both sides about the
relation between self and ultimate reality, one which problematizes
the reality of the self before ultimate reality (thus Hick 1990); or it
may be that the dialogue reveals fundamental differences between
the traditions about their basic af¬rmations about the constitution
of persons (thus Grif¬ths 1991). Probably more than one of these
lessons will be apparent; certainly Christian engagements with
various exemplary modern secular Western thinkers reveals both
deep continuities in af¬rmations about the worth of the individual
(thus Taylor 1989), and fundamental differences in understandings
of the human project (thus MacIntyre 1990; Plantinga 1992). Such
complexity is no surprise, for in such conversations, both the
rami¬ed traditions of thought we inhabit and those we confront
reveal themselves to be far more complex and rich sources for
moral and metaphysical re¬‚ection than we can anticipate. Tradi-
tions contain multitudes. As Karl Barth famously wrote, ˜˜God may
speak to us through Russian Communism, a ¬‚ute concerto, a blos-
soming shrub, or a dead dog . . . The boundary between the church
and the secular world can still take at any time a different course
from that which we think we discern™™ (Barth 1975: 55). In any event,
it is only within and through such conversation that such dis-
coveries can be made.
So understood, such engagements are internal to the theological
project of deepening understanding. While some would label such
discourse ˜˜merely apologetic,™™ and insist on its basically ˜˜ancillary™™
or ˜˜subsidiary™™ function relative to the (proper) ˜˜internal™™ uses of
such discourse, the Augustinian tradition denies that such a dis-
tinction between forms of discourse can be ultimately sustained.
There is a properly theological reason for this: a large part of
apologetics™ internal use is precisely to help believers achieve a
more adequate understanding of their faith. On this earth we are all
too much unbelievers, seeing in a glass darkly, and there is no
absolute chasm separating the kind of understanding available to
believers and non-believers, because there is no absolute chasm “
not yet “ separating believers and non-believers. Hermeneutical
accessibility has always been the ground of Christianity™s putative
138 A Theology of Public Life

universality. Non-believers can come to a less super¬cial under-
standing of the Christian religion by removing misconceptions.
Apologetics is argumentative; but argument can be, and in dialogi-
cal charity it is, for both parties, a matter of deepening under-
This reveals some very interesting things about theology itself.
The theological project is not one of demonstration, of some ¬nal
quod erat demonstrandum; its purpose as ¬des quaerens intellectum pre-
cludes that as humanly attainable. Rather it is a process of growth
into the Christian faith, by necessity a dialogical process of dis-
covering what it means to reproduce the pattern of Christ™s life and
death (and, through God™s grace, resurrection), and hence to come
to know God. We seek and ¬nd God only to discover that that dis-
covery itself renews our desire to seek and ¬nd God in ever more
powerful ways. There is no need, however, to claim that only those
within the faith can grow in understanding; such a claim would
make conversion narratives impossible. Indeed, on the Augustinian
account, this is what all humans do in this life, and possibly in
the next.
Augustine™s theology thus offers a response to the challenge of
pluralism that does not collapse into relativism or universalism.
Christians are distinguished from non-Christians, not simply by a
deeper understanding of the concepts of the Christian language,
but also because they actively engage in the church™s life of more
fully appropriating the grace of Christ and making that grace
manifest to ˜˜the world.™™ This is what it means to witness. Thus, for
such an apologetics, there is no formal difference between puta-
tively religious communities and self-confessedly non-religious (or
irreligious) communities. The program remains the same: confront
interlocutors with as much common ground as you can, and use
that common ground to work towards a common understanding of
both worldviews. The greater the extent to which the worldviews
con¬‚ict “ as long as the con¬‚ict leaves space for intelligible com-
parison “ the better, the more clearly, you can delineate and
understand each.
To ¬nd such arenas of fruitful dialogue, we should look for
conceptual spaces (or moments) that provide Christians and their
neighbors “ secular or otherwise “ with suf¬cient common ground to
have a conversation, yet also provide an issue (or issues) suf¬ciently
Life together

in dispute to give their conversation a subject. Only in such arenas
can apologetic discourse take place, and then only when both sides
consider it suf¬ciently important and proper for such discourse to
proceed. Such projects isolate topics of dispute, clarify the frame-
work necessary for such disputes to have a genuine weight for both
parties, and use the disputes to seek both to increase Christians™
understanding of the commitments that should guide their lives
and to inform both themselves and their interlocutors of why
different, though perhaps apparently similar, commitments are
antithetical to the Christian faith. Such engagements are funda-
mentally ad hoc, centrally meant to identify and compare the
divergent anthropological and metaphysical assumptions support-
ing the two accounts, and then to see where that comparison takes
us. Here the initial task is descriptive: it attempts to clarify the
differences separating the two accounts. From such description
normative claims may be derived, but for such claims to be
redeemed the descriptive prolegomenon must ¬rst be engaged.45
Out of this, an authentic vernacular for genuine dialogue and
cooperation can develop. But we should not delude ourselves into
thinking that this vernacular perfectly translates our primary lan-
guages into an unobjectionable ˜˜neutral™™ third language. We need
not a ˜˜moral Esperanto™™ but something like inter-traditional pidg-
ins, semi-languages that enable us to interact on matters of common
concern without deluding ourselves that the tongue we use in those
moments could ever be our home. It would be like trying to live on a
rickety rope-and-plank bridge, above an abyss of empty platitudes.
(And we can also thus imagine a kind of ˜˜secularism™™ as a pidgin
By calling it a ˜˜pidgin™™ we remind ourselves to avoid growing too
comfortable with it. Our command of it should always remain
awkward and halting, reminding us that we are speaking a broken
language, a stop-gap, even though we speak it in order to reach
some sort of community with others “ so that we remember always
that our attempts at such community, insofar as they seek to bring

45. See Grif¬ths™s (1991) constraints on the NOIA principle, largely (though not
exclusively) of a socio-political nature, Werpehowski 1986, and DiNoia 1993.
46. For a Jewish parallel, see David Novak™s proposal that Jewish“Christian
dialogue should seek not convergence but rather ˜˜signi¬cant overlappings™™
that respect the two traditions™ autonomy (in 2000: 124).
140 A Theology of Public Life

us into communion without the explicit presence of God, stand
under the judgment of Babel. Yet this is not an arti¬cially fabricated
dif¬culty; it is not as if we could easily speak in this language and are
merely ˜˜pretending™™ to speak it poorly. If the language is properly
understood, and properly used, if we are trying authentically to be
the particular believers that we are, the dif¬culty is organically
Some will wonder why we are supposed to aim at failure “ or at
what, to them, looks disappointingly minimal. They will suggest
that such a limited achievement is too constraining for us, and that
somehow we should ¬nd some way of communicating smoothly
between all such views. But why? Why should we assume that
comfort is what we should reasonably expect, or what we should
aim for? Maybe a level of awkwardness, of dif¬culty and confusion,
of Babel-like vexation, is actually better for us, as it keeps in our
minds the brokenness of our communion with each other without
God. In engaging others, we should be reminded of our sin not only
in our failings, but in our successes as well.
Furthermore, in so practically recognizing the dif¬culties in
genuine communion, we acknowledge the distance yet to be trav-
eled between the shadowy engagement we can have here and now
and the real communion for which we see all such engagement
longing. So even our challenges become spiritually productive for
us, gesturing yet again at the dif¬culties between our dialogues
here and our ultimate participation, through Christ and in the
church, in the perichoretic communion that is our eschatological

Christian theology should understand the challenge of plur-
alism as a manifestation of the more theologically primordial
challenge of otherness; seen in this context, recent works on reli-
gious pluralism are helpful but must be placed within a more sys-
tematic theological framework. Augustinian themes can help here,
particularly regarding the centrality of conversion in inquiry and in
the Christian life as a whole, and regarding the use of engaging with
others as a means of conversion, for both one™s interlocutors and
oneself. Approaching the issue in this way transforms our vision of
Life together

the problem we face. Just as the essential challenge is not properly
pluralism but otherness, dialogue is best understood not simply
epistemologically but theologically “ within the framework of the
Augustinian account of the theological virtues, and as one mani-
festation of our engagement with God. As the self is always already
involved in dialogue, with itself and with God, dialogue with others
is not a radical change, and can correct, enrich, and guide the self™s
The above account of dialogue implies and in part elaborates an
account of inquiry and rational discourse simpliciter, an account
which says that such discourse is never in fact simpliciter, for two
reasons. First, we are never purely believers, and hence we must
always engage in dialogue, both within ourselves and with others,
in order both to deepen our understanding and to be welcoming to
others. Rational discourse is essentially an ongoing project that can
never conclude, at least this side of the eschaton; the ascent to truth
is never complete, and all claims to absolute certainty should be
doubted. Against all Cartesian misprisions of Augustine, Augusti-
nian epistemology is essentially ramshackle. Second, such discourse
is not purely a formal matter, never strictly and abstractly theore-
tical, without ontological commitments; negatively, certain pictures
of the world are ruled out for it, and positively, it must always take
its place in a living history of (quite literally) passionate inquiry.
Thus this is not a solipsistic sort of self-knowledge, for it is directly
related to the degree of knowledge that one possesses about the, or
some, ˜˜other.™™ The degree to which one can understand the dif-
ferences separating one from another is certainly an index of the
depth of one™s own self-knowledge, but it is also, and equally
importantly, an index of the depth of one™s faith, one™s knowledge
and love of God and, through God, of one™s neighbor.
Knowing is inevitably contextual; to know at all, one must know
one™s place, the context within which one speaks. Knowing is also
inevitably relational; each form of one™s knowledge is related to
every other, and all forms of knowledge relate the self to some
other. For Christianity, this means that to know any other is ¬nally
to know the ultimate other “ God. To deny, as many seem to desire
to deny, that we must try to grasp the ˜˜radical otherness™™ of this
most radical other, whenever and wherever we ¬nd it, in such a way
142 A Theology of Public Life

as to render it not quite so radically other, is in effect a refusal to
know, and, in the end, a failure of charity.
Yet if we accept this argument, how precisely should charity be
manifest? With this chapter we have completed our sketch of a
general theology of engagement. We now need to see how this
program works itself out in more speci¬c form in public engage-
ment, how it may inform the development of a concrete strategy of
participation in public life, a theology of citizenship. Part II of this
book undertakes this project.
part ii

The liturgy of citizenship

Christians are not different from others in where they live, or how
they talk, or in their lifestyle. They do not live in cities of their own,
or speak a peculiar language, or follow an eccentric way of life.
Their doctrine is not an invention of inquisitive and restless
thinkers, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as
some people do. They live where they happen to live, in Greek or
barbarian cities; they follow local custom in clothing and food and
daily life, yet they always give proof of their own citizenship. They
live in their own homelands, but as resident aliens. They share
everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every
foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is
a foreign land . . . They busy themselves on earth, but their
citizenship is in heaven. Letter to Diognetus

In this life our justice consists more in the forgiveness of sins than
Augustine, de civitate Dei 19.27
the perfection of virtues.
Introduction to Part II

Part I offered an Augustinian theology of engagement: a pro-
posal that sees the human™s basic desire to be one of ever deepening
communion with God, a communion that is realized, in this world,
not through a sinful detachment from the world, but rather
through a proper engagement with it. Indeed, the fundamental
human fault is nothing other than such escapism “ detachment,
retreat, contraction, privatio “ the delusion that our embeddedness
in creation is ¬nally accidental to our ˜˜essential™™ nature. Not so:
God is most fundamentally found not by escaping the self, the
world, or other people, but by engaging them; such engagement
shapes us in ways good for our souls and the souls of our inter-
locutors. Our basic mode of engagement should be a practice of
˜˜confessional openness™™ “ to the world, to one another, and ulti-
mately to God™s continuing gift to us of God™s own being and (thus)
our being, in and through time. It is our continued willingness to
endure the new, to endure the time God gives us “ to endure life
during the world “ that gives this practice its fundamental shape.
The basic disposition out of which this should be done is a con-
fessing and humble caritas that ever seeks the face of God in all such
encounters, as the ultimate otherness with which we inevitably and
intimately engage.
Part II speci¬es this general account in an Augustinian theology of
citizenship “ a theological analysis of faithful civic engagement
during the world as part of God™s providential economy. This
theology will show how such engagement can occur in con-
temporary public life, and urge Christian citizens to give appropriate
attention to the civic and political order, alongside appropriate

146 A Theology of Public Life

resistance to inevitable tendencies (in this life) towards political
closure “ attention and resistance that are achieved via faith, hope,
and love. It will also explain how Christians should use an ascetical
vocabulary, again building upon the theological virtues, to under-
stand their civic obligations to help discipline of their souls. Chris-
tians™ public engagement during the world is not only civically viable
and even vital; it also shapes them gratefully to receive, and joyfully
to communicate, God™s redemptive and consummative gift, and
thereby helps to ¬t Christians for bearing the weight of glory, for
citizenship in the heavenly kingdom to come.
In doing this, the theology sketches one account of ˜˜the liturgy of
citizenship.™™ Citizenship is obviously liturgical in a civic sense, as
leitourgia is simply ˜˜the work of the people™™ and civic order is
nothing if not such a work. But it can be a liturgy in another,
theologically more proper sense “ an activity that the body of Christ
undertakes in doxological praise of God as Creator, Sustainer, and
Redeemer. To claim that civic life can be liturgical in this sense is to
suggest that civic life can be performed in a way that is continuous
with the liturgy of the blessed in heaven that is our eschatological
destiny.1 This part attempts to show that these two liturgies are
performable as two sides of the same coin, that the former is
embedded and comes to fruition in the latter.

The challenge of our contemporary civic condition
The idea that public life today offers any kind of training for
redemption will sound surprising. Many worry that contemporary
public and especially ˜˜political™™ life is deeply problematic today.2
Different scholars approach this issue in different ways. Some see
the problem as one of a polarizing culture war fuelled by the rise of
a pernicious identity politics, while others see the problem as the
rise of a massive anomic disaffection with, and defection from, civic
life. In fact both diagnoses identify aspects of a larger problem “
namely, the disappearance of any real practice of politics and the

1. On the political implications of liturgy see Pickstock 1997, Cavanaugh 1999: 195,
and especially Black 1997: 648 n.6: while in the pagan world leitourgia was
˜˜service rendered by wealthy citizens,™™ for Christians liturgy is what the whole
people of God do together.
2. See Sandel 1996, Barber 1988, and Isaac 1997.
Introduction to Part II

loss of a rich and authentically political vernacular. Long-term
structural and material changes in contemporary societies corrode
˜˜social capital,™™ and consumerist markets inevitably change their
participants from ˜˜political™™ agents into fundamentally con-
sumerist creatures.3 Today people resist understanding themselves as
citizens at all; they more easily understand themselves as customers
of the state, or as purely private people with no particular civic
identity or obligations.
The problem is partly measurable in quantitative terms, in the
malaise, anomie, and deep suspicion that many citizens increas-
ingly feel towards their governments. Robert Putnam famously
claimed that America is increasingly ˜˜bowling alone,™™ and that this
change in behavior is emblematic of a broader decline in American
associational life, and indeed of associational life across advanced
industrial societies more generally. Citizens of these societies vote
less, pay less and less attention to public affairs, are involved in
fewer associations, and in general are increasingly atomized,
anomic, privatized subjects of government rather than participants
within it.4 As Theda Skocpol puts it, ˜˜Variety and voice have surely
been enhanced in the new American civic universe . . . But the gains
in voice and public leverage have mainly accrued to the top tiers of
U.S. society™™ (2004: 14).5 Something has changed, and dramatically,
about the amount of engagement with centrally public affairs in the
past few decades.
But quantitative descriptions only get us so far. The problem is
not simply apathy, but also positive repugnance: as E. J. Dionne
argues, Americans hate politics.6 Yet citizens™ (certainly justi¬able)
disgust at contemporary politics explains little. After all, expres-
sions of public suspicion of and hostility towards politics is nothing
new, and in fact public discourse was signi¬cantly nastier in earlier
eras than in our own “ involving duels, assaults, and mob riots. But
that is precisely the point. Today, when canings, riots, and physical
violence have disappeared “ more or less “ from the public sphere,
citizens use the ugliness of public life to justify large-scale defection

3. See Isaac 2003: 117“18, Hunter 2000, Bell 1996, Taylor 1989, Bauman 1999: 158“61.
4. See Patterson 2002, and Putnam 2002.
5. In her article, Skocpol does not even mention churches as a possible source of
cross-class association.
6. See Dionne 1991.
148 A Theology of Public Life

from public engagement. In earlier eras, people complained in order
to rally others to engagement; today complaint is more typically an
excuse to stay on the sidelines. Even those who do participate in
voluntary associations act in ways that, to use Nina Eliasoph™s
incisive phrase, ˜˜avoid politics,™™ avoid thinking of their associations
as devices for, or moments of, involving themselves in genuinely
political action (Eliasoph 1998). Hence the common lament about
the decline of civic culture not only designates a problem in public
life; in an important way, the lament is itself part of the problem.
Politics has disappeared, in crucial part, because we have despaired
of it.
Our weariness (and our wariness) derives, in important part, from
a failure of political imagination, of our fundamental ˜˜social im-
aginary™™ of public life, the set of precognitive assumptions about
citizenship and freedom that frame our understanding of public life
(Taylor 2004). We lack a way to recognize the other as signi¬cantly
other, someone who is genuinely other to us, yet whose very
otherness is part of her or his relevance to our political delibera-
tions, and thus who elicits some sort of ˜˜recognition™™ from us, not
just a laissez-faire indifference.7 And we avoid confronting this
failure by falling into cynicism.8 We have grown increasingly
uncomfortable and suspicious of any pretense to be speaking out of
concern for ˜˜the public good.™™ Instead we redescribe the give and
take of political bargaining as either the despairing and nihilistic de
gustibus non est disputandem attitude of consumerist indifference, or
in the terri¬ed terms of moral crusade against the minions of some
Great Satan du jour.9 We cannot imagine politics as more than
the agglomeration of power by individuals or groups for ¬nally
sel¬sh ends. This is a self-ful¬lling prophecy: because the public
sphere seems increasingly destructive, corrosive, and ugly, citizens
increasingly imagine that civic engagement is inevitably duplicitous
and corrupting; and so they approach any civic engagement they
actually do undertake with less and less of the goodwill needed to
improve its condition. As Oliver Bennett has argued, ˜˜in the post-
modern world cultural pessimism is . . . not only a judgment about

7. See Taylor 1992.
8. On cynicism, see Frank 1997, Goldfarb 1991, Bewes 1997, and Chaloupka 1999.
9. On the collapse of ˜˜politics,™™ see Hirschman 1970 and Isaac 1997; for examples
beyond the United States, see Schoppa 2001 and Colburn 2002.
Introduction to Part II

our culture, but also a structure of feeling that is increasingly
produced by our culture™™ (2001: 193). The degradation of human
existence into a sort of half-life lived in the dim light of smoky
quasi-lobbying renders suspicious, or worthy of suspicion, all our
cares and commitments; it contaminates our personal lives with
suspicions most appropriate to gunboat diplomacy.
Yet our despair, and the problems it expresses, has immediate
material causes, most centrally in the institutional fact of the rise of
the state in the modern era. Whether or not it is intentionally
planned, the state™s growth over the past two centuries has been
considerable. The modern state has enormous powers not only of
social organization but even of existential creation; through educa-
tion, civic rituals, and governmental/military service, it plays a fun-
damental role in quite literally creating its citizens. Its growth and
increasing centralization have occurred even against the best efforts
of individual of¬ceholders.10 The state is the overwhelming fact
about most modern societies, and especially about civic life in those
societies.11 Today people see government more as something we
have than as something we do; most of us most of the time, and all of
us some of the time, are content to wallow in consumerist specta-
torship rather than participate in civic action.
The rise of the state has led to the managerial bureaucratization
of politics: the camou¬‚aging of political issues in the grey, faceless
discourse of policy wonks and the legal arcana of the judiciary.
There is much to be grateful for in this. Procedural fairness has been
increased, and any particular citizen is more likely to be treated as
equal to any other by the governmental structures. But there have
been losses as well, most particularly in the declining opportunities
for genuine engagement in the running of one™s local, regional, or
national civic affairs. The rise of an elite of policy experts with their
own, typically econometric language, along with the increasing
import of the mandarin legal class, have led to a situation where
ordinary citizens are rendered increasingly illiterate and inarticu-
late regarding matters that concern them.12 The ˜˜big questions™™ are
increasingly unasked in politics; questions about the obligation of

10. See Morone 1998.
11. See E. Weber 1976 and Wuthnow 1988.
12. See Habermas 1984, Brint 1994, Sandel 1996, Eliasoph 1998, P. D. Hall 1984,
Casanova 1994, Hart 2001, Wuthnow and Evans 2002, and Mathewes 2002b. For
150 A Theology of Public Life

the state to its citizens, to the founders in the past, and to future
generations, about the whole ˜˜nature and destiny of mankind™™ “ all
this has the dubious glitter of falling confetti at a political rally.
Furthermore, politics changes from a project of self- and commu-
nity-creation to a project of providing services, from a vision of
politics as participation to politics as consumption. Indeed, gov-
ernments often explicitly speak this way, describing their citizens as
˜˜customers.™™ At times the state implicitly becomes not just a service
provider but a therapist, as when it prescribes and proscribes proper
forms of self-understanding and emotional presentation.13
Alongside the state, other cultural forces are at work as well,
combining in a ˜˜feedback loop™™ with the structural forces to
aggravate each other™s effects. The rise of our vast and polyphonous
media is crucial here; it represents us to ourselves in distorting
ways.14 Equally importantly, recent decades have seen the rise of
˜˜postmaterialist™™ values among the populations of advanced
industrial societies. ˜˜Postmaterialist™™ concerns emerge as central
for citizens when the traditional meat-and-potatoes issues of politics
(or better: guns and butter), issues of scarcity and security, have
been reliably resolved at the ˜˜end of history,™™ a resolution that
permits citizens to focus on, well, less self-interested concerns about
the environment, equality of opportunity, and other such ˜˜sym-
bolic™™ concerns. Politics becomes less a matter of ˜˜material inter-
est™™ and more a matter of expressive value commitments. (Such
postmaterial concerns may sound like the boutique ˜˜radical chic™™
leftism of liberal elites, but in fact postmaterial political programs
are as easily conservative: many of the culture-war controversies of
recent decades “ about ¬‚ag-burning, federal funding for art, curri-
cular questions, capital punishment, and abortion “ exemplify the

one example of the alarming trend in liberal political theory towards reliance
on experts, see Warren 1999.
13. On the rise of ˜˜citizens as consumers,™™ see Crenson and Ginsberg 2002. For
more on the ˜˜therapeutic state,™™ see Nolan 1998 and Polsky 1991. On
consumerism and political life, see Campbell 1987, Scitovsky 1992, Turow
1997, Halter 2000, Lane 2000, Binder 2002, Micheletti 2003, and L. Cohen
2003. On consumerism and religion see Wuthnow 1994, N. Boyle 1998, and
C. Smith 2005. More generally see Bell 1988, Coleman 1996, Dalton et al. 1984,
Everett 1997, Ferree et al. 2002, Gainsborough 2001, Hart 2001, Lakoff 2002,
Morone 1998, Nagel 2001, Oliver 2001, Perry 1999, and Sandler and
Schoenbrod 2003.
14. See Turow 1997, Baker 1994, Jackall and Hirota 2000, Wilhelm 2000, and Barney
Introduction to Part II

postmaterial thesis on both sides of the argument.15) The emergence
of postmaterial values in the general populace presents public life
with a number of dif¬culties. Most importantly, political parties
have a harder time mobilizing postmaterialists in sustained and
systematic ways: because they understand their personal activity as
unproblematically political, and because they are so re¬‚exively
individualistic, they are wary of long-term costly commitments to
political parties. Thus the populace is paradoxically more politi-
cized, but curiously less politically organized and mobilized.16
The consequences of these changes on the kind of citizens pro-
duced in and by the political order are profound. The ideal citizen of
a democratic polity is dispositionally deeply committed to voluntary
participation in government, vitally but skeptically engaged with
the political structures and authorities, and earnestly interested in
working and debating with others regarding the shape and actions
of the polity. But contemporary civic life encourages not committed
participation but passive lassitude, not skeptical attention but
cynical ignorance, not respectful engagement but apathetic indif-
ference. Contemporary citizens are taught by the media and the
culture to be consumers, and to see public affairs as a realm of ugly
self-interest covered with a thin frosting of dissemblingly altruistic
(or alarmist) rhetoric. They are treated by their government as cus-
tomers to be served, not co-owners of the state.17
In this setting it is no surprise that many choose not to ˜˜voice™™
their complaints but instead simply ˜˜exit™™ from civic life altogether,
retreating into a warren of cynicism. But this is a profound mistake.
Every political order shapes the souls of its constituents, whether
they participate in it directly or not; if anything, democratic poli-
tical structures do so more ferociously than any other. The ˜˜loss of
politics™™ is not only politically disastrous; it also distorts the char-
acter of the persons the culture produces in important ways. The
pressures that reduce such a polity™s inhabitants from ˜˜political™™
agents into fundamentally consumerist subjects also work on our

15. For a provocative complaint about this change in political life, see Frank 2004.
16. See Inglehart 1990, Dalton 2000, and Brooks 2000. For a powerful counter-
argument to the sort I am making, see Lichterman 1996.
17. For an interesting (if overwrought) discussion of the importance and effect of
modern managerial techniques in making citizens, see C. R. Miller 2001. See
also Eliasoph 1998.
152 A Theology of Public Life

overall moral self-understandings, misshaping our understanding of
agency and responsibility.18 Contemporary ˜˜individualism™™ is closer
to the autistic solipsism of extreme consumerism than to genuine
autonomy or real independence. Hegel™s claim that reading the
morning paper is the modern version of morning prayer is false
only to the extent that newspapers have been replaced by even
more vaporous modes of delivering pseudo-information, such as
television and the internet, making our lives ever more amenable to
the pure fungibility and commensurability that consumer capital-
ism requires.19 The attempt to ˜˜exit™™ public life is not only not a
solution; it is actually just one more symptom of the problem.

The poverty of contemporary liberal political theory
In thinking about these matters, we are ill served by current
˜˜liberal™™ political theory, which is captive to parochial debates that,
while perhaps originally provoked by real-world concerns, have
today at best only an oblique connection to actual human exis-
tence.20 Indeed, ˜˜liberalism™™ itself has suffered a sort of ˜˜Babylo-
nian captivity™™ among academic theorists who con¬‚ate liberal
political theory and actual ˜˜liberal democratic™™ societies. The latter
is not the best description of the constellation of political institu-
tions, practices, and dispositions that characterize our societies
(explicit attention to republican themes would be better); but it is at
least a viable description. But there is a considerable gap between
the polity we inhabit, under any description, and the currently
fashionable liberal political theories that purport to describe and
underlie it.21 Self-professed ˜˜liberal™™ political theorists have sacri-
¬ced the breadth of pre-academic political thought for a narrow
range of puzzles that are rigorously articulable in their own analytic
framework. In so doing they set a too comfortable task for thinkers
and play a problematically restrictive role in public deliberation.

18. See Hammond 1992, McClay 1994, Bell 1996, Bauman 1999, Fowler 1999, Hunter
2000, and Isaac 2003. See Seligman 2000 for a pessimistic assessment of this,
and Wolfe 2001 for a celebration of this.
19. Compare Bauman: ˜˜˜News™ is mostly a tool of forgetting, a way of crowding out
yesterday™s headlines from the audience™s consciousness™™ (1987: 167).
20. In all that follows I have been much educated by Isaac 1997 and 2003, Brinkley
1998, and Johnston 1994.
21. See J. Stout 2004, Berkowitz 1999, and Galston 1991.
Introduction to Part II

˜˜Liberal political theory™™ is a family of associated political
assumptions and projects. It aims to establish a consensual adjudi-
cative framework and set of political structures that fundamentally
autonomous individuals will ¬nd legitimate, in order to avoid seri-
ously contentious, hence socially straining, public dispute “ all of
which is in the service of resolving complex socio-political issues in
pluralistic societies while securing a stable ˜˜non-political™™ space for
individuals to pursue their ˜˜private™™ interests with the minimum of
interference by one another.22 Yet this project is crucially ¬‚awed.
The focus on structural or institutional projects “ establishing just
structures of deliberation, decision-making, and complaint “ entails
a deeply technological model of ˜˜political™™ thinking; this model is
impatient with problems that are not yet clearly de¬ned, much less
ones that have no clear route to a solution, and hence it severely
limits its ability to see, let alone address, the deepest problems we
face today.23 Furthermore, the aim of articulating political struc-
tures that can be ideally af¬rmed by all “ or if not af¬rmed, at least
not legitimately contested “ is both dubious and dangerous. The
conceptual framework underpinning this ¬xation on consent is
premised on a dubious philosophical anthropology that focuses
attention on the secondary question of consent while ignoring the
question of how to shape humans into real agents.24 And the aim of
maximal consent slides easily into the dangerous habit of delegiti-
mizing dissent, preemptively ruling impossible principled dissent to
the proposed picture of the political order. The received liberal
¬xation on the ideal of consent as the holy grail of political theory
implies a ˜˜dangerous utopia of reconciliation™™ (Mouffe 2000: 14) and
renders liberal theory blind to the ineliminable presence of con¬‚ict
and disagreement, which in turn means that such political thought
must ¬nally long to eliminate, not foster, dissent “ which leads to
the complete annihilation of politics itself. Liberal political theory
claims to aim at consent, but instead regularly hits the target of
silence. Solitudinem faciunt, et pacem appellant: they make a desolation,
and call it peace.25

22. See Waldron 1987: 127, Bird 1999, and Fowler 1999: 123.
23. See Galston 1991: 161“2, Bertram 1997, and Mehta 1995.
24. See Sandel 1982, Wolterstorff 1996, and Kahn 2004.
25. The Tacitus passage is from his Agricola, § 30. See also Herzog 1989, Rescher
1993, Mehta 1995, and Shiffrin 1999.
154 A Theology of Public Life

The concern with legitimization re¬‚ects liberal theory™s belief
that the great danger of political life is the polarization of oppo-
nents, due to irreconcilable (usually religious) differences, and
ultimately degenerating into warfare. All political imaginations
have their nightmares, and the nightmare of the liberal imagination
is the horri¬c religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen-
turies.26 They fear that, given our situation of real value-pluralism,
we must primarily ensure that that pluralism does not fracture the
political order; all other challenges ¬‚ow down in a descending scale
of seriousness therefrom.27 But this is a woefully narrow aperture
through which to view politics, highlighting those problems that
best ¬t this model of dif¬culty, such as abortion, while ignoring
other worries, such as declining civic engagement. Furthermore,
this focus forces liberal political theory to propound an inaccurate
picture of the present, assumes a bad history, and presents a false
political ancestry. Let me say something about these three failings.
First, its picture of the present reality of religion is fundamentally
ideological “ captive to a deep and resilient ignorance about reli-
gion, and motivated more by necessities internal to the logic of the
belief system than by the result of any attempt actually to look and
see what religion is doing in (and for) the culture. It constructs
religious believers as the unspoken ˜˜other™™ against which ˜˜we™™
de¬ne ourselves. On its picture, for example, America is split
between decent, right-thinking liberal moderates who are content
to let others do what they want, so long as they can sip their lattes,
¬‚ip through The New York Times, and zip to the organic market in
their SUVs; and psychologically corseted redneck rubes who mutter
darkly about black helicopters and UN conspiracies and pause from
stacking school boards, propagating patriarchy, and promoting
creationism only to bomb abortion clinics and ¬eld-strip their

26. One example of the fear of religion may be found in Rawls 1999: 182, under the
index heading ˜˜Christianity.™™ The entire entry is as follows: ˜˜Christianity: and
heresy, 21, 166n; persecuting zeal of, its curse, 21, 166n.™™ See also Shklar 1984,
and Juergensmeyer 1993 and 2000.
27. See Beiner 1992. For an example of the sorts of worries that such a liberalism
has dif¬culties expressing, see Fukuyama 2002.
28. Examples are depressingly legion: for two, see Rosenblum 2000 and Macedo
2000. For good examples of alternative visions, see Casanova 1994 and
Mahmood 2005. For studies of the root causes of this ignorance, see C. Smith
2003b and Carter 1994.
Introduction to Part II

Second, its history is equally dubious. The central political
dynamic of the early modern era was not the creation of political
tolerance as a reaction to interreligious violence, but rather the rise
of the centralized and absolutist state as the locus of all legitimate
violence and political sovereignty, out of a world of far more various
(complementary and con¬‚ictual) structures of political authority.
The ruthless simpli¬cation of the political ecosystem during the era
of the birth of the Westphalian state was the real story behind the
violence of the religious wars, which were signi¬cantly (though not
exclusively) exploited as convenient excuses for the further
entrenchment of power on the part of various political actors; as
Richard Dunn put it, the Holy Roman Emperor ˜˜Charles V™s soldiers
sacked Rome, not Wittenberg, in 1527™™ (1970: 6). This is true also
about our own day “ the ˜˜religious war™™ lens through which so
many contemporary problems are seen turns out to be perniciously
false. That is to say, the received wisdom about Yugoslavia is wrong:
it was not the eruption of antique (or ˜˜primitive™™) religious and
ethnic identities and hostilities so much as it was the fabrication
and exploitation of such identities for primarily political (not to
mention criminal) purposes.29 After all, the famous doctrine of cuius
regio eius religio, purportedly one of the building-blocks of toleration,
is equally a doctrine of intolerance “ of the legitimation of a ruler™s
right to compel his subjects to believe as he did, no matter what
others outside the realm may wish. The belief that ˜˜the liberal
state™™ is the response to the challenge of pluralism gets things the
wrong way round; pluralism is a problem only when you have a
monotheism of the state, when the state claims to be the only game
in town as regards power and authority. Without such an essentially
aggrandizing political structure, diversity in belief, and hetero-
geneity on the ground, is much less dif¬cult. Pluralism is a central
problem for modern states not because of pluralism, but because of
modern states.30

29. Against, e.g., the Weltanschauung of the previously referenced books by
Juergensmeyer, see Sells 1996, and D. Martin 1997: 7“9, 16“17.
30. See Tilly 1975, 1989, and 1993, Cavanaugh 1995, van Creveld 1999, Ertman 1997,
Murphy 2001, and Philpott 2001. For discussions of the effect the rise of the
state had on political theory, see Skinner 1978: 352“8, Viroli 1992: 3, and
Bauman 1999: 169“70. For the role of liberal thought in imperialism, see Mehta
156 A Theology of Public Life

Third, this error is not simply due to bad history; it allows it to
pretend to a deeper ancestry than it can properly af¬rm. For liberal
political theory really begins not in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, but in post-World War II anxieties about totalitarianism,
populist mass movements, and ˜˜the true believer™™ pervasive (at
least in political writing) in that era.31 The liberal paradigm arose as
an anxious response to concerns that the modern liberal nation-
state “ a rare creature in 1945 “ was under attack from the Left and
the Right, in a mortal struggle for the future of what Arthur
Schlesinger Jr. called ˜˜the vital center.™™ Driven by this anxiety,
liberal theorists marginalized all those who opposed liberalism as
reactionaries or relics of the past, a crotchety old lunatic fringe of
back-country wackos who should be ignored or, better, put on
cognitive reservations until they die off.32 While such margin-
alizations might have been cognitively comforting for liberal the-
orists, they had the disastrous consequence of leaving liberalism
unequipped, when actual anti-liberals appeared as real and impor-
tant players on the scene (as they occasionally do), with any
response to them other than sneers and name-calling.33
In general we can summarize these challenges by saying that
liberal political theory is, paradoxically, not a theory about politics
at all, but a theory about avoiding politics.34 Given its picture of
rights-bearing individuals as primary, it focuses on how best to leave
one another alone, and the most basic human commitments it pre-
sumes are non-political commitments (which often means ˜˜private™™
commitments) “ while the most basic ˜˜political™™ commitment it
presumes in its participants is the commitment to live in proximity

31. Isaac 1997: 26“8. See also Brinkley 1998: 296“7, Gary 1999, and Halberstam 1999.
32. See Barber 1988: 31.
33. See Isaac 1997: 26“8 and Brinkley 1998: 296“7; for an example of the dyspeptic
rhetoric of a cornered self-proclaimed ˜˜liberal,™™ see S. Holmes 1993. For an
example of this elitism in present-day theorizing see Warren 1999: 358“9 “ in a
society as complex as our own, we must accept an ˜˜epistemic division of labor™™
vis-a-vis politics; not just regretfully as a de facto necessity, but even as a de jure
appropriate structure. Reinstitute an intellectual-managerial elite. See also Zolo
1992 for remarks on the ˜˜Singapore Model.™™ See also Hart 2001: 221 and Isaac
34. As Paul Khan says, ˜˜liberalism is a political theory without any understanding
of politics™™ (Kahn 2004: 182). See Barber 1988, Newey 2001, Isaac et al. 1999, and
Kahn 2004. This could explain what Ronald Beiner (1997: 17) calls the
fundamental boredom of liberal political theory. For more on boredom see
Svendsen 2005.
Introduction to Part II

to each other, a commitment it expects to be ˜˜freestanding,™™
autonomous relative to any other convictions those participants
may possess. (Rawls™s celebrated egalitarian interventionism, for
example, is only provisionally interventionary, the ultimate justi¬-
cation for which is humans™ fundamental separateness from each
other. For Rawls we should be egalitarians, that is, because this is
the way to be most generally least intrusive.) There is no sense, in
contemporary liberal political theory, that politics and public life in
general “ in the sense of taking responsibility for running the polity “
is any sort of intrinsic good. Even if it is available for individuals to
˜˜go into™™ politics, what they will ¬nd there, in the liberal utopia at
least, is not politics but bureaucracy, the administration of a man-
agerial program determined on other than political grounds. In a
way, liberal political theory is actually a despair of politics, of the
possibility of political life itself.

The recovery of politics
It is hard for those unacquainted with the ¬eld of political
theory to understand how profoundly captive the imagination of
liberal political theory has been to these idees ¬xes. It is the danger of
any ideology that manages to consolidate its hold over an intelli-
gentsia; almost inevitably the blinkered scholastic protocols of the
discipline eclipse a clear-eyed vision of reality as the most important
criterion for assessing a proposal™s signi¬cance.
Some have escaped this hegemonic imagination. Some inside the
machine recognize its inadequacies, and offer ˜˜political liberalism™™
or ˜˜civic liberalism™™ or ˜˜liberal republicanism™™ “ a liberalism that
works to correct such tendencies “ as workable modi¬cations.35 And
others, from quite different perspectives, are dissatis¬ed with the
received pieties and demonologies of the status quo, and often
especially with its understanding of the role (or proper lack of a
role) of religion in public life.36 Such thinkers have begun to discuss
real politics again. They realize that received ˜˜liberal™™ political
thought leaves something unthought “ namely, the idea that political

35. See Macedo 1993 and 2000, Dagger 1997, Pettit 1997, Raz 1988, and Sunstein
36. See, for example, Galston 1991, Orlie 1997, Connolly 1999, and Deneen 2005.
158 A Theology of Public Life

life can be more than a device for securing for oneself a set of
political rights, that it is an immanent good, available only by par-
ticipating in public life. These thinkers want to recover those
practices of political engagement that comprise the practice of
citizenship. Re¬‚ecting on the revolutionary experiences of 1989 in
Eastern and Central Europe, they recognize the value of political
engagement itself.37 As Adam Michnik put it, ˜˜we must live as if
there is political space,™™ and thereby create the conditions for the
reality of such political space to appear (Schell 1986: 47). We must
resurrect public discourse, reaf¬rm the need for commitment to
civic purposes and civic projects, and cultivate a multidimensional
culture of deliberation about such concerns. By engaging others in
the public square, such thinkers argue, we can achieve, in the words
of Michael Sandel, ˜˜a good in common that we cannot know alone™™
(1982: 183). Such a program, these thinkers hope, will reinvigorate
our public life and can help replenish the dangerously alkaloid soil
of contemporary civic culture.
Yet for all their diagnostic power, these visions remain frustrat-
ingly vague about how to reinvigorate public life. In part we lack a
political grammar, a capacity for political conversation among
members of a society. Contemporary sociologists argue that without
a vocabulary, there can be no vision; and as earlier social theorists
taught us, without a vision, the people perish.38 So these political
thinkers have some sense of the goal, but cannot see the way to it.
Christians can do better, for they have a very rich ˜˜political
grammar™™ latent in their faith. Many of them are implicitly still
operating through these grammars, albeit partially and often
unconsciously. An explicit appropriation of such a grammar can
help them become what Antonio Gramsci called ˜˜organic intellec-
tuals™™: not simply people who ˜˜act™™ through and in their thinking,
but people whose thinking regularly has as part of its intentional
concern the ˜˜public good™™ and how best to think about the public

37. See Isaac 1997, Kumar 2001, Glenn 2001, and Kenney 2002.
38. While the language of ˜˜political grammar™™ may seem merely metaphorical, in
fact it may be more than that; there appears to be a ˜˜strong positive
relationship™™ between verbal articulateness and political and civic
engagement. (Interestingly enough, exceptional mathematical ability seems to
be strongly negatively related to such engagement.) See Nie and Hillygus 2001:
39“42. For more on the connection between ˜˜civic grammars™™ and social life,
see Eliasoph 1998, Hart 2001, Lichterman 2005, and Alexander 2003.
Introduction to Part II

good. Christian churches can become hospitable sites for the sorts
of open-ended (and open-sided) political movements akin to what
sociologists call ˜˜new social movements™™: not just groups of people
who care about and act for political aims, but intentional commu-
nities whose self-understanding and very mode of existence embody
resistance to the ongoing ˜˜colonization™™ of the public sphere by
narrowly technical forms of rationalization that threaten to devour
it.39 They can do this by articulating a theology of citizenship for
today. This theology will urge Christians to participate in public life
in a way that accepts appropriate responsibility for that participa-
tion. This is important: the best vocabulary for understanding our
engagement in public life is one organized not around obedience,
but rather around participation.40 Against some profound political
views, these chapters will argue that the basic problem of con-
temporary politics is not legitimate authority but energized
engagement, because the deep fact of modern public life is that all
members of a community are ultimately responsible for its suste-
nance, and so must come to take ownership of that community.
Furthermore, a Christian understanding of civic engagement can
offer explicit resistance to the oscillation between fanaticism and
anomie to which wholly secular political programs seem prone.
Christians can both recognize the necessity of civic engagement and
resist the inevitable trajectories of fallen political structures towards
self-aggrandization and apocalyptic ¬nality. East of Eden, the realm
of the ˜˜political™™ is not a direct re¬‚ection of the divine, but rather a
sphere in which we participate in the divine obliquely, in an
indirect and often confused way. We properly participate in the
political realm, not by recognizing the sovereignty of God as com-
municated through the political structures in which we ¬nd our-
selves, but rather by recognizing the sovereignty of God indirectly
and obliquely, through our resistance to those structures™ implicitly
imperialistic tendencies. It is an eschatological, not apocalyptic,
mode of civic engagement: we properly participate in public life by

39. See Melucci 1989, Larana et al. 1994, Jasper 1997, Lichterman 1996, and Pichardo
40. Naturally the language of participation does integrate a language of obedience
within it “ as love, not law, and through concepts of ¬delity and covenant “ but
this should not be allowed to obscure the radically different originating
160 A Theology of Public Life

resisting the ˜˜closure™™ of what passes for politics today, that is, by
resisting the inevitable gravitational tug of any political order
towards claiming ¬nal sovereignty over every other possible locus
of human attachment, including especially the church, the neigh-
bor, and the stranger.
Such a program raises concerns, for both believers and secular
thinkers. I address them next.

How faith is good for civic engagement, and how
civic engagement is good for faith
Many secularist thinkers will meet this proposal with skepti-
cism. They worry that Christian engagement in civic order will not
respect the integrity and proprieties of that order “ that Christians
will dismiss its immanent logic and goals, and exploit civic life for
fundamentally non-civic aims. And they have reason to be so con-
cerned. Much of what Christians do in the public realm is oblique to
received political categories, because many practices of Christian
citizenship are what Jason Bivins calls ˜˜politically illegible™™ “
practices whose ˜˜public™™ character is hard to see from within the
regnant political vocabulary (2003: 10, 157“8). Fasting can be a public
act, as can be praying, working in a soup kitchen, even reading
various texts, or going on pilgrimage; similarly, civil disobedience at
military bases, at prisons, at abortion clinics, in civil rights causes “
all these actions seem politically urgent to some and simply inco-
herent, sometimes futile, and even occasionally destabilizing to
others.41 In such cases Christians do care about public life, but not
for the reasons that the saeculum uses to induce and sustain such
caring, but for what they see as better reasons, of their own.42
Secular thinkers may ¬nd such forms of civic engagement
threatening, not least because they challenge the received political
language and practices, both materially and formally. But as Toc-
queville realized, this pressure is part of Christianity™s pragmatic
value for public life.43 It is part of the genius of liberal democratic
thought in the last several centuries to realize that healthy civic

41. Recall the impact that reading the Koran, and then going on hajj, had on
Malcolm X.
42. I have learned much on these matters from the work of Oliver O™Donovan.
43. For arguments of this sort see Bivins 2003: 171“5 and Mahmood 2005.
Introduction to Part II

order is a matter more of allowing public life to ¬‚ourish, rather than
of constructing it.
More fundamentally still, secular thinkers will be uncomfortable
about Christians™ understanding of the destiny of public life itself.
Against the too easy refusals of much contemporary secular political
thought, for Christians public life should be properly, ultimately,
one more form of love, of seeking communion, of seeking the
Beloved Community.44 Hence Christans af¬rm that politics turns
out to be theology, a way of seeking God. Here is the deepest ten-
sion, on this Augustinian proposal, between Christian engagement
in public life and that public life™s professed self-understanding.
This tension “ this ill ¬t between our civic energies and the
political channels through which they run “ will not be overcome in
this dispensation. Secularists recognize this as well; the most
intelligent theorists of modernity in general, and liberal democracy
in particular, repeatedly insist that ambivalence and skepticism, not
unquali¬ed enthusiastic af¬rmation, are the most appropriate atti-
tudes for modern citizens in the face of the many costs and bene¬ts
of our world. Why should it seem a failure of a position if it even-
tuates in an intelligible and even articulate account of why we
might feel, and endorse, such ambivalence and skepticism?
Indeed, we might say that this tension, highlighted by Christian
civic commitment, speaks to a tension inherent in the practice of
liberal democracy itself. On the Augustinian account, we all have in
our hearts a memory of and longing for real communion, commu-
nion of the sort that contemporary liberal theory, by seeking to
quarantine it within the domestic ˜˜private™™ sphere, too simply
denies. Liberalism is problematic and should not be uncontested in
public life, both because it is not uncontested in our hearts, and
because ˜˜liberalism™™ itself is on both sides of the struggle, at once a
modus vivendi and a longing for the Beloved Community.45 And the
theological virtues, when manifest by believers in a pluralistic
public sphere, create a politically rich site for living in that tension “
a tension that is, in this world, good to make palpable, both for
Christians and for others.
But secular critics are not the most troubling ones. Some of the
most alluring contemporary theologies recoil in horror at the idea

44. See Marsh 2005. 45. See Tomasi 2001.
162 A Theology of Public Life

of a theology of citizenship. For them, real Christian faith puts one
absolutely at odds with all worldly civic identities, because worldly
identities immediately demand an idolatrous degree of ¬delity
from their members. Furthermore, they worry that the language
of ˜˜contribution™™ inches slowly into collaboration, so ensuring
that any theology of citizenship eventually becomes a theology for
These worries are partly right. But their partial validity does not
warrant the total recoil they encourage. Of course political identities
can become idolatrous; even secular liberal democrats recognize
that. Hence most polities today explicitly permit (even if they can
over time implicitly subvert) far more complex forms of associative
af¬liation than is acknowledged in a ˜˜nation versus church™™
dichotomy. And the theatricalized rhetoric of opposing the demonic
nation-state in which such theologies indulge simply camou¬‚ages
their unwillingness to think seriously about how their adherents™
various political activities can be made properly intelligible. In fact,
saying one is avoiding it by mouthing certain bon mots about the
state is insuf¬cient, and often gets one into deeper trouble. The
most powerful such oppositional theologian, Stanley Hauerwas,
unwittingly contributes to identity politics, by making ˜˜Christian™™
easily consumable as one more identity marker.46 The real question
is not even how the ¬delities “ to nation and to God “ are to be
ordered, for the liberal state typically grants suf¬cient religious
liberty to believers; the real, the pressing question is how they are to
be related.
The answer offered here is broadly Augustinian, but with a dif-
ference: it avoids the categories that fuel the interminable argu-
ments about the proper heritage of Augustine™s political theology
occupying much recent work. These debates are roughly between
what we can call ˜˜Lutheran™™ and ˜˜Thomist™™ proposals for an
Augustinian politics. To ˜˜Lutherans,™™ Augustine thinks that politics
is only negatively and instrumentally useful in securing the stability
of order (˜˜peace™™ is too rich a term here); politics, then, is a con-
sequence of the Fall. On the ˜˜Thomist™™ view, politics is a proper and
natural good, that would have existed even had we not fallen, as a
function of the need for some coordinating authority to govern the

46. See Mathewes 2000 and J. Stout 2004.
Introduction to Part II

complexity of human society.47 Debate between these two positions
is interminable, because both views have exegetical evidence on
their side. The ˜˜Lutheran™™ view rightly points out that Augustine
understood the necessity of ˜˜rule™™ to be a consequence of the Fall “
after all, the only ˜˜natural™™ hierarchy he allowed was the family;
the ˜˜Thomist™™ view rightly sees that Augustine still insists that
social life is fundamental to human ¬‚ourishing.48 But both sides
mistakenly impose an anachronistic concept of ˜˜politics™™ on to
Augustine™s thought, and so neither can see what Augustine was
actually trying to do. In fact, pace Arendt, who claimed that Augus-
tine was the last ancient man to understand what ˜˜public life™™ was,
˜˜the political™™ was precisely the concept that he lacked. For all his
familiarity with the Roman civic republican tradition of historio-
graphy and political thought, he talked not about politics but about
ruling, or government, and he saw the ˜˜external™™ government of a
social body as continuous with each individual™s psychological
governance of himself or herself. Just as the mind needs to govern
the appetites and passions that direct and shape the will, so the
ruler must govern the populace for the greater good of the body
politic.49 Augustine™s thinking about governance is anchored in his
insistence that Christians must support the ordo of society, both
passively (by obeying its laws) and actively (by serving in its mili-
tary and in positions of civic authority), in order to help it secure
some approximation of order and peace. Christians may disobey it
only if it actively forbids worship of the true God, and even then
disobedience is to be exclusively concerned with continuing that
worship (DCD 19.19). As members of the political community, of
course, Christians should plead for more justice and petition
the authorities to rectify injustices, and what we have of August-
ine™s correspondence suggests that he was quite active in such

47. See Markus 1970, Deane 1963, R. Niebuhr 1953, O™Donovan 1987, Weithman
1992, and von Heyking 2001 for examples of these views. For salutary worries
about such accounts, see TeSelle 1998.
48. See DCD 19.15, and K. Hughes 2005b, Burnell 1992, Doughtery 1990: 206, and
R. Williams 1987: 62“3.
49. See Cranz 1972: 345. Even once we restrict ourselves to government,
Augustine™s concept of ˜˜the state™™ is very different from our own “ really the
state is just army and courts; the state was most important at the margins of
Roman society, not at its center (see McLynn 1999). For more on ˜˜body politic,™™
see Kantorowicz 1957.
164 A Theology of Public Life

importuning.50 But such activity was done by some (ecclesial)
authorities to other (civic) authorities, not conceived as the duty of
citizens. Our concept of politics is not a topic of focused attention
for Augustine, and so we will ¬nd little direct help in his work.51
Our proposed Augustinian theology must be mediated by others,
and so we begin from Paul Ramsey™s statement: ˜˜The mere fact that
a man is a citizen elsewhere keeps him from being only a citizen
here™™ (1961: xxi). This emphasizes the difference Christianity will
make, while insisting that believers remain more or less directly
engaged political actors during the world. Christianity does not
suggest that its adherents keep the faith by withdrawing from civic
engagement, but by engaging more fully in it “ more precisely,
through a kind of civic engagement that is sensitive to how life in
this polity allows and/or hinders Christians™ fundamental activity,
the worship of God with their lips and in their lives.
To think about the relationship of public engagement and
Christian faith in this way may seem to offer a merely contingent
addition to real Christian life. And many Christians today do believe
that ˜˜public life™™ is optional for Christians. Historically it has been
often so understood; indeed, Christian thought largely learned the
broader value of public engagement for human beings from modern
secular thinkers. (It is a pointless indulgence to argue that Chris-
tians could have learned it from their own tradition; the fact is they
did not.) But as Part I argued, there is a sense in which Christian life
is fundamentally public in character. And taken up into the theo-
logical ambit of Christian faith, such participation offers a poten-
tially rich and vigorous form of participation in God™s order that
Christians should appropriate.
Christianity™s ˜˜publicity™™ can be lived in many different ways “ by
anchorites and hermits and monastics as well as Christian political
agitators “ and none of these is necessarily more ˜˜public™™ than any
other. For the primordial sense of ˜˜public™™ is not in the saeculum at
all; Christian life is lived in the ultimate public, coram Deo, before

50. See esp. Dodaro 2004a: 196“212.
51. More precisely, the problem is that, when we look for Augustine™s political
insights, it is only those matters that register with us as recognizably
˜˜political™™ matters. In fact, as I discuss in Chapter 4, he re¬‚ected on broadly
though recognizably political matters in his discussions of ecclesial authority
and religious community as well.
Introduction to Part II

God, and it is fundamentally a life committed to a certain kind of
˜˜public,™™ even ˜˜political™™ engagement. Even the churches them-
selves are, during the world, a ˜˜public™™ matter for their adherents,
the mundane sustenance of which they work out by conciliar
engagement with one another. This can sound gentle, but it need
not be; con¬‚ict, debate, and murkiness happen not only on the
boundaries of the faith, but also within the community of the
faithful itself. Politics is our destiny in heaven, but it is also our
fate during the world. Hence the Christian churches can form con-
gregants in the right way “ the church can be ˜˜the church™™ “ only by
being ˜˜evangelical™™; and that means being public in the proper way.
This fact should not surprise us. After all, Christianity promises a
polity. The trajectory from Genesis to Revelation is from garden to city,
from nomads and farmers to urbanites; a consummately political
community is our destiny, and the political language of the ˜˜kingdom™™
arguably plays a more profound and more encompassing role in
Scripture than does the domestic language of ˜˜family,™™ or even of
˜˜marriage.™™ Christianity always embodies a dynamism towards pub-
licity, an evangelical movement into the world. This, of course, has
been one of the main theological ˜˜discoveries™™ of the past century.
From the ˜˜social gospel™™ and ˜˜Christian realism™™ through ˜˜liberation
theology™™ to ˜˜radical orthodoxy,™™ again and again theologians have
discovered and rediscovered “ from Scripture, from tradition, from the
signs of the times, and from their own and others™ lived experience of
the faith in the modern world “ that Christianity is fundamentally
public, properly political, and hence in some sense properly committed
to a more abundant and more abundantly ˜˜worldly™™ life.
But this recognition has not been matched by any larger response
by the people of God. To the contrary, the last century saw the
increasing privatization of Christian belief (at least in advanced
industrial democracies) and the disappearance of a vigorous public
framework for faith, which has led believers into a Babylonian cap-
tivity to idolatrous patterns of life, work, and consumption. These
patterns are diagnosed by Augustinians as various versions of the
archetypal sin of privatio, of retreat into the self, securing our lives
against the painful turbulence of the ultimate publicity, coram Deo.52

52. In this way we avoid the dubious tendency in much recent theology to blame
our condition on our recent history. While our apprehension of the virtues is
166 A Theology of Public Life

As an antidote we should see public engagement as a furnace
within whose ¬res we will be forged and tempered, until we show
forth in our lives what we profess with our lips. Public engagement,
gracefully undertaken, provides more than enough opportunities
for humility and penance, recognition of one™s sin and the sins of
others, and a deepening appreciation of the terrible awe-fulness of
God™s providential governance of the world. Indeed, involvement in
public life today may itself increasingly need some such ascetical
discipline. Jeffrey Isaac has suggested that the bene¬ts of con-
temporary public life will be minimal, fragmentary, and deeply
compromised, and any proposal for civic engagement must con-
front these facts before disappointment turns to cynicism. Civic
engagement will be ˜˜limited, partial, and frustrating. Learning to
live with these frustrations, and persist without resentment in spite
of them, may prove to be the most important civic virtue of our
time™™ (2003: 147). Actually, he does not go far enough: we must
learn to live with these frustrations, of course, but we should also
learn from them; and our learning is our instruction into the theo-
logical virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

We feel public life™s importance, but do not grasp what it
properly is, for we are captive to a distorted image of politics in con-
sumeristic terms. Many have said as much; but an Augustinian theo-
logical analysis offers more than further diatribe. It identi¬es the root
problem as a despair of public life, a despair which is just one species
of the apocalyptic escapism that is the root of sin. And our hope lies in
the opportunity we have not yet lost, the opportunity to rediscover an
idea of politics as rooted in love more primordially than in fear.53
The cultural despair of politics is in important part caused by the
contemporary political imagination™s desire not to acknowledge the
political importance of those longings, so a program of public

distorted by the current con¬guration of public life, the root cause of their
distortion in apocalyptic directions lies not in ˜˜modernity™™ but in the Fall; to
suggest that they are due fundamentally to local historical conditions is to
surrender to the same apocalyptic temptations we are excoriating.
53. Several perceptive political thinkers have suggested such a rediscovery; see
Kahn 2004, Fukuyama 1992, and Cowen 2000 for (very diverse) examples.
Introduction to Part II

engagement that is partly built around such acknowledgment can
offer a more vital and viable approach to politics than recent options
allow. And such a program is found in faithful, hopeful, and loving
Christian witness in public.
Part II details this program by explicating the civic and ascetic
value of the three theological virtues™ manifestation in public life,
arguing that the virtues both organize and complicate Christians™
engagement in fruitful ways. Furthermore, understood ascetically,
the virtues attempt to enliven human capacities that we in our sin,
and our culture in its corruption, wish to freeze, lock in place, kill.
The virtues are intrinsically unstable and self-transcending,
stretching on toward the goal. So while the chapters focus on the
virtues, they mean thereby to identify what the virtues are ¬tting us
for “ a practice of endless beginning, of inhabiting our destiny as a
new creation. Here virtue theory serves soteriology. We are being
trained to bear the weight of the glory that has been prepared for us.
But we are trained for that by using the world, in both its tantalizing
proleptic communion and its awful moments of tragic and painful
estrangement, to cultivate a deeper sense of longing for what the
world cannot provide.
Each chapter puts one virtue in dialectical engagement with the
most interesting (secular and religious) proposals regarding public
life. It identi¬es the peculiar dif¬culties in public life that challenge
our deepening appropriation of the virtue; then it shows how our
ascetical inhabitation of that virtue can be enriched through proper
engagement in public life, and how in turn our manifestation of
that virtue contributes to civic life. Chapter 4 discusses faith “ with
the question of the proper character and extent of commitment to
the civic realm. How should Christians have faith in public life?
How should Christian faith qualify that other, civic faith, and how
should their engagement sharpen and enrich their inhabitation of
Christian faith? Chapter 5 addresses hope, as regards the proper
character and extent of ˜˜prophetic criticism,™™ the right sort of
skeptical alienation from one™s civic order. Given that a healthy
polity requires its citizens to possess vital critical and skeptical
faculties, what sort of stance of criticism is appropriate, and how
can Christian hope shape and motivate such skeptical alienation?
Furthermore, how can such hopeful yet critical engagement enrich
Christians™ inhabitation of eschatological hope? Finally, Chapter 6
168 A Theology of Public Life

discusses love, through addressing the proper quality of engage-
ment one should seek with one™s fellow citizens in the struggles of
public life, and the role of Christian love therein. Given that public
life necessitates working with others, what sort of relations should
Christians expect to have with those others, and what is the value
(immanent and indirect) of those primarily ˜˜public™™ relations? How
should Christian caritas enable, enrich, and when necessary restrict
these relations, and how will those operations of caritas in the public
arena deepen Christians™ appropriation of caritas itself? Answering
these questions will help show both how Christians should inhabit a
pluralistic public sphere in ways functional for that sphere, and how
Christians should understand the spiritual training they will
undergo through their civic involvement “ how, that is, that
engagement will help ¬t them to be citizens of the kingdom to

Faithful citizenship

How can faith operate in public life? If faith properly signi¬es
our attachment to some community or end, some ˜˜ultimate loy-
alty™™ that cannot be prised away from a concrete historical narra-
tive and material community, how can people possessed by one
such loyalty af¬rm another one as well? And how in turn can faith
be enriched by public engagement? Many think faith in public is
properly impossible, both because faith assumes a capacity for
deep and persistent conviction incompatible with the ¬‚uidity and
radical voluntariness of contemporary society, and because the
presence in public life of those committed to retaining such deep
and persistent convictions is bad, both for public life and for
believers. This chapter argues not only that there is a fruitful role
for faith to play in public life, but that properly faithful engage-
ment in public life is conducive to the deepening of participants™
faith as well.
Today however, faith is a politically fraught term. For the state
demands a certain kind of faith as well, and it is a jealous god. One
of the oldest and deepest criticisms of Christianity is that it stymies
true civic commitment. From Rome to Rousseau, and beyond to
Nancy Rosenblum, those who ¬nd themselves most profoundly
committed to the political order continually worry that those with
other attachments and loyalties may ¬nd themselves torn between
them in ways that damage their attachment to the civic good. But
the opposite worry is real as well. Christianity can too easily become
merely a device for commitment to the polity, a too tight confusion
of faith and politics, leading either to a collaborationist Con-
stantinianism, which invariably adulterates the faith, or a theocracy

170 A Theology of Public Life

that moves in quickly totalitarian directions.1 One way or the other,
then, many thinkers on politics and religion have been troubled by
the hazards of being faithful in public.
Thus it is curious, and not a little ironic, that today religion is
looked upon by some as a source, and perhaps the most powerful
source, of civic commitment. Many social thinkers, especially
˜˜communitarians,™™ seem to think of religion as a good thing “ but
good because of its functional value as encouraging social cohesion.
Many would agree with William Galston when he argues that ˜˜the
greatest threat to children in modern liberal societies is not that
they will believe in something too deeply, but that they will believe
in nothing very deeply at all™™ (1991: 225). And they would af¬rm
Wilson Carey McWilliams™s argument that ˜˜the great faiths have
something to teach the Republic about the metaphysics of civic
morality . . . Facing a politics de¬ned more and more by oligarchy
and indifference, American democracy has worse things to fear than
faith™™ (McWilliams 2003: 156“7). Many faithful citizens look hope-
fully on such renewed openness. We might call this the ˜˜Eisen-
hower strategy,™™ for its general attitude is encapsulated in
Eisenhower™s (in)famous claim, ˜˜our government has no sense
unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith and I don™t care
what it is.™™ It has not gone away since Eisenhower; in a poll con-
ducted in January 2001, of those who wanted religion to have a more
in¬‚uential role in America, 76 percent of them said they didn™t care
which religion it was.2
But in fact this strategy is a temptation, for its openness to reli-
gion is a trap, a false friend, taking away the liberty of religion to be
religion “ dismissing the ambivalences marking the relationship
between religious and civic commitment, and implicitly sub-
ordinating faith™s tendencies towards comprehensiveness and ulti-
macy to the immanent demands of the political community.3

1. See Nicholls 1989. Those who casually toss about the term ˜˜Constantinianism™™
should stop until they have confronted the powerful revision of the received
story by Hal Drake; see Drake 2000.
2. For Eisenhower see New York Times, December 23, 1952. For a wonderfully
puckish source-criticism of this quip, see Henry 1981. Perhaps Eisenhower knew
his Gibbon, who famously claimed that ˜˜the various modes of worship which
prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true;
by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful™™
(1995, I: 22). On the contemporary statistics see Farkas et al. 2001.
3. See Fish 1999: 254.
Faithful citizenship

It permits talk of ˜˜faith™™ in public life but only at the cost of sur-
render to a Procrustean mutilation: religious faith can ˜˜contribute,™™
in some vague way, to democratic discourse, so long as it stays
within boundaries and does not destabilize the structures of the
preset political order “ that is, so that it always dances to the tune
set by the immanent civic order.
Most of the arguments for the legitimacy of faith in public life
succumb to such Eisenhowerian temptations, and idolatrously
accept some immanent description of societal well-being as their
summum bonum. Most such arguments gain what plausibility they
have with their intended (and effectively, if not yet explicitly,
secular) audiences only by subtly undermining the reality-encom-
passing ambitions of the religious faiths they putatively defend.


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