This side of the ploughshares: concepts of covenant and repentance in Paul Ramsey’s political theology
Hollowell, Adam Edward
When it comes to moral political endeavors, the good eventually achieved is never identical to the good initially pursued. This is true if for no other reason than the fact that time passes with every new political moment. We move from goods intended to goods achieved. At the same time such movement is not simply a product of the temporal character of our lives. Occupying a middle ground between accounts of human agency as wholly determined or wholly ambiguous there is a sense in which any exercise of the will is fundamentally indeterminate. Said more simply, we are contingent beings. Thus, while it may be possible to speak conceptually of a determinate or atemporal political good, the possibility of a moral political endeavor – that is, a purposive movement toward some political good – rests upon the inescapably contingent and temporal character of our lives. If political endeavors are never entirely under (or out of) our control and always take shape temporally then it is important to insist that the discrepancy between intended goods and actual goods need not be interpreted negatively. That is to say, the indeterminate character of our moral lives need not be seen as a tragic disruption to what would otherwise be seamless political existence. Rather, the indeterminacy is a deliberate (read: good) feature of created existence in time. This allows for recognition of a structure to political morality. Agents seize the opportunity afforded by contingency to pursue identified political goods with purpose and direction. At the same time moral pursuits are always highly conditioned by contingencies of delimited authority, responsibilities of representation, demands of process, etc. The constantly changing political landscape perpetually requires both reactive and anticipatory adjustments of the political good in sight. If contingency and temporality shape and limit any political pursuit of the good, then a chief task of political theology is to illuminate the theological significance of those features of created existence. Political theology bears the burden of articulating the divine origin and purpose of the structures which make political morality possible. In this way contingency comes into view not as an incidental feature of humanity but as the gift of a good creator making possible faithful creaturely response. Similarly, political goods take shape not merely in time but in a particular time between creation and eschaton. This thesis is a study in the theological significance of indeterminacy and temporality in the pursuit of political goods by way of an analysis of the political writings of 20th century moral theologian Paul Ramsey. His reflections on the unique moral structure of political actions provide the theological and analytical resources to animate such a study. Close attention to his work pursues an understanding of how theological language describes, interprets and accounts for the nature of political morality and the function that such descriptions have in defining and shaping concepts of the political good.