Aldo Leopold, Self-Evidence, and the Iowa Caucus

As referenced below, this post original was published before the Iowa Caucus. However, I think that the outcome of the election has rendered the contents moot.

Let me begin with two caveats. One, this actually has very little to do with the Iowa Caucus that happened last night. I just thought I’d jump on the trending hashtag. Two, I’m a big fan of Aldo Leopold. In fact, I was once quoted as saying A Sand County Almanac is my favorite book in a seminary admission’s brochure.

Aldo Leopold begins the foreword to A Sand County Almanac with these words: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.” In making this statement, Leopold takes the humble step of admitting that his deeply held values are not self-evident. He realizes that not all people love the wild places in the world like he does. Now, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t think those people shouldn’t love and protect those wild places. In fact, in his book, Leopold maintains that people, wilderness lovers and city-slickers alike, need to change their views of the world. But, he realizes that it will not come easily or without careful exposition, and in the opening to his book, he acknowledges that perhaps, some people will never get it.

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Christians in the United States, on both sides of the political spectrum, need to learn this lesson. On both sides of the aisle, the assumption is that the Christian message is self-evident. Whether a message of morality or social justice, the assumption is that people who don’t get on board are ignorant, malicious, etc. As the oft-bandied saying goes “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” The prevailing wisdom is that the message ought to make sense to everyone, that it’s logical and obvious. The problem, with Christians who don’t march for racial justice or who destroy family values is that they don’t understand.

And, I’m here to say that’s backward. In fact, the Christian message is not self-evident in the least. Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “Use your common sense,” he said “To you is granted the secret of the kingdom of God, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables, so that they may look and look, but never perceive; listen and listen, but never understand; to avoid changing their ways and being healed” (Mark 4:11-12). The key is not cognitive understanding or emotional relationship. Rather, the secret of the kingdom of God is faith. Faith unlocks the Christian life, not the other way around. “Christian” politics that appeal to general understanding, to natural law, or to common decency are only masquerading as Christian. “Christian” politics that assemble a coalition of support based upon similar philosophies of living are not Christian either. They are simply human attempts to draw lines around who’s in and who’s out.

The irony of Jesus’ promise that he will give the disciples wisdom that the world cannot refute is that the wisdom of God is foolishness in human eyes. As Paul writes, God chose what is foolish in the world to confound worldly wisdom. We do not preach self-evident logic. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the righteous and foolishness to the wise.

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