Of Polis and People: Political Engagement, Evangelicals, and Augustinian ‘Double love’

February 18, 2015

I grew up fascinated with politics. I can distinctly remember watching the State of the Union as a kid with my Dad. Of course I had no real understanding of what was being said or why, but the process enchanted me. Watching men and women during the speech stand to clap while others sat, faces scrunched, captivated me. It was like watching theatre unfold before me in real time. My parents, noticing the interest, bought floppy disks of presidential speeches to watch. I memorized them, mimicked them in the mirror, and wrote fictional presidential speeches. I didn’t want to be President; I wanted to work for one. I wanted to be Sam Seaborn, not Jed Bartlet. As I grew older, coinciding with a Presidential scandal, I became aware of the “other side” of political engagement. Like meeting your favorite athlete and finding out he’s a terrible, terrible person, I was stunned. Chesterton’s quip that is a good sign for a nation when things are done badly would not have helped. A long season of cynicism sprung forth, and like crabgrass in the spring, it is not easily destroyed. Thankfully, I became a Christian when I was 17. Since that day I have always tried to find the balance between holding my faith and engaging politically. I’ve failed often, and this article is not designed as prescriptive. It’s more of a description of how I went from idolizing politics, to eschewing it, to seeing how inescapable it is for the Christian living in American society. The difficulty of loving God as a Christian and loving our neighbor was the most difficult when I thought about political engagement. How do I love the neighbor I disagree with about [Policy X]? How can love be demonstrated when I think their ideas are going to take my neighbors down a path that is damaging? Long before America was even an idea, a Bishop from North Africa wrote on an important theme that rescued my realism from cynicism.

Augustine might prove instructive for the Christian in the polis today. In his timeless tome The City of God, Augustine works from a common thread found throughout his writing: love. In The City of God, this thread is applied to two distinct cities, separated by love. The city of man is characterized by a love of self and contempt for God, while the city of God is characterized by a love of God and denial of self. Love is also a central theme in the Confessions. But it was his writings from On Christian Doctrine that has provided a framework for my life, and I think could provide the Christian a framework for political engagement. Augustine writes in On Christian Doctrine,

So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.

Certainly, Augustine is writing in this context about the nature of interpreting, and understanding, the divine Scriptures. And he’s exactly right. The twin horns of loving God and loving neighbor are evident throughout the Scriptures. They are not in conflict with one another, nor does one have precedent over the other. Jesus says on both of them hang all the laws and the prophets (Matthew 22:40). May I suggest, however, the posture that Augustine suggests we take to our reading of scripture also applies to our political engagement?

The nature of the political arena is such that there will be disagreement. There will be discord. There will be an impasse of sorts. Yet, this should not discourage the Christian from entering into the fray. In reality, it provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate this double love in the polis. Christians can engage, politically, with individuals and ideas while the double love directs our hearts upward toward God (and policies that reflect the goodness of God) and outward/sideways toward our fellow members of society as we seek to love our neighbor. This double love is demonstrated, both in manner of speech and in what we contend. We concern ourselves not merely with making sure that policies we advocate are reflective of the character of God and in agreement with the Scriptures, but we also concern ourselves with how we go about engaging in dialogue with those around us. Again, I think Augustine’s double love is instructive here. Let’s look at the example of religious liberty.

Religious liberty is, at least in part, an outflow of love for neighbor. We want for our neighbors that which we want for ourselves. We want our neighbors to freely worship, pray, and speak because it is good for them and for society to be able to exercise such things without hindrance or fear of marginalization. Love of neighbor is more than merely assuring that the person has the bare necessities of life, but that they are indeed flourishing. This is not merely an Aristotelian notion carried over into Christendom; it’s part of what it means to live as the people of God in exile. Christians concern themselves with loving and caring for the society where God has planted his people. This has been missed at various points in America’s past, and we should not skate over those moments. We have had our dark days where we cared for self over neighbor, found faulty hermeneutical warrants for its justification, and consequently structured injustice among wide swaths of American society. But even this, it seems, misses Augustine’s double love.  The understanding of the Scriptures builds up a double love, and in doing so never tears down the humanity God has made as His image bearers.

The daunting trajectory of religious liberty is one that will not only befall Christians in American society, but also our fellow neighbor, with whom we are called to love as ourselves (Matthew 12.28-34). A society that honors the beliefs, ideas, and practices of its religious citizens to be free and unencumbered is one that honors the dignity of the whole person, and I believe that God wants whole people. Certainly he desires all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), but love of neighbor is, in part, standing next to fellow citizens when they are muzzled because of compelling interest.

This, then, means that Christians should press back against political philosophies that seek to limit religious participation in the political square because they may place an undue burden on other religious citizens. This burden may be slow acting, but over time such a power does not merely destroy but prevents existence, as Alexander de Tocqueville wrote. It “compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” Loving neighbor means speaking in opposition to such ideas, even as one holds their opponents in their hearts. It also means celebrating when Catholic, Jewish, or religious citizens have the freedom to express ideas that fundamentally clash with principled beliefs of their own.

Further, dialogue with interlocutors should honor the image of God in the person. Disagreement is welcomed; denigration is not. An idea on paper cannot be seen as merely an idea. Conversations often discourse about the consequences of ideas, and that’s perfectly fine. But this can quickly trail off into “ideas have consequences, and so the people holding such ideas are dangerous.” While history demonstrates this warning to be true for some, it is not a cart blanche case. Ideas are not mere abstract concepts. Rather, they have faces. They have mortgages, families, hopes and dreams. The double love provides a biblical ground to reject political philosophies that are problematic at best, dangerous at worst. It also allows one to reject the political philosophy without rejecting the person. “Persons” and “ideas” are not interchangeable terms. They cannot be.

Given recent events in the last few years, the nature of religious belief and political exchange is no longer a back burner issue, but rather front and central.  As Kings College President Gregory Thornbury has stated, Christians are legatees of a great inheritance. As aspect of this inheritance includes a love of neighbor in the polis, not solely those in potluck line. Augustine instructs that our participation in political engagement must be characterized by a love of neighbor that is concurrent with a love of God. Sometimes this may mean standing up in disagreement to policies or ideas that are winning the day. Other times it will mean standing next to a nun because the policies set forth will cause her to violate her conscience long before it violates mine. In any case, let us be able to say with Augustine: “Pondus meum amor meus”: my weight is my love.

Bryan Baise

Bryan Baise is the Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Apologetics and Program Coordinator, Worldview and Apologetics. Baise has served in various capacities before coming to Boyce. He was a college pastor for an upstart church plant before moving to Louisville and has preached in various churches and revivals across Kentuckiana. Baise has served on … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24