I rather like Taylor Swift’s version of “Last Christmas,” though the rest of her Christmas album is less good, particularly “Christmas Must Be Something More,” which is very Christian in a way I find kind of unappealing. This isn’t just because of my general bias in favor of a secular Christmas; there’s something unpalatable about Swift’s attempt to advance a Christian theme in a modern idiom that lacks any kind of theological weight, and so is forced to rely on mere earnestness. This is actually an instance of a more general problem I have with Christianity, which is, as historically fascinating as I find it to be, on some level, I just don’t believe in it. I don’t mean that I don’t accept the religious tenets of Christianity (although I don’t); rather, I doubt Christianity’s empirical existence: I find it much easier to imagine that all those people who today say they are Christians are just somehow confused, than to imagine that they really believe what they say they do.
Of course, this limitation of my imagination has little bearing on the actual state of the world, but I was reminded of my emphasis on the historicity of Christianity by a post condemning Reverend Tim Jones’s recent sermon justifying shoplifting in cases of extreme necessity (via). What’s odd about this post is that it doesn’t just disagree with Jones, but presents his position as so obviously wrong it could only be a result of theological illiteracy or utter stupidity. But the compatibility of expropriation in the case of extreme necessity with Christian ethics is by no means obviously wrong; it was, indeed, the mainstream position among the scholastics and, indeed, looking at what Jones says (particularly, “the observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are”), it’s not clear to me that even Calvin (whose approach to private property was a historical innovation) would object. The author of that post is, apparently, a professor of Biblical Studies, but I’m mystified as to how you could study the bible without taking into account the historical specificity of the concepts it employs. In particular, the concept of private property due to which we today condemn all shoplifting alike as theft simply didn’t exist until the early modern period, and was, in fact, developed in large part in theological debates around poverty and natural law which would be a fruitful source of inspiration for an actual discussion of the ethics of expropriation.