Kantian Christianity

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

Kantian Christianity


"The Christian Democracy of Glenn Tiner and Jacques Maritain," by Robert P. Kraynak, in Perspectives on Political Science (Spring 1998), 1319 18th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-1802.

For much of its 2,000-year history, Christianity was indifferent or hostile to democracy. Today, however, virtually all churches and Christian theologians are its champions. Christianity's central moral teaching, according to the modern view, is the dignity of the individual person, and a commitment to democratic government necessarily follows. Kraynak, a political scientist at Colgate University, begs to differ.

The modern view, he says, has been expressed by Glenn Tinder, a Lutheran, in The Political Meaning of Christianity (1989), and by French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), in Christianity and Democracy (1945) and other works. Tinder claims that the conception of "the exalted individual" underlies Christian social and political thinking, while Maritain defends the "dignity of the human person" and a political theory of "personalist democracy." The outlook of the two philosophers, argues Kraynak, amounts to "Kantian Christianity," in which Immanuel Kant's theory of human dignity is imported into Christian theology. (Maritain was an avowed opponent of Kantianism, Kraynak allows, but his Thomistic thought "ends with a Kantian or liberal notion of freedom.")

Kant's moral ideas, Kraynak notes, have many aspects that strongly appeal to Christian thinkers: "the universalism of the categorical imperative and the lofty notion of duty pitted against selfish inclinations, the emphasis on individual free will, and the idealism of striving for perpetual peace based on a just world order.

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