Thomas Hobbes's Social Contract and the Eternal Theological Temptation of Order

Adventism and Thomas Hobbes, at first glance, have little in common. Only the fact that they both belong to the same historical period—modernity. But, in this modernity, they elaborate two antithetical versions. Adventism from its inception has been critical of modernity, its immanent rationality and irreverent secularization. Hobbes, on the other hand, was not only one of the founders of modernity but also defended the relevance of a new rationality, and categorically stood for the principle of secularization as an indispensable mechanism for civil coexistence. In other words, while Adventism continues to see religion as a positive phenomenon and an element of human and social growth, Hobbes instead grasps the intrinsic ambivalence of religion and from this fact derives the structural need for its continuous monitoring and critique. Religion cannot be left alone, Hobbes says, because historical events show that, if there is no agency to monitor and set limits on it, religion easily becomes a cause of instability and social destruction. This stark judgment should not surprise us because Hobbes wrote his main work, the Leviathan in 1651, three years after the Peace Treaty of Westphalia that ended a long, 30-year war. This conflict had been tearing Europe apart since 1618 because of religious disputes between European nations, and it involved Catholics and Protestants alike. In Hobbes’s view, the only way to ensure a possible survival of society was to remove religion from the public scene, precisely because religion would automatically awaken much animosity and radicalism. But religion does not disappear, in Hobbes's thinking; instead, a limit is imposed on it. It may be experienced in the private sphere but not the public space.

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Gutierrez’s analysis of the present ecclesiastical structure of the Adventist church as built on a Hobbesian political model is quite illuminating. It should spark a serious and open conversation about its effect on the lives of the members of the church who expect to gain from their fellowship in the church spiritual strength and the love of God that energizes their lives in a fallen world. Exposing what is the case is the first step toward a better situation.


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