Rod Dreher has just published The Religious Right: A Eulogy.
I have no personal experience of American religion other than a short year with an expatriate American community called the Oblates of Wisdom in Rome in 1985-86. American Roman Catholicism can be pretty aggressive (or excessive) at times, but nothing compared with the ideologies and obsessions of fundamentalist Evangelicals.
The Benedict Option is an intuition that I admire much more than the noise and hubbub of political Christianity. It is at this point that I have to admit that I have neglected C.S. Lewis for all too long, and have decided to order his books – and that will be my Christmas present from my wife. One thing that attracted me to him was his being described as reflecting Romantic notions in his work and thought. I too have to overcome the prejudice of having thought of him as some uninteresting low church type. Far from it! I’ll read his books and will write an article of what I think of all those little books. I am now convinced that my continuing theological formation needs to assimilate this element!
I discovered some very unpleasant aspects of “masculine” or “muscular” Christianity. I was too naive, being English, but I discovered a whole cult of guns, hyper-masculinity and contempt for women except as sex objects. The racism of those people defies belief! Compare them with European national socialists and they will evoke Godwin’s Law and close down the conversation. Perhaps I exaggerate in regard to those who are Christians and who are as such bound by some notion of moral teachings. I, the “milksop”, was quite taken aback at the extreme indignant reactions to my mild criticisms. Finally, there is not much I can say because of my lack of experience of what is to me another world. However, I can get a good idea from what Americans write about these tendencies.
America is becoming increasingly like secular Europe. The few who are interested in Christianity are interested for its own sake and not for that of politics. The separation of church and state was a fundamental tenet of the American Constitution, the object of admiration by Alexis de Tocqueville and other 19th century Liberals and Romantic thinkers. The religious Right and ambitions to theocracy can turn very ugly indeed as we see with American neo-conservatism and the Jihadist world. The secular state, like here in dreary Socialist France, is far from ideal from the point of view of moral issues – indeed we are at a boiling point with the political elites having come to the limit of their credibility and meaning in terms of the common good. With my experience of religious bigotry and fanaticism, we need to witness through our lives (being ourselves and free) and through beauty. It is unfortunate that other people sin, but we are not the ones to arrest them and punish them.
The electoral fever in Washington and the world media is mounting. Trump will not be a religious neo-conservative but something of a modern-day Mussolini. If he wins, we seem to be in a dialectic like the early 1920’s, with the wars in the middle-east parallel with the role of World War I. If he is a courageous man, he would root out the various secret groups of unelected elites that have undermined the democratic character of the American Constitution for a very long time. Hitler did the same thing in Germany by declaring war against Jews and Freemasons, so the idea of purging the government is a two-edged sword. He might break the stranglehold in some kind of popular revolution before coming to a sticky end. It could turn very ugly. The best thing to hope for would be an alliance between Trump and Putin – and then there will be no World War III and nuclear holocaust. We might have to stick our right arms up in the air and say Il Duce ha sempre raggione, but we wouldn’t be going up in smoke…
Clinton, indeed the Clinton family, like Hollande here in France, represents plutocracy, champagne-socialism and sleaze married to the present colonial and imperialist ambitions of the USA addicted to oil and the value of its non-existent dollar. According to some theories, Hillary Clinton will win the election but will be prevented from being inaugurated. We have the same problem in Europe, both in the European Union and the individual States. The conspiracy enthusiasts make much ado of it, to the extreme of calling people like the Rothschilds and the British Royal Family shape-shifting alien reptiles. Every truth gets covered over with such outrageous hyperbole that we all become cynical. There is something very wrong and frightening about the establishment. The same polarisation is spreading through France, Germany and those countries most affected by uncontrolled immigration of badly-behaved young men. We in Europe have had enough of establishment politics and unelected bureaucracies, and we look to something new even if there is a risk of jumping from the frying pan into the fire!
Neither will bolster up or give political legitimacy to groups of fanatical Christians or representatives of any other religion. It seems that the religious Right is living on borrowed time. This emerges:
The best way to influence the culture for Christ is to stop trying to “influence the culture for Christ”, but rather to be deeply and thoughtfully Christian, and to allow your countercultural life to be your testimony.
I can’t fault that. We need to become Christians ourselves and live the Gospel as our way of life rather than seek to remove the freedom of others to choose between good or evil.
I am impressed by the following:
The evangelical commitment to the Bible means the possibility of the shaping of the consciences of the people, not just by the doctrines and propositions of the Scripture but also by experiencing the world through a sense of place in the biblical story. Jesus recognized the temptations of the devil not merely by opposing propositions with propositions but by seeing that he stood where Israel had stood before, in the wilderness before the tribunal of God. The recovery of the kind of catechesis that fits the whole Bible together around the centrality of Christ crucified is necessary for Christians to see that they are indeed “strangers and aliens” to every culture, but that their allegiances transcend the political, the tribal, and the cultural. We need public arguments. We need philosophical persuasion. We need political organizing. But behind that, we must have consciences formed by a prophetic word of “Thus saith the Lord.”
I can’t help thinking of some ideas of Nicholas Berdyaev regarding the contrast between prophetic and institutional Christianity. If the Benedict Option is about being successful with the nuts and bolts of founding communities, getting other people on board and in line, I have my reserves. If it about all of us taking Christianity as seriously as monks, that is somewhat closer to the mark.
American Christians are theologically ignorant, and it’s killing us.
I am sometimes amazed at the inability of some people to name Paris as the capital city of France or that England is separated from the European Continent by the English Channel and that you need a boat or the Channel Tunnel (or fly) to cross it. Lack of basic general knowledge extends to religious knowledge too. Our duty is to educate the ignorant and learn new knowledge ourselves to dissipate our own ignorance. The worst thing in the world is the ignorant bigot who refuses to admit his ignorance!
Some succinct ideas:
Religious conservatives will need a robust religion and a sense of what is, in fact, to be conserved.
If we lack a radical commitment to the Gospel, all we have to offer is moralism.
We must remind ourselves that we are not inquisitors but missionaries.
This may be blinding revelation to Americans, but this has been the issue in France throughout the nineteenth century and even more since the anti-clerical era prior to World War I. In France, the Revolution swept away the old order and left France in chaos. There had to be something new – in France, England, Germany, Italy, everywhere, and it had to transcend both the old regime and the bloody terror of Robespierre. Perhaps the revolution has arrived in America, and we can only pray that it will not become terror and a bloodbath! May hearts be changed, but with love and kindness, a will to educate. We can’t go back to the past. There must be something new to transcend both bigotry and wanton destruction.
When the old is swept away, we will begin afresh like in the 1820’s after the defeat of Napoleon and amidst the ruins of political ambition and pride. It was at this time when Alexis de Tocqueville looked to the American Constitution for inspiration in constructing a new democracy and a political system in which fanaticism and intolerance would play no part. Americans now need to look to their old roots as when their Fathers forged a “new world” of hope and opportunity.
I appreciate these ideas being published on the internet, so that we may all dialogue. I was made aware of this Rod Dreher article by my nephew Matthew Urwin who has studied theology and is a committed Evangelical Christian. I am thankful to see them reflecting and converging with other enlightened disciples of Christ.