Christianity and secular radicalism
right-wing as well as left-wing opponents of
Christianity. Right-wing opponents — exemplified by the European New
Right — blame Christianity for the universalism and radical
egalitarianism they believe are destroying the West.
Even if it is those
things that are to blame for the current state of the West, the
complaint is misplaced. Europeans have been looking for rational
universal principles equally applicable to all since the pre-Socratics,
and composing utopias since Plato. It has in fact been part of the role
of Christianity in European civilization to reconcile that native
rationalistic and universalizing tendency with an appreciation for the
value of particular irreplaceable concrete things.
Christianity does not
flatten things out and make them all conform to one abstract
schema. The meaning of the doctrines of Creation and Incarnation, after
all, is that God made the here-and-now in all its particularity, called
it good, and became physically present in it. Without some such
doctrines to limit its inherent universalizing tendencies, it’s unlikely
that Europe can avoid utopianism and the destruction of its inherited
societies and peoples in the name of abstract idealism or the needs of
power. The wars of the last century and the present EU suggest that
getting rid of Christianity has only made European secular utopianism
more destructive. Why think that’s a coincidence?
Posted by Jim Kalb at April 23, 2003 02:42 PM | Send
The right-wing opponents of Christianity generally offer nothing to replace the faith, except some kind of dreary nihilism or “live for today” thoughts. That is why their criticisms of Christianity never seem to go very far with Western Man. He may not be strongly wedded to the Church these days, but Western Man is sensibly leery of the Nietzsche-anism the right-wing critics offer in its place. Nevertheless, the critics of Christianity have put their finger on an important problem of modern day Christianity: it’s current liberalizing tendencies.
Many conservative Christians I know are very critical of the liberal churches. These conservative Christians do not offer much, however, for the right-wing critics who are concerned about the survival of the Western nation-state. I will go further, while conservative Christians have much to say with regard to the topics of abortion, homosexuality, the pop culture, prayer in school, etc. they have very little to say about the National Question all Western societies now face.
To paraphrase Dr. Samuel Francis, even if the Christian Right outlawed abortion, enforced sodomy laws, and restored prayer in school, they would have done nothing at all to stop the growth of the federal government, or halt the cultural and racial dispossession of the West’s historic people. He writes: “Indeed, the Christian Right for the most part doesn’t care about these issues or even perceive them as issues, and in so far as it does, it not infrequently lines up on the wrong side of them.”
This is certainly true of whatever is left of the Christian Coalition. And this observation by Dr. Francis is certainly born out in my own conversations daily with conservative and libertarian Christians. They will line up in favor of all manner of conservative social issues. But when you press them for their beliefs on immigration, multiculturalism, etc. they have nothing to say. Or worse, they mouth the liberal PC phrases on the subject. So the right wing critics may think this vindicates their argument. Even the “conservative” Christians have nothing to say on the subject of racial dispossession. These “conservative” Christians will go so far as to denounce Christians who take a different (or historic) Christian view on race and immigration as being evil. They say this is not how Jesus would command us to love our neighbor.
Certainly the Christian churches have made their share of mistakes in the past, even in racial matters. That is only natural since human beings run these institutions. This doesn’t mean the churches were always wrong in the past. Many Christians today — including the conservative ones — have confused the universal message of the faith (as Mr. Kalb notes) with the liberal universal message in all other areas of life.
The historic church, as Fr. James Thornton notes in his AR speech “Toward Renaissance and Renewal” (http://www.amren.com/968issue/968issue.html) did not make the mistake of thinking all groups of people and society were exactly the same. They tried to tailor the Christian message to fit the unique societies and peoples they encountered. Nor were these Christians hoodwinked into believing it would be a good thing to invite the whole world over to Western Christendom. Indeed, the periods when the West was most self-confident coincided with a very robust Christian faith. I think some right-wing critics of Christianity are willing to acknowledge this historic fact. They are just reluctant in believing that Western Man can get back to that kind of Christian faith.
That is not a satisfactory reason to abandon Christianity. Traditional Christians, however, who wish to preserve the nation-state, need to answer their critics on how best to get back to the older Christian view. We need more Christian voices willing to take up this task. After all, this historic Christian view on race and civilization carried over well until the twentieth century. It was only during the Great Depression and WWII that the confidence of Western Man and his church was shaken. Somehow during the middle of the twentieth century Western Christians began to believe that Christ commanded us not just to “love our neighbors” but also to go even further. We are now taught to believe we need to invite all our neighbors to move in with us permanently. Today it seems the Christians who argue against this idea are either denounced or distanced from by fellow Christians.
I agree that right-wing opponents of Christianity don’t have much to offer. They can try to follow Nietzsche, but that fails since Nietzsche goes nowhere. Or they can try to give race an ultimate importance that it simply can’t bear since race may provide part of the setting for social life but it doesn’t say anything.
I also agree that it’s important to recover a Christian conception of legitimate particularism. It seems to me that without such a conception it stops being Christianity and becomes a this-worldly universalism like Islam or the various modern totalitarianisms. The legitimacy or rather the irreplaceable goodness of the concrete and particular is I think essential to the religion.
Apart from the grand theoretical issues (Creation and Incarnation as validation of the ultimate value of the particular) there’s the absence from Christianity of a universal code of law and the Babel story, which combine to make this-worldly universalism and the demand for a single universal people, society and law a sort of idolatry. There are the more specific biblical things Berhoud goes into in his Bible and the Nations ( http://www.kuyper.org/JMB/jmarc02.html ). For that matter there are also various recent Roman Catholic discussions of “inculturation,” which regardless of the use to which they are put explore the relevance of the particularity of culture to spiritual life and insist on the necessity of respecting that particularity.
Mr. Vandervoort’s comments on the state of conservative Christianity in the US are right on the mark. While taking a true conservative position on numerous social issues, conservative Christians have sided with the left on immigration and multiculturalism. Even James Dobson has held up Martin Luther King as an exemplar of a great Christian figure - buying into the mythology which has been manufactured out of whole cloth by the left. It seems there is a tension within Christian doctrine between universalism on the one hand (there is neither Greek or Jew, male or female, etc.) and particularism (the idolatry of Tower of Babel) on the other. Conservative Christians in the US have gotten very much out of balance on the issue, to the point of denying any sort of particuarism. The only logical outcome of such a position is that the now conservative churches will inevitably embrace more and more of the leftist/liberal idea of redical egalitarianism. (Women as elders, Homosexual leaders, etc.)
“Or they can try to give race an ultimate importance that it simply can’t bear since race may provide part of the setting for social life but it doesn’t say anything.” — Jim Kalb
Doesn’t it say something? In the realm of ideas, I thought race spoke in the sense that ideas and their interplay with societies are to some extent functions of the different races. Race determines in part what gets said — what ideas get expressed — and what effect particular ideas have on the societies of the people doing the expressing. Saying that “[the notion of, or the entity called] ‘race’ doesn’t say anything” is like saying the notion of, or the entity called “person” doesn’t say anything. Yet, the style and content of my posts, Mr. Kalb’s, Mr. Auster’s, Matt’s, and Mr. Murgos’s are all different from each other. Don’t those differences themselves convey information and therefore speak?
“I also agree that it’s important to recover a Christian conception of legitimate particularism.” — Jim Kalb
Its failure to undertake steps in this direction — that is, steps toward clarifying that this is perfectly compatible with Chrisitanity and with Catholicism — is one of the major failings of the group now controlling the Vatican Court. One hopes they’ll be forced out of their torpor once the Muslim presence in Italy gets confident enough and brazen enough to start complaining that ANY visible manifestation of Catholicism there is an affront to Islam.
” … there are also various recent Roman Catholic discussions of ‘inculturation,’ which regardless of the use to which they are put explore the relevance of the particularity of culture to spiritual life and insist on the necessity of respecting that particularity.”
May this tiny spark of rightness and hope catch fire!
Cultural particularism is compatible with Christianity, and, as was said, it has to do with the fact that the incarnation took place at a particular time among a particular people. Yet that doesn’t prevent other peoples from adapting it to themselves. There are lovely African Christian sculptures showing Jesus as an African Negro, just as there are Christian paintings showing Mary as a 17th century Dutch bourgeoise. Since Jesus came for everyone, in all times and places, this makes complete sense.
At the same time, we can’t get away from the fact that Christianity has an inherent potentiality to become universalistic in the destructive sense, even gnostic. We must resist that potentiality, not reject Christianity.
I think, as some of the others do, that Mr. Kalb makes a mistake in saying race “doesn’t say anything” — most people realize in their daily lives that it means quite a lot. Walk with me along any of my home town streets in Chicago and you’ll realize quickly that it does. This does not mean we should give race more importance that it deserves, but that we — even as Christians — should acknowledge it. By saying that it doesn’t, we create more dangerous situations. We certainly give more ammo to our opponents by doing that. And we don’t want to run the risk of making Christianity so esoteric or so deeply theological that it has no meaning in peoples every day lives.
As a son and grandson of survivors of the Holocaust and Soviet oppression, there are few things that instinctually worry me more than post-Christian Europeans. Nevertheless, I cannot be intellectually honest and disagree with the thesis that Christianity is inherently anti-nationlist.
Perhaps it is my personal perspective as a Jew, but I see Christianity, especially after St. Paul, as being a universalist mixture of the Essene sect of Judaism and Hellenistic thought applied to gentiles. (I suppose I just opened a can of worms.)
Beyond the expression “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, all are one with me”, take good look at the spread of Christianity. Catholic and Orthodox Christianity were created social and political atmosphere of the multi-cultural Roman Empire. Constantine used Christianity as the unifier for this empire.
Before someone points out that many Jews are post nationalist, I would note that this is not theology but diaspora ethnic politics. Jews have been the minority and often the scapregoat for nationlists. Thus multi-culturalism is a survival tactic, which has outlived its usefulness. (Kind of like the human propensity to crave fatty foods.) Of course, it is suicide for Israel, but that is another matter.
I suppose that one could also answer by asking how Askenazim, Sephardim, Masorti and Falashas are the same race. By response is that in this case, religion=ethnos.
Christianity got this idea somewhere, it simply ran with it.
“[R]ace may provide part of the setting for social life but it doesn’t say anything.”
By the latter part of the statement I didn’t mean that race doesn’t matter or should be ignored as irrelevant. I meant that it doesn’t point us in any very definite direction.
When I ask myself “what should I do about X” I don’t say “I’m Jim Kalb and therefore I should do Y.” Particular facts about me might be relevant to the decision, and the decision would inevitably reflect who I am in many ways, but Jim Kalbness is not a principle of action. I can’t base my life on the fact that I’m me. The same is true of - for example - whiteness. Something else has to be the primary commitment.
Christianity is opposed to Nationalism as an ideology that makes the nation the complete and highest human community. To say it’s against nationality is to misconstrue it, though.
Christ explicitly recognized the continuing existence and validity of the various nations. (See the Berthoud essay I cite.) That wasn’t a fluke. In many ways Christianity is at right angles to earthly social order. Unlike Islam and Judaism it has no concrete legal code, it explicitly recognizes the relative autonomy of Caesar, and it’s said to be a kingdom “not of this world.” If it recognizes that there are kingdoms other than itself why would it want all those kingdoms to get together and create a universal omnicompetent this-worldly authority? Why would it suddenly decide that Babel was a worthy effort?
The unity Christianity gives is a transcendent unity that applies even when there are obvious distinctions of unquestioned validity. That’s the significance of Paul’s comment that Greek and Jew, slave and free, male and female are all one in Christ. Paul didn’t want to abolish Greeks and Jews any more than he wanted to abolish men and women.
Given that, it’s not surprising that shortly after the concrete administrative unity of the Roman Empire was abolished through the appointment of multiple emperors Christianity was adopted as a principle of transcendent unity. And that’s what it was for the following 1600 years — a principle that gave Europe a transcendent overall civilizational unity while maintaining and on the whole respecting its practical diversity.
Nationality thrived in Christian Europe. It’s treated as a monstrosity to be destroyed in anti-Christian Europe. So why oppose it to Christianity? The rejection of Christianity has in fact led to various schemes by Nazis, commies, eurocrats etc. to replace the transcendent unity and concrete diversity of Christian Europe with pragmatic this-worldly unity. To me the conclusion seems obvious.