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Christianity and the West

Yesterday, Joe Carter cited [1] an interesting passage from a recent address [2] by the Catholic Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput:

Two of the biggest lies in the world today are these: first, that Christianity was of relatively minor importance in the development of the West; and second, that Western values and institutions can be sustained without a grounding in Christian moral principles.

Archbishop Chaput was speaking in Slovakia, whose government was subjected to pressure from the EU [3] in recent years because Slovakia’s government had made a treaty with the Vatican [4] that would require Slovakia to allow Catholic hospitals in the country to refuse to perform abortions. Indeed, the Slovak coalition government collapsed four years ago [5] on account of this pressure. The archbishop’s remarks may have been alluding to that specific dispute, and they also touched on the broader question of whether the current European project has any relationship to Europe’s Christian heritage. The unfortunate irony is that the European project has been a favorite of many Christian Democratic parties in western Europe, and it has ended up becoming the bane of those Christian Democratic parties in central and eastern Europe that are still more firmly-rooted in their Catholicism.

There is much in the address that I agree with, but what struck me about the passages Carter cited was this paragraph:

change_me

Our societies in the West are Christian by birth, and their survival depends on the endurance of Christian values. Our core principles and political institutions are based, in large measure, on the morality of the Gospel and the Christian vision of man and government. We are talking here not only about Christian theology or religious ideas. We are talking about the moorings of our societies – representative government and the separation of powers; freedom of religion and conscience; and most importantly, the dignity of the human person.

Whenever I see or hear politically conservative and religiously traditionalist Christians make an argument like this, it brings me up a little short. There is some truth in this claim, but it seems to me that it is especially important for traditionalist Christians to distinguish between arguing for the undeniable Christian heritage of Western societies and the importance of Christianity for the flourishing of those societies, which Christians should argue for, and making claims for the direct link between modern political arrangements and the Gospel.

For one thing, the latter claims are very debatable, and I doubt that they are persuasive to anyone who is not already inclined to accept them. For most of Christian history, the Fathers of the Church and Christian theologians would have rejected the idea of freedom of religion as we mean it, and they would have been mostly indifferent to or agnostic about the relative merits of one system of government compared to another. To the extent that the Fathers of the Church shared the philosophical assumptions of their times, they would have regarded democracy with the same horror that the Founding Fathers generally did, and they might or might not have regarded a Polybian constitution as a good way to organize a polity. On the whole, modern Orthodox Christian polities only very belatedly and grudgingly accepted ideas of representative government and separation of powers, and in Catholic Europe the proponents of these ideas were as often as not virulently anti-Catholic.

One of the things that always bothered me about George Bush’s revolutionary rhetoric was how he identified the expansion of political freedom with God’s design for man, which makes God’s plan one of narrow political deliverance rather than deliverance from death. These claims that representative government and separation of powers have some grounding in Christianity bother me in a different way. Probably the most thoroughly Christianized state in the medieval world was Byzantium, but it retained a late Roman autocratic system of government for its entire existence, so what is the connection between political structures and Christianity? Because the experience of most of Christian history in most parts of the world does not fit this picture of Christianity as the foundation of modern constitutional government, these claims have to privilege the Christianity of certain parts of western Europe and North America as the norm when it was clearly the exception. Furthermore, the reason for privileging Christianity from these parts of the world becomes an expressly political one. In other words, the quality or acceptability of one’s Christianity becomes dependent on the extent to which it complements the political values of modern Western states. Tying the importance of Christianity to the instrumental claim that Christianity is necessary because it created or undergirded our political culture takes us closer to defending Christianity in terms of little more than “Christian-flavored civic religion.” Even if it were true, I’m not sure that Christians should want to make that argument.

I had the same reaction after reading this column [6] by William Murchison. Murchison makes a similar claim:

Where on earth do claims to liberty under law arise if not from the heavily plowed ground of Christian belief concerning man—and, as we would add nowadays, woman—as the special creation of God, worthy of protection against tyranny, oppression and other awful incidents of existence? No God—no Christian God at any event—no liberty, no freedom, no personhood, is the rule of thumb.

Islam’s claim to partake of “Abrahamic faith” falls short of the Christian understanding in all its fullness. Were it otherwise, wouldn’t one expect to see robust democratic republics throughout the Islamic world, full of Barney Franks and Nancy Pelosis (with maybe the random Mitch McConnell) instead of the despotisms that squash and mismanage their peoples? Where are they?

The first paragraph can be defended, but the second makes no sense. Possibly Turkey, Indonesia and Bangladesh are insufficiently robust democratic republics, or perhaps there aren’t enough of them to satisfy Murchison, but that isn’t the main problem with this second paragraph. If Islam falls short of the Christian understanding in all its fullness, and both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches clearly teach that it does, it is because Islam does not recognize the full divinity of Christ or the unity of the Three Persons of the Godhead. From the Christian perspective, if Muslims around the world accepted those fundamental teachings (i.e., accepted the central truths of Christianity), the present political arrangements in many Muslim countries would tell us very little about their religion, which should tell us that there is not necessarily a strong connection between the religion people profess and the political structures that prevail in their countries. It seems to me that Christians can resist the falsehoods that Archbishop Chaput identified without endorsing claims of questionable validity.

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28 Comments To "Christianity and the West"

#1 Comment By SteveM On September 1, 2010 @ 10:56 am

Re: “If Islam falls short of the Christian understanding in all its fullness…it is because Islam does not recognize the full divinity of Christ or the unity of the Three Persons of the Godhead.”

Those are just nits related to the “problem” of Islam. The profound difference between Christianity and Islam is even more fundamental. And that is what God has revealed about Himself, not how He has revealed Himself.

The Allah of Islam is a phantasmagorical misapprehension of God’s true nature from a Christian perspective. And that “problem” is irreconcilable.

#2 Comment By M.Z. Forrest On September 1, 2010 @ 11:33 am

The archbishop’s remarks may have been alluding to that specific dispute

I’m doubtful. Chaput is rarely reflective and prefers cheap sloganeering.

Our societies in the West are Christian by birth, and their survival depends on the endurance of Christian values.
A decent example of pablum. In the end it is dressed up triumphalism as in not only are we correct about our Savior, but we are wealthier and better looking.

We are talking about the moorings of our societies – representative government and the separation of powers; freedom of religion and conscience; and most importantly, the dignity of the human person.
As you note, this is mostly garbage and premised on Jesus being invested in an individualistic enlightenment philosophy. St. Paul didn’t have an issue with Caesar. Christianity has been in enough suppressions big and small to render the idea of religious liberty as a founding value laughable. Even in our own country’s history, the Mormons were officially suppressed, and it seems he is speaking particularly about the US when he speaks of Western values.

#3 Comment By cmcollier1 On September 1, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

I found the Archbishop’s denunciation of these claims as lies to be sadly if typically hyperbolic. The first “lie,” if it is actually an historical claim being advanced, is in all likelihood simply a matter of ignorance, which is not the same thing as lying. The second claim is actually debatable. As a Christian, in contrast with the Archbishop, I think it just might be possible that some Western values (e.g., autonomy, the profit motive, etc.) could not be sustained *with* a proper Christian grounding. At any rate, the historical Christian backdrop to modern Western values is the only history we have. The Archbishop doesn’t know, and it isn’t obvious to all concerned, that those values cannot stand on another basis, so that to contradict the claim must make a liar out of someone. To call the second claim a lie is therefore to project the worst motives upon people with whom one is in disagreement. This is among the many problems with the culture wars—it leads even Archbishops who enlist in them to sacrifice charity for the sake of rhetorical power.

#4 Comment By Norwegian Shooter On September 1, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

More of this please! Although I’m not Christian, I love reading / writing about it. As for Bush43, my guess is that he took deliverance from death as a given, and since God had extra God-power lying about, it made sense He would want to bring earthly deliverance from evil. Simplistic, of course, but you can’t go wrong with simplicity when discussing W. But is this really very far from all Christian believers? That is, God will deliver the faithful from death, but that he has a plan on earth as well? With only the nature of the plan differing between sects and/or believers?

I would be interested in a defense of Murchinson’s first paragraph quoted. In my view it is as mistaken as the rest of his column. The first sentence can be answered using the Enlightenment / Rights of Man viewpoint. (But the ground was heavily plowed by Christianity, so it’s a difficult subject to settle). The rule of thumb seems absurd. No personhood? What does that mean?

#5 Comment By forestwalker On September 1, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

“Tying the importance of Christianity to the instrumental claim that Christianity is necessary because it created or undergirded our political culture takes us closer to defending Christianity in terms of little more than ‘Christian-flavored civic religion.’ Even if it were true, I’m not sure that Christians should want to make that argument.”

This one certainly doesn’t. I’ve had this argument with several conservative friends who find great value in Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason. I was deeply offended by his argument and baffled that they positively reveled in it. Stark’s primary purpose is the defense of Capitalism and individualism. In pursuing that purpose, though, he reduces Chrisitanity to merely the seed that bore The End of History. The argument is more myth than either history or sociology, but, even if that were not the case, it’s an argument that Christians should have great trouble in finding praiseworthy.

#6 Comment By J On September 1, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

Historical European Christianity amounts to a vehicle for a great many Ancient World ideas, many of which were neither Christian in origin nor properly reconcilable with those that were. To people like me Chaput’s argument amounts to a claiming and selective defense of residues of distinctly Ancient World pagan beliefs, expanded to the assertion that these are indispensable to desirable civilization. Chaput’s error is a predictable error when a large religious organization doesn’t produce mystics anymore, is institutionally losing its last living understanding of them and ability to discern the authentic kind, and has probably sabotaged itself to such a degree that neither trait is likely to be recovered in the next generation or two.

I find telling that Chaput has to walk back to Bonhoeffer to find a persuasive moral stance. Even that Bonhoeffer quote, in historical context, probably better supports the secular opposition’s core argument that Christianity is a failure as doctrine of the collective life though it is plausibly individually efficacious.

#7 Comment By Michael Sheridan On September 1, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

forestwalker,

C.S. Lewis expressed this sentiment well in his book The Screwtape Letters when he had a senior devil give this advice to a junior tempter :

Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game

#8 Comment By TGGP On September 1, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

Razib found an embarrassing example of an author privileging western Christendom over the Byzantines [7].

#9 Comment By Norwegian Shooter On September 1, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

I commented on Murchison’s post and [8] popped up in defense. What a [9] he is! Murchison is an intellectual giant in comparison. Read Egypt Steve’s reply. He’s a commenter here, right?

TGGP, thanks for the link, good reading.

#10 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 1, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

Dr. Fleming is not a “nutball.” He is a learned author and a colleague. Among other things, he has written a valuable history of Montenegro and an interesting book on ethics and philosophy, both of which I recommend. Even when we may disagree, he and his arguments merit respect. Concerning the First Amendment, the argument he was making is correct.

The Bill of Rights was written to restrain the activities of the federal government, and the establishment clause was inserted to prohibit Congress from establishing a religion for all of the states. As you should know, established religions existed in several of the states after ratification, and the Bill of Rights had no effect on the legality or constitutionality of those arrangements at the state level. The First Amendment was not a guarantee against state governments or against other citizens.

Everyone in the comments section should take care not to fling abuse quite so freely. I don’t have the time or the inclination to regulate all comments closely, but for the most part that has never been necessary. Please keep it that way.

#11 Comment By Aquinas On September 1, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

Catholic and Orthodox Christianity both accept Human Reason as well as Christian Revelation. ‘Grace’ builds on Nature and Christian Revelation cannot contradict Human Reason since it too is created by God. This is what the Pope was trying to say at Regensburg. It is for this reason that Western Greek Philosophy plays such an important part in Catholic and Orthodox Theology, particularly Ethics and Metaphysics. Islam makes no formulated commitment to human reason but usually employs a fundamentalist interpretation of what is revealed in the Quran. Unfortunately, Protestant Theology too rejected any formulated commitment to human reason, that is what they meant by: ‘Sola Scriptura.’

#12 Comment By wilfred On September 2, 2010 @ 5:08 am

“The Allah of Islam is a phantasmagorical misapprehension of God’s true nature from a Christian perspective. And that “problem” is irreconcilable.”

Interesting. From the Muslim point of view, Islam is merely a re-assertion of basic monotheism and, as Muhammad stressed, nothing new in itself. The constant iteration of Allah as Compassionate and Merciful, His atrributes that take precedence over all others and which are invoked at the beginning of all Islamic prayers and activities, would seem to indicate other than what you say, as well.

The G-d of the Old Testament is thus His false nature? Such ideas are baffling to Muslims, who are expected to think dialectically, avoiding the torturous theological constructs that attempt to explain away many of G-d’s actions rather than consider them as equally valid.

G-d of the Old Testament is equally phantasmagorical from a Christian perspective, but to deny his His truth and actions would seem to negate Christianity itself.

Like the time travel paradox, I suppose.

#13 Comment By SteveM On September 2, 2010 @ 6:52 am

Re: wilfred

I see what you are saying and your observations make sense. I’m not a theologian, but here’s my take on it.

The Hebrews of the Old Testament had not a misapprehension about God’s nature but in an incomplete apprehension. If it were complete, Christ would not have been necessary. To complete the picture of God’s true nature, he distilled down the complexities of the Law to the two Great Commandments. So the sublimely wise story in John about the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery. It was because of Christianity that the brutality of the Colosseum ceased. I should also wonder when and why Jewish law was modified such that adulterers were no longer stoned. Was it because of Christian influences?

So here we have this radical distillation of the Law by Jesus Christ. Modifying an apprehension of a “terrestrial” God into an apprehension of completely transcendend one. But then along comes Muhammad 600 years later who essentially reverts the apprehension of God back to the much more primitive understanding. E.g., The Allah of Islam is selectively “Compassionate and Merciful” to Muslims, but adulterers and infidels are back subject to stoning and persecution.

Muhammad had to be aware of the Christian understanding of God’s nature, but rejected it for extremes of hostility and violence as fundamental. That defines Islam as retrograde in my book vis-à-vis Christianity.

#14 Comment By conradg On September 2, 2010 @ 8:59 am

First, congratulations on your marriage, I seem to have missed a lot here over the last few months.

I’d be the last to suggest that Christianity’s role in creating western civilization was unimportant or anything less that crucial. But it’s also clear that a good part of its role was as a vehicle for ideas and institutions that had long preceded it, ideas that not only weren’t “Christian”, but in some respects contradicted Christianity. We are talking about Greek and Roman ideas, of course, many of which even formed the basis for the hellenized forms of Judaism that Christianity sprung from, as well as the political and philosophical basis for much of the early Church’s positions and organizations in that realm.

As for the role of Christianity in creating a political concept of “liberty”, I think it’s clear that the concept already existed and had been deeply developed long before Christianity appeared, and as Daniel says, the Christian concept of liberty is mostly one that is geared toward liberation from death, and occurs in the afterlife in heaven, not through some political process on earth. Which is why for most of its history Christianity was content to support kings, oligarchies, emperors, and tyrants of all kinds, so long as they affirmed the Christian faith and made efforts to support and spread it. Concepts about liberty on the political and philosophical level simply didn’t exist in much of Christendom, and those that were handed down through Greek sources such as Plato and Aristotle tended to support authoritarianism rather than freedom.

The revival of classical learning in the middle ages resulted in the Renaissance, and this led to a good number of Christians re-thinking their political and philosophical assumptions, and that led to the Enlightenment, which led to the secularization of these classical ideas in the form of representative government. Christianity certainly played a powerful role in that, and many of the proponents of this movement cited passages and themes from Christian sources to support their agenda. But so do their opponents cite the same sources to condemn such movements, and most of the Churches resisted democritization rather than encouraging it.

The general movement towards freedom and liberty in politics and society generally had to go against the grain of established or accepted Christian norms, and in so doing it reformed and transformed Christianity in the process, much more than Christianity did so to what we might call “civilization”. Even so, it’s certainly true that to the degree that Christianity adopted or was co-opted by these ideas, that it played a crucial role in the development of a free civilization which holds liberty as an ideal. But this does not mean it is the only possible vehicle for these ideals, since it wasn’t the origin of it in the first place. The question we face now is whether Christianity remains the best vehicle for such ideas of liberty, and whether it is even good for Christianity itself to be so identified with political rather than spiritual ideals.

I think it’s rather clear that secular, non-religious governments and political movements are probably the best route for sustaining and growing a civilization based on concepts of liberty, freedom, tolerance, and justice. One does not even have to have religious beliefs at all to believe in such ideals as political and social goals, or to sustain the values that keep such ideals in place. Nor are Christian religious beliefs themselves primarily oriented towards such ideals.

So this fear that a decline in Christian churches throughout the west means a decline in civilization itself is merely a result of trying to promote Christianity through fear and threat, which is one of the strongest reasons for the decline in Christianity in the first place. Christianity is like the boy who cried wolf, likening every decline in Christian faithfulness with a decline in civilization itself, which simply hasn’t been the case, and at this point hardly anyone but the most ideological Christians actually believes in these threats anymore. Christians have to recognize that they can’t get away with claiming exclusive ownership and custodianship of these ideas of freedom and liberty, now that they are popular, and that the threat that the world will go to hell without overt Christian dominance over our political and cultural system just falls flat. Christians would be better off simply recognizing that they have to compete with their political and cultural rivals by actually offering and demonstrating something positive rather than merely throwing around these empty threats.

#15 Comment By Norwegian Shooter On September 2, 2010 @ 9:46 am

Glad to raise your hackles, Daniel. And count your blessings, you’ve got one of the tamest comment sections around. (and smallest relative to influence / page hits – which I love)

Yes, the purpose, intent, etc. of the 1st Amendment was to prevent federal interference in State religions, but that is history and Supreme Court case law has moved on. What section of the Constitution is cited in school prayer cases? City Hall creches? [10] is a good resource.

I will apologize for attacking Fleming in your comment section. Not an excuse, but his was closed at the time I read it. I’ll take up his mosque article on my own blog.

#16 Comment By conradg On September 2, 2010 @ 10:05 am

As to first amendment issues, the 14th amendment settled the matter of whether civil rights and freedom from state religion extend to state governments as well as federal.

#17 Comment By Norwegian Shooter On September 2, 2010 @ 11:49 am

conradg, thanks for the 14th reminder. Your previous comment was excellent. As our Christian president [11]:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

#18 Comment By tedschan On September 2, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

The first paragraph can be defended, but the second makes no sense. Possibly Turkey, Indonesia and Bangladesh are insufficiently robust democratic republics, or perhaps there aren’t enough of them to satisfy Murchison, but that isn’t the main problem with this second paragraph. If Islam falls short of the Christian understanding in all its fullness, and both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches clearly teach that it does, it is because Islam does not recognize the full divinity of Christ or the unity of the Three Persons of the Godhead. From the Christian perspective, if Muslims around the world accepted those fundamental teachings (i.e., accepted the central truths of Christianity), the present political arrangements in many Muslim countries would tell us very little about their religion, which should tell us that there is not necessarily a strong connection between the religion people profess and the political structures that prevail in their countries. It seems to me that Christians can resist the falsehoods that Archbishop Chaput identified without endorsing claims of questionable validity.

But isn’t a Christian political theology or analysis of regimes different from an Islamic one, because of the different views of the relationship between faith and reason? Te Christian one has traditionally been able to incorporate what was true within the classical writings. It accepts that there are truths that can be known by reason alone, and this includes truths about natural law, the purpose of government and law, and so on?

As for liberty — in response to what was posted above by conradg — liberty from sin (and by extension, spiritual death) is a more dominant and significant part of the Christian tradition than liberation from death. This sort of liberty is akin to (and builds upon) the emphasis by the ancients on not being a slave to one’s desires.

#19 Comment By tedschan On September 2, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

*To complete my first point, I think Mr. Murchison is wrong in his emphasis on democratic republics, but I think he is correct in pointing to the contrast between political developments in the West with those of the Islamic world.

#20 Comment By petey On September 2, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

from the fleming link above:
“The purpose of the First Amendment was to prevent power-crazed national politicians from imposing their religious views on the rest of us in the states.

So now a power-crazed Muslim-loving president is doing just that.”

1: no national politican is imposing anything on anyone. the decision to proceed was taken as locally as local gets. further, i note the elision between “us” and the residents of “the states”. i’m a resident of the state of new york, but also of the city of new york, but also of manhattan, and of the united states too: do my feelings count? if so, then g’head, build it, it’s a community center with a room for prayer in it, call that a mosque just as the room for prayer in the building i work in a chapel. and btw how do the sensibilities of the people in plattsburgh compare with mine in regards this piece of real estate?

2: how is obama any more power-crazed than any president since wilson?

3: by “muslim-loving” i assume that fleming means that our practicing christian president likes their votes as well as anyone else’s. or maybe he doesn’t.

#21 Comment By petey On September 2, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

viz. “or maybe [fleming] doesn’t (mean that).”

#22 Comment By conradg On September 2, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

“As for liberty — in response to what was posted above by conradg — liberty from sin (and by extension, spiritual death) is a more dominant and significant part of the Christian tradition than liberation from death. This sort of liberty is akin to (and builds upon) the emphasis by the ancients on not being a slave to one’s desires.”

I’m just using Daniel’s formulation, which is accurate I think. The whole point of liberation from sin is to be liberated from the consequences of sin, which can be summarized as “death”, and the opening to “immortal life” which is what a sin-free life is about. In other words, this idea of liberty is a very, very big deal, and not reducible to any set of political issues. As you point out, the genuine Christian is more concerned with being enslaved by his own desires than being enslaved by those with worldly power over them. He turns the other cheek in the face of such worldly power. A radical approach to politics, to say the least.

Of course, the history of Christianity was not made by such people, but by more ordinary believers more than happy to make compromises with the ways of the world, and to “advance” Christian interests by not merely aligning themselves with worldly power, but by co-opting it for themselves. And so we get a Christianity that is itself more concerned with worldly power than with maintaining its spiritual purity. This particular issue is far from being the first sign of this problem. It goes back all the way to Paul and up through Constantine and beyond. Radical spiritual approaches always get corrupted. How far would Christianity have to go if it began putting politics aside and returning to its root? A lot further than virtually any Christian wants to.

#23 Pingback By Christianity and the West, and Americanism · Secular Right On September 2, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

[…] broad brushes I agree with Daniel Larison: One of the things that always bothered me about George Bush’s revolutionary rhetoric was how he […]

#24 Comment By tz On September 3, 2010 @ 11:24 am

The product of pure Enlightenment was the French Revolution and reign of terror.

One of the baltic states has two dates for its conversion – the first when the king converted and the subjects did so by the sword, and another, a few years later where the people converted of their own free will.

With all the paradoxes involving free will going back to the earliest Christians, I find it shocking that it would be reduced to just freedom from death – and/or sin. The earliest Christians did not have the liberty to be Christians! It was a capital crime.

And during that period the one thing that mattered was truth. Jesus was truth incarnate, but the righteous pagans also had many things in harmony with Christ, and also Judaism which was the foundation, but also many false things. Christians did not call something false because the source was not originally the church. They tolerated traditions that did not contradict the faith and morals (as they do or ought to do today), but totally opposed and reformed those which did. You can eat pork but not divorce and remarry.

Aquinas had a section in the Summa on civil law which predates the enlightenment. But the whole point is that one needs the liberty to do what you are called to do as a Christian. That was the light of the USA, but not of France. Both self control, but also justice and charity to my fellow man.

For what use is it to be liberated from sin and death if that liberty will admit of no exercise in society?

Though you are quite right when “political freedom” means you can vote, but the vote will not have an effect. Where you can speak and advocate (apparently not in Canada, but still here), but cannot translate the most righteous thoughts and examples of justice into action.

Christianity never dealt with the superficial form of the state – but it did deal with the justice and righteousness it produced or breached. A wise and just king might be ideal, but even a debauched king that left his subjects alone was better than an evil king or worse one that thought he did good by imposing tyranny.

Our form of government was an attempt to reconcile fallen man in the form of the people attempting to do the right thing and the need for government. Even the constitution was very suspect with its limits, checks, and balances in that it gave too much power to fallen men. “To establish justice”. They knew the goal, this was just an attempt to engineer a form that would provide it for some period.

It is impossible to understand our revolution without a Christian understanding of man.

The problem is most Christians don’t understand this and are attempting to reform states by imposing liturgical process – voting, legislatures, executives, judges – instead of imposing justice. if our proconsul and people in Iraq after Saddam always were fair, sought justice, respected the people, they would have started converting to our ideals. Instead we were just a foreign version of Saddam and his thugs.

Central america in the 1960s had exact copies of the US constitution as their own – the sola scriptura approach and all failed to become free.

If you aim for justice, equality, and liberty before the law – which we will have before God – and remember the fallen nature of man – you will form a government that provides these things. If you simply copy words or processes, you will just get a theater of tyranny. For it is neither the script or the motions, but the individual heart where civil righteousness will spring from.

#25 Comment By Norwegian Shooter On September 3, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

Well, it’s over. Dr. Fleming and I had [12] yesterday. I’m not objective, but I think I held my own, thank you very much. As for my earlier claim, I can’t resist [13] this from the good doctor:

“religious freedom is simply a leftist cliche devised in the 17th century as part of a campaign to suppress Christianity”

#26 Comment By sylvie_oshima On September 6, 2010 @ 7:16 am

Perhaps America is not exactly a christian nation, but [14]

America is the first great experiment in Protestant social formation. Protestantism in Europe always assumed and depended on the cultural habits that had been created by Catholic Christianity. America is the first place Protestantism did not have to define itself over against a previous Catholic culture. So America is the exemplification of constructive Protestant social thought.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer thus got it right when he characterized American Protestantism as “Protestantism without Reformation.”
That is why it has been possible for Americans to synthesize three seemingly antithetical traditions: evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. For Americans, faith in God is indistinguishable from loyalty to their country.

#27 Comment By gressmeister On September 10, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

I know this comment is a bit late, but I hope Daniel especially will find it interesting as a Byzantinist and Orthodox Christian.

The article is overall excellent. However, I would take issue with the assertion that the Fathers were largely indifferent to questions of government. It seems rather that there was a consensus that the autocratic form of Roman Imperial government was seen as providentially chosen by God for the establishment and spread of the Church. For example, from St Gregory the Theologian:

“The three most ancient opinions about God are atheism (or anarchy), polytheism (or polyarchy), and monotheism (or monarchy). The children of Greece played with the first two; let us leave them to their games. For anarchy is disorder: and polyarchy implies factious division, and therefore anarchy and disorder. Both these lead in the same direction – to disorder; and disorder leads to disintegration; for disorder is the prelude to disintegration. What we honour is monarchy…”

And the doxastikon from Great Vespers of the Nativity of Christ:

“When Augustus reigned alone upon earth, the many kingdoms of men came to an end: and when Thou wast made man of the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed. The cities of the world passed under one single rule; and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead. The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar; and we, the faithful, were enrolled in the Name of the Godhead, when Thou, our God, wast made man. Great is Thy mercy: glory to Thee.”

In general, the Fathers favored monarchy as the only truly God-pleasing form of government. Of course, the power of monarchy was not meant to be exercised upon the whim of the sovereign, but rather in the context of the “symphony of powers”, that is, the temporal sword was directly exercised by the Emperor, but under the spiritual guidance of the Church.

I would only concede that there are certainly other passages of the Fathers where it is made clear that any form of human government is impermanent, and that the Church seeks the “kingdom not of this world”. That being said, there is overwhelming evidence that the Christian Church has traditionally favored monarchical government above all others.

#28 Comment By elcaballeropalido On September 15, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

@ Aquinas. I thoroughly disagree with the notion that “Grace builds on Nature (etc)” but that is not so much why I want to respond to you. When people imply that traditional Protestants resemble Muslims, I have to, well, protest. Let me begin by saying that Church history is quite a complicated matter so I’m not claiming you are deliberately misrepresenting Protestantism. Iconoclastic movements existed well before the Reformation. So did Reformation-minded proto-Protestant movements in the Western Church. The 6th century Council of Orange authored an anti-Pelagian manifesto that could have been written by John Calvin himself were it not that he lived a thousand years later.

Protestant theology is not opposed to reason and does not deny that God endowed man with reason. In fact, John Calvin wrote that the existence of God is known from and revealed in nature, and secondly, through His divine revelation in scriptures. The man was fairly well acquainted with the Church Fathers (more than Luther was) and was well-versed in Greco-Roman philosphy. That he was critical of the influence of Aristotelianism during the High Middle Ages (his own theology being of a Platonic nature) does not mean he rejected reason. The university at Geneva highly valued logic and taught philosophy. Unlike his contemporary Catholic theologians, however, he insisted that human philosophies are still, after all, human, and therefore inferior to divine revelation. I do not see how this is somehow no better than the Islamic tendency to reject Western philosophy altogether – traditional Protestantism has never done that. And even if it did, the Bible is not the Qur’an. In fact, Protestantism contributed to many philosophical movements such as Neo-Stoicism and the philosophical position of Protestant Reformers and Proto-Protestants has been said to be Platonic.

I also see Sola Scriptura repeatedly being portrayed and attacked by Catholics and Orthodox alike who pretend that what was meant by it is, supposedly, that any kind of reason in interpreting scriptures is wrong and that, as a result, Protestantism is no different from Islam. This is bogus. First, you have to see in which context Sola Scriptura was formulated. It is but one of five “Solas”, all of which are interdependent, i.e. one cannot be disconnected from the other, basically it’s something along the lines of the Holy Trinity. Despite having been hijacked by Anabaptist and Evangelical fanatics (who may in fact be the kind of so-called “Protestants” you really were having in mind!) to mean that, somehow, the Church and its history have absolutely no authority in scriptural interpretation, that is never what either traditional Lutheran or Reformed theology have taught with regard to Sola Scriptura. I, for one, confess one holy catholic Church and have a high regard for many pre-Reformational Christian thinkers and leaders. Now, you have every right to disagree with orthodox Protestant theology (which is highly Augustinian and nothing like, say, Pentecostalism, or even Wesleyan Methodism for that matter) but if you want to attack a doctrine you should first know what exactly it stands for. It’s a matter of intellectual honesty.

Now as to the Archbishop’s claims, there is truth in what he says but overall I think it is rather simplistic and shallow. Seems to be the trend lately. Gone are prolific writers and thinkers.. Politics is worse than show business. Anyway, I would like to add here that, to a large degree, it was Luther’s Two Kingdoms theology – as opposed to Roman Catholic “Two Swords theology” – and “Lex, Rex”, written by a Scottish Presbyterian minister called Rutherford, which lead to the idea that Church and State ought to mind their own business (but not be utterly separated as many “conservatives” now stupidely advocate as a “Christian principle”) and that the government/king, too, is subject to God’s divine Natural/Moral Law, which can be deduced from nature but is more fully revealed to us in Scripture. In other words, government cannot justify evil rule by claiming to be above the Law as it is itself bound by the same moral principles as their subjects, for we are all are sinners unto God. Where is the Islam in that? Or is Biblical morality no different from Islamic Sharia? Unfortunately, some folks now blame secularism on the Reformation. Would they prefer to have the Inquisition reinstated, perhaps? This is not meant to attack Catholics. Quite frankly I went to Catholic schools and I respect traditional Catholics despite my theological disagreements, Pat Buchanan being one of my favorite Catholics. 😉 it is just one example of the shortsightedness of so many Conservatives that irritates me. I wonder if the archbishop would be honest enough to admit the contribution of Protestantism in this regard.

I agree with the author that so-called conservatives should stop reducing Christianity to a Western political ideology. Every time I hear some of these ultra-islamophobic, Zionist-bootlicking conmen pretending to be the great defenders of the Christian – oh, excuse me, *Judeo*-Christian West, it makes my stomach turn. This is especially the case when I hear them lamenting “women’s rights” in Islamic nations or “machismo” in Latin American countries as if we ought to be proud of the destructive materialism and Jewish inventions like feminism and Marxism that have corrupted Western women and emasculated Western men, leading to sexual promiscuity, criminality, general social anarchy, and the decline of native white American and European populations and identity. To some modern-day “conservatives”, feminism and – in some more extreme cases – even gay rights are somehow Western heritage. Truth to be told, I am opposed to Islam, but I am even more disgusted by much of what I hear Westerners defending these days out of opposition to Islam. Social Marxism, that’s what it is. Democracy perhaps. But not Christianity. Not Western civilization. Who said the Soviets lost the Cold War again? Perhaps we deserve to go extinct. If not for our sins, then certainly for our stupidity! Sorry VDare, but apparently IQ is no guarantee for wisdom.