The responses to my post on Bush’s gnosticism (a term, I would add, that I am using in the way Voegelin used it) keep coming back to a similar objection: I have defined orthodoxy and traditional Christianity in such a way that it must necessarily exclude a great many professing Christians in America in one way or another, or at least it would do so on specific points of deviation from orthodoxy. Put another way, I am trying to be precise, as opposed to lumping together a wide array of Christians under a convenient banner that imputes to them fidelity to orthodox teachings and Christian tradition that they may not necessarily possess. More exactly, I am insisting on maintaining standards used to judge such matters so that we call things by their proper names and describe things correctly. Most everyone can see the problem in labeling adherents to the liberal tradition as theocrats, because theocrats are necessarily illiberal, and I think most of us can see the problem in describing decentralist, civil libertarian, antiwar conservatives as authoritarians, because these people are actively critical of and opposed to authoritarian policies. I assume most of us agree that describing jihadists as fascists rather than as Islamic fanatics is misleading and possibly intentionally so, because jihadists are simply a very different group and hold radically different views about most things that distinguish them from fascists. Nonetheless, somehow it is supposed to be permissible to paint politically conservative Christians, some of whose views may be theologically conservative and some which are definitely not, as traditional and orthodox and then use this convenient labeling to say that the bad political fruits of their very un-traditional and un-orthodox views are the result of bringing orthodoxy and traditional Christianity into government and the public square. I think this move is an illegitimate one, because it is an attempt to trace the source of a destructive ideology, but in the process Linker is deliberately overlooking the content of the ideology and fixating instead on superficial rhetoric.
There seems to be a certain resistance to my argument, which surprisingly seems to be strongest from those who are not interested in any triumphs of orthodoxy. The pervasiveness of heterodoxy should put opponents of the “religious right” at ease, because a doctrinally confused or mushy religious conservatism poses no real threat to anything except right religion, but strangely enough the broad cultural triumph of heterodoxy even on the political right instills fears of orthodoxy’s political influence. It seems to me that theological, cultural and political liberals (who are not always the same people) are still fighting old battles as if there were still a large, concerted Anti-Modernist or traditionalist contingent resisting them, and at least some of them are having difficulty getting used to the idea that they have largely driven their opponents from the field and driven them to the margins of theological discourse and the culture wars. Even to the extent that liberal victories in different areas have provoked temporary backlashes and tactical inter-confessional and even inter-religious alliances, the very emergence of an ecumenical Christianity of the right, presaged by the rise of inter-confessional Christian democracy in Europe, and the (mostly rhetorical) idea of “ecumenical jihad” are pieces of evidence of how much ground orthodoxy has given up in most Christian confessions in America. As doctrine has taken a distant back seat to practical cooperation and limited shared policy goals, this was to some extent unavoidable.
As for the question of extensive heterodoxy, Ross had a good post on this last year. In it, he wrote this:
And of course a distinctively American strand of heresy is integral to a large swathe of what we think of as “conservative” Christianity [bold mine-DL]: You could call it Americanism or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or something else entirely, but whatever label you choose it owes as much to Emerson, Hegel and Norman Vincent Peale as to Nicaea and Chalcedon, and its emanations and penumbras influence everything from the prosperity gospel to the foreign policy of George W. Bush.
Ross wrote earlier of “the American heresy” and said this:
The people who read Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer and The Prayer of Jabez may be more politically conservative then the people who read A Wing and a Prayer, and read certain passages of Genesis and Leviticus more literally, but the theology they’re imbibing is roughly the same sort of therapeutic mush. Indeed, the big difference between the prosperity gospel that Osteen and his ilk are peddling and Schori’s liberal Episcopalianism has less to do with any theological principle and more to do with what aspect of American life they want God to validate.
It’s this promise of validation that is particularly important. This is the hope not so much that Christ arose from the dead and broke the gates of Hades to free us and our ancestors from our fetters, but that there is basically a way to reconcile taking up the Cross and following Him while not doing much to change how one lives or distinguish oneself from the conventions of contemporary society. It is an inoffensive, undemanding Gospel, which always seems to find loopholes for our self-fulfillment rather than calling for self-denial or sacrifice of any kind, and which exists not so much to call men to repentance as to endorse choices they have already made. Not everyone is equally under the influence of this heresy, and some resist it far better than others, but it is constantly pulling people off the royal road into one or more of a series of ditches where they find rationalizations for abuses of power, abuses of human dignity, abuses of creation and so on. No one, no confession, is immune to its effects, but what makes no sense is to say that the way to avoid falling into these ditches is to abandon the royal road and throw away the map that brought you to it.