In Denmark, a controversy has erupted over a congregation of the state Lutheran church’s requirement for its new pastor: that he affirm belief in God as a condition of employment. This has never before happened in Denmark.
It has come to this.
Here’s an article in Danish about it, though it’s firewalled from non-subscribers. Because I gave a comment to the reporter, I received a PDF copy, which I ran through Google translate. Here are my remarks, which appear in Danish, but which I’ve retranslated thanks to Google, and recalling what I told the reporter:
“Europeans have become accustomed to the idea that the church is a public service in line with your telephone company or power plant. As Soren Kierkegaard said: If all perceived as Christians, simply because they are born as Danes, Christianity to exist. The absurd Danish controversy is just the end result of the dynamic that Kierkegaard identified. A Christianity that does not require faith is not Christianity. If a priest does not believe in God, he is useless, and the whole thing is an empty ritual, a charade,” says Rod Dreher.
I added later:
“Christianity in Europe is ending not with a bang but with a pitifully small whimper. If congregations in Denmark have to ask if their potential pastor really believes in God and Jesus, it’s all over. At least a vacuum cleaner seller believes in the product he sells. And even if he does not, the product speaks for itself. Religion is, by contrast, a subjective truth, and a priest who does not believe sincerely can not preach with authority. Christianity is more than just a social welfare philosophy,” he says.
In the story, there’s a quote from a United Protestant minister in France, who says the situation in Denmark sounds familiar to him:
￼”We find Protestant French priests who believe more in Christ than in God, or vice versa. Some do not believe in the resurrection, although many do not believe in the Trinity. The priest is the one who opens the proposition of God and the possibility of faith. Personally, I prefer a good agnostic theologian rather than a fundamentalist who believe the Bible to fit all human aspects of life,” he says.
Think about that. This church official would rather have a theologian who believed not at all than one who believed too strongly. The un-christening of the West continues. C.S. Lewis said in 1954:
The christening of Europe seemed to all our ancestors, whether they welcomed it themselves as Christians, or, like Gibbon, deplored it as humanistic unbelievers, a unique, irreversible event. But we have seen the opposite process. Of course the un-christening of Europe in our time is not quite complete; neither was her christening in the Dark Ages. But roughly speaking we may say that whereas all history was for our ancestors divided into two periods, the pre-Christian and the Christian, and two only, for us it falls into three-the pre-Christian, the Christian, and what may reasonably be called the post-Christian. This surely must make a momentous difference. I am not here considering either the christening or the un-christening from a theological point of view. I am considering them simply as cultural changes. When I do that, it appears to me that the second change is even more radical than the first. Christians and Pagans had much more in common with each other than either has with a post-Christian. The gap between those who worship different gods is not so wide as that between those who worship and those who do not. The Pagan and Christian ages alike are ages of what Pausanias would call the Spcojievov, the externalised and enacted idea; the sacrifice, the games, the triumph, the ritual drama, the Mass, the tournament, the masque, the pageant, the epithalamium, and with them ritual and symbolic costumes, trabea and laticlave, crown of wild olive, royal crown, coronet, judge’s robes, knight’s spurs, herald’s tabard, coat-armour, priestly vestment, religious habit — for every rank, trade, or occasion its visible sign. But even if we look away from that into the temper of men’s minds, I seem to see the same. Surely the gap between Professor Ryle and Thomas Browne is far wider than that between Gregory the Great and Virgil. Surely Seneca and Dr. Johnson are closer together than Burton and Freud?
And now, in Denmark, what few churchgoing Lutheran Christians there are left are reduced to having to ask that the Church send them a pastor who actually believes in God — and this is controversial! The vicars’ association (!) issued a protest against the congregation, saying “who can decide if a person has the correct beliefs?”
Lewis, by the way, made those remarks in his inaugural lecture upon receiving a chair at Cambridge in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Here is how he concluded:
I have said that the vast change which separates you from Old Western has been gradual and is not even now complete. Wide as the chasm is, those who are native to different sides of it can still meet; are meeting in this room.
This is quite normal at times of great change. The correspondence of Henry More and Descartes is an amusing example; one would think the two men were writing in different centuries. And here comes the rub. I myself belong far more to that Old Western order than to yours. I am going to claim that this, which in one way is a disqualification for my task, is yet in another a qualification. The disqualification is obvious. You don’t want to be lectured on Neanderthal Man by a Neanderthaler, still less on dinosaurs by a dinosaur. And yet, is that the whole story? If a live dinosaur dragged its slow length into the laboratory, would we not all look back as we fled? What a chance to know at last how it really moved and looked and smelled and what noises it made! And if the Neanderthaler could talk, then, though his lecturing technique might leave much to be desired, should we not almost certainly learn from him some things about him which the best modem anthropologist could never have told us?
He would tell us without knowing he was telling. One thing I know: I would give a great deal to hear any ancient Athenian, even a stupid one, talking about Greek tragedy. He would know in his bones so much that we seek in vain. At any moment some chance phrase might, unknown to him, show us where modem scholarship had been on the wrong track for years.
Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you somewhat as that Athenian might stand. I read as a native texts that you must read as foreigners. You see why I said that the claim was not really arrogant; who can be proud of speaking fluently his mother tongue or knowing his way about his father’s house? It is my settled conviction
that in order to read Old Western literature aright you must suspend most of the responses and unlearn most of the habits you have acquired in reading modem literature. And because this is the judgement of a native, I claim that, even if the defence of my conviction is weak, the fact of my conviction is a historical datum to which you should give full weight. That way, where I fail as a critic, I may yet be useful as a specimen.
I would even dare to go further. Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.