Having Your Christendom and Enjoying Personal Freedoms Too

Maybe not.

Here’s the thing. You cannot have the Europe of the Holy Roman Empire without the papacy. And what goes with this is that you can’t have the Christian Europe that we associate with Christendom and not also include historical events like the Crusades and the ghettoization of Jews. The Christendom model did not improve greatly under Protestant hands. Calvin had his bout with Servetus, the Puritans (even far away from Christendom) with Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. The monotheism of Christianity and the idea that freedom of conscience applied only to rightly formed consciences (consciences that knew the truth) did not co-exist well with modern notions of freedom of religion, the press, academic freedom, or free speech.

And yet, Christians who worry about secular societies continue to laud Christendom.

. . . religious liberals often condemn Christian conservatives for supposedly clinging to Christendom by defending traditional morals in society or civil religion. Some on the Religious left deride the whole project of “Christendom” as an egregious compromise of true Christianity dating back to Constantine. For them, Christendom means centuries of theocracy, conquest, empire, slavery and hypocrisy.

Christendom indeed has included nearly all the faults alleged, but it did not invent any of them. Theocracy, conquest, empire, slavery and hypocrisy have been intrinsic to nearly all human history. What the critics forget is that Christendom also refined the social conscience and capacity for reform to challenge its own moral failures. Christendom developed human rights and legal equality, social tolerance, constitutional democracy, free enterprise, technology, modern science and medicine, new levels of arts and literature, and refined notions of charity.

This is cherry-picking of a particularly glaring kind.

Granted, the modern West owes much of its political and intellectual resources to medieval Europe. Just consult any of the books by Francis Oakley. But this kind of sweeping Christendom’s problems under the rug of “look at all we did for you” is foolhardy. It is especially so when coming from a Protestant whose ancestors bear much of the blame for upending Christendom, that unified Christian society for which so many anti-secularists long, and who are hardly part of the “we” of Christendom.

The Roman Catholic nature of Christendom becomes especially difficult for neo-Protestants when claims like this follow:

Religious liberals need to reconsider their hostility to Christendom, remembering that the original Social Gospel, with its thirst for justice, was unabashedly Christendom-centered. And religious conservatives, without reducing their passion for needed moral reforms, should be mindful of their blessings and position of unrealized strength.

This is a highly ironic rendering of the Social Gospel since those Progressive Protestants were among the most anti-Catholic Americans. They ranked Roman Catholicism as problems needing to be eliminated in Christian America, right along side socialism, atheism, and Mormonism. The Social Gospelers were do-gooders to be sure, but their “vision” of the United States did not include full acceptance of non-Protestants. (And not to be missed is that by putting the social in Social Gospel, the Social Gospelers also fudged the gospel, a point that reinforces a reading of the Reformation as a recovery of the gospel from a church that put a Christian society above the word of God.) “Letting goods and kindred go,” one of the famous lines from “A Mighty Fortress,” had as much to do with leaving behind Christendom as it did with suffering persecution for the faith.

In other words, defenders of Christendom cannot have their cake and eat it. Christendom, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, was premised on the suppression (either formal or informal) of false beliefs. It was not liberal or tolerant as moderns have come to understand those terms. For defenders of Christendom to act as if a Christian society is the harbinger of modern freedoms and no threat to unbelievers or other faiths is one of the greater examples of binging and purging.

12 thoughts on “Having Your Christendom and Enjoying Personal Freedoms Too

  1. “In other words, defenders of Christendom cannot have their cake and eat it. Christendom, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, was premised on the suppression (either formal or informal) of false beliefs. It was not liberal or tolerant as moderns have come to understand those terms.”

    GW: Speaking of having cake, it seems that some brethren of a pro-Christendom bent would not only like to see false beliefs suppressed; even worse, it seems they would also like to deprive God’s people of Girl Scout cookies.

    http://lakeopc.net/2013/of-girl-scout-cookies-and-the-gospel/

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  2. http://www.filmforum.org/movies/more/in_the_name_of#nowplaying

    “A moving tale of compassion, sexual longing, childhood trauma, and religious commitment. Father Adam (Polish star Andrzej Chyra), an attractive, energetic priest, seems more comfortable in a T-shirt, kicking a soccer ball around with his young charges than preaching a sermon. Living in a halfway house type situation, away from the temptations that helped get them there in the first place, the residents of this societal limbo-land are put off-balance when a new punk enters the picture and starts spreading rumors about the priest’s sexuality. The boys’ casual, yet pervasive homophobia and anti-Semitism add to a complicated picture of modern Poland very much in the thrall of historical prejudice.”

    No word yet on if Jason & the Calllers are scheduling a group showing.

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  3. New Polish love story explores sexuality in the Catholic clergy with poignancy and compassion. Małgośka Szumowska’s drama has US theatrical premiere today.

    “A nuanced, character-driven critique of the Catholic Church and its regressive stance on homosexuality. Heartbreaking and scathing.”
    – John Oursler, Village Voice

    “Wildly provocative. Emotionally powerful thanks to an amazing lead performance (by Andrzej Chyra). Affecting, thrillingly transgressive and consistently surprising.”
    – Dennis Dermody, Paper

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  4. In some ways, it’s ironic that evangelicals–who get giddy whenever the topic of mainline decline arises–are the ones who most pine for the benevolent civic Christianity of the mainline consensus.

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  5. dgh: the idea that freedom of conscience applied only to rightly formed consciences (consciences that knew the truth) did not co-exist well with modern notions of freedom of religion, the press, academic freedom, or free speech.

    mark: Amen to that, but I have some Reformed friends who hate modernity for that very reason. Agreeing that one’s family has something to do with if one becomes an infant member of the church how can modern notions of “conscience” be allowed without disturbing the “essence” of what it means to be Reformed—ie, infant baptism as a bare minimum.

    Baptists often condemn those who unify family and church by means of infant baptism for supposedly clinging to Christendom . Infant baptism can indeed be practiced in a way that ignores the difference between family and church, but lack of catechism and discipline is not a necessary or inherent fault of infant baptism. Baptists also have endorsed theocracy, conquest, empire, and slavery

    What baptist critics forget is that there is still a gospel promise for those already in the covenant, so that the promise of the covenant in the end is also conditioned on faith in the gospel promise. Though we cannot wait for the infant to grow up to hear his profession, we can make still make a judgment about the profession of parents, just the same as baptists do. So infant baptism is never the problem, and it comes with so many advantages for a child to already be assured that Jesus loves them, even if that turns out in some cases not to be true..

    mark: This cherry-picking accusation is something which goes more than one way. As Luther forecast, the end of infant baptism would be the end of Christendom. But Christendom has not ended in the hopes of some of my Reformed friends. Peter Leithart is not the only person who thinks that “infant baptism will save the world”.

    the old reconstructionists–we need to legislate

    the new “federal visionists”–first we baptize the world, then we legislate. Liturgy first, then culture. James K Smith of course wants to do this from somewhere left of Doug Wilson.

    Leonard Cohen–first we take Manhatten

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  6. gh: Letting goods and kindred go,” one of the famous lines from “A Mighty Fortress,” had as much to do with leaving behind Christendom as it did with suffering persecution for the faith.

    mark: Christendom leaves some people behind. Christendom persecutes some people. Roger Williams, for example, in his own mind and thought took a trip away from Christendom (at least from that of New England non-separatist puritans, he was more welcomed by the Christendom concurrent in old England), but Williams was then externally and forcibly excluded from the territory.

    This is why the Reformers leaned on the arms of the magistrates. Those who did Bible study with Zwingli said, let’s keep studying these things. But Zwingli said, the time for talk has ended, because I am determined to go no faster than the magistrate will allow. You will find out that those who don’t take this “gradual” approach will end up suffering.

    Christendom says–it’s your fault that we have to put you out. It’s your decision to not have your babies christened which puts us in the unhappy position of persecutor. But we do it for the greater good, and that Christendom not vanish from the earth. What would happen to Christianity if there were no order and no Christian magistrate?

    “As much to do with as”?

    If Christendom is of the essence of being Reformed, then total discontinuity from Christendom becomes another faith. If we lose Christendom, what’s next to lose?

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  7. If we were to assemble the whole cast in Des Moines, Mikelmann would be Walter, I would be Donnie, Tom Van Dyke would be Jesus, and the Callers would be the nihilists. No idea who would be Bunny and Maude. Doug could maybe be Woo.

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  8. I’m sorry to have missed you all in Des Moines this weekend. Work was a bit crazy this week, which led me to elect not to awaken at 4 am this morning to make the trek westward.

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