Christians want their Christian culture. Fundamentalists had theirs and I am forever scarred. From Billy Graham’s movie, “The Restless Ones” and Ralph Carmichael’s “musical,” “Tell it Like it Is,” to Pacific Garden Mission’s “Unschackled” and Uncle Charlie on “Children’s Bible Hour,” I saw and heard enough attempts at Christian culture to want simply regular radio, music, and movies.
But if you are addicted to the prospect of Christian culture, then Roman Catholicism may have what ails you (or it did once):
Once upon a time—before modernity, to be precise—God was alive and robust, and religion united “theory and practice, elite and populace, spirit and senses.” With its capacious embrace of the soul and the body, religion—clearly epitomized, for Eagleton, by Roman Catholicism—has repeatedly exhibited the capacity to “link the most exalted truths to the daily existence of countless men and women.” More attuned to our most fundamental needs and longings than the modern cultural apparatus, it has been “the most tenacious and universal form of popular culture.” With its theology, philosophy, liturgy, and morality, Roman Catholicism embodied a grand synthesis of the human condition that embraced both scholasticism and the Corpus Christi festivals, the Book of Kells and the peasant’s prayers, Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Bonhomme. Eagleton fondly evokes the sensuous felicity of Catholic religious life, how faith finds material expression in “the odour of incense, the colour of a chasuble, the crook of a knee.” (The redolence of Eagleton’s own Catholic past—recounted in his 2003 memoir, The Gatekeeper—is evident throughout this book.)
Indeed, if you are a fundamentalist, you may find neo-Calvinist cultural expressions a much higher octane form of Christian culture. But then if you run up against the limitations of w-w and the not-so-historic nature of Kuyperian transformationalism, you may need the extra helping of civilization that comes with Christendom.
Either way, you are likely missing the a-cultural character of Christianity. Old Testament Israel was an embodiment of cult and culture merged. Christianity did away with that. That’s why Paul had to go to such lengths to find a way to include Gentiles in the covenant community. Christians lived as a separate spiritual people for most of their first three centuries until Constantine gave them the keys to the Christian kingdom. Ever since, we Christians have had to endure Calvinist philosophers, fundamentalist crooners, and not-so-observant Roman Catholic painters.
The lesson is don’t immanentize the eschaton, a point on which Vossians and Voegelinians would appear to agree.