How W-w Liberates

Dan Hitchens objects to an understanding of religion that sees faith as fundamentally opposed to freedom. Here is one version of it:

loads of us long to know our place and stay in it with strict rules and regulations so that we don’t have to be bothered with choice and can just do as the Rees-Moggs and religions tell us: get up, wash, eat, pray, wear and do this and that, before/after doing whatever, don’t eat/drive, carry money, work or speak on this or that day. Do not marry or mingle with a person from this or that class, caste, country, belief. We can have our days, weeks and whole lives planned out and pretend there is some sort of order and justice in the world. It’s so much easier than investigating, making your own mind up, or arguing day in, day out.

Hitchens adds:

This picture of religion—a round-the-clock holiday camp schedule in which scarcely a detail goes undictated or unsupervised—would be unrecognizable to many believers. But it is the picture which occupies the secular mind. Even Damon Linker, formerly a practicing Catholic, describes the 1992 Catechism as “filled with elaborate, absolute rules laying out in minute detail how God wants us to live,” as though it were a kind of technical manual—an impression which could be dispelled by opening the book at random.

Here’s the great thing about w-w: no matter what you do, rules or not, will be faith-based with the correct outlook. All of life becomes religious. Life is round-the-clock religious. No need for a manual. Just take every thought captive.

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Those Were Also the Days

Is it bad form to compare ISIS to Europe’s religious wars after the Reformation?

This Protestant versus Catholic division – our version of Islam’s Sunni versus Shia – was replicated all over Europe. In Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany, what started as disagreement and protest later morphed into religious persecution and then, often enough, into civil war. Only when these conflicts came to an end in the mid-1600s was this nightmare, which lasted 140 years, brought to a close.

What Syria is going through at this time is no worse than what Germany experienced in the Thirty Years War that ended in 1648. The historian Norman Davies describes the post-war scene thus: “Germany lay desolate. The population had fallen from 21 million to perhaps 13 million. Between a third and half of the people were dead. Whole cities like Magdeburg stood in ruins. Whole districts lay stripped of their inhabitants, their livestock, and their supplies. Trade had virtually ceased.”

Nor is the Syrian calamity any more disastrous than the English Civil War, which petered out in 1651. Read what the Cambridge historian, Robert Tombs, has to say about the conflict: “The Civil War was the most lethal conflict England had suffered since the Conquest. A recent estimate suggests around 86,000 killed in combat, nearly all soldiers; another 129,000, mostly civilians, succumbed to the diseases that accompanied war; and infant mortality reached the highest level ever recorded. These losses, in a population of 4-5 million, are proportionately much higher than those England suffered in the First World War.”

I should add that neither the Thirty Years War nor the English Civil War was caused solely by religious hostility. The former was part of a Continental power struggle, as well as being a contest between Catholics and Protestants. On the latter, Tombs comments that: “Religion was the clearest dividing line, but even that does not explain everything.” But then religion is not the sole generator of Middle East conflict.

Sure, as a committed (or soon to be committed) Protestant, I’d prefer not to be compared to religious terrorists. And when I think about the start of the Civil War I’d like to think (in the neo-conservative part of me) that this was oh so different from the American War for Independence. But can Western Christians really avoid noticing certain parallels between their own past and Islam?

David Robertson, never one to miss a chance to send a missive to a newspaper, thinks we can refuse the analogies by rebranding Presbyterians as — get this — “freedom fighters”:

Rather than Calvinists being the Tartan Taleban, they were the freedom fighters of their day and a key part of the founding of modern Scottish democracy. The National should be celebrating their heritage, not comparing them with the Islamist fascists of ISIS.

How pastor Robertson describes the “freedom fighters” that President George W. Bush sent to Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, a rebellion foreign policy initiative that helped to create ISIS, is a question that may be answered the next time someone in the British newspapers traces the American revolution to Scottish Presbyterianism.

But I Have Stopped Beating My Wife, Really!

I don’t know which is more annoying, Yankee fans or Christians arguing that their religion is the basis for all good things. Here are a couple recent iterations on Christianity and the West from opposite sides of the Tiber. First, the pastor who would turn the world upside down (even though like it when beverages remain in their containers — odd, that), David Robertson:

The worst place to be an atheist is in an atheist country. Conversely the best place is a country where a Christian tolerance and view of humanity is deeply rooted within the structures, institutions and psyche of the nation. The vision of a ‘benign secularism’ is at best a fantastical dream. The choice is not between a theocratic Presbyterian Taliban state run by evangelical rednecks, waffling wooly liberal clergy and authoritarian paedophile priests, or an absolutist state where religion is reduced to the status of a knitting club. Why can we not reinvent the traditional Scottish model of an open tolerant State founded upon and with the ethos of, a biblical Christianity which recognizes that neither the State nor the Church is Absolute? Our societies metro-elites want the fruits of Christianity, without the roots. That’s not how the universe works. If post –referendum Scotland is to flourish then we need to heed the mottos of our two greatest cities and make them the anthems for the renewed nation. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain”. “Let Scotland flourish by the preaching of the Word.”

Second, from Roman Catholic professor, Donald DeMarco:

Christianity has supplied culture with invaluable benefits, including the notion that man has an inalienable dignity, that marriage is a sacred institution, and that justice and mercy should prevail. Without these benefits man is denied his proper functioning and risks being enslaved by the state. Christianity should not be reduced to something private since, in its proper mode, it confers immense benefits to culture.

More recently, two major American prelates have written thoughtful books on why Catholicism should not be private. Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., in Render Unto Caesar (2008) states that no other community than the Catholic Church understands better “why the health of our public life requires men and women of strong moral character in political service.” The Church, not the state, teaches and proclaims the importance of virtue and good character. He laments that America is now exporting “violence, greed, vulgarity, abortion, a rejection of children.”

I have no reluctance in worrying along with Pastor Robertson about the excesses of social activists, nor is it implausible that, as professor DeMarco points out, Christianity advanced certain virtues that were advantageous in ways the the pagan world’s ethics weren’t. But cheerleaders for Christianity and cherry pickers of the past will never persuade their adversaries when they ignore the bad things that Christians did, or forget about the lack of freedom and equality that accompanied established Christianity. A Christian social activist is just as scary as a secular one. Thinking that Christians running things is better than non-Christians running those same things is frankly dishonest. And here I would have thought that Christians would excel in honesty. Antinomianism anyone?