Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
According to the secular catechism we all learned somewhere, violence is primitive, barbaric, superstitious, and intertwined with that other great throwback, religion. And Christians (who profess not to accept that catechism in its entirety) are nonetheless affected by it, and are dutifully apologetic for the Crusades.
Evangelical Christians, who do not want to ditch the Virgin Birth or the substitutionary atonement, but who do want to ditch something in order to show the secularists around us that we are making some progress, will often ditch the idea of religious violence, granting the notion that their fathers in the faith used to take great joy in collecting Philistine foreskins. The principal symptom of such capitulation by evangelical and Reformed thinkers is acceptance of the ideal of a secular state. We need a secular state in order to keep the inherently violent nature of religion from bursting forth upon us again.
William Cavanaugh helpfully notes what this notion legitimates.
"In what are called 'Western' societies, the attempt to create a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion that is essentially prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of the liberal nation-state" (The Myth of Religious Violence, p. 4).
These are the gods that brought you out of the land of Egypt, and after generations of this kind of thing in our approved schools, it turns out that everybody knows what everybody knows.
This is why, if someone suggests bringing an explicitly religious concern into public policy discussion, the vigor with which he is shouted down exhibits the kind of negative enthusiasm you might reserve for the advocate of releasing 10,000 plague-carrying rats into Central Park.
That fundamental religious paradigms are in play can be seen by how we process the ongoing nature of our own continuing violence. The Enlightenment, contrary to some pollyannas, did not eliminate warfare. The exclusion of religion from the public square did not keep guillotines from getting set up there. But when we go to war, our violence is pristine, surgical, necessary, and scientific. Now my concern here is not whether any contemporary warfare could be justifiable from Christian principles (for I believe that there are occasions when it can be), but rather to point out how we do in fact justify it. We do not appeal to Augustine's just war approach, but rather to our foundational secular myths. In fact, if a general in Iraq obliquely referred to a biblical justification for what the troops were doing there, he would be frogmarched back to the Pentagon for the dressing down of his life. If a chaplain there were to teach the troops from the Bible on the nature of justifiable warfare, and the fact became known, he would find that his next duty station was somewhere near Anchorage, counting the days until early retirement.
This foundational myth -- that secularism saved us from the death trap of sectarian, religious strife -- is a myth that needs to be denied, root and branch, every chance we get. Recall that a worldview consists of four elements -- catechesis, narrative, lifestyle, and symbolism. To deny the catechesis of secularism, which says with Protagoras that man is the measure of all things, without denying the other elements of their worldview, is to be impotent in our criticism of secularism. A Christian who accepts the secular narrative of the rise of liberalism, who adopts the lifestyle that is mandated for us all, who submits to the symbols that are imposed upon us, and who yet reserves the right to continue to think the contents of the Apostles' Creed deep within the recesses of his own head, behind his eyes and between his ears, is a missionary who has gone native. As much as it sounds spiritual to talk about the spirituality of the Church, what has actually happened is that the visible Church has been dropped into a vat of that great and universal solvent, which other generations used to call unbelief.
We should not deny the secular myth because the myth is not ours, or because it is getting in the way of what we want to do. We do not deny it because it is inconvenient for us as Christians. We deny it because it is false. The Thirty Years War was fought by religious people, sure enough. It was fought by Protestants and Catholics, certainly. But there are some inconvenient and stubborn facts that are tangled up in this version of the myth. For example, did Protestants always fight Catholics throughout the course of the Thirty Years War? Did Protestants ever team up with some Catholics to fight with other Catholics? If that happened, what might the explanation for that be? Might it have been the fact that the conflict was actually being driven by the rise of incipient nation-states?
Might it have been that when the dragon came and captured us all, he told us a great story about how he was delivering us from dragons?