Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Rip Van Winkle Syndrome


Those who anxiously (or condescendingly) fret about the extremism of Christianity suffer from "Rip Van Winkle Syndrome".  I.e., they must have sat down under a tree approximately 250 years ago and taken a nap, and just woke up a few minutes ago.

I guess they don't know that while they were napping, the West has undergone colossal changes in the restructuring of political structures over the last two to three centuries. Christendom has dissolved. In its place a new configuration has formed, more or less forcing the vast majority of Christians who take their Christianity seriously (a population which itself has radically dwindled, precisely because of this new configuration) into a socioculturally marginal role.

This began to occur, of course, longer ago than 250 years, but its full force only began to become clear in the 18th century, when various nation-states began to become formed out of the sociopolitical substance of prior centuries.

Whether or not the legal-political hegemony of secularism throughout the West is a "de fide dogma" is beside the point; it is a de facto fact.

Many Christians today may not want to celebrate this fact with cake and balloons; but there isn't much they can do about it, short of galvanizing major civil wars throughout the West to revive Christendom's political order. While some of them may dislike the present order's godlessness, I dare say that the vast majority of Christians throughout the West have not even the remotest intention of concretizing their feelings militarily or para-militarily on this issue, and are content with simply trying to make society more ethical according to their Christian conscience through legal means -- voting, demonstrating, raising public awareness.

Same goes for Jews and Hindus, and the followers of all other religions save one: Muslims. They are the only ones who never evolved to a reconfiguration of their fundamental fusion of state and religion, such that they could, in sufficient numbers, culturally and even psychologically compartmentalize religion and sociopolitics. Muslims can't, because mainstream normative Islam forbids such compartmentalization, and forbids the sociopolitical practice of humans creating laws -- an abomination in mainstream normative Islam, which equates the human development of laws with their concept of shirk, a crime "worse than murder", for in their eyes it takes away from God's aegis (as mediated by Mohammed).

Christians -- and even more so Jews, Hindus and Buddhists -- have a rich tradition from their own religion to draw from by which what is inside -- the heart, the soul, the conscience -- is more important than external relations and their regulation through laws. Thus they have been amenable to accepting the modern fait accompli whereby they have no choice but to withdraw religion from the public sphere as expressed and enforced through laws, and relocate its substance in the heart, in the home, in the family, in a community of like-minded souls, and in the church.  And this is not even taking into account the literally millions of Christians who are in various degrees secularized and have long ago reinterpreted their religious sensibility to accomodate comfortably -- even casually -- the secularist worldview that now shines throughout the modern world like the sun on a sunny day.

We may nevertheless at this particular juncture note the tangential problem that is a mirror image of the Ego Quoque fallacy -- namely, what could be called the "Ne Quoque" fallacy (erring too far in the opposite direction, to the point of denying that Christians ever indulged in theocratic violence).  It is either illiterate or disingenuous of Christians today to pretend that in times past Christians did not champion -- and enforce -- the politico-legal symbiosis of church and state; and to pretend that such symbiosis contradicts Christianity. If it did contradict Christianity, then most Christians -- including thousands of great illustrious ones -- for a good thousand years from the 4th century to the Reformation -- were contradicting their own religion.  (Of course, the majority of Christians in the West today, since they are afflicted with PC MC themselves, don't indulge in the "Ne Quoque" fallacy -- but rather in its opposite.  I am at this particular juncture referring rather to the comparatively smaller minority of Christians -- mostly Evangelical -- who seem to tend to go into deep denial about the historical record of Christianity.)

Back to waking reality again:  The larger point is that the vast majority of Christians have learned over the past two to three centuries to reconfigure their theocratic leanings.  This reconfiguration is not merely the grudging acceptance by Christians of some alien process of secularization -- rather, it has been a central part of that very same secularization.  Modernity did not pop out of the blue sky or fall from Neptune: it grew organically out of the rich soil of Christendom.  In fact, we may put the historical paradox more bluntly:  Christendom morphed into Modernity.  This involved, as I wrote above, an incipient, yet ever increasing dissolution of the traditional symbiosis of state and religion, such that Christians could, in sufficient and increasing numbers, compartmentalize religion and sociopolitics.  

The key word here is sociopolitics, by which I mean the realm of life where laws regulate society.

An additional factor to note here is the distinction between

1) state laws that, say, would positively mandate and enforce an "establishment" of religion (or of a particular religion)


2) laws that contain more or less copious residues of the substance of religious heritage.

There are complexities to this -- including the interesting fact that while Christianity initially evolved into a theocratic sociopolitics, and sustained that for centuries, it also contained within itself the seeds, so to speak, of its own dissolution qua theocracy.  Or perhaps we could have recourse to that tried and true metaphor, the caterpillar and the butterfly (or moth, if one does not want to lend too much lustre to the end product -- so far -- of the metamorphosis).

One scholar of the history of Christianity, Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago, developed the term civil religion to clarify that in the history of the U.S.A. -- an exemplary model of the ongoing experiment of secularization -- it's not so simple as a nation constructed with the idea of Religion over here literally codified in laws, and State over there purified of all religiosity, with America choosing the latter. Rather, what the American model reflected was the fact that religious values seep into any state that is democratic (we are excepting totalitarian regimes such as Communist Russia where the state actively and ruthlessly tries to suppress public religiosity) in a variety of ways. In terms of civil religion -- which is a kind of "unofficial religion" -- the laws are still imbued with the religious heritage of the West, even if they don't explicitly "establish" religion, or any particular version of religion, if only because in any healthy polity, laws reflect part of the organic nature of a society's culture, which cannot cut itself off from its own history and heritage, nor from the values of many of its citizenry.

The other half of the American model is that, while the state cannot through its laws "establish" religion, the state also cannot "prohibit the free exercise" of religion.

Thus, such socially conspicuous religious behaviors as --

wearing a cross in public

ringing of church bells

public advertisements of Church noticeboards

Christmas crèches; etc.

-- are not what I refer to when I wrote of the "public sphere" (from which I claimed most Christians have "withdrawn"); for I qualified it:

as expressed and enforced through laws.

Thus, I have no problem with Christians or people of other religions publicly expressing their religiosity. And they continue to do so (even the ones afflicted with PC MC, though they may considerably liberalize their Christian expression to make it more socially "relevant").  It is only the attempt to enforce religiosity and religious values through laws where it becomes problematic.  In terms of Marty's concept of civil religion, we may say that religion rather percolates into laws through a subtle filtration system, so to speak, rather than being hammered directly into the explicit codification of laws to be enforced.

At least most religions.  Mainstream and normative Islam, on the other hand, massively encodes and mandates a political science of enforcing the establishment of religion (the only true religion -- Islam, naturally) through laws; even if, in practice, this establishment often results in fissures of sectarian strife.  Nevertheless, let us not let the "diversity" of Islam (including its violent, chaotic and corrupt diversity) fool us: the general principle of legal establishment and enforcement is the cornerstone of mainstream and normative Islam.  And so it was for Christians for a good thousand years or so. But at least, unlike Islam, Christianity contained within itself the capacity to change and adapt a new model, whereby the Absolute Truth About Salvation need not be so directly woven into the fabric of the law enforcement of society.

That's why we see so much pathology pullulating out of the Muslim world, with clerics after clerics -- from the Philippines to Morocco, from Paris to Stockholm, from London to New York City, from Rome to Madrid -- vociferating more or less belligerently an expression of the desideratum of fusing religion and state: because mainstream normative Islam encodes that desideratum in its official and fanatically worshipped blueprint. By contrast, we do not see the same from Catholic priests or deacons or monks or even laymen. Nor -- outside of a tiny minority of extremists -- do we see that desideratum vociferated or even mildly expressed by Christians of any other denomination (or non-denomination).

Christians have accepted the fait accompli of secularism. Muslims obviously -- both officially and unofficially -- have not.  Islam provides Muslims with no conceptual tools and no psychological culture for even beginning to imagine (let alone appreciate) what it really means.  What it does provide, however, is the massive opposite, bristling with fanatical hostility to the whole notion of a sociopolitical compartmentalization of religion and state.  Yes, there are some Christians who indulge in this rather obtusely fanatical logic; but they are, truly, a Tiny Minority of Extremists.  Take that minuscule number and magnify it and multiply it by millions, in a diaspora in nearly every country of the world:  Now you have one religion to legitimately worry about.

And yet, the Rip Van Winkles among us (by the millions, alas, throughout the West) worry more about the Christianity of yesteryear.  Meanwhile, they keep hitting the snooze alarm to help them get in a few more winks rather than wake up to the growing horror of a global revival of Islam.

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