About a year ago [Nat Henthoff] went up to Harvard to speak to a class. He asked, he recalled: “How many of you realize the connection between what’s happening with the Fourth Amendment with the First Amendment?” He told the students that if citizens don’t have basic privacies—firm protections against the search and seizure of your private communications, for instance—they will be left feeling “threatened.” This will make citizens increasingly concerned “about what they say, and they do, and they think.” It will have the effect of constricting freedom of expression. Americans will become careful about what they say that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, and then too careful about what they say that can be understood. The inevitable end of surveillance is self-censorship.
(Peggy Noonan) It’s even worse than that. I recently heard a middle-age woman, a spinster who pays a great deal of attention to things like murder cases in the news (husband murders wife, mother murders child and such) express fear about Googling “murder cases” lest she come under suspicion. “They” are tracking what she reads on the internet, it seems to her, so presumably she occupies herself with froth, and would not want to linger around dark places – places where people tell the truth about things like the totalitarian wet-dreams of our rulers.
Once upon a time, everyone followed a simple, relaxed, guilt-free religion, uncluttered by rites and dogmas. Along came the greedy priests, who complicated and corrupted everything. They added ceremonies and demanded payment for their performance, elaborated precise doctrines, and persecuted deviants, and in all this perverted the God-and-me immediacy of true religion. It’s as predictable as gravity: From the beginning, every religion devolves from primitive purity to decadent ritualism.
This myth, which John Milbank has labeled the “liberal Protestant metanarrative,” has had a remarkably long run.
(Peter Leithart) Leithart is an erratic, not a reliable, source, but he’s onto something with that opening. Here’s his closer:
Protestants do have an alternative story to tell. While there was an anti-ceremonial and primitivist thrust to the early Reformation, the aim of Luther, Calvin, Bucer, and others was not to eliminate mediating ceremonies but to bring them into conformity with the Bible, especially the New Testament. They often cited Augustine’s dictum that the ceremonies of the new covenant are “simpler, fewer, and easier to grasp” than those of Israel. When they tested late medieval Catholicism by this Augustinian standard, they saw that the liturgy erected barriers between Christians and their risen Lord. That gave them grounds for severe protest. But no one who has peeked into a Lutheran or Anglican church will conclude that Protestants think that ceremony is a symptom of religious pathology.
Much depends on recognizing and rooting out this narrative. It distorts Protestant, especially Evangelical, assessments of Catholicism, and makes Protestant–Catholic relations even more challenging than they need to be. For Evangelicals, renouncing the liberal metanarrative is essential to the future health, even to the existence, of a form of Protestantism that can credibly distinguish itself from liberalism.
I suspect that the erratic behavior of Evangelicalism – the market-driven metrics, praise bands, publicity stunts, denigration of theology in favor of “just Jesus,” the rootlessness and church-shopping/hopping, and all the rest of the maddening nonsense – is an outworking of the liberal metanarrative, no matter how “conservative” an evangelical church fancies itself.
When Evangelicals cease trying to distinguish themselves by their spontaneity (worship spontaneity, by the way, always turns out to be just a new ersatz liturgy) , they may just find that there’s nothing left to keep them from embracing historic Christianity, with which Leithart himself has a troubled relationship.
I have predicted pretty confidently that many churches will be coming under pressure to allow Same-Sex Marriage – in at least limited circumstances, even subjected to human relations complaints, some of which might be sustained. I’m thinking of Churches that have allowed their buildings to be rented for marriages presided over by clergy unaffiliated with the Church – thus arguably creating a public accommodation.
But this is surprisingly quick and rather bizarre: The Sacramento Bee appears to be scandalized that same-sex couples aren’t guaranteed a Church wedding. But, they imply, that will change “slowly,” as in a couple of years, not months. (The guy who thinks change in years is slow is obviously not Orthodox.) In a few years, though, Churches that demur today will be cheerfully hitching up (joining in holy wedlease) gay couples, just as they now marry interracial couples without government coercion because “those that refuse to marry interracial couples are considered out of touch with the times.” (H/T Get Religion)
A prediction can’t be a lie, but the Bee doesn’t acquit itself well in this gossipy, superficial bit of fluff, which also comically lists the National Association of Evangelicals as a “faith in which gay and lesbian marriage is not sanctioned,” putting the NAE on par with Roman Catholic, Mormon, Southern Baptist, and the United Methodist Church.
Let me make my own prediction. Within a few years, the United Methodist Church will capitulate as will some member Churches in the NAE – probably at the cost of expulsion. They will capitulate precisely in order to “keep up with the times,” which is another way of saying that they have no inner compass, but rather allow their agenda to be set by others – “the times.”
I hope I’m wrong, but the whole world is becoming stupid. Well, maybe not Russell Moore, who acquits himself pretty well for a Southern Baptist.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)