I do not owe you obedience and I will not obey you…I am in a good, pious, blessed, honorable, free, spiritual estate, wherein both my body and soul are well cared for…I want to stay here…I have given myself to God with full knowledge and awareness in eternal chastity here to serve Him…No one of the world can sway me….
Anna Wurm to her brother (1524)
Anna Wurm’s brother, motivated by both financial interests and his passion for the new Reformed theology, wanted her out of the Strasbourg convent in which she had dwelt for over a decade. Anna obviously disagreed.
It was a drama played out countless times in the 16th century as convents were closed and thousands of women returned into the world—some happily, but many others unwillingly.
Anna’s conflict with her brother provides a small, but illuminating window into what had been and what was to come in Reformation-formed societies: a world in which unmarried women would no longer have any space in which to live in acceptable and even honored ways, a world in which women would no longer have a role in public life, and one from which the feminine expression of the transcendent would be rigorously banished.
Not, perhaps the most politic observation at the height of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the 95. For many years, the narrative on the Reformation and women has maintained that it must have been all good news. How could it not be? After all, Martin Luther and others had emphasized the freedom of the individual Christian believer, encouraged Bible reading, and therefore, literacy for all, and, of course, had elevated and celebrated marriage. This, we are assured, was progress.
Perhaps not. As has been the case with many historical narratives and assumptions, the certainty that the Reformation produced net gains for women has been upended in recent decades. A survey of the large and continually growing body of research reveals wide agreement that is, in fact, 180 degrees away from the former view. As Lutheran historian Kirsi Sjerna writes [in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics], “With the fading of the nuns and other related, traditionally important religious roles for women (such as the mystics and visionaries), which coincided with the theologically argued women’s domestication, women’s spiritual presence and theological voice in the church at large seemed to radically diminish.”
The Reformation was, of course, a diverse and constantly evolving phenomenon. Common to the entire movement, however, was the conviction that vowed, celibate religious life as an ideal was non-Scriptural, harmful, and must be eliminated, supplanted by another model of ideal Christian life: the individual, saved by faith alone, dwelling productively in the community as believer, spouse, and parent.
The strongest symbol of this non-Biblical ideal of virginity was of course, the monastery, so in Reformed lands, the closing of male and female religious houses was a priority, and the Gospel of domesticity was preached and enforced in their stead …
(Amy Welborn, more of which I cannot quote in good conscience. But there’s no paywall and you can read the whole thing here.)
I should add that in my understanding, the impulse to close monasteries and convents wasn’t purely religious. It was done with the connivance and often for the financial benefit of emerging nation-states, who were happy to shed any constraints imposed by Church power.
One hand washed the other, Reformer and Ruler. History is kind of messy like that. Smart Protestants know some of this, which is why they’re, by one apt account, more observant than celebrative about the Reformation’s 500th.
[R]elativism, or as St. John Paul II preferred to call it, the culture of death, is non-sustainable. It’s not something that can survive of itself; it’s a parasite and it’s not going to triumph. What’s going to happen is we’re going to see the collapse of it.
1. Evangelical pastors don’t control the political thermometers in their churches:
It’s easy to imagine an evangelical pastor preaching politically tinged sermons to laypeople who nod and agree …
Yet evangelicals rallied behind Trump because theologically trained clergy and elites have so little authority over their laypeople’s politics. Very few churches hear explicit political preaching from their pastors; instead, churches are almost entirely focused on discipleship, personal challenges and family life. And when evangelical pastors take public stances that differ from those of their churches’ prominent lay leaders, they are at risk of being fired … As a result, few evangelical laypeople heard any message about Trump’s candidacy at church, either positive or negative. In a September 2016 study, Paul Djupe and his colleagues found that among white evangelicals who regularly attended church, only 9 percent had heard their pastors refer to Trump in a sermon; only 6 percent had heard their pastors talk about Clinton.
Last November, a LifeWay Research poll asked both groups [clergy and laity] what issue they considered most important when voting. Among pastors, the top answers were the personal character of the candidate (27 percent) and Supreme Court nominees (20 percent). These responses suggest that clergy were either opposed to voting for Trump on character grounds or reluctantly voted for him to advance moral issues in the judicial system. By contrast, the most decisive issues named by rank-and-file evangelicals were improving the economy (26 percent) and national security (22 percent). Supreme Court nominees, religious freedom and abortion were named as top priorities by only 10 percent, 7 percent and 4 percent of evangelicals, respectively.
2. Evangelical parishioners test one another’s faith more by political positions and even shibboleths than by the distinctive religious emphases of Evangelicalism:
Evangelicalism is a Protestant movement that emphasizes four things: the authority of the Bible, Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, the need for a personal commitment to Christ and the need for all believers, not just ordained clergy, to participate actively in the religious mission. The cornerstone of evangelical life is the local congregation …
In researching my 2014 book, “The Politics of Evangelical Identity,” I found that evangelical laypeople received little explicit guidance from their churches on how to apply Christian values to politics. Most laypeople received only implicit cues that good Christians voted Republican on the basis of moral issues, and that liberals and Democrats were threatening outsiders. Prominent congregational leaders — Sunday school teachers, volunteers who run ministries — signaled the “right” party identification: which party “we” support and which party “we” oppose. Few worshipers were able to articulate how their faith informed their political choices in ways that went deeper than this basic identity map of us vs. them.
This fusion of religion and partisanship silences political minorities within white evangelical churches and networks, because voting Republican has become a litmus test for “true” evangelical identity. Expressing sympathy for Democratic or liberal politics puts one’s credentials in question. Since the early 2000s, there has been a renaissance of alternative evangelical voices in politics, advocating for a wider set of moral issues that include environmentalism (“creation care”), economic inequality and racial justice. Yet it is difficult for laypeople to express these alternate ideas in the context of a local congregation. Certain viewpoints can’t be voiced without undermining the religious standing of the person who voices them.
My impression: You’ll likelier be called a good Christian by your fellow Evangelicals if you openly shack up or run shady business operations than if you openly sympathize with Democrats.
3. But if you, a liberal or progressive, think it would be good to weak the Evangelical ties that result in such politicized tribalism, think again:
As Peter Beinart has observed, falling church attendance can actually worsen partisan polarization: When working-class white evangelicals and Catholics stop going to church, they become more tolerant on issues such as same-sex marriage, but also more open to extreme white-nationalist ideologies that violate religious norms. Some white evangelicals seem to have preferred Trump’s explicitly white-nationalist message to the colorblind moral traditionalism of the 21st-century Christian right. Trump got to have his cake and eat it too: He maintained support from traditional “values voters” while offering something new to working-class evangelicals who didn’t much care about abortion, religious liberty or free-market economics.
All quotes from Lydia Bean, For evangelicals and Catholics, rejecting elites means ignoring the clergy. The other strong story was Elizabeth Bruenig’s Evangelicals and Catholics made their peace. Catholics are paying the price.
A caveat, though: both stories treat Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism as significant mostly for political reasons—a pervasive media bias that implies “religion doesn’t real” but politics do. Be aware of that as you read.
“Millennials want a different kind of suburban development that is smart, efficient, and sustainable.”
Note the trio of clichés at the end, borrowed from the lexicon of the advertising industry. “Smart” is a meaningless anodyne that replaces the worn out tropes “deluxe,” “super,” “limited edition,” and so on. It’s simply meant to tweak the reader’s status consciousness. Who wants to be dumb?
“Efficient” and “sustainable” are actually at odds. The combo ought to ring an alarm bell for anyone tasked with designing human habitats. Do you know what “efficient” gets you in terms of ecology? Monocultures, such as GMO corn grown on sterile soil mediums jacked with petroleum-based fertilizers, herbicides, and fast-depleting fossil aquifer water. It’s a method that is very efficient for producing corn flakes and Cheez Doodles, but has poor prospects for continuing further into this century—as does conventional suburban sprawl, as we’ve known it. Efficiency in ecological terms beats a path straight to entropy and death.
Real successful ecologies, on the other hand, are the opposite of efficient. They are deeply redundant. They are rich in diverse species and functions, many of which overlap and duplicate, so that a problem with one failed part or one function doesn’t defeat the whole system. This redundancy is what makes them resilient and sustainable. Swamps, prairies, and hardwood forests are rich and sustainable ecologies. Monocultures, such as agri-biz style corn crops and “big box” retail monopolies are not sustainable and they’re certainly not even ecologies, just temporary artifacts of finance and engineering …
Suburbia of the American type is composed of monocultures: residential, commercial, industrial, connected by the circulatory system of cars. Suburbia is not a sustainable human ecology …
There’s much more—kind of a distillation of a lot of his prior thought, which means it could be your handy introduction to a guy who’s not afraid to swim against the stream, as only live fish can.
What I learned from my
#BattleofIdeas panel on truth and post-truth: Most young Britons, including seemingly thoughtful young people, are thoroughly and perhaps irreconcilably hostile to religion generally, Christianity particularly and Catholicism, erm, extra-particularly[.] When I spoke of the West’s Judeo-Christian patrimony, they looked at me as if I were a creature from Mars, speaking Martian. Many or most assume that the advance of science and “facts” equates to moral progress, and that faith can’t possibly be informed by reason. If you think that the West and our model of self-government can withstand this shift, you’re much more optimistic than I am.
(A brief Sohrab Ahmari Tweetstorm, beginning here, edited for flow.)
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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)
There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)